H.M. Tomlinson.

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Our engine-bell rang for us to part company. Our little friend dropped
astern. She seemed a poor little thing, with a squirt of steam to keep
her alive in that stupendous and hurrying world. A man on her raised his
arm to us in salute, and she vanished.


4

The talk of our skipper, who began to be preoccupied and abrupt veered to
the subject of Jonah. We should now have been with our fleet, but were
alone in the wilderness, and any course we took would be as likely as
another. "This hasn't happened to me for years," he apologized. He
stared about him, tapping the weather-dodger with his fingers, and
whistled reflectively. He turned to the man at the wheel. "Take her
east for an hour, and then north for an hour," and went below.

Day returned briefly at sunset. It was an astonishing gift. The clouds
rapidly lifted and the sky cleared, till the sea extended far to a bright
horizon, hard and polished, a clear separation of our planet and heaven.
The waves were still ponderous. The _Windhover_ laboured heavily. We
rolled over the bright slopes aimlessly. She would rear till the forward
deck stuck up in front of us, then drop over, flinging us against the
dodger, and the shock would surround her with foam that was an eruption
of greenish light.

The sun was a cold rayless ball halved by the dark sea. The wall of
heaven above it was flushed and translucent marble. There was a silver
paring of moon in a tincture of rose. When the sun had gone, the place
it had left was luminous with saffron and mauve, and for a brief while we
might have been alone in a vast hall with its crystalline dome penetrated
by a glow that was without. The purple waters took the light from above
and the waves turned to flames. The fountains that mounted at the bows
and fell inboard came as showers of gems. (I heard afterwards it was
still foggy in London.) And now, having made all I can of sunset and
ocean, and a spray of amethysts, jacinths, emeralds, zircons, rubies,
peridots, and sapphires, it is no longer possible for me to avoid the
saloon, the thought of which, for an obscure reason, my mind loathed.

And our saloon, compared with the measure of the twilight emptiness now
about us, was no bigger than the comfort a man feels amid mischance when
he remembers that he is still virtuous. The white cloth on its table, I
noticed, as I sat down, was contaminated by a long and sinful life. But
the men round it were good and hearty. I took my share of ham and fish
on the same plate, and began to feel not so hungry as before. I was
informed that ashore we are too particular about trifles, because we have
the room for it, but on a trawler there is not much room. You have to
squeeze together, and make do with what is there, because fish is the
most important passenger. My hunk of bread was placed where the cloth
bore the imprint of a negro's hand. The mugs of tea were massive, and
sweetish (I could smell that) with condensed milk. Did I want my tea? I
noticed there were two men between me and the exit, and no room to pass.
The room was hot. The bench was rising and falling. My soul felt pale
and faintly apprehensive, compelling me, now I was beset, to take hold of
it firmly, and to tell it that this was not the time to be a miserable
martyr, but a coarse brute; and that, whether it liked it or not, I was
going to feed at once on fish, ham, and sickly liquor, and heaven help us
if it failed me before these sailors. It made no response, being a thin
nonconformist soul, so I had to leave it, and alone I advanced on the
food. As so often happens, the conquest was a little less hard than it
appeared to be. I progressed, though slowly, and at last was
sufficiently disengaged from my task to count the minutes moving at their
funeral pace to the end of the meal. The heat of the room mounted. The
movements of the ship continued to throw my stomach against the edge of
the table.

My companions, however, were in no hurry to move. They discussed, among
other things, Hull, and its unfortunate system of sanitation. While this
gossip, which was explicit with exuberant detail, was engaging us, I
summoned my scientific mind, which is not connected with my soul, to
listen to what was being said, and the rest of me was deaf. They went on
to tell each other about other trawlers and other crews. Other ships and
men, I heard, had most of the luck. "The fish follow some of 'em about,"
complained the skipper. "I should like to know how it's done."

"They ought to follow us," replied the second engineer. "When I went
down to take over this morning, Mac was singing Scotch songs. What more
could we do below?"

"It's a grand life," nodded his superior's polished bald head. "Aye,
there's guid reason for singing. Sing to yon codfish, y'ken."

