“It is rather bad,” I admitted, “and they are always cutting their hands and fingers and getting abominably infected sores. They only come to me when they are in a more or less desperate condition. Yet one can hardly blame them for following the ways of their fathers, when you consider the lack of facilities. They can’t clean the fish on board their little boats, as the bankers do on the larger schooners, and there is no place in which they can dispose of the refuse save in the waters of the cove. They don’t even have any cultivable land where they could spread it to fertilize the ground. It must drift here and there, to go out with the ebb of the tide or be devoured by other fishes, or else it gets cast up on the shingle. The smell is a part of their lives, and I am nearly sure that they are usually quite unconscious of it. Moreover, they are always harassed for time. If the fishing is good the men at work in the fish-houses ought to be out fishing, and the girls should be out upon the flakes. They often work at night till they are ready to drop. And then perhaps comes a spell of rain, days and weeks of it, during which the fish spoils and all their work goes for nothing. Then they have to try again and again, with hunger and debt spurring them on. And the finest part of it is that they never seem to lose courage.”
“I wonder they don’t go elsewhere and try some other kind of work,” suggested Miss Jelliffe.
“I dare say they are fitted for little else,” I replied. “And besides, like so many other people all over the face of the earth they are attached to their own land, and many get homesick who are transplanted to other places. They seem to have taken root in the cracks between these barren rocks, and the tearing them away is hard. So they keep on, in spite of all the hardships. They get lost in storms and fogs; they get drowned or are frozen to death on the ice-pans, nearly every spring, at the sealing, for which they are paid in shares. This naturally means that if the ship is unsuccessful they get nothing for all their terrible toil and exposure. Indeed, Miss Jelliffe, they are brave people and hard workers, who never get more than the scantiest rewards. I think I am becoming very fond of them. I’m a Newfoundlander, you know.”
“Was it home-sickness that brought you back?” she asked.
“It may have been sickness of some sort,” I answered.
She looked at me, without saying anything more, and we stepped on board the boat, after I had guided her over the precarious footing of a loose plank which, however, she tackled bravely.
From Miss Helen Jelliffe to Miss Jane Van Zandt
During these long evenings there is absolutely nothing for me to do except to inflict long epistles upon you. Dear Daddy seems to be making up for some of the lost sleep of his youth, and is apt to begin early the unmusical accompaniment to his slumbers.