A taster from top selling, A Salt Splashed Cradle
By Chris Longmuir
Excerpt from Chapter 5 – A Salt Splashed Cradle
The women waited thigh deep in water, as the fishing fleet sailed towards the village with the gulls screaming and circling round the boats. They were strong women, as tall and weather-beaten as the men who fished the seas, and as each boat arrived they grasped the prow pulling it ashore while the men attended to the task of securing the sails and oars.
James had been first back, and now he looked up from his task of unloading the fish from the boat that rested on the shingle where Annie had pulled and guided it. It would not be long before the cadgers arrived to haggle over the price of the fish. Their carts were probably already rumbling across the bridge from the town on the north shore of the river. Maybe he should not have sent Annie back to the house, for he was never able to get as good a price as she could. Still, family had to come first and Jimmie’s Belle was family now, as he had reminded Annie.
‘You’ll not be going to the town to sell fish the day,’ he’d said, his voice brooking no argument.
Annie had thrown down her creel in annoyance, but she had not argued.
‘Get Jeannie to put some of the fish in the creel for our own use, and bring it with you when you come. . . and mind and get a good price for the rest from the cadgers. They’d rob you as soon as look at you.’ With that parting remark Annie turned her back on James, and started to walk towards the stone house that had been home to them for the past twenty years.
James sighed as he resumed his task of unloading the fish. She was a good lass Annie. He was sure that once she’d got over her disappointment about Jimmie’s sudden marriage she would take to Belle, even if it was only for the sake of the bairn.
Most of the boats had beached by now, and the chatter of the women and girls mingled with the deeper voices of the men as they helped their fathers and husbands to unload them. Some of the women were already strapping on their creels ready to leave for the market in Invercraig, where they could get a better price for their fish than the cadgers gave them.
James looked around for his sons, for if he did not finish unloading soon he would not get the best price from the cadgers.
‘Ian!’ he shouted, catching a glimpse of his second eldest son. ‘Will you leave the lassies alone and get the hell back here to unload the boat!’
‘That’s women’s work,’ scowled Ian, ‘I shouldn’t need to unload. I’m a fisherman, not a labourer.’
‘You’ll unload if I say you unload, my lad. And you’re not a proper fisherman yet, not till you have your own share in a boat. So you’ll do what I tell you.’
‘I don’t see Jimmie here unloading,’ Ian sneered. ‘Away to see his precious Belle, is he?’
‘Never you mind about Jimmie. He has an excuse the day. He’ll be needing to see his bairn.’
‘I wonder if it would have been the same if it was my bairn that had been born.’ Ian’s tone was bitter.
‘Well it’s not your bairn. So just get on with the work.’
James watched Ian bend over the edge of the boat. He was so like Jimmie in looks they could almost be twins, although there was two years between them. But Ian did not have Jimmie’s good nature. It was as if there was something eating him away inside. Always since they were children, Ian had wanted what Jimmie had.
The first of the cadgers’ carts arrived at the river’s edge pulling up parallel to James’s boat.
Angus leaped from the cart to the ground clearing the edge of the bank. ‘I went to meet Wullie,’ he shouted to his father. ‘Told him he had to buy his fish from us.’
‘You’d no right, lad,’ James scolded, ‘you should have been here helping.’
Angus laughed, ‘You’ll not say that if you get a better price because of me.’
James smiled back. He found it impossible to stay angry with Angus, who at fifteen was smaller and stockier than his two elder brothers. This last fishing trip had been Angus’s first time out with the boat. And he’d done well. He’d been keen and eager to learn, and always good natured even when things had been tough.
‘Come on then, lad. Let’s get these fish away so we can go home and see the new bairn.’
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