AT the base of a hill, with the waters of the river Tweed lapping its northern and the waves of the German Ocean beating against its eastern side, lay the village. About a mile to the north, on the other side of the river, with its high walls and ruined castle, lay Berwick-onTweed, famed in Border history and in Border song. To the west, high up on the sloping hills, gleaming in the summer sunshine and gently waving in the western breeze, were fields of yellow corn. Away to the south rugged rocks and frowning cliffs rose high in the air, a narrow strip of white sandy beach skirting their base. More distant in the same direction, the tall turrets of Holy Island castle were clearly cut against the blue sky; near them the ruins of the ancient abbey of Lindisfarne; and farther distant still, the Fern Isles were scattered like dark specks on the shimmering surface of the German Ocean. Far away to the north, frowning darkly on the waters of the North Sea, rose St. Abb’s Head, —the proudest headland in Europe, — the dark waves tumbling themselves wrathfully against its jagged sides.
The village was an outlandish place, albeit it was a favorite resort of the wealthy in summer; for its beach was regarded as one of the finest on the coast, affording facilities for bathing of which Newport could never boast. Consumptive dukes and superannuated duchesses might often be seen laving their aristocratic limbs in the waters which bleached its sands. There for a short season the famous Major Yelverton sojourned with his since discarded wife. There professors from the Edinburgh University and impecunious students from Durham Academy were wont to spend their hours of summer recreation, and there might be seen the country clergyman with a dozen of blooming daughters, the worn-out pedagogue from the base of the Cheviots, the coal merchant from Newcastle, and the weaver from Paisley. But these were only transient visitors; they had nothing in common with the inhabitants; they lived in a different world. The visitors were members of society, the inhabitants belonged to the village.
It was, as has already been observed, an outlandish place. Tradition states that it was founded in the twelfth century by a Danish prince, who when on a cruise landed some of his sick seamen, and built a hospital for them on the spot where the village now stands. The sailors having recovered, and seeing the situation was an excellent one, as a base for smuggling and piratical operations, resolved to locate themselves there. The prince gave them permission, and called the place Hospital. The name was subsequently abbreviated to Spital, which with the addition of at — Spittal — it bears to-day.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1874. by H. O. HOUGrON & Co., in the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
IT would be difficult to find in any other part of the civilized world a class of people exhibiting so many peculiarities of character, so much ignorance combined with the highest order of intelligence, so much piety combined with the most daring profanity, as was to be found in this little village. Most of the inhabitants were fishermen, — rough, uncouth men, as rugged as the rocks which raised their frowning fronts in defiance of the North Sea waves. Men the greater number of whom had never seen the inside of a school-house, and who listened to the call of the church bell only when it was rung in foggy weather to guide them in safety to their harbor. They believed the great end of life consisted in catching as many fish as possible, and believing this they pursued their calling with zeal. Two or three hours before sunrise, every morning when the condition of the weather permitted, they launched their cockle-shell craft and sped miles away into the ocean. At sunrise they cast their lines, and after waiting half an hour, hauled them in again. If the weather continued fine, they usually reached the harbor about ten o'clock. But oftentimes, more especially in the winter months, the calm, pleasant morning was succeeded by a stormy day. Fiercely would the northeast storm sweep over the bosom of the ocean lately so calm; the dark waves would come rolling along from the turbulent firth, raising their white frothy crests high in the air, and hiding from anxious wives and children, gathered on the shore, the tiny craft which bore husbands and fathers, bravely buffeting the rising storm. When the fishermen returned, their duties were over for the day, while those of their wives and children began. The wives stood upon the beach with their creels (baskets in which the fish were carried to market) upon their backs, waiting for their load. The lines, which were coiled in baskets called swulls, were put on shore first, after which the wives handed their creels to their husbands, into which the fish were flung. How grim and sour the wives looked if their loads were light, and how pleasant and amiable their bearing if their creels were heavy ! It was amusing to hear their questions when their husbands landed.
Wives. — It’s been a fine mornin’, men.
Husbands. — ’Deed an' that’s a’ ye ken aboot it. Been blawin’ a gale a wund frae th’ narrit (northward) ootside a’ this mornin’.
Wives. — D’ ye say sa! Is there onythinggaun? (Indeed! have you caught many fish?)
Husbands. — Ugh!
Wives look sour and throw their creels wrathfully into the boat.
Wives. — Jemmy Duggan’s boat ‘s jest come in wi’ fower creel-fu’ (four creels full).
Husbands. — Jemmy Duggan be d—d ; there ’s yer fish; pack aff t’ market.
Of quite a different nature was the conversation if a successful haul was the result of the morning’s fishing. The husbands chatted in friendly tones with their wives, and the wives smiled pleasantly, and spoke of the nice toast and butter, and ham and eggs, that awaited their hungry lords at their humble homes.
The duties of the children were to pick bait, the limpet and periwinkle, which were found among the rocks that lined the shore for miles. Sometimes they dug sand-eels and a species of seaworm called lug, the latter being regarded as an excellent bait for haddock and cod fishing.
The limpet is a univalve, and is found in great numbers on the Scotch and English coasts. It adheres firmly to the rock on which it grows, and has to be detached with a sharp steel implement, called, in the village vernacular, a “lampit picker.” Securing this kind of bait was called “ lampit pickin’.” The periwinkle is a species of sea-snail inhabiting the clefts of the rocks. It was gathered in baskets, or in small wooden buckets. This occupation was called “ gatherin’ walks,” wulk being the name — and the only name — by which the periwinkle was known to the inhabitants of the village. Sand-eels were dug up with a hoe or a small iron implement shaped like a hoe, used by the villagers in raking the ashes from their grates. This implement was called a coal-rake, but it was pronounced precisely the same as choleric. Sometimes a blunted sickle was used in procuring sand-eels ; it was drawn rapidly through the sand, dragging out the eels with ease and rapidity. This occupation was called “ howkin’ sandals,” howk being the term used for dig. The sea-worm called lug is of a purplish color, measuring from five to fifteen inches in length, softer than the earthworm and less robust, the largest scarcely ever measuring more than the eighth of an inch in diameter. It was much prized by the fishermen, but it was not plentiful in the vicinity of the village, and only a few of the more enterprising among them took the trouble to secure it. Besides procuring the bait, the children were obliged to bait the lines. This was an occupation requiring great skill and patience. Eaeh line was fitted with twenty score of hooks. In baiting, the swull, an oval-shaped basket was used. The line was neatly coiled into one end of the basket, and the hooks, baited with limpet, periwinkle, sand-eel, or lug, were placed side by side in rows across the entire breadth of the basket, a layer of fog (fine, dry grass, called in New England “ old tore ”) between each row. The task of baiting occupied an unusually expert boy or girl two hours, ordinary workers two hours and a half. In baiting with lug much more time was required than with limpets or periwinkles, as each worm required to be fastened to the hook. This was done by wrapping around the hook and worm a few threads of fine, white wool. The villagers called this “ baitin’ wi’ oo.”
