HotFreeBooks.com
The Lively Poll - A Tale of the North Sea
by R.M. Ballantyne
1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

The Lively Poll, by R.M. Ballantyne.

The scene opens with one of the many North Sea fishing fleets at work on its grounds. One of the boats is commanded by a man who is called the Admiral of the fleet. He commands the other boats as to when and where they are to start working with their trawl nets, for if such control were not imposed there would be chaos, with a hundred or more boats crossing each other's paths and consequently entangling their nets.

After a night's fishing the fish are gutted, filleted, and boxed. A steam vessel approaches, and takes their catches, so that they can be landed at the nearest fishing port, such as Yarmouth and Gorleston, and rushed to London and other great cities, to be fresh on tables the following day.

But there is another type of vessel that trades with the "Lively Poll" and other ships of that fishing fleet—the Dutch "coper", bringing goods to trade for fish, including tobacco and schnapps, for the Demon Drink is the ruination of many a good man. That is what this book is really all about, the ruination of some men, and the salvation of others, for even out at sea there are missionaries working to try and save souls.

THE LIVELY POLL, BY R.M. BALLANTYNE.



CHAPTER ONE.

THE FLEET.

Manx Bradley was an admiral—"admiral of the fleet"—though it must be admitted that his personal appearance did not suggest a position so exalted.

With rough pilot coat and sou'-wester, scarred and tarred hands, easy, rolling gait, and boots from heel to hip, with inch-thick soles, like those of a dramatic buccaneer, he bore as little resemblance to the popular idea of a lace-coated, brass-buttoned, cock-hatted admiral as a sea-urchin bears to a cockle-shell. Nevertheless Manx was a real admiral—as real as Nelson, and much harder worked.

His fleet of nearly two hundred fishing-smacks lay bobbing about one fine autumn evening on the North Sea. The vessels cruised round each other, out and in, hither and thither, in all positions, now on this tack, now on that, bowsprits pointing north, south, east, and west, as if without purpose, or engaged in a nautical game of "touch." Nevertheless all eyes were bent earnestly on the admiral's vessel, for it was literally the "flagship," being distinguishable only by a small flag attached to its fore stay.

The fleet was hovering, awaiting orders from the admiral. A fine smart "fishing breeze" was blowing. The setting sun sparkled on the wave-crests; thin fleecy clouds streaked the sky; everything gave promise of a satisfactory night, and a good haul of fish in the morning.

With the quiet air of an amiable despot Manx nodded his venerable head. Up went the signal, and in a few minutes the fleet was reduced to order. Every smack swept round into position, and, bending over on the same tack, they all rushed like a shoal of startled minnows, away in the same direction—the direction signalled by the admiral. Another signal from our venerable despot sent between one and two hundred trawl-nets down to the bottom of the sea, nets that were strong enough to haul up tons of fish, and rocks, and wreckage, and rubbish, with fifty-feet beams, like young masts, with iron enough in bands and chains to sink them, and so arranged that the beams were raised a few feet off the ground, thus keeping the mouths of the great nets open, while cables many fathoms in length held the gears to their respective vessels.

So the North Sea Fishermen began the night's work—the Nancy, the Coquette, the Rattler, the Truant, the Faith, the Playfellow, the Cherub, and all the rest of them. Of course, although the breeze was fresh, they went along slowly, because of the ponderous tails that they had to draw.

Do you ask, reader, why all this order? why this despotic admiral, and all this unity of action? why not "every man for himself"? Let me reply by asking you to think for a moment.

Wind blowing in one direction, perhaps you are aware, does not necessarily imply vessels sailing in the same direction. With variation of courses possible, nearly two hundred tails out astern, and no unity of action, there would arise the certainty of varied and striking incident. The Nancy would go crashing into the bows of the Coquette, the bowsprit of the Rallier would stir up the cabin of the Truant, the tail of the Faith would get entangled with that of the Cherub, and both might hook on to the tail of the Playfellow; in short, the awful result would be wreck and wretchedness on the North Sea, howling despair in the markets of Columbia and Billingsgate, and no fish for breakfast in the great metropolis. There is reason for most things—specially good reason for the laws that regulate the fisheries of the North Sea, the fleets of which are over twelve in number, and the floating population over twelve thousand men and boys.

For several hours this shoal of vessels, with full sails and twinkling lights, like a moving city on the deep, continued to tug and plunge along over the "banks" of the German ocean, to the satisfaction of the fishermen, and the surprise no doubt of the fish. About midnight the admiral again signalled, by rocket and flares, "Haul up," and immediately, with capstan, bar, and steam, the obedient crews began to coil in their tails.

It is not our intention to trouble the reader with a minute account of this process or the grand result, but, turning to a particular smack, we solicit attention to that. She is much like the others in size and rig. Her name is the Lively Poll. Stephen Lockley is her skipper, as fine a young fisherman as one could wish to see—tall, handsome, free, hearty, and powerful. But indeed all deep-sea fishermen possess the last quality. They would be useless if not physically strong. Many a Samson and Hercules is to be found in the North Sea fleets. "No better nursery or training-school in time of war," they say. That may be true, but it is pleasanter to think of them as a training-school for times of peace.

The night was very dark. Black clouds overspread the sky, so that no light save the dim rays of a lantern cheered the men as they went tramp, tramp, round the capstan, slowly coiling in the trawl-warp. Sheets of spray sometimes burst over the side and drenched them, but they cared nothing for that, being pretty well protected by oilskins, sou'-westers, and sea-boots. Straining and striving, sometimes gaining an inch or two, sometimes a yard or so, while the smack plunged and kicked, the contest seemed like a doubtful one between vis inertiae and the human will. Two hours and a half it lasted, until the great trawl-beam came to the surface, and was got up on the vessel's side, after which these indomitable men proceeded to claw up the huge net with their fingers, straining and heaving with might and main.

"Yo, ho!" cried the skipper, "heave her in, boys!"

"Hoy!" growled Peter Jay, the mate, giving a tug that should have torn the net to pieces—but didn't!

"Looks like as if we'd got hold of a lump o' wreck," gasped Bob Lumsden, the smack's boy, who was also the smack's cook.

"No, no, Lumpy," remarked David Duffy, who was no respecter of names or persons, "it ain't a wreck, it's a mermaid. I've bin told they weigh over six ton when young. Look out when she comes aboard—she'll bite."

"I do believe it's old Neptune himself," said Jim Freeman, another of the "hands." "There's his head; an' something like his pitchfork."

"It does feel heavier than I ever knowed it afore," remarked Fred Martin.

"That's all along of your bein' ill, Fred," said the mate.

"It may be so," returned Martin, "for I do feel queer, an' a'most as weak as a baby. Come heave away!"

It was indeed a huge mass of wreck entangled with sea-weed which had rendered the net so heavy on that occasion, but there was also a satisfactory mass of fish in the "cod-end," or bag, at the extremity of the net, for, when, by the aid of the winch, this cod-end was finally got inboard, and the cord fastening the bottom of it was untied, fish of all kinds gushed over the wet decks in a living cataract.

There were a few expressions of satisfaction from the men, but not much conversation, for heavy work had still to be done—done, too, in the dark. Turbot, sole, cod, skate, and all the other treasures of the deep, had to be then and there gutted, cleaned, and packed in square boxes called "trunks," so as to be ready for the steam-carrier next morning. The net also had to be cleared and let down for another catch before daybreak.

Now it is just possible that it may never have occurred to the reader to consider how difficult, not to say dangerous, must be the operation of gutting, cleaning, and packing fish on a dark night with a smack dancing a North Sea hornpipe under one's feet. Among the dangers are two which merit notice. The one is the fisherman's liability, while working among the "ruck," to run a sharp fish-bone into his hand, the other to gash himself with his knife while attempting to operate on the tail of a skate. Either accident may be slight or it may be severe.

A sudden exclamation from one of the men while employed in this cleaning and packing work told that something had happened.

"There goes Martin," growled Joe Stubley; "you can always tell when it's him, 'cause he don't curse an' swear."

Stubley—or Stubby, as his mates called him—did not intend this for a compliment by any means, though it may sound like one. Being an irreligious as well as a stupid man, he held that all who professed religion were hypocritical and silly. Manliness, in poor Jo's mind, consisted of swagger, quiet insolence, cool cursing, and general godlessness. With the exception of Fred Martin, the rest of the crew of the Lively Poll resembled him in his irreligion, but they were very different in character,—Lockley, the skipper being genial; Peter Jay, the mate, very appreciative of humour, though quiet and sedate; Duffy, jovial and funny; Freeman, kindly, though reckless; and Bob, the boy-cook, easy-going both as to mind and morals. They all liked Martin, however, in spite of his religion, for he practised much and preached little.

"What's wrong?" asked Lockley, who stood at the tiller looking out for lights ahead.

"Only a bone into my left hand," replied Martin, going on with his somewhat dirty labours.

"Well that it's no worse, boy," observed Freeman, "for we've got no medicine-chest to fly to like that lucky Short-Blue fleet."

"That's true, Jim," responded Martin; "I wish we had a Gospel smack with our fleet, for our souls need repairing as well as our bodies."

"There you go," growled Stubley, flinging down a just finished fish with a flap of indignation. "A feller can't mention the name o' them mission craft without rousin' you up to some o' your hypocritical chaff. For my part, if it wasn't for the medicine-chest and the mittens, I think we'd be better by a long way without Gospel ships, as ye call 'em. Why, what good 'ave they done the Short-Blues? I'm sure we doesn't want churches, or prayin', or psalm-singin' or book—"

"Speak for yourself, Jo," interrupted Puffy.

"Although your head may be as thick as a three-inch plank, through which nothin' a'most can pass either from books or anything else, you mustn't think we've bin all built on the same lines. I likes a good book myself, an', though I don't care about prayin' or psalm-singin', seein' I don't understand 'em, I say 'good luck' to the mission smacks, if it was for nothin' else than the books, an' doctor stuff, an' mitts what the shoregoin' ladies—bless their hearts!—is so fond o' sendin' to us."

