THE ROMANCE OF THE COAST.
London: George Bell and Sons, York Street, Covent Garden. Chiswick Press:—C. Whittingham and Co., Tooks Court, Chancery Lane.
To FREDERICK GREENWOOD,
THE EDITOR OF THE James's Gazette.
I dedicate this little book to you. When you first gave me the chance of escaping from the unkindly work of political journalism, I used to think that your treatment of efforts which I thought extremely fine, was somewhat heartless. I am glad now that I have passed under your severe discipline, and I am proud to be one of the school of writers whose professional success is due to your help and training.
I am, Dear Sir,
Yours very faithfully,
AN OLD-SCHOOL PILOT 1
AN UGLY CONTRAST 6
THE FISHERWOMAN 11
THE VETERAN 16
THE HEROINE OF A FISHING VILLAGE 22
THE SILENT MEN 27
THE CABIN-BOY 33
THE SQUIRE 40
THE VILLAGE PREACHER 47
THE FISHER'S FRIEND 52
THE COASTGUARD 57
THE SUSPECTED MAN 63
THE RABBIT-CATCHER 68
THE GIANTS 79
THE COLLIER SKIPPER 85
IN THE BAY 90
THE SIBYL 96
A VOLUNTEER LIFE-BRIGADE 102
BLOWN NORTH 113
NORTH-COUNTRY FISHERMEN 118
A LONG CHASE 126
HOB'S TOMMY 131
THE FAILURE 151
MR. CASELY 169
THE ROMANCE OF THE COAST.
AN OLD-SCHOOL PILOT.
At the mouth of a north-country river a colony of pilots dwelt. The men and women of this colony looked differently and spoke a dialect different from that used by the country people only half a mile off. The names, too, of the pilot community were different from those of the surrounding population. Tully was the most common surname of all, and the great number of people who bore it were mostly black-eyed and dark-haired, quite unlike our fair and blue-eyed north-country folk. Antiquaries say the Romans must have lived on the spot for at least two hundred years, judging by the coins and the vast quantities of household materials unearthed; and so some persons have no difficulty in accounting for the peculiarities of the pilot colony. Speculations of this sort are, however, somewhat beside the mark. It is only certain that the pilots lived amongst themselves, intermarried, and kept their habits and dialect quite distinct. When a pilot crossed the line a hundred yards west of his house, he met people who knew him by his tongue to be a "foreigner."
My particular friend among the pilots was a very big man, who used, to amuse us much by the childish gravity of his remarks. He was a remnant of a past generation, and the introduction of steam shocked his faculties beyond recovery. He would say: "In the old times, sir, vessels had to turn up here. It was back, fill, and shiver-r-r all the way; but now you might as well have sets of rails laid on the water and run the ships on them. There is no seamanship needed." He never quite forgave the Commissioners for deepening the river. As he said in his trenchant manner: "There used to be some credit in bringing a ship across the bar when you were never quite sure whether she would touch or not; but now you could bring the 'Duke of Wellington' in at low water. These kid-gloved captains come right up to their moorings as safe as if they were driving a coach along the road." He was quite intolerant of railways, too; but then his first experience of the locomotive engine was not pleasant. Somehow he got on to the railway line on a hazy night; and just as the train had slowed down to enter the station the engine struck him and knocked him over. The engine-driver became aware of a brief burst of strong language, and in great alarm called upon two porters to walk along the line to see what had happened. They did so of course, and when they got to the place of the accident the light of their lanterns revealed the pilot perfectly sound and engaged in brushing dirt off his clothes. When he saw the bright buttons of the railway officials the thought of the police came instantly into his mind, and he said, "Here, now, you needn't be taking me up; if I've done any damage to your engine I'll pay for it." At another time he was bringing a ship northwards when he was invited by the captain to run down below and help himself to a nip of brandy. After taking his brandy he proceeded to light his pipe at the stove. Now the captain possessed a large monkey, and the creature was shivering near the fire. The pilot said, "A gurly day, sir;" and the monkey gave a responsive shiver. Tho pilot went on with affable gruffness, "The Soutar light's away on the port bow now, sir;" and still the monkey made no answer. Not to be stalled off, the pilot proceeded, "We'll be over the bar in an hour, sir." But failing to elicit a response even to this pleasant information, he stepped up on deck, and ranging himself alongside of the captain on the bridge, said, "What a quiet chap your father is!"
The first time I saw my poor friend I liked him. We lived in a lonely house that stood on the cliffs at a bleak turn of the coast. One wild morning a coble beat into our cove. It looked as though the sea must double on her every second; but just when the combers shot at her most dangerously the man at the tiller placed the broad square stern at right angles to the path of the travelling wave, and she lunged forward safely. By dexterous jockeying she was brought close in, and the men came through the shallow water in their sea-boots. They were blue with cold, and begged for a little tea or coffee. Hot cakes and coffee happened to be just ready; so the fellows had a hearty breakfast and went away. With prolonged clumsiness the pilot shook the hand of the lady who had entertained him; and in two days after the boat sailed into the cove again amid nasty weather, and the master came ashore with a set of gaudy wooden bowls painted black and red. These he solemnly presented to the lady of the house. He had run thirty miles against a northerly sea to bring them.
When I next saw the pilot he had fallen upon very hard times. The system of keeping "privileged men" had obtained great hold in the north. The privileged pilot does not need to go out and beat about at sea in search of vessels; he can lie comfortably in his bed until he is signalled, and then he steps aboard without any of the trouble of competition. However good this system may be in a general way, it bears very hardly on the poor fellows who have to lie off for two or three days together on the chance of getting a ship. We were passing by Flamborough Head in a large steamer when the mate came down below and said, "There is a pilot-boat from our town astern there, sir." The captain shouted, "Tell them to stop her directly and take the coble in tow." We then blew our whistle, and the pilot-boat drew up alongside. My friend stepped aboard, and the captain said, "Come away down and have some breakfast." The pilot tried to speak, but his voice broke. He said: "No, I can't eat. When you passed us, we baith started to cry; and when you whistled for us, maw heart com' oot on its place, an' it'll gan back ne mair." The poor men had had no food for two days. In spite of his tragic statement, the pilot recovered, and ate a very good breakfast indeed; and his boat towed astern of us till he placed us at our moorings.
He met his end like a brave man in the great October gale which all of us remember. He was down on the pier smoking with his friends in the watch-house and looking out occasionally for distressed vessels. The great seas were hurling themselves over the stone-work and shattering into wild wreaths of foam on the sand. Strong men who showed themselves outside full in the face of the wind were blown down flat as if they had been tottering children. The wind sounded as though it were blown through a huge trumpet, and the sea was running nine feet on the bar. A small vessel fought through, and appeared likely to get into the fairway. She showed her port light for a time, and all seemed going well. Suddenly she opened both her red and her green lights, and it was seen that she was coming dead on for the pier. Presently she struck hard, within thirty yards of the stone-work. There was wild excitement amongst the brigade men, for they saw that she must be smashed into matchwood in five minutes. The rockets were got ready; but before a shot could be fired the ill-fated vessel gave way totally. A great sea rushed along the side of the pier, and the pilot saw something black amongst the travelling water. "There's a man!" he shouted; and without a moment's thought plunged in, calling on the other fellows to pitch him a rope. Had he tied a line around his waist before he jumped he would have been all right. As it was, the Dutchman whom he tried to save was washed clean on to the pier and put safely to bed in the brigade-house. The pilot was not found until two days afterwards.
AN UGLY CONTRAST.
The steam-tug "Alice," laden with excursionists from several Tyneside towns, struck in the autumn of 1882 on the Bondicar Rocks, sixteen miles north of Blyth. The boat was not much damaged, and could easily have been run into the Coquet River within a very few minutes if the passengers had only kept steady. But the modern English spirit came upon the men, and a rush was made for the boat. Women and children were hustled aside; and the captain of the tug had to threaten certain persons of his own sex with violence before he could keep the crowd back. Some twenty-seven people clambered into the boat, and then a man of genius cut away the head-rope, and flung the helpless screaming company into the sea. Twenty-five of them were drowned. It will be a relief if time reveals any ground of hope that the men of our manufacturing towns will lose no more of the virtues which we used to think a part of the English character—coolness and steadiness and unselfishness in times of danger, for example. The Englishmen who live in quiet places have not become cowardly, so far as is ascertained; nor are they liable to womanish panic. In the dales and in the fishing-villages along our north-east coast may still be found plenty of brave men. Where such disgraceful scenes as that rush to the "Alice's" boat are witnessed, or selfishness like that of the men who got away in the boats of the "Northfleet," there we generally find that the civilization of towns has proved fatal to coolness and courage.
