Read CHAPTER TWENTY TWO of Deep Down‚ a Tale of the Cornish Mines , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on


The beach opposite Newlyn presented a busy scene when Oliver Trembath and his friend Charlie Tregarthen reached it.

Although the zenith of the season was over, mackerel fishing was still going on there in full vigour, and immense crowds of men, women, and children covered the sands.  The village lies on the heights above, and crowds of people were leaning over the iron rails which guard the unwary or unsteady passenger from falling into the sea below.  A steep causeway connects the main street above with the shore beneath; and up and down it horses, carts, and people were hurrying continuously.

True, there was not at that time quite as much bustle as may be witnessed there at the present day.  The railway has penetrated these remote regions of the west, and now men work with a degree of feverish haste that was unknown then.  While hundreds of little boats (tenders to the large ones) crowd in on the beach, auctioneers with long heavy boots wade knee-deep into the water, followed and surrounded by purchasers, and, ringing a bell as each boat comes in, shout, ­“Now, then, five hundred, more or less, in this boat; who bids?  Twenty shillings a hundred for five hundred ­twenty shillings ­say nineteen ­I’m bid nineteen ­nineteen-and-six ­say nineteen-an ­twenty ­twenty shillings I’m bid ­say twenty-one ­shall I make it twenty-one shillings for any person?” etcetera.

The bells and voices of these auctioneers, loud though they be, are mild compared with the shouts of men, women, and children, as the fish are packed in baskets, with hot haste, to be in time for the train; and horses with laden carts gallop away over the sands at furious speed, while others come dashing back for more fish.  And there is need for all this furious haste, for trains, like time and tide, wait for no man, and prices vary according to trains.  Just before the starting of one, you will hear the auctioneers put the fish up at 20 shillings, 25 shillings, and even 30 shillings a hundred, and in the next half-hour, after the train is gone, and no chance remains of any more of the fish being got into the London market by the following morning, the price suddenly falls to 8 shillings a hundred, sometimes even less.  There is need for haste, too, because the quantity of fish is very great, for there are sometimes two hundred boats at anchor in the bay, each with four thousand fish on the average, which must all be washed and packed in four or five hours.  Yes, the old days cannot be compared with the present times, when, between the months of April and June, the three hundred boats of Mounts Bay will land little short of three thousand tons of mackerel, and the railway, for the mere carriage of these to London, Manchester, Birmingham, etcetera, will clear above 20,000 pounds!

Nevertheless, the busy, bustling, hearty nature of the scene on Newlyn beach in days of yore was not so very different as one might suppose from that of the present time.  The men were not less energetic then than now; the women were not less eager; the children were quite as wild and mischievous, and the bustle and noise apparently, if not really, as great.

“What interests you?” asked Charlie Tregarthen, observing that his companion gazed pointedly at some object in the midst of the crowd.

“That old woman,” said Oliver; “see how demurely she sits on yonder upturned basket, knitting with all her might.”

“In the midst of chaos,” observed Tregarthen, laughing; “and she looks as placidly indifferent to the noise around her as if it were only the murmuring of a summer breeze, although there are two boys yelling at her very ear at this moment.”

“Perhaps she’s deaf,” suggested Oliver.

Tregarthen said he thought this highly probable, and the two remained silent for some time, watching, from an elevated position on the road leading down to the sands, the ever-changing and amusing scene below.  Talk of a pantomime, indeed!  No Christmas pantomime ever got up in the great metropolis was half so amusing or so grand as that summer pantomime that was performed daily on Newlyn sands, with admission to all parts of the house ­the stage included ­for nothing!  The scenery was painted with gorgeous splendour by nature, and embraced the picturesque village of Newlyn, with its irregular gables, variously tinted roofs, and whitewashed fronts; the little pier with its modest harbour, perfectly dry because of the tide being out, but which, even if the tide had been in, and itself full to overflowing, could not apparently have held more than a dozen of the larger fishing-boats; the calm bay crowded with boats of all sizes, their brown and yellow sails reflected in the clear water, and each boat resting on its own image.  On the far-off horizon might be seen the Lizard Point and the open sea, over which hung red and lurid clouds, which betokened the approach of a storm, although, at the time, all nature was quiet and peaceful.  Yes, the scenery was admirably painted, and nothing could exceed the perfection of the acting.  It was so very true to nature!

