THERE was once a fisherman named Pepe; he was very good, and very poor. He never went out to fish without first kneeling down and asking a blessing on his labours; he never lost his time in drinking-bouts; he brought his children up to be as honest and industrious as himself; yet nothing prospered with him. He toiled the livelong day, and often far into the night, yet he could scarcely earn enough to keep his family above want. If ever there was a storm, it was sure to be Pepe's boat that would be swamped. And if ever there was a rich shoal of fish came within his ordinary fishing-ground, it would be sure to happen when he was ill, or his gear was out of order, or when, for some reason, he could not avail himself of the blessing.
What was most remarkable was, that under all this misfortune Pepe was always cheerful. As the beautiful Spanish proverb says, he was like the sandal-wood, perfuming the axe which strikes it low . He not only never complained, and continued at his toil steadily day by day, but he was always praising God for what He had given him--his wife, his children, his humble hut, his strong arms. "Put your trust in God, and your feet diligently along the road ;" so he used to say, and so he used to act.
One day he had gone out as usual, and, as often happened, had taken nothing. It was no use going back with an empty bag; he persevered another day, and another, though he had nothing but a loaf to live on. The sun above was like a furnace, the sea below like a lake of fire. Pepe crept under the shadow of his sails, and was so exhausted with heat and hunger that he fell into a swoon.
He saw himself lying at the bottom of his boat, but not alone. There was One lying there also, who slept too. His raiment glistened, and a light of glory surrounded Him, which paled that of the blazing sun. By and by the sun went down, and it seemed that night came on, but He was still there; and the wind rose, and Pepe's little boat was tossed and buffeted, and Pepe was ready to cry out with alarm. Then he thought, "While He is here, no harm can come; I will keep His slumber sacred." So he looked out on the fury of the storm, and waited. Then that shining One arose and waved His hands abroad towards the winds, and there came a sweet melody from His mouth, which said, "Peace! peace!" Then suddenly all was still and bright again, and the soft breeze echoed back the music of "Peace! peace!" Then Pepe, when he saw what He had done, fell on his knees before Him, and said, "Lord, as Thou hast done this, send me now a draft of fishes, that my net may be full." Then the Bright One stretched out His hands over the sea; and there rose out of the rippling waves great handsome fishes such as Pepe had never seen the like. They were of the height of a man in length, and their skin shone like silver interwoven with many colours, and their fins of gold. Docile at His gesture, they rose gently over the side of the boat, and laid them obedient at His feet. One by one, on they came till--appalling sight!--the boat began to sink under their priceless weight.
For one moment Pepe's heart almost fainted within him at seeing the rich prize sink away again just as it was within grasp, and with it his boat, his tackle, all that he had to call his own! But his eye rested on the Bright One who stood there, and his faith and confidence returned. He observed that some folds of His glistening mantle, as it hung loosely from His shoulders, floated on the waves which were now meeting over the place where he stood. Confident that it would bear him up, Pepe stepped on to it, as on to dry land, while all his earthly treasure sunk out of sight.
Then Pepe woke. The sun had nearly set; a light breeze was gently carrying off the superfluous heat of the day; but his bark was empty, no Bright One sat in it, no beautiful fish lay there. Pepe listlessly looked over the side of his boat; the influence of his dream was yet upon him, and he could not restrain a look after his sunken prize. What was that? Something large and shining swam under his boat, surely! Hastily Pepe detached a little lamp which always burnt under a cross hung on the mast, and looked down into the clear blue waters, when lo! as if attracted by the light, the shining fish turned their small bright eyes towards it, as if they took the unwonted light for the rising sun, and swam straight at it almost within arm's length. Pepe was now at no loss what to do. Taking a large hook which lay in the bottom of his boat, he lashed it firmly to a long spar, and then hanging the lamp over the side of the boat, he prepared to seize the finny prey with his improvised harpoon. The lamp attracted them as before, and now came the struggle. Pepe was a small man, and the first fish he tackled was a foot taller than himself and well-nigh pulled him over the side of his boat. Pepe was glad enough to let him go, even at the cost of his weapon, which the fish carried down into the deep with him. Pepe was, as you know by now, one who never lost heart; he pulled out his narvaja (or long-bladed knife with a cross-hilt), and tied it to another long piece of wood. Pepe was gaining experience; this time he selected a smaller antagonist, and great was his joy when, after a brief encounter, he landed him safely in the bottom of the boat. Pepe was not avaricious, more anxious to share the good news with his family than to obtain a large haul, he only waited to take one moderate-sized fish more, and then he was off to his home.
Great was the joy in the village next morning, as the news of the new source of industry spread. Some were frightened, and said there must be witchcraft in it; but when they saw the trade prosper, they were glad enough to take it as the good gift of God, and from that time to this the Tunny fishery has never failed to enrich the dwellers on all the shores of the Mediterranean.