The Dividing Tide – Episode 02

The chimes from the chapel clock in Bidreath drifted up to her. Eight o’clock! Jenna was late.

She hurried down a path to a cluster of cottages at the mouth of an inlet.

Three seine boats were anchored a little way from shore, their fishing nets at the ready. She saw the men on board, smoking and rope-working, and knew they awaited the cry of “Hevva! Hevva!” from the huer on the cliff top. It was the signal that a pilchard shoal had been spotted.

So far this year there had been no sight of the pilchards. There were regular catches of other fish: cod, ling, mackerel and herring. But the fishing villages depended upon the coming of the pilchards.

Without their arrival in late summer and autumn, larders would be empty in the coming winter.

The rancid smell of fish met Jenna as she walked through the narrow streets, but she was used to it.

She became aware of voices raised in a heated discussion. Was that Garren? It was unlike him to be argumentative. What had happened?

As she turned on to the quayside she saw a group of men gathered outside the fish palace. Garren had one foot on a coil of rope, his hair glinting auburn in the late September sunshine. He scowled.

“The magistrates have no right to take our nets! How are we supposed to fish without them?”

An old man sitting on an upturned withy pot puffed hard on his clay pipe.

“They reckon we’re breaking up the shoals.”

Garren turned to him.

“They do, Joe, but why should the seiners be able to fish but not us drifters? Their company’s coffers will be full while our stomachs go empty. It’s not right!”

“I’m not sayin’ it’s right, boy,” Old Joe said. “I’m just sayin’ that’s how it is.”

“I’ve a good mind to stop my missus packing their fish for ’em,” another voice interjected. “See how they’d like that. The seiners have far too much their own way, for my liking.”

Garren looked up as Jenna approached. He left the group and joined her. His hazel eyes were dark with worry.

“The seine companies reckon it’s our fault the pilchards haven’t come,” he said. “They say we’ve driven them away.”

“They’ve been saying that for years,” she pointed out.

“It’s different this time. They took it to the law and the magistrates sided with them. Our nets have been locked away!” 

Jenna was concerned. She’d loved Garren ever since she’d come to live at Merrick after her mother had died. He’d always been kind to her and she’d looked on him as a brother.

Slowly, things had changed, and when one day he asked her to walk out with him she realised she’d begun to love him in a different, grown-up way.

Now, her heart swelled. Drifter or seiner, a fisherman’s nets were his livelihood. This was serious. Garren was twenty-two but he wasn’t as carefree as the other village lads, for he had his mother and sister, Tansy, to provide for.

She touched his arm.

“I’m sorry,” she said simply. What else was there to say? No-one could argue against the law.

“We can talk when you come and see Mamm-wynn and me tomorrow night.”

“Talking’s not going to change the situation.”

“Jenna?” a voice called up from the nearby cellar steps. “You goin’ to stand there all day gossipin’?”

It was Betsey, who oversaw the women workers at the fish palace.

“Just coming!” Jenna turned to Garren again. “I must go. I’ll be docked threepence for being late if I don’t!” She smiled, but his face remained solemn.

How could she cheer him up, she wondered as she turned down the flight of stone steps to the pungent, salt-encrusted cellar below.

*  *  *  *

Garren watched Jenna disappear into the fish palace. It wasn’t just losing his livelihood which upset him, though that was bad enough. It was also because, this coming Sunday when they walked out along the cliff tops, he’d planned to ask Jenna to marry him. But how could he provide for a wife with no work and no money coming in?

He clenched his fists. The seine company had a lot to answer for!

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.