Curiously enough, it happens that within six miles of the rock where the "Alice" struck, a splendidly brave thing was done, which serves in itself to illustrate the difference that is growing up between the race that lives by the factory and the men who earn their bread out-of-doors. Passing southward from the Bondicar Rocks you come to a shallow stream that sprawls over the sand and ripples into the sea. You wade this stream, and walk still southward by the side of rolling sand hills. The wind hurls through the hollows, and the bents shine like grey armour on the bluffs of the low heights. You are not likely to meet any one on your way, not even a tramp. Presently the hills open, and you come to the prettiest village on the whole coast. The green common slopes down to the sea, and great woods rustle and look glad all round the margin of the luxuriant grass-land. Along the cliff straggle a few stone houses, and the square tower with its sinister arrow-holes dominates the row. There is smooth water inshore; but half a mile or so out eastward there runs a low range of rocks. One night a terrible storm broke on the coast. The sea rose, and beat so furiously on the shore that the spray flew over the Fisher Row, and yellow sea foam was blown in patches over the fields. The waters beyond the shore were all in a white turmoil, save where, far off, the grey clouds laid their shoulders to the sea and threw down leaden shadows. Most of the ships had gone south about; but one little brig got stuck hard-and-fast on the ledge of rocks that runs below the village. She had eight men aboard of her, and these had to take to the rigging; where the people on shore heard them shouting. It is a fearful kind of noise, the crying of men in a wrecked ship. Morning broke, and the weather was wilder than ever. There was no lifeboat in the place, and it was plain that the vessel could not stand the rage of the breakers much longer. It was hard to see the ship at all, the spray came in so thickly. The women were crying and wringing their hands on the bank; but that was of small avail. However, one little trouting-boat lay handy, and her owner determined to go off in her to the brig. He was a fine fellow to look at—quite a remarkable specimen of a man, indeed. Without any flurry, without a sign of emotion on his face, he said, "Who's coming?" His two sons stepped out, and the boat was moved towards the water's edge.
Just then a carter came down to look at the wreck. The carter's mare was terror-stricken by the wrath of the sea, and galloped down the beach. In passing the coble the mare plunged, and the axle-tree of the cart staved in the head of the boat below the water-line. This was very bad; but the leader of the forlorn hope did not give himself time to waver. Taking off his coat, he stuffed it into the hole; and then, calling in another volunteer, he said, "Sit against that." The men took their places very coolly, and the little boat was thrust out amid the broken water. Amidst all this the face of one woman who stood looking at the men arrested my attention. It was very white, and her eyes had a look in them that I cannot describe, though I have seen it since in my sleep. The men in the boat were her husband and her sons. She said nothing, but kept her hands tightly clasped; and her lips parted every time the boat rose on the crown of a wave. We could not see those good fellows half the time: all we could tell was that the man who was sitting against the jacket had to bale very hard. Presently the deep bow of the boat rose over a travelling sea, and she ground on the sand. She was heavily laden with the brig's crew of limp and shivering Danish seamen. And it was not a moment too soon for her to be ashore: the brig parted almost directly, and the wreckage was strewn all along the beach.
The men who did this action never had any reward. And it did not matter; for they took a very moderate view of their own merits. They knew, of course, that they had done a good morning's work; but it never occurred to them that they ought to have a paragraph in the newspapers and be called brave. The sort of courage they exhibited they would have described, if their attention had been called to it, as "only natural." The old hero who went through a heavy sea with a staved-in boat is still living. His name is Big Tom, and his home is at Cresswell, in the county of Northumberland. He does not know that he is at all heroic; but it is pleasant to think of him after reading about those wretched excursionists who drowned each other in sheer fright within sight of his home. He has often saved life since then. But when he puts out to sea now he does not need to use a stove-in coble: he is captain of the smart lifeboat; and his proudest possession is a photograph which shows his noble figure standing at the bow.
On bleak mornings you might see the movements of Peggy's stooping figure among the glistening brown weeds that draped the low rocks; and somehow you always noticed her most on bleak mornings. When the joy of the summer was in the air, and the larks were singing high up in the sky, it seemed rather pleasant than otherwise to paddle about among the quiet pools and on the cold bladder-wrack. But when the sky was leaden, and the wind rolled with strange sounds down the chill hollows, it was rather pitiful to see a barefooted woman tramping in those bitter places. The sea seemed to wait for every fresh lash of the blast; and when the grey water sprang into brief spurts of spray you felt how cruelly Peggy's bare limbs were cut by the wind. But she took it all kindly, and made no moan about anything. Towards eight o'clock you would meet her tramping over the sand with her great creel full of bait slung on her forehead. Her feet gripped at the sand, and her strong leg looked ruddy and hard. Her hands were always rough, and covered with little scratches received while she baited the lines; but these were no miseries to Peggy, and her face always seemed composed and quiet. She would not pass you without a word, and her voice was pleasant with low gutturals. If her eyes reminded you of the sea, you put it down to a natural fancy. They were not at all poetic or sentimental; for Peggy was a rough woman. But something there was in the gleam of her pale clear eyes that made you think of the far northern seas, by the borders of which her forefathers in a remote time were probably born. As I have said, Peggy could use very rough words when farmers' wives tired her with too much chaffering; but mostly her face had a hard placidity that refreshed the mind, just as it is refreshed by considering the deliberate ways of harmless animals.
Towards eleven in the morning Peggy would be seated in her warm kitchen, beside a flat basket in which mysterious coils of brown twine wound round and round. The brown twine had tied to it long lines of horse-hair snoods with sharp white hooks lashed on by slips of waxed thread. Peggy baited one after another of these hooks and laid them dexterously so that the line might be shot overboard without entanglement. You might sit down in the sanded kitchen to talk to the good woman if you were not nice about fishy odours. If you led on to such subjects, she would bring out her store of ghostly stories: how a dead lady walked in the shrubberies by the tower after the squire's sons murdered her lover; and how the old clock in the tower had a queer light travelling over its face on one day of the year. Or she would gossip about the folks in the place; telling you how poor Jemmy had lost money, and how old Adam had got a rare stocking, and him meeting the priest every day like a poor man. You might smoke as much as you liked in Peggy's kitchen; and for various reasons it was just as well to keep smoking: the sanitary principles of Dr. Richardson are not known in the villages on the coast. Peggy herself did not smoke, because it was not considered right for women to use tobacco until they were past the age of sixty-five. After that they had their weekly allowance with the groceries. In the evenings of bright days you saw Peggy at her best. When the dusk fell, and the level sands shone with a deep smooth gloss, you would see strange figures bowing with rhythmic motions. These figures were those of women. All the women of the village turn out on the sand to hunt for sand-eels. To catch a sand-eel requires long practice. You take two iron hooks, and work them down deep in the sand when the tide has just gone. With quick but steady movements, you make a series of deep "criss-crosses;" and when the fish is disturbed by the hooks you whip him smartly out, and put him in the basket before his magical wriggle has taken him deep into the sand again. The women stooping over the shining floor look like ghostly harvesters reaping invisible crops. They are very silent, and their steps are feline. Peggy worked out her day, and then she would go home and cut up the eels for the next day's lines. In the early morning the men came in, and then Peggy had to turn out and carry the fish to the cart that drove inland to the coach or the railway station. It was not a gay life; but still each fresh day brought the lads and their father home, and Peggy could not have looked at them, and more especially perhaps at her great sons, without being proud of her men-folk. While they were sleeping she had to be at work, so that the home life was restricted, but it was abundantly clear that in a rough and silent way the whole of the family were fond of each other; and if Peggy could spare little more than a glance when the brown sail of the coble came in sight, it is probable that she felt just as much as ladies who have time for long and yearning looks.
There came a time when Peggy needed no more to look out for the sail. Her husband went stolidly down to the boat one evening, and her three sons followed with their weighty tread. The father was a big, rugged man with a dark face; the lads were yellow-haired, taking after their mother. Some of the fishermen did not like the look of the evening sky, but Peggy's husband never much heeded the weather.
