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"WHAT DOES IHE BANK KEN ABOUT MEBV [P. 60.
THE FOUR MACNICOLS
AUTHOR OP "WHITE WINGS" MACLEOD OF DARE" "A PRINCESS OP THULE)
"SUNRISE "A DAUGHTER OF HETH" MADCAP VIOLET" ETC.
HARPER & BROTHERS, FRANKLIN SQUARE
CHAPTER I. PAGE
JUVEXTUS MtNDI . . . . . . ... .9
THE LAST OF THE GAMES . ... . . . .33
ALTERED CIRCUMSTANCES . . . . . .. 55
FARTHER ENDEAVOR . . . . . . .. 74
THE HIGH-ROAD . . . . . . . . 96
WHAT DOES THE BANK KEN ABOUT ME ?" . .Frontispiece
"RUN HER UPI HAUL IN YOUR SHEET" YELLED ROB . 19
GOING UP TO THE CASTLE . . . . . . 29
tICOL MACNICOL LOWERED INTO THE DUNGEON.. . 39
THE DISASTER ................ 51
HE WAS SrTTINm CROSS-LEGGED ON HIS BENCH WHEN Ron
ENTERED ....... .......... 71
THEY WERE NOW HAULING AT THE NET ITSELF . 79
PAYING OUT THE NET .. ... ... ; ...... .87
I WANT TO COME ON BOARD, ROB". . . . 105
AIR-BUBBLES RISING TO THE SURFACE . . .. 111
THE FOUR MACNICOLS.
IT was on a bright and glorious morning in
July that the great chieftain, Robert of the Red
Hand, accompanied by his kinsmen and allies,
put to sea in his war-galley, resolved to sweep
the Spanish Main free of all his enemies, and
thereafter 'to hold high revel in the halls of
At least, that was how it appeared to the im-
agination of the great chieftain himself, though
the simple facts of the case were a trifle less ro-
10 The Four IAacNicols.
This Robert of the Red Hand (more familiarly
known as Rob MacNicol, or even as plain Rob)
was an active, stout-sinewed, black-eyed lad of
seventeen, whose only mark of chieftainship, ap-
parently, was that, unlike his brothers, he wore
shoes and stockings; these three relatives con-
stituted his allies and kinsmen; the so-called.
Spanish Main was in reality an arm of the sea,
better known in the Hebrides as Loch Scrone;
and the war-galley was an old, ramshackle, bat-
tered, and betarred boat, belonging generally to
the fishing-village of Erisaig, for, indeed, the boat
was so old and so battered that nobody now
seemed to claim any special ownership of it.
These four MacNicols -Robert, Neil, Nicol,
and Duncan-were, it must be admitted, an idle
and graceless set, living for the most part a
hand-to-mouth, amphibious, curlew-like kind of
life, and far more given to aimless voyages in
boats not belonging to them than inclined to
turn their hand to any honest labor.
The Four MacNicols. 11
But this must be said in their excuse, that no
boy or lad born in the village of Erisaig could
by any means whatsoever be brought to think
of becoming anything else than a fisherman. It
was impossible to induce them to apprentice
themselves to any ordinary trade.
They would wait until they were old enough
to go after the herring, like the others: that was
man's work; that was something like; that was
different from staying ashore and twiddling one's
fingers over a pair of somebody else's shoes, or
laboriously shaping a block of sandstone for
somebody else's house.
This Rob MacNicol, for example: it was only
for want of a greater career that he had consti.
tuted himself a dreaded sea-rover, a stern chief-
tain, etc., etc.
His secret ambition his great and constant
and secret ambition-went far farther than that.
It was to be of man's estate, broad-shouldered
and heavy-bearded; to wear huge black boots
12 The Four MacNicols.
up to his thighs, and a blue flannel jersey; to
have a peaked cap (not forgetting a brass button
on each side by way of smartness); and then to
come along in the afternoon, with a yellow oil-
skin tied up in a bundle, to the wharf where the
herring fleet lay, the admiration and the envy
of all the miserable creatures condemned to stay
In the mean time--in these days of joyous
idleness, while as yet the cares and troubles
which this history will have to chronicle were
far away from him and his, simply because they
were unknown-Rob MacNicol, if he could not
be a fisherman, could at least be an imaginary
chieftain, and in that capacity he gave his orders
as one who knew how to make himself obeyed.
As soon as they had shoved the boat clear of
the smacks, the jib was promptly set; the big
lumps of stone that served for ballast were duly
shifted; the lug-sail, as black as pitch and full
of holes, was hoisted, and the halyards made
The Four MacNicols. 13
fast; then the sheet was hauled in by Nicol
MacNicol, who had been ordered to the helm;
and finally the shaky old nondescript craft began
to creep through the blue waters of Erisaig Bay.
It was a lovely morning; the light breeze from
the land seemed steady enough; altogether, noth-
ing could have been more auspicious for the set-
ting out of the great chieftain and his kinsmen.
But, great as we are, we are not above fearing
the criticism of people ashore on our method of
handling a boat. Rob, from his proud position
at the bow, darted an angry glance at his helms-
"Keep her full, will ye ?" he growled, in an
undertone. "Do ye call that steering, ye gome-
ril? Run her by Daft Sandy's boat! It is no
better than a cow-herd you are at the steering."
This Daft Sandy, who will turn up in our his-
tory by-and-by, was a half-witted old man, who
spent his life in fishing for flounders from a rot-
ten old punt he had become possessed of.
14 The Four. MacNicols.
IIe earned a sort of living that way, and sel-
dom went near the shore during the day except
to beg for a herring or two for bait, when the
boats came in. He got the bait, but in an igno-
minious way; for the boys, stripping the nets,
generally saved up the "broken" herring, in or-
der to pelt Daft Sandy with the fragments when
he came near. That is to say, they indulged in
this amiable sport except when Rob MacNicol
happened to be about.
That youth had been heard to remark that the
first he caught at this game would pay a sudden
visit to the dead dog-fish lying beneath the clear
waters of the harbor; and it was very well
known among the urchins of Erisaig that the
eldest MacNicol had very little scruple about
taking the law into his own hands.
When he found a bigger boy thrashing a small-
er one, he invariably thrashed the bigger one,
just to keep things even, as it were; and he had
invented, for the better guidance of his brethren
The Four MacNicols. 15
and associates, a series of somewhat stringent
rules and punishments, to which, it must be said,
he cheerfully submitted himself.
At the same time, he was aware that even the
most moral and high-principled government has
occasionally to assert itself with rude physical
force; and although his hand was not particular-
ly red, as might have been expected, it was un-
commonly hard, and a cuff from it was under-
stood to produce the most startling lightning
effects in the region of the eye.
"Well, as they were nearing Daft Sandy's punt
Rob called out to him,
"Sandy, have ye had any luck the day ?"
The little, bent, blear-eyed old man looked up
from his hand-lines.
As the boat was gliding past Rob flung a cou-
ple of herring into the punt.
"There's some bait for ye."
"Ay; and where are ye for going, Robert ?"
16 The Four MacNicols.
the old man said as they passed. "Tak' heed.
It's squally; outside."
There was no answer; for at this moment
the quick eye of the chieftain detected one
of his kinsmen in the commission of a heinous
Tempted by the light and steady breeze, Nicol
had given way to idleness, and had made fast the
main-sheet, instead of holding it in his hand,
ready for all emergencies.
This, and not unnaturally, on such a squally
coast, Rob MacNicol had constituted an altogeth-
er unforgivable offence; and his first impulse was
to jump down to the stern of the boat and give
the helmsman, caught in flagrant delicto, a sound-
ing whack on the side of the head. But a graver
sense of justice prevailed. He summoned a
Nicol, catching the eye of his brother, hastily
tried to undo the sheet from the pin; but it was
too late. The crime had been committed; there
The Four MacNicols. 17
were two witnesses, besides the judge, who was
also the jury.
