The Bo's'n Hill Ground

LYING upon its side on a little shelf containing the few books owned by Miss Mercy Gaskett was an ancient and much thumbed copy of the American Coast Pilot, dog-eared and dirty, and stained by countless soakings in fog, rain, and salt water. For thirty odd seasons Skipper Reuben Gaskett carried the book with him to the coast of Labrador in the old pinky schooner Good Intent, and when in a memorable gale over half a century ago the stout little vessel at last laid her bones on the desolate Magdalens, the old book was one of the very few articles saved from the wreck. All those sturdy mariners who eagerly scanned its pages in fog and storm for so many years have long slept either with the skipper behind the weather-beaten meeting-house on the hill at the Cove, or fathoms deep in the ocean. As a pilot the old book has entirely outlived its usefulness, since owing to variation of the compass, the courses given in it would speedily lead to disaster if followed to-day, while so many changes have taken place in the appearance of the coast since it was compiled that the sailing directions are also wholly untrustworthy.

Miss Mercy was herself aware that the book had now no practical value, and was therefore somewhat surprised when one morning Jason Fairway came shambling up her path in his red fishing boots, and asked leave to look it over for a few moments.

“ Look at it! ” she exclaimed. “ Why to be sure you can look at it all you want, an’ welcome, Jase, but it ain’t the least mite o’ good to you aboard your bo’t, now I can tell you that! Brother Pel’tiah I know, he set out one time to run a course outen her, an’ like to have got cast away there to the Mussel Ridges too. He allus has told how they had a dretful close shave of it, an’ I guess likely’t was that much’s anything made him quit goin’, an’ stop ashore same ’s he has sence.”

“ Wal, Miss Mercy,” said Jason, “I ain’t cal’latin’ to take no chances runnin’ ary course outen the book, for I don’t doubt a mite but that it’s jes’ you say, she’s pooty nigh bein’ a back number at this day o’ the world, but what I’m comin’ at is this here. Your brother Pelly was tellin’ of me only the very last time I was to his store there, how there was a writin’ somewheres into that ole book that give the marks for the Bo’s’n Hill Ground. He ’lowed ’twas years sence he see it, but he says, ’s ’e, ‘ It’s there somewheres into that ole book right in black an’ white, an’ in my father’s own han’writin’, too.’ ”

“ Well, well,” said Miss Mercy, “ prob’ly it ’s so, then! Bo’s’n Hill Ground ! Land’s sakes, ef that don’t carry me clean way back to the time I was a little gal a-pickin’ oakum stormy days up in the ole attic there to home ! You take an’ set down in the cheer there back o’ the laylocks, where it’s good an’ shady, Jase, an’ I ’ll fetch her right out to ye.”

So saying, Miss Mercy went into the house, and soon returned with the venerable leather-covered book.

“ You would n’t b’lieve,” she continued, “ you would n’t scursely b’lieve how kind o’ queer it doos seem to hear tell about the Bo’s’n Hill Ground ag’in ! Why, when I was growin’ up, ’t was nothin’ but Bo’s’n Hill Ground, an’ the Spring Gardin, an’ Betty Moody’s Ten Acre Lot, an’ a sight more I clean forgit the names of now. How comes it we don’t never hear tell about them ole fishin’ grounds now’days, Jase ? ”

“ Wal,” replied he, taking the old book in his lap, “ come to that, there’s some that doos fish on the Spring Gardin by spells now’days, but I can’t say ’s ever I knowed jes’ the marks would put ye onto Betty Moody’s Lot, there, though I would n’t wonder but that there’s folks here to the Cove that’s got ’em yit, but you come to take the Bo’s’n Hill, an’ seem’s ef the marks was gone from here clip an’ clean ! That is, there ’s jes’ one man knows ’em, fur’s I can make out, an’ he ’s so blame’ mean he won’t tell ’em to nobody, so there we be hung up, ye see.”

“ Who is it knows ’em ? ” cried Miss Mercy. “ Guess I can think, though, who it must be ! ” she added.

“You would n’t have to travel fur to run foul on him ! ” said Jason, as he clumsily turned the old book’s yellow pages. “ Oho ! ” he soon exclaimed. “ Here we have it, so quick ! Here’s the whole bus’niss wrote on a piece o’ paper, an’ pasted in here plain ’s can be ! ‘ Marks for the Boatswain’s Hill Ground. Brandon’s Cove, November 5, 1822. Scant eight fathoms at low water. Hard bottom.’ See, Miss Mercy ? ”

“ No,” she said. “ Can’t make out a word without my specs, but you take an’ read it out loud, Jase.”