Next day the wind came away very strong, and the cobles had to cower southward under a bare strip of mainsail. The men ashore did not like to be asked whether they thought the weather would get worse; and the women stood anxiously at their doors. A little later and they gathered all together on the rock-edge. One coble, finely handled, was working steadily up to the bend where the boats ran in for the smooth water, and Peggy followed every yard that the little craft gained. All the world for her depended on the chance of weathering that perilous turn. The sail was hardly to be seen for the drift that was plucked off the crests of the waves. Too soon Peggy saw a great roller double over and fold itself heavily into the boat. Then there was the long wallowing lurch, and the rudder came up, while the mast and the sodden sail went under. It was bad enough for a woman to read in some cold official list about the death of her father, her husband, her son; but very much worse it is for the woman who sees her dearest drowning—standing safe ashore to watch every hopeless struggle for life. One of the fishers said to Peggy, "Come thy ways in, my woman; and we'll away and seek them." But Peggy walked fast across the sand and down to the place where she knew the set of the tide would carry the dead lads in. The father came first ashore. She wiped the froth from his lips and closed his eyes, and then hastened further northward where her eldest son was flung on the beach. Peggy saw in an instant that his face was bruised, and moaned at the sight of the bruises; his father looked as though he were sleeping. The other lads did not come ashore till next day, and Peggy would not go home all the night through. In the dark she got away from the kind fellows who stayed by her; and when they sought her she was kneeling in the hollow of a sand-hill where another of her boys lay—her face pressed against the grass.
These bold fellows were laid in the ground, and next day Peggy started silently to work. The grandfather—that is, her husband's father, an old man, quite broken by the loss of his son—was brought home to his son's fireside, where the two may be seen to-day: their thoughts divided between their dead and the business of getting bread for to-morrow.
In the mornings a chair used to be placed on the cliff-side facing the sea, and towards ten o'clock a very old man would walk slowly down the village street and take his seat. A little shelf held his pipe and tobacco-jar, and he would sit and smoke contentedly until the afternoon. The children used to play around him with perfect confidence, although he seldom spoke to them. His face looked as if it were roughly carved out of stone, and his complexion was of a deep rich brown. On his watch-chain he wore several trinkets, and he was specially proud of one thin disk: this was the Nile medal; for the old man had been in the fight at Aboukir. He seldom spoke about his experience of life on board a man-of-war; he was far more interested in bestowing appreciative criticism on the little coasters that flitted past northward and southward, and in saying severe things about the large screw colliers. But although he had little to tell about his fighting experiences, he was a hero none the less. He lived in a little white cottage at the high end of the Green, and a woman came every morning to attend to his simple wants; for his old wife had died long ago. He was lonely, and not much noticed outside the village; yet he had done, in his time, one of the finest things known in the history of bravery.
The Veteran lived happily in his way. He had made some money in a small sloop with which he used to run round to the Firth; good things were sent to him from the Hall; and the head gardener had orders to let him have whatever fruit and vegetables he wanted. He had no wish to see populous places: his uneventful life was varied enough for his desires. If he were properly coaxed, he was willing to tell many things about Nelson; but, strange to say, he was not fond of the great Admiral. Collingwood was his man, and he always spoke with reverence about the north-country sailor. He cared very little for glory; and he estimated men on the simple principle that one kind man is worth twenty clever ones and a hundred plucky ones. The story of his acquaintance with Collingwood and Nelson was strange. In 1797 the Veteran was just nineteen years old; but he had already got command of a little sloop that plied up the Firth, and he was accounted one of the best sailors on the coast. His father was a hearty man of eight-and-forty, and had retired from the sea.
Now it happened that the wealthiest shipowner of the little port had a very wild and unsteady son, who was a ship captain and sailed one of his father's vessels. The shipowner was anxious to see some steady man sail with his lad; so he asked the Veteran's father to go as mate of a barque which the son was going to take out to Genoa. The terms offered were so very tempting that the old man decided to take another short spell of the sea; and when the Veteran next brought his little sloop on to the Hard, he found his father had run round to Hull in the barque. The young captain, of whom the old man had taken charge, behaved very badly during the southerly trip, and in the end had delirium tremens. During the whole of the night the madman divided his time between giving contradictory orders and crying out with fear of the dreadful things which he said were chasing him. On the night after the vessel brought up at Hull he staggered aboard, and stumbled into the cabin. Sitting down at the table, he set himself deliberately to insult his mate, who had been quietly reading. He called the old man a pig, and asked him why he had not gone to his sty. Finding that all his insults were received with good humour, he grew bolder, and at last went round the table and hit out heavily. A white mark appeared on the mate's cheek where the blow landed, and in return he delivered a tremendous right-hander full in the captain's face. The bully was lifted off his feet and fell against the cabin-door, crashing one of the panels out. He rose, wiped the blood from his mouth, and went ashore.
The lieutenant of a frigate which was lying in the harbour was ashore with a press-gang. The drunkard went and declared that the Veteran's father had been insubordinate, and showed a bruised face in evidence. So in the grey of the morning the naval officer and half-a-dozen seamen came under the barque's quarter and climbed aboard. The old man was walking the deck, being very much perturbed about the last night's affray, and he grasped the whole situation at once. He picked up a handspike and got ready to defend himself; but the seamen made a rush, and a blow with the flat of a heavy cutlass knocked the old sailor senseless. When he came to himself he found that he was on board the guardship.
Two days after the Veteran was strolling along the quay in all the glory of white duck and blue pilot cloth. (Sailors were great dandies in those days, and every one of the little ports from the Firth to the Foreland had its own particular fashion in the matter of go-ashore rig.) The Veteran was going to be married as soon as his next trip was over; and on this particular evening he intended to stroll through the lanes and see his sweetheart, who was a farmer's daughter. A fine southerly breeze was blowing, and a little fishing smack crossed the bar and ran up the harbour, lying hard over with press of sail. The Veteran had the curiosity to wait until the little craft had brought up, and he watched the dingy come ashore with two men aboard. He was very much surprised to hear one of the men mention his name; so he turned to ask what was wanted. The fisherman handed him a dirty letter, and on opening it the Veteran found that it was from one of the able seamen aboard the barque. The writer briefly told the circumstances, and then added that there would be no delivery from the guard ship for four days. Within two hours the smack was beating away to the southward with the Veteran in her. He had bidden his sweetheart good-bye, telling her quietly that they could not be married for a long time; but she did not know then how very long it would be.
The Veteran helped to work the smack round to the Humber, and it is probable that his thoughts during the trip were not cheerful. He had asked a friend to take charge of his sloop, and had rapidly countermanded all the preparations that were being made for his marriage. On arriving at Hull the Veteran went at once on board the guardship, and was shown into the commander's cabin. His business was soon over, and a sergeant of marines took him down to the wretched cockpit, where he found his father lying with cloths about his head. The lad said quite simply, "I want you to go ashore, father, and look after the girl until I come back; I have volunteered in your stead." The old man would have liked to argue the point; but he knew that his son would not give way, and so he submitted.
Long afterwards the Veteran used to tell us that that was one of the best moments of his life, although his heart had been so heavy at going away from home. So the young sailor joined the "Minotaur" and fought at the Nile. He was many years at sea; and before he got back to the town he had risen to be sailing-master of a forty-four. When he came to be married, all the little vessels in the harbour made themselves gay with their colours, and the church bells were rung for him as though he had been a great personage.
He lived long enough for his brief story to be forgotten; and only the clergyman and the squire, among all the people of the village where he died, knew that the old man was in the least a hero. They knew that he was fond of children, and they were all willing to run to oblige him. Perhaps he wanted no better reward. In these days of advertisement, much would have been made of him; for the great Collingwood had specially mentioned him for a brilliant act of bravery. As it was, he got very little pension and no fame.
THE HEROINE OF A FISHING VILLAGE.
