CHAPTER XIV.

SUNDAY AT THE MOUNTAIN.

View from Garden Cottage. — "Und tinter den Füssen ein nebliges Meer." — The Dairy. — Church at the Mountain. — Rest. — The Weather Gardens. — Stars versus Cabbages.

NEXT morning, Sunday, we were awakened by the novel sound of rain pattering against the window panes, and on looking out I saw—nothing. A dense fog surrounded us, and hid the pretty garden which I doubted not was benefiting richly from its temporary concealment.

By the time I had dressed, however, the air was, somewhat clearer, and when I opened the door of our little drawing-room, a curious, perplexing view lay before me. Three paces from the door the ground went headlong down a precipice of 150 feet, covering its fall with Bahama grass, castor-oil trees and shrubs of different kinds. Then a rocky shoulder shot out from the main head, and on this stood the Mountain Hospital in a thicket of Port Jackson willows, now looking cool and fresh from their morning bath. Beyond this another steep descent went sheer down to the broad, crater-dotted plain which stretched away to Garrison and the sea, and where the sun was now shining with a fierce light, while the mist still floated fitfully above and around us.

Here the air felt fresh, sweet, and English-like; there it looked stifling and altogether tropical. Here the moisture was dripping from every rain-soaked shrub, and distilling scent from the single rose-bush on which pretty pink buds were bursting into life, heedless of being eclipsed by the regal red blossoms of a neighbouring hibiscus: there, among the cinders, the parching dust still whirled in the wind, undamped by shower or mist, and the long-suffering Madagascar rose (Vinca rosea) gave out no sweetness to the breeze.

The whole scene gave one a curious sensation of being in two quarters of the globe at the same time ; and, just as I was going to call my husband to enjoy the novelty with me, the thick mist again swept round the mountain. In a moment all the world below my feet was cut off, and I and Garden Cottage seemed to be left floating helplessly in a sea of mist.

Like Schiller's Alpine shepherd, I might have sung,—

"Und unter den Füssen ein nebliges Meer,
Erkennt er die Städte der Menschen nicht mehr,
Durch den Riss nur der Wolken
Erblickt er die Welt,
Tief unter den Wassern
Das grünende Feld."

But in my case there was no "grünende Feld."

Being shut out from the Tropics, I put on my hat and proceeded to enjoy the English garden. Not quite English, however, as I was reminded by the stately screw-pine which shaded the north gable of the cottage, and by the tall aloes towering above it on the rocks behind. But the beautiful scarlet nasturtiums, which clambered up the rocks, from which the terrace for cottage and garden had been hewed, were very homely, and so were the stocks and sweet thyme growing by the door of an almost empty conservatory.

Looking down on the garden and clambering nasturtiums, stood another cottage on an upper terrace, which in its turn was over-topped by towering aloes and craggy heights. It was underneath this terrace that the dark tunnel had led us, the previous evening, across the shoulder of hill from Breakneck Valley; and with this delightful air playing everywhere around, the entrance looked, if possible, less inviting than before; so I passed it by, preferring instead, to make more intimate acquaintance with its bright little neighbour the dairy.

Hardly less refreshing than the flowers was the sight of the milk-pans. Five starved cows gave, as it were under protest, a few pints of milk daily just now, for the use of the sick in hospital; but it was long since I had tasted my favourite beverage, and green envy possessed me as I peeped into this pretty dairy, embowered in a splendid moon-plant whose snow-white blossoms were shedding fragrance on its roof. The lettuces and parsnips seemed to grow as I watched them, and I thought how nice a salad would look on the breakfast table. In short, I felt bewildered with a sense of profusion around, and wondered if it were really true that we had left Mars Bay not two days since.

It was indeed a change, and I was enjoying it thoroughly, when the call of breakfast summoned me indoors.

