ONE DAY, taking a pensive afternoon stroll along one of the many bridle-paths which wind among the shady groves in the neighbourhood of Taloo, I was startled by a sunny apparition. It was that of a beautiful young Englishwoman, charmingly dressed, and mounted upon a spirited little white pony. Switching a green branch, she came cantering toward me.
I looked round to see whether I could possibly be in Polynesia. There were the palm-trees; but how to account for the lady?
Stepping to one side as the apparition drew near, I made a polite obeisance. It gave me a bold, rosy look; and then, with a gay air, patted its palfrey, crying out, "Fly away, Willie!" and galloped among the trees.
I would have followed; but Willie's heels were making such a pattering among the dry leaves that pursuit would have been useless.
So I went straight home to Po-Po's, and related my adventure to the doctor.
The next day, our inquiries resulted in finding out that the stranger had been on the island about two years; that she came from Sydney; and was the wife of Mr. Bell (happy dog!), the proprietor of the sugar plantation to which I have previously referred.
To the sugar plantation we went, the same day.
The country round about was very beautiful: a level basin of verdure, surrounded by sloping hillsides. The sugar-cane—of which there was about one hundred acres, in various stages of cultivation—looked thrifty. A considerable tract of land, however, which seemed to have been formerly tilled, was now abandoned.
The place where they extracted the saccharine matter was under an immense shed of bamboos. Here we saw several clumsy pieces of machinery for breaking the cane; also great kettles for boiling the sugar. But, at present, nothing was going on. Two or three natives were lounging in one of the kettles, smoking; the other was occupied by three sailors from the Leviathan, playing cards.
While we were conversing with these worthies, a stranger approached. He was a sun-burnt, romantic-looking European, dressed in a loose suit of nankeen; his fine throat and chest were exposed, and he sported a Guayaquil hat with a brim like a Chinese umbrella. This was Mr. Bell. He was very civil; showed us the grounds, and, taking us into a sort of arbour, to our surprise, offered to treat us to some wine. People often do the like; but Mr. Bell did more: he produced the bottle. It was spicy sherry; and we drank out of the halves of fresh citron melons. Delectable goblets!
The wine was a purchase from, the French in Tahiti.
Now all this was extremely polite in Mr. Bell; still, we came to see Mrs. Bell. But she proved to be a phantom, indeed; having left the same morning for Papeetee, on a visit to one of the missionaries' wives there.
I went home, much chagrined.
To be frank, my curiosity had been wonderfully piqued concerning the lady. In the first place, she was the most beautiful white woman I ever saw in Polynesia. But this is saying nothing. She had such eyes, such moss-roses in her cheeks, such a divine air in the saddle, that, to my dying day, I shall never forget Mrs. Bell.
The sugar-planter himself was young, robust, and handsome. So, merrily may the little Bells increase, and multiply, and make music in the Land of Imeeo.