Maurice, or The Fisher's Cot

Maurice, or The Fisher's Cot
by Mary Shelley

Maurice, or The Fisher's Cot was an unpublished children's work by Mary Shelley. She mentioned having written the story, in her August 10, 1820 journal entry - and she later mentioned having sent the 39-page manuscript to her father's publishing company in October of the following year, although he ruled the story too short to merit publication. The work was feared lost-forever, until the original manuscript turned up in 1997, dedicated to Laurette Tighe, the daughter of one of Shelley's friends.

One Sunday afternoon in the month of September a traveller entered the town of Torquay, a seaport on the southern coast of Devonshire. The afternoon was pleasant and warm, and the waves of the sea, slightly agitated by a breeze, sparkled under the sun. The streets of the town were empty, for the inhabitants after having been to church were dining during the interval between the services: so the traveller walkd on through the meaner strets of the town, to the semicircle of houses that surrounds the harbour; and then he paused at the door of a neat-looking inn. The traveller was a man about forty-five years of age; he was remarkably erect in his person; alert and even graceful in his walk; his hair was black and curly, although a little fallen from his temples; he was handsome, but somewhat sub-burnt, and when he smiled he looked so good-tempered and kind that you could not see him without loving him. In dress and manner he had the appearance of one who had seen better days, but who was now poor; and he seemed serious, though not depressed by poverty. His clothes were coarse and covered with dust; he was on foot, and had a wallet buckled on his back.

He entered the inn, and asking for dinner, unbuckled his wallet, and sat down to rest himself near the door. While he was thus sitting a funeral passed by; it was evidently the funeral of a poor person, the coffin was carried by some peasants, and four mourners followed. Three of these, although serious, looked careless and indifferent; the fourth was a boy of about thirteen years of age; he was crying, and was so much taken up by his own distress that he did not observe anything that passed near him. Something in this boy's appearance attracted the traveller's attention; and once, when he ceased crying and looked round towards the inn door, the traveller thought thta he had seldom seen so beautiful a youth. He turned to the landlady, and asked, whose was that funeral? And who was the boy that accompanied it?

"That," replied the woman, "is the funeral of old Barnet, the fisherman: and that boy was a kinf of servant or apprentice who lievd with him after the death of the old dame, his wife.: --

"Does he belong to this town?" --

"He does not; nor do I know from whence he comes: he is the child of poor people or his parents would never have sent him to live in the cottage of old Barnet. The neighbours says (sic) he is a good boy, but I know nothing about him."

The traveller sighed and said: "This poor boy can be nothing to me, yet I am much pleased with his appearance and manner." -- A young countryman who was dining at the table in a corner of the room now rose, and said: "I live near old Barnet's cottage, and know this boy well; he is the best creature in the world, and all who know him love himl: as you, sir, appear inquisitive about him, I will, if you please, relate all I know concerning him." --The traveller expressed his assent and the countryman began thus:--

"Old Barnet's cottage is situated about three miles from this town at the foot of the cliff and overhung by a few tree; it is very solitary and very poor; the spring tide comes up almost to the steps of the door; and when the wind blows the spray of the sea is dashed against the windows. We neighbours often wondered how so old a cot could stand the stress of weather; or being so near the sea that some high south winds do not blow the waves entirely over it; but it is sheltered by the crag, and being built on ground somewhat higher than the shore, out of the reach of the most tempestuous waves, it stands there, as I have known it stand ever since I was born, an old weather-beaten cot, the roof covered with lichens and moss. Beside it is a little cove where the fishing boat is kept, and there is an outhouse where the nets and sails were plaecd when the old man returned form the sea. A little freshwater brook trickles down from the cliff, close to it, down into the sea, and when I was a boy I used often to go and place paper boats in this rill and watch them sailing down to the sea where they were soon lost in the great waves.

"Old Barnet and his dame lived here. He was a most hard-working old man; early and late you saw his little skiff at sea, and often when no other boats ventured out Barnet would go and come back with fine, fresh for the Torquay market. His dame was so lame that she seldom moved from the old, worsted, high-backed armchair where she used to sit mending the nets, and hearing a few children read, who came to her...