They watched him until his mouth fell open.
“I think I’ve got something.” He gulped, then pulled—but the line refused to come. It came a little way and then pulled back. “It feels like a whale,” he said, his eyes round, his head cocked.
“O God, it’s something heavy indeed!” Excitement got hold of them all strongly. What if it was a whale?
The forked stick was very nearly jerked out of Tormad’s hands. He had to let out more line quickly. Then a little more. Leviathan was moving away from under them!
Their hearts went across them. The boat rose on the heave of the sea. Now that they were clear of the land, a gentle wind darkened the surface of the waters. A small ripple suddenly slapped the clinched planking like a hand slapping a face. The sound startled them. Ronnie looked at the sea. “We’re drifting,” he said. “The oars, boys—quick!” cried Tormad. “Quick, or all the line will be out!” Ronnie and Ian each shoved an oar out, and Ronnie pulled the bow round so smartly towards the wind that Tormad, on his feet, lurched and fell sideways, clutching at the line, which all at once went slack in his hands. On his knees he began hauling in rapidly. The line came to a clean end. Sinker and hooks and cross-spar were gone.
Tormad stared at the frayed end against his palm. No one spoke. Tormad stared at the sea. It came under the boat in a slow heave and passed on.
“When one place is no good, you try another,” he said quietly. “Let us go farther out.”
Despite my original misgivings about the bleakness of the book (which may still set in later on) this has started as quite a gripping story.
This is set after the Napoleonic Wars. Tormad and his wife were moved from their home during the Highland Clearances and are now trying to survive, like others, in a barren stretch of land on the coast. The men, in their despair to find some source of steady food, have taken to fishing, but this really is their first attempt at it. There certainly is no expertise or skill of any experienced fishermen around that they could make use of.
What immediately struck me is that the men went out on the open sea - which is known to be choppy and freezing - in what seems to be nothing more than a rowing boat. I'm getting seasick just thinking about that.