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“Yes; what sort of people are they at Lower Fishpool ?"
A rough lot; mostly drinking and fighting when they're not ont fishin'."
“And yet they have always had a clergyman at the place ?"
“Well, you see, old Mr. Pincott, the late vicar, was afeard of 'em; they mostly treated him very badly whenever he went near 'em.”
“Do you mean to say they are such a barbarous set, that it is positively dangerous to go amongst them ?"
“I believe this young man as is here now goes among 'em sometimes, talkin' to 'em; but some people say as Mr. Pincott went at it too savage."
“Too savage ? in what way?”
“I expect he gave offence by speaking his mind too free, and telling 'em what a bad lot they was. He was a very impatient gentleman, Mr. Pincott was. He went to Black Peter, and told him he was & wicked sinner. 'You're another,' said Peter; and then he give it him so bad, and threatened what he'd do if ever he came calling him names again, that Mr. Pincott left him alone after that. And everybody followed Peter's lead, as they always do. I've heerd the vicar took it to heart so much, it hastened his death ; but as to that I can't say. He was a very impatient gentleman, Mr. Pincott was. But Peter shouldn't ha' said, “you’re another.' Peter shouldn't; should he?"
“Certainly not,” I replied, answering the question as gravely as it was put. “But who is Peter?”
“He's a fisherman, and a sort of chief amongst 'em. You'll know enough about him before you've been here long."
By this time we were traversing a level road with fields on each side. In front we could see the lights about the harbour and village ; and between us and them lay the vicarage where Mr. V— was awaiting my arrival. The late vicar had been non-resident during the last two years
of his life, and Mr. V- was the curate. He had kindly offered to put off his departure for a few days, that he might give me any information about the parish and the people which might prove useful.
I had taken the furniture as it stood, at a valuation, so that the house was ready for my reception.
I confess I felt anything but encouraged by what I had seen and heard since my arrival at W- I began to regret that I had suffered the length of the journey to prevent my paying a visit of inspection before accepting the preferment. A dirty fishing village ! Seven miles from a town! (and such a town!) seven miles of rough, toilsome, exposed road. The population, too, was described as being ignorant and barbarous. I pictured to myself an empty church, dirty and
deserted-looking; a vilage filled with drunken men, scolding women, and wild, filthy children. I was ashamed of these misgivings afterwards, seeing that the fact of the people being thus degraded ought to have made me the more anxious to become the means of leading them to better things. This, indeed, had hitherto been my feeling; but at present my reflective faculties were not in a very lively condition. I was tired, wet, cold, bewildered with the wind and rain, and shaken sorely by Nathan Bradley's crazy gig.
The road becomes narrower: a high green hedge is on one side, and on the other a white wall, over which appears a shrubbery. Presently we turn a corner and pull up opposite a green gate, arched over with foliage, and Nathan exclaims, “Here we are !"
The sound of our wheels had been heard within. The light through the open
door and the chinks of the shutters was pleasant to see. Mr. V- was standing at the door, and came down the gravel walk to meet us. I remember experiencing a dim feeling of wonder as to what might be the cause of V—'s pause of astonishment as he came up to us. It did not occur to me that he could hardly persuade himself that the new vicar was the person whose hat was of suck-cloth, and to whose pyramidal mackintosh Nathan Bradley's initials seemed obtrusively to invite attention.
Not much time, however, was spent in preliminary conversation. We were soon in the cosy dining-room, where we found a big fire and preparations for tea. But little was said or done that evening, and I retired to rest very early.
CHAPTER II.-BLACK PETER.
Next day began cheerfully. When I awoke at seven o'clock the morning sun filled the room with bright light, such as the town is ignorant of. I rose and threw open the lattice. What a change from last night! All was fresh, green, bright, and dewy. The soft life-giving breeze of the sea crept amongst the ivy on the walls, and caught up the scent of the garden roses ere it reached the window. Round the garden ran a circle of low trees, thickly planted, sheltering the more delicate shrubs and flowers from the high winds. Over the tree-tops on the north-west side rose abruptly a rocky hill, looking close at hand in the clear atmosphere; its surface broken up into irregular crags, each capped and fringed with purple heather. In front, a gap in the trees showed a bit of sea, pale blue, dazzling-a bright picture set in a frame of living green, and having for its centre a fishing-boat, looking all one with its motionless image in the water, its red sails hanging in festoons from the gleaming spars.
A good beginning, this! Whose heart would not be gladdened by such sights? There were pleasant sounds to match, too-voices of the country and seaside—the brisk sparrow twittered his cheerful good morning; the lark
“From his high watch-tower in the skies,"
filled the air with his tremulous music. The contented lowing of the cattle; the sounds of early labour in the fields; the sharp clink of some vessel's windlass in the distant harbour-all joined in raising a merry song of welcome to the risen sun.
Thus began my first day at Lower Fishpool-a day calm and peaceful in sea and sky, but full of strange events, and trouble and sadness; full of good which seemed evil. To me no more memorable day than that Thursday has dawned during the twenty-five quiet years that have passed since first I became an inmate of St. Mark's vicarage.
When breakfast was over, V-and I started off to see the church and school ; and in the afternoon we visited the village. I became anxious to find how far Nathan Bradley's account of my parishioners was a true or3. So
my first object was to obtain from V- some notion of the state of the people. With this view I led the conversation to that topic as we walked towards Lower Fishpool.