“Wal, ’t ain’t so ter’ble plain’s what I thought for, come to look right at it,” said he. “ The ink’s eat chock through the paper in spots, so’s’t the words kind o’ run together like ; then here’s nother place where it seem’s though somebody ’d spilt fire outen his pipe, from the looks on ’t. Beginnin’ starts off consid’ble plain though, ef only a feller could make out to git holt o’ the res’ part. Lemme see now, how doos she read, anyways ? ' Bring the steeple of Ole York meetin’-house to bear eggsac’ly over the sou’west dry ledge o’ the Hue an’ Cry,’ — that’s plain ’nough so fur, but’t ain’t right, I know! Never was so in God’s world ! That range would fetch ye clean away to the east’ard, way off here on the Big Bumpo, I sh’d cal’late! ”

“ Well, but Jase! ” interrupted Miss Mercy, “ prob’ly it means the big ole yaller meetin’-house use to set there on the post ro’d ’most up to the Corners, you rec’lec’, or was that ’fore your time, though ? Burnt chock to the ground she was, one time when ole Elder Roundturn was preachin’ into her, oh, years ago.”

“ I jes’ barely rec’lec’ her, an’ that’s all,” said Jason, “ but ef that’s the style, we ’re all adrift ag’in on gittin’ them marks! Le’ ’s see, though, what it goes on to say ’bout t’other range. ‘ Bring the dark strake in the woods on the no’therly side of Bo’s’n Hill to bear in range’— Wal, it jes’ happens there don’t make out to be no woods up there, not a blamed stick ! Stripped ri’ down to the bare rock, she is ! Now where was I to ? Oh, here, I guess ! ‘ To bear in range with the eastern c-h ’ — What in blazes is it ? C-h-ioh, chimbly, that’s it! The eastern chimbly on the — what house ? Set - fire ef I can make that out, noways ! The ink’s eat the paper all to flinders right here ! Now don’t that make out to be some aggravatin’, you!

Still, I dunno ’s it makes no great odds, neither, for I cal’late ’t would puzzle the ole boy hisself to take an’ put a bo’t on the Bo’s’n Hill Ground from them marks to - day, ’lowin’ we could make out to spell ’em out! ’S too bad, I swan to man! Jes’ much obliged to you, though, Miss Mercy, o’ course, for the trouble.”

“ Not a mite o’ trouble, Jase ! Not a speck ! Sorry you can’t git no sense out o’ the thing, I’m sure ! It doos seem’s ef there ’d ought to be some ways to git holt o’ them marks though, as many years as what folks has been fishin’ on that Bo’s’n Hill Ground ! ”

“ Wal,” replied Jason, “ the thing of it is, the Bo’s’n Hill ain’t been fished o’ late years, an’ that’s jes’ where the trouble comes in. ’Cordin’ to tell, them ole fellers used to git the biggest kind o’ fishin’ out there in the spring an’ fall o’ the year, but nigh ’s I can make out, it fin’lly come to be fished pooty much dry, ye see, an’ folks got in the way o’ goin’ furder to the west’ard, or else out to them grounds way off shore there, till bimeby ’most the whole o’ them ole fellers that knowed the Bo’s’n Hill marks was un’neath the sod, or else drownded, so come to take it at this day o’ the world, seem ’s ef the only man left here to this Cove that ’s got ’em yit is ole Loop-eye Kentall, an’ you know what he is, prob’ly ! ”

“ Sakes alive ! ” exclaimed Miss Mercy. “ It’s likely we ain’t lived next door neighbors all these years for nothin’ ! I guess if’t depends on him, — but there ! He’s all the nigh neighbor I’ve got, an’ I s’pose it don’t look jes’ right my sayin’ no great, anyways. Don’t he never go out there fishin’ into his bo’t, so’s’t you could kind o’ watch him like, or else make out to foller him someways ? ”

“ Oh, he’s fishin’ there right along, this spring,” answered Jason. “ It’s seldom ever he ’ll miss ary decent chance to git onto the ground now’days, for there’s fish there ag’in an’ no mistake ! Commenced goin’ out there some time last fall, the fust I knowed on ’t, but it’s no sense tryin’ to foller him, ’cause you might jes’ soon try trackin’ a blame’ loon to her nest as to ketch that ole rat on the Bo’s’n Hill! Ye see he won’t never leggo his killick out there at all ef there’s ary one o’ the other bo’ts ’round anywheres, an’ you come to take it after he doos git hisself settled on the ground, quick’s ever ary other bo’t shows up ’most anywheres in sight he ’ll up killick an’ put sail on her for all he ’s wuth ! Seem’s ef you can’t rig it so’s to ketch him nappin’ noways, for there’s quite a few on us this spring has tried to work it all manner o’ ways to git the marks for the Bo’s’n Hill outen him, but set-fire ef he ain’t made out to beat us so fur, ev’ry dog-gone time !

