[from Hall Caine The Deemster]
THE sun went down, and a smart breeze rose off the land as the Ben-my-Chree, with the fleet behind her, rounded Contrary Head, and crossed the two streams that flow there. For an hour afterwards there was still light enough to see the coast-line curved into covelets and pro- montories, and to look for miles over the hills with their moles of gorse, and tussocks of lush grass. The twilight deepened as the fleet rounded Niarbyl Point, and left the islet on their lee, with Cronk-ny-Irey-Lhaa towering into the gloomy sky. When they sailed across Fleshwick Bay the night gradually darkened, and nothing was seen of Ennyn Mooar. But after an hour of darkness the heavens light- ened again, and glistened with stars, and when old Billy Quilleash brought his boat-head to the wind in six fathoms of water outside Port Erin, the moon had risen behind Bradda, and the rugged headland showed clear against the sky. One after another the boats and the fleet brought to about the Ben-my-Chree.
Dan asked old Billy if he had found the herrings on this ground at the same time in former seasons.
"Not for seven years," said the old man. "Then why try now?"
Bill stretched out his hand to where a flight of sea-gulls were dipping and sailing in the moonlight. "See the gull there?" he said. "She's skipper to-night ; she's showing us the fish."
Davy Fayle had been leaning over the bow, rapping with a stick at the timbers near the water's edge.
"Any signs? " shouted Billy Quilleash.
" Ay," said Davy, "the mar-fire's risen'."
The wind had dropped, and luminous patches of phosphorescent light in the water were show- ing that the herrings were stirring.
" Let's make a shot; up with the gear," said Quilleash, and preparations were made for shooting the nets over the quarter.
" Ned Teare, you see to the line. Crennel, look after the corks. Davy-where's that lad? -look to the seizings, d'ye bear?"
Then the nets were hauled from below, and passed over a bank-board placed between the hatchway and the top of the bulwark. Teare and Crennel shot the gear, and as the seizings came up, Davy ran aft with them, and made them fast to the warp near the taffrail.
When the nets were all paid out, every net in the drift being tied to the next, and a solid wall of meshes nine feet deep had been swept away along the sea for half-a-mile behind them, Quilleash shouted, "Down with the sheets."
The ropes were hauled, the sails were taken in, the mainmast-which was so made as to lower backward-was dropped, and only the drift-mizzen was left, and that was to keep the boat-head on to the wind.
"Up with the light there," said Quilleash. At this word Davy Fayle popped his head out of the hatchways.
"Aw, to be sure, that lad's never ready. Ger out of that, quick."
Davy jumped on deck, took a lantern and fixed it to the top of the witch-board. Then ve=sel and nets drifted together, and Dan and Ewan, who bad kept the deck until now, went below together.
It was now a calm, clear night, with just light enough to show two or three of the buoys on the back of the net nearest to the boat as they floated under water. Old Billy had not mistaken his ground. Large white patches came moving out of the surrounding pavement of deep black, lightened only by the image of a star where the vanishing ripples left the dark sea smooth. Once or twice countless faint popping sounds were to be heard, and minute points of shooting silver were to be seen on the water around. The herrings were at play, and shoals on shoals soon broke the black sea into a glistening foam.
But no "strike" was made, and after an hour's time Dan popped his head over the hatchways and asked the skipper to try the "look-on" net. The warp was hauled in until the first net was reached. It came up as black as coal, save for a dog-fish or two that had broken a mesh here and there.
" Too much moon to-night," said Quilleash ; "they see the nets, and 'cute they are extra-ordinary."
But half-an-hour later the moon went out behind a thick ridge of cloud that floated over the land; the sky became grey and leaden, and a rising breeze ruffled the sea. Then hour after hour wore on, and not a fish came to the look-on net. Towards one o'clock in the morning the moon broke out again. "There'll be a heavy strike now," said Quilleash, and in another instant a lumi- nous patch floated across the line of the nets, sunk, disappeared, and finally pulled three of the buoys down with them.
"Pull up now," shouted Quilleash in another tone.
Then the nets were hauled. Davy,, the boy, led the warp through a snatch-block fixed to the mast-hole on to the capstan. Ned Teare disconnected the nets from the warps, and Crennel and Corlett pulled the nets over the gunwale. They came up silver- white in the moonlight, a solid block of fish. Billy Quilleash and Dan passed them over the scudding-pole and shook the herrings into the hold.
"Five maze at least," said Quilleash, with a chuckle of satisfaction. "Try again." And once more the nets were shot. The other boats of the fleet were signalled, by a blue light run up the drift-mizzen, that the Ben- my-Chree had struck a scale of fish. In a few minutes more the blue light was an- swered by other blue lights on every side, and these reported that the fishery was every- where faring well.