Thus was the fisherman’s family engaged; the husband in catching the fish, the wife in selling them, and the children in gathering the bait and baiting the lines. Haddock and cod fishing began in October and continued until June. About the beginning of July the herring season commenced; and great were the preparations that were made for it. The boats used for herring fishing were much larger than those used for haddock fishing, and built on a different plan. They were called keel boats; fine boats they were, well adapted to the pursuits in which they were engaged, fast sailers, and thoroughly sea-worthy. These boats were laid up during the haddock-fishing season, and on the approach of the herring season they were launched. An entire day was devoted by the fishermen to launching the boats. This day was called “ boat lanchin’ doon day,” and on the close of the herring season another day was devoted to dragging the boats up on to the banks. This was called “ boat lanchin’ up day.” These were not ordinary days. They were to the villagers what the Fourth of July is to Americans; looked forward to for months. Early in the morning the fishermen met on the beach, and the preparations for launching were begun. Two pieces of rope, each about fifty feet in length, were fastened to the boat. The stern was then raised with a lever, and a roller placed under it. Rollers were placed at intervals of about ten feet from the boat down to the edge of the water. Everything being in readiness the ropes were manned by the fishermen, who faced each other in two rows. About a dozen men placed themselves on each side of the boat to keep her on an even keel. The owner of the boat then sang out, —
“ A' ready, men ? ”
“ Ay, ay; a’ ready,” from a hundred voices.
“ Start her, then.”
But this was easier said than accomplished. Having lain in one position for many months, the keels of the boats had sunk deep into the sandy earth, and it required a strong pull to start them.
“ D’ she move, men? ”
“ Not a skuddick ” (not a hair’sbreadth).
The services of a dozen of boys who were playing near were now requested, and the following colloquy ensued.
Men. — Look ye here, youngsters, what are ye yellin’ about?
Boys. —Wha ’s yellin’ ?
Men. — Ee ar’ (you are). D’ ye want yer backs broken ?
Boys. — No, we dinna want wur backs broken. Wha ’ll brick wur backs?
Men. — Then if ye dinna want yer backs broken, come an’ clap on t’ this rop. Come alang, sharp; handle yer malleys (hands or feet).
The boys sullenly lay hold of the rope and now the boat must start.
Chorus of Men. — A-lie-a-ho! A-lie! Hiree, ho-he-up oh-ho! Oh-ho! She starts, a-he-a-he-ah! pull away, men! Now then — ho-he-oh-ho hup! — there she goes — keep her gaun — keep her gaun!
Chorus of Boys.— Start her, start her, pull away Snuffy Wull! Ho-lie-oh-ho! He-lie ee-lie! lli-he-i-hi! A lang pull, a strang pull — keep her on her keel, lazy Laurens! — there she goes — dinna stap her!
The boat was soon drawn down to the water’s edge, and another was proceeded with, until all the herring boats were launched. The owner of each boat paid seven shillings and sixpence for launching. There were twenty-eight boats, which made a sum total of ten pounds ten shillings. This was distributed among the landlords of the thirteen public-houses in the village, and after the boats were all launched men and boys repaired to the public-houses, when the “boat lanchin’ spree” commenced. About ten o’clock on the night of “boat lanchin’ day” fighting began, rather mildly at first, but as the night wore on the strife increased. Then were heard fearful oaths and imprecations, wild shouts and startling cries. All the fishermen, with a few exceptions, were drunk. The village was in an uproar. Suddenly the door of a publichouse would be thrown open, a glare of light streaming into the street, and a drunken crowd would issue forth. In a few moments a circle was formed, in the centre of which a couple of fishermen were to decide which was the better man.
“ Are ye ready? ” was asked in a fierce tone by one.
“ Ay; are ee ? ” from the other.
“ Take that then, ye cowart (coward). I ’ll batter ye, ye loosey thief.”
Fierce now became the strife, the surrounding crowd urging on the combatants to deeds that would render them famous in the annals of “ boat lanchin’ days. ’ ’
“ Go in t’ ’im, Jimmy.” — “ Hammer ’im, Jack.” — “ Gie ’im a crass-ballicker ” (that is, knock him down and strike him as he falls).—“ Stap that, Jack; it’s nae fair strikin’ ’im when he’s doon.”—“Fair play. He’s no gittin’ fair play; bit I ’ll see that he gits it,” shouts a friend of the prostrate gladiator, springing into the ring.
“Wull ye? Wull ye?” shouts a friend of the other, throwing off his coat and dashing in beside the lover of fair play. “ We ’ll see wha’s t’ hae the best af it.”
This was the signal for a general engagement, and in a few moments the entire crowd, men, women, and children, were fighting. All order was lost. Friends knocked down friends. Husbands beat their own wives and wives tore the hair from the heads of their own husbands. Blood flowed, eyes were closed for indefinite periods, shirts and shawls were torn to shreds, and red night cowls trampled in the dust. When the crowd became exhausted they separated peacefully, and met each other as friendly as ever on the following day, all their differences buried until Spittal Feast or next boat launching day.
