by George Manville Fenn
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"The night air is dangerous," he said.

"No, it isn't," said Dick. "It's all fancy."

"I wish the window to be shut," said Arthur with dignity.

"Oh, very well!" said Dick drowsily; and his brother went on talking.

"Papa has sent for a suit of flannels and a suit of tweeds for me, for I suppose I must wear them while we are down amongst these savages."

The bed creaked and squeaked a little, consequent upon Dick rolling about and laughing; but Arthur was at work with two hair-brushes upon his head, and did not hear.

"I have sent word that the tailor is to make an outside breast-pocket for my handkerchief, and that the flannels are to be edged and bound with black."

Dick's head had been half under the clothes, but he popped it out now to raise himself up a little and say:

"Oh, won't you look lovely!"

Then the bed creaked again as Dick dropped down, his brother not condescending to notice his frivolous remark.

A few minutes later and Arthur had deliberately climbed into bed, yawned, dropped asleep, and Dick had rolled out on his side.

"I don't mean to be smothered when there's such lots of beautiful air outside," he muttered; and he softly opened the window once more, jumped into bed, fell asleep directly, and was awakened by the musical chorus off the sea.

"Oh, I say, what a morning!" he cried as he drew up the blind and saw that about a dozen luggers were coming in from the fishing-ground, where they had been all night, while the sun was turning the bay into one sparkling sheet of glory. "Here! Ahoy! Hi! Rouse up, Arthur. Come and have a bathe."

He made a bound at his brother, and punched and shook him, with the result that Arthur shut his eyes more tightly and hit out at him savagely.

"Get up, or you sha'n't have any clothes," cried Dick, trying to drag them off; but—Whuff, huff, bang! down came one of the pillows upon his head, and Arthur rolled himself in the clothes and settled himself for another sleep.

"Oh, sleep away, then!" cried Dick. "Here, hi! Will! Where are you going?"

"To bathe," said Will. "Come!"

"Down in a minute," cried Dick; and deferring all washing till he could get plenty of water out in the bay, he thrust a comb in his pocket, a towel under his arm, and ran down-stairs.

"A nasty old nuisance!" grumbled Arthur, getting out of bed like a badly made parcel, with sheet, blanket, and patchwork quilt rolled round him; and as he shut the window with a bang he could see his brother and Will trudging towards the harbour.

"I'll just have another five minutes, and then I'll get up and dress, and go and meet them," yawned Arthur; then he rolled on to the bed and went off fast asleep.

"Goin' to have a bathe?" said Josh, who was mopping out the boat.

"Yes. Good-morning! How are you?" cried Dick.

"Just nicely, lad," sang Josh. "Here, I don't mind rowing you out if you'll promise to bring me half ounce o' the best 'bacco next time you come."

"I'll bring it," said Dick eagerly; and jumping into the boat, Josh rowed the boys out half a mile or so, and then in they went with a plunge off the boat's side, and down into the invigorating clear cool water, to come up again and swim steadily off side by side, Dick being a pretty fair swimmer, though in his modesty he had disclaimed the accomplishment. And as the boys swam, Josh had steadily rowed after them, so that when they had had enough the boat was at hand for them to climb in, have a good towel, scrub, and dress.

"Why don't you have a bathe, Josh?" cried Dick, panting with his exertions. "It's lovely."

"Yes, a good bathe be lovely," said Josh; "but I don't bathe much. I be delicate."

He said it so seriously that Dick never thought of laughing, though Josh seemed solid and hard as wood, which in truth he was.

"Look yonder, lad!" he cried; "see him on the cliff;" and putting the handle of one oar under his leg, he pointed towards the shore west of the village.

"Yes, I can see him: what's he doing?"

"Signalling," cried Josh excitedly; "it's mack'rel."

"What—up there?" cried Dick.

"No, no, lad; in the bay. He can see fish, and he's signalling."

"But he can't see fish in the bay up there."

"Oh, yes! he can. Colour of the water, my lad. He can see a school, and—All right! The lads have seen. There goes the seine-boat."

He pointed to a large boat that seemed laden with something brown. There were several men in her, and they had pushed off, and were rowing steadily out towards the middle of the bay, the water that they lifted with their oars flashing like silver in the sunshine.

"I can see the school, Josh," said Will. "There, just beyond Dallow buoy;" and he stood up pointing with his hand, while the man on the cliff seemed to have a bunch of something in each hand, and to be turning himself into a human semaphore.

"Right, lad! There's the school," said Josh, who had also risen in the boat, and was shading his eyes with his hand. "See, Master Dick?"

"No, I can't see anything."

"What—not out yonder, to left of that buoy?"

"I can see the water looks dark and rippled," said Dick.

"That's them, lad. That's the school o' mack'rel, and I shouldn't wonder if they come right on the flat rock sand."

"What—out of the water?"

"Out of the water? No. Not unless they are catched, and then they'll come out of the water fast enough."

"Look at that chap on the cliff!" cried Dick, as the man began waving what really were boughs of heather up and down.

"Yes, he's signalling away to them in the boat. He can see the school. P'r'aps they can't; and he's telling 'em which way to row."

"But what are they going to do?" cried Dick.

"Do? Why, try and catch that school of mack'rel. Can't you see the seine?"

"What—the net?" said Dick.

"Yes; that's it—hundreds of yards of it. Can you see which way the school's going?"

"Right up to the head of the bay," replied Will.

"Then they are going over the sands, and the lads'll get them. Can't shoot a seine if there's rocks anywhere near," added Josh for the visitor's information. "Get the net torn, and the mack'rel would get out of the hole or under the bottom, where it rests on the rocks. You'd like to stop and see them shoot?"

"What—the mackerel?" said Dick.

"Yah! No; the net."

"Shoot it?" said Dick.

"Yes; shoot it over into the sea."

"Oh! I understand," said Dick; "but they shoot rubbish."

"Oh, they shoot rubbish, do they?" said Josh.

"Yes, about London," replied Dick. "Look how he's waving his arms about."

"Yes. School's going off another way. P'r'aps they mayn't get a chance to shoot, for the school may go out to sea."

"Let's row close up. I want to see," cried Dick.

"Nay, nay; we might be frightening the fish. Let's wait and see first, and if they surround 'em then we'll go close up. You sit still and watch."

The scene was worth watching on that bright morning, with the blue sky above, the glittering sea below, the village nestling in the cliffs, with its chimneys sending up their columns of smoke into the clear air; and at the foot of the cliff, as if seeking its protection, lay the little fishing fleet, with its brown sails giving warmth and colour to as bonny an English landscape as could well be seen. There up aloft, where the hill cliff was purple and gold and grey with heath and furze and crag, was the man with the bushes, signalling to his comrades in the boat, which seemed to be crawling slowly along, the piled-up filmy brown net, lying in a clumsy heap, so it seemed, but really in carefully laid-out folds, with every rope in place ready for the work to be done.

Uncle Abram's boat was allowed to drift with the current as its three occupants watched the proceedings, Will with the more interest that his uncle had a share in the seine, that is to say, he found so many score yards of which its length was composed, and consequently would take his proportion of the profits if the mackerel were caught.

"She's going right for the sands," cried Josh excitedly. "They'll have a fine haul. See 'em, lad—see 'em?"

"Yes, I can see the dark ripple of the water gradually going along," said Dick eagerly. "Oh, I do wish we were nearer!"

"You'll be near enough, lad, when the seine gets to work. Perhaps we shall have to be farther away. Look at 'em; how pretty they come! And you, Will, are always thinking about mines, and stones, and holes in the earth, when you've got a sight like that before you, boy. Eh! but I'm ashamed of you!"

Will laughed and stood watching the school, and answering Dick's questions.

"What are they going to do? Wait and you'll see."

"Oh, no! the fish don't run their heads through these nets and get caught by the gills. Those are drift-nets. This is a seine, and made with smaller meshes. It's stronger, too, and has a rope top and bottom. Now, look, they're getting close enough in. They daren't go any nearer for fear of frightening the fish. Now, see, they're beginning to shoot the net."

For the first time Dick saw that there was a little boat with the big one, and that this little boat had two men in it, who seemed to be stopping in one place, while the big boat was being rowed away from them. Then over the stern a couple of men were passing what seemed to be an enormous brown rope, which they kept shaking as it went over and down into the sea, sinking at once all but what looked like a row of dots on the water right away to the little boat, which now seemed to be connected with the big one by the row of dots.

"That's the seine-net they're shooting overboard," said Will. "It has corks all along the top, and these keep the top edge level with the water, while all the rest sinks right down to the bottom. It's shallow enough over the sands here for the net to touch the bottom."

"I see!" cried Dick excitedly. "And they are going to row right round the shoal of fish and make a regular fence of net about them, so as they can't get away."

"A mussy me!" cried Josh smiling. "Why, I'm getting quite proud o' you, Master Dick. You might ha' been born a fisherman."

"But will the net be long enough to go right round?" said Dick.

"No, perhaps not; but they'll manage that if they're lucky."

The scene was exciting enough to chain the interest of those in the boat, while quite a crowd gathered on the cliff to witness the capture— one which meant money and support to a good many families; for there would be basketing and carting to the far-off station, to send the take to the big towns, if a take it should prove to be. And so all watched as the large boat was rowed steadily, its heap of net growing lower, and the row of dot-like corks that trailed from behind getting longer and longer, and gradually taking the shape of a half-moon.

The little boat remained nearly stationary, only drawing a trifle towards where Dick and his companions were; but the big boat continued its course, and so did the shoal of mackerel, making a beautiful ripple on the surface, that seemed as changeful as the ripple marks on their own backs, and in happy unconsciousness of the fact that their way back to sea was being steadily shut off, and that there were baskets getting ready, and horses being fed to bear them to the train, so that the next morning they would be glittering on stalls in busy towns both far and near.

It was a long but carefully-executed piece of work, the large boat making a very wide circuit, so as not to alarm the fish, now about the centre of a semicircle of net.

"But suppose the net should be twisted," said Dick excitedly, "and not reach the bottom—what then?"

"Then when the mackerel were scared they'd swim about and find the hole, and go through it like the tide between a couple of rocks," replied Will. "But the men wouldn't let the net go down twisted; they're too used to shooting it."

"All out now," said Josh at last. "They'll lose the school if they don't mind. Look yonder."

