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18. CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
SWIMMING IN COMPANY WITH THE GIRLS OF THE VALLEY--A CANOE--EFFECTS OF THE TABOO--A PLEASURE EXCURSION ON THE POND--BEAUTIFUL FREAK OF FAYAWAY--MANTUA-MAKING--A STRANGER ARRIVES IN THE VALLEY--HIS MYSTERIOUS CONDUCT--NATIVE ORATORY--THE INTERVIEW--ITS RESULTS--DEPARTURE OF THE STRANGER
RETURNING health and peace of mind gave a new interest to everything around me. I sought to diversify my time by as many enjoyments as lay within my reach. Bathing in company with troops of girls formed one of my chief amusements. We sometimes enjoyed the recreation in the waters of a miniature lake, to which the central stream of the valley expanded. This lovely sheet of water was almost circular in figure, and about three hundred yards across. Its beauty was indescribable. All around its banks waved luxuriant masses of tropical foliage, soaring high above which were seen, here and there, the symmetrical shaft of the cocoanut tree, surmounted by its tufts of graceful branches, drooping in the air like so many waving ostrich plumes.
The ease and grace with which the maidens of the valley propelled themselves through the water, and their familiarity with the element, were truly astonishing. Sometimes the might be seen gliding along just under the surface, without apparently moving hand or foot--then throwing themselves on their sides, they darted through the water, revealing glimpses of their forms, as, in the course of their rapid progress, they shot for an instant partly into the air--at one moment they dived deep down into the water, and the next they rose bounding to the surface.
I remember upon one occasion plunging in among a parcel of these river-nymphs, and counting vainly on my superior strength, sought to drag some of them under the water, but I quickly repented my temerity. The amphibious young creatures swarmed about me like a shoal of dolphins, and seizing hold of my devoted limbs, tumbled me about and ducked me under the surface, until from the strange noises which rang in my ears, and the supernatural visions dancing before my eyes, I thought I was in the land of the spirits. I stood indeed as little chance among them as a cumbrous whale attacked on all sides by a legion of swordfish. When at length they relinquished their hold of me, they swam away in every direction, laughing at my clumsy endeavours to to reach them.
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