“ One thing, you see, there ain’t no size to the ground anyways ; it’s nothin’ only a little mite of a shoal spot, the Bo’s’n Hill ain’t, with consid’ble deep water chock up to her on ev’ry side, so’s’t you might liken her to a sort o’ chimblyshaped rock that them big overgrowed steakers loves to play round, an’ feed off’n, but you can see for yourself, without a feller’s extry well posted, it’s a ter’ble blind job tryin’ to git on to the thing.

“ Brother Sam he did make out one time to stumble right atop on’t into his drag-bo’t, but as luck would have it, ’t was so thick an’ hazy like, he could n’t see the main to git holt on ary marks at all. He took an’ stopped right out there till past sundown hopin’ she’d scale so’s’t he’d be able to see sumpin’, but the way it worked, in room o’ scalin’, it jes’ turned to an’ shet in thick o’ fog on him, an’ the wind breezened up out here to the east’ard so spiteful that fin’lly it growed so dinged hubbly he had to give it up, an’ p’int her for the turf! But he ’lowed how the whole bus’niss wa’n’t much bigger over ’n the Odd Fellers’ Hall there to the Cove, anyways, an’ right atop on ’t you ’d have ’bout eight fathom o’ water at half tide, but he said come to shift your berth not more ’n mebbe a couple o’ bo’t’s lengths, an’ like ’s not the lead would run out thirty odd fathom o’ line so quick’t would make your head swim ! ”

“ For the land’s sakes ! ” exclaimed Miss Mercy. “ You don’t tell! Why, ’tis a reg’lar-built chimbly-rock, ain’t it though ! I do r’ally hope you ’ll make out to git them marks so’s to find it ag’in, declare I do ! ’T ain’t I wish no hurt to my neighbor here, but it doos kind o’ seem’s though an ole man that’s got as much of it laid by as what he has, an’ all soul alone in the world, too, I must say it doos ’pear as if he might quit goin’ bo’t-fislnn’, an’ sort o’ lay back a little for the rest part o’ the time he’s got to stop ’round here yit! ”

“ There ! That’s me too, ev’ry time ! ” cried Jason Fairway. “ That’s jes’ eggsac’ly how I look at it, Miss Mercy ! Why, ef only I was quarter part’s well heeled as what ole Loop-eye Kentall is, do you cal’late I’d ever bother to set ’nother gang o’ lobster-traps, or bait up ’nother tub o’ trawls long’s I lived ? Guess not, no great! I sh’d jes’ turn to an’ buy me a nice snug little place up back here somewheres, an’ git me a good cow, an’ a couple dozen hens, an’ then I sh’d figger on takin’ of it good an’ easy ! Prob’ly ’nough I sh’d want me a fresh haddick now an’ then, an’ when I done so, I sh’d slip off here in my bo’t an’ ketch me one without sayin’ by your leaf to nobody, but this here actin’ same’s a tormented ole hog ” —

“ S-h ! Jase ! ” sibilated Miss Mercy. “ Remember he’s ” —

“ Can’t help it! ” persisted Jason. “ Sich works as them he’s up to is fit to turn a feller’s poke, swan ef they hain’t! Why, ef I was to set to an’ go into the snide tricks ole Loop-eye allus an’ forever’s been a-tryin’ on, I dunno, but seem ’s though I sh’d be skeered to turn in when it come night-time, for fear God A’mighty ’d up an’ shet off my wind afore mornin’ ! ”

“ Why Jason Fairway, you ! ” began Miss Mercy again.

“ He’s went to work an’ got a mortgage on half the places to the Cove, I was goin’ to say,” continued Jason, “ an’ ’t wa’n’t but only last week he turned to an’ took away the bo’t from pore ole Uncle Isr’il Spurshoe way down on the Neck there ! Did n’t you never hear tell o’ that yit ? Wal, that’s what he done, an’ them two was boys together, mind ye; went to the Bay together, an’ growed right up together you may say, but Uncle Isr’il there, he’d up an’ slat the clo’es off’n his back any day ef he seen a man needed ’em wuss ’n what he done ; that’s Isr’il Spurshoe all over, that is, but you take ole Loop-eye, an’ he’d allus rob ye in room o’ givin’ ye nothin’ ef he see a chance to git in his work unbeknownst, an’ as for lyin’, why I would n’t b’lieve him no furder ’n what I could take an’ sling a four year ole bull by the tail! ”

“ There ! There, Jase ! ” cried Miss Mercy once more. “ Don’t take on so, son ! Ole Loop-eye, — er, that is, ole Mr. Kentall here is jest what the Lord made him ” —

“ Got my doubts ’bout the Lord’s havin’ ary hand in the job ’t all! ” interrupted Jason, with a grin. “But I must be joggin’ down ’long. Do drop in an’ see us, Miss Mercy, won’t ye, when you’re our ways ?”

