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Bare indeed it appeared (for it can hardly be said to exist now) to the few strangers who, at rare intervals, visited it.
Looking inland, little was to be seen but barren rocks piled one above another, forming a ridge which, to the inexperienced eye, appeared to be an almost insurmountable barrier to one who wished to hold communication with the world beyond. Of vegetation there was scarcely any visible; here and there patches of cultivated ground, bearing potatoes and kail, and a few other garden productions, somewhat relieved the monotony of the scene; and in the distance a score or two of mountain firs waved their dark branches upon the hill tops; with these exceptions all was bare and desolatê.
Seaward, nothing was visible but the water, which at times was calm and motionless, except for the tiny ripples that ruffled its surface, and sparkled brightly in the sunshine, but in the autumn and winter assumed a very different
aspect; the dancing ripples became troubled waves, and the silvery light was exchanged for a deep and sombre hue.
In these waters the fishermen plied their industry of catching the fish, which, in the village, they afterwards dried and prepared for distant markets. A trade somewhat hard, and at times dangerous, but well suited to the tastes and habits of those who pursued it.
There were those who remembered times gone by, when the occupation of the villagers had not been of so innocent à nature; when smuggling had been carried on to a great extent, and wrecking was looked upon as a legitimate pursuit. But things were altered now, smuggling had become too hazardous to be profitable, and wrecking was almost impossible, on account of the improved system of lighting on the coast. Some few of the fishermen looked back with something like regret to these bygone days, but the majority of them were well contented to live on the proceeds of their lawful trade.
Among the latter was Michael O'Harran, or "Red Mike," as he was more usually designated, who, so long as he could earn a living for his wife and one child, never wished for an increase to his wealth or happiness. Red Mike had been, in his younger days, one of the most daring smugglers and wreckers on the coast, but having become a changed man with regard to his religion, or rather having found out the true meaning of the word religion, he had given up such pursuits, even while they were yet profitable and comparatively safe.
The time came, however, when it was almost impossible to make even a living for himself and those most dear to him. The fishing at that time had been unsuccessful, the potato crops had failed, and the price of other food was so high as to be almost out of the reach of the poorer classes.
Not only Mike, but all the villagers were sufferers. In vain were the nets shot from the boats evening after evening ; in vain did the fishermen haul them again in the morning; the fish caught were not more than enough to keep the villagers themselves in food, and this in the winter, when good hauls were expected.
As the winter came on and Christmas approached, the weather had become bitterly cold and stormy, so stormy indeed that it was impossible to put the boats out to sea, and for a week before Christmas no fish had been caught.
On the day before Christmas two of the men went to a neighbouring town to try to procure provisions for the poverty-stricken villagers, but returned empty-handed, the meal-men and others refusing to give credit for the required supplies. They brought news, however, that made the ears tingle and the blood throb in the veins of those to whom they imparted it.
A schooner laden with meal and corn was on its way north; that very night it might be expected to pass the promontory a mile away, a place that in the old days had been the scene of many a wreck, but on the end of which was now built a lighthouse to warn mariners against coming too near inshore.
Could they but prevent that light from shining forth its
warning, they might, by hoisting another farther on, entice the schooner on to the rocks, and thus bring to themselves a plentiful supply of food.
It was a dreadful thing to think of doing, but the men were made hard by their privations, and they determined to make the attempt. Let it be remembered that it is many years ago since this occurred, and that such practices were then far from uncommon; it is to be hoped that in these more enlightened times even the greatest hardships would not induce a number of men to enter into such a plot.
Among those who were consulted as to the plan was Red Mike, who was as badly off as any of his neighbours, but he stedfastly set his face against it.
“ Look ye here, boys,” he said, we shall never gain any good by wrong-doing; and look at it, if any of the poor fellows were drowned, would you like to have that on your consciences all your lives, let alone the stealing ?”
“But, Mike, we are nigh upon starving, and here is a real godsend for us," argued one.
“ Not a godsend," answered Mike; “God would never send us a vessel to wreck. Maybe, if we trusted Him more He might send us help, but not the way you are thinking of.”
A great deal more was said on both sides, but nothing could make Red Mike move; “He might starve,” he said, “ but he would never do that wrong.”
After arguments came threats; threats of violence to the man who would not help to "bring the starving people food;" that is the way it was put.
He was called a coward, and taunted with want of manliness; but to every taunt he answered that he would not consent to the wicked act that was proposed. “If you
go in with us we will give you a taste of the sea,” said one of the men; and the cry was taken up by the others. “ Chuck him over the rock; he'll turn traitor on us, if we let him have the chance !” So enraged became the men at last, that they seemed likely to carry the threat into effect; but Mike still held firm to his resolve to have nothing to do with their proposed plan. He said it would be a wicked thing to do, and reminded them that by causing the wreck of the schooner they would be likely also to cause the death of some of the crew. " And how could you get up on the Christmas morn,” he added, “and feel sure that you had made widows and orphans that might suffer, poor things, far more than we are suffering ? You must not do it, boys ; don't you think that the Great Father of us all can provide for us, in His good time? Ay, and He will too, if we only put our trust in Him."
Mike said this with such confidence that none but those who knew how he was situated would have thought he was about the poorest of all in the village.
“And how can He send us food for to-morrow ?” asked one of the men,
“I don't know how," Mike answered ; “but if He sees well He can do it, and He will."
It was long before Red Mike could prevail upon the others to give up their idea ; but he did so at length, and he went home rejoicing that he had used his influence in the right direction.
On reaching his cottage Mike was met by his wife, who knew nothing of the proposed scheme for obtaining the muchneeded supply of food. When her husband first caught sight of her, she was standing at the cottage door looking seaward.
“Look, Mike,” she said, " there is a vessel coming this way; where can she be making for?
On looking round her husband could see the lights of a vessel which was evidently coming as close inshore as possible. It must be the very schooner the fate of which had apparently been decided by him half an hour before, so he thought, although he did not answer the question put to him.
For some time he watched the approaching lights, till at last they ceased to move, and became stationary close to the shore; then across the waters he could hear the sound of voices and the splash of oars, and soon a shout, which
was answered by some of the fishermen who lived nearer the sea than himself. “ I'll just go down and see what it is,” he said.
“ There are none of our boats out to-night.”
When he arrived at the beach, the boat had just reached the little jetty where the fishermen landed their fish.
“ Lend us a hand, men, as quick as you can,” shouted one of the rowers. “Here is something that will make your hearts rejoice.”
“ What is it you have?” asked several voices.
“Never mind what it is; help haul them up;" and in a few minutes the boat was unloaded, and cask after cask of meal and other provisions stood before the wondering men.
“ Is Michael O'Harran among you ?” asked the skipper of the boat, as soon as the last package was on the jetty. “Yes," answered Mike, “ I'm here."
Well, then, here's a letter for you ; and there is another load to come ashore yet. Lend a hand lads, we must be off again."
With a wondering look Mike took the letter that had been handed to him, and ere long had mastered it contents. It explained that the gentleman who owned nearly all of the houses in the little village had heard of the distress among his tenants, and had sent, by a schooner going north, a present of food and other things to be divided amongst them, and that, knowing Mike would do it fairly, he had deputed him to deal them out to his neighbours.
Need it be said that there were great rejoicings among the people, and that they all agreed with Mike, that the gift so unexpectedly received was one that they could call a real godsend? Need it be said, either, that there were rejoicings that they had been prevented from committing the crime they had been so near to perpetrating? We think not.
One thing certainly need not be told, and that is that the Christmas dinner eaten on the morrow was none the less sweet because it had not been obtained by an act of wickedness, the consequences of which might have been ruinous to all.