Dick glanced in the direction indicated, and saw that the man on the cliff was now telegraphing wildly with his boughs, and the men in the seine-boat seemed to let out a long rope, for there was a good space between them and the row of corks.

The two men in the little boat seemed to do the same, and as the two boats were some distance to right and left of Dick and his companions, it seemed as if they meant to come up close with them.

"Josh! Josh! the school's heading this way," cried Will; "they'll lose 'em."

Josh jumped down into the seat, seized the oars, and began to row steadily right across the head of the ripple, just as a hail came first from the big boat and then from the small.

Josh rowed about twenty or thirty yards, and then began to back water, going over the ground again, while the big and little boats steadily rowed on.

"They're gone, Josh!" cried Will, as the ripple on the surface suddenly ceased.

"Maybe they'll come up again, my lad," said Josh. "I'll keep on," and he went on rowing first towards the large boat, then towards the small, as they slowly toiled on, trying to get nearer to each other and Uncle Abram's boat, which was just about intermediate.

If they could once join and form a circle, even if part of it were only the net ropes, the fish would be inclosed, and instead of making for the unfinished part of the circle where there was only rope, they would avoid it and the boats, and make for the other side.

"All right, Josh! they're showing again," cried Will, for the dreaded catastrophe had not taken place—the fish had not gone down and swum away beneath the boats.

"Keep wi' us, lad!" came a musical hail to Josh, "and we shall do it yet."

"Ay, ay!" shouted back Josh; and like a sentry he kept going to and fro, with the boats closing up, yard by yard, but slowly, for they had the weight of the widely-spread net to check their progress.

They were forty yards from Uncle Abram's boat on either side, and it seemed a long time before they were twenty, and all the while this was the most dangerous time, for the alarmed shoal was beginning to swim to and fro. Then all at once they disappeared from the surface again, and Dick thought they were gone.

But the fishermen pulled steadily still, and their companions in the stern of each boat kept the line tighter, and just as they were now getting closer the mackerel showed again, making the water flicker as if a violent storm of rain were falling.

"Back out, lad, and go to port," said the captain of the seine-boat; and Josh rowed steadily along close to the line, pausing half-way between the seine-boat and the beginning of the corks, that is, of the net.

The men in the little boat just at the same time passed their rope on board to their friends, and then went off to the right, to pause half-way, as Josh had done to the left.

Meanwhile the men on the seine-boat began to haul steadily at the ropes at each end, drawing the great circle narrower.

"Why, how big is this net round?" said Dick in a whisper, as if he feared alarming the fish.

"Mile," said Josh laconically, "ropes and all."

"But they are drawing the ropes in fast now," said Will, "and when they get the spreaders together it will be seven hundred yards."

"What are the spreaders?"

"Long poles to keep the ends of the net stretched. They've got lead at the bottom, like the net, to keep them on the sand."

"Look out!" shouted the captain of the seine. "Here they come!"

The men hauled the harder, and oars were splashed in all three boats, the smaller rowing to and fro, with the result that the surface of the water became calm once more, not the sign of a ripple to betoken the presence of a fish; but no one ceased his efforts.

"Are they gone, Will?" asked Dick.

"No, they've only gone below; they're hunting all about the seine for a hole to escape, and the thing is now whether they follow it on to one of the ends: if they do, it's only follow my leader, not one will be left."

It was a long job, but the men worked with all their might, keeping up their steady strain at the ropes, and gradually reducing the circle, till at last the two ends of the net were brought together and made to overlap safely, but there was not a sign of the fish.

"They've got away," said Dick.

"I'm afraid so," said Will, for there was an ominous silence among the fishermen, who had been at work all this while apparently for nothing. Then all at once there was a loud cheer, for the shoal, a very large one, suddenly appeared at the top again, fretting the water as the fish swam here and there, shut-up as they were in an irregular circle about two hundred yards across, and hopelessly entangled, for if there had been a loophole of escape they would have found it now.

"There won't be no storm to-day," said Josh, looking round, "so they've got them safe, and now, my lads, what do you say to a bit o' brexfass?"

"Breakfast!" cried Dick. "Oh! I had forgotten all about that. I must go ashore; but I should have liked to see them get the mackerel out."

"Oh! you'll have plenty of time for that," said Josh, beginning to row for the harbour and going close by the seine-boat, whose captain hailed them.

"Thank ye, lads," he cried. "You, Will Marion, tell your uncle we've got as pretty a school as has been took this year."

"Ay, ay!" shouted Will. Then taking one oar he rowed hard, and in a few minutes they were at the harbour, the pier being covered with the fisher folk.

"Best take this year," sang Josh in answer to a storm of inquiries; and then Will sprang up the steps, to run home with a shield of good news to ward off the angry points that Aunt Ruth was waiting to discharge at him for not coming home to his meals in time.

The first faces Dick saw on the pier were those of his father and Arthur.

"I am so sorry, father!" began Dick.

"You've not kept me waiting, my boy," said Mr Temple kindly. "I've been watching the fishing from the cliff."

"You might have told me that you were going to see some seine-fishing," said Arthur in an ill-used tone, as they entered the inn parlour, where breakfast was waiting.

"Didn't know myself," cried Dick. "Why, it's ten o'clock! Oh! I am so hungry!"



There was quite enough interesting business to see after breakfast to make Mr Temple disposed to go out to the great seine, so that when, about eleven, Will came to the inn to say that he was just going out to the men, if Master Dick or Master Arthur would like to come, their father readily accepted the invitation for all three. So they were rowed out, to find the men very busy at work in boats beside the great circle of corks, shooting a smaller seine inside the big one; and this being at last completed, the small seine was drawn close, the lower rope contracted, and the fish huddled together so closely that a small boat was at work amongst them, the men literally dipping the struggling fish out of the water with huge landing-nets and baskets, the water flying, and the silvery, pearly fish sparkling in the sun.

It was a most animated scene, for as a boat was loaded she went ashore, and the fish were rapidly counted, thrust into small stout hampers, tied down, and loaded on to carts waiting for their freight, and then off and away to the railway-station almost before the fish were dead.

Josh and Will stood high in the good graces of the seine men for their help that morning, so that there was quite a welcome for the party in the boat as the corked line was pressed down, and Josh took the boat right into the charmed circle where the fish were darting to and fro in wild efforts to escape through the frail yielding wall of net that held them so securely.

"I've got a net ready for you," said Will, drawing a strong landing-net from under a piece of sail and handing it to Dick, who was soon after busily at work dashing it in and capturing the lovely arrowy fish in ones and twos and threes. Once he caught five at once, and drew them inboard for his father to admire the brilliancy of the colours upon the live fish, and the lovely purple ripple marks that died away on the sides in a sheen of pink and silver and gold.

Now and then other fish were netted, but fish that had been surrounded with the mackerel. Several times over little stumpy red mullet were seen—brilliant little fish, and then grey mullet—large-scaled silvery fish with tiny mouths and something the aspect, on a large scale, of a river dace.

The fishermen found time to good-naturedly call Josh when any particular prize of this kind was found, and the Temples had not been there long before, flapping, gasping, and staring, a very monster of ugliness was taken out in a landing-net, along with a score of mackerel.

This flat-sided, great-eyed, big-headed creature, with a huge back fin, and general ugliness painted in it everywhere, had a dark mark on either side of the body; and though arrayed and burnished here and there with metallic colours, the fish was so grotesque that its beauties were quite ignored.

"Ah! our friend John-Dory—Jean Dore, as the French call him—gilded John," said Mr Temple. "A delicacy, but not a handsome fish. Look at the thumb and finger marks upon his side."

"Oh! but those are not finger marks," cried Dick.

"No," said his father, "but they are quite near enough in appearance to make people say that this is the fish Peter caught, and held between his finger and thumb while he opened its mouth."

"Here y'are, sir!" shouted a fisherman. "Young gents like to see this?"

Josh rowed the boat alongside and Dick held his net, while the fisherman laughingly turned into it from his own a great jelly-fish, as clear as crystal and glistening in the sun with iridescent colours of the loveliest hue.

"Oh, what a beauty!" cried Dick. "Look, father, look!"

"Yes; keep it in the water, you will see it to the best advantage there."

Dick doused the jelly-fish down into the sun-lit waters, and then they could see its wonderful nature.

In size it was as big as a skittle-ball or a flat Dutch cheese, though a better idea of its shape may be obtained by comparing it to a half-opened mushroom whose stalk had been removed, and where beautifully cut leafy transparencies took the place of the mushroom gills.

No sooner was it in the water than it began to swim, by expanding, and contracting itself with such facility that, but for the meshes of the net, it would soon have taken its wondrous hanging fringes and delicate soap-bubble hues out of sight.

"Better not touch it," said Will, as Dick was about to place his hand beneath the curious object.

"Why not?" asked Arthur sharply.

"Because they sting," replied Will. "Some sting more than others. Perhaps that does, sir."

Arthur glanced at his father, who nodded his head.

"Yes; I believe he is right," said Mr Temple. "It is a curious fact in natural history. We need not test it to see if it is correct."

"Look, look!" cried Dick; "here's a pollack like I caught. Oh! do look at its bright colours, father; but what shall we do with the jelly-fish?"

"Let it go. We cannot save it. In an hour or two there would be nothing left but some dirty film."

The pollack was then examined, with all its glories of gold, bronze, and orange. Then there was a skipping, twining, silvery, long-nose that could hardly be kept in the net, a fish that looked remarkably like an eel, save for its regularly shaped mackerel tail, and long beak-like nose. Sea-bream were the next—ruddy looking, large-eyed fish, not much like their fellows of the fresh water, even what were called the black bream—dark, silvery fellows, similar in shape, bearing but a small resemblance to the fish the brothers had often caught in some river or stream in a far-off home county.

Dick's eyes glistened with pleasure; and waking up more and more to the fact that the finding of fresh kinds of fish gave the boy intense delight, Will kept eagerly on the look-out.

"Here, hi! Throw that over here, Michael Pollard," cried Will.

"It be only a gashly scad," said the great, black-bearded fisherman; and he turned the fish good-humouredly into Dick's landing-net.

"Why, it's a kind of mackerel-looking fish," said Dick, as he examined his fresh prize.

"Ah! mind how you touch it!" cried Will, "it is very sharp and prickly."

"All right!" said Dick. "Oh! I say, though, it is sharp."

"Well, you were warned," said Mr Temple, as Dick applied a bleeding finger to his mouth.