In the verandah I found Sam looking very unhappy in a thick coat with a broom in his hand; and instead of the usual responsive "Good morning," he greeted me with "Terrible cold, ma," and a shiver. Indeed it did feel cold inside the damp comfortless drawing-room, and Sam grinned approbation when I ordered a fire.

We did not expect more of church service here than we had been accustomed to have every Sunday in the Heliometer tent at Mars Bay. Consequently it was a pleasant surprise to hear that next Sunday the chaplain was to conic up for morning service, and that to-day prayers would be read by the farm bailiff' to the marines, who were already mustering to the sound of the rusty bell over the garden gate. When the Sergeant came to ask if we would join them, we gladly followed him to a bare, dreary-looking room, where the men were seated on forms placed by the side of a long table. Two chairs were provided for us, and the four bare walls enclosed nought besides.

After so many weeks of lonely Sundays, the pleasure of joining with "two or three gathered together in His name" refreshed us. It took us away from ourselves, and drew our thoughts entirely from the everyday work, that was almost too much to us and often refused to leave our minds free for higher things. This was the most restful Sunday we had had since coming to Ascension, and our hearts rose up in gratitude for help in past troubles, and for the bright pathway of hope laid open before us.

After service we sat lazily all the morning in the verandah, doing nothing, but enjoying to our heart's content the fresh, cool breeze which still carried just enough of damp to hold the dust in subjection, though the leaves were again rustling in sunlight. With half-shut eyes one might have dreamt of an April day in England but for one thing—the silence of the woods. No clear note from blackbird or mavis interrupted the chirp, chirp of the grasshopper, or the rustling of the wind among the banana leaves; and the canaries we only heard of, but heard not.

In the afternoon we had a quiet stroll through the "Weather Gardens"—pleasant walking indeed, after our clinker experiences, though the place hardly justified the name of "garden."

Lying on the leeward crest of the hill, which forms the western slope of Breakneck Valley, are a few square patches of cultivated ground, surrounded by a brushwood of aloes, guavas, Cape gooseberry (Physalis), and mulberry trees, and separated from each other by grassy paths. It is these patches that are here yclept "gardens," but in Scotland we should call them a "croft," and a very unpromising one too, notwithstanding plentiful manuring and careful cultivation. The soil was black with richness, but still too dry to yield much, except the persevering sweet, potato (Convolvulus batatas), which was creeping diligently over one or two little fields. Some English potatoes were just showing above ground in one patch, and another was in course of preparation for planting out cabbages—all hopeful signs, resulting from the few showers that we had so begrudged at Mars Bay.

For six months previous to our arrival the soil had not even been dug, so hopelessly parched had it become; and a full sense of our selfishness came upon us, when we saw how sorely our much-abused rain was needed for the general good of the community. Still we would not willingly have given up the cloudless nights at Opposition for the sake of cabbages; no, nor for pine-apples, nor for all the ambrosia in the store-houses of the immortal gods; and, though contrite, we could hardly claim to be repentant. We promised, however, to behave more justly in future, and to think of the vegetables as well as of the stars, when we should return to the little white tents that were seen glistering far away in the distance.

From this hill-side we had for the first time a good view of the "Riding-school Crater." It stands on the western plain, and looked into from above it presents the appearance of a cone, from which a horizontal section has been cut off, and the centre afterwards slightly hollowed out, leaving an elevated circular road round the top.

These curious sights everywhere, stirred up strong desires to explore, and as we walked slowly homeward through the fog, which had come down upon us suddenly, we tried to stretch the hours of our holiday week as much as possible, and to fill them with well-planned excursions. But circumstances swept away many of our Château-en-Espagne journeys, including the visit to Riding-school Crater, which, though afterwards accomplished, did not form one of our mountain excursions.

A week, or even ten days as we now resolved to make it, is so short a time, and so many interesting things were to be seen on all sides of us, that we were obliged to give up, for the most part, very long walks among the lava, in order to enjoy with fresh mind and body the more immediate objects of interest, and that we might return to Mars Bay rested instead of tired by our holiday.


Chapter XV