The skipper looked at the engineer in doubtful innocence. "Well, I wish
singing would do it," he said gravely. "I don't know. How do you
account for some fellows getting most of the luck? Their ships are the
same, and they don't know any more."

Mac shook his head. "The owners think they do. There's their big
catches, y'ken. Ye'll no convince owners that the sea bottom isna' wet
and onsairten."

The rosy face of the skipper became darker, and there was a spark in his
eyes. This was unfair. "But dammit, man, you don't mean to say the
owners are right? Do these chaps know any more? Look at old Rumface,
old Billy Higgs. Got enough women to make him hate going into any port.
Can't be happy ashore unless he's too drunk to know one woman from
another. What does he do? Can't go to sea without taking his trawler
right over all the fish there is. Is that his sense? Ain't God good to
him? Shows him the fish every time."

The engineer stood up, bending his head beneath a beam, crooking an elbow
to consider one hairy arm. "Ah weel, I wouldna call it God. Ye canna
tell. Man Billy has his last trip to make. Likely he'll catch fish
that'd frighten Hull. Aye."

The skipper moved impatiently, made noises in his throat, rose, and both
went out. The mate, who had been chewing and looking at nothing all the
time, chuckled.

The mate pulled off his big boots, and climbed into his bunk. The
steward cleared the table. I had the saloon to myself, and tried to read
from a magazine I extracted from my pillow. The first story was
rollicking of the sea, and I have never seen more silly or such dreary
lies in print. And the others were about women, magazine women, and the
land, that magazine land which is not of this earth. The bench still
heaved, and there was a new smell of sour pickles. I think a jar had
upset in a store cupboard. Perhaps I should feel happier in the
wheel-house. It was certain the wheel-house would not smell of vinegar,
boots, and engine oil. It would have its own disadvantages - it would be
cold and damp - and the wind and seas on the lively deck had to be faced
on the way to it. The difficulty there is in placing the second course
on London's cosy dinner-tables began to surprise me.

Our wooden shelter, the wheel-house, is ten feet above the deck, with
windows through which I could look at the night, and imagine the rest. I
had, to support me, the mono-syllabic skipper and a helmsman with nothing
to say. I saw one of them when, drawing hard on his pipe, its glow
outlined a bodyless face. The wheel chains rattled in their channels.
There was a clang when a sea wrenched the rudder. I clung to a
window-strap, flung back to look upwards through a window which the ship
abruptly placed above my head, then thrown forward to see wreaths of
water speeding below like ghosts. The stars jolted back and forth in
wide arcs. There were explosions at the bows, and the ship trembled and
hesitated. Occasionally the skipper split the darkness with a rocket,
and we gazed round the night for an answer. The night had no answer to
give. We were probably nearing the North Pole. About midnight, the
silent helmsman put away his pipe, as a preliminary to answering a
foolish question of mine, and said, "Sometimes it happens. It's bound
to. You can see for ye'self. They're little things, these trawlers.
Just about last Christmas - wasn't it about Christmas-time, Skipper? - the
_Mavis_ left the fleet to go home. Boilers wrong. There was one of our
hands, Jim Budge, who was laid up, and he reckoned he'd better get home
quick. So he joined her. We were off the Tail of the Dogger, and it
blew that night. Next morning Jim's mate swore Jim's bunk had been laid
in. It was wet. He said the _Mavis_ had gone. I could see the bunk was
wet all right, but what are ventilators for? Chance it, the _Mavis_
never got home. A big sea to flood the engine-room, and there she goes."


