Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/111

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87
THE BALOLO.

ringtonia tree. Turtle abound, both the hawk's-bill, which yields the tortoise-shell of commerce, and the green. Prawns, shrimps, and eels are found in the rivers, while the coral-reefs yield all manner of shell-fish, lobsters, and crabs. I hear that oysters are to be had, but have not seen any.

Speaking of the reef, the natives say that they can foretell a storm, hours before its approach, by noticing the echini[1] crawling into snug holes where they may lie secure, undisturbed by the raging waters. "The sea roars and the echini listen," is the Samoan proverb to describe prudence.

I have just heard with great interest that the balolo (here called palolo)—those curious sea-worms, concerning whose annual visit to Fiji I wrote to you at the time—also honour the reef of Apia with a call, just in the same mysterious manner, rising to the surface of the sea for a couple of hours before sunrise on one given day, which the natives can always calculate beforehand, so as to be out by midnight, watching for the first glimmer of dawn, when, sure enough, countless myriads of black and green worms, thin as threads, and perhaps a yard long, come to the surface—an easy prey to the joyous crowd of men and girls, who scoop them up in baskets, nets, gourds, anything they can get hold of, each trying who can collect the biggest share of the writhing, wriggling worms which, when baked in a banana-leaf, are esteemed a most delicious dainty, and do taste something like spinach and salt water, with a soupçon of lobster. But the extraordinary thing about them is their only rising once a-year for two hours, and never mistaking their set time, then disappearing totally till the following year. In Samoa, I am told, the day falls in August. In Fiji a few come one morning in October, but their grand day is about 25th November.

This afternoon Captain Aube kindly lent us his whale-boat to take us across the creek to Matautu, which is the further end of the settlement. We went to make some small purchases at the various stores, chiefly to see them. One of these belongs to the celebrated Stewart, whose partner being an American, the firm has

  1. Sea-urchins.