Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/270

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one of his brave courtiers, perceiving the danger, got up and shut the whistlers mouth.[1]

We must not omit to mention the celebrated "Whistling Caster," which about forty years ago created such a sensation at the small oyster and refreshment rooms situated in Vinegar Yard, near Catherine Street, Strand. "It appears," says a writer in the "Daily Telegraph," "that about the year 1840, the proprietor of the house in question, which had then, as it has now, a great name for the superior excellence of its delicate little 'natives,' heard a strange and unusual sound proceeding from one of the tubs in which the shell-fish lay, piled in layers one over the other, placidly fattening upon oatmeal, and awaiting the inevitable advent of the remorseless knife. Mr. Pearkes, the landlord, listened, hardly at first believing his ears. There was, however, no doubt about the matter. One of the oysters was distinctly whistling, or, at any rate, producing a sort of 'sifflement' with its shell. It was not difficult to detect this phenomenal bivalve, and in a very few minutes he was triumphantly picked out from among his fellows, and put by himself in a spacious tub with a bountiful supply of brine and meal. The news spread throughout the town, and for some days the fortunate Mr. Pearkes found his house besieged by curious crowds. That this Arion of oysters did really whistle is beyond all question. How he managed to do so is not upon record." As may be imagined, the jokes to which this fresh wonder of creation gave rise were unlimited; and Thackeray was in the habit of relating an amusing story of his own experience in connection with it. It appears that he was one day in the shop when an American came in to see this startling freak of nature; after hearing the talented niollusk go through its usual performance, he walked contemptuously out, remarking at the same time that "it was nothing to an oyster he knew of in Massachusetts, which whistled 'Yankee Doodle' right through, and followed its master about the house like a dog." Douglas Jerrold surmised that the oyster had undoubtedly "been crossed in love, and now whistled to keep up appearances, with an idea of showing that it didn't care." The subsequent fate of this interesting creature, says Mr. Walford,[2] "is a mystery—whether he was eaten alive, or ignominously scalloped, or still more ignominiously handed over to the tender mercies of a cook in the neighborhood, to be served up in a bowl of oyster-sauce as a relish to a hot beefsteak. In fact, like the 'Lucy' of Wordsworth—

'. . . none can tell
When the oyster ceased to he.'

But it is somewhat singular that so eccentric a creature should have existed in the middle of London, and in the middle of the nineteenth century, and that no history of his career should be on record." Last-

  1. Carl Engel, "Musical Myths and Facts," i, 92, 93.
  2. "Old and New London," iii, 281.