After the boats were launched they were ballasted; masts, sails, and oars put on board; a crew hired; the nets laid down, and they were ready for the herring season. Each boat carried from eighteen to twenty-seven nets. Each of these nets was from forty to seventy yards in length, and twelve yards in depth. Along the top of the net, a piece of rope called the net bank, about an inch in diameter, was fastened, and to this rope were attached the buoys which kept the net from sinking beyond a certain depth. These buoys were made from bullocks’ bladders well tanned, tarred within, painted without, and sometimes bearing the name and number of the boat to which they belonged. The bladders were filled with air, securely fastened at the neck, and so buoyant were they that two of them were quite sufficient to keep a man from sinking. A piece of rope about a quarter of an inch in diameter and six yards in length was fastened, one end to the neck of the bladder and the other to the bank, thus allowing the top of the net to sink to the depth of three fathoms, the bottom of the net being nine fathoms from the surface. The bladders were placed at intervals of eight yards, each net having from six to eight bladders. Before proceeding to sea the nets, one fastened to another, were carefully laid in the bottom of the boat, the bladders neatly arranged in an after compartment called the cuddy. When the boat reached the fishingground a portion of sail was taken in and the speed reduced to about two knots an hour. The fishermen then proceeded to cast their nets, the boat being put before the wind, no matter from what point it blew. The nets were put out in a straight line; that is, they were left behind as fast as they were put out. When the last net was run over the side the sail was lowered, the mast taken down, and everything made snug. To the net next the boat was fastened a strong piece of rope about two inches in diameter and from
one hundred to one hundred and fifty fathoms in length. About fifty fathoms of this rope were run out, and by it the boat rode to the nets. In stormy weather the entire length of the rope was run out with the view to making the boat ride easier. This rope was called “the swing,” a very appropriate name, as it enabled the boat to swing easily in fine weather or foul. It was a pretty sight to see the herring boats swinging at their nets on a fine night. North and south as far as the eye could reach they lay, their lights twinkling like stars. Stretching far astern from each boat in a straight line were the rows of bladders from which the nets depended, rising and falling with the gentle swell which unceasingly rolls in the North Sea. On a moonlight night the scene was beautiful in the extreme, — the hundreds of boats, with their twinkling lights, lying like black specks on the silvery surface of the ocean, lazily drifting north or south according to the current, the bladders glistening in the moonlight and bobbing up and down on the tiny waves which sportively played around them. In this part of the world and on the ocean the moonlights are perfectly beautiful, so bright yet so soft, — so tender, so subdued. Nor were the ignorant, uncouth fishermen insensible to the charm of such a spectacle. Clustered around the fire blazing brightly in a grate which was secured in a wooden box, — the bottom being covered with sand about two inches in depth to prevent its ignition from the frequently falling embers, — they gazed around them with feelings akin to awe, and drank in the beauty of the scene which lay before them, stretching away north, south, east, and west as far as the eye could reach; with such expressions as “ Dys n't she look bonnie the night? ” referring to the moon; or, “ Wull, it’s worth lossiu’ sleep t’ see sic a thing as this! ” referring to the scene. Thirty miles distant to the north the light on St. Abb’s Head gleamed brightly, and twenty miles to the south the revolving lights of the Fern Islands shot their rays far out on the ocean. Westward rose the Cheviots and the Lammermuirs, and eastward, shimmering in the soft moonlight until they met the sky, stretched the waters of the German Ocean. There lay a world of beauty of which the painter never dreamed. The scene changes. Behind a dense mass of gloomy clouds the moon is hidden; her light is extinguished by the gathering gloom, the northeast wind hurries along in fierce gusts, the her* ring boats are no longer visible. Only their lights are to be seen flaring fitfully in the gusts of wind, St. Abb’s Head light is brighter than ever, and the beacons of the Fern Islands pierce the gloom with their rays. A black curtain hides the Lammermuirs and the Cheviots from sight, and save when a wave breaks and scatters millions of phosphorescent sparks around the rocking boat the surface of the ocean is invisible. The scene has changed from the beautiful to the grand. As the wind blows fiercer, and the waves rise higher, the sea presents the aspect of a sheet of flame. Now a wave breaks seemingly into a million pieces, each piece reflecting a diamond brilliancy. Again the surface of the ocean is broken and every color of the rainbow is presented to the wondering and delighted gaze. Even more beautiful and more impossible of description was the spectacle presented when the fishermen began the task of hauling in their nets. The fish in the nets, as they passed over the side of the boat dripping with phosphorescence, gleamed with auroral brilliancy, and it seemed as if the fishermen had been fishing in the sky and caught a sheet of the Northern Lights.
FACILITIES FOR EDUCATION.
THERE were three schools in the village; “the subscription school” and two private schools. The subscription school was supported by voluntary contributions, that is, those of the villagers who were interested in promoting the means of education subscribed money for the purchase of books and other material necessary for the school. The salary of the master was seventy pounds a year and a free house. A school fee of twopence per week was paid by scholars over six years of age, and a penny per week under that age. These fees went towards the payment of the master’s salary, the remainder being made up by subscription.
Arithmetic, grammar, geography, and sacred history were the chief studies. The scholars were also taught to sing — not by note, but by ear. The master of the subscription school was a kind-hearted, but stern and scrupulously conscientious man — well educated but full of that spirit of piety, almost amounting to fanaticism, which is peculiar to the Border character. The school opened in the morning with the singing of a hymn and the reading of a chapter from the Bible, which the master expounded as he read. After finishing the reading of the chapter, the master invoked the Divine blessing on the exercises of the day. With closed eyes and folded hands the scholars knelt in silence, while the master, with uplifted face and solemn aspect, returned thanks for past mercies and supplicated strength and wisdom in discharging the solemn duty of imparting instruction to the young. It was a beautiful sight — nearly three hundred boys and girls, varying in age from four to fifteen years, some in rags, some clothed neatly and respectably, some with begrimed faces and unkempt hair, some clean, rosy, and fresh, their hair smoothly combed and their clothing neat and comfortable, kneeling before their unpainted, unvarnished pine desks, silent and with closed eyes; the master, his face glowing with the inspiration of faith, with uplifted eyes, solemnly invoking the blessing of God on his labors, and the young committed to his charge. Truly
as much as from the scenes so beautifully described by the Ayrshire plowman. Prayer finished, another hymn -was sung, after which the scholars applied themselves to their different tasks. The scholars were divided into eight classes, according to the degree of proficiency they had attained. The classes were composed of boys and girls indiscriminately, and it was no unusual thing to see a girl occupying the head of a class. The master taught the first class and appointed tasks for the remainder; a scholar of the first class taught the second class, and the teachers for the remaining classes were taken from the second class. These teachers were changed every day. The master, albeit kind and benevolent, was a rigid disciplinarian, and his school was a very model of order. He turned out some excellent scholars, many of whom could be pointed out to-day, holding high positions in the literary and commercial world. His own son, who was educated in the school, and received no greater advantages than were afforded the son of the poorest and most ignorant fisherman of the village, occupies a high place in the ranks of American journalism; and it is worthy of remark that other graduates of his school are rapidly rising to conspicuous positions in the same profession.
