Story type: Literature
‘Tis the nicest miss in the world that I was born grandson of my own father’s father, and not of another man altogether. Hendry Watty was the name of my grandfather that might have been; and he always maintained that to all intents and purposes he was my grandfather, and made me call him so–’twas such a narrow shave. I don’t mind telling you about it. ‘Tis a curious tale, too.
My grandfather, Hendry Watty, bet four gallons of eggy-hot that he would row out to the Shivering Grounds, all in the dead waste of the night, and haul a trammel there. To find the Shivering Grounds by night, you get the Gull Rock in a line with Tregamenna and pull out till you open the light on St. Anthony’s Point; but everybody gives the place a wide berth because Archelaus Rowett’s lugger foundered there, one time, with six hands on board; and they say that at night you can hear the drowned men hailing their names. But my grandfather was the boldest man in Port Loe, and said he didn’t care. So one Christmas Eve by daylight he and his mates went out and tilled the trammel; and then they came back and spent the fore-part of the evening over the eggy-hot, down to Oliver’s tiddly-wink, to keep my grandfather’s spirits up and also to show that the bet was made in earnest.
‘Twas past eleven o’clock when they left Oliver’s and walked down to the cove to see my grandfather off. He has told me since that he didn’t feel afraid at all, but very friendly in mind, especially towards William John Dunn, who was walking on his right hand. This puzzled him at the first, for as a rule he didn’t think much of William John Dunn. But now he shook hands with him several times, and just as he was stepping into the boat he says, “You’ll take care of Mary Polly, while I’m away.” Mary Polly Polsue was my grandfather’s sweetheart at that time. But why he should have spoken as if he was bound on a long voyage he never could tell; he used to set it down to fate.
“I will,” said William John Dunn; and then they gave a cheer and pushed my grandfather off, and he lit his pipe and away he rowed all into the dead waste of the night. He rowed and rowed, all in the dead waste of the night; and he got the Gull Rock in a line with Tregamenna windows; and still he was rowing, when to his great surprise he heard a voice calling:
“Hendry Watty! Hendry Watty!”
I told you my grandfather was the boldest man in Port Loe. But he dropped his two paddles now, and made the five signs of Penitence. For who could it be calling him out here in the dead waste and middle of the night?
“Hendry Watty! Hendry Watty! drop me a line.”
My grandfather kept his fishing-lines in a little skivet under the stern-sheets. But not a trace of bait had he on board. If he had, he was too much a-tremble to bait a hook.
“HENDRY WATTY! HENDRY WATTY! drop me a line, or I’ll know why!”
My poor grandfather by this had picked up his paddles again, and was rowing like mad to get quit of the neighbourhood, when something or somebody gave three knocks–thump, thump, thump!–on the bottom of the boat, just as you would knock on a door. The third thump fetched Hendry Watty upright on his legs. He had no more heart for disobeying, but having bitten his pipe-stem in half by this time–his teeth chattered so–he baited his hook with the broken bit and flung it overboard, letting the line run out in the stern-notch. Not halfway had it run before he felt a long pull on it, like the sucking of a dog-fish.
“Hendry Watty! Hendry Watty! pull me in.”
Hendry Watty pulled in hand over fist; and in came the lead sinker over the notch, and still the line was heavy; be pulled and he pulled, and next, all out of the dead waste of the night, came two white hands, like a washerwoman’s, and gripped hold of the stern-board; and on the left of these two hands, on the little finger, was a silver ring, sunk very deep in the flesh. If this was bad, worse was the face that followed–a great white parboiled face, with the hair and whiskers all stuck with chips of wood and seaweed. And if this was bad for anybody, it was worse for my grandfather, who had known Archelaus Rowett before he was drowned out on the Shivering Grounds, six years before.
Archelaus Rowett climbed in over the stern, pulled the hook with the bit of pipe-stem out of his cheek, sat down in the stern-sheets, shook a small crayfish out of his whiskers, and said very coolly–
“If you should come across my wife–“
That was all my grandfather stayed to hear. At the sound of Archelaus’s voice he fetched a yell, jumped clean over the side of the boat and swam for dear life. He swam and swam, till by the bit of the moon he saw the Gull Rock close ahead. There were lashin’s of rats on the Gull Rock, as he knew: but he was a good deal surprised at the way they were behaving: for they sat in a row at the water’s edge and fished, with their tails let down into the sea for fishing-lines: and their eyes were like garnets burning as they looked at my grandfather over their shoulders.
“Hendry Watty! Hendry Watty! You can’t land here–you’re disturbing the pollack.”
“Bejimbers! I wouldn’ do that for the world,” says my grandfather: so off he pushes and swims for the mainland. This was a long job, and ’twas as much as he could do to reach Kibberick beach, where he fell on his face and hands among the stones, and there lay, taking breath.
