Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/242

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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? For these the fisherman keeps keen watch, standing with spear all ready poised to strike whatever may come within his reach. But more exciting still is the fishing by torch-light on the dark moonless nights, when a torch made of dried weeds is carried in one hand, and the spear in the other, ready to strike the unwary fish, attracted by the glare. Small fish are caught with a different sort of spear, consisting of six or eight metal rods lashed to a long stick; when this is dexterously plunged into a shoal, some fish are pretty sure to be pinched and held firm.

Very often large parties go together to the reef, each bearing a flaming torch, and sometimes they fish for eels in the rivers in the same way. In either case the effect is most picturesque. I have seen the shallow lagoon just inside the reef all illuminated by these flashing lights, which tell where the canoes are gliding, and just reveal the statuesque figures at the prow, with uplifted torch and spear all ready poised: grand studies in bronze, as perfect models as sculptor could desire, and rich bits of colour for the artist who can render the warm ruddy glow, reflected by a well-oiled brown skin, with a background of dark sea and sky.

At other times the sport lies in some form of netting. A whole company of women assemble, laughing and chattering as only South Sea Islanders can. Perhaps a dozen are told off to carry a great net, which they sink when up to their necks in water; then forming a wide semicircle, they gradually approach the shore, lifting their net so as not to tear it on the rough coral-bed, and driving as many fish as they can enclose towards the shallow water, whence they can scoop them up in their little baskets, which they empty into larger ones slung from the waist. In this way myriads of tiny silvery fish are caught.

Sometimes the men adopt this method of driving larger fish into shallow water, and then spear them in the way I have just described. The best marksmen stand a little apart, watching keenly