Until she was nineteen years old, Dorothy lived a very uneventful life; for one week was much the same as another in the placid existence of the village. On Sunday mornings, when the church-bells began to ring, you would meet her walking over the moor with a springy step. Her shawl was gay, and her dress was of the most pronounced colour that could be bought in the market-town. Her brown hair was gathered in a net, and her calm eyes looked from under an old-fashioned bonnet of straw. Her feet were always bare, but she carried her shoes and stockings slung over her shoulder. When she got near the church she sat down in the shade of a hedge and put them on; then she walked the rest of the distance with a cramped and civilized gait. On the Monday mornings early she carried the water from the well. Her great "skeel" was poised easily on her head; and, as she strode along singing lightly without shaking a drop of water over the edge of her pail, you could see how she had come by her erect carriage. When the boats came in, she went to the beach and helped to carry the baskets of fish to the cart. She was then dressed in a sort of thick flannel blouse and a singular quantity of brief petticoats. Her head was bare, and she looked far better than in her Sunday clothes. If the morning were fine she sat out in the sun and baited the lines, all the while lilting old country songs in her guttural dialect. In the evening she would spend some time chatting with other lasses in the Row; but she never had a very long spell of that pastime, for she had to be at work winter and summer by about five or six in the morning. The fisher-folk do not waste many candles by keeping late hours. She was very healthy and powerful, very ignorant, and very modest. Had she lived by one of the big harbours, where fleets of boats come in, she might have been as rough and brazen as the girls often are in those places. But in her secluded little village the ways of the people were old-fashioned and decorous; and girls were very restrained in their manners. No one would have taken her to be anything more than an ordinary country girl had not a chance enabled her to show herself full of bravery and resource.
Every boat in the village went away North one evening, and not a man remained in the Row excepting three very old fellows, who were long past work of any kind. When a fisherman grows helpless with age he is kept by his own people, and his days are passed in quietly smoking on the kitchen settle or in looking dimly out over the sea from the bench at the door. But a man must be sorely "failed" before he is reduced to idleness, and able to do nothing that needs strength. A southerly gale, with a southerly sea, came away in the night, and the boats could not beat down from the northward. By daylight they were all safe in a harbour about eighteen miles north of the village. The sea grew worse and worse, till the usual clouds of foam flew against the houses or skimmed away into the fields beyond. When the wind reached its height the sounds it made in the hollows were like distant firing of small-arms, and the waves in the hollow rocks seemed to shake the ground over the cliffs. A little schooner came round the point, running before the sea. She might have got clear away, because it was easy enough for her, had she clawed a short way out, risking the beam sea, to have made the harbour where the fishers were. But the skipper kept her close in, and presently she struck on a long tongue of rocks that trended far out eastward. The tops of her masts seemed nearly to meet, so it appeared as if she had broken her back. The seas flew sheer over her, and the men had to climb into the rigging. All the women were watching and waiting to see her go to pieces. There was no chance of getting a boat out, so the helpless villagers waited to see the men drown; and the women cried in their shrill, piteous manner. Dorothy said, "Will she break up in an hour? If I thowt she could hing there, I would be away for the lifeboat." But the old men said, "You can never cross the burn." Four miles south, behind the point, there was a village where a lifeboat was kept; but just half-way a stream ran into the sea, and across this stream there was only a plank bridge. Half a mile below the bridge the water spread far over the broad sand and became very shallow and wide. Dorothy spoke no more, except to say "I'll away." She ran across the moor for a mile, and then scrambled down to the sand so that the tearing wind might not impede her. It was dangerous work for the next mile. Every yard of the way she had to splash through the foam, because the great waves were rolling up very nearly to the foot of the cliffs. An extra strong sea might have caught her off her feet, but she did not think of that; she only thought of saving her breath by escaping the direct onslaught of the wind. When she came to the mouth of the burn her heart failed her for a little. There was three-quarters of a mile of water covered with creamy foam, and she did not know but what she might be taken out of her depth. Yet she determined to risk it, and plunged in at a run. The sand was hard under foot, but, as she said, when the piled foam came softly up to her waist she "felt gey funny." Half-way across she stumbled into a hole caused by a swirling eddy, and she thought all was over; but her nerve never failed her, and she struggled till she got a footing again. When she reached the hard ground she was wet to the neck, and her hair was sodden with her one plunge "overhead." Her clothes troubled her with their weight in crossing the moor; so she put off all she did not need and pressed forward again. Presently she reached the house where the coxswain of the lifeboat lived. She gasped out, "The schooner! On the Letch! Norrad."
The coxswain, who had seen the schooner go past, knew what was the matter. He said, "Here, wife, look after the lass," and ran out. The "lass" needed looking after, for she had fainted. But her work was well done; the lifeboat went round the point, ran north, and took six men ashore from the schooner. The captain had been washed overboard, but the others were saved by Dorothy's daring and endurance.
THE SILENT MEN.
Two very reckless fellows used always to go fishing together, and used also to spend their leisure together. One was known as Roughit; and the other was called Lance. Roughit was big, with heavy limbs and a rather brutal face. He wore his hair and beard very long, and his eyes looked morosely from under thick reddish eyebrows. He scarcely ever spoke to anybody; and some of the superstitious fishermen did not like to meet him in the morning, because they thought he always brought them bad luck. Lance was a handsome man, with small hands and feet. He was not like the shaggy giants of the village—and, indeed, it had been said that some people at the Hall knew more about his parentage than might at first sight be supposed. The two men never talked much, and never exchanged any kind of greeting when they met and parted. Both of them were such expert boatmen that excepting on very dark nights they scarcely needed to communicate except by signs.
On summer afternoons when the herrings were coming southward Roughit would knock at Lance's door and pass on without a word. Presently Lance would come out, with his oilskins over one arm and his water-bottle swung by his side. The coble was lifted on to the launching-wheels and run down to the water; then the two men took their places, and the boat stole away northward over the bay. They never carried their fish to any big port, because their boat was so small that it was not worth their while. They always ran back to their own village and sold their catch to the farmers and labourers in their own neighbourhood. When the boat was beached, Roughit and Lance had their nets driven up to the great green and then spread in the sun for an hour or two. They sat smoking and listening to the larks that sung against one another over the common. About one o'clock they strode home together and went to bed until it was time to go north once more.
The herring season is the pleasantest for fishermen. It is their harvest; and they have little real hardship and a good deal of excitement. On calm nights, after the nets are shot, there are hours of keen expectancy, until the oily flicker on the surface of the water tells that the great shoal is moving to its fate; then there is the wild bustle among the whole fleet while the nets are hauled in; and then comes the pleasant morning lounge after the fish are sold.
Roughit and Lance were always lucky, and made lots of money during the summer and autumn. In winter times were harder for them. They mostly did all their work in the daytime, and sent their fish round to their customers in the afternoons. In the evenings they sat on the bench in the tavern and smoked silently until the time came for expeditions of another sort. The friends were great poachers, and they carried on their operations like a pair of vicious and well-trained lurchers. Roughit had a small lightly built dog, bred between a collie and greyhound; Lance had a big Bedlington terrier; and these two dogs were certain to be the death of any hare they made up their minds to catch. Lance and Roughit would sit down by the fence beside a gate; the lurcher lay quietly down beside the gate-post, while the terrier slipped through the gap in the hedge and sneaked quietly round to the top of the field. When he had reached the furthermost hedge, he began to beat slowly down towards his confederate: there would come a quick thud, thud of feet; then a scraping on the bars of the gate; then a shrill squeak; and the lurcher cantered quietly up with his game to the place where the two fishermen sat. If old Sam, the Squire's gamekeeper, had ever had a chance of putting a charge of shot into either of the dogs he would not have thrown it away. But the brutes usually stayed indoors all day, and never went rummaging the coverts on their own account. Roughit showed no signs of sporting instinct; but Lance really liked the fun, and was willing to run all kinds of risks.
Year after year the friends lived their silent life, dividing their time between fishing, poaching, and drinking. Sometimes a spell of bad weather came, and all day long the spray flew over the cottages and the cold breeze covered the sand with foam. The waters roared drearily, and the nights were bad enough to prevent the most inveterate poacher from turning out. During the daytime Lance and Roughit would lounge on the rock-tops, and look grimly out at the horizon, where the grey clouds laid their shoulders to the sea. Their companionship was much like that of lower animals: it was quite sufficient for one to know that the other was near. They did once separate for a short time, Roughit shipped in a merchant brig that was going round to Plymouth. The vessel made the run in about a week; but Roughit felt very wretched during the whole time, without knowing exactly why. At Plymouth he deserted, leaving his box behind him, and set off on foot northwards.
One evening Lance was sitting sulkily on the ground, when he saw a man crossing the moor. A vague curiosity caused him to walk out to meet the stranger, and presently Roughit came up looking very dirty, and wearing only an old sleeved waistcoat and a ragged pair of canvas trousers. He was barefooted too, and limped a good deal. The two men simply nodded and turned back to the village together. Neither of them asked any questions, but they sat drinking until a late hour, and went home less steadily than might have been wished. The people in the Row took but little notice of this eccentric couple; for, after all, the friends did harm to nothing except the Squire's ground-game.