The judge and jury forthwith pronounced sen-
tence: Nicol MacNicol to forfeit one penny to
the fund being secretly stored up for the pur.
chase of a set of bagpipes, or to be lowered by the
shoulders until his feet should touch the ground
in the dungeon of Eilean-na-Rona Castle.
He was left to decide which alternative he
"would accept; and it must be said that the cul-
prit, after a minute or two's sulking, perceived
the justice of the sentence, and calmly said he
would take the dungeon.
Ye think rm feared ?" he said, contemptuous-
ly, to Neil and Duncan, who were grinning at
him. "Wha was it that gruppit the whut-
teruck?* And is there anything worse than
whutterucks in that hole in the castle ?"
"Ye'll find out, Nicol, my man," said his cousin
Anglice, seized hold of the weasel.
18 The Four MacNicols.
Neil. "There's warlocks. And they'll grup ye
by the legs."
"I'll save the penny anyway," said Nicol, to
whom a penny was a thing of known and sub-
Now, if any proof had been needed that Rob
MacNicol's stringent sailing rules were a matter
of stern necessity, it was quickly forthcoming.
On this beautiful summer morning, with the sea
smooth and blue around them, they were sailing
along as pleasantly as might be. But they had
scarcely got through the narrow channel leading
from the harbor, and were just emerging into
Loch Scrone, when a squall of wind came tearing
along and hit the boat so that the lug-sail was
almost flattened on to the water.
"Run her up! Haul in your sheet!" yelled
Rob to the frightened steersman.
Well it was at such a moment that the main-
sheet was free to be hauled in; for as the bow
was put up to the wind the varying squall
"RUNTO HER UPI HAUL IN YOUR 8HET 1" YELLED BOB.
L / i" -
The Four MacNicols. 21
caught her on the other beam and threw her
over, so that she shipped a bucket or two of
Had the water got into the belly of the sail,
the weight would have dragged her down; but
Rob instantly got rid of this danger by spring-
ing to the halyards, and the next moment the
crank craft strove to right herself, bringing sail
and yard rattling down into the boat.
"By this time, so fierce was the squall, a pretty
heavy sea had sprung up, and altogether things
looked very ugly. When they allowed the jib
to fill, even that was enough to send the boat
over, and she had already a dangerous lot of wa-
ter surging among the ballast; while, when they
were forced to put her head to the wind, she
drifted with a heavily running tide, and right to
leeward was a long reef of rocks that would in-
evitably crunch her into matchwood.
.The younger brothers said not a word, but
looked at Rob, ready to obey his slightest gest-
22 The Four MacNicols.
ure, and Rob stood by the mast calling out from
time to time to Nicol.
Matters grew worse. It was no use trying
merely to keep her head to the wind, for she was
drifting rapidly, and the first shock on the rocks
would send her and her stone ballast to the bot-
On the other hand, there was no open sea-room
to let her run away before the wind with a
straining jib. At all hazards it was necessary to
fight her clear of that long ledge of rock, even
if the wind threatened to tear the mast out of
the boat. So Rob himself sprung down to the
stern and took the tiller.
"Duncan, Neil, stand by the halyards, now.
When I sing out to ye, hoist her half-mast high
-be ready, now !"
He had his eye on the rocks all this time. On
the highest of them was a tall iron perch, paint-
ed scarlet-a warning to sailors; but from that
point long shelves and spurs ran out, the yellow
The Four MacNicols. 23
surface of barnacles growing greener and greener
as they went deeper into the sea. Already Rob
MacNicol could make out some of these subma-
rine reefs, even through the turbulent water.
Now, then, boys; up with her! Quick, now!"
It was a venturesome business; but there was
no help for it. The moment the sail was hoisted
a gust caught the boat and drove her over until
her gunwale again scooped up a lot of the hiss-
ing water. But as she righted, staggering all the
while, it was clear there was some good way on
her; and Rob, having had recourse to desperate
remedies, was determined to give her enough of
Down again went the gunwale to the hissing
water; and the strain on the rotten sheets of the
old boat was so great, that it was a wonder
everything did not go by the board.
But now there was a joyous hissing of foam
at the bow; she was forging ahead; if she could
only stand the pressure, in a minute or so she
24 The Four MacNicols.
would be clear of the rocks. Rob still kept his
eye on these treacherous shelves of yellow-green.
Then he sung out,
"Down with her, boys !"
The black lug-sail rattled into the boat; there
was nothing left now but the straining jib.
"Slack the lee jib-sheet !"
The next minute he had put his helm gently
up; the bow of the boat fell away from the
wind; and presently-just as they had time to
see the green depths of the rocks they had suc-
ceeded in weathering the war galley of the
great chieftain was spinning away down Loch
Scrone, racing with the racing waves, the wind
tearing and hauling at her bellied-out jib.
"Hurrah, my lads we'll soon be at Eilean-na-
Rona now, eh ?" Rob shouted.
He did not seem much put about by that nar-
row escape. Squalls were common on this coast,
and it was the business of one aspiring to be a
fisherman to take things as they came.
The Four MacNicols. 25
"Come, set to work and bale out the boat, you
bare-shanks lot! How d'ye think she can sail
with the half of Loch Scrone inside her ?"
Thus admonished, the younger brothers were
soon among the stone ballast baling out the
surging water with such rude utensils as they
could find. But the squall was of no great
The wind moderated in force; then it woke
up again, and brought a smart shower of rain
across; then, as if by magic, the heavens sudden-
ly cleared, a burst of hot sunlight fell around
them, the sea grew intensely blue, the far hills
on the other side of Loch Scrone began to shine
green in the yellow light, and all that was left
to tell of the squall that had very nearly put an
end to the great chieftain and all his clan was a
quickly-running sea, now all sparkling in dia-
The danger being thus over, Rob once more
delivered the tiller into the charge of his brother
26 The Four MacNicols.
Nicol, and went forward to his post of observa-
tion at the bow.
About the only bit of the imaginative voyage
on which he had started that had a solid basis
in fact was the existence of an old castle--or,
rather, the ruins of what had once been a castle
-on the island called Eilean-na-Rona; and now
that they were racing down Loch Scrone, that
small island was drawing nearer, and already
they could make out the dark tower and ivied
walls of the ancient keep.
Far darker than the tower itself were the le-
gends connected with this stronghold of former
times; but for these the brothers MacNicol, who
had seized on the place as their own, cared little.
It is true they had some dread of the dungeon,
and none of them would have liked to visit Ei-
lean-na-Rona at night; but in the daytime the
old ruins formed an excellent retreat, where they
could play such high jinks or hold such courtly
tournaments as they chose.
The Four MacNicols. 27
They ran the boat into a little creek of the
uninhabited island, driving her right up on the
beach for safety's sake, there being no anchor.
Then-Neil carrying a small basket the while,
and Duncan a coil of rope-they passed through
a wood of young larches and spruce, the air
smelling strongly of bracken and meadow-sweet
after the rain, and finally they reached the rocky
eminence on which stood the ruins.
There was no other way up, for tourists did
not come that way, and the owner of the island,
who was a farmer on the main-land, had but lit-
tle care for antiquities. However, the lads found
no difficulty. They swarmed up the face of the
crags like so many squirrels, and found them-
selves on a grassy plateau which had once form-
ed the outer court-yard of the keep.
