Cutlass and Cudgel, by George Manville Fenn.
In some ways this book is reminiscent of "The Lost Middy", by the same author, but I suppose that with a similar theme, a nosey midshipman taken prisoner by a gang of smugglers, there are bound to be other points of similarity. Anyway, it is a good fast-moving story, with lots of well-drawn human interest.
It starts off with a comic scene, where the Excise patrol vessel is cruising near an area suspected of being heavily involved with smuggling. Suddenly a large object is seen swimming in the water, and it turns out to be a cow. Then there's all the business of milking the cow on the deck of a sailing-vessel. Pretty soon, however it gets serious, and we meet various characters living nearby. Soon the inquisitive midshipman is taken prisoner, and it falls to another teenager, the son of one of the chief rogues, to bring him food. Both boys become friendly with each other, but the midshipman can only express it by appearing to hate the farm-fisher boy, whom he considers to be socially far beneath him. The farm-boy tries so hard to be kind to the midshipman, who is so rude in return.
Eventually the midshipman escapes, the smugglers are caught, and the farm-boy becomes a seaman on the Excise vessel. NH _____________
CUTLASS AND CUDGEL, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
"Heigh-Ho-Ha-Hum! Oh dear me!"
"What's matter, sir?"
"Matter, Dirty Dick? Nothing; only, heigh-ho-ha! Oh dear me, how sleepy I am!"
"Well, sir, I wouldn't open my mouth like that 'ere, 'fore the sun's up."
"No knowing what you might swallow off this here nasty, cold, foggy, stony coast."
"There you go again, Dick; not so good as Lincolnshire coast, I suppose?"
"As good, sir? Why, how can it be?" said the broad, sturdy sailor addressed. "Nothin' but great high stony rocks, full o' beds of great flat periwinkles and whelks; nowhere to land, nothin' to see. I am surprised at you, sir. Why, there arn't a morsel o' sand."
"For not praising your nasty old flat sandy shore, with its marsh beyond, and its ague and bogs and fens."
"Wish I was 'mong 'em now, sir. Wild ducks there, as is fit to eat, not iley fishy things like these here."
"Oh, bother! Wish I could have had another hour or two's sleep. I say, Dirty Dick, are you sure the watch wasn't called too soon?"
"Nay, sir, not a bit; and, beggin' your pardon, sir, if you wouldn't mind easin' off the Dirty—Dick's much easier to say."
"Oh, very well, Dick. Don't be so thin-skinned about a nickname."
"That's it, sir. I arn't a bit thin-skinned. Why, my skin's as thick as one of our beasts. I can't help it lookin' brown. Washes myself deal more than some o' my mates as calls me dirty. Strange and curious how a name o' that kind sticks."
"Oh, I say, don't talk so," said the lad by the rough sailor's side; and after another yawn he began to stride up and down the deck of His Majesty's cutter White Hawk, lying about a mile from the Freestone coast of Wessex.
It was soon after daybreak, the sea was perfectly calm and a thick grey mist hung around, making the deck and cordage wet and the air chilly, while the coast, with its vast walls of perpendicular rocks, looked weird and distant where a peep could be obtained amongst the wreaths of vapour.
"Don't know when I felt so hungry," muttered the lad, as he thrust his hands into his breeches pockets, and stopped near the sailor, who smiled in the lad's frank-looking, handsome face.
"Ah, you always were a one to yeat, sir, ever since you first came aboard."
"You're a noodle, Dick. Who wouldn't be hungry, fetched out of his cot at this time of the morning to take the watch. Hang the watch! Bother the watch! Go and get me a biscuit, Dick, there's a good fellow."
The sailor showed his white teeth, and took out a brass box.
"Can't get no biscuit yet, sir. Have a bit o' this. Keeps off the gnawin's wonderful."
"Yah! Who's going to chew tobacco!" cried the lad with a look of disgust, as he buttoned up his uniform jacket. "Oh, hang it all, I wish the sun would come out!"
"Won't be long, sir; and then all this sea-haar will go."
