Read CHAPTER NINE of The Lively Poll A Tale of the North Sea , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on ReadCentral.com.

BEGINNING OF THE GOOD WORK.

The breeze which had begun to blow freshened as the day advanced, and the Admiral, directing his course to the nor’-east, made for the neighbourhood of the Dogger Bank.  Having reached what he deemed suitable fishing-ground, he changed his course and gave the signal to “put to.”  With the precision of well-trained troops the smacks obeyed, and let down their trawls.  The Sunbeam also let down her net, and shaped her course like the rest, thus setting an example of attention to secular duty.  She trawled for fish so as to help to pay expenses, until such time as suitable weather and opportunity offered for the main and higher duty of fishing for men.

The first haul of the mission vessel was a great success, prophetic of the great successes in store, thought her skipper, as the cod-end was finally swung inboard in an almost bursting condition.  When the lower end was opened, and the living fountain of fish gushed over the deck, there was a general exclamation of satisfaction, mingled with thanksgiving, from the crew, for fishes great and small were there in abundance of every sort that swims in the North Sea.

“All sorts and conditions of men” leaped into Fred Martin’s mind, for he was thinking of higher things at the moment.  “A good beginning and a good omen,” he murmured.

Wot a haul!” exclaimed Pat Stiver, who was nearly swept off his legs, and to whom the whole thing was an entirely new experience.

“Use your eyes less and your hands more, my boy,” said Fink, the mate, setting the example by catching hold of a magnificent turbot that would have graced a lord mayor’s feast, and commencing to clean it.

Pat was by no means a lazy boy.  Recovering from his surprise, he set to work with all the vigour of a man of purpose, and joined the rest of the crew in their somewhat disagreeable duty.

They wrought with such goodwill that their contribution of trunks to the general supply was the largest put on board the steamer next day.

Calm and storm sometimes succeed each other rapidly on the North Sea.  It was so on the present occasion.  Before the nets could be cleared and let down for another take, the breeze had died away.  The weather that was unsuited, however, for fishing, was very suitable for “ferrying” to the steamer; and when that all-important duty was done, the comparative calm that prevailed was just the thing for the work of the Sunbeam.

Well aware of this, Manx Bradley and other like-minded skippers, kept close to the mission ship, whose great blue flag was waving welcome to all.  Boats were soon pulling towards her, their crews being influenced by a great variety of motives; and many men who, but for her presence, would have been gambling or drinking, or oppressed with having nothing to do, or whistling for a breeze, found an agreeable place of meeting on her deck.

On this occasion a considerable number of men who had received slight injuries from accidents came on board, so that Fred had to devote much of his time to the medical part of his work, while Fink, his mate, superintended the distribution of what may be styled worsted-works and literature.

“Hallo, Jim Freeman!” said Fred, looking round from the medicine shelves before which he stood searching for some drug; “you’re the very man I want to see.  Want to tempt you away from Skipper Lockley, an’ ship with me in the Sunbeam.”

“I’m not worth much for anybody just now,” said Freeman, holding up his right hand, which was bound in a bloody handkerchief.  “See, I’ve got what’ll make me useless for weeks to come, I fear.”

“Never fear, Jim,” said Fred, examining the injured member, which was severely bruised and lacerated.  “How got ye that?”

“Carelessness, Fred. The old story ­clapped my hand on the gunwale o’ the boat when we were alongside the carrier.”

“I’d change with ’ee, Jim, if I could,” growled Joe Stubley, one of the group of invalids who filled the cabin at the time.

There was a general laugh, as much at Joe’s lugubrious visage as at his melancholy tone.

“Why, what’s wrong with you, Stubs?” asked Fred.

“DT,” remarked the skipper of the Cormorant, who could hardly speak because of a bad cold, and who thus curtly referred to the drunkard’s complaint of delirium tremens.

“Nothin’ o’ the sort!” growled Joe.  “I’ve not seed a coper for a week or two.  Brandy’s more in your way, Groggy Fox, than in mine.  No, it’s mulligrumps o’ some sort that’s the matter wi’ me.”

“Indeed,” said Fred, as he continued to dress the bruised hand.  “What does it feel like, Stubs?”