The private schools -were kept, one by an old man familiarly known in the village as Dominie Bowson, and the other by a woman named Esther Lauther. These were regarded as primary schools, although the dominie pretended to run in opposition to the subscription school. The dominie was very proud of his scholastic accomplishments, which consisted of a knowledge of arithmetic and geography. He did not pretend to teach grammar, affirming it as his opinion that it was a useless accomplishment. “ Feegurs,” said he, “ Feegurs is the thing. Learn a youngster feegurs air he’s a’ right.” The more intellio-ent fathers of families did not indorse the dominie’s philosophy, and sent their children to the subscription school. The dominie had, nevertheless, quite a number of scholars of all ages and both sexes, many of whom turned out creditably. Being lame from an accident, — he had been a coal-miner, — and confined to his chair, his pupils not unfrequently opposed his authority. He kept upon his desk a cat-o’-nine-tails, denominated the “ tawse; ” this he would throw to a misbehaving scholar, who would bring them to the dominie and stand until he received a thrashing commensurate with his offense. Some of the bolder scholars would refuse to take the hint thrown out by the dominie with the tawse, and allow the corrective agent to lie beside them unnoticed. This indifference would arouse the dominie’s wrath, and he would deliver himself as follows: —
“ Ho, ho! So ye won’t bring them, won't ye? Ho, ho, ha, ha! We ’ll see if ye won’t, ye jackass; ye—ye—ye what-ye-may-call-it; ye jackynapps; ye nint’ feegur without the tail (a cipher). I ’ll wallop ye, ye fisher’s brat, I 'll be whuppit (whipped) if I don’t. I ’ll make the red ink (blood) fly, ye whatye-may-call-it! ”
During the delivery of this extemporaneous threatening address, the exasperated dominie raised his hand to a level with his eye, the index finger pointed like a pistol at the rebellious and, too often, indifferent pupil. His passion spent, he would sink back in his chair and resume his wonted serene demeanor.
Miss Esther Lauther’s school was attended principally by girls, who were taught arithmetic, the alphabet, and plain sewing, darning, and knitting. Besides these there was Hobbie Elliott’s school, which, from the peculiarity of the studies pursued in it, deserves special mention.
Hobbie Elliott was a fisherman who had seven sons. Having no faith in schools, he determined to educate his sons himself. He could neither read nor write; but, as he said himself, he had got on in the world without those accomplishments. He was prosperous; the majority of educated men in the village were not so comfortable as he, which fact was unquestionably owing to their knowledge. His sons should never be ruined by a schoolmaster.
“ Na, na,” he concluded, “ I ’ll school them masel’.”
Each of Hobbie’s seven sons, besides his baptismal name, had a nickname; indeed, there was hardly a man, woman, boy, or girl in the village, who was not more familiarly known by a nickname than by his or her real name.
The eldest son, Joseph, was nicknamed “ Ginger,” from his having red hair. The second was James or Lazy Jemmy. The latter name was merited, as James was naturally disinclined to work. The third was Ned, which was lengthened into Nedico. The fourth was Frank, who was called the Prince, his mother in a fond moment having bestowed that illustrious title upon him. The fifth was Bartholomew, named Seawater-goods, from a habit he had of traversing the beach at all times, on the lookout for treasure cast up by the sea. The sixth was Benjamin, who was familiarly known as Toby. The seventh was Jack, who rejoiced in the peculiar appellation of the Fiend. The latter was the son of Hobbie’s old age, and consequently the favorite. Thus the sons of Hobbie were seven: namely, Ginger, Lazy Jemmy, Nedieo, Prince, Sea-water-goods, Toby, and Fiend. Hobbie’s system of education was not the same as that taught in the other schools. It was an original system, of which he was the inventor. Only his own sons participated in the benefits derived from it. Outsiders were excluded for the reason that every father had it in his power to educate his sons in the same way, and as Hobbie said, “Every man for himsel’.”
Hobbie’s system of education may be gathered from the following scene, which is described exactly as it occurred.
It is about half past nine o’clock in the morning of a winter day. The sea is too rough for the boats to put out, and Hobbie and his sons are assembled in the only habitable room in the house, which constitutes kitchen, parlor, bedroom, and school-room. Hobbie sits at the head of a large pine table, his eldest son at the foot, and the remaining six are ranged, three on each side.
Hobbie breaks the silence by sating, “ Sea-water-goods, take the big mug an’ run doon t’ Nancy Burney’s fur quart av beer.”
“ Ay> feyther,” S. W. G. answers, preparing to execute the order.
“ Fiend, tak’ yer fing-ers oot yer mooth an’ look at me. That’s right; now, answer this ques’on. How mony stra’s wad it tak’ t’ reach t’ th’ moon ? ”
Fiend promptly replies, “ Yen (one), if ’t was lang ’nuff.”
“That’s right, ma spunkie; I’ll gie ye a drink a beer whun Sea-watergoods comes back.”
“ Onybody might answer that ques’on,” says Ginger, sarcastically.
“ Yes, onybody might answer it,” repeat the others.
“ What did ye no answer it fur, then? ” asks Fiend, somewhat sullenly.
“ Wadna tak’ the trouble,” says the Prince.
Sea-water-goods now makes his entrance with the beer. Hobbie fixes his eyes upon him sternly and asks, —
“ Did ye drink ony, Sea-water? ”
“ Not a drap, feyther.”
“ That’s right, ma hearty; ye ’ll be a man afore yer mother.” Then seizing the pitcher he places it to his lips, saying, “ Gud day, ma hearties, I ’ll be hack in a jiffy,” and for a moment disappears in the foam.
“ Hould on, feyther,” cries Fiend, “ye ken ye promised me some.” An inarticulate sound comes from the recesses of the pitcher. With a sigh, Hobbie passes the vessel to the child of his age, whose head for a moment disappears within it. Sea-water-goods finishes the remainder of the beer and restores the pitcher to the shelf.
“Now then, ma swankies,” says Hobbie, “ we ’ll hae t’ get at. it; we canna pit aff ony mair time. Let’s see, where was it I left aff? ”
“ At the beer, feyther,” Prince remarks.
