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

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steer, the storm had her at its mercy; and the last we saw of her was a
hull, rolling and staggering away down the Channel, firing guns of
distress, and going headforemost toward the Bay of Biscay.

Need I say in what triumph the lugger was hauled up the sand, or how
her bold commander and hardy crew were received? But while a carouse was
preparing for them - and, it must be owned that if sailing and fighting
were claims, they had earned their suppers - the business portion of the
firm was in full activity. From the waggon down to the wheelbarrow,
every country means of carriage was in motion without delay. I had been
hitherto by no means aware of what Johnson would probably have called
"the vehicular opulence" of the Sussex shore. Nor had I ever a more
striking illustration of the proverbial lightness of the work of many
hands; a process, which in his solemn lips would probably have been,
"Sir, congregated thousands laugh at individual difficulty; delay
vanishes before united labour; and time is an element of toil no more."

The clearance of the cargo would have put all the machinery of a royal
dockyard to shame. As for the activity of the custom-house, it would
have been the movement of a tortoise, to the rapidity of whatever is
most rapid in unpacking or pilfering. But pilfering here we had none; we
were all "men of honour;" and, undoubtedly, if any propensity to mistake
the _tuum_ for the _meum_ had been exhibited, there were among us
sufficient of the stamp of my old friend "who had served with Rodney,"
to have flung the culprit where men pilfer no more; whatever may be done
by porpoises.

But as I had no wish to be a party to what, with all its gaiety and
gallantry, I felt to be a rough infraction of the law; I now begged
permission to make my way homewards. It was given at once, with even
some expressions of gratitude for my having, as it was termed, stood by
them to the last; and a guide was ordered for me as an additional
civility. "You will have five miles to walk," said the captain, as he
shook hands with me; "but Grapnel here will take you the shortest way
and it will be light in an hour. You need say nothing of this business
to Mordecai, who makes a point of being deaf and dumb when ever it suits
him; though, between ourselves." - The captain's prudence here checked
his overflow of confidence. "I merely mean to say, that if you drink any
particularly fine claret, in a day or two, at his table, you will have
to thank the lugger, La Belle Jeannette, for it. _Au revoir_."

My guide and I pushed on into the darkness. He was a bluff, open-hearted
fellow, with all the smuggler's hatred of the magistracy, and taking
great delight in telling how often they failed in their attempts to stop
the "free trade," which he clearly regarded as the only trade worthy of
a man. His account of the feats of his comrades; their escapes from the
claws of the customs; their facetious tricks on the too vigilant among
the magistrates; and the real luxury in which, with all their life of
hardship, they found opportunities of indulging, would have edified a
modern tour writer, and possibly relieved even the dreariness of a
county historian. Among other matters too, he let out, that he paid me a
prodigious compliment in accompanying me, as this night's smuggling was
one of the grand exploits of the year; and casting a "longing, lingering
look, behind," where a distant glimmer marked the scene of operations,
he evidently halted between the two opinions, whether to go on, or
return. "What a glorious night!" he exclaimed, as he turned his bald
forehead to a sky black as Erebus, and roaring with whirlwind. "Talk of
sunshine, or moonshine, compared with that!" Another burst of rain, or
flash of lightning, would evidently have rendered the scene too
captivating. Both came, and I must have lost my guide, when he stopped
short, and in a half whisper, asked me, "whether I heard anything?"
Before I could return a word, he had flung himself on the ground, with
his ear to the sward, and after a moment's listening, said, "here they
come!"

"Who come? There is neither sight nor sound between us and Brighton. Are
you thinking of the custom-house officers?"

The look which I had the benefit of seeing by a blue blaze from the
zenith, and the tone of infinite scorn, in which he slowly repeated the
words, "custom-house officers," were incomparable. "Afraid of _them_!"
said he, as he rose from the wet heather, "as much afraid as the cat is
of the mice. No, those are the dragoons from Lewes."

"Well, what have we to care about them?"

"Care?" said he, with a mixture of frown and grin. "Only that you are
the captain's friend, and I daresay, are going at this time of night to
do a job for him in Brighton yourself - I should think, young gentleman,
you were only laughing at Sam Grapnel. Better not! Why, you see, though
the fellows with their pens behind their ears are no more than
six-watered gin to us, the dragoons are another sort of thing. I must go
back. So, young gentleman, I wish you a very good night."