Around this plateau were fragments of what
in former days had been a massive wall, but
most of the crumbling masonry was hidden under
ivy and weeds. In fiont of them, again, rose the
28 The Four MacNicols.
great tower, with its arched and gloomy entrance,
and its one or two small windows, in the clefts
of which bunches of wallflower were growing.
The only sign of life about the old castle or
the uninhabited island was given by two or
three jackdaws that wheeled about overhead, and
cawed harshly in resentment of this intrusion.
The great chieftain, Robert of the Red Hand,
having now assembled his kinsmen and allies in
the ancient halls of Eilean-na-Rona, proceeded to
speak as follows:
"Nicol, my man, ye have been tried and con-
"I ken that," was Nicol's philosophical reply.
"Ye had no business to make fast the sheet
of the lug-sail; ye might have drooned the lot
Nicol nodded. He had sinned, and was pre-
pared to suffer.
"Have ye aught to say against your being
lowered into the dungeon ?"
GOING UP TO THE CASTLE.
The Four MacNicols. 31
"I have not. Do you think I'm feared ?" said
"Ye will not pay the penny ?"
"De'il a penny will I pay !"
"Nicol," said his cousin Neil, with some touch
of compassion-for indeed he knew that the dun-
geon was a grewsome place-" Nicol, maybe you
have not got a penny ?"
"Well, I have not," said Nicol.
"Will I lend ye one?"
What would be the use of that ?" said Nicol.
"I would have to pay it back. Do you think
I'm feared ? I tell you I am not feared."
So there was nothing for it but to get the
rope and pass it under Nicol's arms, fastening it
securely at his back. Thus bound, the culprit
was marched through the archway of the old
tower into an apartment that was but feebly lit
by the reflected glare coming from without.
The other boys, as well as Nicol, walked very
carefully over the dank-smelling earth, until they
32 The Four MacNicols.
came to what seemed to be a large hole dug out
of the ground, and black as midnight. This was
the dungeon into which Nicol was to be lowered,
that he might expiate his offence before the high
THE LAST OF THE GAMES.
BUT before proceeding to relate how the cap.
tive clansman was lowered into the dungeon of
the castle on Eilean-na-Rona, it will be necessary
to explain why he did not choose to purchase his
liberty by the payment of the sum of one penny.
Pennies among the boys of Erisaig, and more
especially the MacNicols, were an exceedingly
"scarce commodity. The father of the three Mac-
Nicols, who was also burdened with the charge
of their orphan cousin Neil, was a hand on board
the steamer Glenara Castle, and very seldom
Jte had but small wages; and it was all he
34 The Four MacNicols.
could do, in the bringing up of the boys, to pay
a certain sum for their lodging and schooling,
leaving them pretty much to cadge for themselves
as regarded food and clothes.
Their food, mostly porridge, potatoes, and fish
of their own catching, cost little; and they did
not spend much money on clothes, especially in
summer-time, when no Erisaig boy-except Rob
MacNicol, who was a distinguished person -
would submit to the encumbrance of shoes and
Nevertheless, for various purposes, money was
necessary to them; and this they obtained by
going down in the morning, when the herring
boats came in, and helping the men to strip the
nets. The men were generally tired out and
sleepy with their long night's work; and, if they
had had anything like a good haul, they were
glad to give these lads twopence or threepence
apiece to undertake the labor of lifting the nets,
yard by yard, out of the hold, shaking out the
The Four MacNicols. 35
silvery fish and dexterously extricating those that
had got more firmly enmeshed.
Moreover, it was a work the boys delighted in.
If it was not the rose, it was near the rose. If it
was not for them as yet to sail away in the after-
noon, watched by all the village, at least they
could take this small part in the great herring
trade. And when they had shaken out the last
of the nets and received their wages, they stepped
ashore with a certain pride; and generally they
put both hands in their pockets, as a real fisher-
man would do; and perhaps they would walk
along the quays with a slight lurch, as if they,
also, had been cramped up all the long night
through, and felt somewhat unused to walking
on first getting back to land.
Now, these MacNicol boys, again imitating the
well-to-do among the fishermen, had each an ac-
count at the savings-bank; and the pence they
got were carefully hoarded up. For if they
wanted a new Glengarry cap, or if they wanted
36 The Four MacNicols.
to buy a book telling them of all kinds of tre-
mendous adventures at sea, or if it became neces-
sary to purchase some more fishing-hooks at the
grocer's shop, it was their own small store of
wealth they had to look to; and so it came about
that a penny was something to be seriously con-
When Rob MacNicol had to impose a fine of
one penny, he knew it was a dire punishment;
and if there was any alternative, the fine was
rarely paid. The fund, therefore, which he had
started for the purchase of an old and disused set
of bagpipes, and which was to be made up of
those fines, did not grow apace. Of course, being
a chieftain, he must needs have a piper. The
revels in the halls of Eilean-na-Rona lacked half
their impressiveness through the want of the
pipes. It is true, Rob had a sort of suspicion
that, if ever they should grow rich enough to buy
the old set of bagpipes, he would have to play
them hiniself; but even the most ignorant person
The Four MacNicols. 37
can perceive that to be one's own piper must at
least be better than to have no piper at all.
And now the captive Nicol MacNicol was led
to the edge of this black pit in the floor of the
lower hall of the castle. On several occasions
one or other of the boys had been lowered, for
slighter offences, into this dungeon; but no one
had ever been condemned to go to the bottom-
if bottom there were. But Nicol did not flinch.
He was satisfied of the justice of his sentence.
He was aware he deserved the punishment.
Above all, he was determined to save that penny.
At the same time, when the other three had
poised themselves so as to lower the rope gradu-
ally, and when he found himself descending into
that black hole, he looked rather nervously be-
Of course, he could see nothing. But there
was a vague tradition that this dungeon was
haunted by ghosts, vampires, warlocks, and other
unholy things; and there was a chill, strange,
38 The Four MacNicols.
earthy odor arising from it; and the walls that
he scraped against were slimy and damp.
He uttered no word, however; and those above
kept slowly paying out the coil of rope. Rob
became somewhat concerned.
"It'll be no easy job to pull him back," he
said, in a whisper.
"It's as deep as the dungeon they put Donald
Gorm Mor into," said his cousin Neil.
Maybe there's no bottom at all," said Duncan,
Suddenly a fearful thing happened. There
was a cry from below a quick cry of alarm;
and at the same moment they were startled by
"a wild whizzing and whirring around them, as if
"a legion of fiends had rushed out of the pit.
With a shriek of fright Duncan sprung back
from the edge of the dungeon; and that with
such force that he knocked over his two compan-
ions. Moreover, in falling, they let go the rope.
When they rose again they looked round in the
NICOL MACNICOL LOWERED INTO THE DUNGEON.
The Four MacNicols. 41
twilight, but could find no trace of it. It had
slipped over the edge. And there was no sound
Rob was the first to regain his senses. He
rushed to the edge of the hole and stooped over.
Nicol, are ye there ?"
His heart jumped within him when he heard
his brother's voice.
"Yes, I am; and the rope too. How am I to
get up ?"
Rob turned quickly.
"Duncan, down to the boat with ye! Loosen
the lug-sail halyards, and bring them up; quick,
Duncan was off like a young roe. He slid
down the crags; he dashed through the larch-
wood; he jumped into the boat on the beach.
Presently he was making his way as quickly
back again, the halyards coiled round his arm,
so as not to prevent his climbing.
Nicol !" shouted Rob.
42 The Four MacNicols.
"I am lowering the halyards to ye. Fasten
them to the end of the rope."
"I canna see them."
"Grope all around till ye come to them."