"Ay, an the cheap baccy, too, that they say they're a-goin' to send to us," added Freeman.

"P'r'aps they'll send us cheap grog at last," said Puffy, with a laugh.

"They'll hardly do that," remarked Martin; "for it's to try an' keep us from goin' for our baccy to the copers that they've started this new plan."

"I wish 'em success," said Lockley, in a serious tone. And there was good ground for that wish, for our genial and handsome skipper was peculiarly weak on the point of strong drink, that being to him a powerful, almost irresistible, temptation.

When the fish-cleaning and packing were completed, the men went below to snatch a few hours' repose. Wet, weary, and sleepy, but with a large stock of reserve strength in them, they retired to the little cabin, in which they could scarcely stand up without bumping their heads, and could hardly turn round without hitting their elbows on something or other. Kicking off their long boots, and throwing aside oilskin coats and sou'-westers, they tumbled into their narrow "bunks" and fell asleep almost without winking.

There was one among them, however, who did not sleep long that night. Fred Martin was soon awakened by the pain of his wound, which had begun to inflame, and by a feeling of giddiness and intense uneasiness with which he had been troubled for several days past.

Turning out at last, he sat down in front of the little iron stove that served to cook food as well as to warm the cabin, and, gazing into the embers, began to meditate on his strangely uncomfortable sensations.

"Hallo, Martin, anything wrong?" asked the mate, who descended at that moment to relight his pipe.

"I believe there is, mate. I never felt like this afore. I've fowt against it till I can hardly stand. I feel as if I was goin' to knock under altogether. This hand, too, seems gittin' bad. I do think my blood must be poisoned, or somethin' o' that sort. You know I don't easily give in, but when a feller feels as if little red-hot wires was twistin' about inside of him, an' sees things goin' round as if he was drunk, why—"

"Why, it's time to think of goin' home," interrupted Jay, with a laugh. "But let's have a look at you, Fred. Well, there does seem to be some o' your riggin' slack. Have you ever had the measles?"

"Not as I knows of."

"Looks like it," said the mate, lighting his pipe. "P'r'aps it'll be as well to send you into dock to refit. You'd better turn in again, anyhow, for a snooze would do you good."

Fred Martin acted on this advice, while Jay returned to the deck; but it was evident that the snooze was not to be had, for he continued to turn and toss uneasily, and to wonder what was wrong with him, as strong healthy men are rather apt to do when suddenly seized with sickness.

At grey dawn the admiral signalled again. The order was to haul up the nets, which had been scraping the bottom of the sea since midnight, and the whole fleet set to work without delay.

Martin turned out with the rest, and tried to defy sickness for a time, but it would not do. The strong man was obliged to succumb to a stronger than he—not, however, until he had assisted as best as he could in hauling up the trawl.

This second haul of the gear of the Lively Poll illustrated one of those mishaps, to which all deep-sea trawlers are liable, and which are of frequent occurrence. A piece of wreck or a lost anchor, or something, had caught the net, and torn it badly, so that when it reached the surface all the fish had escaped.

"A night's work for nothing!" exclaimed Stephen Lockley, with an oath.

"Might have been worse," suggested Martin.

By that time it was broad daylight, and as they had no fish to pack, the crew busied themselves in removing the torn net from the beam, and fitting on a new one. At the same time the crews of the other smacks secured their various and varied hauls, cleaned, packed, and got ready for delivery.

The smoke of the steam-carrier was seen on the horizon early in the forenoon, and all the vessels of the fleet made for her, as chickens make for their mother in times of danger.

We may not pause here to describe the picturesque confusion that ensued—the arriving, congregating, tacking, crossing, and re-crossing of smacks; the launching of little boats, and loading them with "trunks;" the concentration of these round the steamer like minnows round a whale; the shipping of the cargo, and the tremendous hurry and energy displayed in the desire to do it quickly, and get the fish fresh to market. Suffice it to say that in less than four hours the steamer was loaded, and Fred Martin, fever-stricken and with a highly inflamed hand and arm, started on a thirty-six hours' voyage to London.

Then the fleet sheered off and fell into order, the admiral issued his instructions, and away they all went again to continue the hard, unvarying round of hauling and toiling and moiling, in heat and cold, wet and dry, with nothing to lighten the life or cheer the heart save a game at "crib" or "all fives," or a visit to the coper, that terrible curse of the North Sea.



CHAPTER TWO.

ACCIDENTS AFLOAT AND INCIDENTS ASHORE.

Now, although it is an undoubted fact that the skippers of the North Sea trawling smacks are first-rate seamen, it is an equally certain fact that strong drink can render them unfit for duty. One of the skippers was, if we may say so, unmanned by drink at the time the fleet sheered off from the steam-carrier, as stated in the last chapter. He was named Georgie Fox—better known in the fleet as Groggy Fox.

Unfortunately for himself as well as others, Skipper Fox had paid a visit to one of the copers the day before for the purpose of laying in a stock of tobacco, which was sold by the skipper of the floating grog-shop at 1 shilling 6 pence a pound. Of course Fox had been treated to a glass of fiery spirits, and had thereafter been induced to purchase a quantity of the same. He had continued to tipple until night, when he retired in a fuddled state to rest. On rising he tippled again, and went on tippling till his fish were put on board the steamer. Then he took the helm of his vessel, and stood with legs very wide apart, an owlish gaze in his eyes, and a look of amazing solemnity on his visage.

When a fleet sheers off from a steam-carrier after delivery of cargo, the sea around is usually very much crowded with vessels, and as these cross and re-cross or run past or alongside of each other before finally settling into the appointed course, there is a good deal of hearty recognition—shouting, questioning, tossing up of arms, and expressions of goodwill—among friends. Several men hailed and saluted Fox as his smack, the Cormorant, went by, but he took no notice except with an idiotic wink of both eyes.

"He's bin to the coper," remarked Puffy, as the Cormorant crossed the bow of the Lively Poll. "I say, Lumpy, come here," he added, as Bob Lumsden came on deck. "Have 'ee got any o' that coffee left?"

"No, not a drop. I gave the last o't to Fred Martin just as he was goin' away."

"Poor Fred!" said Puffy. "He's in for suthin' stiff, I doubt, measles or mulligrumps, if not wuss."

"A great pity," remarked Peter Jay, who stood at the helm, "that Martin couldn't hold out a week longer when our turn comes round to run for Yarmouth."

"It's well we got him shipped off to-day," said Lockley. "That hand of his would have made him useless before another day was out. It's a long time for a man in his state to be without help, that run up to Lun'on. Port your helm a bit, Jay. Is it the Cormorant that's yawin' about there in that fashion?"

"Ay, it's the Cormorant," replied Jay. "I seed her just now a'most run foul o' the Butterfly."

"She'll be foul of us. Hi! Look out!" cried Lockley, becoming excited, as he saw the Cormorant change her course suddenly, without apparent reason, and bear straight down upon his vessel.

There was, indeed, no reason for the strange movements of the smack in question, except that there was at the helm a man who had rendered his reason incapable of action. With dull, fishy eyes, that stared idiotically at nothing, his hand on the tiller, and his mind asleep, Georgie Fox stood on the deck of the Cormorant steering.

"Starboard a bit, Jay," said Lockley, with an anxious look, "she'll barely clear us."

As he spoke, Fox moved his helm slightly. It changed the course of his vessel only a little, but that little sufficed to send the cutwater of the Cormorant straight into the port bows of the Lively Poll with a tremendous crash, for a smart breeze was blowing at the time. The bulwarks were cut down to the deck, and, as the Cormorant recoiled and again surged ahead, the bowsprit was carried away, and part of the topmast brought down.

Deep and fierce was the growl that burst from Lockley's lips at this disaster, but that did not mend matters. The result was that the Lively Poll had to quit the fleet a week before her time of eight weeks afloat was up, and run to Yarmouth for repairs. Next day, however, it fell calm, and several days elapsed before she finally made her port.

Meanwhile Fred Martin reached London, with his feverish complaint greatly aggravated, and his undressed wound much worse. In London he was detained some hours by his employers, and then sent on to Yarmouth, which he reached late in the afternoon, and ultimately in a state of great suffering and exhaustion, made his way to Gorleston, where his mother lived.

With his mind in a species of wild whirl, and acute pains darting through his wounded hand and arm, he wended his way slowly along the road that led to his mother's house. Perhaps we should style it her attic, for she could claim only part of the house in which she dwelt. From a quaint gable window of this abode she had a view of the sea over the houses in front.

Part of Fred's route lay along the banks of the Yare, not far from its mouth. At a spot where there were many old anchors and cables, old and new trawl-beams, and sundry other seafaring rusty and tarry objects, the young fisherman met a pretty young girl, who stopped suddenly, and, with her large blue eyes expressing unspeakable surprise, exclaimed, "Fred!"

The youth sprang forward, seized the girl with his uninjured hand, and exclaimed, "Isa!" as he drew her towards him.

"Fred—not here. Behave!" said Isa, holding up a warning finger.

Fred consented to behave—with a promise, however, that he would make up for it at a more fitting time and place.

"But what is the matter!" asked Isa, with an anxious look, laying her pretty little hands on the youth's arm.

Yes, you need not smile, reader; it is not a perquisite of ladies to have pretty little hands. Isa's hands were brown, no doubt, like her cheeks, owing to exposure and sunshine, and they were somewhat roughened by honest toil; but they were small and well-shaped, with taper fingers, and their touch was very tender as she clasped them on her lover's arm.

