[from Hall Caine The Deemster]
This meeting with the poor hare, though now it looks so trivial a thing, did then make a great seizure upon my mind, so that it changed my course and habit of life. For ceasing not to believe that I was wholly given over to a reprobate soul, I yet laid my gun aside, and locked my shot and powder in a drawer beneath my bunk, and set my face towards new ways of living. First I put myself to counting all that I possessed. Thus I found that of rye and Indian meal I had a peck each, of barley a peck, with two quarters of fine barley flour, of oats a peck, with two quarters of oaten meal, of potatoes two kischen, beside onions and a little common salt. In the hold under the hatches there were stored sundry useful implements-a spade, a fork, a hedge-knife, some hempen rope and twine, and with the rest were the four herring nets which belonged to the boat, a mackerel-net, and some deep-sea lines. Other things there were that I do not name -wanting memory of them at this time of writing-but enough in all for most uses that a lone man might have.
And this bad ofttimes set me wondering why, if it bad been meant that I should be cast utterly away, I had been provided with means of life, who could well have found them for myself. But after that meeting with the hare I perceived the end of God in this, namely, that I should not, without guilt, descend from the state of a Christian man when hunger had to be satisfied.
And herein also I found the way of the stern Judge with guilty man, that, having enough for present necessities, I had little for the future, beyond the year that then was, and that if I must eat, so I must work. Thus upon a day somewhere, as I reckon, about a month after my cutting off, I rose early, and set myself to delve a piece of fallow ground-where all was fallow-two roods or more in extent, lying a little to the north of the Black Head, and to the south of the circle of stones that stand near by. All day I wrought fasting, and when darkness fell in the fallows were turned. Next morning I put down my seed, of potatoes a half-kischen, cut in quarters where the eyes were many, and also of barley and oats half a peck each, keeping back my other halfpeck lest the ground were barren, or the weather against it, or the year too far worn for such-like crops.
And that day of the delving, the first on which I wrought as a man, was also the first on which I felt a man's craving for the company of other men. The sun was strong all the fore part of the day, and its hot rays scorched the skin of my back-for I had stripped to my waist for my labour-and that set me thinking what month it was, and wondering what was doing in the world, and how long I had been where I then was. When I returned to my boat at nightfall, the air, as I remember it, was quiet over the sound as it might be in a cloister, and only the gulls were jabbering on Kitterland and the cormorants at the water's edge. And I sat on the deck while the sun went down in the sea, and the red sky darkened and the stars began to show and the moon to look out. Then I went below and ate my barley-bread, and thought of what it was to be alone.
It was that night that I betbought me of my watch, which I had not once looked for since the day of my immersion in the Cross Vein on Orrisdale, when I found it stopped from being full of water. In my fob it had lain with its seals and chain since then, but now I took it out and cleaned it with oil from the fat of the hare and wound it up. For months thereafter I set a great store by it, always carrying it in my fob when I went abroad, and when I came home to the boat always banging it on a nail to the larboard of the stove-pipe in the cabin. And in the long silence of the night, when I heard it, sure, I thought, it is the same to me as good company. Very careful I was to wind it when the sun set, but if perchance it ran down, and I awoke in my bunk, and, listening, heard it not, then it was as if the pulse had stopped of the little world I lived in, and there was nothing but a great emptiness.
But withal my loneliness increased rather than diminished, and though I had no longer any hankering after my old way of life in ranging the moorlands with my gun, yet I felt that the activity of that existence had led me off from thinking too much of my forlorn condition. Wherefore, when my potatoes had begun to show above the ground, and I had earthed them up, I began to be. think me touching my boat, that it must be now the time of the herring-fishing come again, and that I would go out of nights and see what I could take. So never doubting that single-handed I could navigate the lugger, I hoisted the nets out of the hold athwart the bunk-board, and took them ashore to mend and to bark them on the beach. I had spread them out on the shingle, and was using my knife and twine on the holes of the dog-fish, when suddenly from behind me there came the loud bark of a dog. Well I remember how I trembled at the sound of it, for it was the nearest to a man's voice that I had heard these many lonesome days, and how fearfully I turned my head over my shoulder as if some man had touched me and spoken. But what I saw was a poor mongrel dog, small as a cur, and with ragged ears, a peaky nose, and a scant tail, which for all its loud challenge it dangled woefully between its legs. Until then I had never smiled or wept since my cutting off, and I believed myself to have lost the sense of laughter and of tears, but I must have laughed at the sight of the dog, so much did it call to mind certain brave vaunters I had known, who would come up to a bout of wrestling with a right lusty brag, and straightway set to trembling before one had well put eyes on them. At the sound of my voice the dog wagged his tail, and crept up timidly with his muzzle down, and licked the hand I held out to him. All day he sat by me and watched me at my work, looking up in my face at wbiles with a wistful gaze, and I gave him a morsel of oaten cake, which he ate greedily, seeming to be half starved of hunger. And when at
dusk my task was finished and I rose and got into the dingey, thinking now he would go his ways and be seen of me no more, he leaped into the boat after me, and when we reached the lugger he settled himself in the corner under the locker as if he had now fully considered it that with me he would make his habitation henceforth.
Having all things in readiness for the fishing, I sliptanchor upon an evening towards autumn, as I reckoned, for the leaves of the trammon were then closing like a withered hand and the berries of the hollin were reddening. When the stars were out, but no moon was yet showing, I put about head to the wind, and found myself in no wise hampered because short-handed, for when I had to take in my sails I lashed my tiller, and being a man of more than common strength of arm, it cost me nothing to step my mainmast.
That night, and many nights thereafter, I had good takings of fish, and in the labour of looking after my corks and making fast my seizings, the void in my mind was in some wise filled with other matter than thoughts of my abject state. But one thing troubled me at first, namely, that I took more fish by many mazes than I could ever consume. To make an end of my fishing was a thing I could not bring myself to, for I counted it certain that so to do would be to sink back to my former way of living. Wherefore I thought it safest to seek for some mode of disposing of my fish, such as would keep me at my present employment and do no harm to my feelings as a man, for with this I had now to reckon watchfully, being in constant danger, as I thought, of losing the sense of manhood.
So I soused some hundreds of my herrings with rough salt, which I distilled from the salt water by boiling it in a pan with pebbles. The remainder I concluded to give to such as would consume them, and how to do this, being what I was, cost me many bitter thoughts, wherein I seemed to be the most unblessed of all men. At length I hit on a device, and straightway brought it to bear. Leaving my fishing-ground while the night was not yet far spent, I ran into the sound before dawn, for soon I learned those narrow waters until they grew familiar as the palm of my hand. Then before the sun rose above the Stack of Scarlet, and while the eastern sky was only dabbled with pink, I, with a basket of herrings on my shoulder, crossed the moor to Cregneesh, where the people are poor and not proud, and, creeping in between the cabins, laid my fish down in the open place that is before the little chapel, and then went my way quickly lest a door should suddenly open, or a window be lifted, and a face look forth. Thrice I did this before I marked that there were those who were curious to know whence the fish came, and then I was put on my mettle to go into the village and yet to keep myself from being seen, for well I knew that if any eye beheld me that knew me who I was, there would henceforward be an end of the eating of my herrings, even among the poorest, and an end of my fishing also. But many times I went into Cregneesh without being seen of any man, and now I know not whether to laugh or to weep when I look back on the days I write of, and see myself like a human fox stealing in by the grey of dawn among the sleeping homes of men.