"Yes, but I did not know it was so sharp as that," said Dick. "Don't you touch it, Taff;" and this time he turned the fish over more carefully, to see that it was much the same shape as an ordinary mackerel, but broader of body and tail, and less graceful of outline, while its markings and tints would not compare with those of the ordinary mackerel, and it was provided, as Dick had found, with some very keen spines.

"What do you call this?" said Arthur, rather importantly.

"Scad, sir—horse-mackerel," cried Will.

"Are they good to eat?" said Arthur.

Will shook his head.

"They taste strong, and they say they're not wholesome, sir," replied Will. "Look, they've just caught a bass."

The beautiful silvery fish was passed on by one of the fishermen, and the brilliant scales and sharp, perch-like fin of this favourite fish were being examined, when a violent splashing and commotion told of the presence of something larger in the net.

Whatever it was it escaped for the time; but ten minutes later it was caught in another net, a large, vigorous-looking fish, which made a bold effort to escape, but instead of leaping back into the sea fell into the bottom of one of the boats, where one of the fishermen gave it three or four vigorous blows with a club before he passed it on to Josh, who ladled it into his own boat with the net borrowed from Dick.

"Hake, sir," he said to Mr Temple. "Right good fish, sir, cooked anyhow; and I say as good as cod."

"How came that to be in a mackerel shoal?" said Mr Temple.

"Hungry, sir, I should say," replied Josh. "They generally follows the herring and pilchards, and snatch 'em as they're coming into the nets. I s'pose this one wanted a bit o' mackerel for a treat."

"About nine pounds, sir, I should say," said Will. "You'd like to keep it for dinner?"

"Is it good enough?" said Mr Temple smiling.

"Good enough, sir!" cried Will. "Oh, yes! People don't know what a good fish hake is, or they'd oftener want it in London. There's another fish that isn't a mackerel, Master Dick. What should you say that is?"

"Don't know," said Dick, looking at a curious pale-green mottled fish of two or three pounds weight. It was something like a perch in shape, but longer and more regular, and unprovided with the sharp back fin.

"Do you know what it is, papa?" asked Arthur.

"No, my boy, I am not learned in these west-country fishes. What is it, my man?"

"It's a rock-fish, sir, that must have lost its way, for they are not often caught away from the rock," replied Will. "It's the wrasse, sir; some of them are very brightly coloured."

"'Tain't," said Josh gruffly. "What do you want to tell the gentleman wrong for? It's a wraagh, sir—a curner."

"They call them wraaghs or curners, sir," explained Will, colouring a little; "but the name in the natural history's wrasse."

"Then nat'ral history's wrong," said Josh, in an ill-used way. "A mussy me! as if I didn't know what a wraagh was."

"Want any squid, Josh?" cried one of the fishermen.

"Ay, hand 'em over," said Josh. "They'll do for bait."

"Got three of 'em," said the man, dashing his great landing-net about in the water for some reason that Dick did not understand, and directly after three curious looking, long, slender creatures of the cuttle-fish tribe were in Dick's net, and he was just drawing them in when—spatter!—one of them discharged a shower of black inky fluid, a good deal of which fell upon Arthur's trousers, and filled him with disgust.

"Bang 'em 'bout a bit in the water, Master Richard, sir," cried Josh. "He didn't half give it 'em; p'r'aps neither of the others arn't made their cloud."

Instructed by Will, Dick splashed the net down in the water, with the result that it became discoloured with a black cloud, another of these curious looking creatures not having discharged its ink.

"Penanink fish, we calls 'em," said Josh laughing, and turning away his face, for he could not help enjoying the disgust shown by Arthur.

"Make capital bait, Master Richard," said Will, carefully storing the squid away in the locker of the boat.

"Here's some cuttle for you too," shouted Pollard; and this time a couple of cuttle-fish were passed on; but before they reached the boat, taught by experience, Arthur carefully got behind his father, making him a shield against the inky shower which did not come.

As soon as it was safe he emerged, though, and eagerly stood looking on as Dick and his father examined the curious creatures, which looked like soft bags, with so many sucker-covered arms hanging out all ready to seize upon the first hapless fish that came their way, and drag them to their mouths.

"What! is that its mouth?" cried Arthur. "It looks just like a parrot's beak."

It was a good comparison, for there is great similarity between them.

The short tentacles and the two longer ones, with which the cuttle is provided, were duly examined, and then they, murderers as they were of all things that came to their net, were condemned to be eaten in turn.

"Which is only fair, is it, father?" said Dick laughing.

"Quite fair, Dick," he replied. "It seems to be the law of the sea; every fish eats those less than itself and gets eaten in its turn. The only thing with them is, that each one has some chance for its life, and lives as long as it can."

"I see once a very rum kind of a squid," said Josh, who, while the mackerel catching went on and no more curiosities were turned out, seemed disposed to be communicative. "Reg'lar great one he was, at low water out Lizard way."

"Octopus, perhaps," said Mr Temple.

"No, sir—sort o' squid-like, only very different. He was just like a dirty bag with eight arms hanging away from it, all covered like with suckers, and there was two great ugly eyes."

"It was an octopus from your description, my man," said Mr Temple.

"Was it now?" said Josh. "Well, I shouldn't wonder, for it was a horrid gashly thing, and when I saw it first it was sitting in a pool of clear water, with a rock hanging over it, looking at me with its big eyes, and filling itself full of water and blowing it out."

"How large was it?"

"'Bout as big as a bladder buoy, sir, with long arms all round twissening and twining about like snakes; and when I made up my mind that whether it come out and bit me or whether it didn't, I'd stir it up, and I poked at it with a stick, if it didn't shut itself up like and shoot through the water like an umbrella."

"Undoubtedly an octopus," said Mr Temple; "that is its habit."

"Is it now?" said Josh. "Well, I shouldn't have thought it. Seemed queer like for a thing with eight long legs to go zizzling through the water like a shut-up umbrella."

"Did you catch it?" said Dick.

"No, Master Ritchard, sir, I didn't ketch it, only poked at it like with a stick, for it didn't seem good to eat, and it wasn't the sort of thing you'd care to put in your pocket, even if you'd got one big enough, so I left it alone."

"I've heard that they grow very large in the neighbourhood of Jersey," said Mr Temple.

"Do they, though?" said Josh. "Well, they're gashly things, and I don't want to know any more of 'em. Squid and cuttle do very well for us 'bout here."

"Squid, as you call them, are found of immense size in the cold seas towards and in the Arctic circle, large enough, they say, to upset a boat."

"Then I'm glad this is not the Arctic circle," cried Dick. "Only fancy having one of those things picking you out of a boat! Ugh!"

He glanced at his brother and then laughed, for Arthur was looking rather white.

"What say?" roared Josh as loud as he could to a man in a boat close by.

"Gashly great fish in the net," shouted back the man.

"Gashly great fish in the net?" roared Josh.

"Ay; gashly great fish in the net. Mick Polynack see um while ago."

After a few inquiries it was found that the men believed that the great seine had been drawn round some large fish, possibly a shark, and the excitement was great when, after emptying the tuck net, it was gathered in and the great seine drawn closer.

This took a long time, but it was effected at last, the space inclosed being reduced to less than half the former size, and once more the busy scene went on, the mackerel being caught by hundreds, counted into baskets, tied down, and sent off; but though its appearance was eagerly looked for, no sign was given of the presence of the big fish, whatever it might be. More bass were found, and scad, and gurnard, and a long, thin, cod-fish-looking fellow was drawn napping and splashing from the sea, proving to be a ling. Then there was quite a sight of a little shoal of gar-fish or long-nose, which played about the top of the water for some time here and there in a state of excitement; and then there was a splashing and flashing, and one after the other they threw themselves over the cork-line and escaped to the open bay.

"What a pity!" cried Arthur.

"Oh! not much, sir. We don't care a very great deal for 'em down here."

More squid, a cuttle or two, and several other fish of the varieties previously taken; and still, as if the supply was inexhaustible, the mackerel were ladled out as if from a huge basin with the great landing-nets.

"There don't seem to be any big fish here," said Dick at last in disappointed tones, for he had lost all interest in smaller fry since he had heard the announcement of there being something larger inclosed in the net.

"I should say it was a shark," said Josh quietly, "he lies so quiet at the bottom."

The word shark was electrical, and sent a thrill of excitement through the little party.

"But have you sharks off this coast, my man?" asked Mr Temple.

"Not a great few, sir; but we sees one now and then, and times we hear of one being ketched."

"You mean dog-fish," said Mr Temple.

"Oh no! I don't, sir," cried Josh. "Real sharks."

"But only small ones."

"Yes, sir, small ones, big as Will there, and big ones, great as me, and three foot longer. Shouldn't wonder if there was a big one in the net."

"But a large fish such as you speak of would go through the net as if it were a cobweb."

Will shook his head.

"If the net was tight, sir, and the shark swam right at it, the meshes would give way; but they don't seem to swim right at them, and the net goes with the fish like—yields to it—and does not break. It does sometimes, of course; but we've seen a big fish, a porpoise, regularly rolled up in a net and tied in so that it couldn't move."

"Like a conger in a trammel," assented Josh. "Fish is very stoopid, sir, and never thinks of getting out the way they go in."

All this while the seine was being contracted and drawn into the boat, where it was laid up like some gigantic brown skein, the men who were gathering it in shaking out the sea-weed and small fish that had enmeshed themselves and had forced their unfortunate heads in beyond the gills.

"Here she be," shouted one of the men, as there was a tremendous swirl in the water close by a boat.

"All right!" said the captain of the seine, "we'll have her bime-by;" and once more the collecting of the mackerel went on till the tremendous shoal that had been inclosed had exchanged places, and was pretty well all in the baskets that were still being rapidly despatched. And all this time the net had been more and more contracted, the bottom worked by the ropes, so that it was drawn closer and closer, and at last it was decided that the next thing to be done was to capture the large fish, whatever it was, and this they set about, as shall be told.



Long usage had made the principal fishermen who lived by seine-fishing and trawling as thoroughly acquainted with the bottom of the bay as if they could see it like a piece of land. Every rock and its position was in their mind's eye, every patch of sand and bed of stone, so that they had no difficulty in getting the net in closer and closer towards one side of the bay, where it formed a broad sandy slope, up which it was determined to draw the net, gradually opening the ends, or rather one end, the other being packed deeply down in the seine-boat.