5

After the next daybreak time stood still - or rather, I refused to note
its passage. For that morning I made out the skipper, drenched with
spray, and his eyes bloodshot, no doubt through weariness and the
weather, watching me from the saloon doorway. I did not ask any
questions, but pretended I was merely turning in my sleep. It is
probably better not to ask the man who has succeeded in losing you where
you are, particularly when his eyes are bloodshot and he is wondering
what the deuce he shall do about it. And greater caution still is
required when his reproachful silence gives you the idea that he thinks
you a touch of ill-luck in his enterprise. My companions, I believe,
regretted I had not been omitted. I tried, therefore, to be
inconspicuous, and went up to seclude myself at the back of the boat on
the poop, there to understudy a dog which is sorry it did it. Not
adverse fate itself could show a more misanthropic aspect than the empty
overcast waste around us. It was useless to appeal to it. It did
vouchsafe us one ship that morning, a German trawler with a fir tree
lashed to her deck, ready for Christmas morning, I suppose, when perhaps
they would tie herrings to its twigs. But she was no good to us. And
the grey animosity granted us three others during the afternoon, and they
were equally useless, for they had not sighted our fleet for a week. All
that interested me was the way the lookout on the bridge picked out a
mark, which I could not see, for it was obscured where sea and sky were
the same murk, and called it a ship. Long before I could properly
discern it, the look-out behaved as though he knew all about it. But it
was never the sign we wanted. We had changed our course so often that I
was beginning to believe that nobody aboard could make a nearer guess at
our position than the giddy victim in blindman's-buff. A sextant was
never used. Apparently these fishermen found their way about on a little
mental arithmetic compounded of speed, time, and the course. That leaves
a large margin for error. So if they felt doubtful they got a plummet,
greased it, and dipped it overboard. When it was hauled up they
inspected whatever might be sticking to the tallow, and at once announced
our position. At first I felt sceptical. It was as though one who had
got lost with you in London might pick up a stone in an unknown
thoroughfare, and straightway announce the name of that street. That
would be rather clever. But I discovered my fishermen could do something
like it.

Our skipper no longer appeared at meals. He was on the bridge day and
night. He acted quite well a pose of complete indifference, and said no
more than: "This has not happened to me for years." He repeated this
slowly at reasonable intervals. But he had lost the nimble impulse to
chat about little things, and also his look of peering and innocent
curiosity. As now he did not come to our table, the others spoke of
Billingsgate carriers, such as ours, which had driven about the Dogger
till there was no more in the bunkers than would take them to Hull to get
more coal. From the way they spoke I gathered they would crawl into
port, in such circumstances, without flags, and without singing. This
gave my first trip an appearance I had never expected. Imagination,
which is clearly of little help in geography, had always pictured the
Dogger as a sea where you could hail another trawler as you would a cab
in London. A vessel might reasonably expect to find there a fish-trunk
it had left behind. But here we were with our ship plunging round the
compass merely expectant of luck, and each wave looking exactly like the
others,

But at last we had them. We spoke a rival fleet of trawlers. Their
admiral cried through a speaking-trumpet that he had left "ours" at six
that morning twenty miles NNE., steaming west. It was then eleven
o'clock. Hopefully the _Windhover_ put about. We held on for three
hours at full speed, but saw nothing but the same waves. The skipper
then rather violently addressed the Dogger, and said he was going below.
The mate asked what course he should steer. "Take the damned ship where
you like," said the skipper. "I'm going to sleep." He was away ten
minutes. He reappeared, and resumed his silent parade of the bridge.
The helmsman grinned at the mate. By then the wind had fallen, the seas
were more deliberate; there came a suffusion of thin sunlight,
insufficient and too late to expand our outlook, for the night began to
fill the hollows of the Dogger almost at once, and soon there was nothing
to be seen but the glimmer of breaking waves.


6

There is nothing to be done with an adventure which has become a misprise
than to enjoy it that way instead. What did I care when they complained
at breakfast of the waste of rockets the night before? What did that
matter to me when the skylight above our morning coffee was open at last,
really open? Fine weather for December! Across that patch of blue,
which was a peep into eternity, I saw drift a bird as white as sanctity.
And did it matter if the imprints on our tablecloth of negroes' thumbs
were more numerous and patent than ever, in such a light? Not in the
least. For I myself had long since given up washing, as a laborious and
unsatisfactory process, and was then cutting up cake tobacco with the
rapture of an acolyte preparing the incense. If this was what was meant
by getting lost on the Dogger, then the method, if only its magic could
be formulated, would make the fortunes of the professional fakirs of
happiness in the capitals of the rich. Yet mornings of such a quality
cannot be purchased, nor even claimed as the reward of virtue.

