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| Home | Reading Room The New McGuffey Fourth Reader

The New McGuffey Fourth Reader
by William H. McGuffey, Compiler

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By William Black

This is the true story of how four lads in a fishing village in

the North of Scotland, being left orphans by the drowning of

their father, learned the great lesson of self-help.

They were the four MacNicols,--Robert, an active, stout-sinewed,

black-eyed lad of seventeen; his two younger brothers, Duncan and

Nicol; and his cousin Neil.

It was a sad evening for Rob MacNicol when the body of his father

was brought home to their poor lodgings. It was his first

introduction to the hard facts of life.

"Neil," said Rob to his cousin, "we'll have to think about things

now. 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

school. What we get for stripping the nets will not do now."--"It

will not," said Neil.

"Neil," said he, "if we had only a net; do you not think we could

trawl for cuddies?" And again he said, "Neil, do you not think we

could make a net for ourselves out of the old rags lying about

the shed?" And again he said, "Do you think that Peter the tailor

would let us have his old boat for a shilling a week?"

It was clear that Rob had been carefully considering the details

of this plan. And it was eagerly welcomed, not only by Neil, but

also by the brothers, Duncan and Nicol.

It was agreed, under Rob's direction, to set to work at once. So

Rob bade his brothers and cousin get their rude fishing rods, and

hie away down to the rocks at the mouth of the harbor, and see

what fish they could get for him during the afternoon.

Meanwhile he himself went along to a 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 as worthless.

Rob was allowed to pick out a number of pieces that he thought

might serve his purpose; and these he carried home. But then came

the question of floats and sinkers. Enough pieces of cork to form

the floats might in time be found about the beach; but the

sinkers had all been removed from the castaway netting.


Rob was a quick-witted lad, and soon formed the plan 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. These guy poles,

with a lump of 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

hunt 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 codfish, a large flounder, two

good-sized lythe, and nearly a dozen saithe. Rob washed them

clean, 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? So he walked into the grocer's shop.

"Will you buy some fish?" said he; "they're fresh."

The grocer looked at them.

"What do you want?"

"A ball of twine."

"Let me tell you this, Rob," said the grocer severely, "that a

lad in your place should be thinking of something else than flying a kite."

"I don't want to fly a kite," said Rob, "I want to mend a net."

"Oh, that is quite different," said the grocer. So Rob 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 you."


Well, it took them several days of very hard and constant work

before they rigged up something resembling a small seine. Then

Rob fixed his guy poles to it; and the lads 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 happened to have a good haul.

Then Rob proceeded to his interview with Peter the tailor, who,

after a good deal of grumbling, agreed to let them have his boat

for a shilling a week.

Rob went back eager and joyous. Forthwith a thorough inspection

of the boat was set about by the lads: 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 turned to dusk, the

people of Erisaig were startled with a new proclamation. It was

Neil MacNicol, standing in front of the cottages, and boldly

calling forth these words:--



The sale of the cuddies went on briskly. Indeed, when the people

had gone away there was not a fish left except a dozen that Rob

had put into a can of water, to be given to the grocer as part

payment for the loan of the ropes.

"What do you 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 you put

it in the savings bank?"

"No, I will not," said Rob. "I'm not satisfied with the net,

Neil. We must have better ropes all the way round; and sinkers, too."


One afternoon, about ten days afterward, they set out as usual.

They had earned more than enough to pay their landlady, the

tailor, and the schoolmaster; and every farthing beyond these

expenses they had spent on the net.

Well, on this afternoon, Duncan and Nicol were 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

fishermen call "broken water,"--a seething produced by a shoal

of fish.

"Look, look, Neil!" he cried. "It's either mackerel or herring:

shall we try for them?"

The greatest excitement now prevailed on board. The younger

brothers pulled their hardest for that rough patch on the water.

They came nearer and nearer that strange hissing 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 circle, 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 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 got them!"

"We haven't got them, but they're in the net. Man, I wonder if

it'll hold out?"

Then it was that the diligent patching and the strong tackle

told; for they had succeeded in inclosing a goodly portion 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 lads 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 excitement of

hauling in; the difficulty of it; the danger of the fish

escaping; the warning cries of Rob; the possibility of swamping

the boat, as all the four were straining their utmost at one side!

When that heaving, sparkling mass of quicksilver at last was

captured, the young lads sat down quite exhausted, wet through,

but happy.

"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," but rowed back to Erisaig; then Rob left the

boat at the slip, and walked up to the office of the fish salesman.

"What will you give me for mackerel?" he said. The salesman

laughed at him, thinking he had caught a few with rods and flies.

"I'm not buying mackerel," said he; "not by the half-dozen."

"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.

"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 mackeral.

"Well, I will buy the mackerel from you," he said. "I will give

you half a crown the hundred for them."

"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 too."--"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 further improving the net, the two pounds

going into the savings hank.


As time went on, by dint of hard and constant work, the sum in

the savings bank slowly increased; and at last Rob announced to

his companions that they had saved enough to enable him to

purchase a share in Coll MacDougall's boat.