One, two, three o'clock came and went. The night was wearing on; the moon went out once more, and in the darkness which preceded the dawn the lanterns burning on the fleet of drifting boats gave out an eerie glow across the waters that lay black and flat around. The grey light came at length in the east, and the sun rose over the land. Then the nets were hauled in for the last time and that night's fishing was done. The mast was lifted, but before the boat was brought about the skipper shouted, "Men, let us do as we're used of," and instantly the admiral's flag was run up to the mast- head, and at this sign the men dropped on one knee with their faces in their caps, and old Billy offered up a short and simple prayer of thanks for the blessings of the sea.
When this was done every man leapt to his feet, and all was work, bustle, shouting, singing out, and some lusty curses.
" Tumble up the sheets-bear a hand there -d- the lad," bawled Quilleash ; " ger out of the way, or I'll make you walk handsome over the bricks."
In five minutes more the Ben-my-Chree, with the herring fleet behind her, was running home before a stiff breeze.
"Nine maze-not bad for the first night," said Dan to Ewan.
"Souse them well," said Quilleash, and Ned Teare sprinkled salt on the herrings as they lay in the hold.
Crennel, the cook, better known as the slushy, came up the hatchways with a huge sauce- pan, which he filled with the fish. As he did so there was a faint "cheep, cheep" from below -the herrings were still alive.
All hands went down for a smoke except Corlett, who stood at the tiller, Davy, who counted for nobody and stretched himself out at the bow, and Ewan. The young parson, who had been taking note of the lad during the night, now seated himself on a coil of rope near where Davy lay. The "cheep, cheep" was the only sound in the air except the plash of the waters at the boat's bow, and, with an inclination of the head in the direc- tion of the fish in the hold, Ewan said, "It seems cruel, Davy, doesn't it ? "
" Cruel ? Well, pozzible, pozzible. Och, 'deed now, they've got their feelings same as anybody else."
The parson had taken the lad's measure at a glance.
"You should see the shoals of them lying round the nets, watching the others-their mothers and sisters, as you might say-who've got their gills 'tangled. And when you haul the net up, away they go at a slant in millions and millions just the same as lightning going through the water. Och, yes, yes, leave them alone for having their feelings."
" It does seem cruel, Davy, eh ? "
Davy looked puzzled; he was reasoning out a grave problem.
"Well, sir, that's the mortal strange part of it. It does look cruel to catch them, sarten sure; but then the herrings themselves catch the sand-eels, and the cod catch the her- ring, and the porpoises and grampuses catch the cod."
Ewan did his best to look astonished.
"Aw, that's the truth, sir. It's terrible, wonderful, strange, but I suppose it's all nathur. You see, air, we do the same our- selves."
"How do you mean, Davy? We don't eat each other, I hope," said the young parson. 110th, don't we though ? Lave us alone for that."
Ewan tried to look appalled.
"Well, of coorse, not to say ate, not 'xactly ate; but the biggest chap allis rigs the rest ; and the next biggest chap allis rigs a littler one, you know, and the littlest chap, he gets rigged by everybody all round, doesn't he, sir ? "
Davy had got a grip of the knotty problem, but the lad's poor, simple face looked sadly burdened, and he came back to his old word.
"Seems to me it must be all nathur, sir." Ewan began to feel some touch of shame at playing with this simple, earnest, big little heart. " So you think it all nature, Davy," he said, with a lump gathering in his throat.
"Well, well, I do, you know, sir ; it does make a fellow fit to cry a bit, somehow; but it must be nathur, sir."
And Davy took off his blue worsted cap and fumbled it and gave his troubled young head a grave shake.
Then there was some general talk about Davy's early history. Davy's father had been pressed into the army before Davy was born, and had afterwards been no more heard of; then his mother had died, and Billy Quil- leash, being his mother's elder brother, had brought him up. Davy had always sailed as boy with Uncle Billy, he was sailing as boy then and that was to the end that Uncle Billy might draw his share; but the young master (Mastha Dan) had spoken up for him, so he had, and he knew middlin' well what that would come to. "He's a tidy lump of a lad now," says Mastha Dan, "and he's well used of the boats, too," says he, "and if he does well this time," he says, "he must sail man for himself next season. Aw, yes, sir, that was what Mastha Dan said."
It was clear that Dan was the boy's hero. When Dan was mentioned that lagging lip gave a yearning look to Davy's simple face. Dan's doubtful exploits and his dubious triumphs all looked glorious in Davy's eyes. Davy had watched Dan, and listened to him, and though Dan might know nothing of his silent worship, every word that Dan had spoken to him had been hoarded up in the lad's heart like treasure. Davy had the dog's soul, and Dan was his master.
"Uncle Billy and him's same as brothers," said Davy; "and Uncle Billy's uncommon proud of the young master, and middlin' jealous, too. Aw, well! who's wondering at it?"
