Sunday, 11 March 2012

Beche's Fishing


Beche's Fishing
Beche, The Carib Boy   Part II.
By A. Hyatt Verrill
From Everyland magazine, Vol. VII, No. 4, March 1916. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, Mar. 2012.

TO Beche the arrival of the fishing-boats was always a delightful event. He loved to help pull the light dugout canoes upon the smooth, black beach; he was filled with excitement over the huge tuna, dolphins, and swordfish, and never tired of admiring the wonderful, gorgeous colors of the brilliant-hued tropical fish which filled the baskets in the boats.
Sometimes, among the more common fish, Beche would find strange things. Slimy, ugly octopuses, or devil-fishes, with their eight sucker-covered arms, were often caught, for the repulsive creatures are considered good eating by the Caribs and after being pounded to a pulp between two stones are made into stew. At other times great, clawless, red, blue, and yellow lobsters, gigantic, scarlet crabs, or huge, eel-like morays were among the sea denizens brought in, and Beche never knew what queer creatures he might find when the fishermen arrived.
Ever since he could remember Beche had been on hand to welcome the fishing-boats, and once he had gone with his father to the fishing-grounds far out to sea. Beche could swim like a fish and had no fear of the water or of boats; but when the forest-covered mountains of his island home grew faint and hazy in the distance and a new and strange land loomed above the eastern rim of the sea, he was filled with a strange dread lest the boat would be unable to return and he would be carried to the other land. He wondered what it was like;—if the dim mountain peaks were that great country called England where the king lived. When he asked about it his father laughed and told him it was Martinique. Then Beche looked with interest at the pearly land, for he remembered a time when the day had grown black as night and dust and ashes had fallen from the sky and every one had trembled with deadly fear until word came that Pelee had become angry and had devastated a place called Martinique. At that time Beche had no idea where Martinique was; but now he realized that it was in view across the dancing waves and he grew frightened and begged his father to take him home before the black ashes should again rain down and hide the sun. Throughout the day, while the boat bobbed about upon the waves and the fishermen were busy hauling in their lines, Beche had kept his eyes glued upon the distant land. At last the canoes were headed toward the sinking sun, and the green forests of Beche's own home grew plainer with each forward plunge of the boat, until the keel grated upon the beach and the Carib boy again felt safe beneath the waving palm-trees.
Since then Beche had never wished to go forth with the fishermen, but often, as he helped unload the canoe, he longed to catch fish himself. On the day of which I am telling he determined to go fishing the next day and as soon as the boats had left the next morning he set diligently at work to carry out his plans.
A short distance from the shore a number of tall, straight trees grew upon a little hillside, their great, hand-like leaves shining silvery-white as the trade-wind waved them back and forth and exposed their under sides. To these trees Beche made his way, for he knew that they were soft and easily cut and were as light and buoyant as cork. With his machete the Carib boy soon felled two of the Trumpet Trees or "Pipiris," as he called them, and by means of a tough, native vine he dragged them down the hill to the shore.
It was slow, hard work, and several times the little fellow stopped to rest before he reached the shore with the two tree trunks.
Soon the logs were cut into several pieces, and placing these side by side Beche laid light poles across them and bound all firmly together with tough vines. With little trouble he pushed the affair into the water, where it floated and rose and fell in the little waves. Wading knee-deep into the sea Beche clambered aboard the raft and gave a glad little shout as he found it supported his weight without any trouble.
Paddling the raft to the beach he hauled it beyond reach of the waves and prepared to make his fishing-tackle. A long coil of the same vine which he had used as a kite-string, served for the fish-line, and a short search above the sand of the beach soon disclosed a small lump of "ironstone" which would serve for a sinker. To make a hook was far more difficult and Beche longed for a real steel hook, such as the fishermen used. He knew his father had plenty, but he also knew that they were too highly prized to be given to boys for play, and that it would be useless to ask for one until he had proved his ability as a fisherman. But the problem didn't trouble the Carib boy for long. He remembered that near his hut there was an empty box and that in this box were nails, and in a few moments he had drawn two of the wire nails from the wood and was busily hammering them with the back of his machete. The hooks that resulted from his work were rough and crude but Beche felt greatly pleased with them and hurried off to get the bait. This was easy, for he had only to turn over a few stones to find some small crabs which he dropped into an empty coconut-shell and then, with the stem of a palm-leaf for a paddle, the Indian boy shoved his raft into the water, clambered on board and paddled it into a quiet cove behind a little coral reef. Baiting his hook he dropped the line into the water, and, squatting upon the edge of his queer craft, he peered down into the sea. The water was so clear and transparent that Beche could see the bottom many feet beneath and he became so interested in watching the many strange objects upon the bed of the sea that he quite forgot about his fishing. Upon the rocks below grew masses of bright yellow, red, and green coral; for corals are not white when living, but are as bright-tinted as flowers. Among the corals waved great purple sea-fans and black sea-rods. Giant, cup-shaped brown sponges stood here and there; purple and blue and scarlet sea-anemones waved their delicate tentacles from crevices of the reefs and bright-red crabs crawled slowly about, searching for bits of food. In one spot a school of yellow and black coral-fish flitted back and forth like a flock of butterflies; blue and purple angel-fish swept past like graceful birds, and a big, red-spotted grunt nosed about in the white sand searching for shell-fish. The sight of the fish reminded Beche of his purpose, and carefully baiting his nail hook with a crab he lowered it over the side of the raft close to the grunt. He could see the line, the sinker, and the baited hook quite plainly, and he dropped it so close to the clumsy fish that the busy creature was startled and darted back with fright. The crab smelled good, however, and after a moment's hesitation the grunt opened his great green and purple mouth and gulped down bait and hook together. Beche gave a quick, hard tug at the line and shouted with joy as he felt the big fish pulling hard at the other end of the vine. The fish tried hard to escape, but Beche's hand-made hook was caught fast, and very soon the boy had pulled the flapping creature upon his raft and was gloating over his prize like any civilized boy over his first fish.
