THOSE who are not familiar with the process of "curing" (salting) pilchards for the Italian markets, will require a little explanation to understand the accompanying story.
The pilchards being caught in vast quantities, often amounting to many thousand hogsheads at a time, in an enclosed net called a "seine," are taken out of it--the larger net--in a smaller net, called the "tuck net," and from it loaded into boats and taken to the shore. They are quickly transferred to the fish-sellers, and "put in bulk "--that is, they are well rubbed with salt, and carefully packed up--all interstitial spaces being filled with salt--in a pile several feet in height and depth. They remain in this condition for about six weeks, when they are removed from "the bulk," washed, and put into barrels in very regular order. The barrels being filled with pilchards, pressing-stones,--round masses of granite, weighing about a hundredweight,--with an iron hook fixed into them for the convenience of moving, are placed on the fish. By this they are much compressed, and a considerable quantity of oil is squeezed out of them. This process being completed, the cask is "headed," marked, and is ready for exportation.
Jem Tregose and his old woman, with two sons and a daughter, lived over one of the fish cellars in St Ives. For many years there had been a great scarcity of fish [a] their cellar had been empty; Jem and his boys were fishermen, and it had long been hard times with them, it is true they went out "hook-and-line" fishing now and then, and got a little money. They had gone over to Ireland on the herring-fishing, but very little luck attended them.
Summer had passed away, and the early autumn was upon them. The seine boats were out day after day, but no "signs of fish." One evening, when the boys came home, Ann Jenny. Tregose had an unusual smile upon her face, and 'her daughter Janniper, who had long suffered from the "megrims," was in capital spirits.
"Well, mother," says one of the sons, "and what ails thee a' ?"
"The press-stones a bin rolling."
"Haas they, sure enuff," says the old man.
"Ees ! ees !" exclaims Janniper; "they has been making a skimmage !"
"Hark ye," cries the old woman, "there they go again."
And sure enough there was a heavy rolling of the stones in the cellar below them. It did not require much imagination to image these round granite pebbles sliding themselves down on the "cause," or stone flooring, and dividing themselves up into sets, as if for a dance,--a regular "cows' courant," or game of romps.
"Fish to-morrow !" exclaimed the old woman. The ejaculations of each one of the party showed their perfect faith in the belief, that the stones rolling down from the heap, in which they had been useless for some time, was a certain indication that pilchards were approaching the coast.
Early on the morrow the old man and his sons were on their "stem;" and shortly after daylight the cry of "Heva ! heva !" [b] was heard from the hills; the seine was shot, and ere night a large quantity of fish might be seen in the cellar, and every one joyous.
[a] Pilchards are called par excellence "fish."
[b] Hen is shouted from the hills, upon which a watch is kept for the approach of pilchards by the "huer," who telegraphs to the boats by means of bushes covered with white cloth, or, in modern days, with wire frames so covered. These signals are well understood, and the men in the seine and the other boats act according to the huer's directions. The following song contains all the terms employed in the fishing many of them especially Could Roos, [see Appendix CC] do not appear to have any definite meaning attached to them. The song Is by the late C. Taylor Stevens of St Ives, who was for some time the sural postman to Zennor. I employed Mr Taylor Stevens for some time collecting all that remains of legendary tales and superstitions in Zennor and Morva. The net is spelled sometimes Seine at others Sean.
"MERRY SWAN LADS
"With a cold north wind and a cockled sea,
Or an autumn's cloudless day,
At the huer's bid, to stem we row,
Or upon our paddles play.
All the signs, 'East, West, and Quiet,
Could Roos,' too well we know:
We can bend a stop, secure a cross,
For brave sean lads are we !
Chorus--We can bend a stop5 secure a cross,
For brave sean lads are we !
"If we have first stem when heva comes
We'll the huer's bushes watch;
We will row right off or quiet lie,
Flying summer sculls to catch.
And when he winds the towboat round,
We will all ready be,
When he gives Could Roos, we'll shout hurrah ?
Merry sean lads are we !
Chorus--When he gives Could Roos, we 'll shout hurrah ?
Merry scan lads are we !
"When the aean we've shot, upon the tow,
We will heave with all our might,
With a heave ! heave O ! and rouse ! rouse O !
Till the huer criea, 'All right.'
Then on the bunt place kegs and weights,
And next to tuck go we.
We 'll dip, and trip, with a 'Hip hurrah !'
Merry sean lads are we!
Chorus--We'll dip, and trip, with a 'Hip hurrah !'
Merry sean lads are we !"