"Why don't you say mist?" cried the lad contemptuously.
"'Acause it's sea-haar, and you can't make nowt else on it, sir!"
"They haven't seen anything of them in the night, I suppose?"
"No, sir; nowt. It scars me sometimes, the way they dodges us, and gets away. Don't think theer's anything queer about 'em, do you?"
"Queer? Yes, of course. They're smugglers, and as artful as can be."
"Nay, sir, bad, I mean—you know, sir."
"No, I don't, Dick," cried the young officer pettishly. "How can I know? Speak out."
"Nay, I wean't say a word, sir; I don't want to get more scarred than I am sometimes now."
"Get out! What do you mean? That old Bogey helps them to run their cargoes?"
"Nay, sir, I wean't say a word. It's all werry well for you to laugh, now it's daylight, and the sun coming out. It's when it's all black as pitch, as it takes howd on you worst."
"You're a great baby, Dick," cried the midshipman, as he went to the side of the cutter and looked over the low bulwark toward the east. "Hah! Here comes the sun."
His eyes brightened as he welcomed the coming of the bright orb, invisible yet from where he stood; but the cold grey mist that hung around was becoming here and there, in patches, shot with a soft delicious rosy hue, which made the grey around turn opalescent rapidly, beginning to flash out pale yellow, which, as the middy watched, deepened into orange and gold.
"Lovely!" he said aloud, as he forgot in the glory of the scene the discomfort he had felt.
"Tidy, sir, pooty tidy," said the sailor, who had come slowly up to where he stood. "And you should see the morning come over our coast, sir. Call this lovely? Why, if you'd sin the sun rise there, it would mak' you stand on your head."
"Rather see this on my feet, Dick," cried the lad. "Look at that! Hurrah! Up she comes!"
Up "she"—otherwise the sun—did come, rolling slowly above the mist-covered sea, red, swollen, huge, and sending blood-tinted rays through and through the haze to glorify the hull, sails, and rigging of the smart cutter, and make the faces of the man at the helm and the other watchers glow as with new health.
The effect was magical. Just before all was cold and grey, and the clinging mist sent a shiver through those on deck; now, their eyes brightened with pleasure, as the very sight of the glowing orb seemed to have a warming—as it certainly had an enlivening—effect.
The great wreaths of mist yielded rapidly as the sun rose higher, the rays shooting through and through, making clear roads which flashed with light, and, as the clouds rolled away like the grey smoke of the sun's fire, the distant cliffs, which towered up steep and straight, like some titanic wall, came peering out now in patches bright with green and golden grey.
Archibald Raystoke—midshipman aboard His Majesty the king's cutter, stationed off the Freestone coast, to put a stop to the doings of a smuggler whose career the Government had thought it high time to notice—drew in a long breath, and forgot all about hunger and cold in the promise of a glorious day.
It was impossible to think of such trifling things in the full burst of so much beauty, for, as the sun rose higher, the sea, which had been blood-red and golden, began to turn of a vivid blue deeper than the clear sky overhead; the mist wreaths grew thinner and more transparent, and the pearly glistening foam, which followed the breaking of each wave at the foot of the mighty cliffs, added fresh beauty to the glorious scene.
"Look here, Dirty Dick," began the middy, who burst out into a hearty fit of laughter as he saw the broad-shouldered sailor give his face a rub with the back of his hands, and look at them one after the other.
"Does it come off, Dick?" he said.
"Nay, sir; nothin' comes off," said the man dolefully. "'Tis my natur too, but it seems werry hard to be called dirty, when you arn't."
"There, I beg pardon, Dick, and I will not call you so any more."
"Thankye, sir; I s'pose you mean it, but you'll let it out again soon as you forget."
"No, I will not, Dick. But, I say, look here: you are a cheat, though, are you not?"
"Me, sir? No!" cried the man excitedly.
"I mean about the Lincolnshire coast. Confess it isn't half so beautiful as this."