This was done, the small boats being rowed out of the circle of corks, and one going to the free end of the net, while the others, with Uncle Abram's and its load, going to the back of the net, about the middle, so that the visitors might have a good view.

All this took time; but at last the net was so managed that the two seine-boats were ashore, their stems run right on the sands, and the net between them formed a bow towards the coast, the ends being about eighty or ninety yards apart.

There was no mistake now about there being some large fish inclosed; and the excitement of the boys grew intense when they saw Josh take hold of the hitcher, and hold it, spear-fashion, ready to attack the great fish should he see a chance.

"Don't strike at her, Josh," shouted Pollard, "unless she be coming over. I think we can manage her easy enough now."

He was quite right, for long custom had made these men wonderfully clever in the management of a net, which, fragile in its single threads, becomes, in its combination of thousands of meshes, an engine of tremendous power.

The way the men managed was as follows:—

After getting, as it were, the two ends of the net to the shore, they drew on the lower rope, bringing it in, and in, over the sand, till the bow it made was less bent. Then they served the upper rope the same. Then they drew both together, with the result that at last the tremendously extensive net was folded longwise right over upon itself, the top-line was drawn right down upon the foot-line, and at last the fish left in the net were completely shut in what seemed like an enormous old-fashioned purse.

This done, the ends were taken by plenty of willing hands right into shallow water, and as the men hauled, the great purse came closer and closer, and every now and then there was a tremendous agitation towards the middle.

"Let's go ashore, now," said Arthur, as Josh urged the boat on, and the water swirled up tremendously not four yards away.

"Is there any danger—any risk?" said Mr Temple quietly to Josh.

"A mussy me! no, sir; not a bit!" said Josh; and then laughing, he added, "only for shark, sir, of having his liver boiled down for oil."

"Oh! don't I wish I had a spear, or a harpoon!" cried Dick excitedly, as once more the water was churned up and the net came to the surface.

"We'll get her without any o' that tackle, Master Dick, sir," cried Josh, keeping steadily advancing after the cork-line, but not so quickly as to go over the net.

"Are they going to draw the net right ashore, Will?" said Dick.

"Right ashore, Master Dick, on to the sands, and it won't be long now."

"Take care, Dick, or you'll be overboard!" said Mr Temple.

"I should like to be, father; it isn't deep here?"

"Fathom!" said Josh shortly; "soon be half."

There was a regular sing-song kept up by the men who were hauling, and the sands presented quite an exciting scene, for some sixty or seventy of the men who had finished their task, with others who were ashore and not busy, had collected to see the big fish taken in the seine.

"Why, there must be lots of fish in it yet," said Dick.

"Yes; plenty of mackerel left, and a many fish perhaps such as you never saw before."

"Is she heavy, lads?" shouted the captain of the seine-boat.

"Ay, there be a sag o' fish in her yet aside the great un," was shouted back.

"Steady, then! steady! and don't break the seine. Take your time!"

"Hadn't we better get ashore?" cried Dick; "we shall see better."

"No!" said Mr Temple; "I think our friend Josh is right. We are out of the way of the men here and dry. Look, boys, look! there is something big in the net indeed!"

For as he was speaking there was a tremendous commotion, the water was splashed up, and for a moment it seemed as if whatever caused the disturbance had escaped.

But it was not so, though the limits of its prison were growing narrower minute by minute as the ends of the net were gathered on to the sand, and laid at the water's edge like a great soft ridge of brown sea-weed.

The curve of the net was now reduced to fifty feet, and soon it was not above forty; and at this stage of the proceedings what with the weight being collected in such narrow limits, and the water being so shallow, the captain became doubtful of its bearing so tremendous a strain as would be caused by its being hauled bodily ashore, so about twenty men waded in behind the great bag that it formed, and at the word of command as two parties hauled at either end they stooped down, and gathering up a fair quantity of the tightened net in their hands, they too helped, and the thirty or forty feet of shallow water was soon covered, the seine being dragged so that the lead or bottom-line was drawn right on to dry land, and the cork-line raised so that there was a fence of net some three feet above the top of the water, and in the long shallow pool, whose bottom was net, there were the fish by the thousand, rushing to and fro, leaping over each other, and showing flashes of silver, gold, blue, and green, in the bright sun as it shone on the animated scene.

"Bring up some more pads!" cried the captain of the seine; "here be five or six hundred more mackerel. Hand me that boat-hook, my lad, and stand aside. Keep off the net there, you boys!"

Dick realised now the advantage of his position as Josh thrust the boat right up to the net, and he could look down at the crowded fish, some of which began to turn up fast now, killed by the pressure, and the sandy thickness of the water.

But the sight of sights was a long bluish-grey fish that kept slowly forcing itself here and there amongst the silvery crowd, keeping its head well beneath the water, and now and then showing a long, thin, unequally-lobed tail.

"Shark she be, sure enough," said Josh.

"Ay, shark!" said the captain, advancing, boat-hook in hand; "time her mischief was stopped."

"Do they do mischief?" whispered Dick to Will. "No; never mind now; I can't listen to you!"

The scene was too full of interest, for it was evident that the captain meant to hook hold of the shark, and draw it on to the sands before anything else was done.

But this did not prove a very easy task, for the great fish kept diving under the companions of its adversity, and keeping its head boring down towards the bottom.

If it had been a question of catching it by the tail there would have been no difficulty in getting a chance. In fact, several times over a thin line with a noose might have been thrown over the lobes and the fish drawn out; but the captain had made up his mind to get the boat-hook well in the creature's jaws or gills and drag it ashore that fashion, while, when at last he did get a chance he missed, the hook gliding over the shining skin without taking hold.

Twice he missed like this, and it took some time before he could get another chance; but at last it came, and as, full of excitement, the occupants of the boat bent over the side, there was a quick lunge, and a tremendous splashing as the captain ran nimbly up the sands, dragging after him the long bluish fish, which was immediately attacked as it lay on the sands lashing about with its tail, and throwing its head from side to side till the knife-thrusts it received, and the violent blows across the back of the head, disabled it, and its course was at an end.

"I only wonder, sir, as she didn't bite her way out of the net," said the captain of the seine, as Mr Temple and his sons landed to have a look at the take:

"It is a shark, then?" said Mr Temple.

"Ay, sir, she be a blue shark, sure enough. Look at her teeth! Mischievous brutes; they follow the drift-nets, and bite the herring and pilchard out of 'em. I've known 'em swallow a conger when it's been hooked, and I've seen small ones caught that way, but they generally bite through the line and go off. Look, sir, there's teeth—sharp as lancets."

As he spoke he thrust the end of the boat-hook between the shark's jaws, and wrenched them open for the party to see.

"I say, though, Mr Pollard," said Dick.

"Cap'n Pollard, if you wouldn't mind, young gentleman," said the great bluff Cornishman, smiling at Dick.

"Captain Pollard," said Dick, "do these sharks ever attack a man or a boy when bathing?"

"Never heerd o' such a thing," said the captain; "but the mischief they do to a fisherman's craft, sir, is something terrible—lines, nets, fish—they destroy everything. Like to take the shark home with you, sir?"

"No, thank you!" cried Mr Temple, shaking his head; "no sharks, thank you!"

"You're welcome, if you like, sir," said the captain; "but if you don't care for her, I'll send her to London to my salesman, and he'll show her as a cur'osity."

"Eight feet long exactly," said Mr Temple, who had been measuring it.

"Be she, though?" said the captain, "well, it be eight foot o' mischief well put out of the way, and that's a good day's work."

They stopped looking at the long thin shark for some minutes, Dick thinking that it was not so very much unlike a dog-fish after all, and then they turned back to the net, which was being rapidly emptied, the mackerel that were left being quickly counted out into baskets and tied down, those obtained now forming what Dick would have considered quite a good take.

But there were plenty of other fish, though none were very small, the size of the meshes being sufficiently large to allow of their escape. There was one more large hake, and quite a little shoal of red bream, chad, as Will called them. Several dog-fish were there too, and some more squid. The fish, however, that most took the attention of the boys now were about a score of red mullet, and half as many more of the grey, very different fish, though, the one being as gorgeous in its scarlet tints as the other was plain, silvery, and grey.

At last, after a most interesting examination of the different captures, the net was declared and proved to be empty, the damaged fish it contained being thrown out upon the sands, where the waves of the flowing tide kept curling over them, and sweeping the refuse away, to be snapped up by the shoals of hungry fish that came up the bay, the thousands that had been captured that morning being as nothing in the immensity of the ocean population.

"Home?" said Dick suddenly, as Mr Temple said something about going. "Of course. Why, we haven't had our dinner!"

"What is for dinner, I wonder?" said Arthur.

"For one thing, fish," said Mr Temple, "for your friend Will went to the inn an hour ago with a basket of the best; so let's go and see if they are done."



"Father," cried Dick, bursting into the room where Mr Temple was busy with weights, scales, test-tubes, a lamp, and blow-pipe, trying the quality of some metals—"father, here's Will Marion and Mr Marion's man Josh come to see if we'd like to go with them to-night conger-fishing."


"Yes; they won't bite very well of a day. He knows a place where—"

"Who is he?" said Mr Temple.

"I mean Will, father; he knows of a place where the congers are plentiful, and Josh says he'll take the greatest care of us."

"Whom do you mean by us?" said Mr Temple.

"Arthur and me, father. Taff wants to go very badly."

"I hardly know what to say, Dick," said Mr Temple thoughtfully. "Last time you came to grief, and had a narrow escape."

"Oh, but that isn't likely to occur again, father!" said Dick. "It would be such a treat, too."

"Humph! what am I to do, my boy—coddle you up, and keep you always under my eye; or give you a little latitude, and trust to your discretion to take care of yourself and your brother?"

"Give me a little latitude, father—and longitude too," added Dick with a laugh in his eye.

"Well, I will, Dick; but you must be very careful, my lad, especially of Arthur."

"Oh, but Taff is such a solemn old gentleman with his stick-up collar and his cane that he ought to take care of me, father!"

"Perhaps he ought," said Mr Temple; "but I tell you to take care of him."

"All right, father! I will."

"By the way, Dick, that lad Marion seems a very decent fellow."

"Decent, father! Why, he's a splendid chap. He has rough hands and wears fisherman's clothes and does hard work, but he has been to a big grammar-school in Devonshire somewhere, and he knows a deal more Greek than I do, and quite as much Latin."


"Yes, that he does. It made Arthur stare, for he was coming the great man over Will Marion, and being very condescending."