These MacNicol boys had grown to be very much respected in

Erisaig; and one day, as Rob was going along the main street, the

banker called him into his office. "Rob," said he, "have you seen

the yacht at the building yard?"

"Yes," said Rob, rather wistfully, for many a time he had stood

and looked at the beautiful lines of the new craft; "she's a splendid boat."

"Well, you see, Rob," continued Mr. Bailie, regarding him with a

good-natured look, "I had the boat built as a kind of

speculation. Now, I have been hearing a good deal about you, Rob,

from the neighbors. They say that you and your brothers and

cousin are good, careful seamen. Now, do you think you could

manage that new boat?"

Rob was quite bewildered. All he could say was, "I am obliged to

you, sir. Will you wait for a minute till I see Neil?" And very

soon the wild rumor ran through Erisaig, that Rob MacNicol had

been appointed master of the new yacht the Mary of Argyle and

that he had taken his brothers and cousin as a crew.

Rob sold out his share in MacDougall's boat, and bought jerseys

and black boots and yellow oilskins for his companions; so that

the new crew, if they were rather slightly built, looked spruce

enough as they went down to the slip to overhaul the Mary of Argyle.


Then came the afternoon on which they were to set out for the

first time after the herring. All Erisaig came out to see; and

Rob was a proud lad as he stepped on board, and took his seat as

stroke oar.

It was not until they were at the mouth of the harbor that

something occurred which seemed likely to turn this fine setting

out into ridicule. This was Daft Sandy (a half-witted old man to

whom Robert MacNicol had been kind), who rowed his boat right

across the course of the Mary of Argyle, and, as she came up,

called to Rob.

"What do you want?" cried Rob.

"I want to come on board, Rob," the old man said, as he now rowed

his boat up to the stern of the yacht. "Rob," said he, in a

whisper, as he fastened the painter of his boat, "I promised I

would tell you something. I'll show you how to find the herring."

"You!" said Rob.

"Yes, Rob," said Daft Sandy; "I'll make a rich man of you. I will

tell you something about the herring that no one in Erisaig

knows,--that no one in all Scotland knows."

Then he begged Rob to take him for that night's fishing. He had

discovered a sure sign of the presence of herring, unknown to any

of the fishermen: it was the appearance, on the surface of the

water, of small air-bubbles.

Rob MacNicol was doubtful, for he had never heard of this thing

before; but at last he could not resist the pleading of the old

man. So they pulled in, and anchored the boats until toward

sunset. Then, taking poor Sandy on board of the Mary of Argyle,

they set forth again, rowing slowly as the light faded out of the

sky, and keeping watch all around on the almost glassy sea.


The night was coming on, and they were far away from home; but

old Sandy kept up his watch, studying the water as though he

expected to find pearls floating in it. At last, in great

excitement, he grasped Rob's arm. Leaning over the side of the

boat, they could just make out in the dusk a great quantity of

air-bubbles rising to the surface.

"Put some stones along with the sinkers, Rob," the old man said,

in a whisper, as though he were afraid of the herring hearing.

"Go deep, deep, deep!"

To let out a long drift-net, which sometimes goes as deep as

fifteen fathoms, is an easy affair: but to haul it in again is a

hard task; and when it happens to be laden, and heavily laden,

with silver gleaming fish, that is a breakback business for four

young lads.

But if you are hauling in yard after yard of a dripping net, only

to find the brown meshes starred at every point with the shining

silver of the herring, then even young lads can work like men.

Sandy was laughing all the while.

"Rob, my man, what think you of the air-bubbles now? Maybe Daft

Sandy is not so daft after all. And do you think I would go and

tell any one but yourself, Rob?"

Rob could not speak; he was breathless. Nor was their work nearly

done when they had got in the net, with all its splendid silver

treasure. For as there was not a breath of wind, they had to set

to work to pull the heavy boat back to Erisaig. The gray dawn

gave way to a glowing sunrise; and when they at length reached

the quay, tired out with work and want of sleep, the people were

all about.

Mr. Bailie came along and shook hands with Rob, and congratulated

him; for it turned out that, while not another Erisaig boat had

that night got more than from two to three crans, the Mary Of

Argyle had ten crans--as good herring as ever were got out of

Loch Scrone.

Well, the MacNicol lads were now in a fair way of earning an

independent and honorable living. And the last that the present

writer heard of them was this: that they had bought outright the

Mary of Argyle and her nets, from the banker; and that they

were building for themselves a small stone cottage on the slope

of the hill above Erisaig; and that Daft Sandy was to become a

sort of major-domo,--cook, gardener, and mender of nets.


Details, particulars.

Lythe, saithe, cuddies, kinds of fish.

Thole pins, pins to keep the oars in place.

Trawl, to fish with a net.

Vertical, upright.

Dint, means.

Interest, attention.

Prevailed, existed.

Seething, a stir, a boiling.

Told, had a great effect.

Thwarts, benches.

Crans, barrels.

Daft, weak-minded.

Major-domo, steward.



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