"Oh, yes it is, sir. It's so much flatter. Why, you can't hardly find a place to land here, without getting your boat stove in."
"If all's true, the smugglers know how to land things," said Archibald, as he gazed thoughtfully at the cliffs.
"Oh, them! O' course, sir, they can go up the cliffs, and over 'em like flies in sugar basins. They get a spar over the edge, with a reg'lar pulley, and lets down over the boats, and then up the kegs and bales comes."
"Ah, well, we must catch them at it some day, Dick, and then there'll be lots o' prize-money for you all."
"And for you too, sir; officers comes first. But we arn't got the prize yet, and it's my belief as we shan't get it."
"Because it seems to me as there's something not all right about these here craft."
"Of course there is, they are smugglers."
"Yes, sir, and worse too. If they was all right, we shouldn't ha' been cruising 'bout here seven weeks, and never got a sight o' one of 'em, when we know they've been here all the time."
"I don't understand you, Dick," said the middy, as he watched the going and coming of the rock pigeons which flew straight for the cliff, seemed to pass right in, and then dashed out.
"Well, sir, I can't explain it. Them there's things as you can't explain, nor nobody else can't."
He wrinkled up his face and shook his head, as if there were a great deal more behind.
"Now, what are you talking about, Dick?" cried the lad. "You don't mean that the smuggler's a sort of ghost, and his lugger's all fancy?"
"Well, not exactly, sir, because if they was, they couldn't carry real cargoes, which wouldn't be like the smuggler and his lugger, sir, and, of course, then the kegs and lace wouldn't be no good. But there's a bit something wrong about these here people, and all the men thinks so too."
"More shame for them!" said the middy quickly. "Hi! Look there, Dick; what's that?"
He seized the sailor by the shoulder, and pointed where, some five hundred yards away, close under the cliff, but on the rise of the line of breakers, there was something swimming slowly along.
Dick shaded his eyes, for no reason whatever, the sun being at his back, and gazed at the object in the water.
"'Tarnt a porpus," he said thoughtfully.
"As if I didn't know that," cried the lad; and, running aft, he descended into the cabin, and returned with a glass, which he focussed and gazed through at the object rising steadily and falling with the heave of the sea.
"See her, sir?"
"Yes," answered the middy, with his glass at his eye. "It's a bullock or a cow."
"Werry like, sir. There is sea-cows, I've heared."
"Oh, but this isn't one of them. I believe it's a real cow, Dick."
"Not she, sir. Real cows lives in Lincolnshire, and feeds on grass. I never see 'em go in the sea, only halfway up their legs in ponds, and stand a-waggin' their tails to keep off the flies. This here's a sea-cow, sir, sartin."
"It's a cow, Dick; and it has tumbled off the cliff, and is swimming for its life," said the lad, closing the glass.
The sailor chuckled.
"What are you laughing at?"
"At you, sir, beggin' your pardon. But you don't think as how a cow would be such a fool as to tumble off a cliff. Humans might, but cows is too cunning."
"I don't believe you would be," cried the lad smartly. "Put you up there in such a fog as we've had, and where would you be?"
"Fast asleep in the first snug corner I could find," said the sailor, as the midshipman ran aft, and descended into the cabin, to go to the end and tap on a door.
There was no answer, and he tapped again.
"Beg pardon, sir," began the midshipman.
"Granted! Be off, and don't bother me again."
There was a rustling sound, and a deep-toned breathing, that some rude people would have called a snore. The midshipman looked puzzled, hesitated, and then knocked again.
There came a smothered roar, like that of an angry beast.
"Beg pardon, sir."
"What do you want? Am I never to have a night's rest again?"
All this in smothered tones, as if the speaker was shut up in a cupboard with a blanket over his head.
"Wouldn't have troubled you, sir, but—"
"Smugglers in sight?"
"No, sir; it's a cow."
"Cow, sir, overboard."
"Quite right. Milk and water," came in muffled tones.
"Beg pardon, sir, what shall I do?"
"Go and milk her, and don't bother me."
