Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/297

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BÊCHE-DE-MER FISHERS.

the red bêche-de-mer, which love the sea-foam; but when the surf comes thundering in with mad violence, then the fishers have a quiet day with the black slugs; for these they must dive perhaps to a depth of twelve fathoms.

As I once before mentioned to you, these creatures eject a fluid which blisters the skin most painfully; so instead of carrying them in a basket, it is customary for the fisher to have a miniature canoe which he can drag over the reef by means of a rope, or float on the calm lagoon, should he have occasion to dive; into this canoe he throws all treasure-trove, and when it is full, empties it into one of the larger boats. Noonday is the most favourable hour for the diver, as the sun's vertical rays then most clearly illumine the submarine depths where he seeks his game.

When a fair supply has been secured, the fishers return to the settlement. Sometimes they busy themselves on the way by cleaning the slugs, which is done by cutting them open with a sharp knife, so as to let the dangerous blistering fluid and intestines fall into the sea. But the more cautious men defer this process till they reach the shore, when they pop the live animals into a boiling caldron, and therein stir them diligently for some minutes, after which they can clean them with greater safety to themselves. They are then transferred to another caldron and stewed for half an hour, after which they are taken to the drying-house, whence they reappear like bits of dry leather, and require to be soaked for several days previous to use.

It is necessary to cook the Holothuria as quickly as possible, because so soon as they are dead they become a gelatinous mass like treacle, with a very bad smell, and all adhere together, so that no use can be made of them. So if caldrons are lacking, native ovens are at once prepared: a hole is dug in the earth, and a fire kindled, whereby stones are thoroughly heated, and on these the slugs are laid, and covered with green leaves and old matting, and earth over all. Thus they are steamed for an hour, till they are dried up and shrivelled, after which each is stretched open with little bits of stick, and laid on the drying stages in the smoking-house, over a fire of green wood, which produces a dense smoke. This