The oddity of the wish in the midst of this elemental uproar, made me
laugh, shivering as I was. Yet, to be left to find my own way at such a
time, was startling. I offered him money.

"At another opportunity, sir," said he, rather pacified by the offer.
"But, if they come upon the captain unawares, they will find every thing
ready to their hands; all at sixes and sevens just now. It will take an
hour or two before he can clear the cargo off the ground; and there goes
the whole speculation. Don't you hear them? You have only to drop your
ear to the ground, to know the whole affair. A lubber deserted from us a
week ago, and no doubt he has laid the information."

I lay down, and clearly enough heard the trampling of horses, and in
considerable numbers. My own situation was now somewhat embarrassing.
They were evidently coming up in our direction; and, to be found past
midnight, armed, (for my gun had been restored to me,) in company with
an unquestionable smuggler, must have made appearances tell strongly
against me. But my companion's mind was made up with the promptitude of
a life which has no time to waste on thinking.

"I must go back this moment, or all our comrades will be taken in the
fact. And, take my advice, you had better do the same; for go I will.
The captain shan't have it to say that I let him be caught without
warning."

I still hesitated, and he still urged.

"You can do no better, sir; for if you stand here five minutes longer,
you will either be taken, or you will lose the number of your mess, by a
carbine slug, or the slash of a sabre; while, if you turn back, you will
have ten times the chance of escape along the shore."

I could now distinctly hear the clatter of hoofs, and the jingling of
bridles. There was no time to deliberate; I certainly felt no
inclination to be the means of the captain's ruin or death, and I
followed my guide, who set off with the swiftness of a deer.

We soon reached the shore, where our intelligence struck considerable
alarm. "I thought that it would be so," said the captain; "I had notice
from a friend in the customs itself, that a spy was at work, and it was
to this that we owed the chase of the lugger. For the revenue officers I
care not a straw, but the dragoons are to be avoided when we can. We may
fight upon occasion, it is true, but we choose our time for it. We have
now only to get out of the way; and clever as they are, they may find us
not so easily laid hold of."

Turning to me, he said, "I am sorry, Mr Marston, that you have been
brought into all this bustle; but time and chance happen to us all. At
all events, it will show you something of life, which you would scarcely
have seen in the Jew's villa, though he, too, could show you a good
deal. We shall see each other again, but let this night be forgotten,
and now, good by once more." Then turning to my guide, he said, "This
young gentleman must be seen safe along the cliff; stay with him until
he sends you back again.

"Come, lads, all hands to work!" he now shouted to a group who stood at
a little distance; "are the tar-barrels ready?" "Ay, ay," was the
answer. They trundled three or four barrels along the shore, dragged
them up the face of the cliff, and I had scarcely left them a hundred
yards behind, when they were in a blaze. The trampling of the dragoons
was now heard coming on at full speed.

"There," said Grapnel, "I'll engage that he tricks them at last; while
they are moving up to the fire, the cargo is moving up to the store. He
will leave half a dozen kegs for them to make prize of, while he is
carrying away clear and clean as much silk as would make gowns for all
the corporation of London, and as much claret as would give the gout
to" - - the gust choked the remainder of the comparison.

He had probably been accustomed to performances of this order, for his
conjecture was exactly verified. From the spot where we stood, to get,
as he called it, a last peep at "the free-traders bamboozling the
dragoons," we could see cavalry rushing up to the blaze, evidently sure
of having made a capture. A few carts in the ravine below next caught
their eye. Another beacon on another hill soon threw up its flame, and a
party galloped off to examine the new phenomenon. Two or thee more
blazed in succession, and increased their perplexity.

"I must have one shot at them before I go," said Grapnel, "if I die for
it;" and, before I could utter a word to prevent him, he discharged his
pistol. This was an unlucky shot, as it drew the attention of a party of
dragoons, whom we had not before seen, in the hollow beneath. After
returning a shot or two, they darted down upon the rear of the last
convoy, which was silently moving under the shadow of the cliffs, with
the captain and some of its stoutest followers at its head. The business
now began to be serious. The captain and his men, determined not to lose
their venture, made a bold resistance. The dragoons came riding in from
all quarters, but the ground was unfavourable for them, hemmed in as it
was on all sides by the sea, and on the other by the cliff, besides the
encumbrance of the carts and waggons, behind which the cutlasses of the
smugglers were fully a match for the sabre.

