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The coasts of Guernsey abound in fish of all sorts, and the earliest authentic records of the island prove that for many centuries the fisheries have been of great importance, and one of the main sources of wealth to the inhabitants.
Considering the great number of boats kept, the dangerous nature of the coast, the numerous rocks, the intricate currents and strong tides, it is wonderful that so few accidents occur. The fishermen are skilful navigators, and have full confidence in them- selves; they fear not the usual dangers of a sailor's life, but they dread the supernatural influences that may be brought to bear against them.
They—or even some member of their family—may have, perhaps quite unconsciously, offended some old crone who has it in her power to injure them in various ways. By her evil arts she may cause their lines to become inextricably entangled in the sea-weed, or to come up laden with dog-fish, blue sharks, and such-like worthless fish. Happy indeed may the poor fisherman consider himself if the old woman's spite confines itself to such trifling annoyances, for has she not also the power to raise storms ? Is it not on record how Collette Salmon, wife of Collas Du Port, caused the loss of a boat and the death of the whole crew, merely because one of them asked her more than she thought was right for three miserable dog-fish ? Is it not well known how, when that noted witch, Marie Mouton, was banished from the island for her evil doings, the cutter that landed her at Southampton encountered a most terrific gale on its return ? And how the captain and crew were ready to depose upon oath that during the height of the storm they had seen Marie, sometimes perched on the top of the mast, and at other times astride on the jib-boom, tearing the sails to shreds and tatters ? Who could be incredulous enough to resist such testimony as this ? Certainly not Jean Falla.
He was a bold fisherman. Every rock and shallow from the Hanois to the Amfroques were thoroughly well known to him. By night or day could he steer his way through their most intricate passes. He was .not aware of having any enemy, but witches are easily provoked to anger, and unwittingly he may have offended one of the sisterhood. If he had done .so, he had cause to repent his involuntary fault, and to his dying day he never forgot the fright he had to undergo in consequence.
He had left his moorings in the Bay of Les Pequeries early in the morning. A more beautiful day had. never risen on Guernsey. The sun shone, a light breeze just ruffled the surface of the sea, the tide served, fish were plentiful on the coast, and everything promised an abundant catch. He sailed out alone, reached the fishing ground, took his marks carefully, cast out his lines, and then anchored to await the turn of the tide when the fish begin to bite. It was not long before the gentle rocking of the boat and the warmth of the atmosphere began to make him feel drowsy, and, knowing that an hour or two must still elapse before he was likely to catch anything, he yielded to the influence, and was soon sound asleep.
How long his sleep lasted he was never able to say, but the impression on his mind was that scarce a quarter of an hour had elapsed before he was awakened by one of the most terrific storms that he had ever experienced. The boat was rolling fearfully, and rapidly filling with water. To hoist a sail, to slip the cable, and to turn the boat's head in the direction of the land was his next endeavour, but at this critical moment his courage almost failed him.
In the howlings of the storm he heard a peal of unearthly laughter above his head, and, looking up, was horrorstruck at discerning, in the fast flying scud, the form of an old woman perfectly well known to him, who appeared quite at home in her elevated situation. She was accompanied by many others who were strangers to him, but she was the leader of the party, and it was evident that his fright and embarrassment were the cause of their uproarious merriment. Who she was, he could never be prevailed upon to say, and, no doubt, in this he acted wisely.
The wind fortunately favoured him. He made for the land, reached his moorings in safety, ran his boat up high and dry on the beach, and leaped ashore. A fresh peal of laughter from his aerial tormentors spurred him on. His house was at no great distance from the shore, but the way to it by the road was circuitous. He took, therefore, a short cut across the fields, passed over one or two hedges without accident, jumped over another and alighted astride on the back of a cow that was quietly chewing the cud on the other side, regardless of the turmoil of the elements. The poor beast, roused so suddenly from her repose, started up and rushed madly across the field, carrying her terrified load with her. The middle of the field was crossed by one of those deep cuttings which are made for draining the marshy lands of that district, and the cow, brought suddenly to a stand, precipitated the unfortunate Jean Falla head over heels into the muddy ditch.
Again the unearthly laughter resounded. A less resolute man than Jean would have lost all presence of mind, but he remembered that he was within a few perches of his own house. He scrambled out as well as he could, reached his cottage door, which was fortunately open, entered, closed the door hehind him and fell exhausted on the floor. Another prolonged peal of laughter dying away in the distance was heard outside, but Jean, once under his own roof, felt himself safe.
It was some time, however, before he recovered from his fright, and. whatever his real feelings towards them may have been, he was observed from that time forward, to treat all old women, with marked deference and respect.