“My driver's account of the moral condition of Lower Fishpool was dismal enough," I began; "he represented the people as being a dreadfully barbarous and inaccessible set.”
“W--- people have rather an exaggerated notion of their depravity," said V-; "though I daresay he told you nothing but what was true. They are certainly very ignorant, and there is much vice
Most of them will let you go into their houses and even read and talk to them sometimes, but nothing seems to make any impression on them; they listen to you with the most discouraging apathy."
“What becomes of the children? There is a school."
“Yes, there is a school, but the attendance is miserable, as you would have seen if it had not happened to be holiday time. Very few of the people will send their children, so they ramble about in a halfwild condition, until the girls can help at home or get work in the fields, and the boys are big enough to be of use in the fishing-boats.”
“ What makes them so obstinate ?"
“I'm afraid it may to a great extent be traced to poor old Pincott's bad management. He was a sincere and thoroughly good-hearted man, but harsh and ungracious in his manner, and sometimes andaly zealous.
He quarrelled with all the people, so that they would neither go to church, nor suffer their children to attend school; and now they retain the habit.
“Yes, Nathan Bradley told me that, and mentioned one Black Peter' as the leader of the anti-Pincott movement. Who is he?"
“Black Peter! A most extraordinary man. He possesses unbounded influence over the people. I am inclined to believe that most of their obstinacy and apathy is due to this man': injurious example.”
“Nathan says Mr. Pincott was afraid of him."
“I have no doubt he was; and not without reason. Peter threatened to thrash him if ever he interfered again.”
“And do you suppose he would have done so ?”
“ Most certainly I do. He is the sort of man to keep his word in such a matter."
"When did he get his nickname?”
" It is merely his real name reverscd-Peter Black. I da has been given him partly on account of his truculent disposition, and partly from the extreme blackness of his hair, eyes, and beard. He is going gray though, now. I suppose he must be fifty-six or seven.”
“ But what is the secret of his influence ?"
“He appears to have gained it by no effort of his own; but I believe him to possess the qualities of a great leader. He has an iron will, dauntless courage, few scruples, and, I should say, no sensibilities -possessing withal, immense bodily strength. By the bye, you may happen to remember a trial for murder which cansed considerable discussion about twelve or fourteen years ago; one remarkable circumstance being that one or two jurymen fainted from want of food rather than surrender their view of the case.”
“I think I do; was it a trial of a ship's captain for murdering one of his crew ?"
“Yes, that was it. The prisoner at the bar was Black Peter.”.
“Was he really? What were the circumstances ? I have a very dim recollection of the case.”
“Peter was captain of a cotton ship which traded between Liverpool and Egypt. After he had brought her home for the last time, the gossip of the crew revealed the fact that the captain had got rid of one of their number in a questionable manner.
None of them appeared willing to lay a direct information, but the matter at length reached the ears of the police, and Peter was arrested. The men agreed on the whole in their account of the particulars, though some contradictory statements were made. Their story was something of this kind :-On their last voyage they had sailed from London - the ship having changed owners, I think; and immediately before they left, a young landsman, giving the name of Robert Main, shipped on board. Some odd facts turned up about him, but they are not to the point. Between this man and the captain there always appeared to be a feeling of hostility, almost from the first day of Main's joining them. Main had shown a disposition to thwart and annoy the captain as much as he dared; while the captain himself had been heard to throw out dark hints of punishment-Peter denied this—and had more than once been seen 'to give Main one of his dangerous looks.' The alleged murder was said to have taken place on the refusal of Main to do his work. Captain Black—by which title he is not unfrequently dignified nowrepeated his order, and after receiving a second distinct refusal to obey, committed the murder with which he was charged, by hurling the man overboard. Many contradictory statements were made as to the reason for Main's obstinacy-a circumstance which tended to give considerable colour to Black's own statement.”
“ What was Black's statement?”
“That the crew mutinied at the instigation of Main, the first mato alone remaining faithful; and he, unfortunately, died of a fever at Alexandria. As far as I can remember (I have the paper
containing the account) thc concluding words of Peter's defence were to this effect :-“They came in a body, with Main at their head, and refused to pump, and said they were going to take to the boats. I knew if they did, in such a gale as was blowing, it would be certain death to all of us.
I told Main twice to go back and pump, and he refused twice; and then I chucked him overboard. The men tell true there, but they're obliged to lie about the reason for it; if they tell the truth they must confess their own mutiny. I tell you I confess to taking his life: but I did my duty.as master of the ship; and if it could all come over again, I'd do the same again.'
" And what was the verdict?” “ Justifiable homicide.";
" Then the jury accepted the prisoner's statement in preference to that of the eight witnesses!"
“Yes; I have no doubt his firm demeanour and straightforward statements had a most favourable effect; especially since the testimony of the witnesses was conflicting on those particular points which the prisoner's story of the mutiny would, if true, clear up."
“I can easily imagine the jury would find it hard to agree."
“The view which appeared in the verdict was supported, I believe, at first, by a minority; a minority, however, so determined that the rest were obliged at last to suffer their opinions to undergo a change. I won't venture to say how long the consultation lasted ; but it was so long that some of them suffered severely from want of food.”
"Then there is still a certain amount of doubt as to what the real facts may be?”
“Yes; and that is remarkable, for if any one of the eight witnesses had ever subsequently been known to admit the truth of the mutiny story, that would have been sufficient to remove all uncertainty about