"Yes, it is a way Master Arthur has," muttered Mr Temple frowning.

"I said to Taff that he ought not to, but he would. I like Will Marion. Josh says he'll be owner of a lot of fishing-boats and nets some day when his uncle dies; but he says Will thinks he would like to make his own way in the world, and that it is very foolish of him."

"Oh, that's what Josh thinks, is it?"

"Yes, father."

"And what do you think?"

"That a lad ought to be independent and try and fight his own way in the world. I mean to."

"That's right, my boy. Keep to that text and you will succeed. You may have a good many downfalls first, but sooner or later you will get on. There, go away now. I'm busy testing ere."

"Can I help you, father?"

"No, my lad, no. Not now. There, be off, and don't get into any mischief."

"No, father. And about the conger-fishing?"

"If you will take great care you may go."


"But stop. Tell that man Josh that I hold him responsible for taking care of you."

"Yes, father," cried Dick. "Hooray!" he whispered as he darted out of the room, and came so suddenly upon Arthur that he sent him backwards into a sitting position.

Arthur sat looking petrified with pain and astonishment, cane in one hand, a book in the other. Then starting up as Dick offered him his hand laughingly, saying, "I'm very sorry, Taff!" Arthur raised his cane and struck his brother viciously across the shoulder a regular stinging cut, while, smarting with the pain, Dick struck back at him, and gave him so severe a blow in the cheek that Arthur this time measured his length on the floor.

"Quiet, you boys, quiet!" said Mr Temple angrily, as he opened his door. "Go and play down on the shore."

Dick's anger evaporated on the instant, and was succeeded by a feeling of mingled shame and sorrow.

"Oh, I am sorry, Taff!" he said, helping his brother to rise. "You shouldn't have hit me, though. If anybody hurts me like that I'm sure to hit out again."

Arthur did not answer till they were outside, and then he turned viciously upon his brother.

"You're a regular coward," he cried, "to strike a blow like that."

"I didn't say you were a coward for beginning it," said Dick sharply. "You struck the first blow. Never mind, let's shake hands. It's all over now."

Arthur turned his back and went away, switching his cane as he walked towards the upper part of the village, while, after stopping to gaze after him for a few minutes, Dick sighed, and strolled down to his favourite post, the pier, to tell Will Marion that he had obtained leave for the fishing, and to ask what time they were to start.

"I wish I hadn't hit Taff," he said to himself dolefully; "but he knows how savage it makes me if I'm hurt. I wish I hadn't hit him, though, all the same."

The regret was vain: he could not take back the blow, and his forehead wrinkled up and his spirit felt depressed as he went on.

"Poor old Taff!" he said to himself. "I don't think he's so strong as I am, and that makes him ill-tempered. And I'd been promising father that I'd take care of him; and then I've got such a brutal temper that I go and begin knocking him about.—Oh, I wish I wasn't so hot and peppery! It's too bad, that it is.

"I suppose we sha'n't go conger-fishing now," he said gloomily. "Taff won't care to go.

"Yes, he will," he said after a few minutes' pause. "I'll tell him at dinner-time I'm very sorry; and then we shall make it up, and it will be all right! Why, hallo! there he is going down to the boats. He must have been round the other way. I'll bet a penny he heard what I said to father about the fishing, or else he has seen Will."

The latter was the more correct surmise, though Arthur had also heard his father give his consent.

"Hi! Taff!" shouted Dick; but his brother did not turn his head, stalking straight down to the pier and getting to where Will and Josh were at work preparing their tackle for the night's fishing.

"I'm very sorry, Taff," said Dick humbly. "I hope I did not hurt you much."

Arthur made no reply, but began to speak to Will.

"Papa has given me leave to go with you," he said; "but I don't think I should care about being out so late."

"Better come, sir," said Josh. "It will be rare sport. I know about the best place along our bay, and it hasn't been fished for six months, has it, Will?"

"Nine months, quite," said Will. "Yes, you had better come, sir."

"He's hoping I won't go," said Arthur to himself; "and Dick hopes I won't go; but I will go just out of spite, to let them see that I'm not going to let them have all their own way."

"Oh, he'll come," said Dick, "and you'll give him some good sport, won't you? He hasn't had any fishing since we've been down here. And I say, Josh, my father says he shall hold you responsible. No getting us run down this time."

"Not I," said Josh. "I'll have a lantern hoisted as we row back, and no boats will come where we are fishing; it's too rocky."

"Let's see the lines," said Dick eagerly. "Oh, I say, what a hook! It's too big."

"Not it," said Will. "Congers have big mouths, and they're very strong."

"What time shall we get back?"

"'Bout ten, sir," said Josh, "and start at half-past five. We'll have everything ready."

Arthur turned to go directly after; and though Dick was anxious to stay he was more eager to make friends with his brother, and he followed him, to have his apology accepted at last, but not in the most amiable of ways.

The fact is Arthur would have held out longer, but he could not do so without jeopardising the evening trip, upon which he had set his mind.

His was a singular state of mind, for although filled with an intense longing, this was balanced by a curious sensation of dread, consequent upon his somewhat nervous temperament, which is a roundabout way of saying that he was afraid.

The idea of going right away, as it seemed to him, at night over the dark water to fish by the light of a lanthorn was startling, and sent a curious shiver through him; but at the same time it attracted him with a strange fascination that forced him to keep to his determination of being one of the party, as often as his old timidity made him disposed to say he would stay at home.

"And if I did, Dick would laugh at me. But he shall not this time."

So he kept up a distant manner towards his brother for the rest of the day, playing grand and pardoning him, as he said to himself, by degrees, so that after an early tea, when they had started together they were pretty good friends.

"I am glad you are going, Taff," said Dick in his buoyant way. "I shall ask Josh to take special care of you."

"I beg that you will do nothing of the sort," said Arthur haughtily. "I daresay I can take care of myself."

Arthur drew himself up as he said this, and stalked along rather grandly; and of course he might dare to say that he could take care of himself: but saying and doing are two very different things, and the probabilities are that if he had known what conger-fishing meant, he would not have gone.



It was close upon half-past five, and all Will's preparations had been made. Lines of strong cord with hooks bound up the snooding with brass wire were on their winders. There was a tub half full of tasty pilchards—damaged ones fresh out of a late boat that had come in that afternoon. There was another tub full of much more damaged pilchards— all pounded up for ground bait.

In fact nothing had been forgotten; even three oilskins had been lashed, in the stern ready for the visitors in case it should rain.

"I say," said Josh, "how about the young gent? I mean him Master Dick calls Taff?"

"Well, what about him?" said Will.

"Won't he be scared when we gets a conger over the side."

"I never thought of that," said Will musingly. "Oh! I should think not."

"'Cause we shall be in a gashly pickle if we haul in a big one, and she scares the youngster out of the boat."

"We must kill them at once," said Will.

"Yes; it's all very well to say kill 'em at once," grumbled Josh; "but you know what a gashly thing a big conger is to kill."

"Yes; he won't lie still and be killed sometimes," said Will laughing. "Ah! well, perhaps we sha'n't catch any at all."

"Oh, yes! we shall, and gashly big uns too. Hadn't we better leave young Arthur behind—'tother won't be feared?"

"No; it's too late now," said Will. "Here they are;" for just then the brothers came along the pier, and after Arthur had stepped in rather a dignified way down into the boat, Dick leaped in and insisted upon taking an oar.

The boat was pushed off at once, and while Will and Dick were rowing Josh had to answer Arthur Temple's questions.

"Are those the lines?" he said, gazing at them curiously.

"Yes, sir; and we've got some oilskin aprons for you to put on, so as you sha'n't get wet."

"Aprons!" cried Arthur aghast.

"Yes, sir; they be good uns too."

"I shall not put on an apron," was upon Arthur's lips, but he did not say it; and just then his attention was taken by a short thick truncheon, with a curious notch or fork at the handle end.

"What's that for?"

"Little end's disgorger," said Josh; "t'other's to knock the congers down with."

"To knock the congers down!" cried Arthur aghast.

"Yes, when we get hold of a big one. They're gashly strong, sir."

"Why, how big are they?" cried Arthur.

"Five foot, six foot, seven foot sometimes," said Josh coolly.

Arthur's first thought was to say, "Here, take me back;" but he caught his brother's eye, and suppressed the words.

"I—I did not know they were so big as that," he faltered, though he tried to say it with firmness and a show of resolve.

"They run big, sir, off our coast, and we get some gashly fellows, often," said Josh innocently; "but you see, big as they are, men's stronger, and boys too. Why, our Will would tackle any conger as ever swam about a rock. Takes hold of disgorger like this, you know, and gives one on the head, and that quiets 'em while we get the hook out."

"With—with the disgorger?" said Arthur.

"That's it, Master Taff," said Josh.

"My name is Arthur—Arthur Temple," said the boy haughtily.

"'Course it is, sir; I ought to have known," said Josh. "It was along of Master Dick, there, calling you by t'other name. As I was saying," he continued hastily, "Will there gives them a tap with the disgorger, and then holds them under his boot, runs this here down till it touches the hook where they've swallowed it, takes a turn or two of the line round the handle and twists the hook out."

"Why don't you take the hook out properly—the same as I should from a fish?"

"What—with your fingers, sir?"

"Of course."

"A mussy me!" said Josh. "Why, don't you know how a conger can bite?"

"Bite! No," said Arthur, turning pale. "Can they bite?"

"Bite!" cried Josh. "Why, love your heart, young gentleman, look ye here. See this?"

He held up one of the hooks at the end of the conger-line and showed the boy that not only was it very large, and tied on strong cord with a swivel or two, but it was bound from the shank some distance up the line with brass wire.

"Yes, I can see it," said Arthur, "of course. Isn't it too big? A fish would not take a great awkward thing like that in its mouth."

"Won't it?" said Josh laughing. "But it will if you put a pilchar' on it. That there wire as is run round the line is to keep the congers from biting it in two."

"Oh! but, Josh, a conger wouldn't bite through a line like that, would he?" cried Dick as he tugged at his oar.

"Just as easy, sir, as you would through a bit o' cotton after you'd sewed a button on your shirt."

"Why, they must be regular nippers!" cried Dick.

"Nippers, sir? Why, they go at a big dead fish if it's lying in the water, take a good mouthful, and then set their long bodies and tails to work, and spin round and round like a gimlet or a ship augur, and bore the piece right out."