“ Prince, ye’re as sharp as a frosty mornin'. Now I ’ll ax ye the first ques’on. Suppose ye wur at sea, ridin’ at yer nets on a coorse (stormy) night, wi’ the wund blawin’ frae the narrit (northward) an’ swingin’ heed on; an’ suppose the herrin’ wur thickest inshore, an’ ye wanted yer boat t’ swing in, instead uv settin’ aff, wi’ the floodtide, what wad ye do? ”
“Pit a couple a’ han’s t’ the starboard bow an’ after oars, an’ keep her heed in.”
This answer causes a general laugh.
“ What wad ye do, Fiend? ”
“ I dinna ken, feyther.”
“ What wad ye do, Lazy? ”
“ Naethin’, feyther; let her swing in if she wanted to, or swing oot, ony way she liked.”
“ Jist like ye, Lazy. What wad ye do, Nedico? ”
“ Swing her starn on wi’ the swing on the larboard timmer heed ” (timber head).
“ Ye’ve come pretty near it, Nedico.” “ What wad ye do, Ginger? ”
“ Let her ride heed on; clap the swing on the after timmer heed an’ gie her bow a swing in; an’ the flood wad set her inshore.”
“ Right, ma swankie. Ye ’ll do. Mind what he says, youngsters. Wad ye a’ do that? ”
“ Yes, feyther; Ginger’s right.”
“ Weel then, suppose ye wur ootside an’ a gale uv wund sprang up frae the narrit, an’ a stormy flood-tide runnin’, an’ ye wur sooth (south) a’ the harbor, what wad ye do t’ git t’ the harbor quickest, Sea-water-goods? ”
“ Reach her in on the starboard teck (tack) till I gat close inshore where the tide was easy, then make short tecks i’ the easy tide till I gat t’ the harbor.”
“ Right, ma son; right ye are. Ye’re a credit t’ the fam’ly.”
“ An’ suppose an ebb-tide was runnin’, what wad ye do, Toby? ”
“ Smash her into it i’ the offin' till I gat abreest a’ the harbor, then reach her in wi’ the ebb under her lee.”
“ Capital, capital, ma swankie; ye 've hit it. That’s ’nuff fur this time. Now fur yer fight. Go at it, ma sodgers, an’ the thickest skin stand longest oot.”
This was the signal for a general fight among the members of the family.
The brothers paired according to their ages, and while Hobbie and his youngest son, Fiend, sat on the table, the remaining six pummeled each other to their hearts’ content. During these affrays, furniture was often smashed, crockery ware demolished, and eyes partially closed; but, as Hobbie observed, it made the youngsters hardy and instructed them in the noble art of selfdefense; a very necessary accomplishment in a North Sea fisherman. For the credit of the village, it is but just to remark here that Hobbie’s was the only family in which this system of education was carried on.
THE population of the village was about eighteen hundred; most of these were fishermen. A few mechanics, four or five fish-merchants, and some persons with hereditary incomes of from fifty to seventy-five pounds a year, who were called independent, composed the aristocracy. The majority of the aristocracy professed religion and attended “meetin’” on Sundays. Out of the entire number of fishermen only five or six were conspicuous for their piety; but these were very remarkable men when viewed in comparison with their professional brethren. There was only one house of worship in the village, and this was of the Presbyterian denomination. Strange to say, not one of the pious fishermen belonged to it. Two were Baptists, one a Swedenborgian, one an Irvingite, and one stood alone, calling himself a member of the church of Christ. What was very remarkable, the society of these pious fishermen, who, divested of their religion, were nothing more than poor, ignorant men, was sought by some of the most eminent divines of the mother country, including Cummings, of London, Lee, of Edinburgh, Cairns, of Berwick-on-Tweed, Mursell, the Manchester Spurgeon, and hosts of others. Ignorant of every other class of literature, these men were thoroughly conversant with the Holy Scriptures and the best theological works. So extensive was their knowledge, so vast their comprehension of truth, so subtile their reasoning, that the most learned divines were humbled before them, and listened to them in wonder. The Rev. John Cairns, D. D., a man as remarkable for his profundity as for his eloquence, had a handsome church built by his congregation. When it was finished, he invited one of these fishermen — he who called himself a member of the church of Christ — to examine it. Arm in arm the doctor of divinity and the North Sea fisherman walked through the richly carpeted aisles, examined the gorgeous pews, gazed upon the carved pulpit, the lofty ceiling, the stained glass windows.
“ What do you think of it, brother? ” asked the doctor.
The rugged North Sea fisherman raised his eyes to the lofty ceiling, drew his rough fustian jacket closer around him, and folding his arms upon his breast, said in reverential tones, —
“ Howbeit the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands.”
The divine gazed upon the fisherman, an expression of admiration on his face, and laying his hand affectionately on the latter’s shoulder said, —
“Brother, you have preached the first and the grandest sermon that will ever be heard within these walls.”
These fishermen were in the habit of meeting together at the house of the member of the church of Christ, and it was no uncommon thing to see some of the greatest lights of the church militant mingling with them, and taking part in the theological controversies for which they assembled together. But though the arguments waxed hot, and in some instances debate almost tinged itself with acrimony, they never separated without exchanging the heartiest wishes for each other’s temporal and spiritual welfare, and with common consent they knelt and praised the one God whom they worshiped differently, but earnestly and fervently.
On one occasion an Angel of the Irvingite church, who had been visiting the solitary lamb of that flock living in the village, was present, and debate between him and the member of the church of Christ ran high. At length the Angel, finding himself beaten at every point, and desirous of ending an argument in which all the advantages were on the side of his opponent, arose from his rough pine chair, and looking sternly at the pious fisherman said, —
“ Brother, I will leave your dwelling. You are too dogmatical in your opinions, and I am grieved to say that I feel it my duty to shake the dust off my feet when I pass the threshold of your dwelling. ”
The humble fisherman arose and followed the Angel to the door. In his hand he held the well-thumbed Bible. Pointing to the book he said, —
“ Brother, your decision does not make that the less true. Good-by, brother, and the blessing of our Father go with you.”
