The Cruise of The Breadwinner

BOOK: The Cruise of The Breadwinner
9.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
The Cruise of The Breadwinner

H. E. Bates


A Note from the Family

Foreword by Lesley Pearse

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

A Note on the Author

A Note from the Family

My grandfather, although best known and loved by many readers all over the world for creating the Larkin family in his bestselling novel
The Darling Buds of May
, was also one of the most prolific English short story writers of the twentieth century, often compared to Chekhov. He wrote over 300 short stories and novellas in a career spanning six decades from the 1920s through to the 1970s.

My grandfather's short fiction took many different forms, from descriptive country sketches to longer, sometimes tragic, narrative stories, and I am thrilled that Bloomsbury Reader will be reissuing all of his stories and novellas, making them available to new audiences, and giving them – especially those that have been out of print for many years or only ever published in obscure magazines, newspapers and pamphlets – a new lease of life.

There are hundreds of stories to discover and re-discover, from H. E. Bates's most famous tales featuring Uncle Silas, or the critically acclaimed novellas such as
The Mill
to little, unknown gems such as ‘The Waddler', which has not been reprinted since it first appeared in the
in 1926, when my grandfather was just twenty, or ‘Castle in the Air', a wonderful, humorous story that was lost and unknown to our family until 2013.

If you would like to know more about my grandfather's work I encourage you to visit the
H.E. Bates Companion
– a brilliant comprehensive online resource where detailed bibliographic information, as well as articles and reviews, on almost all of H. E. Bates's publications, can be found.

I hope you enjoy reading all these evocative and vivid short stories by H. E. Bates, one of the masters of the art.

Tim Bates, 2015

We would like to spread our passion for H. E. Bates's short fiction and build a community of readers with whom we can share information on forthcoming publications, exclusive material such as free downloads of rare stories, and opportunities to win memorabilia and other exciting prizes – you can sign up to the H. E. Bates's mailing list
. When you sign-up you will immediately receive an exclusive short work by H. E. Bates.


I have always believed that H.E. Bates was the absolute master of short story writing. He managed to create a little world for you to enter into, and that soft focus world would stay with you long after you'd finished the story.

When I first started writing I tried my hand at short stories, assuming quite wrongly it would be easier than attempting a book. Bates was my guiding light; there appeared to be a simplicity about his work that I sought to emulate. I did get a few short stories accepted by magazines, but they could never be in his league. I certainly never created anything as lovely as ‘The Watercress Girl'. Did any writer before or since? I think I found it in a magazine and read it curled up in my aunt's spare room one wet school holiday and then went on to rush to the library to find more of his work.
Fair Stood the Wind for France
was the first book I borrowed and I was totally hooked on his work, but it was always the short stories I really admired the most.

Lesley Pearse, 2015

Chapter 1

As she went down the estuary on the yellow tide between wintry stretches of salt-white marsh-land,
The Breadwinner
had the look of a discarded and battered toy. She was one of those small lugsail fishing boats that in peace-time lie up the mud reaches of southern rivers, going out on one tide and back on the next, indistinguishable from hundreds of her kind. Her deck-house, not much larger than a dog-kennel and once painted butchers' blue, was now daubed with broad veins of war-grey put on with a whitewash brush, and her sail had been furled untidily to the mast like a copper umbrella. On all her grey fabric they were the only touches of colour except the white lettering of her name. Aft she carried a Lewis gun that had never been fired in the twenty years between the wars, and that had now something of the appearance of a patent frying-pan. She looked very old and very slow. Yet in ten minutes she had cleared the estuary and the long sandy point beyond and was well to seaward, heading due east up the Channel, rolling slightly on the light westward cross-wind of the early day.

Gregson stood at the wheel in the thirty-eight inches of space that separated it from the hatchway. He could just squeeze himself in. The curve of his belly caught the spokes of the wheel where they met the hub. In the course of months this friction would rub a neat oblong hole in the three layers of his jerseys, going finally down to the seam of
his shirt. When this happened Gregson would turn the three jerseys round and wear them back to front. He had once been a man of six feet three, but now he had the slight downward curve of a man who is constantly about to stoop to pick something up but sees only the eighteen-stone mass of his own flesh hiding whatever it was he was trying to find below. Sometimes when he held the wheel in one hand and turned his massive grey head first skyward, to look at the weather, and then downward, to bawl at the crew of two below, he was so enormous and he held the wheel so casually that it might have been a watch.

All day he bawled blasting conversation into the hatch below.

“Gittin' that tea ready, Snowy?”

“Yeh!” The boy's voice from below was drawled out, and sometimes, when surprised, squeaky because it had not fully broken.

“Well then, git it ready!”


“Yeh what? What did I tell you?”

“I dunno.”

“You dunno eh? Well, I'll bleedin' make you know. Ain't I allus told you call the skipper mister? Ain't that what I told ye'? Ain't it?”


“Yeh what?”

“Yeh, mister——”

“It don't matter now! Too late! Git that tea!”