"Oh! I say, Josh, don't you know! He's making that story up, isn't he, Will?"

"No," said Will seriously; "it is quite true. Congers have a way of spinning themselves round like that. Don't you see those swivels on the line?"

"Yes," said Dick, "I see 'em."

"That's because the congers spin round so. If we did not use swivels they'd twist the line all in a tangle before you could get them out."

"Why, they're regular sea-serpents," said Dick.

"Well, no," said Josh; "they ain't so big as sea-sarpents, because they say they're hundreds o' yards long. I never see one, but I've heerd say so; but congers will bite and no mistake. I had one ketch me by the boot once, and he bit right through the leather."

All this while they were rowing farther and farther from the shore, on about as lovely an evening as it was possible to imagine, and the warm glow of the sunshine prevented Arthur's face from looking ghastly white.

He felt that he must beg of them to turn back directly—that he dared not go farther; and yet there was a greater fear still to keep him silent. If he begged of them to row back they would laugh at him for a coward, and he could not bear this.

"Fishing!" he thought; why, it was like going to attack some horrible pack of sea-monsters in their rocky fastnesses; and instead of being dressed in flannels, he felt that he ought to be clothed in complete armour. Why, if a conger could bite through a line, what would he think of flannel trousers? And if one got tight hold of his flesh, what would be the consequences?

Arthur sat there with his mouth dry and his eyes staring as, in imagination, he saw one of the great slimy creatures twisting itself round and round, and cutting a great piece out of one of his legs; and it was all he could do to keep from shuddering with fear.

And all the while there was Dick with a red face, and his hat stuck right at the back of his head, tugging away at his oar, and smiling at all Josh said.

"I must try and be as brave as Dick is," Arthur said to himself; and forcing his teeth firmly together, he began to plan in his own mind what he would do if Dick caught a conger. He would have his penknife ready in his hand, and pretend to help pull in the line; and while he was doing this he would cut it and the monster would swim away.

"Don't you be scared about the congers, Master Taffarthur, sir," said Josh kindly. "They be gashly ugly things to tackle sometimes, but—"

"I'm not afraid," said Arthur indignantly.

"Not you, sir. Why should you be?" said Josh. "We can manage them. A big one has a nasty way of his own of getting loose in the boat and wriggling himself all about under the thwarts—"

Arthur involuntarily began to draw up his legs, as he felt as if one were already loose in the bottom of the boat.

"But just you look ye here," continued Josh, opening the little locker in the stern of the boat. "This is how I serves the big jockeys who'd be likely to give any trouble. I just give them a cut behind the head with this little fellow, and then they lie quiet enough."

As he spoke he showed Arthur a little axe with a very small head, and an edge as keen as a knife.

"That's too much for congers," added Josh.

"I say, how cruel to the poor things!" said Dick laughingly; but Josh took it in the most serious way.

"Well, I have thought that 'bout the gashly conger, Master Dick, sir," said Josh; "but I don't know as it be. You see, they're caught, and it puts 'em out of their misery, like, at once."

"But it's cruel to catch them," said Dick.

Josh scratched his head.

"A mussy me, Master Dick, sir! that's a thing as has puzzled me lots o' times when I've been hooking and killing fish; but then, you see, it's for victuals, and everybody's got to live."

"So have the fish," laughed Dick.

"So they have, sir; but you see here, I catches and kills a conger, or a pollack, or a gurnet, or a bass. Suppose I hadn't killed it—what then?"

"Why, it would be swimming about in the sea as happy as could be."

"Yes, Master Dick, sir; but what else would it be doing?"

"Basking in the sunshine, Josh."

"P'r'aps so, sir; but, a mussy me! he'd be chasing and hunting and eating hundreds of little fish every day; so you see if I catches one big one, I saves hundreds of little ones' lives."

"I never thought of that," said Dick.

"Josh and I have often talked about it," said Will seriously. "It seems cruel to catch and kill things; but they are always catching and killing others, and every bird and fish you see here is as cruel as can be. There goes a cormorant; he'll be swimming and diving all day long catching fish, so will the shags; and all those beautiful grey-and-white gulls you can see on the rock there, live upon the fish they catch on the surface of the water."

"Then if we keep the congers from catching and killing other fishes and eating them, why, it's being very kind, and isn't cruel at all," said Dick merrily; and then he sent a cold chill down his brother's spine by saying, "Let's look sharp and catch all the big ones we can."

"Now, you two take a rest," said Josh, "and I'll put her along a bit;" and changing places with the rowers, Josh handled the oars with such effect that in about half an hour they were approaching a tall mass of rock that had seemed at a distance to be part of the cliff-line, but which the visitors could now see to be quite a quarter of a mile from where the waves were beating the shore.



"Why, Will," cried Dick, "it is quite an island. Oh, Taff, look at the birds!"

"We don't call a rock like that an island," said Will quietly, as the boys watched a cloud of gulls that had been disturbed by their approach, and new screaming and uttering peevish querulous cries above their heads. The top of the rock, which was sixty or seventy feet above the water, was quite white with guano, and every ledge of the perpendicular mass seemed to be the home of the sea-birds which had been perched there in rows, looking almost like pigeons till the near approach of the boat had sent them off.

"How long would it take to row round?" said Arthur, who, in the novelty of the scene, forgot all about the conger.

"Two minutes if you could go close in," said Josh; "ten minutes, because you have to dodge in and out among the rocks which lie out all round."

"And from the Mew Rock to the shore yonder," added Will.

"Yes," said Josh; "it's all rock about here, just a fathom or two under water, and a bad place for boots."

"Then why did you come in your boat?" cried Arthur excitedly.

"I don't mean little boots in fine weather, sir, I mean big boots in foul," replied Josh, rowing steadily away. "This here's the place where we wanted to come, and I'm going to take you to a hole like with rocks all round it, a hole as goes down seven or eight fathom, and the congers swarm in the holes all about here, as you'll see."

Arthur's hand tightened on the boat, and his dread made him feel almost ill; but he struggled with the nervous feeling manfully, though he dared not trust himself to speak.

And all the while Josh rowed steadily on till he was skirting round the edge of the perpendicular mass of rock about whose base the waves foamed and fretted, as if weary with their efforts at trying to wash it down. The birds squealed and hissed, and now and then one uttered a doleful wail as it swept here and there, showing its pearly grey breast and the delicate white feathers beneath its wings.

"Do you ever shoot these birds, Will?" said Dick, lying back so as to stare up at the gulls as they floated so easily by.

"Shoot them! Oh, no! The fishermen here never harm them; they're such good friends."

"Why?" said Arthur.

"They show us where the fish are," replied Will. "We can see them with the glass miles away, flapping about over a shoal of little ones, and darting down and feeding on them; and where they are feeding, big fish are sure to be feeding on the shoal as well."

"Then I shouldn't like to be a shoal of little fish," cried Dick. "Why, as the clown said in the pantomime, 'it would be dangerous to be safe.' I wonder there are any small fish left."

"There are so many of them," said Will laughing; "thousands and millions of them; so many sometimes in a shoal that they could not be counted, and—"

"Stand by with the killick, m'lad," cried Josh, as he paddled slowly now, with his eyes fixed first on one landmark, then on another.

"Ready," said Will, clearing the line, and raising a great stone, to which the rope was fast, on to the edge of the boat.

"Drop her atop of the little rock as I say when," growled Josh.

"Right," answered back Will.

Josh backed the boat a few yards; and as Dick and his brother gazed over the stem they were looking down into black water one moment and then they glided over a pale-green rock flecked with brown waving weeds.

"When!" cried Josh.


The big stone went over the side on to the rock, which seemed pretty level, and then as the line ran over the stern Josh began to row once more, and the boat glided over the sharp edge of the rock and into black water once more that seemed of tremendous depth.

"Now, forrard, my lad," said Josh; and Will passed him and took his place right in the bows.

Here a similar process was gone through.

After rowing slowly about thirty yards Josh stopped.

"That ought to do it," he said. "She won't come no further. Over with it."

Will was standing up now in the bows swinging a grapnel to and fro, and after letting it sway three or four times he launched it from him, and it fell with a splash a score of yards away, taking with it another line, upon which when Dick hauled he found that the grapnel was fast in a rugged mass of rock like that which they had just left; and with grapnel and killick at either end of the boat, they were anchored, as Josh pointed out, right in the middle of the deep hole.

"You can find rocks all round us," he said, "on which you could have pitched the killick, and they all go straight down like the side of house or like that there Mew Rock where the birds are."

There was something awe-inspiring in the place, for the boat was in the shadow of the Mew Rock, behind which lay the sun, hastening to his rest, his ruddy beams streaming now on either side of what looked like a rugged black tower standing against a blazing sky, and for the moment even Dick felt oppressed by the solemnity and beauty of the scene.

Away across the head of the bay lay the fishing village from which they had come, with its lattice-windows glittering and flashing in the sunshine, which gilded the luggers that were slowly stealing out to the fishing-ground miles away. Some of them were urged forward by long oars so as to get them beyond the shelter of the land, and into the range of the soft breeze that was rippling the bay far out, though where the fishing party lay the heaving sea, save where it broke upon the rocks, was as smooth as glass.

"Now, young gentlemen," said Josh quietly, "congers is queer customers; sometimes they'll bite."

Arthur shivered.

"Sometimes they won't. I think to-night we shall ketch some."

"Two lines out, eh, Josh?" said Will.

"Ay, two's enough," replied the fisherman; "let the young gents ketch 'em, and we'll do the gawfing and unhooking. You 'tend Master Dickard there; I'll 'tend Master Taffarthur, and let's see who'll get first fish. Starboard's our side, port's yourn."

As he spoke he nodded knowingly to Arthur and took out his knife, seized a pilchard, cut off its head, and split the fish partly up towards the tail and extracted the backbone, so that it was in two flaps. Then taking the large hook, he passed it in at the tail, drew the pilchard carefully up the shank, and then held up the hook for Arthur to see, with the broad flaps hanging down on either side of the curve and barbed point.

"There," he said, "Mr Conger Eel, Esquire, won't notice that there's a hook in that nice tasty bit of pilchar'. He'll take it for his supper, and to-morrow he'll make conger pie. Now, are you ready?"

"Yes," cried Arthur, making an effort to master his dread.

"Right, then," cried Josh; "lift the lead there over the side, and I'll drop in the bait, and we shall have no tangle."

