This story was written in response to Laura M Bailey’s
Manic Mondays 3 Way Prompt
and Fandango’s Word prompt: Compete.
The Wreck of the Shirley-Ann – OR ‘The Devil’s Bet’
The old shipwreck was a monument to folly. It had stood on the mudflats off of Rookstone head for as long as anyone could remember.
Wise old men and women used it to warn youngsters not to put good competition above good sense.
Old Stefan was the one who told the story best. He was an old fisherman himself but hadn’t put to sea for many a year now. He preferred standing at the bar of the Jolly Roger public house to standing at the prow of a ship nowadays. He was always there come Friday night, with his old blue woollen fisherman’s pullover, holes in various places. His skippers hat on his head and that old pipe in his mouth, spewing foul-smelling fumes.
He loved to spin a yarn or two to any visitors to the town or anyone who would listen, although the locals had learned not to, or they would end up wasting the best part of two hours.
On that particular evening he had a crowd of young sightseers sitting around him. He gave them a good show.
“Arr, you see that old ship that be stuck out across the bay? Wrecked, it was, back when my own Pa was a nipper. It belonged to a proud fisherman by the name of Mad Jack. The ship was called the Shirley-Ann after his beloved and betrothed. One day he was standing at this very bar, in this very spot and boasting as he always did. He swore that him and his crew could catch more fish than any other boat on any day they’d care to name. Two other captains took his wager, sick of his boasting they were. They each swore to give the winner half their years profits. Half their profits to the man who brought in the most fish. They chose the date, the first of October, and having shaken on the deal, none of them could turn back. Despite all their women folk begging them not to be such fools. Shirley-Ann begged her betrothed not to do it, but Jack laughed and said it was as sure as won, and he’d have enough money for them to be wed.
When the day dawned, the sky was beautifully clear and sea was as calm as a summer pond, only there were clouds on the horizon and they were bathed in red. Red sky in morning, sailors warning, and never was it truer than of that terrible day. The three boats each with their crew of six men went out on the morning tide to catch fish. By midday the sea had gone from calm to turbulent and the winds whipped around in the bay something fierce. By the mid-afternoon, the sky was blacker than night and the sea was like old Neptune himself was wrestling giant squid beneath the waves. The other two captains turned back to shore, no longer in the mood to compete, not if it meant risking their lives. Mad Jack laughed at them when they turned their boats to the shore, so the other captains said.
Well it was a mad folly for him to stay out there in that terrible storm, but so determined was he to win his bet, he stayed too long in those treacherous waters. The boat was dashed against the black rocks of Rookstone head and Mad Jack and most of his crew were killed. Only one man survived, washed up on the shore, Tom Pruitt. He was a young man then, just twenty but already wed and with a nipper. He was my Grandpa.
The next day the wreck was found where it lies to this day, out on the mudflats. The bodies were all washed ashore. Poor Shirley-Ann never wed and died a poor spinster, wearing black in mourning until her dying day.
Let this be a lesson to ye, and learn it well. Competition is all well and good, but never put it over and above good sense. And never make a wager with your life on the line, that’s the Devil’s bet, they call it and he usually wins, because he always cheats.
Now who will stand me another Pint of the best, eh? My throats gone all parched with the telling.”
Copyright: Kristian Fogarty 23/07/2018