If there was ever a smile on the face of Gregson as he yelled all this, the boy, down below, warming the enamel teapot on the stove of a galley three feet by four, never saw it. It appeared to him always as if Gregson were a man of unappeasable frenzy.

“How's that injun going, Jimmy?”

Gregson never succeeded in getting an answer to that question first time. It was Jimmy's excuse that the noise of the eighteen-horse auxiliary drowned even what Gregson could say.



Jimmy came and stood at the foot of the gangway, dark and pessimistic, looking up, mouth awry, as if the left side of his face were paralytic with pain. He was a man given to violent depressions and upliftings of temper for no reason at all. “Hullo?” he said again. The word had in it the slow challenge of a man full of all sorts of unknown and incalculable trouble. It was partly inspired by habitual dislike of everything aboard and about and belonging to
The Breadwinner
. It was partly the voice of a man weary of the nuisances of a lousy small boat that should have been on the scrap-heap, with a rotten engine in need of a re-bore that was for ever breaking down. It was an exceedingly long-suffering voice, and the fact that Gregson never noticed it, or seemed to ignore it if he did, made it more long-suffering still. But it was also partly the voice of a man whose larger pleasure in life is the pleasure of grievance. It was inversely happy among the miseries of
The Breadwinner
. At home Jimmy had a wife and three small children, and it was he who would fire the Lewis gun if ever it were fired.

“I said how's that injun?”

“I told you last time. And the time afore that. And the time afore that.”

“Don't tell me it ain't no good, because I know different.”

“It ain't so much it ain't no good. What I keep tellin' on yer is we oughta git two engines. Not one. We oughta git
two fourteen-horse engines, instead of one eighteen-horse, so's if one goes, we got a spare.”

“And supposin' both go?”

“It ain't likely.”

“No, it ain't likely. And it ain't likely I'll git the money either. Where's the money coming from?”

“Git the Government to pay it! They got plenty. They throw it about enough, don't they? Git them to pay it. We're on government work, ain't we?”

There were times when Gregson pushed his belly tight against the wheel and held it savagely there and did not answer, and he did it most often when Jimmy talked about the Government. Gregson did not care for the Government. The Government was some huge, anonymous, thwarting, stingy, stinking body empowered to frustrate the lives of ordinary men. Gregson felt for it a more positive enmity than he felt for any living person, enemy or friend. “Don't talk about no bloody government to me.”

“Well, don't say I ain't told yer. One o' these fine days we'll get out there, forty miles from nowhere, and she'll go dead on you. And then what?”

“And then what?” Gregson roared. “What the bleedin' hell d'ye think wind and sail is for?”

Gregson stuck his belly harder than ever against the wheel, holding on with both hands, and was silent, looking at the day. Behind him he could see now the coast of England becoming slowly more coloured in the blue-orange light of morning, with low clean stretches of deserted sand marked as far as he could see with what looked like the rusty stitchery of steel defences, and farther east the sun rising dark red over the terraced and almost all empty white and crimson houses that lay under the line of hills. It was from these hills, becoming still further eastward cliffs that
came down to the sea like the carved edges of creamy glaciers, that Gregson saw the first patrol of the day.




The boy Snowy came bouncing on deck like a blonde and excited rabbit surprised out of a hole, carrying a tea-cup in one hand and blinking friendly blue eyes against the strong sea-light. He looked no more than seventeen, his white-yellow hair blown forward by the wind in one thick swathe over his face as he turned to gaze at the land.

“Bunch o' Spits, ain't they, Snowy?” Gregson said.


Gregson did not speak. The boy knew everything; there was no arguing with the boy. Gregson believed that if an entirely new and undocumented plane had come out of the Arctic the boy would have given it a name. The boy knew everything that flew, and a lot, Gregson thought, that had not yet begun to fly. He named them while they were still gnats on the horizon. He could name them at twenty thousand feet, and sometimes by mere sound, not seeing them at all. Without him Gregson would have been utterly lost;
The Breadwinner
could never have done a single patrol.

“Looks like a nice day, anyway,” Gregson said, as if that at least were something he could understand.

The boy stood watching the squadron of Hurricanes resolve itself out of the east. It came straight over the cliffs, in two flights line astern, with straight and fine precision, quite slow, wings shining in the sun, as if each aircraft were tied by an invisible string to the other, and then turned westward to follow the line of shore. The noise of engines was never loud enough to drown the noise of
The Breadwinner's
single auxiliary, but it was loud and beautiful enough to bring the engineer-gunner on deck.

“Hurricanes,” Gregson said, before the boy could open his mouth.

“Steady, steady. They might be Spits,” Jimmy said.

“Ah, Spits your old woman,” Gregson said. “Use your eyes.

“One missing,” the boy said. “Man short.”

“Hell, that they is too,” Gregson said. “I never twigged it. Snowy ain't half got a pair of eyes, ain't he?”

BOOK: The Cruise of The Breadwinner
9.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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