"Nothing serious," replied the youth lightly; "only an accident with a fish-bone, but it has got to be pretty bad for want of attention; an' besides I'm out o' sorts somehow. No physic, you see, or doctors in our fleet, like the lucky dogs of the Short-Blue. I've been knocked up more or less for some weeks past, so they sent me home to be looked after. But I won't need either physic or doctor now."

"No? why not?" asked the girl, with a simple look.

"Cause the sight o' your sweet face does away with the need of either."

"Don't talk nonsense, Fred."

"If that's nonsense," returned the fisherman, "you'll never hear me talk sense again as long as I live. But how about mother, Isa? Is she well!"

"Quite well. I have just left her puzzling herself over a letter from abroad that's so ill-written that it would bother a schoolmaster to read it. I tried to read it, but couldn't. You're a good scholar, Fred, so you have come just in time to help her. But won't she be surprised to see you!"

Thus conversing, and walking rather slowly, the pair made their way to the attic of Mrs Martin, where the unexpected sight of her son threw the patient woman into a great flutter of surprise and pleasure. We use the word "patient" advisedly, for Mrs Martin was one of those wholesome-minded creatures who, having to battle vigorously for the bare necessaries of life in the face of many adverse circumstances, carry on the war with a degree of hearty, sweet-tempered resolution which might put to shame many who are better off in every way. Mrs Martin was a widow and a washerwoman, and had a ne'er-do-well brother, a fisherman, who frequently "sponged" upon her. She also had a mother to support and attend upon, as well as a "bad leg" to endure. True, the attendance on her mother was to the good woman a source of great joy. It constituted one of the few sunbeams of her existence, but it was not on that account the less costly, for the old woman could do nothing whatever to increase the income of the widow's household—she could not, indeed, move a step without assistance. Her sole occupation was to sit in the attic window and gaze over the sands upon the sea, smiling hopefully, yet with a touch of sadness in the smile; mouthing her toothless gums, and muttering now and then as if to herself, "He'll come soon now." Her usual attitude was that of one who listens expectantly.

Thirty years before Granny Martin had stood at the same attic window, an elderly woman even then, looking out upon the raging sea, and muttering anxiously the same words, "He'll come soon now." But her husband never came. He was lost at sea. As years flew by, and time as well as grief weakened her mind, the old woman seemed to forget the flight of time, and spent the greater part of every day in the attic window, evidently on the look-out for some one who was to come "soon." When at last she was unable to walk alone, and had to be half carried to her seat in the attic window by her strong and loving daughter, the sadness seemed to pass away, and her cheery spirit revived under the impression, apparently, that the coming could not be delayed much longer. To every one Granny was condescendingly kind, especially to her grandchild Fred, of whom she was very fond.

Only at intervals was the old woman's cheerfulness disturbed, and that was during the occasional visits of her ne'er-do-well son Dick, for he was generally drunk or "half-seas-over" when he came. Granny never mentioned his name when he was absent, and for a long time Mrs Martin supposed that she tried to forget him, but her opinion changed on this point one night when she overheard her mother praying with intense earnestness and in affectionate terms that her dear Dick might yet be saved. Still, however much or frequently Granny's thoughts might at any time be distracted from their main channel, they invariably returned thereto with the cheerful assurance that "he would soon come now."

"You're ill, my boy," said Mrs Martin, after the first greetings were over.

"Right you are, mother," said the worn-out man, sitting down with a weary sigh. "I've done my best to fight it down, but it won't do."

"You must have the doctor, Fred."

"I've had the doctor already, mother. I parted with Isa Wentworth at the bottom o' the stair, an' she will do me more good than dozens o' doctors or gallons o' physic."

But Fred was wrong.

Not long afterwards the Lively Poll arrived in port, and Stephen Lockley hastened to announce his arrival to his wife.

Now it was the experience of Martha Lockley that if, on his regular return to land for his eight days' holiday, after his eight weeks' spell afloat, her handsome and genial husband went straight home, she was wont to have a happy meeting; but if by any chance Stephen first paid a visit to the Blue Boar public-house, she was pretty sure to have a miserable meeting, and a more or less wretched time of it thereafter. A conversation that Stephen had recently had with Fred Martin having made an impression on him—deeper than he chose to admit even to himself—he had made up his mind to go straight home this time.

"I'll be down by daybreak to see about them repairs," he said to Peter Jay, as they left the Lively Poll together, "and I'll go round by your old friend, Widow Mooney's, and tell her to expect you some time to-night."

Now Peter Jay was a single man, and lodged with Widow Mooney when on shore. It was not, however, pure consideration for his mate or the widow that influenced Lockley, but his love for the widow's little invalid child, Eve, for whose benefit that North Sea skipper had, in the kindness of his heart, made a special collection of deep-sea shells, with some shreds of bright bunting.

Little Eve Mooney, thin, wasted, and sad, sat propped up with dirty pillows, in a dirty bed, in a dirtier room, close to a broken and paper-patched window that opened upon a coal-yard with a prospect rubbish-heap beyond.

"Oh, I'm so glad it's you!" cried Eve, with flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes, as the fisherman entered.

"Yes, Eve, my pretty. I'm back sooner than I expected—and look what I've brought you. I haven't forgot you."

Joy beamed in the lustrous eyes and on every feature of the thin face as the sick child surveyed the treasures of the deep that Lockley spread on her ragged counterpane.

"How good—how kind of you, Stephen!" exclaimed Eve.

"Kind!" repeated the skipper; "nothing of the sort, Eve. To please you pleases me, so it's only selfishness. But where's your mother?"

"Drunk," said the child simply, and without the most remote intention of injuring her parent's character. Indeed, that was past injury. "She's in there."

The child pointed to a closet, in which Stephen found on the floor a heap of unwomanly rags. He was unable to arouse the poor creature, who slumbered heavily beneath them. Eve said she had been there for many hours.

"She forgot to give me my breakfast before she went in, and I'm too weak to rise and get it for myself," whimpered Eve, "and I'm so hungry! And I got such a fright, too, for a man came in this morning about daylight and broke open the chest where mother keeps her money and took something away. I suppose he thought I was asleep, for I was too frightened to move, but I could see him all the time. Please will you hand me the loaf before you go? It's in that cupboard."

We need scarcely add that Lockley did all that the sick child asked him to do—and more. Then, after watching her till the meal was finished, he rose.

"I'll go now, my pretty," he said, "and don't you be afeared. I'll soon send some one to look after you. Good-bye."

Stephen Lockley was unusually thoughtful as he left Widow Mooney's hut that day, and he took particular care to give the Blue Boar a wide berth on his way home.



CHAPTER THREE.

THE SKIPPER ASHORE.

Right glad was Mrs Lockley to find that her husband had passed the Blue Boar without going in on his way home, and although she did not say so, she could not feel sorry for the accident to the Lively Poll, which had sent him ashore a week before his proper time.

Martha Lockley was a pretty young woman, and the proud mother of a magnificent baby, which was bordering on that age when a child begins to have some sort of regard for its own father, and to claim much of his attention.

"Matty," said Stephen to his wife, as he jolted his daughter into a state of wild delight on his knee, "Tottie is becoming very like you. She's got the same pretty little turned-up nose, an' the same huge grey eyes with the wicked twinkle in 'em about the corners."

"Don't talk nonsense, Stephen, but tell me about this robbery."

"I know nothin' about it more than I've told ye, Matty. Eve didn't know the man, and her description of him is confused—she was frightened, poor thing! But I promised to send some one to look after her at once, for her drunken mother isn't fit to take care of herself, let alone the sick child. Who can I send, think 'ee?"

Mrs Lockley pursed her little mouth, knitted her brows, and gazed thoughtfully at the baby, who, taking the look as personal, made a face at her. Finally she suggested Isabella Wentworth.

"And where is she to be found?" asked the skipper.

"At the Martins', no doubt," replied Mrs Lockley, with a meaning look. "She's been there pretty much ever since poor Fred Martin came home, looking after old granny, for Mrs Martin's time is taken up wi' nursing her son. They say he's pretty bad."

"Then I'll go an' see about it at once," said Stephen, rising, and setting Tottie down.

He found Isa quite willing to go to Eve, though Mrs Mooney had stormed at her and shut the door in her face on the occasion of her last visit.

"But you mustn't try to see Fred," she added. "The doctor says he must be kep' quiet and see no one."

"All right," returned the skipper; "I'll wait till he's out o' quarantine. Good day; I'll go and tell Eve that you're coming."

On his way to Mrs Mooney's hut Stephen Lockley had again to pass the Blue Boar. This time he did not give it "a wide berth." There were two roads to the hut, and the shorter was that which passed the public-house. Trusting to the strength of his own resolution, he chose that road. When close to the blue monster, whose creaking sign drew so many to the verge of destruction, and plunged so many over into the gulf, he was met by Skipper Ned Bryce, a sociable, reckless sort of man, of whom he was rather fond. Bryce was skipper of the Fairy, an iron smack, which was known in the fleet as the Ironclad.

"Hullo! Stephen. You here?"

"Ay, a week before my time, Ned. That lubber Groggy Fox ran into me, cut down my bulwarks, and carried away my bowsprit an' some o' my top-hamper."

"Come along—have a glass, an' let's hear all about it," said Bryce, seizing his friend's arm; but Lockley held back.

"No, Ned," he said; "I'm on another tack just now."

"What! not hoisted the blue ribbon, eh!"

"No," returned Lockley, with a laugh. "I've no need to do that."

"You haven't lost faith in your own power o' self-denial surely?"

"No, nor that either, but—but—"

"Come now, none o' your 'buts.' Come along; my mate Dick Martin is in here, an' he's the best o' company."

"Dick Martin in there!" repeated Lockley, on whom a sudden thought flashed. "Is he one o' your hands?"

"In course he is. Left the Grimsby fleet a-purpose to j'ine me. Rather surly he is at times, no doubt, but a good fellow at bottom, and great company. You should hear him sing. Come."

