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Portland Bill
by [?]

“It must be nigh sixty years ago, but I remembers it as if it was yesterday, when a new settler come to live in our harbour,” said Skipper Life Flynn, at whose house I was spending the night with my driver and dogs.

“Life” was short for Eliphoreth–the “given” names being mostly out of the Bible down North. “It were a wonderful thing them days, for Father were the only Liveyer then–that is, as stayed all the year round. He didn’t mind being alone, and t’ moving in t’ schooner every spring and fall were bad for Mother. Fish were plenty every season one side or t’other of Deadman’s Cape, and there was lots of fur and swiles t’ winter. So he built a house in Sleepy Cove, and there us grew up!

“No, Doctor, I’m not able now to read and write. None of us is, for us had no teachers. But we was all big, strong men, and handy at that, and there wasn’t a thing to be done wi’ axe or saw about boats and timber us couldn’t do. We made a good deal at furring, too, and many’s and many’s t’ night in winter I’ve laid down under t’ trees and slept–with ne’er a greatcoat neither. An’ if us wasn’t brought up scholars, Father taught us to be honest, and to fear God and nothing and nobody else.

“It were our way them days to greet every stranger as a friend, and so when Bill started his cabin,–for that was all it ever were,–us lads all went in and helped him chop and saw t’ logs for studding.

“In winter Father minded t’ big French Room; but he were away hunting most of t’ time, there being no need to watch much, being as there was no one besides ourselves anywhere near. But early spring and late fall when t’ fleets were passing, it were day and night watch, and not without a gun neither.

“But it would have paid us better to have watched that winter; for when t’ Frenchmen come in t’ spring there was a number of little things missing that Father had to stand to–and, somehow, us never suspected t’ newcomer.

“It was only long afterwards us learned how t’ new settler come by his name–which was ‘Skipper Bill Portland.’ Seems that’s where the big English convict prison is. So after Bill escaped, he not being good at letters, and not wanting exactly to use his own name, he just twisted her round, and to this day no one’s ever found out really who he was before.

“Hundreds of schooners anchored in the Bight in our harbour that spring, t’ whitecoats having come right in on t’ floe, just t’ other side of t’ Deadman’s Cape. One day a schooner captain read we a piece in t’ papers about a man what had been a pirate, what had escaped to Newfoundland; and a hundred dollars was being offered for his head. Reading about that man made us all think of Skipper Portland. It were his build and his kind, too. But us folk never mixed with that kind of work; and all us did was to keep a good lookout for t’ future. But a poor neighbour he proved to be, for he were as cute as a fox, and he had no fear o’ nothing.

“He weren’t no idle man, though, Skipper Bill weren’t. That second winter he set to and built a ten-tonner all by hisself–that is, t’ hull. He had galvanized fastenings for her, such as he never bought fair in Newfoundland. But o’ course he had no gear to fit her out, and he couldn’t get any more than he’d got already off our room. We lads saw to that, and he knew it, too–and that it weren’t safe playing no games, neither.

“He were away t’ following winter, ‘furring,’ so he told we, but no fox could ever get fooled by a trap Skipper Bill set. It weren’t in his line, getting round animals. Beyond which he had ne’er a trap. He ‘lowed he just set deadfalls–a good name for his work, I’m thinking now. Anyhow, he came back with enough gear, stolen off French Rooms to t’ south, I reckon, to get his boat afloat by t’ time t’ owners got back.