And so, in process of time, the end of the rope
was hauled up, and thereafter-to the great re-
lief of every one, and to his own,no doubt-Nicol
appeared alive and well, though somewhat anx-
ious to get away from the neighborhood of that
dungeon. He went immediately out into the
warm summer air, followed by the others.
"Man, what a fright I got!" he said at last,
having recovered his speech.
"Ay, and so did we," Neil admitted.
"What was't said he, timidly, as if almost
afraid to put his own fears and suspicions into
"I dinna ken," Neil said, looking rather fright-
9 "Ye dinna ken !" Rob MacNicol said, with a
The Four MacNicols. 43
scornful laugh. Ye ought to ken, then. It was
nothing but a lot of bats; and Duncan yelled as
if he had seen twenty warlocks; and knocked us
over, so that we lost the rope. Come, boys, begin
your games now; the steamer will be in early
"Well,it seemed easier to dismiss superstitious
fears out here in the sunlight. Perhaps it had
been only bats after all. Warlocks did not whirr
in the air-at least, they were understood not to
do so. Witches were supposed to reserve their
aerial performances for the night-time. Perhaps
it was only bats, as Rob asserted. Indeed, it
would be safer-especially in Rob's presence-to
accept his explanation of the mystery. At the
same time the younger boys occasionally darted
a stealthy glance backward to that gloomy apart-
ment that had so suddenly become alive with un-
Then the games began. Rob had come to the
conclusion that a wise chieftain should foster a 9
44 The Four MacNicols.
love for national sports and pastimes; and to
that end he had invented a system of marks, the
winning of a large number of which entitled the
holder to pecuniary or other reward. As for
himself, his part was that of spectator and arbi-
ter; he handicapped the competitors; he declared
On this occasion he ensconced himself in a
niche of the ruins, where he was out of the glare
of the sun, and gracefully surrounded by masses
of ivy; while his relatives hauled out to the mid.
dle of the green plateau several trunks of fir-
trees of various sizes that had been carefully
lopped and pruned for the purpose of" tossing
Well, they tossed the caber;" they "put the
stone;" they had wrestling -matches, and other
trials of strength; Rob the while surveying the
scene with a critical eye, and reckoning up the
proper number of marks. And now some milder
* diversions followed. Three or four planks, rude.
The Four MacNicols. 45
ly nailed together, and forming a piece of rough
flooring about two or three yards square, were
hauled out from an archway, placed on the grass,
and a piece of tarpaulin thrown over them.
Then two of the boys took out their jews-
harps-alas! alas! that was the only musical in-
strument within their reach, until the coveted
bagpipes should be purchased-and gayly struck
Up with "Green grow the rushes, 0!" as a pre-
What was this now? What but a perform-
ance of the famous sword-dance by that renowned
and valiant henchman, Nicol MacNicol of Erisaig,
in the kingdom of Scotland! Nicol, failing a
couple of broadswords or four dirks, had got two
pieces of rusty old iron and placed them cross-
wise on the extemporized floor.
With what skill and nimbleness he proceeded
to execute this sword-dance-which is, no doubt,
the survival of some ancient mystic rite; with
what elegance he pointed his toes and held his
46 The Four MacNicols.
arms akimbo; with what amazing dexterity, in
all the evolutions of the dance, he avoided touch-
ing the bits of iron; nay, with what intrepidity,
at the most critical moment, he held his arms
aloft and victoriously snapped his thumbs, it
wants a Homeric chronicler to tell.
It needs only be said here that, after it, Neil's
"Highland Fling" was a comparative failure,
though he, better than most, could give that out-
flung quiver of the foot which few can proper-.
ly acquire, and without which the dancer of the
"Highland Fling" might just as well go home
and go to bed.
The great chieftain, having regarded these
and other performances with an observant eye,
and having awarded so many marks to this
one and to that, declared the games over, and
invited the competitors one and all to a royal
It was a good deal more wholesome than most
banquets, for it consisted of a scone and a glass
The Four MacNicols. 47
of fresh milk apiece-butter being as yet beyond
the means of the MacNicols. And it was a good
deal more sensible than most banquets, for there
was no speech-making after it. But there was
some interesting conversation.
"Nicol, what did ye find in the dungeon ?"
Oh man, it was a grewsome place," said Nicol,
who did not want to make too little of the perils
he had encountered.
"What did ye see?"
"How could I see anything? But I felt plenty
on the way down; and I'm sure it's fu' o' creepin'
things and beasts. And then, when I was near
the foot, I put my hand on something leevin', and
it flew up and hit me; and in a meenit the whole
place was alive. Man, what a noise it was! And
then down came the rope and I fell; and I got
sich a clour on the head !"
"Nothing but bats !" said Rob, contemptu-
48 The Four IacNicols.
"I think it was houlets," said Duncan, confi-
dently; "for there was one in the wood when
I was gaun through, and I nearly ran my head
against him. He was sitting in one of the larch-
es-man, he made a noise !"
"Ye've got your heads filled with nothing but
witches and warlocks the day !" said Rob, impa-
tiently, as he rose to his feet. "Come, and get
the things into the basket. We maun be back in
Erisaig before the Glenara comes in."
Very soon thereafter the small party made
their way down again to the shore, and entered
the war-galley of the chieftain, the halyards being
restored to their proper use. There were no
more signs of any squall, but the light, steady
breeze was contrary; and as Robert of the Red
Hand was rather anxious to get back before the
steamer should arrive, and as he prided him-
self on his steering, he himself took the tiller,
"* Anglice, owls.
The Four MacNicols. 49
his cousin Neil being posted as look-out for-
It was a tedious business this beating up
against the contrary wind; but there was noth-
ing the MacNicols delighted in so much as in sail-
ing, and they had grown to be expert in handling
a boat. And it needed all their skill to get any-
thing out of these repeated tacks with this old
craft, that had a sneaking sort of way of falling
away to leeward.
However, they had the constant excitement of
putting about; and the day was fine; and they
were greatly refreshed after their arduous pas-
times by that banquet of scones and milk. Nor
did they know that this was to be the last day
of their careless,boyish idleness; that never again
would the great chieftain, heedless of what the
morrow might bring forth, hold these high frolics
in the halls of Eilean-na-Rona.
Patience and perseverance will beat even con-
trary winds; and at last, after one long tack,
50 The Four MacNicols.
stretching almost to the other side of Loch
Scrone, they put about, and managed to make
the entrance to the harbor, just weathering the
rocks that had nearly destroyed them on their
But here another difficulty waited them. Un-
der the shelter of the low-lying hills the harbor
was in a dead calm. No sooner had they passed
the rocks than they found themselves on water
as smooth as glass, and there were no oars in the
For this oversight Rob MacNicol was not
responsible, the fact being that oars were valu-
able in Erisaig, and not easily to be borrowed,
whereas this old boat was at anybody's disposal.
There was nothing for it but to sit and wait for
a puff of wind.
Suddenly they heard a sound--the distant
throbbing of the Glenara's paddles. Rob grew
anxious. This old boat was right in the fair-way
of the steamer; and the question was whether,
The Four MacNicols. 53
in coming round the point, she would see them
in time to slow.
I wish we were out of here," said he.
As a last resource, he threw the tiller into the
boat, took up the helm, and tried to use it as a
sort of paddle. But this was scarcely of any
avail; and they could hear, though they could
not see, that the steamer was almost at the point.
The next moment she appeared, and it seemed
to them in their fright that she was almost upon
them-towering away over them with her gigan-
tic bulk. They heard the scream of the steam-
whistle, and the sharp "ping! ping !" of the indi-
cator, as the captain tried to have the engines
It was too late. The way on the steamer
carried her on, even when her paddles were
stopped; and the next second her bows had
gone clean into the old tarred boat, cutting her
almost in two and heeling her over.
