Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/240

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sharp grey and orange spines like those of an echinus, and an underside of pale-yellow fleshy feelers with suckers like those of the sea-anemone[1]—a marvellously uncanny-looking compound. I also saw thousands of prickly sea-urchins of divers sorts, from the heavy acrocladia,[2] 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 sea-anemones, 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 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

  1. Acanthaster solaris.
  2. Acrocladia mamillata.