If I could have thought of any thing but the hazard of those unfortunate
fellows, the scene from the spot where I stood was sufficiently
striking. The blaze from the tar-barrels showed a long extent of the
Downs, with the troops scattered and galloping among them on all sides.
Long ridges of light were thrown over the waters, while, immediately
below me, the flashes of the smugglers' muskets and the soldiers'
pistols were incessant. It was a battle on a minor scale.

But it is dangerous to be in the way of bullets even as an amateur; for,
as I stood gazing down, I felt a sudden stroke like a shock of
electricity. I staggered, and was on the point of rolling over the
cliff, when Grapnel darted towards me. I just felt myself grasped by
him, and lost all recollection.

On recovering my senses again, I was in Mordecai's villa, where I had
been brought by some fishermen on the morning of the skirmish; and who,
asking no questions, and being asked none, had deposited me, bandaged
and bruised as I was, at the door of the villa. If I was not sensible of
this service, it was, at least, a vast relief to the Jew, who had begun
to think that his violence had urged me on some desperate course. As
hasty in his repentance as in his wrath, he had no sooner become
rational enough to hear his daughter's story, than he was eager to make
me the _amende_ by all the means in his power. Perhaps he would have
even lent me money, if I had met him in the penitential mood; but I was
not to be found. The sight of my corded trunk convinced him that I had
taken mortal offence, and he grew more uneasy still. As the night fell,
a general enquiry was made amongst the fisherman's cabins; and as, on
those occasions, no one ever desires to send away the enquirer without
giving himself, at least, credit for an answer, every one gave an answer
according to his fashion. Some thought that they had seen me in a skiff
on the shore; where I was, of course, blown out to sea, and, by that
time, probably carried to the chops of the Channel. Others were sure,
that they had seen me on the outside of the London mail - an equally
embarrassing conjecture; for it happened that the horses, startled by
the lightening, had dashed the carriage to pieces a few miles off.
Mordecai's own conception was, that the extravagance of his rage had
driven me to the extravagance of despair; and that I was by this time
making my bed below the surges which roared and thundered through the
dusk; and some scraps of verse which had been found in my
apartment - "Sonnets to an eyebrow," and reveries on subjects of which my
host had as much knowledge as his own ledger, were set down by him for
palpable proofs of that frenzy to which he assigned my demise. Thus, his
night was a disturbed one, passed alternately in watching over his
daughter's feeble signs of recovery, and hurrying to the window at every
sound of every footstep which seemed to give a hope of my return. The
sight of me in the morning, laid at his hall door, relieved his heart of
a burden; and, though the silence and rapid retreat of my bearers gave
him but too much the suspicion that I had somehow or other been
involved in the desperate business of the last twelve hours; of whose
particulars he had, by some means or other, become already acquainted;
he determined to watch over, and, if need be, protect me, until I could
leave his house in safety.

My recovery was slow. A ball had struck me on the forehead; and, though
it had luckily glanced off, it had produced a contusion which long
threatened dangerous consequences. For a month, I remained nearly
insensible. At length I began to move, health returned, the sea-breeze
gave me new sensations of life; and, but for one circumstance, I should
have felt all the enjoyment of that most delightful of all
contrasts - between the languor of a sick bed, and the renewed pouring of
vitality through the frame.

On my first awaking, I found an accumulation of letters on my table.
Some were the mere common-places of correspondence; some were from
sporting friends in the neighbourhood of the castle, detailing with due
exactness the achievements of their dogs and horses; three were from the
Horse Guards at successive intervals of a week - the first announcing
that my commission in the Guards had received the signatures of the
proper authorities; the second, giving me a peremptory order to join
immediately; and the third, formally announcing, that, as I had neither
joined, nor assigned any reason for my absence, my commission had been
cancelled!