"But she's swimming under the cliff, sir."
"Go and ask her on board, then. Be off!"
Archy Raystoke knew his commanding officer's ways, and after waiting a few moments, he said softly, after giving a tap or two on the panel—
"Shall I take the boat and get her aboard?"
There was a loud rustle; a bang as if some one had struck the bulkhead with his elbow, and then a voice roared—
"Look here, sir, if you don't be off and let me finish my sleep, I'll let go at you through the door. You're in charge of the deck. Go and do what's right, and don't bother me."
Another blow on the bulkhead, and rustling noise, and, as well as if he had seen it all, Archy knew that his officer had snuggled down under the clothes, and gone to sleep.
But he had the permission, and calling to a couple of the crew, he soon had the small boat in the water, with Dick and another man pulling towards where the cow was slowly swimming here and there, with its wet nose and two horns a very short distance above the surface.
"Now, then, Dick, is it a sea-cow?" cried Archy, as they drew nearer.
"Well, sir, what else can it be?"
"Ah, you obstinate!" cried the lad. "Now, then, what are we going to do? We can't land her," he continued, looking up at the towering cliff, "and, of course, we can't take her in the boat."
"I'll soon manage that," said Dick, leaving his rowing to take up a coil of rope he had thrown into the boat, and make a running noose.
"It's all right, sir. Get this over her horns, and we can tow her alongside, and hyste her on deck in no time."
The cow proved that she was accustomed to man, for, as the boat approached, she swam slowly to meet it, raising her nose a little to utter a loud bellow, as if glad to welcome the help. So quiet and gentle was the poor creature, that there was no difficulty in passing the noose over her horns, making the line fast to a ring-bolt, so as to keep her head well above the surface, and then Dick resumed his oar; and after a glance round to make sure that there was no place where the poor beast could be landed, Archie gave the order for them to row back to where the cutter lay in the bright sunshine, five hundred yards from the shore.
He looked in vain, for at the lowest part the green edge of the cliff was a couple of hundred feet above the level of the sea, and right and left of him the mighty walls of rock rose up, four, five, and even six hundred feet, and for the most part with a sheer descent to the water which washed their feet.
The cow took to her journey very kindly, helping the progress by swimming till they were alongside the cutter, where the men on deck were looking over the low side, and grinning with amusement.
"Pull her horns off, sir!" said Dick, in answer to a question, as he proceeded to pass the rope through a block, "not it."
"But hadn't we better have a line round her?"
"If you want to cut her 'most in two, sir. We'll soon have her on board."
Dick was as good as his word, for the task was easy with a vessel so low in the water as the cutter; and in a few minutes the unfortunate cow was standing dripping on deck.
"Can any one of you men milk?" said Lieutenant Brough, a little plump-looking man, of about five and thirty, as he stood in naval uniform staring at the new addition to His Majesty's cutter White Hawk, a well-fed dun cow, which stood steadily swinging her long tail to and fro, where she was tethered to the bulwarks, after vainly trying to make a meal off the well holystoned deck.
There was no reply, the men grinning one at the other, on hearing so novel a question. "Do you men mean to say that not one amongst you can milk?" cried the lieutenant.
No one had spoken; but now, in a half-shrinking foolish way, Dick pulled his forelock, and made a kick out behind.
"You can?" cried the lieutenant, "that's right; get a bucket and milk her. I'll have some for breakfast."
"Didn't say as I could milk, sir," said Dick. "Seen 'em milk, though, down in Linkyshire, and know how it's done."
"Then, of course, you can do it," said the lieutenant shortly; "look sharp!"
The men grinned, and Dirty Dick by no means looked sharp, but exceedingly blunt and foolish as he shuffled along the deck, provided himself with a bucket, and then approached the cow, which had suddenly began chewing the cud.
"Look at her, mate," said one of the sailors.
"What for?" said the man addressed.
"Some one's been giving her a quid o' bacca."
"But some one has. Look at her chewing."
