by Stephen Crane
The brook curved down over the rocks, innocent and white, until it
faced a little strand of smooth gravel and flat stones. It turned then
to the left, and thereafter its guilty current was tinged with the pink
of diluted blood. Boulders standing neck-deep in the water were rimmed
with red; they wore bloody collars whose tops marked the supreme
instant of some tragic movement of the stream. In the pale green
shallows of the bay's edge, the outward flow from the criminal little
brook was as eloquently marked as if a long crimson carpet had been
laid upon the waters. The scene of the carnage was the strand of smooth
gravel and flat stones, and the fruit of the carnage was cleaned
Far to the south, where the slate of the sea and the grey of the sky
wove together, could be seen Fastnet Rock, a mere button on the moving,
shimmering cloth, while a liner, no larger than a needle, spun a thread
of smoke aslant. The gulls swept screaming along the dull line of the
other shore of roaring Water Bay, and near the mouth of the brook
circled among the fishing boats that lay at anchor, their brown,
leathery sails idle and straight. The wheeling, shrieking tumultuous
birds stared with their hideous unblinking eyes at the Capersmen from
Cape Clearwho prowled to and fro on the decks amid shouts and the
creak of the tackle. Shoreward, a little shrivelled man, overcome by a
profound melancholy, fished hopelessly from the end of the pier. Back
of him, on a hillside, sat a white village, nestled among more trees
than is common in this part of Southern Ireland.
A dinghy sculled by a youth in a blue jersey wobbled rapidly past
the pier-head and stopped at the foot of the moss-green, dank, stone
steps, where the waves were making slow but regular leaps to mount
higher, and then falling back gurgling, choking, and waving the long,
dark seaweeds. The melancholy fisherman walked over to the top of the
steps. The young man was fastening the painter of his boat in an iron
ring. In the dinghy were three round baskets heaped high with mackerel.
They glittered like masses of new silver coin at times, and then other
lights of faint carmine and peacock blue would chase across the sides
of the fish in a radiance that was finer than silver.
The melancholy fisherman looked at this wealth. He shook his head
mournfully. Ah, now, Denny. This would not be a very good kill.
The young man snorted indignantly at his fellow-townsman. This will
be th' bist kill th' year, Mickey. Go along now.
The melancholy old man became immersed in deeper gloom. Shure I
have been in th' way of seein' miny a grand day whin th' fish was
runnin' sthrong in these wathers, but there will be no more big kills
here. No more. No more. At the last his voice was only a dismal croak.
Come along outa that now, Mickey, cried the youth impatiently.
Come away wid you.
All gone now. A-ll go-o-ne now! The old man wagged his grey head,
and, standing over the baskets of fishes, groaned as Mordecai groaned
for his people.
'Tis you would be cryin' out, Mickey, whativer, said the youth
with scorn. He was giving his basket into the hands of five incompetent
but jovial little boys to carry to a waiting donkey cart.
An' why should I not? said the old man sternly. Mein want
As the youth swung his boat swiftly out toward an anchored smack, he
made answer in a softer tone. Shure, if yez got for th' askin', 'tis
you, Mickey, that would niver be in want. The melancholy old man
returned to his line. And the only moral in this incident is that the
young man is the type that America procures from Ireland, and the old
man is one of the home types, bent, pallid, hungry, disheartened, with
a vision that magnifies with a microscope glance any fly-wing of
misfortune, and heroically and conscientiously invents disasters for
the future. Usually the thing that remains to one of this type is a
sympathy as quick and acute for others as is his pity for himself.
The donkey with his cart-load of gleaming fish, and escorted by the
whooping and laughing boys, galloped along the quay and up a street of
the village until he was turned off at the gravelly strand, at the
point where the colour of the brook was changing. Here twenty people of
both sexes and all ages were preparing the fish for market. The
mackerel, beautiful as fire-etched salvers, first were passed to a long
table, around which worked as many women as could have elbow room. Each
one could clean a fish with two motions of the knife. Then the washers,
men who stood over the troughs filled with running water from the
brook, soused the fish until the outlet became a sinister element that
in an instant changed the brook from a happy thing of gorse and heather
of the hills to an evil stream, sullen and reddened. After being
washed, the fish were carried to a group of girls with knives, who made
the cuts that enabled each fish to flatten out in the manner known of
the breakfast table. And after the girls came the men and boys, who
rubbed each fish thoroughly with great handfuls of coarse salt, which
was whiter than snow, and shone in the daylight from a multitude of
gleaming points, diamond-like. Last came the packers, drilled in the
art of getting neither too few nor too many mackerel into a barrel,
sprinkling constantly prodigal layers of brilliant salt. There were
many intermediate corps of boys and girls carrying fish from point to
point, and sometimes building them in stacks convenient to the hands of
the more important labourers.
A vast tree hung its branches over the place. The leaves made a
shadow that was religious in its effect, as if the spot was a chapel
consecrated to labour. There was a hush upon the devotees. The women at
the large table worked intently, steadfastly, with bowed heads. Their
old petticoats were tucked high, showing the coarse brogans which they
woreand the visible ankles were proportioned to the brogans as the
diameter of a straw is to that of a half-crown. The national red
under-petticoat was a fundamental part of the scene.
Just over the wall, in the sloping street, could be seen the
bejerseyed Capers, brawny, and with shocks of yellow beard. They paced
slowly to and fro amid the geese and children. They, too, spoke little,
even to each other; they smoked short pipes in saturnine dignity and
silence. It was the fish. They who go with nets upon the reeling sea
grow still with the mystery and solemnity of the trade. It was
Brittany; the first respectable catch of the year had changed this
garrulous Irish hamlet into a hamlet of Brittany.
The Capers were waiting for high tide. It had seemed for a long time
that, for the south of Ireland, the mackerel had fled in company with
potato; but here, at any rate, was a temporary success, and the
occasion was momentous. A strolling Caper took his pipe and pointed
with the stem out upon the bay. There was little wind, but an ambitious
skipper had raised his anchor, and the craft, her strained brown sails
idly swinging, was drifting away on the first oily turn of the tide.
On the top of the pier the figure of the melancholy old man was
portrayed upon the polished water. He was still dangling his line
hopelessly. He gazed down into the misty water. Once he stirred and
murmured: Bad luck to thim. Otherwise he seemed to remain motionless
for hours. One by one the fishing-boats floated away. The brook changed
its colour, and in the dusk showed a tumble of pearly white among the
A cold night wind, sweeping transversely across the pier, awakened
perhaps the rheumatism in the old man's bones. He arose and, mumbling
and grumbling, began to wind his line. The waves were lashing the
stones. He moved off towards the intense darkness of the village