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The Unknown Sea by Clemence Housman

THE UNKNOWN SEA

BY

CLEMENCE HOUSMAN

[Decoration]

LONDON _DUCKWORTH and CO._ 3 HENRIETTA STREET, W.C. 1898

_All rights reserved_

Edinburgh: T. and A. CONSTABLE, Printers to Her Majesty

THE UNKNOWN SEA

CHAPTER I

A solitary fisher ploughed the lively blue of a southern sea. Strength of limb, fair hair, and clear grey eyes told of a northern race, though his skin had been tanned to a red-brown, dark as the tint of the slender, dark-eyed, olive-skinned fishers born under these warm skies. In stature and might a man, he was scarcely more than a boy in years; beardless yet, and of an open, boyish countenance. As his boat raced eagerly forward he laughed for pride of heart, and praised her aloud after a fashion native to the south: she was his beloved, his bird, his blossom, his queen; and for his warrant well built she was, promising strength and speed in due degrees, and beautiful obedience to him. Her paint was bright, her ruddy canvas unstained, in contrast to a pile of tackle, black from age and use: the nets and the weighted cross-beams of coral fishing.

White wings against the sky, and white crests upon the sea, broke the entire blue. Far away to eastward, faint and hazy, suave lines extended; but a coast that the boy neared lifted gaunt and desolate cliffs, overlooking a waste of roaring breakers. Midmost of these, sheer and black as the crags beyond, a dark mass rose dominant, like a sullen outcast from the land holding rule, whose mere aspect fitted well the name, Isle Sinister, without an evil implication that went therewith. The young fisher's memory was stored with dark tales, born long ago to night and fear, cherished by generations into fine growth, not by such as he to be utterly scouted. The sound of buoy-bells reached his ears for warning, but he eyed the intricate lines of breakers, he recalled ominous reports, only to estimate the nerve of body and mind needful to any mortal bent there upon a perilous trespass.

For a tale went that kept every fisher well aloof, to shun a danger worse than shipwreck. Little gain was it held for any once driven within the buoy-bells to work clear again to open sea, since sorrow and disaster would dog thenceforward, nor cease till due forfeit were paid: the boat broken up and burnt, her very ashes delivered to the sea. Woe even to the man who dare take any least splinter to burn on his hearth, for sickness and death would desolate his home. Nay, if a shifting wind but carried the ashes landwards, blight or murrain would follow surely. So went tradition, and conviction attended it well, since not within memory had any hardy or unfortunate supplied a living test. Now truly this boy, who came coasting perilously, needed to have in his veins the blood of an alien race, over and above youth and great strength, to be traversing a superstition of such dark credit, in others bred deep and strong.


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