[from Hall Caine The Deemster]

CHAPTER IX

THE SERVICE ON THE SHORE.

IT was the spring of the year when the examining chaplain gave the verdict which for good or ill put Dan out of the odour of sanctity. Then in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes he haunted the shore where old Billy and his mates were spreading their nets and barking them in preparation for the herring season that was soon to begin. There it was, while stretched on the warm shingle, with old Billy Quilleash sitting near, smoking his black cutty and mending the meshes broken by the dog-fish of last year, that Dan hit on the idea of a new course in life. This was nothing better or worse than that of turning fisherman. He would buy a smack and make old Billy his skipper; he would follow the herrings himself, and take up his own share and the share of the boat. It would be delightful, and, of course, it would be vastly profitable. Everything looked plain and straight and simple, and though old Billy more than half shook his grey head at the project, and let fall by several inches his tawny face, and took his pipe out of his mouth and cleared his throat noisily and looked vacantly out to sea, and gave other ominous symptoms of grave internal dubi- tation, Dan leapt to his feet at the sudden access of new purpose, and bowled off in hot haste to tell the Bishop.

The Bishop listened in silence at first, and with a sidelong look out at the window up to the heights of Slieu Dhoo, and when Dan, in a hang-dog manner, hinted at certain new- born intentions of reform, there was a per- ceptible trembling of the Bishop's eyelids, and when he gathered voice and pictured the vast scheme of profit without loss, the Bishop turned his grave eyes slowly upon him, and then Dan's own eyes suddenly fell, and the big world began to shrivel up to the pitiful dimensions of an orange with the juice squeezed out of it. But the end of it all was that the Bishop undertook to become responsible for the first costs of the boat, and, having made this promise with the air of a man who knows too well that he is pampering the whim of a spoiled boy, he turned away rather suddenly with his chin a thought deeper than ever in his breast.

What hurry and bustle ensued ! What driving away to north, south, east, and west, to every fishing port in the island where boats were built or sold. At length a boat was bought on the chocks at Port le Mary, a thirty-tons boat of lugger build, and old Billy Quilleash was sent south to bring it up through the Calf Sound to the harbour at Peeltown.

Then there was the getting together of a crew. Of course, old Billy was made skipper. He had sailed twenty years in a boat of Kinvig's with three nets to his share, and half that time he had been admiral of the Peeltown fleet of herring boats, with five pounds a year for his post of honour. In Dan's boat he was to have four nets by his own right, and one for his nephew, Davy Fayle. Davy was an orphan, brought up by Billy Quilleash. He was a lad of eighteen, and was to sail as boy. There were other four hands-Crennel, the cook; Teare, the mate; Corkell, and Corlett.

Early and late Dan was down at the harbour, stripped to the woollen shirt, and tackling any odd job of painting or carpentry, for the opening of the herring season was hard upon them. But he found time to run up to the new Balla- mona to tell Mona that she was to christen his new boat, for it had not been named when it left the chocks; and then to the old Balla- mona, to persuade Ewan to go with him on his first trip to the herrings.

The day appointed by custom for the first takings of the herring came quickly round. It was a brilliant day in early June. Ewan had been across to Slieu Dhoo to visit his father for the first time since his marriage, more than half a year ago, in order to say that he meant to go out for the night's fishing in Dan's new boat, and to beg that his young wife, who was jnst then in delicate health, might be invited to spend the night of his absence with Mona at the new Ballamona. The Deemster complied with a grim grace; Ewan's young wife went across in the early morning, and in the afternoon all four, the Deemster and Mona, Ewan and his wife, set off in a lumbering, springless coach-the first that the island had yet seen-to witness the departure of the herring fleet from Peel- town, and to engage in that day's ceremony. The salt breath of the sea was in the air, and the light ripples of the bay glistened through a drowsy haze of warm sunshine. It was to be high-water at six o'clock. When the Deemster's company reached Peel- town, the sun was still high over Contrary Head, and the fishing boats in the harbour, to the number of two hundred, were rolling gently, with their brown sails half set, to the motion of the rising tide.

There was Dan in his guernsey on the deck of his boat, and, as the coach drew up near the bottom of the wooden pier, he lifted his red cap from his curly head, and then went on to tic a bottle by a long blue ribbon to the tiller. There was old Billy Quilleash in his sea-boots, and there was Davy Fayle, a shambling sort of lad, long rather than tall, with fair hair tangled over his forehead, and a face which had a simple, vacant look that came of a lagging lower lip. Men on every boat in the harbour were washing the decks, or baling out the dingey, or laying down the nets below. The harbour-master was on the quay, shouting to this boat to pull up or to that one to lie back. And down on the broad sands of the shore were men, women, and children in many hundreds, sitting and lying and lounging about an empty boat with a hole in the bottom that lay high and dry on the beach. The old fishing town itself had lost its chill and cheer- less aspect, and no longer looked hungrily out over miles of bleak sea. Its blind alleys and dark lanes, its narrow, crabbed, crooked streets were bright with little flags hung out of the little stuffed-up windows, and yet brighter with bright faces that hurried to and fro.

