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which it adheres to the rock, after which he slips both hands below the huge shell, and endeavours to raise it —no easy matter, considering what ponderous monsters many of the clams are—a single shell making an admirable bath for a child, pure as white marble, and highly polished by nature. In many Roman Catholic churches these large shells are used for holy water. The smaller clams, such as are generally used for food, are often picked up on the reef in basket - loads; and many a careless child has playfully thrust its little fingers into a gaping shell, an invasion promptly resented by the owner. Happily the scream of agony generally brings some friends to the rescue: and strong as is the armour of the poor beseiged clam, it offers one weak point to the enemy—namely, the cavity through which the byssus passes; a skilful stab through this aperture causes the inmate to relax its hold, and so the child is released—but many a finger is lost in this manner. The multitude of these shell-fish annually consumed on all the isles is something incredible, and the supply is apparently inexhaustible. It is not generally known that these shells also occasionally yield very valuable and lustrous pearls of peculiar briliancy. But the treasury of the sea, which lies safe beyond the reach of covetous human beings, is that clean coral-sand which glimmers far below the coral
caves where the oysters congregate, and to which, for untold ages, have dropped the pearls which fell from the gaping shell, when the seven-year-old oyster, having lived his appointed time, melted away in his native brine, and let go the treasures he could no longer clasp. What a dream of delight, even in fancy, to gather up those
“Pale glistening pearls and rainbow-coloured shells,
I suppose the water-babies of these seas look upon pearls as we used to look on John o'Groats—probably with less reverence, as being so much more common; and perhaps they are right, for the one was only a disease, and the other a wondrously contrived little home. One valuable creature which loves the white coral-sand as cordially as the pearl-oyster dreads it, is the black báche-de-mer," a very important item in the harvest of these seas, and one which affords a living to a multitude of white men and brown. There are four different sorts, of which the black is the largest. It resembles a gigantic leech, and grows to a length of about thirty inches. It is a gregarious animal, and is found in companies of brother-slugs wherever the water is clearest and most perfect peace prevails. It is supposed to be blind, and its movements are so slow as to be imperceptible. It has a red cousin, which seems to enjoy tumult and noise as much as the black kind loves calm. Its favourite home is on the outer edge of the coral-reef, where the mighty breakers are for ever raging. The bêche-de-mer fishers have on the whole rather a pleasant sort of gipsy life. Having chartered a small vessel, they engage a set of natives, both men and women, to work with them for so many moons; and as it is just the sort of occupation which comes natural to these men, they generally have a cheery time of it. They anchor at some favourable spot, probably a desert island, and build a cluster of palm-leaf huts for themselves, another in which to smoke, and so cure the fish and slugs, and to act as storehouse. However rude may be their own shelter, the fish-houses must be made water-tight, lest the heavy rains should beat through, and destroy the precious store. The men carry with them a store of yams and cocoa-nuts, and trust to their luck for a daily fishsupply, which rarely, if ever, fails, and has the charm of considerable variety, including most of the finny tribes, turtles and their eggs, clams, cockles, and other shell-fish—occasionally sea-birds' eggs are added to the feast. Whatever is caught is supposed to go to be handed over to the native
* Holothuroides. Chinese name, Tripang.
BÉCHE-DE-MER FISHERS. 139
overseer for equal division, that none may hunger. So when the day's work is done, a delicious bathe is followed by a cheery supper, and then the men lie round bright wood-fires, indulging in never-ending talk or songs, or else dancing quaint savage mékés in the moonlight. Every morning they start at early dawn armed with long many-pronged forks, to collect the treasures brought in by the tide. If the sea is calm they go to the outer edge of the reef, in search of the red báche-de-mer, which love the sea-foam ; but when the surf comes thundering in with mad violence, then the fishers have a quiet day with the black slugs; for these they must dive perhaps to a depth of twelve fathoms. As I once before mentioned to you, these creatures eject a fluid which blisters the skin most painfully; so instead of carrying them in a basket, it is customary for the fisher to have a miniature canoe which he can drag over the reef by means of a rope, or float on the calm lagoon, should he have occasion to dive; into this canoe he throws all treasure-trove, and when it is full, empties it into one of the larger boats. Noonday is the most favourable hour for the diver, as the sun's vertical rays then most clearly illumine the submarine depths where he seeks his game. When a fair supply has been secured, the fishers return to the settlement. Sometimes they busy themselves on the way by cleaning the slugs, which is done by cutting them open with a sharp knife, so as to let the dangerous blistering fluid and intestines fall into the sea. But the more cautious men defer this process till they reach the shore, when they pop the live animals into a boiling caldron, and therein stir them diligently for some minutes, after which they can clean them with greater safety to themselves. They are then transferred to another caldron and stewed for half an hour, after which they are taken to the drying-house, whence they reappear like bits of dry leather, and require to be soaked for several days previous to use. It is necessary to cook the Holothuria as quickly as possible, because so soon as they are dead they become a gelatinous mass like treacle, with a very bad smell, and all adhere together, so that no use can be made of them. So if caldrons are lacking, native ovens are at once prepared : a hole is dug in the earth, and a fire kindled, whereby stones are thoroughly heated, and on these the slugs are laid, and covered with green leaves and old matting, and earth over all. Thus they are steamed for an hour, till they are dried up and shrivelled, after which each is stretched open with little bits of stick, and laid on the drying stages in the smoking-house, over a fire of green wood, which produces a dense smoke.