Page:Natural History, Mollusca.djvu/258

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to receive a certain sum, or permission to fish on their own account. Some of those who pursue the latter plan are very successful, and become rich, while others are great losers hy the speculation. The spirit of gambling is more openly exhibited, for oyster lotteries are carried on to a great extent, and they consist of purchasing a quantity of the oysters unopened, and running the chance of either finding or not finding pearls in them. These lotteries are great favourites with European officers and gentlemen. The boat-owners and the merchants lose some of the best pearls while the boats are on their return to the bay from the banks, as the oysters when alive, and left for a time undisturbed, frequently open their shells of their own accord; a pearl may then be easily discovered, and the oyster prevented, by means of a bit of grass, or soft wood, from again closing its shell, till an opportunity offers of picking out the pearl.

Captain Percival thus concludes his interesting account:—"As soon as the oysters are taken out of the boats, they are carried by the different people to whom they belong, and placed in holes or pits, dug in the ground to the depth of about two feet, or in small square places, cleared and fenced round for the purpose, each person having his own separate division. Mats are spread below them to prevent the oysters from touching the earth, and here they are left to die and rot. As soon as they have passed through a state of putre-faction, and have become dry, they are easily opened, without any danger of injuring the pearls, which might not be the case if they were opened fresh, as at that time to do so requires great force.