She sunk at once. Then the passengers of the
54 The Four MacNicols.
steamer rushed to the side to see what should
become of the lads struggling in the water, the
mate threw overboard to them a couple of life-
buoys, and the captain shouted out to have a
boat lowered. There was a great confusion.
Meanwhile all this had been witnessed by the
father of the MacNicols, who had stood for a
second or two as if paralyzed. Then a sort of
spasm of action seized him; and, apparently not
knowing what he was about, he threw open the
gangway abaft the paddle-box and sprung into
EVEN with this big steamer coming right
down on them, Rob MacNicol did not lose his
head. He knew that his two brothers and his
cousin Neil could swim like water-rats; and as
for himself, though he would have given a good
deal to get rid of his boots, he did not fear being
able to get ashore.
But there was no time to think. "Jump clear
of the boat!" he shouted to his companions.
The next second came the dreadful crash. The
frail old boat seemed to be pressed onward and
downward, as if the steamer had run right over
her. Then Rob found himself in the water, and
very deep in the water too.
56 The Four MacNicols.
The next thing he perceived was a great,
greenish-white thing over his head; and as he
knew that that was the hull of the steamer, he
struck away from it with all the strength at his
disposal. He remembered afterward experienc-
ing a sort of hatred of that shining green thing,
and thinking it looked hideous and dangerous,
like a shark.
However, the next moment he rose to the sur-
face, blew the water out of his mouth, and looked
There was a life-buoy within a yard of him,
and the people on the steamer were calling to
him to lay hold of it; but he had never touched
one of these things, and he preferred to trust to
himself, heavy as he felt his boots to be.
It was the others he was looking after. Neil,
he perceived, was already off for the shore, swim-
ming hand-over-hand, as if a sword-fish were after
him. Nicol was being hauled up the side of the
steamer at the end of a rope, just as he had been
The Four MacNicols. 57
hauled up from the Eilean-na-Rona dungeon;
and his brother Duncan had seized hold of the
helm that had been cast loose when the boat
Satisfied that every one was safe, Rob him-
self struck out for the side of the steamer, and
was speedily hauled on board, presently find-
ing himself on deck with his two dripping com-
The strange thing was that his father was no-
where to be seen, and even the captain looked
round and asked where John MacNicol was. At
the same moment a woman, all trembling, came
forward and asked the mate if they had got the
What man ?" said he.
She said she had been standing by the paddle-
Sbox, and that one of the sailors, the moment the
accident had occurred, had opened the gangway
and jumped into the water, no doubt with the
intention of rescuing the boys. She had not seen
58 The Four MacNicols.
him come up again, for just as he went down the
At this news there was some little consterna-
tion. The mate called aloud for John MacNicol;
there was no answer. He ran to the other side
of the steamer; nothing was visible on the
smooth water. They searched everywhere, and
the boat that had been lowered was pulled
about, but the search was in vain.
The woman's story was the only explanation
of this strange disappearance; but the sailors
suspected more than they dared to suggest to
the bewildered lads. They suspected that old
MacNicol had dropped into the water just before
the paddles had made their first backward revo-
lution, and that in coming to the surface he had
been struck by one of the floats. They said noth-
ing of this, however; and as the search proved to
be quite useless, the Glenara steamed slowly on-
ward to the quay.
It was not until the next afternoon that they
The Four MacNicols. 59
recovered the body of old MacNicol; and from
certain appearances on the corpse it was clear
that he had been struck down by the paddles in
his effort to reach and help his sons.
That was a sad evening for Rob MacNicol. It
was his first introduction to the cruel facts of
life. And amid his sorrow for the loss of one
who, in a sort of rough and reticent way, had
been very kind and even affectionate to him, Rob
was vaguely aware that on himself now rested
the responsibility for the upbringing of his two
brothers and his cousin.
He sat up late that night, long after the oth-
ers were asleep, thinking of what he should do.
In the midst of this silence the door was quiet-
ly opened, and Daft Sandy came into the small
What do ye want at this time o' night ?" said
Rob, angrily, for he had been startled.
The old, bent, half-witted man looked cautious-
ly at the bed in which Neil lay fast asleep.
60 The Four MacNicols.
Whisht, Rob, my man," he said, in a whisper;
"I waited till every one in Erisaig was asleep.
Ay, ay! it's a bad day this day for ye. And
what are ye going to do now, Rob ? Ye'll be
taking to the fishing ?"
"Oh, ay; I'll be taking to the fishing!" said
Rob, bitterly, for he had been having his dreams
also, and had turned from them with a sigh.
"Of course I'll be taking to the fishing! And
maybe ye'll tell me where I am to get forty
pounds to buy a boat, and where I am to get
thirty pounds to buy nets ? Maybe ye'll tell me
that, Sandy ?"
"What does the bank ken about me? They
would as soon think of throwing the money into
"But ye ken, Rob, Coll Macdougall would give
ye a share in his boat for twelve pounds."
"Twelve pounds! Man, ye're just daft, Sandy.
Where am I to get twelve pounds?"
The Four MacNicols. 61
"Well, well, Rob," said the old man, coming
nearer, and speaking still more mysteriously,
"listen to what I tell ye. Some day or other
ye'll be taking to the fishing; and when that
day comes I will put something in your way.
Ay, ay, the fishermen about Erisaig dinna know
everything; come to me, Rob, my man, and I'll
tell ye something about the herring. Ye are
a good lad, Rob. Many's the herring I've got
from ye when I wouldna go near the shore for
they mischievous bairns; and when once ye have
a boat and nets o' your own I will tell ye some-
thing. Daft Sandy is no so daft, maybe. Have
ye ony tobacco, Rob ?"
Rob said he had no tobacco; and, making sure
that Daft Sandy had come to him with a pack
of nonsense merely as an excuse to borrow
money for tobacco, he bundled him out of the
house and went to bed.
Rob was anxious that his brothers and cousin
and himself should present a respectable appear-
62 The Four MacNicols.
ance at the funeral; and in these humble prepa-
rations nearly all their small savings were swal-
lowed up. The funeral expenses were paid by
the steamboat company. Then after the funeral
the few people who were present departed to
their own homes, no doubt imagining that the
MacNicol boys would be able to live as hitherto
they had lived-that is, anyhow.
But there was a kindly man, called Jamieson,
who kept the grocery-shop, and he called Rob in
as the boys passed home.
"Rob," said he," ye maun be doing something
now. There's a cousin of mine has a whiskey-
shop in'the Salt-market, in Glasgow, and I could
get ye a place there."
Rob's very gorge rose at the notion of his
having to serve in a whiskey-shop in Glasgow.
That would be to abandon all the proud am-
bitions of his life. Nevertheless, he had been
thinking seriously about the duty he owed to
these lads, his companions, who were now de-
The Four MacNicols. 63
pendent on him. So he swallowed his pride,
How much would he give me?"
"I think I could get him to give ye four shil-
lings a week. That would keep ye very well."
"Keep me said Rob. Ay, but what's to
become o' Duncan and Neil and Nicol?"
"They must shift for themselves," the grocer
"That winna do," said Rob, and he left the
He overtook his companions, and asked them
to go along to some rocks overlooking the bar-
bor. They sat down there -the harbor below
them, with all its picturesque boats, and masses
of drying nets and what not.
Neil," said Rob to his cousin, we'll have to
think about things now. There will be no more
Eilean-na-Rona for us. We have just about as
much left as will pay the lodgings this week, and
Nicol must go three nights a week to the night-
64 The Four MacNicols.
school. What we get for stripping the nets '11
no do now."