“Feel like?” exclaimed the unhappy man, in a tone that told of anguish, “it feels like red-hot thunder rumblin’ about inside o’ me.  Just as if a great conger eel was wallopin’ about an’ a-dinin’ off my witals.”

“Horrible, but not incurable,” remarked Fred.  “I’ll give you some pills, boy, that’ll soon put you all to rights.  Now, then, who’s next?”

While another of the invalids stepped forward and revealed his complaints, which were freely commented on by his more or less sympathetic mates, Fink had opened out a bale of worsted comforters, helmets, and mitts on deck, and, assisted by Pat Stiver, was busily engaged in distributing them.  “Here you are ­a splendid pair of mitts, Jack,” he said, tossing the articles to a huge man, who received them with evident satisfaction.

“Too small, I fear,” said Jack, trying to force his enormous hand into one of them.

“Hold on! don’t bu’st it!” exclaimed Pat sharply; there’s all sorts and sizes here.  “There’s a pair, now, that would fit Goliath.”

“Ah, them’s more like it, little ’un,” cried the big fisherman.  “No more sea-blisters now, thanks to the ladies on shore,” he added, as he drew the soft mittens over his sadly scarred wrists.

“Now then, who wants this?” continued Fink, holding up a worsted helmet; “splendid for the back o’ the head and neck, with a hole in front to let the eyes and nose out.”

“Hand over,” cried David Duffy.

“I say, wot’s this inside?” exclaimed one of the men, drawing a folded paper from one of his mittens and opening it.

“Read, an’ you’ll maybe find out,” suggested the mate.

“`God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy,’” said the fisherman, reading from the paper.

“Just so,” said Fink, “that’s what the lady as made the mitts wants to let you know so’s you may larn to think more o’ the Giver than the gifts.”

“I wish,” said another of the men testily, as he pulled a tract from inside one of his mitts, and flung it on the deck, “I wish as how these same ladies would let religion alone, an’ send us them things without it.  We want the mitts, an’ comforters, an’ helmets, but we don’t want their humbuggin’ religion.”

“Shame, Dick!” said David Duffy, as he wound a comforter round his thick neck.  “You shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.  We’re bound to take the things as they’ve been sent to us, an’ say `Thank ‘ee.’”

“If it wasn’t for what you call `humbuggin’ religion,’” remarked Fink, looking Dick straight in the face, “it’s little that we’d see o’ comforters, or books, or mission ships on the North Sea.  Why, d’ee think that selfishness, or greed, or miserliness, or indifference, or godlessness would ever take the trouble to send all them things to us?  Can’t you understand that the love of God in the heart makes men and women wish to try to keep God’s commandments by bein’ kind to one another, an’ considering the poor, an’ feedin’ the hungry, an’ clothin’ the naked?”

“Right you are, Fink,” said Lockley, with a nod of approval, which was repeated by several of those around.

“But, I say, you spoke of books, mate,” remarked Bob Lumsden, who came forward at the moment, much to the satisfaction of his little friend Pat Stiver; “you han’t showed us any books yet.”

“One thing at a time, boy,” returned the mate.

“We’ve got lots o’ books too.  Go below, Pat, an’ ask the skipper to send up that big case o’ books; say I’ve about finished givin’ out the mitts an’ mufflers.”

“Just so, boy,” put in his friend Bob; “say that the mate has distributed the soft goods, an’ wants some hard facts now.”

“Don’t be cheeky, you young rascal!” cried the mate, hitting Bob on the nose with a well aimed pair of mittens.

“Thankee!  On’y them things was meant for the hands not for the nose.  Howsever, I won’t quarrel with a gift, no matter what way it comes to me,” retorted Bob, picking up the mitts and putting them in his pocket.

While he was speaking two men brought on deck a large box, which was quickly opened by the mate.  The men crowded around with much interest and curiosity, for it was the first batch of books that had ever reached that fleet.  The case was stuffed to the lid with old periodicals and volumes, of every shape, and size, and colour.

“W’y, they’ve bin an’ sent us the whole British Museum, I do believe!” exclaimed David Duffy, whose younger brother chanced to be a porter in our great storehouse of literature.