The Angel turned back, and with tears in his eyes shook the fisherman by the hand. “ Dear brother,” said he, “ I cannot part with you in anger after that speech. Let us pray together to the Almighty whom we both worship. Though I may differ with you in opinion, I admire the grandeur of your character, and envy the mighty strength of your faith,”
In the families of these men, as may be imagined, religious discipline was very rigid. The Sabbath was most strictly observed. The food for Sunday was cooked on Saturday afternoons and eaten cold on the following day. The children were not allowed to go beyond the threshold of the door, unless to church or Sunday-school. In the house they were not allowed to indulge in the luxury of leaning hack in their chairs, unless they were reading the Bible, Doddridge’s Rise and Progress, the Pilgrim’s Progress, Paley’s Theology, or Harvey’s Meditations Among the Tombs. The children of the family, from the eldest down to the boy or girl of three or four years old, were each obliged to commit to memory a chapter or portion of a chapter from the Old or New Testament during their leisure moments on Sunday, and repeat it without the book after family worship in the evening. The parents fully agreed with Dr. Watts that “ Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do,” and the children were kept busy. The severity of this discipline frequently had the effect of engendering a hatred in the minds of the less religiously inclined children against every form of piety, and runaways from the parental authority to the large sea-ports of Newcastleon-Tyne and Shields, — where the boys bound themselves as apprentices in merchant’s vessels, — were not uncommon.
Among the members of the Presbyterian church, with a few exceptions, the young were not ruled so rigidly. The children were allowed to lean back in their chairs, and I dare say the circumstance is yet fresh in the mind of every inhabitant of the village, of a boy caught one Sunday afternoon in the act of impaling a fly on a needle, who onlyreceived a slight whipping on the following day-. No thrashing was done on Sunday. Crimes perpetrated on Sunday were not punished on that day, and the children who otherwise would have joyfullyhailed the approach of Monday frequently awaited its arrival in terror.
Some of the inhabitants who attended church regularly, but who had never experienced a change of heart, had strange ideas of the future state, which was all the more remarkable as the genuine orthodox doctrine was preached to them every Sunday. A short distance north of the village was a small fishing hamlet, the inhabitants of which were known as “ Grinders,” and the most bitter rivalryexisted between them and the fishermen of the village. They pursued their calling on the same ocean, braved the same dangers, and frequently, in storms, had to seek the same refuge; but the cloud of enmity which threw its shadow between them never for an instant seemed to lessen, but as time passed grew larger and blacker.
During the herring season a fish similar in appearance to a shark, but no larger than a cod, known by the fishermen as a sea-dog, made its appearance on the coast in great numbers, and committed dreadful ravages among the herrings, literallydestroying whole “ schools,” and frequentlydestroying them when they were caught in the nets. One of the fishermen, a regular attendant of the Presbyterian church, being on his death-bed, his friends, anxious for his future welfare, thought to ask him some questions in regard to his spiritual condition.
“Weel Rab, ye ’re dyin’, ye ken? ”
“Ay, Jamie, I’m gaun.”
“An’ where d’ ye expect t’ gau t’ ? ”
“I dinna ken, Jamie, bit I wad like t’ turn int’ a sea-dog an’ plunder the Grinders’ nets.” And thus he died!
The sexton of the ‘‘meetin’,” who had rung the bell regularly on Sundays for twenty years, but who was not distinguished for piety-, died. After his funeral his chances of future bliss formed the topic of conversation among a few old men who were wont to meet at the “jettycorner” to discuss things in general.
“Weel, he was na a bad man after a’,” said Jemmy Duggan.
“No, he was na verra bad; I’ve seen warse,” said Jack Crystal.
“D’ ye think he’s gane t’ heaven? ” asked another.
“Gane t’ heaven!” said Wull Johnson, the polemic and politician of the village. “ Where else cud he gaun t’ ? I wush I wus as sure a’ heaven.”
“What mak’s ye think sae, Wull? ” asked Jemmy Duggan.
“Think sae! why, ye ignorant fyll (fool), has n’t he rung the meetin’ bell fur twentyyears? ”
The Presbyterians observed the ordinance of the last supper four times a year, once every three months. One Saturdayevening two women got into a dispute. They were both members of the church, and the following day— Sunday — was “sacrament day.” The dispute ran high and harsh words were used. At length one of the women, her face inflamed with anger, stalked up to the other, and, shaking her clenched fist before the eyes of her antagonist, shouted wrathfully, —
“ Ye hussy, if it hadna been Sacrament Sunday th’ morn, I’d a walloped ye!”
The children of the fishermen were, as I have already stated, obliged to gather bait, and had no opportunity of attending school regularly, even if their parents were willing that they should. Some of them attended Sunday-school, where they learned the child’s catechism and sometimes portions of Scripture. It was no uncommon thing to find children who had not learned the alphabet able to repeat the catechism from beginning to end, and whole chapters from the Bible. The son of a fisherman who had never seen the inside of day-school or Sunday-school, one Sunday morning found himself clad in a new suit of corduroy made by Tam Carr, the tailor of the village, in the primary class of the Sabbath-school. The teacher, an elder of the church, asked the boy if he had been to school before. The boy answered “No.”
“ Who made you? ” interrogated the teacher.
The boy, his mind filled with thoughts of his new suit of corduroy, promptly answered, —
“ Tam Carr, bit they ’re no’ paid fur yet.”
THE Irish are said to be the most superstitious people in the world —that is, the peasant Irish; but these semiScotch, semi-English fishermen were far beyond the most grossly superstitious Irish peasant in that particular, and firmly believed in the existence of ghosts, goblins, fays, fairies, witches, kelpies, wraiths, warlocks, brownies, etc. Every tree that grew on the outskirts of the village screened within its leafy branches a fay or a fairy; every lichened rock that rose out of the heatherclad cliffs concealed behind it some malignant goblin, who only awaited a chance to seize his victim; every pool contained within its dark recesses some treacherous kelpie, that was ready to spring upon and drag into its dark waters the unwary passer-by: every woman who had turned the age of seventy, if not familiarly known, was avoided as a witch; every poor man whom nature had “ sent into this breathing world before his time, but half finished, half made up,” was dreaded as a warlock; every lonely place was inhabited by a ghost; every marsh was peopled with wraiths; and even at sea the fishermen were not safe, for mermaids had frequently been seen, and their appearance boded evil. They had more ghosts than the ancient Greeks and Romans had gods. Nor did their faith end there. They believed in signs and presentiments. Death was always heralded by some sign, and disaster by some presentiment.