When the two men were growing grizzled with advancing years the coble which belonged to them had gone away from the fishing-ground one black night, before a strong north-easterly gale: she shot between the Great Farne Island and the Bird's Rock. The tide was going like a millrace, and the solemn roar of the vast stream made very terrible music in the dark. The men might have got into their own haven by an easy passage, despite the gale. But both of them seemed to be always possessed by a gloomy kind of recklessness, and when they made the village lights they determined upon trying an entrance which was desperately difficult. In the centre of a gap which was twenty feet wide stood a rock which was known as "The Tailor's Needle." It stood 400 yards south of "The Cobbler." This rock was clad in sea-weed around its base; but eight feet of the upper part of it was bare of weeds and covered only with tiny shells which tore the hands. On the top of the rock was a very small platform of about one foot square, and in fine weather daring boys would stand upright on this summit and wave to the people ashore. The rock was covered two feet by an ordinary spring tide; but on the night when Roughit and Lance decided to try and pass it, about a foot was above water. There was not a great deal of sea on; indeed, there was hardly more than what the fishermen call a "northerly lipper;" but the tide was running with extraordinary swiftness. Roughit put the helm down and guessed at his bearings. The boat lay hard down and tore in through the gap. There was a long grinding crash; the weather-side lifted clean out of the water; she dropped off the rock, and the two men were pitched overboard. Roughit scrambled to the top, at the expense of torn hands. He hung on as well as he could; but the spray from the combings of the seas cut his face and blinded him. Still, he could easily have held on till dawn, because the tide had no further to rise. He, like too many of the fishermen, could not swim. He got hold of the edge of the rock. There was not room for him on the ledge; so presently he said, "I am going." Roughit answered: "No, don't do that; let me give you a haul up here." As Lance went up on one side Roughit went off on the other. The waves buffeted him away towards the shore, and he cried out "Good-night!" when he had swum a few yards westward.
At dawn Lance was picked off "The Tailor's Needle," but Roughit was found dead on the sand. Lance never forgave himself for having taken his comrade's offer; he disliked the village, he hated the sea; and before long he went away inland to work down in the pits.
The master of a smack was lately accused of having murdered an apprentice; so the mob made desperate attempts to lynch the prisoner every time he was brought before the magistrates. They heard that the dead boy used to be beaten with ropes'-ends, kicked, dragged along the deck, drenched with cold water, and subjected to other ingenious modes of discipline, and they were horrified. Yet only a few years ago no surprise or indignation greeted a skipper who habitually ill-used his cabin-boys. If screams were heard coming from a collier in the Pool, the men in neighbouring vessels scarcely took the trouble to turn round. They know that some unhappy boy was being corrected; and they believed in stripes and bruises as necessary agencies in nautical education. When a weakly lad chanced to die he was dropped overboard, and there was an end of the matter; the strong lads who lived through these brutalities grew into fine sailors.
Times are altered. The old-fashioned sailor is an extinct creature, and modern conditions have developed a totally new variety. The old-fashioned sailor was brought up in an atmosphere of rough cruelty; the new-fashioned sailor will submit to no tyranny whatever. The old-fashioned skipper was very like the Hull culprit in habits and customs; the new-fashioned skipper is overbearing and often conceited, but rarely brutal.
They formed a strange society, did those East Coast sailors of past days. A boy grew up in one of the brisk little ports that lay between Wivenhoe and Spittal. The notion of inland life had no place in his mind, for his thoughts in early years suffered a sea change. He played on the quay, and heard the growling talk of the lounging, bearded sailors; so that he soon became critical in the matter of ships and seamanship. He could tell you the name of every black and apple-bowed vessel that came curtseying over the bar on the flood tide; and he would prove the superiority of the "Halicore" over the "Mary Jane," with many clenching allusions to aged authorities. If the black fleet went out with a northerly breeze blowing, he could name the ship that would be first clear of the ruck; if the wind were off the land, he knew which ship would be suited by having the breeze on the beam. Long before he ever saw the outside of the bar he had heard of every point on the coast. The possibility of becoming anything but a sailor never entered his head. He tried to copy the flat-footed rolling walk of the seamen, and he longed for the time when he might wear a braided cap and smoke a pipe. While yet little more than a child he went on his trial voyage, and had his first experience of sea-sickness. Then he was bound apprentice for five years, his wages beginning at L8 per year, and increasing yearly by L2 until the end of his term. His troubles began after his indentures were signed. The average skipper had no thought of cruelty and yet was very cruel. The poor lad had a very scanty allowance of water for washing; yet if he appeared at breakfast-time with face and hands unclean he was sent squeaking up to the galley with a few smart weals tingling upon him. All sorts of projectiles were launched at him merely to emphasize orders. The mate, the able seamen (or "full-marrows"), the ordinary seamen (or "half-marrows") never dreamed of signifying their pleasure to him save with a kick or an open-handed blow. His only time of peace came when it was his watch below, and he could lay his poor little unkempt head easily in his hammock. In bad weather he took his chance with the men. The icy gusts roared through the rigging; the cold spray smote him and froze on him; green seas came over and forced him to hold on wheresoever he might. Sometimes the clumsy old brig would drown everybody out of the forecastle, and the little sailor had to curl up in his oilskins on the streaming floor of the after-cabin. Sometimes the ship would have to "turn" every yard of the way from Thames to Tyne, or from Thames to Blyth. Then the cabin-boy had to stamp and shiver with the rest until the vessel came round on each new tack, and then perhaps he would be forced to haul on a rope where the ice was hardening. It might be that on one bad night, when the fog lay low on the water and the rollers lunged heavily shoreward, the skipper would make a mistake. The look-out men would hear the thunder of broken water close under the bows; and then, after a brief agony of hurry and effort, the vessel beat herself to bits on the remorseless stones. In that case the little cabin-boy's troubles were soon over. The country people found him in the morning stretched on the beach with his eyes sealed with the soft sand. But in most instances he made his trips from port to port safely enough. His chief danger came when he lay in the London river or in the Tyne. As soon as a collier was moored in the Pool or in the Blackwall Reach, the skipper made it a point of honour to go ashore, and the boy had to scull the ship's boat to the landing. From the top of Greenwich Pier to the bend of the river a fleet of tiny boats might be seen bobbing at their painters every evening. The skippers were ashore in the red-curtained public-houses. The roar of personal experiences sounded through the cloud of tobacco-smoke and steam, and the drinking was steady and determined. Out on the river the shadows fell on the racing tide; the weird lights flickered in the brown depths of the water; and the swirling eddies gurgled darkly and flung the boats hither and thither. In the stern of each boat was a crouching figure; for the little cabin-boy had to wait in the cold until the pleasures of rum and conversation had palled upon his master. Sometimes the boy fell asleep; there came a lurch, he fell into the swift tide, and was borne away into the dark. Over and over again did little boys lose their lives in this way when their thoughtless masters kept them waiting until midnight or later.
Through hunger and cruelty and storm and stress, the luckier cabin-boy grew in health and courage until his time was out. When he went home he wore a thick blue coat, wide blue trousers, and a flat cap with mystic braid; and on the quay he strolled with his peers in great majesty. Tiny children admired his earrings and his cap and his complicated swagger. Then in due time came the blessed day when he called himself ordinary seaman, and when the most energetic of mates dared not thrash him (unless, indeed, the mate happened to be much the stronger man, in which case professional etiquette was apt to be disregarded); his pay rose to L2 a month; he felt justified in walking regularly with a maiden of his choice; and his brown face showed signs of moustache and beard. Then he became A.B., then mate, and last of all he reached the glories of mastership and L8 a month. By that time he had become a resolute, skilful man, with coarse tastes and blunt feelings. Danger never cost him a thought. He would swear fearfully about trifling annoyances; but in utmost peril, when his ship was rolling yard-arm under, or straining off the gnashing cliffs of a lee-shore, he was quiet and cool and resigned. He took the risk of his life as part of his day's work and made no fuss about it. He was hopelessly ignorant and wildly conservative; he believed in England, and reckoned foreigners as a minor species. His sinful insularity ran to ludicrous manifestations sometimes. An old coaster was once beating up for his own harbour and trying to save the tide. A little Danish brig got a slant of wind and rattled in over the bar, while the collier had to stand off for six hours. The captain was gravely indignant at this mischance, and, sighing, said, "Ah! God cares far more for them furriners than He does for His own countrymen."