Just then Crennel, the cook, came up to say that breakfast was ready, and Ewan and Davy went below, the young parson's hand resting on the boy's shoulder. In the cabin Dan was sitting by the stove, laughing im- moderately. Ewan saw at a glance that Dan had been drinking, and he forthwith elbowed his way to Dan's side, and lifted a brandy bottle from the stove-top into the locker, under pretence of finding a place for his hat. Then all hands sat down to the table. There was a huge dish of potatoes boiled in their jackets, and a similar dish of herrings. Every man dipped into the dishes with his hands, lifted his herring on to his plate, ran his fingers from tail to head, swept all the flesh off the fresh fish, and threw the bare back- bone into the crock that stood behind.
" Keep a corner for the Meailley at the "Three Legs,"' said Dan.
There was to be a herring breakfast that morning at the "Three Legs of Man," to celebrate the opening of the fishing season.
" You'll come, Ewan, eh ? "
The young parson shook his head.
Dan was in great spirits, to which the spirits he had imbibed contributed a more than com- mon share. Ewan saw the too familiar light of dangerous mischief dancing in Dan's eyes, and made twenty attempts to keep the conversation within ordinary bounds of serious- ness. But Dan was not to be restrained, and breaking away into the homespun-a sure indication that the old Adam was having the upper hand-he forthwith plunged into some chaff that was started by the mate, Ned There, at Davy Fayle's expense.
"Aw, ye wouldn't think it's true, would ye, now?" said Ned, with a wink at Dan and a "glime" at Davy.
`And what's that?" said Dan, with another " glime " at the lad.
"Why, that the like o' gander is tackin' round the gels."
" D'ye raely mane it?" said Dan, dropping his herring and lifting his eyes.
Ewan coughed with some volume, and said, "There, there, Dan, there, there."
"Yes, though, and sniffin' and snuffin' abaft of them astonishin'," Ned Teare put in again.
" Aw, well, well, well," said Dan, turning up afresh the whites of his eyes.
There was not a sign from Davy ; he broke his potato more carefully, and took both hands and both eyes to strip away its jacket.
"Yes, yes, the craythur's doing somethin' in the spoony line," said Billy Quilleash ; "him as hasn't the hayseed out of his hair yet."
"Aw, well," said Dan, pretending to come to Davy's relief, "it isn't raisonable but the lad should be coortin' some gel now."
"What's that ? " shouted Quilleash, dropping the banter rather suddenly. "What, and not a farthing at him? And owin' me fortune for the bringin' up."
"No matter, Billy," said Dan, "and don't ride a man down like a main-tack. One of these fine mornings Davy will be payin' his debt to you with the foretopsail."
Davy's eyes were held very low, but it was not hard to see that they were beginning to fill.
" That will do, Dan, that will do," said Ewan. The young parson's face had grown suddenly pale, but Dan saw nothing of that.
"And look at him there," said Dan, reach- ing round Ewan to prod Davy in the ribs, "look at him there pretendin' he never knows nothin'."
The big tears were near to toppling out of Davy's eyes. He could have borne the chaff from any one but Dan.
"Dan," said Ewan, with a constrained quietness, "stop it; I can't stand it much longer."
At that Davy got up from the table, leaving his unfinished breakfast, and began to climb the hatchways.
"Aw, now, look at that," said Dan with affected solemnity, and so saying, and not heeding the change in Ewan's manner, Dan got up too and followed Davy out, put an arm round the lad's waist, and tried to draw him back. °' Don't mind the loblolly boys, Davy veg," he said coaxingly. Davy pushed him away with an angry word.
"What's that he's after saying?" asked Quilleash.
"Nothin' ; he only cussed a bit," said Dan. "Cussed, did he? He'd better show a leg if he don't want the rat's tail."
Then Ewan rose from the table, and his eyes flashed and his pale face quivered.
"I'll tell you what it is," he said in a tense, tremulous voice; "there's not a man among you. You're a lot of skulking cowards."
At that he was making for the deck; but Dan, whose face, full of the fire of the liquor he had taken, grew in one moment old and ugly, leapt to his feet in a tempest of wrath, overturned his stool and rushed at Ewan with eyes aflame and uplifted hand, and suddenly, instantly, like a flash, his fist fell, and Ewan rolled on the floor.
Then the men jumped up and crowded round in confusion. "The parzon ! the parzon ; God preserve me, the parzon ! "
There stood Dan, with a ghastly countenance, white and convulsed, and there at his feet lay Ewan.
" God A'mighty ! Mastha Dan, Mastha Dan," cried Davy. Before the men had found time to breathe, Davy had leapt back from the deck to the cockpit, and had lifted Ewan's head on to his knee.