On deck it was a regal day, leisurely, immense, and majestic. The wind
was steady and generous. The warm sunlight danced. I should not have
been surprised to have seen Zeus throned on the splendid summit of the
greatest of those rounded clouds, contemplative of us, finger on cheek,
smiling with approval of the scene below - melancholy approval, for we
would remind him of those halcyon days whose refulgence turned pale and
sickly when Paul, that argumentative zealot, came to provide a world,
already thinking more of industry and State politics than of the gods,
with a hard-wearing theology which would last till Manchester came. For
the _Windhover_ had drifted into a time and place as innocent of man's
highest achievements as is joy of death. The wind and sea were chanting.
The riding of the ship kept time to that measure. The vault was
turquoise, and the moving floor was cobalt. The white islands of the
Olympians were in the sky.

Hour after hour our lonely black atom moved over that vast floor, with
nothing in sight, of course, in a day that had been left over from
earth's earlier and more innocent time, till a little cloud formed in the
north. That cloud did not rise. It blew towards us straight over the
seas, rigid and formless; becoming at last a barque under full sail,
heading east of south of us. She was, when at a distance, a baffling
mass of canvas, from which a square-sail occasionally heliographed. She
got abeam of us. Before the clippers have quite gone, it is proper to
give grace for the privilege of having seen one, superlative as the ship
of romance, and in such a time and place. She was a cloud that, when it
mounted the horizon like the others, instead of floating into the
meridian, moved over the seas to us, an immutable billow of luminous mist
blown forward on the wind. She might have risen at any moment. Her
green hull had the sheer of a sea hollow. Her bows pressed continually
onward, like the crest of a wave curving forward to break, but held, as
though enchanted. Sometimes, when her white mass heeled from us under
the pressure of the wind, a red light flashed from her submerged body.
She passed silently, a shining phantom, and at last vanished, as phantoms
do.


7

When the boots, exploded on the saloon floor by the petulant mate, woke
me, it was three of a morning which, for my part, was not in the almanac.
"We're bewitched," the mate said, climbing over me into his cupboard. "I
never thought I should want to see our fleet so much."

"Aye," remarked the chief engineer, who came shuffling in then for some
sleep, "ye'll find that fleet quick, or the stokers are giving orders.
D'ye think a ship is driven by the man at the wheel? No' that I want to
smell Hull."

A kick of the ship overturned the fireshovel, and I woke again to look
with surprise at so small a cause of a terrible sound, and was leaving
the shovel to its fate when it came to life, and began to crawl
stealthily over the floor. It was an imperative duty to rise and
imprison it. When that was forgotten the steward arrived, and roused me
to watch the method of setting a breakfast-table at sea; but I had seen
all that before, and climbed out of the saloon. There are moments in a
life afloat when the kennel and chain of the house-dog appear to have
their merits. The same wash was still racing past outside, and the ship
moving along. The halyards were shaking in the cold. The funnel was
still abruptly rocking. A sailor was painting the starboard stanchions.
A stoker was going forward off duty, in his shirt and trousers,
indifferent to the cruel wind which bulged and quivered his thin rags.
The skipper was on the bridge, his hands in the pockets of his flapping
overcoat, still searching the distance for what was not there. A train
of gulls was weaving about over our wake. A derelict fish-trunk floated
close to us, with a great black-backed gull perched on it. He cocked up
one eye at me when he drew level, crouched for flight, but perhaps saw on
my face the reason why I prefer working tomorrow, and contemptuously
stayed where he was. Then I noticed the skipper looking back at the
bird. He nodded to it, and cried: "There goes a milestone. The fleet is
about somewhere." I danced with caution along the treacherous deck,
where one day that voyage a sea picked up two men and stranded them on
top of the engine-room casing, and got up with the master. He had just
ordered the ship to be put over to a trawler in sight. With the seas so
swift and ponderous I completely forgot the cold wind in watching the two
lively ships being manoeuvred till they were within earshot. When the
engines were stopped the steering had to be nicely calculated, or erratic
waves brought them dangerously close, or else took them out of call. Our
new friend had not seen "our lot," but had left a fleet with an unknown
house-flag ten miles astern. We surged forward again.

We steamed for two hours, and then the pattern of a trawler's smoke was
seen ahead traced on a band of greenish brilliance which divided the sea
from the sky. Almost at once other faint tracings multiplied there. In
a few minutes we could make out plainly within that livid narrow outlet
between the sea and the heavy clouds a concourse of midget ships.