Not long after this talk between Jason Fairway and Miss Mercy, the dogfish “ struck ” on the coast, and as was expected, almost at the same time, summer boarders “ struck ” in the Cove. Now however beneficial these latter may be accounted in other places, in the Cove the question of which were the greater nuisance, dogfish or boarders, was often discussed. According to the popular idea, both were to be looked for at about the same date, and while dogfish were certain to drive all other fish from the shore during their stay, so the boarders were credited with driving all business from the Cove, and were even accused of attempting to drive the native population back into the woods.

At any rate, after dogfish and boarders were in full possession, fishing as a business was abandoned outright, and though occasionally a party of boarders was taken out and afforded the mild excitement of hooking a beggarly scrod or two from among the kelps at the harbor’s mouth, yet the regular boat-fishermen as a rule laid their craft on the moorings for a season, and began preparing their gear for the fall fishing.

After this was well under way, Loopeye Kentall, though sorely beset by rheumatism, started in, as he said, to get his winter’s fish, but his leaky old lapstreak boat was almost daily to be seen discharging its trip of fish at the wharf in the village, while the few that found their way to the moss-grown flakes in his own yard were invariably of a sort that could not be disposed of on any terms.

Fish were scarce this fall, and as a rule the boats were obliged to go a long distance offshore to find them, starting away from the Cove long before daylight, and frequently not returning until far into the night.

But this state of things was exactly to the mind of Loop-eye Kentall, and he improved the opportunity by making use of his secret marks to the utmost. Judging from the number of great “steak” cod repeatedly landed from his crazy old craft, there was no dearth of fish on the Bo’s’n Hill Ground this season at any rate, and Jason Fairway soon determined to make still another effort at getting a share of them; so one clear morning, instead of running his boat broad offshore toward the distant grounds he and the others had lately been compelled to seek, he headed her several miles to the eastward, and then hove to until sunrise.

It proved just such a day as he had hoped for. There was no haze to dim the sun’s brightness, and the sea was ruffled by a brisk morning breeze, so that to a person looking eastward toward the sun, its blaze upon the dancing waters was almost blinding.

By aid of the old canvas-covered spyglass Jason had brought with him, Loopeye Kentall was presently discovered stealing out from under the high land in his black - sailed old boat, and in course of time dropping killick upon what was presumably the Bo’s’n Hill Ground.

Then Jason put his tiller up, and keeping as nearly as he could judge directly in the wake of the dazzling sun blaze, attempted to put to the test his latest plan for stealing a march upon the foxy old fisherman.

Half an hour passed, and under the freshening breeze he was then at a distance when Loop-eye Kentall would commonly have taken the alarm and left posthaste, for he usually allowed no boat to approach within a mile or two. Nearer and nearer drew the trim little jigger, and the dark object ahead rapidly grew larger, till Jason chuckled to himself at the apparent success of his scheme.

“ Ef our bird won’t rise for another five minutes,” said he to his boy, “ I ’ll resk but that we ’ll be able to sound out that ground ’fore noontime, anyways ! ”

Five minutes, ten minutes more, and still no movement of the lone figure in the boat ahead.

“ Guess he must be gaftin’ ’em in solid this mornin’! ” said the boy. “ Can’t see him movin’ no great, though, neither. ’Pears to be settin’ there takin’ his comfort ! ”

“ I see he doos,” said his father. “ Prob’ly cal’lates ev’ry blessed hooker to the Cove’s chock out on the Sou’west Ridge by this time o’ day! It looks to me as ef we’d scored on him at last! Ef he ’s on the Bo’s’n Hill, I ’ll have the marks this mornin’ sure, for it never made out to be no clearer! ”

“ What you goin’ to do, dad ? ” asked the boy. “ Goin’ to hail him, or jes’ let her go clean down onto him, till he looks ’round ? ”

“ Guess we might’s well run down to loo’ard a grain, an’ shoot her up ’longside, ef he don’t twig us fust. What you s’pose ails the ole divil that makes him set there humped up sideways, so fashion? Wouldn’t wonder but that he’s sick, or sumpin ! ”

The next moment Jason’s boat shot up close to the side of the other, and a quick look at its silent occupant showed unmistakably that he had dropped his killick for the last time. In the boat’s bottom lay an immense cod wound up in a snarl of wet line, and as yet hardly through its gasping.

“ My God ! Elishy Kentall! ” muttered Jason Fairway. “ Ef you hain’t made out to git snubbed up some short! ”

Without another word he reached for the sounding lead, and let it run the line swiftly over the boat’s side. Then he began hauling it up again, measuring the fathoms with his arms as he did so.

Is it the Bo’s’n Hill Ground, dad ? ” asked the white-faced boy anxiously.

“ Six — seven — eight fathom, an’ rocky bottom. It lacks an hour to low water yit. Yas, son, I sh’d say’t was ! ”

In this way Loop-eye Kentall gave away his cherished secret, and the Bo’s’n Hill Ground again became common property of the fishermen at the Cove.

George S. Wasson.