At one time in the history of the village all the fishermen, with the exception of one boat’s crew, were lost in a storm. It was during the winter season, while they pursued the haddock and cod fishing. About an hour before dawn, when the fishermen were preparing to proceed to sea, a woman, tall, and clad in a white dress and black shawl, was observed to go down on to the beach and touch every boat as she passed it, except one, with her hand. All the boats went to sea except the one that she had not touched, — two of her crew were sick. About an hour after sunrise a storm arose, such a storm as had never been seen on that coast. In a few minutes the sea ran mountains high, and not one of the boats, nor a solitary man out of all their crews, ever reached the shore. They were all drowned. It was a terrible calamity and almost depopulated the village.
On another occasion, as the boats were going out, a woman stood on the beach and shook her hand at one of them. That boat never returned. On approaching the harbor a thick fog settled down, she struck on a rock, and her crew, which consisted of four brothers, were drowned.
One morning the crew of a boat had all taken their places with the exception of one man, who was late. When he reached the boat he handed his line on board, and looking solemnly at his companions said, —
“ Boys, I dinna ken what t’ say ’bout gaun aff this mornin’.”
“ What’s the matter, Jemmy? ” asked the others somewhat excitedly.
“ Weel, I met that lout Dod Hay, wi’ his limpin’ (lame) horse, as I cam doon.”
“D’ye say sae, Jemmy? ”
“ Ay, bo’, I did, an’ I dinna like it.”
“ Ye may weel say that, Jemmy,” said the others.
There was a silence of a few moments’ duration, which the owner of the boat broke by saying, —
“ What d’ ye say, boys; shall we try her? ”
“ Jest as ye like, bo’, only I dinna like the looks a’ the thing,” answered one of the crew.
“ Nor me naether,” said another.
“ Then I think, boys, we’d better let her tak’ her swagger fur this mornin’,” said the owner of the boat.
“ It’s the safest plan,” said the others ; and mooring the boat they shouldered their lines and returned to their homes.
If one of the crew of a boat was unfortunate enough to meet a woman, and did not speak to her, when going to the boat in the morning, no earthly power could by force or bribe induce that boat’s crew to proceed to sea that day.
The younger fishermen were less superstitious than their elders, and a good story was told of how one young lad, who wanted a holiday to visit a neighboring village, managed to obtain it.
It was in winter, and the morning was very cold, with a strong breeze blowing from the northwest. The sea was smooth, however, and the boats made preparations for going out. The young fisherman, while anxious that his boat should not go to sea, was careless as to whether the others went or not, so one by one they were unmoored, and with a small piece of sail set. flitted out of the harbor in the gray dawn like dark birds skimming over the surface of the water. As the boat to which the young fisherman belonged was being unmoored, he stepped up to his father, who was the owner and captain of the boat, and said, —
“ Feyther, I met a wumman this mornin'.”
“What’s that, Buswing (the nickname of the young man); ye met a wumman, d’ ye say? ”
“ Ay, feyther; I did in the Prince’s Opens ” (an alley known by that name).
“ D’ye hear that, men? ” the father inquired of the remainder of the crew.
“ Ay, ay, bo’; she looks dirty enough too, away t’ th’ narrit ” (referring to the weather), answered one of the crew,
“ Meetin’ a wumman’s a bad sign, men,” the owner of the boat remarked.
“Ugh!” came from the crew in chorus.
“What’s t’ be done, men?” inquired the owner.
“ Let her take her swag,” said one.
“ Better sit at yer fireside an’ starve, than gae aff there an’ be drooned,” said another gloomily.
“ What’s the matter, men?” asked the owner of another boat, coming up at this moment.
“ Buswing met a wumman, as he cam doon wi’ his line this mornin’,” replied the father.
“ Heh! d’ ye say sae? Did ye speak t’ her, Buswing? ”
“ I did,” answered the youth, “ bit she didna answer me back again.”
“ Weel, I met her too, an’ there’s na affin fur me this mornin’. What are ye gaun t’ do, men? ”
“ Stap ashore,” answered Buswing’s father. “ As Jemmy says, better starve than droon; fur when ye’re starvin’ ye ken where ye are. Tak’ yer lines, men, an’ gae hame.”
The crews of both boats went home and lost a day’s fishing. The morning turned out beautiful; but the fishermen who did not go to sea were confident that if they had the weather would have been stormy.
No death had occurred in the village since its foundation but had been “ forewarned,” so the old women said. On “the night that Widow Ruffel’s bairn died,” a pig, with its throat cut, had been seen to walk across the kitchen floor and disappear beneath the hearthstone. And the “ night that auld Tam Crystal died, a black eat cam doon the chimley an’ walked out at the door.” When old Jemmy Benney was in his last sickness, a strange man was seen at midnight standing near the door of the house, with a bloody razor in his hand. Next morning Jemmy was dead. “ Jack Johnson’s dog growled a’ night when Tammy Rutherford died,” and on the night that the Lapwing was lost, with all hands, a woman with disheveled hair was seen on the beach just before dark, wringing her hands and weeping.
I HAVE already mentioned the jetty corner. This was a piece of common situated near the river’s edge, where a small landing, for the ferryboats which plied between the village and Berwick-on-Tweed, ran out. It was the custom of the old men of the village to meet at this place and indulge in the latest gossip. It was also the debating ground. All disputes that were found impossible of settlement by physical means were brought to the jetty corner and submitted to the patriarchs for settlement. Debate often ran high, and it was not uncommon to hear one disparaging the character of another. Although it might be called the village parliament, no order was observed in conducting debate. All the members spoke at once and gave their opinions in the same breath. At such times the by-stander could not hope to understand a word of what was being spoken. The patriarchs themselves did not understand each other. The debate went on, nevertheless.
Some of these old men were peculiar characters. Old and feeble they were, but each one had a strongly marked individuality. One (Joe Steele) bore the reputation of having been the greatest liar in the village, and though age had dimmed his eyes it had not impaired his inventive faculty. Standing with one foot in the grave, he could tell a lie at which Munchausen would have shuddered, with as much satisfaction and as earnestly as when he was in the full possession of his strength. Village boys, in giving each other the lie, would say: “That’s ane o’ Joe Steele’s figgers.” Another (Jamie Smith) was noted as the laziest man of the village, and nobly he sustained his reputation. Labor he regarded with the greatest aversion. He was too lazy to go to bed, and after he got to bed, too lazy to get up. Nothing but the pangs of hunger could induce him to exert himself to eat, and after eating he wished he would remain satisfied forever. His peculiarity was visible in his dress. Each garment was fastened with only one button. He had no laces in his shoes. “What’s the use,” said he, “of havin’ show laces; if ye fas’n them i’ the mornin’ ye have t’ loos’n them again at night.” The only subject in which he appeared to take an interest was that of new inventions. He looked forward to the time when men “ wadna need t’ have buttons on their claes, and when chairs wi’ soft cushions wud be placed at street corners.”