"It will not," said Neil.
"Mr. Jamieson was offering me a place in Glas-
gow, but it is not very good, and I think we will
do better if we keep together. Neil," said he,
"if we had only a net, do ye not think we could
trawl for cuddies?"*
And again he said, Neil, do ye not think we
could make a net for ourselves out of the old
rags lying at the shed ?"
And again he said, "Do ye think that Peter,
the tailor, would lend us his old boat for a shil-
ling a week ?"
It was clear that Rob had been carefully con-
sidering the details of this scheme of co-opera-
tion. And it was eagerly welcomed, not only by
Neil, but also by the brothers Duncan and Nicol,
"* Cuddies is the familiar name in those parts for young saithe.
Trawling, again, there means the use of an ordinary seine.
The Four MacNicols. 65
who had been frightened by the thought of Rob
going away to Glasgow. The youngest of all,
Nicol, boldly declared that he could mend nets
as well as any man in Erisaig.
No sooner was the scheme thoroughly discuss-
ed than it was determined, under Rob's direc-
tion, to set to work at once. The woman who
kept the lodgings and cooked their food had in-
timated to them that they need be in no hurry
to pay her for a week or two until they should
find some employment; but they had need of
money, or the equivalent of money, in other di-
Might not old Peter, who was a grumbling
and ill-tempered person, insist on being paid in
advance ? Then, before they could begin to make
a net out of the torn and rejected pieces lying
about the shed, they must needs have a ball of
So Rob bade his brothers and cousin go away
and get their rude fishing-rods and betake them-
66 The Four MacNicols.
selves to the rocks at the mouth of the harbor,
and see what fish they could get for him during
Meanwhile, he himself went along to the shed
which was used as a sort of storage-house by
some of the fishermen; and here he found lying
about plenty of pieces of net that had been cast
aside in the process of mending.
This business of mending the nets is the last
straw on the back of the tired-out fisherman.
When he has met with an accident to his nets
during the night-when he has fouled on some
rocks in dragging them in, for example-it is a
desperately fatiguing affair to set to work to
mend them when he gets ashore, dead beat with
the labors of the morning.
The fishermen-for what reason I do not know
-will not intrust this work to their wives; they
will rather, after having been out all night, keep
at it themselves, though they drop off to sleep
every few minutes. It is not to be wondered at,
The Four MacNicols. 67
then, that often, instead of trying to laboriously
mend holes here or there, they should cut out a
large piece of torn net bodily and tack on a fresh
The consequence is, that in a place like Erisaig
there is generally plenty of netting to be got for
the asking; which is a good thing for gardeners
who want to protect currant bushes from the
blackbirds, and who will take the trouble to
patch the pieces together.
Rob was allowed to pick out a large number of
pieces that he thought might serve his purpose;
and these he carried off home. But then came
the question of floats and sinkers. Sufficient
pieces of cork to form the floats might in time be
got about the beach; but the sinkers had all
been removed from the cast-away netting.
In this extremity, Rob bethought of rigging up
a couple of guy-poles, as the salmon-fishers call
them, one for each end of the small seine he had
in view; so that these guy-poles, with a lump of
68 The Four MacNicols.
lead. at the lower end, would keep the net vertical
while it was being dragged through the water.
All this took up the best part of the afternoon;
for he had to cadge about before he could get a
couple of stout poles; and he had to bargain
with the blacksmith for a lump of lead. Then
he walked along to the point where the other
MacNicols were busy fishing.
They had been lucky with their lines and bait.
On the rocks beside them lay two or three small
codling, a large flounder, two good-sized lythe,
and nearly a dozen saithe. Rob got hold of
these; washed them clean to make them look
fresh and smart; put a string through their
gills, and marched off with them to the village.
He felt no shame in trying to sell fish: was it
not the whole trade of the village ? He walked
into the grocer's shop.
"Will ye buy some fish ?" said he; "they're
The grocer looked at them.
The Four MacNicols. 69
"What do you want?"
"A ball of twine."
"Let me tell ye this, Rob," said the grocer, se-
verely: that a lad in your place should be think-
ing of something else than fleein' a dragon." *
"I dinna want to flee any dragon," said Rob;
"I want to mend a net."
"Oh, that is quite different," said the grocer;
and then he added, with a good-natured laugh,
"Are ye going to be a fisherman, Rob ?"
"I will see," Rob said.
So he had his ball of twine-and a very large
one it was. Off he set to his companions.
"Come away, boys, I have other work for ye.
Now, Nicol, my man, ye'll show us what ye can
do in the mending of nets. Ye havena been tell-
ing lies ?"
Well, it took them several days of very hard
and constant work before they rigged up some-
"* Fleein' a dragon-flying a kite.
70 The Four MacNicols.
thing resembling a small seine; and then Rob
affixed his guy-poles; and they went to the grocer
and got from him a lot of old rope on the promise
to give him a few fresh fish whenever they hap-
pened to have a good haul. Then Rob pro-
ceeded to his fateful interview with Peter, the
Peter was a sour-visaged, gray-headed old man,
who wore horn-rimmed spectacles. He was sit-
ting cross-legged on his bench when Rob entered.
"Peter, will ye lend me your boat ?"
"I will not."
Why will ye no lend me the boat ?"
"Do I want it sunk, as ye sunk that boat the
other day ? Go away with ye. Ye're an idle lot,
you MacNicols. Ye'll be drooned some day."
"We want it for the fishing, Peter," said Rob,
who took no notice of the tailor's ill temper.
"I'll give ye a shilling a week for the loan o't."
"A shilling a week!" said Peter, with a laugh.
"A shilling a week! Where's your shilling ?"
HE WAS SITTING CROSS-LEGGED ON HIS BENCH WHEN
The Four MacNicols. 73
"There," said Rob, putting it plump down on
The tailor looked at the shilling; took it up,
bit it, and put it in his pocket.
"Very well," said he; "but mind, if ye sink
my boat, ye'll have three pounds to pay."
Rob went back eager and joyous. Forthwith,
a thorough inspection of the boat was set about
by the lads in conjunction; they tested the oars;
they tested the thole-pins; they had a new piece
of cork put into the bottom. For that evening,
when it grew a little more toward dusk, they
would make their first cast with their net.
Yes; and that evening, when it had quite turn-
ed to dusk, the people of Erisaig were startled
with a new proclamation. It was Neil MacNicol,
standing in front of the cottages, and boldly call-
ing forth these words:
IS THERE ANY ONE WANTING CUDDIES THERE
ARE CUDDIES TO BE SOLD AT THE WEST SLIP, FOR
A SIXPENCE A HUNDRED !
THAT was indeed an anxious time, when the
four MacNicols proceeded to try the net on
which they had spent so much forethought and
They had no great expectation of catching
fish this evening; their object was, rather, to
try whether the ropes would hold, whether the
floats would be sufficient, and whether Rob's
guy-poles would keep the net vertical. So they
got into the tailor's boat, and rowed away round
the point to a sandy bay, where they had noth-
ing to fear from rocks on this their first experi-
The Four MacNicols. 75
It was, as has been mentioned in the previous
chapter, nearly dusk-an excellent time for catch-
ing saithe, if saithe were about. The net had
been carefully placed in the stern of the boat, so
that it would run out easily, the rope attached
to the guy-pole neatly coiled on the top.
Rob was very silent as his two brothers pulled
away at the long oars. He knew what depended
on this trial. They had just enough money left
to settle with their landlady on the following
evening, and Nicol's school-fees had to be paid
They rowed quietly into this little bay, which,
though of a sandy bottom, was pretty deep. Rob
had resolved to take the whole responsibility of
the experiment on himself. He landed his broth-
ers and his cousin, giving the latter the end of
the rope attached to the guy-pole; then he qui-
etly pulled away again from the shore.
