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Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 54, No. 334, August 1843 online

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have not taken up my pen to write either the triflings or the
tendernesses of the heart. I leave to others the _beau idéal_ of life.
Mine has been the practical, and it has been stern and struggling. I
have often been astonished at the softness in which other minds seem to
have passed their day; the ripened pasture and clustering vineyards - the
mental Arcadia - in which they describe themselves as having loitered
from year to year. Can I have faith in this perpetual Claude Lorraine
pencil - this undying verdure of the soil - this gold and purple suffusion
of the sky - those pomps of the palace and the temple, with their
pageants and nymphs, giving life to the landscape, while mine was a
continual encounter with difficulty - a continual summons to
self-control? My march was like that of the climber up the side of Ætna,
every step through ruins, the vestiges of former conflagration - the
ground I trode, rocks that had once been flame - every advance a new
trial of my feelings or my fortitude - every stage of the ascent leading
me, like the traveller, into a higher region of sand or ashes, until, at
the highest, I stood in a circle of eternal frost, and with all the rich
and human landscape below fading away in distance, or covered with
clouds, looked down only on a gulf of fire.

* * * * *

As I sat at my window, gazing vaguely on the sea, then unruffled by a
breath, and realizing all the images of evening serenity, a flight of
curlews shot screaming by, and awoke me from my reverie. I took my gun,
and followed them along the shore. My sportsmanship was never of the
most zealous order, and my success on this occasion did not add much to
the mortality of the curlews. But the fresh air revived me, I felt my
elasticity of foot and frame return, and I followed for some miles along
the windings of the shore. At last I had reached the pool where they,
probably more aware of the weather than I was, seemed intending to take
up their quarters for the night. I took my ground, and was preparing to
attack them with both barrels; when a gust that swept with sudden
violence between the hills nearly blew me down, and scattered all my
prey, screaming and startled, on the wing far into the interior. I had
now leisure to look to myself. The sea was rolling in huge billows to
the shore. The sun had sunk as suddenly as if it had been drowned. The
hills were visible but for a moment, gleamed ghastly in the last light,
and were then covered with mist. One of those storms common in Autumn,
and which brings all the violence of winter into the midst of the
loveliest season of the year, had come on, and I was now to find shelter
where I could in the wilderness.

I was vigorous and hardy, but my situation began to be sufficiently
embarrassing; for I was at least half-a-dozen miles from home; and the
fog, which wrapped every thing, soon rendered the whole face of the
country one cloud. To move a single step now was hazardous. I could
judge even of my nearness to the ocean only by its roar. The rain soon
added to my perplexities, for it began to descend less in showers than
in sheets. I tried the shelter of the solitary thicket in these wilds,
but was quickly driven from my position. I next tried the hollow of a
sand-hill, but there again I was beaten by the enemy; and before I had
screened myself from the gust a quarter of an hour, a low rumbling
sound, and the fall of pieces of the hill above, awoke me to the chance
of being buried alive. I now disclaimed all shelter, and painfully
gained the open country, with no other guide than my ear, which told me
that I was leaving the sea further and further behind, but hearing the
rush of many a rivulet turned into a river before me, and in no slight
peril of finishing my history in the bed of some pool, or being swept on
the surface of some overcharged ditch, to find my bed in the sea after
all.

All vexations seem trifling when they are once over; but, for full two
hours of this pelted pilgrimage, I felt sensations which might have
cured me of solitary sporting for the rest of my existence.

At the end of those hours, which appeared to me ten times the length, I
heard the barking of a dog, the usual announcement of peasant life; and
rejoicing in it, as one of the most welcome of all possible sounds, I
worked, felt, and waded, my way to the door of a building, at which,
without ceremony, I asked for entrance. My application was for some time
unanswered but I heard a rustling within which made me repeat my request
in various ways. After trying my eloquence in vain, I offered a guinea
for a bed. A window was now opened above, and showed a pair of heads,
which in their night-gear strongly reminded me of the grandmother wolf
in Little Red Riding hood - myself, of course, being the innocent victim.
I now doubled my offer, my whole purse amounting to no more; and was let
in.

