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VII

A BLUE STREAK 

SLANG is both the curse and the delight of the English language, and that form of slang which our British friends term "Americanisms," and which we have now largely adopted as our national mode of communication, is not confined to the youth of to-day by any means. In the home, in business, and of course in sport, slang has found its way and has spread like the weeds in the garden of the over-enthusiastic commuter. I remember hearing a clergyman of national reputation and advancing years say a short time ago, after a satisfying excursion of some sort, that he had had more fun than a goat," and I defied him to elucidate that time-worn phrase to my satisfaction.

The derivations and origins of American idioms and colloquial expressions are vastly interesting, not only in showing the resourcefulness of our people in cutting wordy corners and in the development of a certain form of humor which I do not defend, but in shedding real light upon the whys and wherefores of our universe down to its smallest detail. A temperamental curiosity has led me from time to time to look up certain of the commoner expressions, and I am indebted to this eccentric hobby for several pleasurable experiences.

Many years ago -- so many in fact that the memory is distasteful -- I went to a horse-race where the winner passed our stand at a pace which my companion described as -going like a blue streak," a familiar term with which I ignorantly agreed at the time. I suppose that since then I have heard it repeated many hundred times, but it was not until last summer when my son applied it to a motor-boat passing out of the harbor, that I thought of inquiring into its origin, and discovered, much to my surprise, that it applied to the illusive and disconcerting movements of the ordinary sea crab, often called the "blue claw."

The discovery piqued my curiosity and I determined forthwith to investigate the locomotory accomplishments of these retiring animals. This was not as easy a task as I had expected. The crab is not socially inclined, and the term "crabbed" is soon apparent. He is only to be found at low tide, and generally near the mouth of a salty creek where the bottom is muddy and sparsely covered with seaweed and eelgrass. There in the late summer and fall he can be seen from canoe or rowboat, if one is patient and watchful, and the expression to "go like a blue streak" fits him like a glove.

Having provided myself with a net of the butterfly variety, I determined to secure a specimen, and began my search among the creeks, so numerous along the shores of Cape Cod. Although we came upon quite a number, it took the entire morning to capture four.

When unmolested, these creatures crawl slowly and deliberately about their business, sluggish in manner and shabbily dark in appearance, grubbing about on the bottom, now in, now out of the seaweed, but the instant that danger is threatened, they undergo a transformation. The claws, from sprawling about on the mud at every angle, are drawn in, and like a flash -- or, far better, -- "like a blue streak" -- the particular crab that you have selected for capture darts away at an angle that leaves you helpless with wonder at the suddenness of his departure and at the blueness of his appearance.

As soon as you have spotted your prey the excitement begins. Armed with the net, you crawl quietly to the bow of the boat and in whispers direct the rower, now this way, now that, following the route taken by the capricious crab. Sometimes the water is deep enough to permit the use of the oars, at others it is necessary to pole the boat in and out among the rocks covered by seaweed, your journey always attended by silence and stealth as if the slightest noise would precipitate in flight this wily crustacean.

At last when you are within striking distance, the net is plunged in among the grass and brought up, alas! empty, and the hunt continues as before.

When, after repeated trials, your patience is rewarded and a fine big fellow is caught, the greatest care must be taken to prevent him from crawling out of the net and escaping before he is landed in the boat, for his activities are ceaseless.

Indeed, even after he is flung deftly into the pail, his savage struggles may succeed in freeing him from captivity. And so it is only with infinite caution and patience - qualifications necessary in every game  -- that you are able to land your prize, and it is only then that you, will find the explanation of the color quality of his passing. As the crab is taken from the water, its mud-colored shell appears a dark ultramarine blue, the claws of a lighter shade, the under part shading to white tinged with pink; its entire surface seems metallic in the intensity of its coloring as it leaves the water.

From a slow, lazy animal of peaceful habits, the crab has become a veritable monster, savage and fiercely aggressive, and woe to the unfortunate within reach of his claws.

His capture is a real experience and a distinctly sporting event. So interesting and mysterious is the search, so active and adventurous the pursuit, and so exciting and satisfying the actual catch, that one is tempted to place crabbing among the big events of a summer at the seashore.

I know a college professor who annually devotes the better part of his vacation to this pastime, and several of my athletic friends, whose prowess on the football field was a matter of international comment in the papers, confess to the delights of a crab hunt; but it is a surprising fact, nevertheless, that the majority of those who visit the seacoast each year have never even heard of the extraordinary fascination of hunting the originator of the "blue streak."


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