When the length of the rope was exhausted,
he himself took the guy-pole and gently dropped
76 The Four MacNicols.
it over, to prevent splashing; and as he did so
the net began to pay out.
He pulled slowly, just to see how the thing
would work; and it seemed to work very well.
The net went out freely, and apparently sunk
properly; from the top of the guy-pole to the
stern of the boat you could see nothing but the
line of the floats on the smooth water.
But the net was a small one; soon it would be
exhausted; so Rob began to pull round toward
the shore again. At the same time Neil, who
had had his instructions, began to haul in his
end of the net gently, so that by-and-by, when
Rob had run the boat on the beach, and jumped
out with his rope in his hand, the line of floats
began to form a semicircle that was gradually
narrowing and coming nearer the shore.
It was a moment of great excitement, and not
a word was spoken. For although this was os-
tensibly only a trial, to see how the net would
work, each lad in his secret heart was wondering
The Four MacNicols. 77
whether there might not be a haul of fish capt-
ured from the mysterious deep; and not one of
them-not Rob himself-could tell whether this
very considerable weight they were gradually
pulling in was the weight of the net mere-
ly, or the weight of fish, or the weight of sea-
The semicircle of the floats came nearer and
nearer, all eyes striving to pierce the clear water.
"I hope the rope '11 no break," said Rob, anx-
iously, for the weight was great.
"And it's only seaweed!" said Duncan, in a
tone of great disappointment.
But Rob's eye had been caught by some odd
appearance in the water. It seemed troubled
somehow, and more especially near the line of
"Is it ?" said he; and he hastily bade Duncan
take the rope and haul it gently in. He himself
began to take up handfuls of small stones, and
fling them into the sea close by the two guy-
78 The Four MacNicols.
poles, so that the fish should be frightened back
into the net.
And, as the semicircle grew still smaller, it
was very obvious that, though there might be
seaweed in the net, it was not all seaweed. By
this time the guy-poles had been got ashore;
they were now hauling at the net itself.
Quicker now, boys !" Rob called out. "Man
alive! look at that!"
All the space of water now enclosed by the
net was seen to be in a state of commotion; the
net itself was being violently shaken; here and
there a fish leaped into the air.
"Steady, boys! Don't jerk, or ye'll tear the
net to bits!" Rob called out, in great excitement.
For behold! when they had hauled this great
weight up on the shore with a final swoop, there
was something there that almost bewildered
them- a living mass of fish floundering about
in the wet seaweed, some springing into the air,
others flopping out on to the sand, many helpless-
THEY WEE NOW HULING A THE NE ITSELF
The Four MacNicols. 81
ly entangled in the meshes. It was a wonderful
sight, but their astonishment and delight had to
give place to action.
"Run for the boat, Nicol! There's more where
they came from!" Rob shouted.
Nicol rushed along to the boat, shoved her
out, pulled her along to where his companions
were, and backed her, stern in.
They had no bucket; they had to fling the
fish into the bottom of the boat. But this busi-
ness of stripping the nets-shaking out the sea-
weed and freeing the enmeshed fish-was fa-
miliar to them; and they all worked with a
will. There was neither a dog-fish nor a conger
in all the haul, so they had no fears for their
In less than a quarter of an hour the net was
back in the boat, properly arranged, and Rob
ready to start again--at a place farther along
They were soon full of eagerness. In fact,
82 The Four MacNicols.
they were too eager; and this time they hauled
in with such might and main that, just as the
guy-poles were nearing the shore, the rope at-
tached to one of them broke. But Rob instant-
ly jumped into the water, seized the pole itself,
and hauled it out with him.
Here, also, they had a considerable take of
fish; but there was a heavy weight uf seaweed
besides, and one or two rents showed that they
had pulled the net over rocks. So they went
back to their former ground; and so successful
were they, and so eagerly did they work, that,
when the coming darkness warned them to re-
turn to Erisaig, they had the stern of the boat
about a third full of very fairly-sized saithe.
Neil regarded this wonderful treasure of the
deep as he labored away at his oar.
"Man! Rob, who could have expected such a
lot? And what will ye do with them now?
Will ye send them to Glasgow by the Glenara?
I think Mr. M'Aulay would lend us a box or
The Four MacNicols. 83
two. Or will ye open them and dry them, and
sell them from a barrow ?"
"We canna start two or three trades all at
once," said Rob, after a minute or two. "I think
we'll sell them straight off, if the folk are no in
bed. Ye'll gang and see, Neil; and I'll count the
fish at the slip."
"And what will I say ye will take for them ?"
"I think I would ask a sixpence a hundred,"
said Rob, slowly; for he had been considering
that question for the last ten minutes.
At length they got into the slip; and Neil at
once proceeded to inform the inhabitants of Eri-
saig, who were still lounging about in the dusk,
that for sixpence a hundred they could have fine,
It might be thought that in a place like Eri-
saig, which was one of the head-quarters of the
herring-trade, it would be difficult to sell fish of
any description. But the fact was that the her-
ring were generally contracted for by the agents
84 The Four MacNicols.
of the salesmen, and shipped directly for Glasgow,
so that they were but rarely retailed in Erisaig
itself; moreover, people accustomed to herring
their whole life through preferred variety a
freshly- caught mackerel, or flounder, or what
Perhaps, however, it was more curiosity than
anything else that brought the neighbors along
to the west slip to see what the MacNicols had
Well, there was a good deal of laughing and
jeering, especially on the part of the men (these
were idlers: the fishermen were all gone away
in the boats); but the women, who had to pro-
vide for their households, knew when they had a
cheap bargain; and the sale of the cuddiess"
Indeed, when the people had gone away again,
and the four lads were by themselves on the
quay, there was not a single "cuddy" left-ex-
cept a dozen that Rob had put into a can of
The Four MacNicols. 85
water, to be given to the grocer in the morning,
as part payment for the loan of the ropes.
What do ye make it altogether ?" said Neil to
Rob, who was counting the money.
"Three shillings and ninepence."
"Three shillings and ninepence! Man, that's a
lot. Will ye put it in the savings-bank ?"
"No, I will not," said Rob. I'm no satisfied
with the net, Neil. We must have better ropes
all the way round; and sinkers, too; and what-
ever money we can spare we maun spend on the
net. Man, think of this, now: if we were to fall
in with a big haul of herring or Johnnie-Dories,
and lose them through the breaking of the net, I
think ye would jist sit down and greet."
It was wise counsel, as events showed. For
one afternoon, some ten days afterward, they set
out as usual. They had been having varying
success; but they had earned more than enough
to pay their landlady, the tailor, and the school-
master; and every farthing beyond these neces-
86 The Four MacNicols.
sary expenses they had spent on the net. They
had replaced all the rotten pieces with sound
twine; they had got new ropes; they had deep.
ened it, moreover, and added some more sinkers,
to help the guy-poles.
Well, on this afternoon, Duncan and Nicol, be-
ing the two youngest, were as usual pulling away
to one of the small, quiet bays, and Rob was idly
looking around him, when he saw something on
the surface of the sea at some distance off that
excited a sudden interest. It was what the fish-
ermen call broken water "-a seething produced
by a shoal of fish.
"Look, look, Neil!" he cried. "It's either
mackerel or herring; will we try for them?"
The greatest excitement now prevailed on
board. The younger brothers pulled their hard-
est to make for that rough patch on the water.
Rob undid the rope from the guy-pole, and got
this last ready to drop overboard.
He knew very well that they ought to have
PAYING OUT THE HET.
