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been propounded concerning this tidal eccentricity, which is perhaps the most remarkable thing connected with the group. I believe some writers have tried to account for it by reference to the trade-winds, which blow so steadily at certain hours of the day; but these must have been very inaccurate observers, as the tides rise and fall with equal regularity in the most sultry calm or the most riotous sea-breeze. In fact they are sometimes rather higher in dead calms, and on the leeward side of the isles, which are sheltered from the trade-winds. In any case, these blow only in the daytime, and die away entirely at night. Curiously enough, they do not even affect the periodical flood - tides, or rather tidal waves, of which I spoke just now, as these invariably come from the westward, whereas the tradewinds blow steadily from the east. So punctual is the daily rise and fall of the tides, that the accustomed eyes of the people can discern the hour of the day by a glance at the shore or the reef, as at a marine chronometer, which here never loses or gains time. The peculiar charm of this, as concerns the reef, is that the low tide, which is the hour of delight, always occurs at the coolest hours of morning and evening, so there is no temptation to incur Sunstroke by exposure to the noontide rays. And the
STRANGE CREATURES OF THE REEF. 51
reef at Tahiti is, beyond all question, the richest I have seen. It seems to me that all the marvels of the Fijian reef are here reproduced on a magnified Scale—the mysterious zoophytes are larger, their colours more intense, the forms of the fish more varied and eccentric, and their scaly dress striped and zigzagged with patterns like those on an ingenious clown, or perhaps suggestive of quaint heraldry. To-night I saw some gigantic specimens of that wonderful star-fish we first found in Fiji, with fifteen arms covered with very sharp grey and orange spines like those of an echinus, and an underside of paleyellow fleshy feelers with suckers like those of the sea-anemone"—a marvellously uncanny-looking compound. I also saw thousands of prickly seaurchins of divers sorts, from the heavy acrocladia,” with spikes as large as your fingers and heavy as stone, to the very brittle species no larger than a pigeon's egg, and covered with piercing needles five or six inches long—a particularly unpleasant creature to step upon, especially with bare feet, as the natives have. These echini are of all colours, from the richest maroon and claret to purple and blue. Some are suggestive of large full-blown thistles, and all more or less resemble hedgehogs or porcupines. One very delicate flat kind is pure white, and marked on the back with a very finely traced double star. Some of the water-snakes are very beautifully marked with blue, gold, or green bars on a velvety black ground; they glide and coil themselves in and out of the coral branches. I was much struck by the immense size of some sea-anemones, as large as a wash-hand basin : these also, are of all sorts of colours. These are the chosen play-fellows of most exquisite tiny fish, like morsels of black velvet, with a pattern exactly like a fairy peacock's feather on either gill. Not one of these exceeded two inches in length; and I watched a shoal of about thirty playing hide - and - seek among the feelers of the polype. You can hardly conceive anything so fascinating as the glimpses of fairyland to be obtained by allowing your boat to float at will in the shallowest possible water, while you peer down into the wonder-world beneath you, where the many-tinted corals, sea-weeds, and zoophytes, form wonderful gardens, of which the brilliant blue star-fish, and strangely beautiful seaanemones, are the gay blossoms. The butterflies which woo these flowers of the sea are shoals of the most exquisite minute fishes, which dart through the crystal water like rays of opal. Now it is a group of turquoise blue, like forget-me-nots of the deep, and as they vanish
* Acanthaster solaris. * Acrocladia mamillata.
DAINTY FISHES. 53
among green sea-weeds, out flash a merry party primrose-coloured. Then come a little family of richest Albert blue, which pause a moment to greet their little friends the pure gold-fish ; and as these glide in between the rock-ledges, up swims a joyous little shoal of delicate pale-green fish, with perhaps a tiny silvery eel or two ; and some there are pure scarlet, others bright blue streaked with Scarlet. These and a thousand more, varying in form as in colour, but all alike minute, are among the tempting beauties which make me always wish you were with me, that I might hear your raptures of delight. There are some most attractive gold-fish with broad bands of black, which terminate in wing-like fins; and others, still more fascinating, are silvery, with a delicate rosy flush. Some are yellow, striped with violet; others are pure scarlet, spotted with cobalt. I think my favourites are bright turquoise blue with a gold collar. Then there are some very large fish of the glossiest green, and others of a dazzling crimson. But the most distingué-looking fishes are those which temper their gay colours with bands or zigzags of black velvet. Their forms are as varied as their colours, long or short, round, flat, or triangular. While these flash and dart in and out of their forest sanctuary, you may see large shells travelling over the coral-ledges, a good deal faster than you would suppose possible, till you see that they are tenanted by large hermit-crabs. Other crabs are in their own lawful shells, as are also the wary lobsters; and here and there are scattered some rare shells, such as we see in collections at home, and suppose to be quite common in the tropics, where, however, as a rule, they are only obtained by professional divers. Of course such as are washed up on the shore are dead shells, utterly worthless. Quite apart from the mere delight to the eyes of gazing at these varied beauties, the reef has its useful aspect in regard to the commissariat. At every low tide a crowd of eager fishers repair thither, to see what manner of supper awaits them. Here, as in all these isles where wild animals do not exist, the sea furnishes the happy huntinggrounds of rich and poor. Swift canoes or boats take the place of hounds and horses; and the coralreef affords as much delight to high and low, as a Scotch deer - forest or heathery moor does to the wealthy few in Britain. Can you not fancy the thrilling excitement of standing on the brink of the reef watching the huge green billows rolling in with thunder roar, and curling their grand white crests ere dashing on the rock in cataracts of foam, carrying with them many a strange creature of the deep 2 For these