This was an unexpected blow, and, in my state of weakness might have
been a fatal one, but for my having found, at the bottom of the heap, a
letter in the handwriting of Vincent. This excellent man, as if he had
anticipated my vexations, wrote in a style singularly adapted to meet
them at the moment. After slight and almost gay remarks on country
occurrences, and some queries relative to my ideas of London; he touched
on the difficulties which beset the commencement of every career, and
the supreme necessity of patience, and a determination to be cheerful
under all.

"One rule is absolutely essential," wrote he, "never to mourn over the
past, or mope over the future. 'Sufficient unto the day is the evil
thereof,' is a maxim of incomparable wisdom. Never think of the failures
of yesterday, but to avoid them to-morrow, and never speculate on the
failures of to-morrow, but to remember that you have outlived the
failures of to-day. The French philosophers are now preaching around the
world, that knowledge is power, and so it is, but only as gunpowder is
power; a dangerous invention which blew up the inventor. It requires to
be wisely managed. English experience will tell you, more to the
purpose, that 'perseverance is power;' for with it, all things can be
done, without it nothing. I remember, in the history of Tamerlane, an
incident which, to me, has always had the force of an apothegm.

"In early life, and when reduced to the utmost distress, defeated in
battle, and without a follower, he one day threw himself into the ruins
of a Tartar caravansera, where he resolved to give up all further
effort, and die. As he lay on the ground, sunk in despair, his eye was
caught by the attempts of an ant to drag a grain of corn up to its nest
in the wall. The load was too great for it, and the ant and the grain
fell to the ground together. The trial was renewed, and both fell again.
It was renewed ninety and nine times, and on the hundredth it succeeded,
and the grain was carried into the nest. The thought instantly struck
the prostrate chieftain, 'Shall an insect struggle ninety and nine times
until it succeeds, while I, a man, and the descendant of heroes, give up
all hope after a single battle?' He sprang from the ground, and found a
troop of his followers outside, who had been looking for him through the
wilderness. Scimitar in hand, he threw himself on his pursuers, swelled
his troop into an army, his army into myriads, and finished by being the
terror of Europe, the conqueror of Asia, and the wonder of the world."
The letter finished with general enquiries into the things of the day,
and all good wishes for my career.

It is astonishing what an effect is sometimes produced by advice, given
at the exact moment when we want it. This letter was the "word in
season" of which the "wisest of men" speaks; and I felt all its
influence in my rescue from despondency. Its simplicity reached my heart
more than the most laboured language, and its manliness seemed a direct
summons to whatever was manly in my nature. I determined thenceforth, to
try fortune to the utmost, to task my powers to the last, to regard
difficulties as only the exercise that was intended to give me strength,
and to render every success only a step to success higher still. That
letter had pushed me another stage towards manhood.

With the Horse Guards' papers in my hand, and the letter of my old
friend placed in a kind of boyish romance, in my bosom, I went to meet
Mordecai and his daughter. The Jew shook his bushy brows over the
rescript which seemed to put a perpetual extinguisher on my military
hopes. But Mariamne was the gayest of the gay, on what she termed my
"fortunate ill-fortune." She had now completely recovered; said she
remembered nothing of her accident but "the heroism," as she expressed
it, "on my part which had saved her to thank me;" and between her
gratitude and her vivacity, might have given a spectator the idea that
M. Lafontaine was rapidly losing ground with that creature of open lips
and incessant smiles. Her harp was brought, she was an accomplished
performer, and she surprised me by the taste and tenderness with which
she sung a succession of native melodies, collected in her rambles from
Hungary to the Hartz; and from the Mediterranean to the Alps and
Pyrenees. One air struck me as so beautiful that I still remember the
words. They were Garcilasso's: -

"De las casualidades
Y las quimeras,
Nacen felicidades
Que no se esperano.
Siempre se adviente
Que donde esta la vida,
Se halla la muerte."

Then with that quick turn of thought which forms so touching a feature
of the love-poetry of Spain -

"Tus ojos a mis ojos,
Miran atentos,
Y callando se dicen
Sus sentimientos.
Cosa es bien rara,
Que sin hablar se entienden
Nuestras dos almas."

