A Loose End and Other Stories by S. Elizabeth Hall


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Page 1

The moment the girl caught sight of this last boat she began rapidly to
descend the 300 feet of cliff which separated her from the cove below.
The path began in easy zig-zags, which, however, got gradually steeper,
and the last thirty feet of the descent consisted of a sheer face of
rock, in which were fixed two or three iron stanchions with a rope
running from one to the other to serve as a handrail; and the climber
must depend for other assistance on the natural irregularities of the
rock, which provided here and there an insecure foothold. The girl,
however, sprang down the dangerous path, without the slightest
hesitation, though her skilful balance and dexterity of hand and foot
showed that her security was the result of practice.

By the time she had reached the narrow strip of beach, one of the few
and difficult landing-places which the island offered, the two fishermen
were already out of the boat, which they were mooring to an iron ring
fastened in the rock. One of the men was young; the other might be, from
his appearance, between sixty and seventy. A strange jerking gait, which
was disclosed as soon as he began to move on his own feet, suggested the
idea that his natural habitat was the sea, and that he was as little at
ease on land as some kinds of waterfowl appear to be when walking. He
could not hold himself upright when on one foot, so that his whole
person turned first to one side and then to the other as he walked.

"Marie!" he called to the girl as she alighted at the bottom of the
cliff, and he shouted something briefly which the strange jargon in
which it was spoken and the gruff, wind-roughened voice of the speaker,
would have made unintelligible to any but a native of the islands.

The girl, without replying, took the basket of fish which he handed her,
slung it on her back by a rope passed over one shoulder, and stationed
herself at the foot of the path, waiting for him to begin the ascent:
the younger man, who was busy with the tackle of the boat, apparently
intending to stay behind.

When the old man had placed himself in position to begin the ascent,
with both hands on the rope, and all his weight on one leg, the girl
stooped down, and placing her lithe hands round his great wet
fisherman's boot, deftly lifted the other foot and placed it in the
right position on the first ledge of rock.

"Now, Daddy, hoist away!" she cried in her clear, piping voice, using,
like her father, the island dialect; and he dragged himself up to the
first iron hold, wriggling his large, awkward form into strange
contortions, till he found a secure position and could wait till his
young assistant was beside him once more. She sprang up like a cat and
balanced herself safely within reach of him. It was odd to see the
implicit confidence with which he let her lift and place his feet;
having now to support herself by the rope she had only one hand to
spare; but the feat was accomplished each time with the same precision
and skill, till the precipitous part of the ascent was passed and they
had commenced the zigzag path.

Then Marie took her daddy's arm under hers, and carefully steadied the
difficult, ricketty gait, supporting the heavy figure with a practised
skill which took the place of strength in her slight frame. Her features
were formed after the same pattern as his, the definite profile, tense
spreading nostril, and firm lips, being repeated with merely feminine
modifications; and as her clear, merry eyes, freshened by the
sea-breeze, flashed with fun at the stumblings and uncertainties of
their course, they met the same expression of mirth in his hard-set,
rocky face.

"You've got a rare job, child!" said he, as they stood still for breath
at a turning in the path, "a basket of fish to lug up, as well as your
old daddy. He'd ought to have brought them as far as the turning for
you."

"I'd sooner have their company than his, any day," with a little _moue_
in the direction of the cove. "I just wish you wouldn't take him out
fishing with you, Daddy, that I do!"

"Why not, girl?"

"It's he as works for himself and cares for himself and for no one else,
does Pierre," said the girl. "Comin' a moonin' round and pretending he's
after courting me, when all he wants, with takin' the fish round and
that, is to get the custom into his own hands, and tells folks, if _he_
had the ordering of it, there'd be no fear about them getting their fish
punctual."

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Wed 24th Apr 2019, 14:42