"Oh, I know him well enough by hearsay, but never met him yet."

Whether it was the urgency of his friend, or a desire to meet with Dick Martin, that shook our skipper's wavering resolution we cannot tell, but he went into the Blue Boar, and took a glass for good-fellowship. Being a man of strong passions and excitable nerves, this glass produced in him a desire for a second, and that for a third, until he forgot his intended visit to Eve, his promises to his wife, and his stern resolves not to submit any longer to the tyranny of drink. Still, the memory of Mrs Mooney's conduct, and of the advice of his friend Fred Martin, had the effect of restraining him to some extent, so that he was only what his comrades would have called a little screwed when they had become rather drunk.

There are many stages of drunkenness. One of them is the confidential stage. When Dick Martin had reached this stage, he turned with a superhumanly solemn countenance to Bryce and winked.

"If—if you th-think," said Bryce thickly, "th-that winkin' suits you, you're mistaken."

"Look 'ere," said Dick, drawing a letter from his pocket with a maudlin leer, and holding it up before his comrade, who frowned at it, and then shook his head—as well he might, for, besides being very illegibly written, the letter was presented to him upside down.

After holding it before him in silence long enough to impress him with the importance of the document, Dick Martin explained that it was a letter which he had stolen from his sister's house, because it contained "something to his advantage."

"See here," he said, holding the letter close to his own eyes, still upside down, and evidently reading from memory: "'If Mr Frederick Martin will c-call at this office any day next week between 10 an' 12, h-he will 'ear suthin' to his ad-advantage. Bounce and Brag, s'licitors.' There!"

"But you ain't Fred Martin," said Bryce, with a look of supreme contempt, for he had arrived at the quarrelsome stage of drunkenness.

"Right you are," said Martin; "but I'm his uncle. Same name c-'cause his mother m-married her c-cousin; and there ain't much difference 'tween Dick and Fred—four letters, both of 'em—so if I goes wi' the letter, an' says, 'I'm Fred Martin,' w'y, they'll hand over the blunt, or the jewels, or wotiver it is, to me—d'ee see?"

"No, I don't see," returned Bryce so irritatingly that his comrade left the confidential stage astern, and requested to know, with an affable air, when Bryce lost his eyesight.

"When I first saw you, and thought you worth your salt," shouted Bryce, as he brought his fist heavily down on the table.

Both men were passionate. They sprang up, grappled each other by the throat, and fell on the floor. In doing so they let the letter fall. It fluttered to the ground, and Lockley, quietly picking it up, put it in his pocket.

"You'd better look after them," said Lockley to the landlord, as he paid his reckoning, and went out.

In a few minutes he stood in Widow Mooney's hut, and found Isa Wentworth already there.

"I'm glad you sent me here," said the girl, "for Mrs Mooney has gone out—"

She stopped and looked earnestly in Lockley's face. "You've been to the Blue Boar," she said in a serious tone.

"Yes, lass, I have," admitted the skipper, but without a touch of resentment. "I did not mean to go, but it's as well that I did, for I've rescued a letter from Dick Martin which seems to be of some importance, an' he says he stole it from his sister's house."

He handed the letter to the girl, who at once recognised it as the epistle over which she and Mrs Martin had puzzled so much, and which had finally been deciphered for them by Dick Martin.

"He must have made up his mind to pretend that he is Fred," said Isa, "and so get anything that was intended for him."

"You're a sharp girl, Isa; you've hit the nail fair on the head, for I heard him in his drunken swagger boast of his intention to do that very thing. Now, will you take in hand, lass, to give the letter back to Mrs Martin, and explain how you came by it?"

Of course Isa agreed to do so, and Lockley, turning to Eve, said he would tell her a story before going home.

The handsome young skipper was in the habit of entertaining the sick child with marvellous tales of the sea during his frequent visits, for he was exceedingly fond of her, and never failed to call during his periodical returns to land. His love was well bestowed, for poor Eve, besides being of an affectionate nature, was an extremely imaginative child, and delighted in everything marvellous or romantic. On this occasion, however, he was interrupted at the commencement of his tale by the entrance of his own ship's cook, the boy Bob Lumsden, alias Lumpy.

"Hullo, Lumpy, what brings you here?" asked the skipper.

But the boy made no answer. He was evidently taken aback at the unexpected sight of the sick child, and the skipper had to repeat his question in a sterner tone. Even then Lumpy did not look at his commander, but, addressing the child, said—

"Beg parding, miss; I wouldn't have come in if I'd knowed you was in bed, but—"

"Oh, never mind," interrupted Eve, with a little smile, on seeing that he hesitated; "my friends never see me except in bed. Indeed I live in bed; but you must not think I'm lazy. It's only that my back's bad. Come in and sit down."

"Well, boy," demanded the skipper again, "were you sent here to find me?"

"Yes, sir," said Lumpy, with his eyes still fixed on the earnest little face of Eve. "Mister Jay sent me to say he wants to speak to you about the heel o' the noo bowsprit."

"Tell him I'll be aboard in half an hour."

"I didn't know before," said Eve, "that bowsprits have heels."

At this Lumpy opened his large mouth, nearly shut his small eyes, and was on the point of giving vent to a rousing laugh, when his commander half rose and seized hold of a wooden stool. The boy shut his mouth instantly, and fled into the street, where he let go the laugh which had been thus suddenly checked.

"Well, she is a rum 'un!" he said to himself, as he rolled in a nautical fashion down to the wharf where the Lively Poll was undergoing repairs.

"I think he's a funny boy, that," said Eve, as the skipper stooped to kiss her.

"Yes, he is a funny dog. Good-bye, my pretty one."

"Stay," said Eve solemnly, as she laid her delicate little hand on the huge brown fist of the fisherman; "you've often told me stories, Stephen; I want to tell one to you to-night. You need not sit down; it's a very, very short one."

But the skipper did sit down, and listened with a look of interest and expectation as the child began—

"There was once a great, strong, brave man, who was very kind to everybody, most of all to little children. One day he was walking near a river, when a great, fearful, ugly beast, came out of the wood, and seized the man with its terrible teeth. It was far stronger than the dear, good man, and it threw him down, and held him down, till—till it killed him."

She stopped, and tears filled her soft eyes at the scene she had conjured up.

"Do you know," she asked in a deeper tone, "what sort of awful beast it was?"

"No; what was it?"

"A Blue Boar," said the child, pressing the strong hand which she detained.

Lockley's eyes fell for a moment before Eve's earnest gaze, and a flush deepened the colour of his bronzed countenance. Then he sprang suddenly up and kissed Eve's forehead.

"Thank you, my pretty one, for your story, but it an't just correct, for the man is not quite killed yet and, please God, he'll escape."

As he spoke the door of the hut received a severe blow, as if some heavy body had fallen against it. When Isa opened it, a dirty bundle of rags and humanity rolled upon the floor. It was Eve's mother!

Lifting her up in his strong arms, Lockley carried her into the closet which opened off the outer room, and laid her tenderly on a mattress which lay on the floor. Then, without a word, he left the hut and went home.

It is scarcely necessary to add that he took the longer road on that occasion, and gave a very wide berth indeed to the Blue Boar.



CHAPTER FOUR.

HARDSHIPS ON THE SEA.

Fly with us now, good reader, once more out among the breeze-ruffled billows of the North Sea.

It was blowing a fine, fresh, frosty fishing breeze from the nor'-west on a certain afternoon in December. The Admiral—Manx Bradley—was guiding his fleet over that part of the German Ocean which is described on the deep-sea fisherman's chart as the Swarte, or Black Bank. The trawls were down, and the men were taking it easy—at least, as easy as was compatible with slush-covered decks, a bitter blast, and a rolling sea. If we had the power of extending and intensifying your vision, reader, so as to enable you to take the whole fleet in at one stupendous glance, and penetrate planks as if they were plate glass, we might, perhaps, convince you that in this multitude of deep-sea homes there was carried on that night a wonderful amount of vigorous action, good and bad—largely, if not chiefly bad—under very peculiar circumstances, and that there was room for improvement everywhere.

Strong and bulky and wiry men were gambling and drinking, and singing and swearing; story-telling and fighting, and skylarking and sleeping. The last may be classed appropriately under the head of action, if we take into account the sonorous doings of throats and noses. As if to render the round of human procedure complete, there was at least one man—perhaps more—praying.

Yes, Manx Bradley, the admiral, was praying. And his prayer was remarkably brief, as well as earnest. Its request was that God would send help to the souls of the men whose home was the North Sea. For upwards of thirty years Manx and a few like-minded men had persistently put up that petition. During the last few years of that time they had mingled thanksgiving with the prayer, for a gracious answer was being given. God had put it into the heart of the present Director of the Mission to Deep-Sea Fishermen to inaugurate a system of evangelisation among the heretofore neglected thousands of men and boys who toil upon the North Sea from January to December. Mission or Gospel smacks were purchased, manned by Christian skippers and crews, and sent out to the various fleets, to fish with them during the week, and supply them with medicine for body and soul, with lending libraries of wholesome Christian literature, and with other elevating influences, not least among which was a floating church or meeting-house on Sundays.

But up to the time we write of, Manx Bradley had only been able to rejoice in the blessing as sent to others. It had not yet reached his own fleet, the twelve or thirteen hundred men and boys of which were still left in their original condition of semi-savagery, and exposure to the baleful influences of that pest of the North Sea—the coper.

"You see, Jacob Jones," said the admiral to the only one of his "hands" who sympathised with him in regard to religion, "if it warn't for the baccy, them accursed copers wouldn't be able to keep sich a hold of us. Why, bless you, there's many a young feller in this fleet as don't want no grog—especially the vile, fiery stuff the copers sell 'em; but when the Dutchmen offers the baccy so cheap as 1 shilling 6 pence a pound, the boys are only too glad to go aboard and git it. Then the Dutchmen, being uncommon sly dogs, gives 'em a glass o' their vile brandy for good-fellowship by way of, an' that flies to their heads, an' makes 'em want more—d'ee see? An' so they go on till many of 'em becomes regular topers—that's where it is, Jacob."

