Part I

September

Chapter III

ON BOARD the curragh, meanwhile the silence had been equally unbroken.

    Con O'Malley did not care about this commonplace hand-line fishing. He always took a prominent part in the herring fishery, which is the chief fishing event of the year in Galway Bay, and is carried on on board of the hookers, upon the decks of which a small windlass is generally rigged up by the fishermen, so that the net may be more easily hauled on board, when the fish, being cleared from it, tumble down in a great, scaly, convulsive heap upon the deck. The herring fishing was over, however, for this year; there were no mackerel in the bay at present; and this stupid hand-line fishing hardly, in his opinion, brought in enough to make it worth while to interest himself in it. He was vexed, too, at having had to leave his comfortable perch and open-eyed afternoon snooze in order to separate these two fighting idiots. Though he was not in the least drunk, as you are, please, to understand, he had certainly taken two or three glasses of undesirably raw whiskey in pretty quick succession before leaving Ballyvaughan, and this, added to the sleepiness engendered by a whole day in the open air, naturally disposed him to the passive, rather than more active, forms of occupation.

    He hardly made a pretence, therefore, of fishing; merely sat with a line in his hand, staring at the water with an air of almost preternatural sobriety. Shan Daly, on the contrary, for whom this fishing was the chief event of the day, and whose own share of the fish was his principal payment for such services as he was able to render, had resumed his previous attitude of watchful expectation, glancing up from time to time as he did so at his employer with a furtive, somewhat shame-faced expression; conscious that he was in disgrace, conscious, too, that, he somehow or other deserved to be in disgrace, but with too limited a realisation of things in general, especially of the things we call right and wrong, to be able to define to himself very clearly in what his offence consisted. Beings of so eminently elementary an order as that presented by Shan Daly are apt to be more or less offenders against whatever society they chance to be thrown into; nay, are apt to belong in a greater or less degree to what we call the criminal classes; but their criminality is pretty much upon a par with the criminality of mad dogs or vicious horses. Punish them we must, no doubt, for our own sakes; restrain them still more obviously, if we can; but anything of a high tone of moral and abstract condemnation is, I am apt to suppose, sheer waste of good material in their case. Like most of our poor, overburdened, and underprovided humanity, this luckless Shan was not, after all, entirely bad, or, to be accurate, his badness was not of an absolutely consistent and uniform character. He had a wretched, sickly, generally starved wife at home upon Inishmaan; a wretched, sickly, generally starved family, too, and some, at least, of these fish he was so anxious to obtain, and for the preservation of which he would hardly, in the mood, have stopped short at murder, were destined that night for their supper.

    Not much time was given him on this occasion to follow his pursuit, for Con O'Malley was beginning to want to get back to Inishmaan, where he intended to put his small daughter, Grania, ashore, previous to sailing on himself to Aranmore, the largest of the three islands, in the harbour of which he kept his hooker, and where there was a certain already distantly gleaming attraction in the form of the 'Cruskeen Beg'—largest, best kept, most luxurious of the public-houses upon the three islands, and the chief scene of such not, after all, very wild or seductive conviviality as was attainable upon them. Signalling, therefore, to Murdough Blake to pull the two vessels closer together, he presently mounted the hooker, followed by the reluctant Shan, the curragh was let drop back into its former place, and they were soon scudding westward over the bay, all the four sails—mainsail, foresail, jib, and a small triangular one above the mainsail—being expanded to their utmost to catch the still light and capriciously shifting afternoon breeze.