About five o'clock, as the sun was dipping seaward across the back of Contrary, leaving the brown sails in the harbour in shade, and glistening red on the sides of the cathedral church on the island-rock that stood twenty yards out from the mainland, there was a movement of the people on the shore towards the town behind them, and of fisher-fellows from their boats towards the beach. Some of the neighbouring clergy had come down to Peeltown, and the little Deemster sat in his coach, thrown open, blinking in the sun under his shaggy grey eyebrows. But some one was still looked for, and expectation was plainly evident in every face until a cheer came over the tops of the houses from the market-place. Then there was a general rush towards the mouth of the quay, and presently there came labouring over the rough cobbles of the tortuous Castle Street, flanked by a tumultuous company of boys and men, bare- headed women, and children, who halloed and waved their arms and tossed up their caps, a rough-coated Manx pony, on which the tall figure of the Bishop sat.

The people moved on with the Bishop at their head until they came to the beach, and there, at the disused. boat lying dry on the sand, the Bishop alighted. In two minutes more every fisherman in the harbour had left his boat and gathered with his fellows on the shore. Then there began a ceremony of infinite pathos and grandeur.

In the open boat the pale-faced Bishop stood, his long hair sprinkled with grey lifted gently over his drooping shoulders by the gentle breeze that came with its odour of brine from the sea. Around him on their knees on the sand were the tawny-faced weather-beaten fishermen in their sea-boots and guernseys, bare-headed, and fumbling their soft caps in their hard hands. There, on the outside, stood the multitude of men, women, and young children, and on the skirts of the crowd stood the coach of the Deemster, and it was half-encircled by the pawing horses of some of the black-coated clergy.

The Bishop began the service. It asked for the blessing of God on the fishing expedi- tion which was about to set out. First came the lesson, "And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly;" and then the story of Jesus in the ship, when there arose a great tempest while He slept, and His dis- ciples awoke Him, and He arose and rebuked the waves; and then that other story of how the disciples toiled all night and took nothing, but let down their nets again at Christ's word, and there came a great multitude of fishes, and their nets brake. "Restore and continue to us the harvest of the sea," prayed the Bishop with his face uplifted; and the men on their knees on the sand, with uncovered heads and faces in their caps, murmured their responses in their own tongue, "Yn Meailley. "

And while they prayed, the soft boom of the unruffled waters on the shore, and the sea's deep murmur from away beyond the headland, and the wild jabbering cries of a flight of sea-gulls disporting on a rock in the bay, were the only sounds that mingled with the Bishop's deep tones and the men's hoarse voices.

Last of all the Bishop gave out a hymn. It was a simple old hymn, such as every man had known since his mother had crooned it over his cot. The men rose to their feet and their lusty voices took up the strain; the crowd behind, and the clergy on their horses, joined it; and from the Deemster's coach two women's voices took it up, and higher, higher, higher, like a lark, it floated up, until the soft boom and deep murmur of the sea and the wild cry of the sea-birds were drowned in the broad swell of the simple old sacred song.

The sun was sinking fast through a red haze towards the sea's verge, and the tide was near the flood, when the service on the shore ended, and the fishermen returned to their boats.

Billy Quilleash leaped aboard the new lug- ger, and his four men followed him. "See all clear," he shouted to Davy Fayle ; and Davy stood on the quay with the duty of clearing the ropes from the blocks, and then following in the dingey that lay moored to the wooden steps.

Dan had gone up to the Deemster's coach and helped Mona and the young wife of Ewan to alight. He led them to the quay steps, and when the company had gathered about, and all was made ready, he shouted to old Billy to throw him the bottle that lay tied by the blue ribbon to the tiller. Then he handed the bottle to Mona, who stood on the step, a few feet above the water's edge.

Mona was looking very fresh and beautiful that day, with a delicious joy and pride in her deep eyes. Dan was talking to her with an awkward sort of consciousness, looking ask- ance at his big brown hands when they came in contact with her dainty white fingers, then glancing down at his great clattering boots, and up into her soft smooth face.

"What am I to christen her?" said Mona, with the bottle held up in her hand.

' Mona," answered Dan, with a shamefaced look and one hand in his brown hair.

"No, no," said she, "not that." "Then what you like," said Dan.

"Well, the Ben-my-Chree," said Mona, and with that the bottle broke on the boat's side. In another instant Ewan was kissing his meek little wife, and bidding her good-bye, and Dan, in a fumbling way, was, for the first time in his life, demurely shaking Mona's hand, and trying hard to look her in the face.

" Tail on there," shouted Quilleash from the lugger. Then the two men jumped aboard, Davy Fayle ran the ropes from the blocks, the admiral's boat cleared away from the quay, and the admiral's flag was shot up to the masthead. The other boats in the harbour followed one by one, and soon the bay was full of the fleet.

As the Ben-my-Chree stood out to sea beyond the island-rock, Dan and Ewan stood aft, Dan in his brown guernsey, Ewan in his black coat; Ewan waving his handkerchief, and Dan his cap; old Billy was at the tiller, Crennel, the cook, had his head just above the hatchways, and Davy was clambering hand-over-hand up the rope by which the dingey was hauled to the stern.

Then the herring fleet sailed away under the glow of the setting sun.


 

back index next

 

any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2003