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ancients thought it a luxury; in modern times, it is simply thought very good. To the uses of the fish which I have mentioned, I should add that leather is made of the skins of old and large fish, and that of the young ones is, in some parts of Russia and Tartary, used for window-glass.
The total value of all the different sorts of sturgeons caught in the Caspian in an ordinary year may amount to nearly 300,0001.
F. What a great sum for one kind of fish!
U. O. Great as it is, the price should be described by a much larger sum of our money, because money is of more value in that country than in this.—Do you not see that if I can buy so much food at Astrakhan for sixpence as I can get in England for a shilling, a sixpence in Astrakhan is as good to me as a shilling in England ? It would, therefore, be proper for me, when an article cost me sixpence at the former place, to say that the price was a shilling of English value. I do not say this is exactly the proportion with regard to the fish; but it is well that you should always consider this when I speak of prices.
Besides these fish, there are many others of a smaller kind : among the rest herrings, which are larger and plumper than ours, but not so tender, and which are called by the Persians “ silver fish;” the sterlet, the carp, the pike, the shad, and the barbel. The value of the fish of this kind that are caught every year is said to be about 80,0001. There are also plenty of porpoises, or dolphins, which the people do not think it worth their while to catch. Several species of seals are also found in great numbers, but which differ only in colour. The capture of these animals is a very profitable business. They crawl ashore upon the islands, where the fishermen kill them with long clubs. When one of them is assaulted, others come to its help and share its fate. It is difficult to kill them; and they have been known to live many days, after having received wounds that would immediately have destroyed most land animals. Fire and smoke terrify them greatly; and when they perceive them they retreat in all haste to the sea. The seals are chiefly taken in spring and autumn, when they become exceedingly fat and look rather like oil-bags than anything else. Many small vessels go out at these seasons from Astrakhan in search of them. When they are killed their bowels are taken out, and after having been sprinkled
with salt, the seals are sent to the city, where their skin is taken off and their tallow melted; with this, mixed with potashes, they make a sort of grey soap, which is said to be better than any other for cleansing and taking grease out of woollen stuffs. We shall have more to say about seals another time, as I am only now to tell you how the people of the Caspian Sea take them, and what they do with them.
The Caspian is frequented by a great number of birds, particularly storks, herons, bitterns, spoonbills, red geese, red ducks, and the like. The most beautiful of these is what is called the red goose· J. Oh, I wish I had a red goose to play with. How pretty a red goose must be !
U. O. Let us not be deceived by names, my little Jane. The bird is properly white, being red only at the tips of the wings, the orbits of the eyes, the beak, the legs, and the feet, which are of a fine scarlet colour. It is of the size of a stork, with long legs and neck, and is, I dare say, rather a sort of flamingo than a goose. The flesh is very nice eating, although the bird lives on fish.
H. Does that commonly make the flesh of a bird unfit to eat ?