My hosts were two, an old woman hideous with age and ferocity of
feature, but the other a young one, with a handsome but bold countenance
whose bronze had been borrowed as much from free living as from the sea
breeze. The house was furnished in the parti-coloured style, which,
showed me at once that it belonged to something above the peasant. The
women at first were rather reluctant to enter into any conversation; but
when, to make my reception welcome, I paid the two guineas down on the
table, their hearts became thawed at once, and their tongues flowed. My
wet clothes were exchanged for the fisherman's wardrobe, and a tolerable
supper was put on the table. Some luxuries which I might not have found
under roofs of more pretension, were produced one after the other; and I
thus had Hamburg hung beef, Westphalia ham, and even St Petersburg
caviare; preserved pine apple formed my desert, and a capital glass of
claret "for the gentleman," of which the ladies, however, professed
themselves incapable of discovering the merit, was followed by an
equally capital bottle of brandy, which they evidently understood much
better.

In the midst of our festivity, the dog sprang to the door, and a sound
like that of a horn or conch shell, was heard through the roar of the
gale. The women started from their seats in evident consternation, swept
away the remnants of the supper, and conveyed me into an adjoining
closet; where they begged of me to keep close, not to speak a syllable,
let what would happen, and, as I valued my life and theirs, not to
mention thereafter whatever I might see or hear. It was now plain that I
was in the house of smugglers; and as those were notoriously people not
to be trifled with, I made my promises of non-intervention with perfect
sincerity.

I was scarcely in my nook when the party arrived. They were evidently
six or seven - their conversation was the common bluster and
boisterousness of their trade - and between their demands for supper,
their coarse jokes, and their curses at the lubberliness or loitering of
their associates from the other side of the Channel, (for, with all
their accompliceship, they had the true John Bull contempt for the
seamanship of Monsieur,) they kept the house in an uproar. They expected
a cargo from Calais that right, and the idea of losing so favourable an
opportunity as the tempest offered, rendered them especially indignant.
Scouts were sent out from tine to time to look for signals, but nothing
appeared. At length the brandy was beginning to take effect on their
brains, and their rough jokes arose into quarrel. A charge of treachery
produced the drawing of cutlasses, and I heard them slashing at each
other; but the right Nantz which had inflamed the quarrel rendered it
harmless, until one lost his balance, rolled headlong against my door,
and burst it in. There stood I, visible to all, and the sight produced a
yell, in which the epithets of "spy, exciseman, custom-house shark," and
a whole vocabulary of others, all equally remote from panegyric, were
showered upon me. I should have been cut down by some of the blades
which flashed before me, but that I had taken the precaution of carrying
my gun to my closet, and was evidently determined to fight it out. This
produced a parley; when I told my tale, and as it was corroborated by
the women, who came forward trembling at the sight of their savage
masters, and who spoke with the sincerity of fear; it saved me further
encounter, and I was merely enjoined to pledge myself, that I should not
betray them.

The compromise was scarcely brought to a conclusion when the discharge
of a pistol was heard outside; and as this was the signal, the whole
party-prepared to leave the house. I now expected to be left to such
slumbers as I could find in the midst of rocking roofs, and rattling
doors and windows. But this was not to be. After a short consultation at
the door, one of them returned, and desired me to throw on a fisherman's
dreadnought which was smoking beside the fire; and follow him. Against
this, however, I vehemently protested.

"Why, lookye, sir," said the fellow, smoothing his tone into something
like civility, "there is no use in that thing there against about fifty
of us; but you must come along."

I asked him, could he suppose, that I was any thing like a spy, or that,
if I gave my word, I should not keep it?

"No," said the fellow. "I believe you to be a gentleman; but what a
story shall we have for the captain if we tell him that we left a
stranger behind us - and, begging your pardon, sir, we know more about
you than what the women here told us - and that after he heard all our
plans for the night's work, we left him to go off to the custom-house,
with his story for the surveyor."

This seemed rational enough, but I still held my garrison. The fellow's
face flushed, and, with something of an oath, he went to the door, gave
a whistle, and returned next minute with a dozen powerful fellows, all
armed. Contest was now useless, and I agreed to go with them until they
met the "captain," who was then to settle the question of my liberty,
The women curtseyed me to the door, as if they rather regretted the loss
of their companion, and were at least not much pleased by being cut off
from further inroads on a purse which had begun by paying so handsomely,
not knowing, that it was utterly stript; and we marched to the point of
waiting for the bark from Calais.

