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The Lively Poll A Tale of the North Sea   By: (1825-1894)

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The Lively Poll, by R.M. Ballantyne.

The scene opens with one of the many North Sea fishing fleets at work on its grounds. One of the boats is commanded by a man who is called the Admiral of the fleet. He commands the other boats as to when and where they are to start working with their trawl nets, for if such control were not imposed there would be chaos, with a hundred or more boats crossing each other's paths and consequently entangling their nets.

After a night's fishing the fish are gutted, filleted, and boxed. A steam vessel approaches, and takes their catches, so that they can be landed at the nearest fishing port, such as Yarmouth and Gorleston, and rushed to London and other great cities, to be fresh on tables the following day.

But there is another type of vessel that trades with the "Lively Poll" and other ships of that fishing fleet the Dutch "coper", bringing goods to trade for fish, including tobacco and schnapps, for the Demon Drink is the ruination of many a good man. That is what this book is really all about, the ruination of some men, and the salvation of others, for even out at sea there are missionaries working to try and save souls.




Manx Bradley was an admiral "admiral of the fleet" though it must be admitted that his personal appearance did not suggest a position so exalted.

With rough pilot coat and sou' wester, scarred and tarred hands, easy, rolling gait, and boots from heel to hip, with inch thick soles, like those of a dramatic buccaneer, he bore as little resemblance to the popular idea of a lace coated, brass buttoned, cock hatted admiral as a sea urchin bears to a cockle shell. Nevertheless Manx was a real admiral as real as Nelson, and much harder worked.

His fleet of nearly two hundred fishing smacks lay bobbing about one fine autumn evening on the North Sea. The vessels cruised round each other, out and in, hither and thither, in all positions, now on this tack, now on that, bowsprits pointing north, south, east, and west, as if without purpose, or engaged in a nautical game of "touch." Nevertheless all eyes were bent earnestly on the admiral's vessel, for it was literally the "flagship," being distinguishable only by a small flag attached to its fore stay.

The fleet was hovering, awaiting orders from the admiral. A fine smart "fishing breeze" was blowing. The setting sun sparkled on the wave crests; thin fleecy clouds streaked the sky; everything gave promise of a satisfactory night, and a good haul of fish in the morning.

With the quiet air of an amiable despot Manx nodded his venerable head. Up went the signal, and in a few minutes the fleet was reduced to order. Every smack swept round into position, and, bending over on the same tack, they all rushed like a shoal of startled minnows, away in the same direction the direction signalled by the admiral. Another signal from our venerable despot sent between one and two hundred trawl nets down to the bottom of the sea, nets that were strong enough to haul up tons of fish, and rocks, and wreckage, and rubbish, with fifty feet beams, like young masts, with iron enough in bands and chains to sink them, and so arranged that the beams were raised a few feet off the ground, thus keeping the mouths of the great nets open, while cables many fathoms in length held the gears to their respective vessels.

So the North Sea Fishermen began the night's work the Nancy , the Coquette , the Rattler , the Truant , the Faith , the Playfellow , the Cherub , and all the rest of them. Of course, although the breeze was fresh, they went along slowly, because of the ponderous tails that they had to draw.

Do you ask, reader, why all this order? why this despotic admiral, and all this unity of action? why not "every man for himself"? Let me reply by asking you to think for a moment... Continue reading book >>

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