As he grew in years his temper became worse, and his girth greater. The violent exertion of his earlier days was exchanged for the ease of a man who had nothing to do but stand about, eat, sleep, and throw things at cabin-boys. He had all the peremptory disposition of an Eastern tyrant; and the notion of being called to account for any one of his doings would have thrown him into apoplectic surprise. So he lived out his days, working his old tub up and down the coast with marvellous skill, beating his boy, roaring songs when his vessel lay in the Pool, and lamenting the good times gone by. When at last his joints grew too stiff, and other troubles of age came upon him, he settled ashore in some little cottage and devoted himself to quiet meditation of a pessimistic kind. Every morning he rolled down to the quay and criticised with cruel acuteness the habits of the younger generation of mariners; every evening he took his place in the tavern parlour and instructed the assembled skippers. At last the time came for him to go: then the men whom he had scored with ropes'-ends in his day were the first to mourn him and to speak with admiration of his educational methods.
The skipper of the new school is a sad backslider. He would think it undignified to beat a boy; he wears a black frock coat, keeps novels in his cabin, wears a finger-ring, and tries to look like a ship-broker. He mixes his north-country accent with a twang learned in the West-end theatres, and he never goes ashore without a tall hat and an umbrella. His walk is a grievous trouble to his mind. The ideal ship-broker has a straight and seemly gait; but no captain who ever tried to imitate the ship-broker could quite do away with a certain nautical roll. The new-fashioned captain is not content with that simple old political creed of true sailors, which began and ended with the assertion that one Englishman could beat any six foreigners. This is crude in his eyes. He knows all about Gladstone and the Land Bill; he is abreast of his age in knowledge of the Eastern Question; and he claims kindred with a Party. His self-confidence is phenomenal, but not often offensive. In short, he is a sort of nautical bagman, with all the faults and all the business-like virtues of his kind.
Every afternoon when the weather was bright, an erect old man used to ride round the Fisher Row on a stout cob. If the men happened to be sitting in the sun, on the benches, he would stop and speak to them, in sharp, ringing accents, and he always had a word for the women as they sat baiting their lines in the open air. He called the men by their Christian names, and they called him by the name of his estate. None of the fishermen ever ventured to be familiar with him; but he often held long talks with them about commonplace matters. They considered that they had a proprietary interest in him, and they always inquired about his family affairs. He would tell them that Mr. Harry had gone with his regiment to India, or that Miss Mabel had gone to stay with her aunt at the West Moor, or, that Miss Ella was coming home from school for altogether next month. All this cross-questioning was carried on without the least vulgarity. The people were really anxious to hear news of the boys and girls who had grown up amongst them, and they thought it would please the Squire if they treated him as a sort of Patriarch.
The old man lived for nearly a century in the one place. It may be said that not long before he died he wagered that he would reach his hundredth year, but he missed that by three years. His whole energy and thought were devoted to improving his estate. He had no notion of art or things of that kind, yet he managed to make his village and its surroundings very beautiful by long years of care. The sleepy place where he lived was right away from the currents of modern life. If you walked over a mile of moorland, then through five miles of deep wood, where splendid elms and fine beeches made shade for you, you would come at last to some rising ground, and, if you waited, you might see far away the trailing smoke of a train. But there are men now, on the Squire's estate, who have never seen an engine, and there must be a score or so of the population who have never slept one night away from their native place. While Mr. Pitt was breaking his heart over Austerlitz; while Napoleon was playing his last throw at Waterloo; while the Birmingham men were threatening to march on London, the Squire was riding peacefully day by day, in the lanes and spinneys of his lovely countryside. He never would allow a stranger to settle on his property, and he was never quite pleased if any of the fisher girls married pitmen. He did not mind when the hinds and the fishers intermarried, but anything that suggested noise and smoke was an abhorrence to him, and thus he disliked the miners. A splendid seam of coal ran beneath his land. This coal could have been easily won; in fact, at the place where the cliffs met the sea, a two-foot seam cropped out, and the people could go with a pickaxe and break off a basketful for themselves whenever they chose; but the Squire would never allow borings to be made. He did not object to the use of coal on abstract grounds, but he was determined that his property should not be disfigured. Once, when a smart agent came to make proposals respecting the sinking of a pit, the Squire took him by the shoulders and solemnly pushed him out of his study. He fancied that a colliery would bring poachers and squalor and drunkenness, and many other bad consequences, so he kept his fields unsullied and his little streams pure. Without knowing it, the Squire was a bit of a poet. For example, he had one long dell, which ran through his woods, planted with hyacinths and the wild pink geranium. These flowers came in bloom together, and the effect of the great sheet of blue and pink was indescribable. He was very proud of this piece of work, and he always looked happy as he went down the path in the spring time.
The Squire had the most intimate acquaintance with the circumstances of every man, woman, and child on his property. If he rode out at two in the afternoon and heard that a fisherman was suffering with rheumatism, it was almost certain that the fat man-servant from the Hall would call at the sick man's house before the day was out with blankets and wine, and whatever else might be needed. Yet the Squire was by no means lavish. In making a bargain with a tenant he never showed the least generosity. On one occasion he set a number of gardeners to work in a very large orchard where the trees were beginning to feel the effects of time. The men were likely to be employed for at least three years, so each of them was fixed by a formal engagement. The married men were paid fifteen shillings a week, but on coming to a young man, the Squire said, "Now I am going to give you a shilling a week less than the others because you live with your mother." This sounds like the speech of a very stingy person; but in spite of the apparent hardness of the great landlord, poverty was never known on his estate. The hinds had to eat barley bread, and beef and mutton were not plentiful, for the butcher's visit only came once in the week. Yet nevertheless the men were healthy and powerful, and the women and children were neatly and decently dressed.
Once every year the Squire met the whole of his tenants. As Michaelmas came round he drew his rents, and then the dandy agent, the solid farmers, and the poor cottiers sat down at one table for the rent dinner. The strict discipline of ordinary life was relaxed, and the Squire allowed even the fishermen to make jokes in his presence. When the company broke up in the evening it often happened that various members were obliged to lie down in the hedge-sides, and once the Squire had to ride his cob right over his own head mason. The mason happened to be thinking about nautical affairs when the grey cob swept down upon him, and just as the Squire cleared him he cried "Ship ahoy." This occurrence supplied the Squire with a joke which lasted nearly forty years.
All the sayings which the Squire dropped at the rent dinner were carefully treasured, and formed the subject of occasional conversation on the benches until the year went round again.
The good man did not like newspapers. When he began his life as a landlord, at the end of the last century, the folk who lived on the estate managed perfectly well without journals, and he did not see why a change should be made. He never could understand why a man could not be content with his own life, and his own sensations, instead of wanting to know what other people in other parts of the world were saying and doing.
About the time of the Reform agitation of 1867 he rode round to the masons' shed. The men were having their eleven o'clock meal, and as they ate their bread and cheese, Fat Jack, the stone-cutter, read to them one of Mr. John Bright's speeches. The Squire did not exactly know, or care to know, who Mr. John Bright might be, but he gathered enough from Fat Jack's guttural elocution to cause uneasiness. He declared that if ever the postman brought such a thing into the village again he would never allow a letter to be delivered on his estate. But with all this bluster, the common people knew that their landlord wished them well, and they were ready to do anything for him.
One night, while he was dragging his trout stream, he fell into the ugliest part of the water. He had hardly had time to come to the surface when six men were in after him, and he had to thank each one of the six in the same formal terms before any of them would consent to resign the whole credit of the rescue.
His eldest son was killed in battle. Before departing for the fatal campaign, the young officer had dragged the burn, and placed all the brown trout that he caught in a great tarn that lay amongst the low hills on the moor. The fish increased and multiplied until the little lake was swarming. Big fat trout used to roll easily round on summer evenings, and make lazy lunges at the flies. It would have been easy to have taken twenty dozen out of the lake in a day; but the Squire said he did not want the pond fished because his boy had stocked it. So no native ever cast a line there, although the temptation was almost unbearable.
A very smart young person came from the neighbouring market town once, and tried the pond with the fly. He had just reached his third dozen when he was caught by old Sam, the gamekeeper, and three fishermen. They tied a cart-rope round his waist and threw him into the pond; they then pitched the whole of the trout back into the water, and after that they dragged the trespasser out, floured him carefully, and sent him on his road.