“Here you are, lads!” cried Fink, going down on his knees and pulling out the contents.  “Wollum of The Leisure Hour, Sunday Magazine, odd numbers o’ The Quiver, wollum of The Boy’s Own Paper, Young England, Home Words, and Good Words (to smother our bad words, you know).  There you are, enough to make doctors or professors of every man Jack o’ you, if you’ll on’y take it all in.”

“Professors!” growled Joe Stubley, who had come on deck, still suffering from his strange internal complaint.  “More like to make fools on us.  Wot do we want wi’ books and larnin’!”

“Nothin’ wotsumdever,” answered Pat Stiver, with a look of the most patronising insolence.  “You’re right, Joe, quite right ­as you always are.  Smacksmen has got no souls, no brains, no minds, no hintellects.”

“They’ve got no use for books, bless you!  All they wants is wittles an’ grog ­”

The boy pulled up at this point, for Stubley made a rush at him, but Pat was too quick for him.

“Well said, youngster; give it him hot,” cried one of the men approvingly, while the others laughed; but they were too much interested in the books to be diverted from these for more than a few seconds.  Many of them were down on their knees beside the mate, who continued in a semi-jocular strain ­“Now then, take your time, my hearties; lots o’ books here, and lots more where these came from.  The British public will never run dry.  I’m cheap John!  Here they are, all for nothin’, on loan; small wollum ­the title ain’t clear, ah! ­The Little Man as Lost his Mother; big wollum ­Shakespeare; Pickwick; books by Hesba Stretton; Almanac; Missionary Williams; Polar Seas an’ Regions; Pilgrim’s Progress ­all sorts to suit all tastes ­Catechisms, Noo Testaments, Robinson Crusoe.”

“Hold on there, mate; let’s have a look at that!” cried Bob Lumsden eagerly ­so eagerly that the mate handed the book to him with a laugh.

“Come here, Pat,” whispered Bob, dragging his friend out of the crowd to a retired spot beside the boat of the Sunbeam, which lay on deck near the mainmast.  “Did you ever read Robinson Crusoe?”

“No, never ­never so much as ’eard of ’im.”

“You can read, I suppose?”

“Oh yes; I can read well enough.”

“What have you read?” demanded Bob.

“On’y bits of old noospapers,” replied Pat, with a look of contempt, “an’ I don’t like readin’.”

“Don’t like it?  Of course you don’t, you ignorant curmudgeon, if noospapers is all you’ve read.  Now, Pat, I got this book, not for myself but a purpus for you.”

“Thankee for nothin’,” said Pat; “I doesn’t want it.”

“Doesn’t want it!” repeated Bob.  “D’ee know that this is the very best book as ever was written?”

“You seems pretty cock-sure,” returned Pat, who was in a contradictory mood that day; “but you know scholards sometimes differ in their opinions about books.”

“Pat I’ll be hard upon you just now if you don’t look out!” said Bob seriously.  “Howsever, you’re not so far wrong, arter all.  People does differ about books, so I’ll only say that Robinson Crusoe is the best book as was ever written, in my opinion, an’ so it’ll be in yours, too, when you have read it; for there’s shipwrecks, an’ desert islands, an’ savages, an’ scrimmages, an’ footprints, an’ ­see here!  That’s a pictur of him in his hairy dress, wi’ his goat, an’ parrot, an’ the umbrellar as he made hisself, a-lookin’ at the footprint on the sand.”

The picture, coupled with Bob Lumsden’s graphic description, had the desired effect.  His little friend’s interest was aroused, and Pat finally accepted the book, with a promise to read it carefully when he should find time.

“But of that,” added Pat, “I ain’t got too much on hand.”

“You’ve got all that’s of it ­four and twenty hours, haven’t you?” demanded his friend.

“True, Bob, but it’s the spare time I’m short of.  Howsever, I’ll do my best.”

While this literary conversation was going on beside the boat, the visitors to the Sunbeam had been provided with a good supply of food for the mind as well as ease and comfort for the body, and you may be very sure that the skipper and his men, all of whom were Christians, did not fail in regard to the main part of their mission, namely, to drop in seeds of truth as they found occasion, which might afterwards bear fruit to the glory of God and the good of man.