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Stories of Mystery edited by Rossiter Johnson
A RAFT THAT NO MAN MADE by ROBERT T.S. LOWELL.
This preface was accompanied by some preliminary handling of the caplin-seine, also, to find out the broken places and get them about him. Ralph and Prudence deftly helped him. Then, making his story wait, after this opening, he took one hole to begin at in mending, chose his seat, and drew the seine up to his knee. At the same time I got nearer to the fellowship of the family by persuading the planter (who yielded with a pleasant smile) to let me try my hand at the netting. Prudence quietly took to herself a share of the work, and Ralph alone was unbusied.
"They calls th' Ice a wicked place,--Sundays an' weekin days all alike; an' to my seemun it's a cruel, bloody place, jes' so well,--but not all thinks alike, surely.--Rafe, lad, mubbe 'ee 'd ruther go down cove-ways, an' overhaul the punt a bit."
Ralph, who perhaps had stood waiting for the very dismissal that he now got, assented and left us three. Prudence, to be sure, looked after him as if she would a good deal rather go with him than stay; but she stayed, nevertheless, and worked at the seine. I interpreted to myself Skipper Benjie's sending away of one of his hearers by supposing that his son-in-law had often heard his tales; but the planter explained himself:--
"'Ee sees, Sir, I knocked off goun to th' Ice becase 't was sech a tarrible cruel place, to my seemun. They swiles be so knowun like,--as knowun as a dog, in a manner, an' lovun to their own, like Christens, a'most, more than bastes; an' they'm got red blood, for all they lives most-partly in water; an' then I found 'em so friendly, when I was wantun friends badly. But I s'pose the swile-fishery's needful; an' I knows, in course, that even Christens' blood's got to be taken sometimes, when it's bad blood, an' I would n' be childish about they things: on'y--ef it's me--when I can live by fishun, I don' want to go an' club an' shoot an' cut an' slash among poor harmless things that 'ould never harm man or 'oman, an' 'ould cry great tears down for pity-sake, an' got a sound like a Christen: I 'ould n' like to go a-swilun for gain,--not after beun among 'em, way I was, anyways."
[Footnote 3: Seals.]
This apology made it plain that Skipper Benjie was large-hearted enough, or indulgent enough, not to seek to strain others, even his own family, up to his own way in everything; and it might easily be thought that the young fisherman had different feelings about sealing from those that the planter's story was meant to bring out. All being ready, he began his tale again:--
"I shipped wi' Skipper Isra'l Gooden, from Carbonear; the schooner was the Baccaloue, wi' forty men, all told. 'T was of a Sunday morn'n 'e 'ould sail, twel'th day o' March, wi' another schooner in company,--the Sparrow. There was a many of us was n' too good, but we thowt wrong of 'e's takun the Lord's Day to 'e'sself. Wull, Sir, afore I comed 'ome, I was in a great desert country, an' floated on sea wi' a monstrous great raft that no man never made, creakun an' crashun an' groanun an' tumblun an' wastun an' goun to pieces, an' no man on her but me, an' full o' livun things,--dreadful!
"About a five hours out, 't was, we first sid the blink, an' comed up wi' th' Ice about off Cape Bonavis'. We fell in wi' it south, an' worked up nothe along: but we did n' see swiles for two or three days yet; on'y we was workun along; pokun the cakes of ice away, an' haulun through wi' main strength sometimes, holdun on wi' bights o' ropes out o' the bow; an' more times, agen, in clear water: sometimes mist all round us, 'ee could n' see the ship's len'th, sca'ce; an' more times snow, jes' so thick; an' then a gale o' wind, mubbe, would a'most blow all the spars out of her, seemunly.