The breath was hardly back in his body, before he heard footsteps, and along the beach came a woman, and passed close by to him. He lay very quiet, and as she came near he saw ’twas Sarah Rowett, that used to be Archelaus’s wife, but had married another man since. She was knitting as she went by, and did not seem to notice my grandfather: but he heard her say to herself, “The hour is come, and the man is come.”
He had scarcely begun to wonder over this, when he spied a ball of worsted yarn beside him that Sarah had dropped. ‘Twas the ball she was knitting from, and a line of worsted stretched after her along the beach. Hendry Watty picked up the ball and followed the thread on tiptoe. In less than a minute he came near enough to watch what she was doing: and what she did was worth watching. First she gathered wreckwood and straw, and struck flint over touchwood and teened a fire. Then she unravelled her knitting: twisted her end of the yarn between finger and thumb–like a cobbler twisting a wax-end–and cast the end up towards the sky. It made Hendry Watty stare when the thread, instead of falling back to the ground, remained hanging, just as if ’twas fastened to something up above; but it made him stare more when Sarah Rowett began to climb up it, and away up till nothing could be seen of her but her ankles dangling out of the dead waste and middle of the night.
“HENDRY WATTY! HENDRY WATTY!”
It wasn’t Sarah calling, but a voice far away out to sea.
“HENDRY WATTY! HENDRY WATTY! send me a line.”
My grandfather was wondering what to do, when Sarah speaks down very sharp to him, out of the dark:
“Hendry Watty! Where’s the rocket apparatus? Can’t you hear the poor fellow asking for a line?”
“I do,” says my grandfather, who was beginning to lose his temper; “and do you think, ma’am, that I carry a Boxer’s rocket in my trousers pocket?”
“I think you have a ball of worsted in your hand,” says she. “Throw it as far as you can.”
So my grandfather threw the ball out into the dead waste and middle of the night. He didn’t see where it pitched, or how far it went.
“Right it is,” says the woman aloft. “‘Tis easy seen you’re a hurler. But what shall us do for a cradle? Hendry Watty! Hendry Watty!”
“Ma’am to you,” says my grandfather.
“If you’ve the common feelings of a gentleman, I’ll ask you kindly to turn your back; I’m going to take off my stocking.”
So my grandfather stared the other way very politely; and when he was told he might look again, he saw she had tied the stocking to the line and was running it out like a cradle into the dead waste of the night.
“Hendry Watty! Hendry Watty! Look out below!”
Before he could answer, plump! a man’s leg came tumbling past his ear and scattered the ashes right and left.
“Hendry Watty! Hendry Watty! Look out below!”
This time ’twas a great white arm and hand, with a silver ring sunk tight in the flesh of the little finger.
“Hendry Watty! Hendry Watty! Warm them limbs!”
My grandfather picked them up and was warming them before the fire, when down came tumbling a great round head and bounced twice and lay in the firelight, staring up at him. And whose head was it but Archelaus Rowett’s, that he’d run away from once already, that night?
“Hendry Watty! Hendry Watty! Look out below!”
This time ’twas another leg, and my grandfather was just about to lay hands on it, when the woman called down:
“Hendry Watty! catch it quick! It’s my own leg I’ve thrown down by mistake!”
The leg struck the ground and bounced high, and Hendry Watty made a leap after it. . . .
And I reckon it’s asleep he must have been: for what he caught was not Mrs. Rowett’s leg, but the jib-boom of a deep-laden brigantine that was running him down in the dark. And as he sprang for it, his boat was crushed by the brigantine’s fore-foot and went down under his very boot-soles. At the same time he let out a yell, and two or three of the crew ran forward and hoisted him up to the bowsprit and in on deck, safe and sound.
But the brigantine happened to be outward-bound for the River Plate; so that, what with one thing and another, ’twas eleven good months before my grandfather landed again at Port Loe. And who should be the first man he sees standing above the cove but William John Dunn?
“I’m very glad to see you,” says William John Dunn.
“Thank you kindly,” answers my grandfather; “and how’s Mary Polly?”
“Why, as for that,” he says, “she took so much looking after, that I couldn’t feel I was keeping her properly under my eye till I married her, last June month.”
“You was always one to over-do things,” said my grandfather.
“But if you was alive an’ well, why didn’ you drop us a line?”
Now when it came to talk about “dropping a line” my grandfather fairly lost his temper. So he struck William John Dunn on the nose– a thing he had never been known to do before–and William John Dunn hit him back, and the neighbours had to separate them. And next day, William John Dunn took out a summons against him.
Well, the case was tried before the magistrates: and my grandfather told his story from the beginning, quite straightforward, just as I’ve told it to you. And the magistrates decided that, taking one thing with another, he’d had a great deal of provocation, and fined him five shillings. And there the matter ended. But now you know the reason why I’m William John Dunn’s grandson instead of Hendry Watty’s.