Ewan drew a long breath and opened his eyes. He was bleeding from a gash above the temple, having fallen among some refuse of iron chain. Davy, still moaning piteously, "Oh, Mastha Dan, God A'mighty, Mastha Dan," took a white handkerchief from Ewan's breast, and bound it about his head over the wound. The blood oozed through and stained the handkerchief.
Ewan rose to his feet pale and trembling, and without looking at any one, steadied himself by Davy's shoulder and clambered weakly to the deck. There he stumbled for- ward, sat down on the coil of rope that had been his seat before, and buried his uncovered head in his breast.
The sun had now risen above Contrary, and the fair young morning light danced over the rippling waters far and near. A fresh breeze blew from the land, and the boats of the fleet around and about scudded on before the wind like a flight of happy birds with outspread wings.
The Ben-my-Chree was then 'rounding the head, and the smoke was beginning to coil up in many a slender shaft above the chim- neys of the little town of Peel. But Ewan saw nothing of this; with head on his breast, and his heart cold within him, he sat at the bow.
Down below Dan was then doing his best to make himself believe that he was uncon- cerned. He whistled a little, and sang a little, and laughed a good deal; but the whistle lost its tune, and the song stopped short, and the laugh was loud and empty. When he first saw Ewan lie where he fell, all the fire of his evil passion seemed to die away, and for the instant his heart seemed to choke him, and he was prompted to drop down and lift Ewan to his feet; but at that moment his stubborn knees would not bend, and at the next moment the angel of God troubled the waters of his heart no more. Then the fisher-fellows overcame their amazement, and began to crow, and to side with him, and to talk of his pluck, and what not.
" The parzons-och, the parzons-they think they may ride a man down for half a word inside his gills."
"`Cowards'-och, 'skulking cowards,' if you plaze-right sarved say I !"
Dan tramped about the cabin restlessly, and sometimes chuckled aloud and asked himself what did he care, and then laughed noisily, and sat down to smoke, and presently jumped up, threw the pipe into the open stove, and took the brandy bottle out of the locker. Where was Ewan? What was he doing? What was he looking like? Dan would rather have (lied than humbled himself to ask; but would none of these grinning boobies tell him? When Teare, the mate, came down from the deck, and said that sarten sure the young parzon was after sayin' his prayers up forrard, Dan's eyes flashed again, and he had almost lifted his hand to fell the sniggering waistrel. He drank half a tumbler of brandy, and protested afresh, though none had yet disputed it, that be cared nothing, not he, let them say what they liked to the contrary.
In fifteen minutes from the time of the quarrel the fleet was running into harbour. Dan had leaped on deck just as the Ben-my- Chree touched the two streams outside Con- trary. He first looked forward, and saw E wan sitting on the cable in the bow with his eyes shut and his pallid face sunk deep in his breast. Then a strange, wild light shot into Dan's eyes, and he reeled aft and plucked the tiller from the hand of Corlett, and set it hard- a-port, and drove the boat head on for the narrow neck of water that flowed between the mainland and the island-rock on which the old castle stood.
"Hould hard," shouted old Billy Quilleash, "there's not water enough for the like o' that -you'll run her on the rocks."
Then Dan laughed wildly, and his voice rang among the coves and caves of the coast. "Here's for the harbour or-hell," he screamed, and then another wild peal of his mad laughter rang in the air and echoed from the land.
"What's agate of the young mastha ? " the men muttered one to another; and with eyes of.fear they stood stock-still on the deck and saw themselves driven on towards the shoals of the little sound.
In two minutes more they breathed freely. The Ben-my-Chree had shot like an arrow through the belt of water and was putting about in the harbour.
Dan dropped the tiller, reeled along the deck, scarcely able to bear himself erect, and stumbled under the hatchways. Old Billy brought up the boat to its moorings.
" Come, lay down, d'ye hear? Where's that lad? "
Davy was standing by the young parson.
" You idiot waistrel, why d'ye stand prating there ? I'll pay you, you beachcomber."
The skipper was making for Davy, when Ewan got up, stepped towards him, looked him hard in the face, seemed about to speak, checked himself and turned away.
Old Billy broke into a bitter little laugh, and said, "I'm right up and down like a yard o' pump water, that's what I am."
The boat was now at the quay side, and Ewan leapt ashore. Without a word or a look more he walked away, the white hand- kerchief, clotted with blood, still about his forehead, and his hat carried in his hand.
On the quay there were numbers of women with baskets waiting to buy the fish. Teare, the mate, and Crennel, the cook, counted the herrings and sold them. The rest of the crew stepped ashore.
Dan went away with the rest. His face was livid in the soft morning sunlight. He was still keeping up his brave outside, while the madness was growing every moment fiercer within. As he stumbled along the paved way with an unsteady step his hollow laugh grated on the quiet air.