Not so! for here comes a great warship out of the East under a press of canvas. What event is this? See! she clews up her light sails and fires an eleven-inch gun! One of those guns of Mobile Bay. Then swarms out the starboard watch, one hundred and sixty strong, and a fleet of boats brings ashore these pale astronomers with those useless tubes that they point at the sky every night. But there are useful things too; cooking-stoves, and lumber, and bricks.
What is all this? No sooner are these established than comes another ship and fires its gun! and another set of hardy sailormen pours out, and here is another party of madmen with tubes,—yes, and with cooking-stoves and lumber, too. Then comes the crowning, stupendous, and unspeakable event. The whole sun is hidden and the heavens are lighted up with pearly streamers! In the name of all the Polynesian gods, what is the meaning of all this?
And then in a few days all these are gone. All the madmen. They have taken away the useless tubes, but they have left their houses standing. Their splendid, priceless, precious cook-stoves are here. See! here is a frying-pan! here are empty tin cans! and a keg of nails! They must have forgotten all this, madmen as they are!
And the little island sinks back to its quiet and its calm. The lagoon lies placid like a mirror. The slow sea breaks eternally on the outer reef. The white clouds sail over day by day. The seabirds come back to their haunts,—the fierce man-of-war birds, the gentle, soft-eyed tern. But we, whose island home was thus invaded—are we the same? Was this a dream? Will it happen again next year? every year? What indeed was it that happened,—or in fact, did it happen at all? Is it not a dream, indeed?
If we left those peaceful Kanakas to their dream, we Americans have brought ours away with us. Who will forget it? Which of us does not wish to be in that peaceful fairyland once more? That is the personal longing. But we have all come back, each one with his note-books full; and in a few weeks the stimulus of accustomed habit has taken possession of us again. Right and wrong are again determined by “municipal sanctions.” We have become useful citizens once more. Perhaps it is just as well. We should have been poor poets, and we do not forget. So ends the astronomer’s voyage to fairyland.
(FROM THE ATMOSPHERE.)
BY CAMILLE FLAMMARION.