The storm had actually increased in violence, and the howling of the
wind, and thunder of the billows on the shore, were tremendous. Not a
word was spoken, and if it had been, the roar would have prevented it
from being heard, the night was pitch dark, and the winding paths along
which we rather slid than walked, would not have been easy to find
during the day. But custom is every thing: my party strode along with
the security of perfect knowledge. The country, too, seemed alive round
us. The cottages, it is true, were all silent and shut up, as we hurried
through; but many a light we saw from the lowly cottage, and many a
whistle we heard over the wild heath. Cows' horns were also in evident
requisition for trumpets, and in the intervals of the gusts I could
often hear the creaking of cart-wheels in the distance. It is to be
remembered that this was notoriously _the_ smuggling country of England,
that those were the famous times of smuggling, and that the money made
by evading the king's customs often amounted to a moderate fortune in
the course of a simple speculation.

The whole country apparently had two existences, a day and a night
one - a day and a night population - the clown and his tillage in the
light, the smuggler and his trade in the dark; yet the same peasant
frequently exhibiting a versatility for which John Bull seldom gets
credit. - The man of the plough-tail and the spade, drudging and dull
through one half of his being; the same man, after an hour or two of
sleep, springing from his bed at midnight, handling the sail and helm,
baffling his Majesty's cruisers at sea, and making a _mêlée_ with the
officers of the customs on shore - active, quick, and bold, a first-rate
seaman, brave as a lion, fleet as a hare, and generally having the best
of it in the exercise of both qualities.

Our numbers had evidently grown as we advanced, and at length a whistle
brought us to a dead stand. One of the party now touched my sleeve, and
said, - "Sir, you must follow me." The cliff was so near, that thoughts
not much to the credit of my companions came into my head. I drew back.
The man observed it, and said, "The captain must see you, sir. If we
wanted to do you any mischief, an ounce of lead might have settled the
business an hour ago. But if we are free-traders, we are not
bloodhounds. You may trust _me_; I served on board Rodney's ship."

Of course this was an appeal to my new friend's honour, which could not
be refused without hurting his etiquette most grievously, and I
followed. After two or three windings through an excavation in the
cliff, we came in front of a blazing fire, screened from external eyes
by a pile of ship timbers. Before the fire was a table with bottles, and
at it a man busily writing. On raising his eyes the recognition was
instant and mutual. I saw at once, in his strong features, my companion
on the roof of the Royal Sussex stage, whose disappearance had been the
subject of so much enquiry. He palpably knew a good deal more of me than
I did of him, and, after a moment's embarrassment, and the thrusting of
papers and pistols into the drawer of a table, he asked me to sit down;
hurried to the mouth of the cavern, heard the story of my capture from
the sailor, and returned, with his forehead rather smoothed.

"I am sorry, sir," said he, "that the absurdity of my people has given
you a walk at this time of night; but they are rough fellows, and their
orders are to be on the _qui vive_."

My answer was, "That I had been treated civilly; and, as circumstances
had brought it about, I did not so much dislike the adventure after
all."

"Well spoken, young gentleman," was his reply. "Circumstances rule every
thing in this world, and one thing I shall tell you; you might be in
worse hands, even in this country, than in ours. Pray," added he, with a
peculiar look, "how did you leave my friend Mordecai?"

I laughed, and he followed my example. Tossing off a glass of wine and
filling out a bumper for me -

"Well, then," said he, "suppose we drink the Jew's health. I gave you a
rather strange character of him, I think. I called him the perfection of
a rogue; true enough; but still I make a difference between a man who
volunteers roguery; and a man on whom it is thrust by the world.
Circumstances, you see, are my reason for every thing. Make a hard
bargain with Mordecai, and ten to one but you are caught in his trap.
Throw yourself on his mercy; and if the whim takes him, I have known him
as generous as any other."

