However, nothing but laughter (most unfitting the occasion) could be got out of the assembled natives. They now began to return to their homes, and Bludger, crowned with flowers that became him but ill, was carried off, not, as it seemed to me, without even a reverential demeanour on the part of his escort. Those who surrounded me, a kind of body-guard of six young men, had entirely recovered their composure, and behaved to me with a deference that was astonishing, but reassuring. From this time, I ought to say, though permitted to go where I would, and allowed to observe even their most secret rites, enjoying opportunities such as will never fall to another European, I was never, but once, entirely alone. My worshippers, as they might almost be called, so humble was their demeanour, still kept watchful eyes upon me, as if I were a being so precious that they were jealous of my every movement. It was now made plain to me, by signs, that I must wait for some little space before being conveyed to my appointed residence.
VI. A BACKSLIDER. A WARNING.
We had not remained long by ourselves in the square, when the most extraordinary procession which I had ever beheld began to climb into the open space from the town beneath. I do not know if I have made it sufficiently clear that the square, on the crest of the isolated hill above the sea, was occupied only by public buildings, such as the temple, the house of the chief, and a large edifice used as a kind of town hall, so to speak. The natives in general lived in much smaller houses, many of them little better than huts, and divided by extremely narrow and filthy streets, on the slopes, and along the shores of the bay.
It was from these houses and from all the country round that the procession, with persons who fell into its ranks as they came, was now making its way. Almost all the parties concerned were young, boys and girls, or very young men and women, and though their dress was much scantier and less decent than what our ideas of delicacy require, it must be admitted that the general aspect of the procession was far from unpleasing. The clothes and wraps which the men and women wore were of various gay colours, and were, in most cases, embroidered quite skilfully with representations of flowers, fruits, wild beasts, and individuals of grotesque appearance. Every one was crowned with either flowers or feathers.
But, most remarkable of all, there was scarcely a person in this large gathering who did not bring or lead some wild bird or beast. The girls carried young wild doves, young rooks, or the nestlings of such small fowls as sparrows and finches. It was a pretty sight to see these poor uninstructed young women, flushed with the exertion of climbing, and merry, flocking into the square, each with her pet (as I supposed, but the tender mercies of the heathen are cruel) half hidden in the folds of her gown. Of the young men, some carried hawks, some chained eagles, some young vultures. Many were struggling, too, with wild stags and wild goats, which they compelled with the utmost difficulty to march in the ranks of the procession. A number of young persons merely bore in their hands such fruits as were in season, obviously fine specimens, of which they had reason to be proud.