"Why don't the mission smacks sell baccy too?" asked Jacob, stamping his feet on the slushy deck to warm them, and beating his right hand on the tiller for the same purpose.

"You're a knowing fellow," returned the admiral, with a short laugh; "why, that's just what they've bin considerin' about at the Head Office—leastwise, so I'm told; an' if they manage to supply the fleets wi' baccy at 1 shilling a pound, which is 6 pence less than the Dutchmen do, they'll soon knock the copers off the North Sea altogether. But the worst of it is that we won't git no benefit o' that move till a mission smack is sent to our own fleet, an' to the half-dozen other fleets that have got none."

At this point the state of the weather claiming his attention, the admiral went forward, and left Jacob Jones, who was a new hand in the fleet, to his meditations.

One of the smacks which drew her trawl that night over the Swarte Bank not far from the admiral was the Lively Poll—repaired, and rendered as fit for service as ever. Not far from her sailed the Cherub, and the Cormorant, and that inappropriately named Fairy, the "ironclad."

In the little box of the Lively Poll—which out of courtesy we shall style the cabin—Jim Freeman and David Duffy were playing cards, and Stephen Lockley was smoking. Joe Stubby was drinking, smoking, and grumbling at the weather; Hawkson, a new hand shipped in place of Fred Martin, was looking on. The rest were on deck.

"What's the use o' grumblin', Stub?" said Hawkson, lifting a live coal with his fingers to light his pipe.

"Don't 'Stub' me," said Stubley in an angry tone.

"Would you rather like me to stab you?" asked Hawkson, with a good-humoured glance, as he puffed at his pipe.

"I'd rather you clapped a stopper on your jaw."

"Ah—so's you might have all the jawin' to yourself?" retorted Hawkson.

Whatever reply Joe Stubley meant to make was interrupted by Jim Freeman exclaiming with an oath that he had lost again, and would play no more. He flung down the cards recklessly, and David Duffy gathered them up, with the twinkling smile of a good-natured victor.

"Come, let's have a yarn," cried Freeman, filling his pipe, with the intention of soothing his vanquished spirit.

"Who'll spin it?" asked Duffy, sitting down, and preparing to add to the fumes of the place. "Come, Stub, you tape it off; it'll be better occupation than growlin' at the poor weather, what's never done you no harm yet though there's no sayin' what it may do if you go on as you've bin doin', growlin' an' aggravatin' it."

"I never spin yarns," said Stubley.

"But you tell stories sometimes, don't you?" asked Hawkson.

"No, never."

"Oh! that's a story anyhow," cried Freeman.

"Come, I'll spin ye one," said the skipper, in that hearty tone which had an irresistible tendency to put hearers in good humour, and sometimes even raised the growling spirit of Joe Stubley into something like amiability.

"What sort o' yarn d'ee want, boys?" he asked, stirring the fire in the small stove that warmed the little cabin; "shall it be comical or sentimental?"

"Let's have a true ghost story," cried Puffy.

"No, no," said Freeman, "a hanecdote—that's what I'm fondest of— suthin' short an' sweet, as the little boy said to the stick o' liquorice."

"Tell us," said Stubley, "how it was you come to be saved the night the Saucy Jane went down."

"Ah! lads," said Lockley, with a look and a tone of gravity, "there's no fun in that story. It was too terrible and only by a miracle, or rather—as poor Fred Martin said at the time—by God's mercy, I was saved."

"Was Fred there at the time!" asked Duffy.

"Ay, an' very near lost he was too. I thought he would never get over it."

"Poor chap!" said Freeman; "he don't seem to be likely to git over this arm. It's been a long time bad now."

"Oh, he'll get over that," returned Lockley; "in fact, it's a'most quite well now, I'm told, an' he's pretty strong again—though the fever did pull him down a bit. It's not that, it's money, that's keepin' him from goin' afloat again."

"How's that?" asked Puffy.

"This is how it was. He got a letter which axed him to call on a lawyer in Lun'on, who told him an old friend of his father had made a lot o' tin out in Austeralia, an' he died, an' left some hundreds o' pounds—I don't know how many—to his mother."

"Humph! that's just like him, the hypercrit," growled Joe Stubley; "no sooner comes a breeze o' good luck than off he goes, too big and mighty for his old business. He was always preachin' that money was the root of all evil, an' now he's found it out for a fact."

"No, Fred never said that 'money was the root of all evil,' you thick-head," returned Duffy; "he said it was the love of money. Put that in your pipe and smoke it—or rather, in your glass an' drink it, for that's the way to get it clearer in your fuddled brain."

"Hold on, boys; you're forgettin' my yarn," interposed Lockley at this point, for he saw that Stubley was beginning to lose temper. "Well, you must know it was about six years ago—I was little more than a big lad at the time, on board the Saucy Jane, Black Thomson bein' the skipper. You've heard o' Black Thomson, that used to be so cruel to the boys when he was in liquor, which was pretty nigh always, for it would be hard to say when he wasn't in liquor? He tried it on wi' me when I first went aboard, but I was too—well, well, poor fellow, I'll say nothin' against him, for he's gone now."

"Fred Martin was there at the time, an' it was wonderful what a hold Fred had over that old sinner. None of us could understand it, for Fred never tried to curry favour with him, an' once or twice I heard him when he thought nobody was near, givin' advice to Black Thomson about drink, in his quiet earnest way, that made me expect to see the skipper knock him down. But he didn't. He took it well—only he didn't take his advice, but kep' on drinkin' harder than ever. Whenever a coper came in sight at that time Thomson was sure to have the boat over the side an' pay him a visit.

"Well, about this time o' the year there came one night a most tremendous gale, wi' thick snow, from the nor'ard. It was all we could do to make out anything twenty fathom ahead of us. The skipper he was lyin' drunk down below. We was close reefed and laying to with the foresail a-weather, lookin' out anxiously, for, the fleet bein' all round and the snow thick, our chances o' runnin' foul o' suthin' was considerable. When we took in the last reef we could hardly stand to do it, the wind was so strong—an' wasn't it freezin', too! Sharp enough a'most to freeze the nose off your face.

"About midnight the wind began to shift about and came in squalls so hard that we could scarcely stand, so we took in the jib and mizzen, and lay to under the foresail. Of course the hatchways was battened down and tarpaulined, for the seas that came aboard was fearful. When I was standin' there, expectin' every moment that we should founder, a sea came and swept Fred Martin overboard. Of course we could do nothing for him—we could only hold on for our lives; but the very next sea washed him right on deck again. He never gave a cry, but I heard him say 'Praise the Lord!' in his own quiet way when he laid hold o' the starboard shrouds beside me.

"Just then another sea came aboard an' a'most knocked the senses out o' me. At the same moment I heard a tremendous crash, an' saw the mast go by the board. What happened after that I never could rightly understand. I grabbed at something—it felt like a bit of plank—and held on tight, you may be sure, for the cold had by that time got such a hold o' me that I knew if I let go I would go down like a stone. I had scarce got hold of it when I was seized round the neck by something behind me an' a'most choked.

"I couldn't look round to see what it was, but I could see a great black object coming straight at me. I knew well it was a smack, an' gave a roar that might have done credit to a young walrus. The smack seemed to sheer off a bit, an' I heard a voice shout, 'Starboard hard! I've got him,' an' I got a blow on my cocoanut that well-nigh cracked it. At the same time a boat-hook caught my coat collar an' held on. In a few seconds more I was hauled on board of the Cherub by Manx Bradley, an' the feller that was clingin' to my neck like a young lobster was Fred Martin. The Saucy Jane went to the bottom that night."

"An' Black Thomson—did he go down with her?" asked Duffy.

"Ay, that was the end of him and all the rest of the crew. The fleet lost five smacks that night."

"Admiral's a-signallin', sir," said one of the watch on deck, putting his head down the hatch at that moment.

Lockley went on deck at once. Another moment, and the shout came down—"Haul! Haul all!"

Instantly the sleepers turned out all through the fleet. Oiled frocks, sou'-westers, and long boots were drawn on, and the men hurried on the decks to face the sleet-laden blast and man the capstan bars, with the prospect before them of many hours of hard toil—heaving and hauling and fish-cleaning and packing with benumbed fingers—before the dreary winter night should give place to the grey light of a scarcely less dreary day.



CHAPTER FIVE.

THE TEMPTER'S VICTORY.

"I wouldn't mind the frost or snow, or anything else," growled Joe Stubley, pausing in the midst of his labours among the fish, "if it warn't for them sea-blisters. Just look at that, Jim," he added, turning up the hard sleeve of his oiled coat, and exposing a wrist which the feeble rays of the lantern showed to be badly excoriated and inflamed.

"Ay, it's an ugly bracelet, an' I've got one myself just begun on my left wrist," remarked Jim Freeman, also suspending labour for a moment to glance at his mate's wound. "If our fleet had a mission ship, like some o' the other fleets, we'd not only have worsted mitts for our wrists, but worsted helmets for our heads an' necks—to say nothin' of lotions, pills an' plasters."

"If they'd only fetch us them things an' let alone tracts, Bibles, an' religion," returned Stubley, "I'd have no objection to 'em, but what's the use o' religion to a drinkin', swearin', gamblin' lot like us?"

"It's quite clear that your notions about religion are muddled," said David Duffy, with a short laugh. "Why, what's the use o' physic to a sick man, Stubs?"

"To make him wuss," replied Stubs promptly.

"You might as well argify with a lobster as with Joe Stubs," said Bob Lumsden, who, although burdened with the cares of the cooking department, worked with the men at cleaning and packing.