I replied, that his generosity or craft were now matters of very little
importance to me, for I had determined to return to London by day-break.
He expressed surprise, asked whether I was insensible to the charms of
the fair Mariamne, and recommend my trying to make an impression there,
if desired to have as much stock as would purchase the next loan. Our
further conversation was interrupted by the sound of a gun from seaward,
and we went out together.

The sight was now awful; the tide had risen, and the storm was at its
height. We could scarcely keep our feet, except by clinging to the
rocks. The bursts of wind came almost with the force of cannon shot, and
the men, who now seemed to amount to several hundreds, were seen by the
glare of the lightnings grasping each other in groups along the shore
and the hills, the only mode in which they could save themselves from
being swept away like chaff. The rain had now ceased its continual pour,
but it burst in sharp, short showers, that smote us with the keenness of
hail. The sea, to the horizon, was white with its own dashings, and
every mountain surge that swept to the shore was edged with light - the
whole, one magnificent sheet of phosphor and foam. Yet, awful as all
was, all was so exciting that I actually enjoyed the scene. But the
excitement grew stronger still, when the sudden report of two guns from
seaward, the signal for the approach of the lugger, followed almost
immediately by a broadside, told us that we were likely to see an action
before her arrival. As she rose rapidly upon the horizon, her signals
showed that she was chased by a Government cruiser, and one of double
her size. Of the superior weight of metal in the pursuer we saw
sufficient proofs in the unremitting fire. Except by superior
manoeuvering there was clearly no chance for the lugger. But in the
mean time all that could be done on shore was done. A huge fire sprang
up instantly on the cliff, muskets were discharged, and shouts were
given, to show that her friends were on the alert. The captain's
countenance fell, and as he strode backwards and forwards along the
shore, I could hear his wrath in continued grumblings.

"Fool and brute!" he cried, "this all comes of his being unable to hold
his tongue. He has clearly blabbed, otherwise we should not have had any
thing better than a row-boat in our wake. He will be captured to a
certainty. Well, he will find the comfort of being a cabin-boy or a
foremast-man on board the fleet for the rest of his days. I would not
trust him with a Thames lighter, if ever he gets on shore again."

The cannonade began now to be returned by the lugger, and the captain's
spirits revived. Coming up to me, he said, wiping the thick perspiration
from his brow, "This, sir, is a bad night's job, I am afraid; but if the
fellow in command of that lugger had only sea room, I doubt whether he
would not give the revenue craft enough to do yet. If he would but stand
off and try a fair run for it, but in this bay, in this beggarly nook,
where a man cannot steer without rubbing his elbows upon either shore,
he gives his seamanship no chance."

He now stood with his teeth firm set, and his night-glass to his eye,
bluff against the storm. A broadside came rolling along.

"By Jove! one would think that he had heard me," he exclaimed. "Well
done, Dick Longyarn! The Shark has got that in his teeth. He is leading
the cruiser a dance. What sort of report will the revenue gentleman have
to make to my Lords Commissioners to-morrow or the next day, I should
wish to know?"

The crowd on shore followed the Manoeuvres with not less interest.
Every glass was at the eye; and I constantly heard their grumblings and
disapprovals, as some luckless turn of the helm exposed the lugger to
the cruiser's fire. "She will be raked; she will lose her masts," was
the general groan. As they neared the shore, the effect of every shot
was visible. "There goes the mainsail all to ribands; the yards are shot
in the slings." Then public opinion would change. "Fine fellow that! The
Shark's main-top shakes like a whip." In this way all went on for nearly
an hour, which, however, I scarcely felt to be more than a few minutes.
"The skipper in command of that boat," said the captain at my side, "is
one of the best seamen on the coast, as bold as a bull, and will fight
any thing; but he is as leaky as a sieve; and when the wine gets into
him, in a tavern at Calais or Dunkirk, if he had the secrets of the
Privy Council, they would all be at the mercy of the first scoundrel who
takes a bottle with him."

"But he fights his vessel well," I observed.

"So he does," was the reply; "but if he should have that lugger captured
before a keg touches the sand, and if the whole goes into the
custom-house before it reaches the cellars of the owners, it will be all
his fault."

