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The Silent Men
by [?]

Two very reckless fellows used always to go fishing together, and used also to spend their leisure together. One was known as Roughit; and the other was called Lance. Roughit was big, with heavy limbs and a rather brutal face. He wore his hair and beard very long, and his eyes looked morosely from under thick reddish eyebrows. He scarcely ever spoke to anybody; and some of the superstitious fishermen did not like to meet him in the morning, because they thought he always brought them bad luck. Lance was a handsome man, with small hands and feet. He was not like the shaggy giants of the village–and, indeed, it had been said that some people at the Hall knew more about his parentage than might at first sight be supposed. The two men never talked much, and never exchanged any kind of greeting when they met and parted. Both of them were such expert boatmen that excepting on very dark nights they scarcely needed to communicate except by signs.

On summer afternoons when the herrings were coming southward Roughit would knock at Lance’s door and pass on without a word. Presently Lance would come out, with his oilskins over one arm and his water-bottle swung by his side. The coble was lifted on to the launching-wheels and run down to the water; then the two men took their places, and the boat stole away northward over the bay. They never carried their fish to any big port, because their boat was so small that it was not worth their while. They always ran back to their own village and sold their catch to the farmers and labourers in their own neighbourhood. When the boat was beached, Roughit and Lance had their nets driven up to the great green and then spread in the sun for an hour or two. They sat smoking and listening to the larks that sung against one another over the common. About one o’clock they strode home together and went to bed until it was time to go north once more.

The herring season is the pleasantest for fishermen. It is their harvest; and they have little real hardship and a good deal of excitement. On calm nights, after the nets are shot, there are hours of keen expectancy, until the oily flicker on the surface of the water tells that the great shoal is moving to its fate; then there is the wild bustle among the whole fleet while the nets are hauled in; and then comes the pleasant morning lounge after the fish are sold.

Roughit and Lance were always lucky, and made lots of money during the summer and autumn. In winter times were harder for them. They mostly did all their work in the daytime, and sent their fish round to their customers in the afternoons. In the evenings they sat on the bench in the tavern and smoked silently until the time came for expeditions of another sort. The friends were great poachers, and they carried on their operations like a pair of vicious and well-trained lurchers. Roughit had a small lightly built dog, bred between a collie and greyhound; Lance had a big Bedlington terrier; and these two dogs were certain to be the death of any hare they made up their minds to catch. Lance and Roughit would sit down by the fence beside a gate; the lurcher lay quietly down beside the gate-post, while the terrier slipped through the gap in the hedge and sneaked quietly round to the top of the field. When he had reached the furthermost hedge, he began to beat slowly down towards his confederate: there would come a quick thud, thud of feet; then a scraping on the bars of the gate; then a shrill squeak; and the lurcher cantered quietly up with his game to the place where the two fishermen sat. If old Sam, the Squire’s gamekeeper, had ever had a chance of putting a charge of shot into either of the dogs he would not have thrown it away. But the brutes usually stayed indoors all day, and never went rummaging the coverts on their own account. Roughit showed no signs of sporting instinct; but Lance really liked the fun, and was willing to run all kinds of risks.