"What does a boy like you know about lobsters, 'cept to cook 'em?" growled Stubley. "You mind your pots an' pans. That's all your brains are fit for—if you have brains at all. Leave argification to men."

"That's just what I was advisin' Duffy to do, an' not waste his breath on the likes o' you," retorted the boy, with a grin.

The conversation was stopped at this point by the skipper ordering the men to shake out a reef, as the wind was moderating. By the time this was accomplished daybreak was lighting up the eastern horizon, and ere long the pale grey of the cold sea began to warm up a little under the influence of the not yet visible sun.

"Goin' to be fine," said Lockley, as he scanned the horizon with his glass.

"Looks like it," replied the mate.

Remarks were few and brief at that early hour, for the men, being pretty well fagged, preferred to carry on their monotonous work in silence.

As morning advanced the fleet was clearly seen in all directions and at all distances around, holding on the same course as the Lively Poll. Gradually the breeze moderated, and before noon the day had turned out bright and sunny, with only a few thin clouds floating in the wintry sky. By that time the fish-boxes, or trunks, were all packed, and the men availed themselves of the brief period of idleness pending the arrival of the steam-carrier from Billingsgate to eat a hearty breakfast.

This meal, it may be remarked, was a moveable feast, depending very much on the duties in hand and the arrival of the steamer. To get the fish ready and shipped for market is always regarded as his first and all-important duty by the deep-sea trawler, who, until it is performed, will not condescend to give attention to such secondary matters as food and repose. These are usually taken when opportunity serves. Pipes and recreation, in the form of games at cards, draughts, dominoes, and yarns, are also snatched at intervals between the periods of severe toil. Nevertheless, there are times when the fisherman's experience is very different. When prolonged calms render fishing impossible, then time hangs heavily on his hands, and—in regard to the fleet of which we write and all those similarly circumstanced—the only recreations available are sleeping, drinking, gambling, and yarn-spinning. True, such calms do not frequently occur in winter, but they sometimes do, and one of them prevailed on the afternoon of the particular winter's day, of which we treat.

After the departure of the carrier that day, the wind fell so much that the admiral deemed it advisable not to put down the nets. Before long the light air died away altogether, and the fleet was left floating idly, in picturesque groups and with flapping sails, on the glassy sea.

Among the groups thus scattered about, there was one smack which had quietly joined the fleet when the men were busy transhipping or "ferrying" the fish to the steam-carrier. Its rig was so similar to that of the other smacks that a stranger might have taken it for one of the fleet but the fishermen knew better. It was that enemy of souls, that floating grog-shop, that pirate of the North Sea, the coper.

"Good luck to 'ee," muttered Joe Stubley, whose sharp, because sympathetic, eye was first to observe the vessel.

"It's bad luck to you anyhow," remarked Bob the cook, who chanced to pass at the moment.

"Mind your own business, Lumpy, an' none o' your sauce, if you don't want a rope's-endin'," retorted the man.

"Ain't I just mindin' my own business? Why, wot is sauce but part of a cook's business?" returned the boy.

"I won't go to her," thought Stephen Lockley, who overheard the conversation, and in whose breast a struggle had been going on, for he also had seen the coper, and, his case-bottle having run dry, he was severely tempted to have it replenished.

"Would it not be as well, skipper, to go aboard o' the coper, as she's so near at hand!" said the mate, coming aft at the moment.

"Well, no, Peter; I think it would be as well to drop the coper altogether. The abominable stuff the Dutchmen sell us is enough to poison a shark. You know I'm not a teetotaller, but if I'm to be killed at all, I'd rather be killed by good spirits than bad."

"Right you are," replied Jay, "but, you see, a lot of us are hard up for baccy, and—"

"Of course, of course; the men must have baccy," interrupted the skipper, "an' we don't need to buy their vile brandy unless we like. Yes, get the boat out, Jay, an' we'll go."

Stephen Lockley was not the first man who has deceived himself as to his motives. Tobacco was his excuse for visiting the floating den of temptation, but a craving for strong drink was his real motive. This craving had been created imperceptibly, and had been growing by degrees for some years past, twining its octopus arms tighter and tighter round his being, until the strong and hearty young fisherman was slowly but surely becoming an abject slave, though he had fancied himself heretofore as free as the breezes that whistled round his vessel. Now, for the first time, Lockley began to have uncomfortable suspicions about himself. Being naturally bold and candid, he turned sharply round, and, as it were, faced himself with the stern question, "Stephen, are you sure that it's baccy that tempts you aboard of the coper? Are you clear that schnapps has nothing to do with it?"

It is one of the characteristics of the slavery to which we refer, that although strong-minded and resolute men put pointed questions of this sort to themselves not unfrequently, they very seldom return answers to them. Their once vigorous spirits, it would seem, are still capable of an occasional heave and struggle—a sort of flash in the pan—but that is all. The influence of the depraved appetite immediately weighs them down, and they relapse into willing submission to the bondage. Lockley had not returned an answer to his own question when the mate reported that the boat was ready. Without a word he jumped into her, but kept thinking to himself, "We'll only get baccy, an' I'll leave the coper before the lads can do themselves any harm. I'll not taste a drop myself—not a single drop o' their vile stuff."

The Dutch skipper of the coper had a round fat face and person, and a jovial, hearty manner. He received the visitors with an air of open-handed hospitality which seemed to indicate that nothing was further from his thoughts than gain.

"We've come for baccy," said Lockley, as he leaped over the bulwarks and shook hands, "I s'pose you've plenty of that?"

"Ya," the Dutchman had "plenty tabac—ver sheep too, an' mit sooch a goot vlavour!"

He was what the Yankees would call a 'cute fellow, that Dutchman. Observing the emphasis with which Lockley mentioned tobacco, he understood at once that the skipper did not want his men to drink, and laid his snares accordingly.

"Com'," he said, in a confidential tone, taking hold of Lockley's arm, "com' b'low, an' you shall zee de tabac, an' smell him yourself."

Our skipper accepted the invitation, went below, and was soon busy commenting on the weed, which, as the Dutchman truly pointed out, was "so sheep as well as goot." But another smell in that cabin overpowered that of the tobacco. It was the smell of Hollands, or some sort of spirit, which soon aroused the craving that had gained such power over the fisherman.

"Have some schnapps!" said the Dutch skipper, suddenly producing a case-bottle as square as himself, and pouring out a glass.

"No, thank 'ee," said Stephen firmly.

"No!" exclaimed the other, with well-feigned surprise. "You not drink?"

"Oh yes, I drink," replied Lockley, with a laugh, "but not to-day."

"I not ask you to buy," rejoined the tempter, holding the spirits a little nearer to his victim's nose. "Joost take von leetle glass for goot vellowship."

It seemed rude to decline a proposal so liberally made, and with such a smiling countenance. Lockley took the glass, drank it off and went hurriedly on deck, followed by the Dutchman, with the case-bottle in one hand and the glass in the other. Of course the men had no objection to be treated. They had a small glass all round.

"That's the stuff for my money!" cried Stubley, smacking his lips. "I say, old chap, let's have a bottle of it. None o' your thimblefuls for me. I like a good swig when I'm at it."

"You'd better wait till we get aboard, Joe, before you begin," suggested Lockley, who was well aware of Joe's tendencies.

Joe admitted the propriety of this advice, but said he would treat his mates to one glass before starting, by "way o' wetting their whistles."

"Ya, joost von glass vor vet deir vistles," echoed the Dutchman, with a wink and a look which produced a roar of laughter. The glass was accepted by all, including Lockley, who had been quite demoralised by the first glass.

The victory was gained by the tempter for that time at least. The fishermen who went for baccy, remained for schnapps, and some of them were very soon more than half drunk. It was a fierce, maddening kind of spirit, which produced its powerful effects quickly.

The skipper of the Lively Poll kept himself better in hand than his men, but, being very sociable in disposition, and finding the Dutchman a humorous and chatty fellow, he saw no reason to hurry them away. Besides, his vessel was close alongside, and nothing could be done in the fishing way during the dead calm that prevailed.

While he and his men were engaged in a lively conversation about nothing in particular—though they were as earnest over it as if the fate of empires depended on their judgment—the Dutch skipper rose to welcome another boat's crew, which approached on the other side of the coper. So eager and fuddled were the disputants of the Lively Poll that they did not at first observe the newcomers.

It was the Fairy's boat, with Dick Martin in charge.

"Hallo, Dick, mein boy; gif me your vlipper."

A sign from Martin induced the Dutchman to lean over the side and speak in lower tones.

"Let's have a keg of it," said Dick, with a mysterious look. "Ned Bryce sent me for a good supply, an' here's fish to pay for it."

The fish—which of course belonged to the owner of the Fairy, not to Ned Bryce—were quickly passed up, and a keg of spirits passed down. Then the Dutchman asked if Dick or his men wanted tabac or schnapps for themselves.

"I vill take jersey, or vish, or sail, or boots, or vat you please in exchange. Com' aboard, anyhow, an' have von leetle glass."

Dick and his men having thus smartly transacted their chief business, leaped on deck, made fast their painter, let the boat drop astern, and were soon smoking and drinking amicably with the crew of the Lively Poll. Not long afterwards they were quarrelling. Then Dick Martin, who was apt to become pugnacious over his liquor, asserted stoutly that something or other "was." Joe Stubley swore that it "was not," whereupon Dick Martin planted his fist on Joe Stubley's nose and laid its growly owner flat on the deck.

Starting up, Joe was about to retaliate, when Lockley, seizing him by the neck thrust him over the side into the boat, and ordered his more or less drunken crew to follow. They did so with a bad grace, but the order was given in a tone which they well understood must not be disobeyed.

As they pushed off, Stubley staggered and fell into the sea. Another moment and he would have been beyond all human aid, but Lockley caught a glimpse of his shaggy black head as it sank. Plunging his long right arm down, and holding on to the boat with his left, he caught the drowning man by the hair. Strong and willing arms helped, and Stubley was hauled inboard—restored to life, opportunity, and hope—and flung into the bottom of the boat.