Another, and the most striking character was William Johnson, familiarly known as au’d Wull Johnson. He was a very old man, nearly ninety but strong and vigorous. He was the champion debater of the “ outs ” of the assembly. He always differed from everybody, and in his own belief he was always right, He never formed an opinion until everybody else had formed his; then, after all had delivered themselves, he would take a position in direct antagonism to each, and he always triumphed, no matter how numerous and how strong the majority. And how he enjoyed his triumphs! How he would chuckle and mutter to himself, “ Beat them again, the d—d fyells.” These, with a few others, formed the assembly which daily met at the jetty corner to discuss the topics of the day. Sometimes their subjects took a wide range, embracing political economy, astronomy, grammar, geography, history, cheap breed (bread), bait, and ethics. The debate one day touched on the definition of words — “ practice ” being the word in question. Joe Steele, the liar, defined it as “the habit of doing anything, use, etc.; also a rule in arithmetic.” The others, with the exception of Wull Johnson, agreed with Steele.
Wull Johnson defined it as a rule in arithmetic. The word had no other meaning, he was confident! A dictionary was necessary to settle the dispute. One was brought, and Wull Johnson was declared to be wrong for once. The defeated disputant looked crestfallen, but brightened up in a moment.
“Wha’s dictionary is that?” he asked.
“ Walker’s,” replied Joe Steele.
“Walker’s ! ” repeated Johnson. Then in the most contemptuous tone imaginable, “ An’ wha the deevil is Walker? ”
No one could answer the question.
“I see, I see,” Wull continued. “Another d—d upstart’s been writin’ a dictionary, an’ he doesna ken a bee frae a bull s fut. Walker! ho, ho! an’ ye thought t’ impose upon me by that upstart Walker! Did ye think me a jackass? ”
“ Weel, Wull,” said Joe Steele apologetically, “I didna ken but that Walker cud be trusted.”
“Weel, man Joe,” said Johnson, commiseratingly, “ye’ret’be pitied; I didna think ye wur sae ignorant.”
And so Wull Johnson triumphed.
Wull, true to his name, swore that Johnson’s Dictionary was the only standard authority for Spittalers.
There came a day, however, when the champion disputant was to be vanquished. Alas that such a day should ever have dawned!
An old and much respected woman, long known in the village for her kind and benevolent disposition, went the way of all the living, and her funeral was attended by the assembly in a body. A few of the patriarchs, among them Wull Johnson, stood at the grave and watched the coffin — a plain pine on the lid of which a small metal plate bore the dates of her birth and death and her age — slowly lowered, and the earth placed upon it.
On the following day the assembly met early to discuss the probable chances of the deceased reaching heaven. Contrary to his usual custom, Wull Johnson coincided in the opinion of the others that “she was a’ right.” But shortly after, when the question of her age came up, Wull affirmed that the others had mistaken the figures on the coffinplate. He had carefully scrutinized them, — indeed he attended the funeral for that purpose, — and the woman was not so old, by five years, as the others stated. The others had also seen the figures on the coffin-plate, and they were certain that Wull Johnson was wrong.
'The wunnnan was seeventy,” said Joe Steele.
Ye ’re a liar,” replied Wull John’son; “ she was only sixty-five.”
“ I saw the feegurs,” said Joe Steele, mildly.
“Feegurs! what d' ye ken aboot feegurs! where did ye learn feegurs ? ye ’re as igorant as a cuddy ” (ass).
“Never mind, the wumman was seeventy year au’d.”
Wull Johnson flew into a terrible passion; the other members sided with Steele. As usual Wall himself, unaided and alone, represented the minority, and he braced himself for the contest. From morn till noon they argued, from noon till dewy eve. Wull Johnson would not budge an inch. The assembly did not adjourn for tea, but continued the debate, and midnight found them exhausted, but as far from settlement as ever. At last Joe Steele proposed that the assembly should proceed to the grave-yard, disinter the coffin, examine the dates on the plate, and fill in the grave again. The proposition was favorably received, and, provided with spades, the patriarchs tremblingly took their way to the grave-yard. Stationing a sentinel at the gate, they proceeded to the grave and in a short time the coffinlid was laid bare. A match was lighted and the figures on the plate revealed to the gaze of all.
Wull Johnson teas wrong !
Chuckling with glee the triumphant patriarchs filled up the grave, and when the last shovelful of earth had been thrown upon the mound, Joe Steele, with a smile of triumph, turned to Wull Johnson and in an exulting tone said, —
“ Weel, Wull, what have ye t’ say now, eh'? Ye’ve seen the feegurs an’ they are jest as we said.”
“ Oh! ye ignorant anes, ye shuckleheeds, yes, I’ve seen the feegurs, but the feegurs have been changed since I saw them afore ! ’ ’
‘ ‘ What! wha cud change them since yesterday, an’ the coffin i’ the grave*? ”
“ I dinna ken, nor I dinna care, bit they’ve been changed.”
A general laugh drove Wull from the grave-yard. He did not make his appearance at the jetty corner next day. His spirit was crushed. He never held up his head again, and when the doctor told him he was dying, he could only murmur, “ Ye ’re a liar,” and without continuing the argument, breathed his last. After Wull’s death the assembly was broken up. Where they all agreed, it was impossible to get up a dispute. Joe Steele for some time managed to draw them together by relating his marvelous adventures, but they tired of these at last; and six months after Wull’s death, the jetty corner was deserted by all save lazy Jamie Smith, who dragged himself to the old rendezvous every morning — too lazy to change his old habits — and lay sleeping until carried home by his son at night. The patriarchs have been gathered to their fathers, and the village, which now boasts an Episcopal as well as a Presbyterian church, is being educated and otherwise improved.
But the fishermen still think, with a sigh, of the good old days when they drank gin at every meal, and could get, drunk on “ boat lanchin’ day ” without being taken to task for it.
George Runell Jackson.