Mackrelling Out in the Gulf (1905)

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The mackerel boats were all at anchor on the fishing grounds; the sea was glassy calm—a pallid blue, save for a chance streak of deeper azure where some stray sea breeze ruffled it.

It was about the middle of the afternoon, and intensely warm and breathless. The headlands and coves were blurred by a purple heat haze. The long sweep of the sandshore was so glaringly brilliant that the pained eye sought relief among the rough rocks, where shadows were cast by the big red sandstone boulders. The little cluster of fishing houses nearby were bleached to a silvery grey by long exposure to wind and rain. Far off were several "Yankee" fishing schooners, their sails dimly visible against the white horizon.

Two boats were hauled upon the "skids" that ran from the rocks out into the water. A couple of dories floated below them. Now and then a white gull, flashing silver where its plumage caught the sun, soared landward.

A young man was standing by the skids, watching the fishing boats through a spyglass. He was tall, with a straight, muscular figure clad in a rough fishing suit. His face was deeply browned by the gulf breezes and was attractive rather than handsome, while his eyes, as blue and clear as the gulf waters, were peculiarly honest and frank.

Two wiry, dark-faced French-Canadian boys were perched on one of the boats, watching the fishing fleet with lazy interest in their inky-black eyes, and wondering if the "Yanks" had seined many mackerel that day.

Presently three people came down the steep path from the fish-houses. One of them, a girl, ran lightly forward and touched Benjamin Selby's arm. He lowered his glass with a start and looked around. A flash of undisguised delight transfigured his face.

"Why, Mary Stella! I didn't expect you'd be down this hot day. You haven't been much at the shore lately," he added reproachfully.

"I really haven't had time, Benjamin," she answered carelessly, as she took the glass from his hand and tried to focus it on the fishing fleet. Benjamin steadied it for her; the flush of pleasure was still glowing on his bronzed cheek, "Are the mackerel biting now?"

"Not just now. Who is that stranger with your father, Mary Stella?"

"That is a cousin of ours—a Mr. Braithwaite. Are you very busy, Benjamin?"

"Not busy at all—idle as you see me. Why?"

"Will you take me out for a little row in the dory? I haven't been out for so long."

"Of course. Come—here's the dory—your namesake, you know. I had her fresh painted last week. She's as clean as an eggshell."

The girl stepped daintily off the rocks into the little cream-coloured skiff, and Benjamin untied the rope and pushed off.

"Where would you like to go, Mary Stella?"

"Oh, just upshore a little way—not far. And don't go out into very deep water, please, it makes me feel frightened and dizzy."

Benjamin smiled and promised. He was rowing along with the easy grace of one used to the oar. He had been born and brought up in sound of the gulf's waves; its never-ceasing murmur had been his first lullaby. He knew it and loved it in every mood, in every varying tint and smile, in every change of wind and tide. There was no better skipper alongshore than Benjamin Selby.

Mary Stella waved her hand gaily to the two men on the rocks. Benjamin looked back darkly.

"Who is that young fellow?" he asked again. "Where does he belong?"

"He is the son of Father's sister—his favourite sister, although he has never seen her since she married an American years ago and went to live in the States. She made Frank come down here this summer and hunt us up. He is splendid, I think. He is a New York lawyer and very clever."

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