The oars were shipped, and they pulled for the Lively Poll. As they rode away they saw that other boats were proceeding towards the coper. The men in them were all anxious to buy baccy. No mention was made of drink. Oh dear no! They cared nothing for that, though, of course, they had no sort of objection to accept the wily Dutchman's generous offer of "von leetle glass vor goot vellowship."



CHAPTER SIX.

THE POWER OF SYMPATHY.

One fine afternoon, not long after the visit to the coper, Bob Lumsden, alias Lumpy, was called from his culinary labours to assist in hauling in the net.

Now it is extremely interesting to note what a wonderful effect the power of loving sympathy can have on a human being. Lumpy was a human being—though some of his mates insisted that he must have been descended from a cod-fish, because his mouth was so large. No doubt it was, and when the boy laughed heartily he was, indeed, apt to remind one of that fish; nevertheless it was a good, well-shaped mouth, though large, with a kindly expression about it, and a set of splendid white teeth inside of it. But, whether human or fishy in his nature, Bob Lumsden had been overwhelmed by a flood of sympathy ever since that memorable day when he had first caught a glimpse of the sweet, pale face of the little invalid Eve Mooney. It was but a brief glimpse, yet it had opened a new sluice in Lumpy's heart, through which the waters of tenderness gushed in a wild torrent.

One of the curious results of this flood was that Bob was always more prompt to the summons to haul up the trawl than he had ever been before, more energetic in clawing the net inboard, and more eager to see and examine the contents of the cod-end. The explanation is simple. He had overheard his skipper say how fond Eve was of shells—especially of those which came from the bottom of the North Sea, and of all sorts of pretty and curious things, wherever they came from.

From that hour Bob Lumpy became a diligent collector of marine curiosities, and the very small particular corner of the vessel which he called his own became ere long quite a museum. They say that sympathy is apt to grow stronger between persons of opposite constitutions. If this be so, perhaps it was his nature—his bold, hearty, gushing, skylarking spirit, his strong rugged frame, his robust health, his carroty hair, his appley cheeks, his eagle nose, his flashing eyes—that drew him so powerfully to the helpless, tender little invalid, with her delicate frame and pale cheeks, straight little nose, bud of a mouth, and timid, though by no means cowardly, spirit.

On another occasion Bob overheard Lockley again talking about Eve. "I'm sorry for the poor thing," he said to Peter Jay, as they paced the deck together; "she's got such a wretched home, an' her mother's such a drunken bru—"

Lockley checked himself, and did not finish the sentence.

"The doctor says," he resumed, "that if Eve had only a bath-chair or suthin' o' that sort, to get wheeled about in the fresh air, she'd very likely get better as she growed older—specially if she had good victuals. You see, small as she is, and young as she looks, she's over fifteen. But even if she had the chair, poor thing! who would wheel it for her? It would be no use unless it was done regular, an' her mother can't do it—or won't."

From that hour Bob Lumpy became a miser. He had been a smoker like the rest of the crew, but he gave up "baccy." He used to take an occasional glass of beer or spirits when on shore or on board the copers, but he became a total abstainer, much to his own benefit in every way, and as a result he became rich—in an extremely small way.

There was a very small, thin, and dirty, but lively and intelligent boy in Yarmouth, who loved Bob Lumsden better, if possible, than himself. His name was Pat Stiver. The affection was mutual. Bob took this boy into his confidence.

One day, a considerable time after Bob's discovery of Eve, Pat, having nothing to do, sauntered to the end of Gorleston Pier, and there to his inexpressible joy, met his friend. Before he had recovered sufficiently from surprise to utter a word, Bob seized him by the arms, lifted him up, and shook him.

"Take care, Lumpy," cried the boy, "I'm wery tender, like an over-young chicken. You'd better set me down before I comes in pieces."

"Why, Stiver, you're the very man I was thinkin' of," said Lumpy, setting the boy on the edge of the pier, and sitting down beside him.

Stiver looked proud, and felt six inches taller.

"Listen," said Bob, with an earnest look that was apt to captivate his friends; "I want help. Will you do somethin' for me?"

"Anything," replied the boy with emphasis, "from pitch and toss to manslaughter!"

"Well, look here. You know Eve Mooney?"

"Do I know the blessedest angel in all Gorleston? In course I does. Wot of her?"

"She's ill—very ill," said Lumpy.

"You might as well tell me, when it's daytime, that the sun's up," returned Pat.

"Don't be so awful sharp, Stiver, else I'll have to snub you."

"Which you've on'y got to frown, Bob Lumpy, an' the deed's done."

Bob gave a short laugh, and then proceeded to explain matters to his friend: how he had been saving up his wages for some time past to buy a second-hand bath-chair for Eve, because the doctor had said it would do her so much good, especially if backed up with good victuals.

"It's the wittles as bothers me, Stiver," said Bob, regarding his friend with a puzzled expression.

"H'm! well," returned the small boy seriously, "wittles has bothered me too, off an' on, pretty well since I was born, though I'm bound to confess I does get a full blow-out now an'—"

"Hold on, Stiver; you're away on the wrong tack," cried Bob, interrupting. "I don't mean the difficulty o' findin' wittles, but how to get Eve to take 'em."

"Tell her to shut her eyes an' open her mouth, an' then shove 'em in," suggested Pat.

"I'll shove you into the sea if you go on talking balderdash," said Bob. "Now, look here, you hain't got nothin' to do, have you!"

"If you mean in the way o' my purfession, Bob, you're right. I purfess to do anything, but nobody as yet has axed me to do nothin'. In the ways o' huntin' up wittles, howsever, I've plenty to do. It's hard lines, and yet I ain't extravagant in my expectations. Most coves require three good meals a day, w'ereas I'm content with one. I begins at breakfast, an' I goes on a-eatin' promiskoously all day till arter supper—w'en I can get it."

"Just so, Stiver. Now, I want to engage you professionally. Your dooties will be to hang about Mrs Mooney's, but in an offhand, careless sort o' way, like them superintendent chaps as git five or six hundred a year for doin' nuffin, an' be ready at any time to offer to give Eve a shove in the chair. But first you'll have to take the chair to her, an' say it was sent to her from—"

"Robert Lumsden, Esquire," said Pat, seeing that his friend hesitated.

"Not at all, you little idiot," said Bob sharply. "You mustn't mention my name on no account."

"From a gentleman, then," suggested Pat.

"That might do; but I ain't a gentleman, Stiver, an' I can't allow you to go an' tell lies."

"I'd like to know who is if you ain't," returned the boy indignantly. "Ain't a gentleman a man wot's gentle? An' w'en you was the other day a-spreadin' of them lovely shells, an' crabs, an' sea-goin' kooriosities out on her pocket-hankercher, didn't I see that you was gentle?"

"I'll be pretty rough on you, Pat, in a minit, if you don't hold your jaw," interrupted Bob, who, however, did not seem displeased with his friend's definition of a gentleman. "Well, you may say what you like, only be sure you say what's true. An' then you'll have to take some nice things as I'll get for her from time to time w'en I comes ashore. But there'll be difficulties, I doubt, in the way of gettin' her to take wittles w'en she don't know who they comes from."

"Oh, don't you bother your head about that," said Pat. "I'll manage it. I'm used to difficulties. Just you leave it to me, an' it'll be all right."

"Well, I will, Pat; so you'll come round with me to the old furnitur' shop in Yarmouth, an' fetch the chair. I got it awful cheap from the old chap as keeps the shop w'en I told him what it was for. Then you'll bring it out to Eve, an' try to git her to have a ride in it to-day, if you can. I'll see about the wittles arter. Hain't quite worked that out in my mind yet. Now, as to wages. I fear I can't offer you none—"

"I never axed for none," retorted Pat proudly.

"That's true Pat; but I'm not a-goin' to make you slave for nuthin'. I'll just promise you that I'll save all I can o' my wages, an' give you what I can spare. You'll just have to trust me as to that."

"Trust you, Bob!" exclaimed Pat, with enthusiasm, "look here, now; this is how the wind blows. If the Prime Minister o' Rooshia was to come to me in full regimentals an' offer to make me capting o' the Horse Marines to the Hemperor, I'd say, 'No thankee, I'm engaged,' as the young woman said to the young man she didn't want to marry."

The matter being thus satisfactorily settled, Bob Lumsden and his little friend went off to Yarmouth, intent on carrying out the first part of their plan.

It chanced about the same time that another couple were having a quiet chat together in the neighbourhood of Gorleston Pier. Fred Martin and Isa Wentworth had met by appointment to talk over a subject of peculiar interest to themselves. Let us approach and become eavesdroppers.

"Now, Fred," said Isa, with a good deal of decision in her tone, "I'm not at all satisfied with your explanation. These mysterious and long visits you make to London ought to be accounted for, and as I have agreed to become your wife within the next three or four months, just to please you, the least you can do, I think, is to have no secrets from me. Besides, you have no idea what the people here and your former shipmates are saying about you."

"Indeed, dear lass, what do they say?"

"Well, they say now you've got well they can't understand why you should go loafing about doin' nothin' or idling your time in London, instead of goin' to sea."

"Idlin' my time!" exclaimed Fred with affected indignation. "How do they know I'm idlin' my time? What if I was studyin' to be a doctor or a parson?"

"Perhaps they'd say that was idlin' your time, seein' that you're only a fisherman," returned Isa, looking up in her lover's face with a bright smile. "But tell me, Fred, why should you have any secret from me?"

