Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/294

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The lagoons in which these fisheries are carried on are indescribably lovely: marine gardens, in which every detail of beauty is enhanced by being seen through the clearest crystal waters, which lend a glamour as of a magic glass to everything seen through them, whether sea-weed or shell, zoophyte or coral, gliding snake or rainbow-coloured fish. Here and there are patches of pure white coral-sand, which serve to reveal the exquisite colour of the aqua-marine water; while the golden sea-weeds appear purple, and the corals seem to vary in hue, according to the depth at which they lie beneath the surface. It is all illusion, for the flowers of the sea are always disappointing when gathered. But there on the coral-ledges lie the great oysters and many other shells, including the huge clam, which is accounted excellent food. The pearl-oyster is only eaten in times of scarcity, as it is very coarse and unpalatable, though not unwholesome.

Diving for clams generally falls to the share of the women; and many a one has met her doom from getting nipped by the ponderous dentated shell, and so held prisoner in the depths, never to rise again. I heard several horrible stories on this subject in Fiji, and here new ones are added to the list. Quite recently a poor fellow fishing on one of the Paumotu atolls dived to the bottom of the lagoon, feeling for pearl-oysters, when he unluckily slipped the fingers of his left hand into a gaping clam-shell, which instantly closed and held him as if in a vice. The shell lay in a hole in the coral, so that it was impossible to reach the byssus by which it was moored in that safe harbour; the wretched man, in agony of mind and of body, severed his own fingers with his knife, and rose to the surface, having indeed escaped drowning, but being maimed for life. There have been other cases when a diver, thus imprisoned, has with greater deliberation contrived to insert his knife into the shell, and so force it open sufficiently to release his other hand.

In gathering clams, the aim of the diver is to stab the gaping mollusc with a sharp-pointed stake, and then with his knife cut the silky filaments by which it adheres to the rock, after which he slips both hands below the huge shell, and endeavours to raise it;