These incidents are not idyllic, but they serve to show what kind of a hold a strong, just man may obtain upon simple people if he only shows that he is ready to work for them. The whole of the tenantry and the villagers knew that their stern old master gave up his life for their sake. They knew that he worked like a common bailiff; they knew that he drank nothing but water; they knew that he put by money every year with the sole object of making improvements which might better their condition, and they respected him accordingly.
When he reached the age of ninety-six years he was no longer capable of guiding his pony: the pony guided him. On one afternoon the beast turned just at the end of the Fisher Row and walked the old man quietly back to the stables. He could not dismount without assistance, and he had to wait in the stall, while Matchem munched his oats, until one of the stable boys came and released him. From that day the Squire rode no more, and the occasion was memorable, alike for fishers and hinds.
When the old man died he was followed to his grave by the entire population from nine farms and two fishing villages. Old men of eighty, who remembered him when he was a bright young fellow in George the Third's time, went and stood round his grave. Everybody wanted some remembrance of him, but this could not be attained until the clever national schoolmaster of the village suggested that an engraving should be made from a photograph. You cannot go into one cottage or one farm-house on the whole of the estate without finding an engraved portrait of the splendid old man hung in a place of honour.
THE VILLAGE PREACHER.
The Methodists got a very strong hold in seaside places at the end of the last century, but during the long pressure of the great War the claims of religion were somewhat forgotten. Smuggling went on to an extraordinary extent and the consequent demoralisation was very apparent. The strict morality which the stern Methodists of the old school taught had been broken, and some of the villages were little better than nests of pirates. The decent people who lived inland were continually molested by marauding ruffians who came from seaside places, and to call a man a "fisher," was to label him with a term of reproach.
On Saturday nights every Fisher Row was a scene of drunken turmoil, and on Sunday the men lounged about drinking, the women scolding, while the old-fashioned simplicity of life seemed to be forgotten altogether.
Grave countrymen shook their heads over the terrible change. Our village had become notorious for bad behaviour, and the old man who tried to keep up the traditions of religion was much distressed in his mind.
This local preacher was coming over the moor one fine summer night when the moon shone so as to make the sands and the trees round the village look splendid. The peacefulness of the night seemed to have impressed him, and he was occupied with his own grave thoughts.
As he passed the tavern the front door opened, and a waft of rank tobacco came out. Then came a little mob of fishermen, many of whom were cursing and swearing. Two of them began to fight, and the local preacher heard the thud of heavy blows. He stepped in amongst the crowd and tried to separate the fighters, but he only got jeered at for his pains. He was usually very civilly treated, but the men were in drink and could not discriminate.
The next day was Sunday, and as the evening dropped down there was a stir in the village, and a score or two of the villagers came out on the green. Three or four men took to playing pitch and toss, and the women got up little quarrels on their own account. A few big fellows walked towards the shore, and got ready the boats to go out fishing, for there was no respect shown to the Sabbath.
At seven o'clock the local preacher took his stand in the middle of the green, and remained there bare-headed until he had attracted attention. He began to pray aloud, and the villagers stood grinning round him until he had finished. He then asked the people to join him in a hymn, but this proposal was too comic, and the men and women laughed loudly.
The preacher, however, was not a man to be stopped by a little laughter. He actually did sing a hymn in a beautiful tenor, and, before he had finished, some of the men seemed rather ashamed of having laughed at all.
One of the leaders said—"Let us hear what this born fool has to say. If he makes very much noise we'll take and put him in one of the rain-water barrels." A poacher proposed that the dogs should be set on him; but, although this idea was received as a humorous contribution to the discussion, it was not put into practice.
The preacher began a kind of rude address. He picked his words with a certain precision, and managed to express himself in the dialect of the people to whom he was speaking. His enthusiasm grew, and at the end of a quarter of an hour he had obtained such complete mastery over the crowd, that individuals amongst the audience unconsciously imitated the changes of his face.
The man was really a kind of poet, and the villagers felt his power without exactly knowing why. When the preaching was over, the orator strode away home without speaking to anybody.
On the next Sunday he appeared in the same place at the same hour. Only some half a dozen men and lads were on the green and these were gambling as usual; but when they saw the preacher, two or three of them ran along the Row and brought out the people. The men who had intended to go fishing stayed out of curiosity; and not a single boat was run off the sands that night. The next week the best part of the village population was waiting when the preacher came. Some of the very old men were accommodated with logs of wood which had been brought out for seats, and the very roughest of the young men remained respectfully silent.
Some heavy clouds came over the hills and discharged a sprinkle of water upon the group. A big man stepped out and spoke to the preacher. He was one of the most powerful fellows on the coast, and had been a great ruffian in his time. It was said that he once killed a man with a single blow. He offered the preacher the use of his house, and presently all the villagers were packed in the great sanded kitchen, and a rude service was carried on under cover.
The work thus begun went on for years. Sometimes a little spasmodic emotion was shown in the meetings by women who were hysterically inclined, but in general the services were free from excitement and vulgarity. The little tavern had to be shut up, for the men stopped drinking.
The fishermen saw the preacher roughly dressed during the week and doing work as hard as their own, yet the influence he gained over them was so strong that it came to be regarded as a very discreditable thing for any man or woman to stay away from the evening services.
By-and-by the fisherman who had been the worst ruffian in the village used to take a turn at the preaching. His remarks would have been very laughable to outsiders, but as he was a man of strong character and genuine feeling, his hearers took him quite seriously.
As the preacher grew old he was regarded with extreme reverence, especially by the women, whose lives had often been very hard before the Revival.
One night the big man, who had first offered the preacher shelter, was sitting in the kitchen when a neighbour came in. The new-comer seemed flurried, and said—"I am going to hit you very hard. The old man's dying. He says he wants to see you; so come you away with me." The giant didn't put his hat on, and did not even take off his sea-boots. He ran out at once, and strode heavily over the moor. The old man was waiting for him, but the end was very near.
The preacher made a pathetic little joke. He said, "You once gave me shelter. Maybe I'll have to get one of the many mansions ready for you." Soon after that the ebb tide began to run out, and the preacher died in the big fisherman's arms.
When the day of the funeral came, the men would not allow the corpse to be put in the hearse; they took turns to carry the coffin over the moor, and the women and children followed in lines.
There was a little jealousy as to who should have the old man's dog, but there was very little need for that, because the collie went from house to house in the Row, arranging his visits with a view to meal-times.
After a while a good Church of England clergyman took up the work that the Primitive had begun. The fishers did not like the university man, with his dainty accent, quite so well as their rough friend, but they always behaved well to him, and are still a very decent and sober set of people.
THE FISHER'S FRIEND.
A square stone house decked with clambering honeysuckle stood in a lonely place about a mile to the northward of the Row. A narrow flower garden lay to the right and left of the front, and in spring-time and summer a delicate little lady used to come out and move gracefully about among the flower beds. She was old, but she carried herself erect, and her cheeks were prettily tinged. Her dress was in the style of the last century, and she made no change in her fashions from year's end to year's end. On Sundays she walked primly to church, wearing a quaint deep bonnet from which her pretty face peeped archly, She reminded you of some demure chapter in an old-world book. After she had finished with her flowers in the mornings she would walk through the kitchen garden and thence into her orchard. Four or five tortoise-shell cats and two sleek spaniels followed her around, and took a dignified interest in her proceedings. When the lady had visited the cows in the paddock she walked through the dairy and got ready to go out. When she came out she bore a little basket on her arm, and she went to visit her old women, and her favourite children. Whenever she stepped into Black Mary's kitchen that aged dame was sure to be smoking, and the little lady would say, "Now Mary, you'll shorten your life if you keep on with that bad habit." Mary would answer, "Well, well, I'm a long way over seventy now, a day or two won't make a great deal of difference." This joke pleased both parties very much, and it was always followed by the production of enough tobacco to last Mary for a day—unless the fisher lads chanced to steal some. After that the cottager's children had to be seen, and those young persons looked at the basket with interest. The dainty visitor would say, "Now Jimmy, I saw you pelting the ducks this morning. How would you like some big cruel man to pelt you? And I saw you, Frank, wading without ever doubling your trousers up; you will catch cold, and your mother and I will have to give you nasty medicine." After this stern reproof some little packets were brought out of the basket and shared with care.