"Because, dear lass, the thing that gives me so much pleasure and hope is not absolutely fixed, and I don't want you to be made anxious. This much I will tell you, however: you know I passed my examination for skipper when I was home last time, and now, through God's goodness, I have been offered the command of a smack. If all goes well, I hope to sail in her next week; then, on my return, I hope to—to take the happiest. Well, well, I'll say no more about that, as we're gettin' near mother's door. But tell me, Isa, has Uncle Martin been worrying mother again when I was away?"

"No. When he found out that you had got the money that was left to her, and had bought an annuity for her with it, he went away, and I've not seen him since."

"That's well. I'm glad of that."

"But am I to hear nothing more about this smack, not even her name?"

"Nothing more just now, Isa. As to her name, it's not yet fixed. But, trust me, you shall know all in good time."

As they had now reached the foot of Mrs Martin's stair, the subject was dropped.

They found the good woman in the act of supplying Granny Martin with a cup of tea. There was obvious improvement in the attic. Sundry little articles of luxury were there which had not been there before.

"You see, my boy," said Mrs Martin to Fred, as they sat round the social board, "now that the Lord has sent me enough to get along without slavin' as I used—to do, I takes more time to make granny comfortable, an' I've got her a noo chair, and noo specs, which she was much in want of, for the old uns was scratched to that extent you could hardly see through 'em, besides bein' cracked across both eyes. Ain't they much better, dear?"

The old woman, seated in the attic window, turned her head towards the tea-table and nodded benignantly once or twice; but the kind look soon faded into the wonted air of patient contentment, and the old head turned to the sea as the needle turns to the pole, and the soft murmur was heard, "He'll come soon now."



CHAPTER SEVEN.

A RESCUE.

Never was there a fishing smack more inappropriately named than the Fairy,—that unwieldy iron vessel which the fleet, in facetious content, had dubbed the "Ironclad," and which had the honour of being commanded by that free and easy, sociable—almost too sociable—skipper, Ned Bryce.

She was steered by Dick Martin on the day of which we now write. Dick, as he stood at the helm, with stern visage, bloodshot eyes, and dissipated look, was not a pleasant object of contemplation, but as he played a prominent part in the proceedings of that memorable day, we are bound to draw attention to him. Although he had spent a considerable portion of the night with his skipper in testing the quality of some schnapps which they had recently procured from a coper, he had retained his physical and mental powers sufficiently for the performance of his duties. Indeed, he was one of those so-called seasoned casks, who are seldom or never completely disabled by drink, although thoroughly enslaved, and he was now quite competent to steer the Fairy in safety through the mazes of that complex dance which the deep-sea trawlers usually perform on the arrival of the carrying-steamer.

What Bryce called a chopping and a lumpy sea was running. It was decidedly rough, though the breeze was moderate, so that the smacks all round were alternately presenting sterns and bowsprits to the sky in a violent manner that might have suggested the idea of a rearing and kicking dance. When the carrier steamed up to the Admiral, and lay to beside him, and the smacks drew towards her from all points of the compass, the mazes of the dance became intricate, and the risk of collisions called for careful steering.

Being aware of this, and being himself not quite so steady about the head as he could wish, Skipper Bryce looked at Martin for a few seconds, and then ordered him to go help to launch the boat and get the trunks out, and send Phil Morgan aft.

Phil was not a better seaman than Dick, but he was a more temperate man, therefore clearer brained and more dependable.

Soon the smacks were waltzing and kicking round each other on every possible tack, crossing and re-crossing bows and sterns; sometimes close shaving, out and in, down-the-middle-and-up-again fashion, which, to a landsman, might have been suggestive of the 'bus, cab, and van throng in the neighbourhood of that heart of the world, the Bank of England.

Sounds of hailing and chaffing now began to roll over the North Sea from many stentorian lungs.

"What cheer? what cheer?" cried some in passing.

"Hallo, Tim! how are 'ee, old man! What luck?"

"All right, Jim; on'y six trunks."

"Ha! that's 'cause ye fished up a dead man yesterday."

"Is that you, Ted?"

"Ay, ay, what's left o' me—worse luck. I thought your mother was goin' to keep you at home this trip to mind the babby."

"So she was, boy, but the babby fell into a can o' buttermilk an' got drownded, so I had to come off again, d'ee see?"

"What cheer, Groggy Fox? Have 'ee hoisted the blue ribbon yet?"

"No, Stephen Lockley, I haven't, nor don't mean to, but one o' the fleet seems to have hoisted the blue flag."

Groggy Fox pointed to one of the surrounding vessels as he swept past in the Cormorant.

Lockley looked round in haste, and, to his surprise, saw floating among the smaller flags, at a short distance, the great twenty-feet flag of a mission vessel, with the letters MDSF (Mission to Deep-Sea Fishermen) on it, in white on a blue ground.

"She must have lost her reckoning," muttered Lockley, as he tried to catch sight of the vessel to which the flag belonged—which was not easy, owing to the crowd of smacks passing to and fro between it and him.

Just at that moment a hearty cheer was heard to issue from the Admiral's smack, the Cherub. At the same time the boat of the Lively Poll was launched into the sea, Duffy and Freeman and another hand tumbled into her, and the skipper had to give his undivided attention to the all-important matter of transhipping the fish.

Dozens of boats were by that time bobbing like corks on the heaving sea, all making for the attendant steamer. Other dozens, which had already reached her, were clinging on—the men heaving the fish-boxes aboard,— while yet others were pushing off from the smacks last arrived to join the busy swarm.

Among these was the boat of the Fairy, with Dick Martin and two men aboard. It was heavily laden—too heavily for such a sea—for their haul on the previous night had been very successful.

North Sea fishermen are so used to danger that they are apt to despise it. Both Bryce and Martin knew they had too many trunks in the boat, but they thought it a pity to leave five or six behind, and be obliged to make two trips for so small a number, where one might do. Besides, they could be careful. And so they were—very careful; yet despite all their care they shipped a good deal of water, and the skipper stood on the deck of the Fairy watching them with some anxiety. Well he might, for so high were the waves that not only his own boat but all the others kept disappearing and re-appearing continually, as they rose on the crests or sank into the hollows.

But Skipper Bryce had eyes for only one boat. He saw it rise to view and disappear steadily, regularly, until it was about half-way to the steamer; then suddenly it failed to rise, and next moment three heads were seen amid the tumultuous waters where the boat should have been.

With a tremendous shout Bryce sprang to the tiller and altered the vessel's course, but, as the wind blew, he knew well it was not in his power to render timely aid. That peculiar cry which tells so unmistakably of deadly disaster was raised from the boats nearest to that which had sunk, and they were rowed towards the drowning men, but the boats were heavy and slow of motion. Already they were too late, for two out of the three men had sunk to rise no more—dragged down by their heavy boots and winter clothing. Only one continued the struggle. It was Dick Martin. He had grasped an oar, and, being able to swim, kept his head up. The intense cold of the sea, however, would soon have relaxed even his iron grip, and he would certainly have perished, had it not been that the recently arrived mission vessel chanced to be a very short distance to windward of him. A slight touch of the helm sent her swiftly to his side. A rope was thrown. Martin caught it. Ready hands and eager hearts were there to grasp and rescue. In another moment he was saved, and the vessel swept on to mingle with the other smacks—for Martin was at first almost insensible, and could not tell to which vessel of the fleet he belonged.

Yes, the bad man was rescued, though no one would have sustained much loss by his death; but in Yarmouth that night there was one woman, who little thought that she was a widow, and several little ones who knew not that they were fatherless. The other man who perished was an unmarried youth, but he left an invalid mother to lifelong mourning over the insatiable greed of the cold North Sea.

Little note was taken of this event in the fleet. It was, in truth, a by no means unusual disaster. If fish are to be found, fair weather or foul, for the tables on land, lives must be risked and lost in the waters of the sea. Loss of life in ferrying the fish being of almost daily occurrence, men unavoidably get used to it, as surgeons do to suffering and soldiers to bloodshed. Besides, on such occasions, in the great turmoil of winds and waves, and crowds of trawlers and shouting, it may be only a small portion of the fleet which is at first aware that disaster has occurred, and even these must not, cannot, turn aside from business at such times to think about the woes of their fellow-men.

Meanwhile Dick Martin had fallen, as the saying is, upon his feet. He was carried into a neatly furnished cabin, put between warm blankets in a comfortable berth, and had a cup of steaming hot coffee urged upon him by a pleasant-voiced sailor, who, while he inquired earnestly as to how he felt, at the same time thanked the Lord fervently that they had been the means of saving his life.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

TELLS OF MORE THAN ONE SURPRISE.

"Was that your boat that went down?" shouted Groggy Fox of the Cormorant, as he sailed past the Fairy, after the carrying-steamer had left, and the numerous fishing-smacks were gradually falling into order for another attack on the finny hosts of the sea.

They were almost too far apart for the reply to be heard, and possibly Bryce's state of mind prevented his raising his voice sufficiently, but it was believed that the answer was "Yes."

"Poor fellows!" muttered Fox, who was a man of tender feelings, although apt to feel more for himself than for any one else.

"I think Dick Martin was in the boat," said the mate of the Cormorant, who stood beside his skipper. "I saw them when they shoved off, and though it was a longish distance, I could make him out by his size, an' the fur cap he wore."

"Well, the world won't lose much if he's gone," returned Fox; "he was a bad lot."

It did not occur to the skipper at that time that he himself was nearly, if not quite, as bad a "lot." But bad men are proverbially blind to their own faults.

"He was a cross-grained fellow," returned the mate, "specially when in liquor, but I never heard no worse of 'im than that."

"Didn't you?" said Fox; "didn't you hear what they said of 'im at Gorleston?—that he tried to do his sister out of a lot o' money as was left her by some cove or other in furrin parts. An' some folk are quite sure that it was him as stole the little savin's o' that poor widdy, Mrs Mooney, though they can't just prove it agin him. Ah, he is a bad lot, an' no mistake. But I may say that o' the whole bilin' o' the Martins. Look at Fred, now."

1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse