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A CRABBING EXPEDITION.
ELEVEN o'clock had boomed out from the old tower in the ancient market-place of a sleepy old fishing town situated in the midst of wild marshlands, far from all busy scenes of traffic-a place apart, as it seemed, from the rest of the world. The whole town appeared to be asleep on that hot morning in July, not even a dog was moving.
The fine old houses near the quay, which had originally been the homes of wealthy Dutch merchants, but had been long ago turned into warehouses and mills, showed no signs of life. The old trees planted in front of them, no one could tell when, might have been painted ones, so still were they.
On the large quay itself things were not brisker. It was high tide, and excepting the splash of a bucket or a swab that might be dipped overboard from one or other of the craft that lay at anchor in the calm water, not a sound was to be heard.
I said the whole town seemed asleep; most of the men were really so—for the population, with very few exceptions, were all engaged in the same occupation; and the boats having come in on the harbour tide from the fishing-grounds, the men had, to use their own phrase, “bunked it," whilst wives and daughters, well knowing the need their men-folk had of rest, moved quietly about their household duties, the children being still at morning school, except such as were supposed to be old enough to help in the boats.
Just before half-past eleven o'clock the first signs of life were visible in the shape of two fisher-boys coming down the stony pavement of the long main street. The elder of the two, who was about twelve years old, was lightly and airily dressed in an old sou’-wester, a shirt, and a pair of trousers. The shirt had no buttons ; on his feet were a pair of old shoes, locally termed "crab shoes,” because the toe parts of the upper leathers had parted company with the soles, so that the shoes opened and shut with each step as he walked along. Under the brim of his sou’-wester, which was much too large for him, curls of brown hair showed on his forehead; and his merry blue eyes were full of life and mischief as he talked to his companion. “Winder” was the nickname given him by the fisher folks. The name his friend rejoiced in — rejoiced literally, for he was always happy—was “Scoot," an abbreviation of “scoter," the black diving-duck of the coast. Gay, lighthearted Scoot was continually in or about the tide, dabbling or swimming; a regular young sea-dog, equally at home on the water or on the land.
Winder was tall for his age; whereas Scoot, a year younger, was short, stout in build, and of dark complexion-having closely cropped black hair, and eyes that looked dark brown or blue grey, according to the mood of the moment. His cheeks were always ruddy, and his teeth, which showed perpetually
-for Scoot was always laughing, or rather grinningwere white and even; so that he was a pleasant object to look on. His dress—undress we might call it-added to the picturesqueness of his appearance. Down one side of his head an old red fishing-cap hung jauntily; his old blue guernsey was patched here and there with bits of canvas; his trousers were very short, and much the worse for wear; they were well patched about the knees, which they barely covered, and were held up by two odd braces, one of which had once been white, the other red. His legs and feet were bare, but he did not mind that. As he was wont to observe to his shadow, Winder, “Crab shells flop and hinder yer, scootin' over the marshes an’slub."
Both boys carried sticks about eight feet long, with string wound round them. These were their “crabbin' sticks”; but Scoot had also a small fishhamper made of unpeeled osiers, to carry the hardpinching quarry in after they were caught. They were now evidently on the hunt for a third boy.
“Shel I hail him, Winder ?” asked Scoot, turning to his mate with his hands up to his mouth, ship fashion. “Shel I hail him? He's sure to hear me, ef he's ashore."
“Yes, Scoot, yell it out.” And filling his chest with air, Scoot shouted
“Denzil-a-hoy! A-hoy! Denzil-a-hoy-Den-ee -Den-ee-e!” at his very shrillest.
This brought some of the fishermen's wives to their doors, and, in language more forcible than decorous, they bade the lads make sail quick, if they did not want to be wrecked.
Scoot and Winder wisely took the hint, and sailed swiftly down to the line of houses by the water-side.
“We shel find him here, Winder, ef he's anywhere outside.”
“Give him another hail ; go it, Scoot.”
Out again rang Scoot's shrill voice, “ Den-a-hoy! Den-ee-e-e-a-hoy!”
Turning round a corner of the street, to get on to the quay, the boys ran up against old Bob the shrimper. He was rather deaf, but Scoot's hearty hail had reached even him.
"What d'ye mean, ye gallus pair o' howlin' spratdivers ? Hev ye bin larrupped, the pair on ye? It's what ye oughter be, every day, an' twice a-day, for that matter, ye howlin' young whelps. Tell me what ye want, or I'll clout ye with this 'ere swab.”
“We wants Denzil: hev ye sin him this mornin'? Reed-bird, ye knows him.”
Boys and men alike all went by some nickname in Marshton.