Right in front of the spot where the two friends stood, a fisherman sat astride of an upturned basket, enjoying a cup of tea which had been brought to him by a little girl who sat on another upturned basket at his side, gazing with a pleased expression into his rugged countenance, one cheek of which was distended with a preposterously large bite of bread and butter.  The great Mathews himself never acted his part so well.  What admirable devotion to the one engrossing object in hand!  What a perfect and convincing display of a hearty appetite!  What obvious unconsciousness of being looked at, and what a genuine and sudden burst of indignation when, owing to a touch of carelessness, he capsized the cup, and poured the precious tea upon the thirsty sand.  At the distance from which Oliver and his friend observed him, no words were audible, but none were necessary.  The man’s acting was so perfect that they knew he was scolding the little girl for the deed which he himself had perpetrated.  Then there was something peculiarly touching in the way in which he suddenly broke into a short laugh, and patted the child’s head while she wiped out the cup, and refilled it from the little brown broken-nosed teapot hitherto concealed under her ragged shawl to keep it warm.  No wizard was needed to tell, however, that this was quite an unnecessary piece of carefulness on the little girl’s part, for any brown teapot in the world, possessing the smallest amount of feeling, would have instantly made hot and strong tea out of cold water on being pressed against the bosom of that sunny child!

Just beyond this couple, three tired men, in blue flannel shirts, long boots, and sou’-westers, grouped themselves round a bundle of straw to enjoy a pipe:  one stretched himself almost at full length on it, in lazy nonchalance; another sat down on it, and, resting his elbows on his knees, gazed pensively at his pipe as he filled it; while the third thrust his hands into his pockets, and stood for a few seconds with a grand bend at the small of his back (as if he felt that his muscles worked easily), and gazed out to sea.  The greatest of the old masters could have painted nothing finer.

Away to the right, an old man might be seen tying up the lid of a basket full of fish beside his cart, and dividing his attention between the basket and the horse, which latter, much to his surprise, was unwontedly restive that evening, and required an unusual number of cautions to remain still, and of threats as to the punishment that would follow continued disobedience, all of which afforded the most intense and unutterable delight to a very small precocious boy, who, standing concealed on the off side of the animal, tickled its ear with a straw every time it bent its head towards the bundle of hay which lay at its feet.  No clown or pantaloon was there to inflict condign punishment, because none was needed.  A brother carter standing by performed the part, extempore.  His eye suddenly lit on the culprit; his whip sprang into the air and descended on the urchin’s breech.  Horror-struck, his mouth opened responsive to the crack, and a yell came forth that rose high above the surrounding din, while his little legs carried him away over the sands like a ragged leaf driven before the wind.

To the left of this scene (and ignorant of it, for the stage was so large, the actors were so numerous, and the play so grand, that few could do more than attend to their own part) a cripple might be seen with a crutch hopping actively about.  He was a young man; had lost his leg, by an accident probably, and was looking about for a cast-away fish for his own supper.  He soon found one.  Whether it was that one had been dropped accidentally, or that some generous-hearted fish-dealer had dropped one on purpose, we cannot tell, but he did get one ­a large fat one, too ­and hobbled away as quickly as he could, evidently rejoicing.

The cripple was not the only one who crossed the stage thus lightly burdened.  There were several halt and maimed, and some blind and aged ones there, whose desires in regard to piscatorial wealth extended only to one, or perhaps two, and they all got what they wanted.  That was sufficient for the evening’s supper ­for the morrow there was no need to care; they could return to get a fresh supply evening after evening for many a day to come, for it was a splendid mackerel season ­such as had not been for many years ­so said the sages of the village.

There were other groups, and other incidents that would have drawn laughter as well as tears from sympathetic hearts, but we must forbear.  The play was long of being acted out ­it was no common play; besides, it is time for our actors to come upon the stage themselves.

“I see old Hitchin,” exclaimed Oliver Trembath, starting suddenly out of a reverie, and pointing into the thickest of the crowd.

“How can you tell? you don’t know him,” said his companion.

“Know him!  Of course I do; who could fail to know him after the graphic description the lawyer gave of him?  See ­look yonder, beside the cart with the big man in it arranging baskets.  D’you see?”

“Which? the one painted green, and a scraggy horse with a bag hanging to its nose?”

“No, no; a little further to the left, man ­the one with the broken rail and the high-spirited horse.  There, there he is! a thin, dried-up, wrinkled, old shabby ­”

“Ah! that’s the man,” exclaimed Tregarthen, laughing.  “Come along, and let’s try to keep our eyes on him, for there is nothing so difficult as finding any one in a crowd.”

The difficulty referred to was speedily illustrated by the fact that the two friends threaded their way to the spot where the cart had stood, and found not only that it was gone, but that Hitchin had also moved away, and although they pushed through the crowd for more than a quarter of an hour they failed to find him.

As they were wandering about thus, they observed a very tall broad-shouldered man talking earnestly in undertones to a sailor-like fellow who was still broader across the shoulders, but not quite so tall.  It is probable that Oliver would have paid no attention to them, had not the name of Hitchin struck his ear.  Glancing round at the men he observed that the taller of the two was Joe Tonkin, and the other his friend of the Land’s End, the famous Jim Cuttance.

Oliver plucked his companion by the sleeve, and whispered him to stand still.  Only a few words and phrases reached them, but these were sufficient to create surprise and arouse suspicion.  Once, in particular, Tonkin, who appeared to be losing his temper, raised his voice a little, exclaiming, ­“I tell ’ee what it is, Cuttance, I do knaw what you’re up to, an’ I’ll hinder ’ee ef I can.”