When Beche again looked over the side of his raft he found a number of fish had gathered, for the struggles of the grunt had churned up the mud and sand and many tiny worms, shells, and crabs had been exposed and had attracted the hungry fish. Again baiting his hook Beche lowered the line among the fishes, and watched them eagerly as they flitted about and nibbled at the bait. Time and again he jerked at the line, thinking a fish had bitten, but each time the wary creatures darted to one side and the hook swung harmlessly upwards. Several times the bait was nibbled from the hook, and over and over again the Carib boy drew up the line, placed a fresh crab on the hook, and again dropped it into the sea. The sun beat down upon his bare brown back, he was getting hungry, and yet only the single grunt had been the reward of his work. He was beginning to think that it was useless to go on fishing and that he would never catch anything more when suddenly a great, gray, shadowy form moved slowly out from a crevice among the corals. For an instant it hung motionless and then rushed forward and Beche was almost jerked from his raft as the line came taut. With all his strength the boy pulled on the vine, but the fish was almost as strong as Beche and he panted and perspired as inch by inch he drew in the line while the raft spun round and round, dragged by the struggles of the huge fish. Gradually the fish gave way, the line came up more readily, and Beche could see the silvery flash of his prize close to the surface of the water. The boy wondered how he could haul the big fellow over the edge of the raft and as he was very tired he fastened the line to one of the cross-pieces to rest his hands and arms. Then, for the first time, he looked about and as he did so he gave a wild cry of fright and terror. He was no longer close to shore in the quiet cove; but was rising and falling on the ocean swell a mile from shore, and the little huts where his people lived were mere specks against the greenery beyond the distant thread of white surf. Beche was terribly frightened; he had never been so far from home alone, and he could feel the freshening breeze that was sweeping him farther and farther from land. He turned to pull in the anchor-line so he could paddle toward home, but it was gone; and then he knew that it must have slipped from the raft as he struggled with the fish and that the current and tide had drifted him from the cove while he had been so intent upon his catch that he had not noted his surroundings. Seizing his rude paddle he tried to make headway and for an hour worked diligently with tight lips and pounding heart. Still the shore grew fainter and fainter, and Beche, realizing that he was being carried farther from home every moment, threw his tired body upon the raft and sobbed and sobbed, until weary, hungry, and heartbroken he fell asleep.
Beche awoke with a start, and gave a hoarse cry of surprise and delight as he glanced about. The sun had set behind the mountains, but it wasn't yet dark, and the raft was motionless, grounded upon a pebbly point of land. Tall coconut-palms clashed their leaves softly in the evening breeze, wooded hills rose steeply from the shores, and under the palms Beche caught sight of a little wattled hut. The dull glow of a fire threw rosy lights among the trees, and before a pot upon the coals squatted a woman. It was all strange to the Carib boy; he had never seen the spot before; but from the direction of the hut came an appetizing odor of roasting breadfruit and broiling fish, and Beche, famished and tired, scrambled ashore and ran toward the woman.
"Eh, eh!" she cried in soft Creole French, as she turned at the sound of his footsteps, "You make me 'fraid, yes." Then, catching sight of his features, she exclaimed,
"Ma foi! You Ca'ib boy, yes. How you come here? You come by boat, no?"
"Ai!" cried Beche, "I hungry; please give me to eat," and without waiting for permission he seized a roasted plantain from the ashes and devoured it ravenously.
The stout, beturbaned colored woman looked at him in wonder as he gulped down the hot food.
"Oui Papa!" she exclaimed as Beche helped himself to a huge piece of breadfruit, "You hungry for true, yes! Where from you make to come, Ca'ib?"
Between mouthfuls Beche explained his plight, while the sympathetic negress muttered little cries of surprise or pity.
"Don't to make 'fraid, Ca'ib," she said, when Beche had finished his story. "Soon when Jean come with he canoe he take you safe to you home. You come far for true. You at Pointe Bouchere. Soon like my man come he take you back."
His hunger satisfied Beche's head began to nod and his eyes closed, and lifting him in her strong brown arms Matilde carried him to her hut and laid him tenderly upon her bed.
Beche did not wake up when big, laughing, black Jean came home. He did not feel himself carried to the canoe and placed gently upon a bed of palm leaves, and as Jean pulled with long, steady strokes over the moonlit sea the Indian boy slept undisturbed.
He was aroused by glad shouts, and opened his eyes to the glare of flaring torches and to see his own mother and father beside him.
Beche leaped up and threw his arms about his parents with a shout of joy. Then he remembered about his fishing. "Eh! Papa Moin," he cried proudly, "I fisherman for true now. I build one little boat and make to catch two big fish."
 

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.