Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/241

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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 hunting-grounds of rich and poor. Swift canoes or boats take the place of hounds and horses; and the coral-reef affords as much delight to high and low, as a Scotch deer-forest or heathery moor does to the wealthy few in Britain.