The people of Chance Along, with but a few exceptions, were Nolans, Lynches, Learys and Brennens. Their forebears had settled at the back of the cleft in the cliff a hundred years or more before the time of this history. They had been at the beginning, and still were, ignorant and primitive folk. Fishing in the treacherous sea beyond their sheltered retreat had been their occupation for several generations, brightened and diversified occasionally by a gathering of the fruits of storm. It was not until Black Dennis Nolan’s time, however, that the community discovered that the offerings of the sea were sufficient—aye, more than sufficient—for their needs. This discovery might easily have been made by others than Black Dennis Nolan; but it required this man’s daring ingenuity and powers of command to make it possible to profit by the discovery.
Black Dennis Nolan was but little more than a lad when he commenced the formidable task of converting a poverty-stricken community of cod-fishers into a band of daring, cunning, unscrupulous wreckers. He possessed a dominating character, even in those days, and his father had left him a small fore-and-aft schooner, a store well-stocked with hand-lines, provisions and gear, and a record chalked up on the inside of the door which showed, by signs and formulae unintelligible to the stranger, every man in the harbor to be in his debt for flour, tea, molasses, tobacco and several other necessities of life. So Black Dennis Nolan was in a position, from the very first, to force the other men of the place to conform to his plans and obey his orders—more or less.
For a time there were doubters and grumblers, old men who wagged their heads, and young men who sneered covertly or jeered openly; and later, as the rule of Dennis became absolute and somewhat tyrannical and the hand of Dennis heavy upon men of independent ways of thought, there were insurrections and mutinies. But Black Dennis Nolan was equal to every difficulty, even from the beginning. Doubters were convinced that he saw clearer than they, grumblers were satisfied, young men who jeered openly were beaten into submission with whatever weapon came most conveniently to hand. Dennis was big, agile, and absolutely fearless, and when he dealt a blow with an oar, a skiff’s thwart, or a pole from a drying-stage, a second effort was seldom required against the same jeerer. Once or twice, of course, he had to hit many times and was compelled to accept some painful strokes in return. One or two of these encounters are worthy of treatment in detail, if only to show something of the natures of Black Dennis Nolan and his companions.