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George Manville Fenn

301 pages
Library of Alexandria
“You don’t know it, Master Will, lad, but Natur’ couldn’t ha’ done no better for you if she’d tried.” “Why, Josh?” “Why, lad? There’s a queshton to ask! Why? Warn’t you born in Co’rn’all, the finest country in all England, and ain’t you going to grow into a Cornishman, as all old books says is giants, when you’ve left off being a poor smooth, soft-roed, gallish-looking creatur’, same as you are now?” The utterer of these words certainly spoke them, but in a musical, sing-song intonation peculiar to the fishermen of the district. He was a fair, short man, somewhat deformed, one arm being excessively short, seeming little more than a hand projecting from one side of his breast; but this in no wise interfered with his activity as he stood there glittering in the bright morning sunshine on the deck of a Cornish lugger, shaking pilchards out of the dark-brown net into the well or hold. Josh Helston glittered in the morning sunshine like a harlequin in a limelight, for he was spangled from head to foot with the loose silvery scales of the pilchards caught during the night, and on many another night during the past few weeks. There were scales on his yellow south-wester, in his fair closely-curling hair, a couple on his ruddy-brown nose, hundreds upon his indigo-blue home-knit jersey, and his high boots, that were almost trousers and boots in one, were literally burnished with the adherent disks of silvery iridescent horn. The “poor smooth, gallish-looking creatur’” he addressed was a well-built young fellow of seventeen, with no more effeminacy in his appearance than is visible in a lad balanced by nature just on that edge of life where we rest for a short space uneasily, bidding good-bye to boyhood so eagerly, before stepping boldly forward, and with flushed face and flashing eyes feeling our muscles and the rough hair upon our cheeks and chins, and saying, in all the excitement of the discovery of that El Dorado time of life, “At last I am a man!” Josh Helston’s words did not seem fair, but his way was explained once to Michael Polree as they stood together on the pier; and the latter had expostulated after his fashion, for he never spoke much, by saying: “Easy, mate, easy.” “Easy it is, Mike,” sang rather than said Josh. “I know what I’m about. The old un said I wasn’t to spoil him, and I won’t. He’s one o’ them soft sort o’ boys as is good stuff, like a new-bred net; but what do you do wi’ it, eh?” “Bile it,” growled old Mike, “Cutch or Gambier.” “Toe be sure,” said Josh; “and I’m biling young Will in the hot water o’ adversitee along with the cutch o’ worldly knowledge, and the gambier o’ fisherman’s gumption, till he be tanned of a good moral, manly, sensible brown. I know.” Then old Mike winked at Josh Helston, and Josh Helston winked solemnly at old Mike Polree, who threw a couple of hake slung on a bit of spun yarn over one shoulder, his strapped-together boots stuffed with coarse worsted stockings, one on each side, over the other shoulder, squirted a little tobacco juice into the harbour, and went off barefoot over the steep stones to the cottage high up the cliff, muttering to himself something about Pilchar’ Will being a fine young chap all the same. “That’s all nonsense about the Cornishmen being giants, Josh,” said Will, as he rapidly passed the long lengths of net through his hands, so that they should lie smooth in the hold, ready for shooting again that night without twist or tangle. “Old writers were very fond of stretching men.”