The Spaniard, in his own language, is inimitable. I cannot come nearer
the soft Southern than these ballad lines -

"Alas, - how sweet, yet strange!
Joy in the lap of woe!
Love, all a change!
Like roses laid on snow,
Nipt by the cruel wind;
Love, all unkind!

"Yet, close those eyes of thine,
Else, though no accents fall,
These stealing tears from mine
Will tell thee all!
Strange, that what lips deny,
Is spoken by the telltale eye."

Whether the little seguidilla meant any thing in the lips of the
songstress, I do not presume to say. But the hearts of women, perhaps I
should say of all pretty women, expect admiration as naturally as an
idol receives incense; and as a part of the incense now and then
descends upon the worshippers themselves, the sentiment becomes in some
degree mutual. However, with all my perceptions alive to her merits, and
she had many; the cause of my gallant French friend was perfectly safe
in my hands. I never had much vanity in these matters, and even if I
had, the impression already made by another had made me impregnable, for
the time, to the whole artillery of eyes.

Yet the evening which I thus spent, gave me the first genuine idea of
domestic happiness which I had ever received. I had certainly seen but
little of it at home. There all was either crowds, or solitude; the
effort to seem delighted, or palpable discontent; extravagant festivity,
or bitterness and frowns. My haughty father was scarcely approachable,
unless when some lucky job shed a few drops of honey into his natural
gall; and my gentle mother habitually took refuge in her chamber, with a
feebleness of mind which only embittered her vexations. In short, the
"family fireside" had become with me a name for every thing dull and
discomforting; and a _tête-à-tête_ little less than an absolute terror.

But in this apartment I saw how perfectly possible it might be to make
one's way through life, even with so small a share of that world as the
woman before me. I had now spent some hours without a care, without a
wish, or even a thought beyond the room in which we sat. My imagination
had not flagged, no sense of weariness had touched me, our conversation
had never wanted a topic; yet the Jew was one certainly of no peculiar
charm of manner, though a man of an originally vigorous mind, and well
acquainted with general life; and even his daughter was too foreign and
fantastic to realize my _beau idéal_. Still with the one being of my
choice, I felt that it would be possible to be happy on a desert island.

Our supper was as animated as our evening. My remarks on the passing
world - a world of which I then knew not much more than the astronomer
does of the inhabitants of the moon, by inspecting it

"With his glazed optic tube,
At midnight from the top of Fesolé,
Or in Val d'Arno, to descry new seas,
Rivers, and mountains on her spotty globe" -

were received with an acquiescence, which showed that I had already
gained some ground, even in the rough, though undoubtedly subtle and
powerful mind of the Jew: as for Mariamne, she was all delight, and
until she took her leave of us for the night, all smiles.

As she closed the door Mordecai laid his muscular hand on my shoulder.
"A word with you, Mr Marston; you have rendered me the highest of
services in saving that girl from a dreadful death. You have been of use
to me in other matters also, unconsciously I aver - but we shall talk of
that another time. To come to the point at once. If you can make
yourself my daughter's choice, for I shall never control her, I shall
not throw any obstacles in the way. What say you?"

I never felt more difficulty in an answer. My voice actually died within
my lips. I experienced a feverish sensation which must have mounted to
my face, and given me the look of a clown or a criminal, if the Jew had
but looked at me: but he was waiting my reply with his eyes fixed on the
ground. But the hesitation was soon over; I was almost pledged to
Lafontaine, as a man of honour; I knew that Mariamne, however she might
play the coquette for the day, was already bound in heart to the gallant
Frenchman; and if neither impediment had existed, there was a chain,
cold as ice, but strong as adamant - a chain of which she who had bound
it was altogether ignorant, but which I had neither the power nor the
will to sever. Still it was not for me to divulge Mariamne's secret, and
I could not even touch upon my own. I escaped from the dilemma under
cover of another reason, and also a true one.

Thanking him for his kindness and candour, I observed, "that I was
nothing and had nothing, that to offer myself to the acceptance of one
entitled to wed so opulently as his daughter, would be to pain my
feelings, and place me in a humiliating point of view, in the presence
of one whose respect I ought to deserve." Our conversation extended far


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Online LibraryVariousBlackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 54, No. 334, August 1843 → online text (page 14 of 23)