IV. AT THE CHIEF’S HOUSE.
The chief leading the way, I followed through the open entrance of the courtyard. The yard was very spacious, and under the dark shade of the trees I could see a light here and there in the windows of small huts along the walls, where, as I found later, the slaves and the young men of the family slept. In the middle of the space there was another altar, I am sorry to say; indeed, there were altars everywhere. I never heard of a people so religious, in their own darkened way, as these islanders. At the further end of the court was a really large and even stately house, with no windows but a clerestory, indicated by the line of light from within, flickering between the top of the wall and the beginning of the high-pitched roof. Light was also streaming through the wide doorway, from which came the sound of many voices. The house was obviously full of people, and, just before we reached the deep verandah, a roofed space open to the air in front, they began to come out, some of them singing. They had flowers in their hair, and torches in their hands. The chief, giving me a sign to be silent, drew me apart within the shadow of a plane tree, and we waited there till the crowd dispersed, and went, I presume, to their own houses. There were no women among them, and the men carried no spears nor other weapons. When the court was empty, we walked up the broad stone steps and stood within the doorway. I was certainly much surprised at what I saw. There was a rude magnificence about this house such as I had never expected to find in the South Sea Islands. Nay, though I am not unacquainted with the abodes of opulence at home, and have been a favoured guest of some of our merchant princes (including Messrs. Bunton, the eminent haberdashers, whose light is so generously bestowed on our Connection), I admit that I had never looked on a more spacious reception-room, furnished, of course, in a somewhat savage manner, but, obviously, regardless of expense. The very threshold between the court and the reception-room, to which you descended by steps, was made of some dark metal, inlaid curiously with figures of beasts and birds, also in metal (gold, as I afterwards learned), of various shades of colour and brightness.