They were at length so near us that we could easily see the splinters
flying from the sides of both, and the havoc made among the rigging was
fearful; yet, except for the anxiety, nothing could be more beautiful
than the manoeuvres of both. The doublings of the hare before the
greyhound, the flight of the pigeon before the hawk, all the common
images of pursuit and evasion were trifling to the doublings and
turnings, the attempts to make fight, and the escape at the moment when
capture seemed inevitable. The cruiser was gallantly commanded, and her
masterly management upon a lee shore, often forced involuntary
admiration even from the captain.

"A clever lad that revenue man, I must own," said he, "it is well worth
his while, for if he catch that lugger he will have laid hold of twenty
thousand pounds' worth of as hard-earned money as ever crossed the
Channel. I myself have a thousand in silk on board."

"Then all is not brandy that she brings over?"

"Brandy!" said the captain, with a bitter smile. "They would be welcome
to all the brandy she carries to-night, or to double the freight, if
that were all. She has a cargo of French silks, French claret, ay, and
French gold, that she must fight for while she has a stick standing."

At this moment, the sky, dark as it was before, grew tenfold darker, and
a cloud, that gave me the exact image of a huge black velvet pall,
suddenly dropped down and completely covered both vessels; no firing was
heard for a time, even the yell of the gust had sunk; nothing was heard
but the billow, as it groaned along the hollow shore. The same thought
occurred to us both at once. "Those brave boys are all in their coffin
together," slowly murmured my companion. There was neither shout nor
even word among the crowd; while every eye and ear was strained, and the
men began to run along the water's edge to find a fragment of the
wrecks, or assist some struggler for life in the surge. But the cloud,
which absolutely lay upon the water, suddenly burst open, with a roar of
thunder, as if split from top to bottom by the bolt, and both were seen.
A sheet of lightning, which, instead of the momentary flash, hung
quivering from the zenith, showed both vessels with a lurid distinctness
infinitely clearer than day. Every remaining shroud and rope, every
wound of mast or yard, every shot-hole, nay, every rib and streak of the
hulls, was as distinctly visible as if they had been illuminated from
within. But their decks, as the heave of the surge threw them towards
us, showed a fearful spectacle. The dying and the dead, flung along the
gangways, the wounded clinging to the gun carriages or masts, a few
still loading the guns, which neither had now hands enough to
manoeuvre; yet both ships still flying on, shattered and torn, and
looking, in the wild light, like two gigantic skeletons.

The lugger now fired a rocket, and sent up a striped flag, the signal of
distress. A cry for "The boats!" was echoed along the shore, and eight
or ten were speedily started from their hiding places and dragged down
the shingle. Stout hearts and strong hands were in them without loss of
time, and they dashed into the storm. But their efforts were wholly
useless. No strength of oars could stand against such a gale. Some were
swamped at once, the men hardly escaping with their lives. The rest were
tossed like dust upon the wind, and dashed high on shore. All was
hopeless. Another rocket went up, and by its ghastly blaze I caught a
glimpse of the captain. He had been either forced from his hold on the
rocks by the wind, or fallen through exhaustion. His bronzed face was
was now as pale as the sand on which he lay; he was the very image of
despair. Thinking that he had fainted, and fearing that, in this
helpless state, he might be swept away by the next surge - for the spray
was now bursting over us at every swell - I laid hold of his hand to drag
him higher up the cliff after me. As if the grasp had given him a
renewed life, he sprang on his feet, and saying, in a distracted tone,
which I alone could hear, "Better be drowned than ruined!" he cried out
with the voice of a maniac, "Boys, sink or swim, here I go! Five guineas
for every man who gets on board." Tearing off his heavy coat, he rushed
forward at the words, and plunged headlong into the billow. There was a
general rush after him; some were thrown back on the sand, but about
half the number were enabled to reach the lugger. We quickly saw the
effect of even this reinforcement. At the very point of time when the
cruiser was about to lay her on board, she came sharply round by the
head, and discharged her broadside within pistol-shot. I could see the
remaining mast of the cruiser stagger; it made two or three heaves, like
a drunkard trying to recover his steps, then came a crash, and it went
over the side. The vessel recoiled, and being now evidently unable to


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Online LibraryVariousBlackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 54, No. 334, August 1843 → online text (page 13 of 23)