PAYING OUT THE NET.
The Four MacNicols. 89
had two boats to execute this manceuvre; but
was there not a chance, if they were to row hard,
in a circle, and pick up the other end of the net
when they came to it? So Neil took the third
oar-two rowing one side and one the other was
just what they wanted.
They came nearer and nearer that strange hiss-
ing of the water. They kept rather away from
it; and Rob quietly dropped the guy-pole over,
paying out the net rapidly, so that it should not
be dragged after the boat.
Then the three lads pulled hard, and in a cir-
cle, so that at last they were sending the bow of
the boat straight toward the floating guy-pole.
The other guy-pole was near the stern of the
boat, the rope made fast to one of the thwarts.
In a few minutes Rob had caught this first guy-
pole; they were now possessed of the two ends
of the net.
But the water had grown suddenly quiet.
Had the fish dived and escaped them? There
90 The Four MacNicols.
was not the motion of a fin anywhere; and yet
the net seemed heavy to haul.
"Rob," said Neil, almost in a whisper, "we've
"We havena got them," was the reply; "but
they're in the net. Man, I wonder if it'll stand
Then it was that the diligent patching and the
strong tackle told. The question was not with
regard to the strength of the net, it was rather
with regard to the strength of the younger lads;
for they had succeeded in enclosing a goodly por.
tion of a large shoal of mackerel, and the weight
seemed more than they could get into the boat.
But even the strength of the younger ones
seemed to grow into the strength of giants when
they saw through the clear water a great moving
mass like quicksilver. And then the wild ex-
citement of hauling in; the difficulty of it; the
danger of the fish escaping; the warning cries of
Rob; the clatter made by the mackerel; the pos-
The Four MacNicols. 91
sibility of swamping the boat altogether, as all
the four were straining their utmost at one side.
It is true that by an awkward tilt at one mo-
ment some hundred or two of the mackerel were
seen to glide away; but perhaps that rendered it
all the more practicable to get into the boat what
When that heaving, sparkling, jerking mass
of quicksilver at last was captured-shining all
through the brown meshes of the net-the young
lads sat down quite exhausted, wet through and
"Man Rob, what do you think of that ?" said
Neil, in amazement.
What do I think ?" said Rob. I think that
if we could get two or three more hauls like that,
I would soon buy a share in Coll MacDougall's
boat and go after the herring."
They had no more thought that afternoon. of
"cuddy" fishing after this famous take. Rob
and Neil- the younger ones having had their
92 The Four MacNicols.
share-rowed back to Erisaig; then Rob left the
boat at the slip, and walked up to the office of
What will ye give me for mackerel?" he said.
The salesman laughed at him, thinking he had
caught a few with rods and flies.
"I'm no buying mackerel," said he; "no by
I have half a boat-load," said Rob.
The salesman glanced toward the slip, and saw
the tailor's boat pretty low in the water.
"Is that mackerel?"
"Yes, it is mackerel."
"Where were you buying them ?"
"I was not buying them anywhere. I caught
them myself-my brothers and me."
"I do not believe you."
"I cannot help that, then," said Rob. "But
where had I the money to buy mackerel from
any one ?"
The salesman glanced at the boat again.
The Four MacNicols. 93
"I'll go down to the slip with you."
So he and Rob together walked down to the
slip, and the salesman had a look at the mack-
erel. Apparently, he had arrived at the conclu-
sion that, after all, Rob was not likely to have
bought a cargo of mackerel as a commercial
"Well, I will buy the mackerel from you," he
said. "I will give you half a crown the hundred
"Half a crown !" said Rob. "I will take three
and sixpence the hundred for them."
"I will not give it to you. But I will give
you three shillings the hundred, and a good price,
"Very well, then," said Rob.
So the MacNicols got altogether two pounds
and eight shillings for that load of mackerel;
and out of that Rob spent the eight shillings on
still farther improving the net; the two pounds
going into the savings-bank.
94 The Four MacNicols.
It is to be imagined that after this they kept
a pretty sharp lookout for broken water;" but
of course they could not expect to run across a
shoal of mackerel every day.
However, as time went on, with bad luck and
with good, and by dint of hard and constant
work whatever the luck was, the sum in the sav-
ings-bank slowly increased; and at last Rob an-
nounced to his companions that they had saved
enough to enable him to purchase a share in Coll
Neil and Duncan and Nicol were sorely disin-
clined to part with Rob; but yet they saw clear-
ly enough that he was getting too old to remain
at the cuddy-fishing; and they knew they could
now work that line of business quite well by
Of course, that was a dream of the future; for
a herring-skiff costs a great deal of money, and
so do nets. But in the mean time they were all
agreed that what Rob counselled was wise; and
The Four MacNicols. 95
a share in Coll MacDougall's boat was accord-
ingly purchased, after a great deal of bargaining.
A proud lad was Rob MacNicol the afternoon
he came along to the wharf to take his place in
the boat that was now partly his own. His
brothers and cousin were there to see him-en-
vious a little, perhaps, but proud also; for part
of their money had gone to buy the share. He
had likewise purchased second-hand a huge pair
of boots, that were as soft and pliable as grease
could make them; and he carried a brand-new yel-
low oil-skin in his hand that crackled as he walked.
Neil, Duncan, and Nicol watched him throw
his oil-skin into the boat, and go forward to the
bow, and take his place there at the oar; and
they knew very well that if there was any one
who could pull an oar better than Rob, it was
not in Erisaig that that person was to be found.
Then the big herring-skiff passed away out of
the point in the red glow of the evening, and Rob
had achieved the first great ambition of his life.
THAT was not a very good year for the her-
ring-fishing on this part of the coast; but, at all
events, Rob MacNicol learned all the lore of the
fishermen, and grew as skilled as any of them in
guessing at the whereabouts of the herring, while
at the end of the season he had more than re-
placed the twelve pounds he had used of the
Then he returned to the tailor's boat, and
worked with his brothers and cousin. He was
proud to know that he had a share in a fishing-
skiff, but he was not too proud to turn his hand
to anything else that might help.
These MacNicol boys had grown to be greatly
The Four MacNicols. 97
respected in Erisaig. The audacity of four "was-
trel laddies" setting up to be fishing on their
own account had at first amused the neighbors;
but their success and their conduct generally
soon raised them above ridicule, and the women
especially were warm in their commendation.
They saw how Rob gradually improved the
appearance of his brothers and cousin. All of
them had boots and stockings now. Not only
that, but they had white shirts and jackets of
blue cloth to go to church with on Sunday; and
each of them put twopence in the collection-
plate, just as if they had all been sons of a rich
Moreover, they were setting an example to the
other boys about. Four of these, indeed, com-
bined to start a cuddy-fishing business similar to
that of Rob's. Neil was rather angry, but Rob
was not afraid of any competition. He asked
the new boys to come and see how he had rig-
ged up the guy-poles. He said there were plen-
98 The Four MacNicols.
ty of fish in the sea, and the market was large
But when the new boys asked him to lend
them some money to buy new ropes, he distinct-
ly declined. He had got on without borrowing
It was a long and dreary winter; but Nicol
had nearly finished with his schooling, and the
seine-net had been largely added to, and every
inch of it overhauled. Then the cuddy-fishing
began again; and soon Rob-who was now near-
ly eighteen, and remarkably firm-set for his age
-would be away after the herring.
One day, as Rob was going along the main
thoroughfare of Erisaig, the banker called him
into his office.
"Rob," said he, "have ye seen the skiff* at the
"Ay," said Rob, rather wistfully; for many a
Though the herring-skiffs are so called, they are compara-
tively large and powerful boats, and will stand a heavy sea.