Arthur lifted a heavy piece of lead of the shape of a long egg cut down through its long diameter and attached by wire rings to the line, and lowered it over the side, Josh dropping in the silvery bait of pilchard at the same moment, and as the lead sank the bait seemed to dart down as if alive, disappearing in the dark clear water as the line ran rapidly over the side.

"Let your line run, lad; there's good seven fathom o' water just here. That's the way," said Josh. "Now she's at the bottom."

Plash, plash! came from the other side of the boat, and Dick shouted, "Hooray, Taff! here goes for first fish."

"Never you mind him," said Josh to Arthur. "Now, then, hold hard; haul up a fathom o' line—that's the way: now your bait's just by the bottom, and you'll know when you've got a bite."

Arthur obeyed, and sat in the boat holding the line with both hands as rigid as a wax image, and gazing hopelessly at the rough fisherman, whose one short arm seemed horribly clever and deft, but he fancied it would be awkward if he had to deal with a large eel.

"Hadn't you better get the chopper ready?" said Arthur hoarsely.

"Oh, that's all ready," said Josh laughing; "but you ain't had a touch yet."

"N-no—I'm not sure," said Arthur; "something seemed heavy at the end of the line."

"Four pound o' lead, my lad, is heavy," said Josh, smiling. "You'll know when you get a conger."

"Hadn't—hadn't we better fish for something else, as the congers don't bite?"

"How do you know as they don't bite?" said Josh good-humouredly.

"They—they don't seem to," said Arthur. "Perhaps the bait's off. Had we better see?"

"Oh, no; that bait isn't off," said Josh quietly. "You bide a bit, my lad. Congers don't care about light when they're feeding. You'll see when the sun's well down."

"But I'd rather fish for mackerel, I think," said Arthur as he gazed down into the dark water, and seemed to see twining monsters coming up to pluck him out of the boat.

"Couldn't ketch mack'rel here, my lad. This is a conger hole. Reg'lar home for 'em among these rocks. Will and me found 'em out: nobody else comes and fishes here. We found this hole."

"Ahoy! here's a game. Oh, don't he pull! Oh, my hands!" cried Dick.

"Let me take him," said Will.

"No, no, I'll catch him!" cried Dick excitedly. "I've got such a big one, Taff; he's trying to pull my arms out of the sockets!"

Tug—pull—jerk—drag—the line was running here and there; and if Dick had not twisted it round his hands it would have been drawn through them. As it was, it cut into them, but he held on like a hero.

"Let the line go!" Will kept saying—"let the line go!" but Dick did not seem to understand. If he did, he was not disposed to let it run, and, as he thought, lose the fish; and so he dragged and hauled hand over hand, with Arthur shivering and ready, but for sheer shame, to get right away in the bows, as the struggle went on.

"Here he is!" cried Dick at last. "Oh, what a monster! and how he pulls!"

Arthur did not turn his head, and so he saw nothing of what followed, for he felt sick with dread; but there was a scuffling and a splashing, then a beating and flapping in the boat.

"Keep him clear of the line, Will, lad!" said Josh.

"Right!" was the laconic reply; and then there were two or three heavy dull blows, as if some one were striking something soft. And now Arthur turned round to see that Will had the great head of an eel between his knees, out of which he cleverly twisted the hook, and held the slowly writhing creature up at arm's-length.

"Oh, what a monster!" cried Dick.

"Only a little one," said Will, laughing. "It is not above fifteen or sixteen pounds."

"Why, how big do they grow, then?" cried Dick, as the eel was thrown into the locker and the lid shut down.

"I've seen them ninety pounds!" said Will. "Josh, there, saw one a hundred. Didn't you, Josh?"

"Hundred and three pounds and an half!" said Josh. "We shall have some sport to-night!"



"Oh!" shouted Arthur; "oh! something's pulling me out of the—"

Boat he would have said, for he had turned the line round his right-hand to keep the lead from the bottom; and all at once it had seemed to him that there was a slight quiver of the line; then it was drawn softly a little way, and then there was a heavy sustained pull that took his arm over the side, and he seemed as if he were about to follow it, only Josh leaned towards him, and took hold of the line beyond his hand.

"Untwist it, my lad; don't turn it round your fingers like that. That's right. Now, take hold with both hands."

"But I can't hold it!" cried Arthur, who was shivering with excitement.

"Oh, yes! you can, my lad," said Josh coolly. "I'll show you. Now, hold tight."

Arthur clung to the line with both hands in desperation; and it seemed to him that the great fish at the end of it was trying to draw his shoulders out of their sockets.

"It's too hard. It cuts my hands. It's horrible!"

"Let him go, then," said Josh laughing; "there's plenty of line. Let it run through your hands."

"It burns them," cried Arthur desperately. "Ah!" he exclaimed with a sigh of delight, "it's gone!"

"Haul in the line, then!" said Josh grimly, while Will, who knew what it meant, touched Dick on the shoulder so that he should watch.

Arthur began to haul in the slack line for a few feet, and then he shouted again:

"Here's another one bigger than the last!" he cried. "I cannot hold it."

"Let it go, then," said Josh; and Arthur once more slackened the line, which ran fast for a yard, and then fell loose.

"He's gone now!" said Arthur, hauling in the line; and then in a tone of voice so despairing that his brother burst into a hearty laugh: "Here's another at it now!"

"I say, what a place this is, Taff!" cried Dick. "Here, let me help you!"

"No, no," cried Josh; "you let him ketch the conger himself. Slacken, my lad."

As if moved by a spring, or disciplined to obey the slightest word of command, Arthur slackened the line.

"Now, then, haul again," cried Josh; and the boy pulled in the line eagerly, as if moved by the idea that the sooner he got the hook out of the water the less likelihood would there be of its being seized by one or other of the monsters that inhabited the rocky hole.

"He has got it again!" cried Arthur in tones of anguish; "he'll pull me in!"

"Oh, no, he won't; you're a-going to pull him out, if he don't mind his eye," said Josh sturdily. "You've got some brains, young gentleman, and he arn't."

"But there must be a swarm there after my bait," pleaded Arthur.

"Not there," cried Josh. "There's one got it."

"But I've had three or four on, and they've gone again."

"Oh, no! you haven't," said Josh; "conger eels often do like that. You pull hard; he pulls hard and tries to get to the bottom. You slack the line, and as there's nobody pulling up, he comes to see what's the matter. Now, slacken!"

Arthur let the line run.

"Now haul again."

The boy drew in the line, and gained nearly twice as much as he had let out before there was a tremendous drag again, and as Arthur held on with both hands his arms quivered.

"Ease him a little—now pull—ease again—now pull!" cried Josh, over and over, till, giving and taking like this, Arthur had drawn the heavy lead nearly to the surface of the water, and for a moment he thought the dark little object going here and there was the eel; but directly after he saw a great wavy blue-black line some feet down, and that all at once turned to one that was creamy white, then dark, then light again, as the conger writhed over and over.

"I've got one too!" cried Dick; and his attention, like that of Will, was taken from what went on upon the starboard side of the boat, leaving Arthur to the care of Josh.

"Josh!—please," faltered Arthur, as he clung to the line in an agony of dread, too much alarmed now even to let go. "Josh—pray—pray cut the line!"

"No, no, no! you don't mean that," whispered back Josh encouragingly. "You mean get my little axe, and kill my gentleman as soon as he's aboard."

"Yes, yes. No, no," whispered Arthur. "Pray, pray, don't bring that horrible thing into the boat!"

"Not till he's dead, you mean," said Josh, in a low voice, so that Dick and Will could not hear. "You're not scared of a gashly old conger like that? You hang on to the line, my lad. You've got plenty of pluck, only you arn't used to it. Now, you see, ease him a bit."

Arthur involuntarily slackened the line, and the eel ceased its backward drag and swam up.

"Now, haul again—just a bit," said Josh, standing there with the gaff in his perfect hand, keen axe in the deformed.

Arthur obeyed and dragged the writhing serpentine creature close to the surface. Then, quick as thought, Josh had the great snaky fish by the head with his short sharp gaff-hook, drew it over the gunwale, and before Arthur could realise what was done the axe had descended with a dull thud, and Josh dragged the quivering half inert conger over the side and forward, clear of the line and away from Arthur.

"There!" cried Josh, as he cleverly extricated the hook with the disgorger; "you come and look at him, Master Arthur. He can't bite now, and I'm holding him down."

There was so much quiet firmness in the fisherman's words that Arthur felt himself constrained to go forward and look at the great snaky fish as it heaved and curved its springy body in the bottom of the boat.

"A reg'lar good fat one," said Josh. "She be a bit ugly, sure enough, and I've seen many a boy in my time scared by the gashly things. It was your first one, Master Arthur, and you caught him, and I say as you warn't a bit scared."

"I—I couldn't help being a little afraid," said Arthur slowly; "but look! look! it's biting the rope."

"Ay, but it has no strength to bite now," said Josh. "There, we'll put um in the well, and let um lie there. You caught um—fine eight-and-thirty pound if it be an ounce. Now you shall catch another."

"What!" gasped Arthur.

"I say, now you shall catch another," said Josh sturdily, as he leaned over the side and washed disgorger, axe, and hook. "You won't mind half so much next time, and then your brother won't be able to crow over you."

"I don't want to catch any more, thank you," said Arthur.

"Oh, yes, you do," said Josh, in his quiet stubborn fashion. "Don't you say you don't. It won't be half so startling ketching the next one, and I've got a tender well-beaten bit of squid for the next bait—one as will tempt the biggest conger that is in the hole."

"No, no!" whispered Arthur. "I don't want to fish any more; I don't indeed."

"Hush!" whispered Josh; "you'll have them hear."

Arthur was silent directly, and just then his fright was at its height with the conger that Dick had hooked, and that Will gaffed and hauled in. For as Will struck at it with the conger-bat or club, instead of there coming a dull thud as the blow fell, there was the sharp tap of wood upon wood.

Will had missed this time, and the conger was apparently starting on a voyage of discovery about the boat.

Arthur shrank back, but before the fish could come his way and tangle the lines Will caught Dick's about a yard above the hook, dragged the fish towards the stern, and gave it four or five paralysing blows in succession, disabling it, so that he soon had the hook out, and he and Dick stood looking at each other and panting with excitement.