"There they are," breathed the skipper after a quick inspection through
his glasses.

In half an hour we were in the midst of a fleet of fifty little steamers,
just too late to take our place as carrier to them for London's daily
market. As we steamed in, another carrier, which had left London after
us, hoisted her signal pennant, and took over that job.

While still our ship was under way, boats put out from the surrounding
trawlers, and converged on us for our outward cargo, the empty
fish-trunks. That intense band of light which had first betrayed the
smoke of the fleet eroded upwards into the low, slaty roof of nimbus till
the gloom was dissolved to the zenith. The incubus vanished; the sun
flooded us. At last only white feathers were left in the sky. I felt I
had known and loved these trawlers for years. All round us were ships'
boats, riding those sweeping seas in a gyrating and delirious lunacy; and
in each were two jovial fishermen, who shouted separate reasons to our
skipper for "the week off" he had taken.

These boats came at us like a swarm of assailants, swooping downhill on
us, swerving, recoiling, and falling away, rising swiftly above us again
for a charge, and then careering at us with abandon on the next declivity
of glass. A boat would hesitate above us, poised and rocking on the
snowy ridge of an upheaval, and vanish as the _Windhover_ canted away.
Then we rolled towards her, and there she was below us, in a smooth and
transient hollow. Watching for their chances, snatched out of luck by
skill and audacity, our men fed the clamorous boats with empties; the
boxes often fell just at the moment when the open boat was snatched away,
and then were swept off. The shouted jokes were broadened and
strengthened to fit that riot and uproar. This sudden robust life,
following the routine of our subdued company on its lonely and
disappointed vigils in a deserted sea, the cheery men countering and
mocking aloud the sly tricks of their erratic craft, a multitude of masts
and smoking funnels around us swaying in various arcs against a
triumphant sky, the clamorous desperation of clouds of wheeling
kittiwakes, herring-gulls, black-backed gulls and gannets, and all in
that pour of hard and crystalline northern sunlight, was as though the
creative word had been spoken only five minutes before. We, and all
this, had just come. I wanted to laugh and cheer.


8

There is, we know, a pleasure more refined to be got from looking at a
chart than from any impeccable modern map. Maps today are losing their
attraction, for they permit of no escape, even to fancy. Maps do not
allow us to forget that there are established and well-ordered
governments up to the shores of the Arctic Ocean, waiting to restrict, to
tax, and to punish us, and that their police patrol the tropical forests.
But consider the legends on a chart even of the North Sea, of the world
beneath the fathoms - the _Silver Pits_, the _Dowsing Ground_, the _Leman
Bank_, the _Great Fisher Ground_, the _Horn Reef_, the _Witch Ground_,
and the _Great Dogger Bank_! Strange, that indefinable implication of a
word! I remember that, when a child, I was awake one night listening to
a grandfather's clock talking quietly to itself in its long box, and a
brother sat up in bed and whispered: "Look, the Star in the East." I
turned, and one bright eye of the night was staring through the window.
Heaven knows into what profundity of ancestral darkness my brothers
whisper had fallen, nor what it stirred there, but an awe, or a fear, was
wakened in me which was not mine, for I remember I could not explain it,
even though, at the time, the anxious direct question was put to me. Nor
can I now. It would puzzle a psycho-analyst most assured of the right
system for indexing secret human motives to disengage one shadow from
another in an ancestral darkness. That is why I merely put down here the
names to be found on a chart of the North Sea, and say no more about it,
being sure they will mean nothing except to those to whom they mean
something. Those words, like certain moonbeams, which stir in us that
not ourselves which makes for righteousness, or lunacy, combine only by
chance. The combination which unlocks the secret cannot be stated, or it
would not work. When there is a fortuitous coincidence of the magic
factors, the result is as remarkable to us as it is to those who think
they know us. When I used to stand on London's foreshore, gazing to what
was beyond our street lamps, the names on the chart had a meaning for me
which is outside the usual methods of human communication. The Dogger
Bank!

Here then it was, yet still to be seen only by faith. It was like Mrs.
Harris. I had the luck to discover that I should lose nothing through my
visit; and every traveller knows how much he gains when the place he has


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