Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/244

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which lies safely ensconced in some hole in the rocks, throws out a long arm and lassoes its prey, the plated armour giving it a firmer grip. Failing to draw in this unknown variety of rat, it throws out another arm, and yet another, till at length it slips out of its stronghold, and is drawn to the surface, holding its prize firmly enlaced.

It is not "all fish that comes to the net" in these seas. Many which are wholesome at one season are downright poison during the months when the coral is said to be in "blossom;" during which time these fish crunch it with their strong teeth. Others become poisonous by feeding on sea-centipedes—curious creatures which twine themselves round the coral, and resemble yards of black string with myriad tiny legs. There are certain fish which may be eaten with impunity on one isle, and are positively deadly if caught on other reefs. The natives themselves have sometimes died by rashly trusting to their experience of their own fishing-grounds, and so venturing to eat the identical fish caught elsewhere. There are also certain sea-crabs which it is very unsafe to eat. Curiously enough, all varieties of land-crab are said to be good for food; but there is a white-shelled sea-crab which generally proves fatal, and is sometimes eaten as a means of committing suicide.

Even shell-collectors have to be wary how they handle the treasures they discover, as there are certain shell-fish which are armed with minute barbs, through which they inject virulent poison into the hand that touches them. The most dangerous of these is a beautiful cone,[1] which has been known to cause death within a few hours. No sooner is it touched than a thrill of sharp pain flies up to the shoulder, and soon the body swells to an enormous size, and the hapless sufferer dies in agony.

Do you remember a somewhat similar case—though happily it did not prove fatal—which occurred on our own shores, when Mr Hope G—— incautiously picked up a large jelly-fish, which so poisoned his blood that weeks of torture ensued? These beautiful sea-thistles (sea-nettles rather) are not to be touched with impunity.

  1. Conus textilis