The man confirmed this statement with a savage oath, to which Cuttance replied in kind; nevertheless he was evidently anxious to conciliate his companion, and spoke so low as to be nearly inaudible.

Only the words, “Not to-night; I won’t do it to-night,” reached the ears of the listeners.

At this point Tonkin turned from the smuggler with a fling, muttering in an undertone as he went, “I don’t b’lieve ’ee, Cuttance, for thee’rt a liard, so I’ll watch ’ee, booy.”

Oliver was about to follow Tonkin, when he observed Hitchin himself slowly wending his way through the crowd.  He had evidently heard nothing of the conversation that appeared to have reference to himself, for he sauntered along with a careless air, and his hands in his pockets, as though he were an uninterested spectator of the busy scene.

Oliver at once accosted him, “Pray, sir, is your name Hitchin?”

“It is,” replied the old man, eyeing his interrogator suspiciously.

“Allow me to introduce myself, sir ­Oliver Trembath, nephew to Mr Thomas Donnithorne of St. Just.”

Mr Hitchin held out his hand, and said that he was happy to meet with a nephew of his old friend, in the tone of a man who would much rather not meet either nephew or uncle.

Oliver felt this, so he put on his most insinuating air, and requested Mr Hitchin to walk with him a little aside from the crowd, as he had something of a private nature to say to him.  The old man agreed, and the two walked slowly along the sands to the outskirts of the crowd, where young Tregarthen discreetly left them.

The moment Oliver broached the subject of the advance of money, Hitchin frowned, and the colour in his face betrayed suppressed anger.

“Sir,” said he, “I know all that you would say to me.  It has already been said oftener than there is any occasion for.  No one appears to believe me when I assert that I have met with heavy losses of late, and have no cash to spare ­not even enough to pay my debts.”

“Indeed, sir,” replied Oliver, “I regret to hear you say so, and I can only apologise for having troubled you on the subject.  I assure you nothing would have induced me to do so but regard for my uncle, to whom the continuance of this mine for some time would appear to be a matter of considerable importance; but since you will not ­”

Wilt not!” interrupted Hitchin angrily, “have I not said can not?  I tell you, young man, that there is a scoundrel to whom I owe a large sum for ­for ­well, no matter what it’s for, but the blackguard threatens that if I don’t ­pshaw! ­”

The old man seemed unable to contain himself at this point, for he turned angrily away from Oliver, and, hastening back towards the town, was soon lost again in the crowd.

Oliver was so taken by surprise, that he stood still gazing dreamily at the point where Hitchin had disappeared, until he was roused by a touch on the shoulder from Charlie Tregarthen.

“Well,” said he, smiling, “how fares your suit?”

Oliver replied by a burst of laughter.

“How fares my suit?” he repeated; “badly, very badly indeed; why, the old fellow’s monkey got up the moment I broached the subject, and I was just in the middle of what I meant to be a most conciliating speech, when he flung off as you have seen.”

“Odd, very odd,” said Tregarthen, “to see how some men cling to their money, as if it were their life.  After all, it is life to some ­at least all the life they have got.”

“Come now, don’t moralise, Charlie, for we must act just now.”

“I’m ready to act in any way you propose, Oliver; what do you intend to do?  Issue your commands, and I’ll obey.  Shall we attack the village of Newlyn single-handed, and set fire to it, as did the Spaniards of old, or shall we swim off to the fleet of boats, cut the cables, bind the men in charge, and set sail for the mackerel fishing?”

“Neither, my chum, and especially not the latter, seeing that a thundercloud is about to break over the sea ere long, if I do not greatly misjudge appearances in the sky; but, man, we must see this testy old fellow again, and warn him of the danger which threatens him.  I feel assured that that rascal Cuttance means him harm, for he let something fall in his anger, which, coupled with what we have already heard from the smuggler himself, and from Tonkin, convinces me that evil is in the wind.  Now the question is, how are we to find him, for searching in that crowd is almost useless?”

“Let us go to his house,” suggested Tregarthen, “and if he is not at home, wait for him.”

“Do you know where his house is?”

“No, not I.”

“Then we must inquire, so come along.”

Pushing once more through the throng of busy men and women, the friends ascended the sloping causeway that led to the village, and here asked the first man they met where Mr Hitchin lived.

“Right over top o’ hill,” replied the man.

“Thank you.  That’ll do, Charlie, come along,” said Oliver, turning into one of the narrow passages that diverged from the main street of Newlyn, and ascending the hill with giant strides; “one should never be particular in their inquiries after a place.  When I’m told to turn to the right after the second turning to the left, and that if I go right on till I come to some other turning, that will conduct me point blank to the street that enters the square near to which lies the spot I wish to reach, I’m apt to get confused.  Get a general direction if possible, the position indicated by compass is almost enough, and ask again.  That’s my plan, and I never found it fail.”