Thus the old lady went about the place like a sort of fairy godmother. The fishermen were fond of her. Big Tom, the giant, used to look kindly down at her from under his great brows, and listened to her sharp, twittering speech as though he were criticising some new species of bird. All the other fishermen treated her with rough politeness, and they called her Miss Anne, without troubling themselves about her second name. She was known to the tramps who travelled the coast road, and the gipsies made much of her in their sly, Eastern way. Whenever a poor man knocked she called off the dogs, and went out to talk with him; she questioned him briskly; asked about his parents, his birthplace, his age, the distance he had travelled, his destination, and all sorts of other matters. She then took him to the great wooden table outside the dairy if she was satisfied, and gave him food and a little money. Sometimes she heard that her guest spent the money in the village tavern, but she did not alter her charitable habits for all that. She would say, "Oh sad, sad man, to spend his money like that." Then she would add, "But, perhaps he hasn't learned any other pleasure."
The gipsies used to send for medicine when any of them were ailing, and they repaid her kindness by leaving her live stock alone. Once she lost some of her silver-pencilled chickens, but they were soon returned, and it was said that the man who stole them had a very bad beating from one of the Lees who had been a prizefighter. A few marks on the lintel on the door let all the regular tramps know that Miss Anne's property must not be touched; and she very rarely locked her doors in winter. The dark nights were weary for young folks, so Miss Anne used often to invite some favourites among the village boys to come and spend an hour or two in her delightful parlour. The wind screamed hoarsely among the elder-bushes, and the wintry sea made strange noises on the sands, but the happy boys in the bright room never much heeded the weather outside. When Miss Anne had made sure that her guests had spotless hands she let them visit her book-shelves, and they could look through the precious volumes of Bewick's Natural History. A great number of stuffed specimens ornamented the walls of the room, and nothing pleased Miss Anne better than to show how the stuffed birds resembled the woodcuts of the wonderful engraver. After a little time the mistress would question the lads about the various animals. She would say, "Now, Ralph, you shall tell me all about the old English mastiff, and if you break down I shall have to ask Jimmy;" but when the invariable distribution of tarts came, no difference was made between the boys who failed and those who did not. At nine o'clock the young people lit their lanterns and went off over the dark moor.
Thus Miss Anne lived her life from week to week in that remote place. Her only excitement came when very bad weather broke on us. If vessels were in danger off our savage rocks, she would stand on the cliffs while the spray lashed up in her face and drenched her with its bitter saltness. If a shipwrecked crew were brought ashore she always liked to take in one or two of the men, and her house was kept in a sad turmoil until her guests had gone away. There are Italians, Norwegians, Swedes, and Frenchmen, besides our own countrymen, who remember the exquisite lady with gratitude. Very few people knew how Miss Anne came to live unmarried, and in solitude; but there is a sorrowful story that explains all. The Fisher's Friend had been the greatest beauty in all the north country, and many men had loved her. One mad young fellow asked her to marry him. She liked him, but she had always said that she never would have him for a husband unless he gave up his wild ways. Again and again they quarrelled, and made friends when he promised to be better. At last she said something very bitter to him, and ordered him out of her sight. He tramped in his own woods all night, and in the morning he galloped his big brown horse down to the sea. He met Miss Anne and straightened his horse across her path. She spoke sharply to him again, as he dashed the spurs in, and went away. Next morning Miss Anne heard that he had hung himself in the barn, and that he had left a note upbraiding her. She turned very white, and went to her room, where she stayed praying all day. The young Squire's death really ended her life.
After she had grown old, she failed one morning to rise early, and the servants, who had been used to hear the quick sound of her feet whenever the dawn came, grew alarmed. They sent for Big Tom, and Tom broke open Miss Anne's bedroom door about noon. She was lying dead, and on her breast they found a miniature portrait of a handsome and dark-looking young man. She had worn her sweetheart's likeness for fifty years.
Winter and summer, every night about six o'clock, a tall man, dressed in blue, strode over the moor. Sometimes he looked on the ground for a long time together, and seemed to be buried in deep thought. When he came to the stream he always found another man waiting for him on the far side, and this man was accompanied by a rough water-spaniel. The two friends, who were both coastguards, held a little chat, and then the dog was told to go over for the letters. The spaniel swam across, received the blue despatches, and carried them to his master; then, with a cheery good-night, the men turned back and went across the dark moor to their homes.
In the morning the tall coastguard was astir very early. He walked along the rock tops with his old telescope under his arm, and looked acutely at the vessels that crept round the bay. During the middle of the day he had little to do. In fine weather he would sit outside his door with a book, and in bad weather he was always to be found, from ten to four o'clock, on the long settle beside the great fire in his little cottage. He was one of the old school, and had entered the service at the time when civilians were admitted, so he had the utmost contempt for the new school of boatmen who came from on board men-of-war. He was rarely troubled with visits from inspecting officers; in fact, after a certain memorable occurrence, the commander of the station let him alone. A very shrewd officer wished to show his own cleverness, and to find out his men's weakness; so one night, when thick clouds were flying across the moon, he crept round the bay in a six-oared cutter, ran ashore on the sand, hauled up half a dozen empty kegs, and told his men to bury them in the sand. This ingenious captain proceeded as he fancied smugglers would have done, and he intended to go round to the coastguard's cottage and inform him of the trick in the morning. Just as the casks had been triumphantly covered, a voice called sharply, "Who goes there?"
The clever officer was thrown off his guard, and was too confused to speak.
The challenge was repeated, and presently a couple of bullets whizzed sharply among the party. The coastguard had emptied both his pistols, and one of the bullets cut through the officer's shoulder-knot.
The modern coastguardmen never expect to find such an animal as a smuggler: all contraband business is done by dint of craft and not by daring. Firemen and engineers scoop out coal from the bottom of a ship's bunkers and fill the space up with tobacco. Sometimes a clever carpenter will actually hollow out a beam in the forecastle or a block of wood which is used as a stool; the whole article looks perfectly solid, and the Custom-house officers are apt to pass it by. But our friend the coastguard had been used to the old-fashioned smugglers—desperate men who would let fly a ball on the very slightest provocation.
Before the piping times of peace came he had known what it was to charge with a party right amongst a gang of desperate fellows who were bumping kegs ashore.
When in the grey of the evening the low black lugger crept stealthily towards the shore, the coastguard had been used to stalk the gliding vessel like some wild beast. He could not row off and board her, because the lugger would have spread her brown wings and flown away into the uttermost dark. The coastguardsmen had to catch the smugglers in the act of bringing their goods ashore, and in order to do this he had to contend against a conspiracy of the villagers, who were always ready to lend their horses and their labour to those who were cheating the king. No amount of logic could ever persuade the small farmer that smuggling was in any way immoral, so the coastguard had to combat the cunning of the bold sailors who ran across from Cherbourg, and the still greater cunning of the slouching fellows who signalled his movements from the shore. This was his training, and when the time came for smuggling to be given over entirely to merchant seamen instead of being carried on by desperadoes, the change left the old officer still ready and resolute, and quick with his pistol.
It was well for the Revenue that one at least of their servants retained the habits and instincts of the ancient race of preventive-men.
One night, just as the tide was flowing, our friend stepped out of his cottage and looked across the bay. Suddenly he saw a light, which flashed for a short time and then was darkened; another flash came and then another; the flood was pouring south in a sombre stream; there was not a gleam on the water, and the whole sea looked like a huge dark abyss. From the depths of the troubled blackness the coastguard saw another light flash back in answer to the one which had been waved from the shore; the seaward light was simply like the ordinary mast-head lantern of a fishing-boat; but the coastguard noticed that it was waved three times, as if in answer to a set signal. He did not quite like the look of things, so he got out a pony from the stables at the Hall and galloped around till he was near the place from which he guessed that the flashes had come. He lay down amongst the long grass and waited in an agony of expectation for something that might help him to solve the puzzle. It turned out that a set of fellows had determined to go back to the old ways, and the flash that the coastguard saw from the sea was shown from an ordinary herring-boat which now lay perilously close to the beach. He saw the black hull wavering like a shadow amid the uncertain gloom and the solemn water. Presently a hand touched him, and a terrible thrill of momentary terror shook his nerves. The man that touched him gave a sharp cry and recoiled; before he could utter another sound the coastguard was upon him, and the muzzle of a great horse-pistol was clapped to his face. The coastguard said: "Tell me where they are going to land?"