The Big Oyster,

A Legend of Raritan Bay

by George Arnold


  'TWAS a hazy, mazy, lazy day,

And the good smack Emily idly lay

Off Staten Island, in Raritan Bay,

With her canvas loosely flapping,

The sunshine slept on the briny deep,

Nor wave nor zephyr could vigils keep,

The oysterman lay on the deck asleep,

And even the cap'n was napping.

The smack went drifting down the tide,—

The waters gurgling along her side,—

Down where the bay glows vast and wide,—

A beautiful sheet of water;

With scarce a ripple about her prow,

 

The oyster-smack floated, silent and slow,

With Keyport far on her starboard bow,

And South Amboy on her quarter.

But, all at once, a grating sound

Made the cap'n awake and glance around;

"Hold hard!" cried he, "we've run aground,

As sure as all tarnation!"

The men jumped up, and grumbled and swore;

They also looked, and plainly saw

That the Emily lay two miles from shore,

At the smallest calculation.

Then, gazing over the side, to see

What kind of a bottom this shoal might be,

They saw, in the shadow that lay to the lee,

A sight that filled them with horror!

The water was clear, and beneath it, there,

An oyster lay in its slimy lair,

So big, that to tell its dimensions fair

Would take from now till to-morrow.

And this it was made the grating sound;

On this the Emily ran aground;

And this was the shoal the cap'n found,—

Alack! the more is the pity.

For straight an idea entered his head:

He'd drag it out of its watery bed,

And give it a resting-place, instead,

In some saloon in the city.

So, with crow, and lever, and gaff, and sling,

And tongs, and tackle, and roller, and ring,

They made a mighty effort to bring

This hermit out of his cloister.

They labored earnestly, day and night,

Working by torch and lantern light,

Till they had to acknowledge that, do what they might,

They never could budge the oyster!

The cap'n fretted, and fumed, and fussed,—

He swore he'd "have that 'yster, or bust!"

But, for all his oaths, he was quite nonplussed;

So by way of variation,

He sat him quietly down, for a while,

To cool his anger and settle his bile,

And to give himself up, in his usual style,

To a season of meditation.

Now, the cap'n was quite a wonderful man;

He could do almost anything any man can,

And a good deal more, when he once began

To act from a clear deduction.

But his wonderful power,—his greatest pride,—

The feat that shadowed all else beside,—

The talent on which he most relied,—

Was his awful power of suction!

At suction he never had known defeat!

The stoutest suckers had given in, beat,

When he sucked up a quart of apple-jack, neat,

By touching his lips to the measure!

He'd suck an oyster out of its shell,

Suck shrimps or lobsters equally well;

Suck cider till inward the barrel-heads fell,—

And seemed to find it a pleasure.

Well, after thinking a day or two,

This doughty sucker imagined he knew

About the best thing he could possibly do,

To secure the bivalvular hermit.

"I'll bore through his shell, as they bore for coal,

With an auger fixed on the end of a pole,

And then, through a tube, I'll suck him out whole,—

A neat little swallow, I term it!"

The very next day, he returned to the place

Where his failure had thrown him into disgrace;

And there, with a ghastly grin on his face,

Began his submarine boring.

 

He worked for a week, for the shell was tough,

But reached the interior soon enough

For the oyster, who found such surgery rough,—

Such grating, and scraping, and scoring!

The shell-fish started, the water flew,

The cap'n turned decidedly blue,

But thrust his auger still further through,

To quiet the wounded creature.

Alas! I fear my tale grows sad,

The oyster naturally felt quite bad

In spite of its peaceful nature.

It arose, and, turning itself on edge,

Exposed a ponderous shelly wedge,

All covered with slime, and sea-weed, and sedge,—

A conchological wonder!

This wedge flew open, as quick as a flash,

Into two great jaws, with a mighty splash

One scraunching, crunching, crackling crash,—

And the smack was gone to thunder.