The Dividing Tide – Episode 14

“Hevva! Hevva!”

The shout from the clifftop was accompanied by the frantic waving of two furze branches covered in white calico. It was the second day the drift fishermen had been without their nets, and Garren had been sitting disconsolately on the harbour wall.

At the huer’s shout, however, he pushed himself upright. The pilchards were coming! At last!

Boots scuffed on the cobbled paths as the townsfolk scurried, laughing and chattering, to the harbour’s edge. High above on the clifftop the huer kept on letting the fishermen below know which way the shoal was moving.

Garren picked out a silvery-purple shape under the surface of the sea. On and on the fish came.

Then it was all hands to the wheel. Only one thing mattered, and that was to land and cure the fish. The wellbeing of the whole village depended upon it.

The first seine boat was rowed into position while above, gulls and gannets screeched and dived, the sign of a sizeable shoal.

Instructions were shouted and the boats went hither and thither until nets were shooting through the air and the surface of the water was alive with flickering leaping fish, their scales glistening like jewels as they caught the sun.

Garren raced to the stretch of sand near the harbour entrance, for the tide wasn’t in far enough yet for the boats to reach the quay.

The first skiff was beaching as he arrived and he stood in line until he was handed a full basket. Soon he was threading his way around the mule carts to the salting house where Jenna worked.

As he entered the cold, salt-encrusted room everything was a hive of activity. Already there were shouts of, “More fish!” and “More salt!” from the women, with children running hither and thither with pails to supply them.

He emptied his basket of pilchards on to the cleanly swept floor and looked for Jenna, for he wanted to share the relief and joy of the catch with her.

“Where is she, Betsey?” he asked a woman who was shovelling coarse brown salt into a pile.

“I ain’t seen her, my lovely.” The overseer looked up but did not stop working. “She didn’t come in this mornin’. Somethin’ must be up. It’s a rare day that girl don’t come in.”

Garren felt anxious, but pushed it away. There was work to do, important work. He’d see her this evening and find out what ailed her then.

Over and over he made the journey with the rest of the villagers from shore to cellar. As the tide flowed in the boats were rowed to the quay, and Garren transferred his efforts there, relief flooding him as he worked. What a catch!

The afternoon was fading when he passed the last bucketful of silver-blue fish to the women in the fish palace. Outside, clouds had billowed up. The weather was on the change again.

He made his way along the cliff top towards Merrick Cove, the westerly wind pushing him from behind. By the time he reached the ravine cold raindrops were pattering all around him.

He took the steps up to the cottage two at a time, giving a brief rat-a-tat-tat with his knuckles as he usually did before pressing down the latch and pushing open the wooden door.

As he crossed the threshold, he knew something was amiss.

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.