"Hor—hor—hor!" laughed Josh quietly as he seated himself on the thwart and leisurely began to pass the hook through the grey piece of tough soft cuttle-fish. "Look at 'em, Master Rawthur, there be a fuss over a conger not above half as big as ourn."

"It was ever so much stronger," cried Dick indignantly.

"Hear him, Mast Rorthur!" cried Josh. "Hor—hor—hor! There, go on, you two. We're going to give you a startler this time. There you are, sir," he whispered, holding up the bait for Arthur to see. "That's one as'll tempt um, and you see we'll have another big one before they know where they are. I say, you won't be scared of the next, will you, now?"

"I'll—I'll try not to be," whispered Arthur, drawing a long breath.

"Then you won't be," whispered Josh. "That's the way: in with the lead. Of course they're awk'ard things for any boy to tackle at first. I was downright frightened first one I hooked, when I was 'bout as old as you, and it warn't above half the size of the one you ketched."

"Were you really frightened of it?" said Arthur in the same low tone.

"Frightened, Master Taffarthur! Why, my cap come off and fell in the water, and I had to up with the killick and row after it."

"But that didn't show you were frightened."

"Didn't it though, sir? Why, it was my hair rose up in such a gashly way it lifted it off. There, now, hold steady, and it won't be long before you have a bite."

It was getting so dark now that Arthur could not see whether Josh was laughing at him or not, though for the matter of that, if it had been noontide, he would not have been able to make out the rough fisherman's thoughts by the expression of his countenance.

A splash from behind them told them that Dick's bait had just gone in, and then they sat—both couples—chatting away in a low tone, and waiting for the next congers, and somehow waiting in vain. The last glow faded out of the sky, and the stars twinkled in the sea, where they were reflected from above. The great black bird rock stood up, looking gigantic against the western sky, and every now and then there was a querulous cry that set a party of the sea-birds scolding and squealing for a few minutes before all was still again.

In the distance across the bay the lights of the harbour shone out faintly at first, then clearly, and the various lamps about the village seemed like dull stars.

Still there was no bite, and Arthur rejoiced in his heart, hoping that they would catch no more, and thinking how horrible it would have been to have one of the monsters on board in the dark.

Josh had changed the position of Arthur's line several times, and at last he took hold of it and began to haul it in.

"Going to leave off?" said Arthur joyously.

"No, my lad, not yet. You won't mind me throwing in for you?"

"Oh no!" cried the boy.

"Then," said Josh, "I'm just going to throw over yonder into the deepest part, and if we don't get one out of there we may give up."

Drawing in and laying the line carefully in rings, he took the weight and threw it some distance from them, the lead falling with a heavy plash. Then Dick and Will followed suit on their side, and Arthur was compelled to take the line again from Josh, for the latter said:

"Oh no! I'm not going to fish. I can have a turn any day, my lad. Go on, and we'll show 'em this time what it is to fish again' us. A mussy me! we'll give 'em a startler directly. We'll show 'em what conger be."

Arthur's hands felt cold and damp as he sat there holding: the line and thinking of what would be the consequences if he hooked a monster and Josh failed to kill it before dragging it on board. It would run all over the boat, and it would be sure to bite him first—he knew it would; and the idea was horrible, making him so nervous that his hands shook as he held the line.

It was quite dark now, but a beautiful transparent darkness, with the sky one glorious arch of glittering points, and the sea a mirror in which those diamond sparks were reflected. The phosphorescence that had been so beautiful on the night when his brother was out with Josh and Will was absent, save a faint pale glow now and then, seen when a wave curled over and broke upon the great bird rock. All was wonderfully still, and they sat for some time listening to the distant singing of some of the fishermen, whose voices sounded deliciously soft and melodious as the tones of the old west-country part-song floated over the heaving sea.

Suddenly Arthur started, for Dick exclaimed:

"This is just lovely. I wish father were here."

"Ay! I wish he weer," said Josh. "I often pity you poor people who come from big towns and don't know what it is to be in such a place as this. Beautiful, arn't it, Master Rorthur, sir?"

"Ye-es," said Arthur, "it's a beautiful night."

"Ay, it be," assented Josh; "and in a snug harbour like this there's no fear of a steamer or ship coming to run you down."

Arthur shuddered.

"Rather awkward for them among the rocks, eh, Josh?" said Will.

"Awk'ard arn't the word," said Josh. "'Member the Cape packet being wrecked here, my lad?"

"Oh, yes! I recollect it well," said Will. "It was just here, wasn't it?"

"Just yonder," said Josh. "She went on the rocks about ten fathom beyond where our grapnel lies."

"Was anyone hurt?" said Arthur, who shivered at the idea of a wreck having been anywhere near them.

"Hurt, my lad? Why, it was in one of the worst storms I can 'member. Tell him about the poor souls, Will."

"The packet ran right on the rocks, Master Arthur," said Will solemnly. "Where we are is one mass of tossing foam in a storm, and the froth and spray fly over the Mew Rock here. Directly the packet had struck a great wave came in and lifted her right up and then dropped her again across the ridge yonder, and she broke right in two."

"Like a radish," said Josh.

"And one end went down in the deep water one side, the other end the other side."

"Ay," said Josh, "it's very deep water out there, and they used to be at work regular for months and months getting out the cargo and engines when the weather was calm."

"But the people—the people?" cried Arthur. "What became of them?"

"Hah!" ejaculated Josh. "What come o' them?"

"Were they drowned?" said Dick.

"Every poor creature on board," said Will.

"And none of you fishermen went out in your boats to help them?" cried Dick indignantly.

"Just hark at him," cried Josh. "A mussy me! He's never seed the sea in a storm when—Look out, Master Awthur," he whispered.

It was pretty dark, but Josh's eyes were accustomed to that transparent gloom, and he had noted a tremulous motion of the boy's line almost before Arthur started, for there was a gentle, insidious touch at his bait that telegraphed along the line to his fingers, and then drew it softly through them as the fish, whatever it was, took the bait and began to swim away.

Arthur started as Josh whispered to him, and his fingers closed upon the line.

The moment before this latter was moving as if some tiny fish were drawing it from him; but the moment his closing hands checked the line's progress there was a tremendous jerk and a rush; and as, in spite of himself, Arthur held on, it seemed as if a boy a good deal stronger than himself were trying to pull it out of his hands, and after a few furious struggles seated himself, to hang at the end with his whole weight.

"I told you so," said Josh in satisfied tones. "I knowed as well as could be that there would be a big one down yonder, and I think it is a big one, eh, Master Rawthur."

"It's—it's a monster," panted Arthur. "Hadn't we better let it go?"

"Let it do what?" cried Josh. "A mussy me! what do he mean?"

"Oh! I say, Taff, you are a lucky one," cried Dick in genuine disappointed tones. "On! all right, we've got one too."

"Lucky one!" At that moment Arthur was bitterly repenting his want of foresight. Both hands were engaged now or he might have got out his pocketknife and, unseen by Josh in the darkness, have cut the line, which would have been supposed to be broken by the violent struggles of the great eel.

"I'll never come again," he thought to himself, "if ever I get safely back. I would not have come if I had known. Oh! what shall I do?"

These are a specimen or two of the thoughts that ran through Arthur Temple's brains as he clung desperately to the line with the conger or whatever it was at the end tugging and jerking at it hard enough to make the boy's shoulders sore.

"Steady! steady!" cried Josh, interfering. "That's not the way to ketch conger. Give him line, as I showed you afore. There, you see," he continued, as Arthur slackened the cord. "Eh, 'ullo! Why, what's up?" he exclaimed. "Here, give me hold."

Arthur passed the line to him with a sigh of intense relief, and Josh gave way, hauled, and tried three or four different little plans before passing the line back to Arthur.

"Here, you ketch hold," he cried. "It's a big one and no mistake. He has got his tail twisted round a bit of rock, or he's half in a hole, or something. Don't let him shake you like that, my lad, but give him line when he snatches you. He's half in a hole as sure as can be, and if we hauled we should only break the line."

"What are we to do?" said Arthur, his words coming in pants. "Shall we leave the line and go?"

"Leave the line, my lad!" cried Josh. "Well, that arn't very likely. No, no: lines are too vallerble, and instead of giving the conger the line, we'll get him aboard."

"But how? It won't come," said Arthur peevishly.

"You must coax him same as I showed you before. Fishers wants patience—waiting for what they catches, undoing tangles in nets and lines, and dealing with conger. Don't you see, my lad, if you haul so does the conger: he's frightened, and he fights for his life; but as soon as you leave off hauling, so does he, and begins to uncurve and untwist himself. Then's your time to haul him out of the rocks, before he has time to anchor himself again."

It seemed to Arthur as if he had no power to disobey Josh. Shame, too, supported the fisherman, for the boy had a horror of being supposed a coward, so he acted precisely as Josh told him, giving and taking with the line, but for some time without avail, and Arthur piteously asked if it was of any use to go on.

"Use! I should think so," cried Josh. "Why, he's a big one, and we've got to ketch him. Now haul, my lad, steady."

Arthur obeyed, and the violent jerking of the line began just as if the great eel were making snatches at it.

"Now, give way, quick and sharp," cried Josh.

The boy did so, letting the line run over the side.

"I told you so," cried Josh, as it ran faster and faster. "He's going away now. He's left his hole. Now lay hold, and get him to the top quick as you can. He'll come up now."

Josh was right, for the eel had left the rocks, intending to swim away, and when it felt the line once more it began to struggle, but on the tension being eased it swam upwards. And so on again and again, till the pale under parts of the great fish could be seen below the surface, which was swirling and eddying with the strong motions of the muscular tail.

"He is a big one," cried Josh. "Got yours in, lads?"

"Yes," cried Will.

"Give us room then," cried Josh. "Hold on tight, youngster. No, no, Will: we can do him ourselves."

For Will had changed his position to take the line from Arthur, who felt as if he should have liked to kick the fisherman for interfering at such a time.

Acting like a machine in Josh's hands, Arthur slackened and hauled, and hauled and slackened, until the great eel was right at the surface, and Josh leaning over the gunwale, waiting his opportunity to hook it with the great gaff; but though he made two or three attempts Arthur was so helpless that he rather hindered than aided the capture. At last, though, by a clever stroke Josh hooked the monster, and stretched out his hand for his little axe.

As he did so there was a tremendous beating and splashing of the water, and the eel literally twisted itself into a knot upon the gaff, forming a great writhing bunch upon the shaft, and mingling line and self about the hook in the most confusing manner.

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