"Why, so she is!" said the sailor, scratching his head, as he watched the regular actions of the cow's jaw, as she stood blinking her eyes, and swinging her tail to and fro, apparently quite content; the more so, that the sun was shining upon her warmly, and the sea water rapidly quitting her skin for the deck, where it made a rivulet into one of the scuppers.
Jack the sailor is easily pleased, for the simple reason that anything is a relief from the tedium of life on ship-board; consequently the coming of the cow was like a half-holiday to them at the wrong end of the day, and they stood about nudging each other, as Dirty Dick trotted up with his bucket, Archy looking on as much amused as the men.
The cow blinked her eyes, and turned her head to smell at the bucket which Dick set down on the deck, and stood scratching his head.
"Well, sir, go on," said the lieutenant—"Seems to me, now, Mr Raystoke, that we ought to have cream and fresh butter. Capital prize you've taken.—Do you hear, sir? Go on."
"Yes, sir. Beg pardon, sir, but you see I wants something to sit on. 'Nother bucket."
"You, sir, fetch another bucket," said the lieutenant sharply; and another was brought, turned upside down, and, taking the first bucket, amidst the titterings of the men, Dick seated himself, leaned his head against the cow's side, placed the vessel between his legs, and began to operate in true dairyman style upon the cow.
Whack! Bang! Clatter!
There was a tremendous roar of laughter from every one on board except from Dirty Dick, who was down on his back a couple of yards away, staring at the cow as if wondering how she could have gone off as she did. For the quiet-looking, inoffensive beast was standing perfectly still again, blinking her eyes and chewing her cud, but writhing and twisting her tail about as if it were an eel, after, at Dick's first touch, raising one of her hind legs and sending the pail flying across the deck and the would-be milker backwards.
"Come, come," said the lieutenant, wiping his eyes and trying to look very important and stern, "that's not the right way, my man. Try again."
Dick rose unwillingly, planted the upturned bucket once more in its place, and took the milking bucket from one of the men who had picked it up. Then, sitting down again rather nervously, he once more placed the vessel between his legs, stuck his head against the cow's side, and prepared to milk.
The bucket flew along the deck again, and Dick bounded away, saving himself from falling this time as he was prepared, and made a sudden leap backwards to stand wiping the perspiration from his forehead.
There was another roar of laughter, and the lieutenant bade Dick try again.
The man gave his officer an appealing look which seemed to say, "Tell me to board the enemy, sir, and I'll go, but don't ask me to do this."
"Come; be smart!"
Dick turned, glanced wistfully at Archy, shaking his head at him reproachfully, sighed, and, taking the bucket again, he looked into it with his rugged brown face full of despair.
"It's quite empty, Dick," said the middy, laughing.
"Yes, sir; there's nowt in it, and," he added to himself, "not like to be."
Again he settled himself into his place in as businesslike a way as a farm lad would who was accustomed to the cow-shed, but the moment he began the cow gave her tail a swing, lifted her leg, and planted it in the bucket, holding it down on the deck.
"Pail's full," cried Archy; and the men yelled with delight, their officer vainly trying to control his own mirth as Dick began to pat and apostrophise the cow.
"Coom, coom! Coosh, cow, then," he said soothingly. "Tak' thy leg oot o' the boocket, my bairn;" and to the astonishment of all present the cow lifted her leg and set it down again on deck.
"Well done, my lad," cried the lieutenant. "Now, then, look sharp with the milk."
Dick sighed, wiped his hands down the sides of his breeches, and began once more, but at the first touch of the big strong hands accustomed to handle capstan-bars and haul ropes, the cow gave a more vigorous kick than ever; away flew the bucket, and over went Dick on his back.
He sprung up angrily now in the midst of the laughter, and touched his forehead to his commanding officer.
"It arn't no good, sir; she's a beef cow, and not a milker."
"You don't know your business, my lad," said the lieutenant.
"But she's such a savage one, sir. Don't go anigh her, sir."
"Nonsense!" said the lieutenant, going up to the cow, patting her and handling her ears and horns; to all of which attentions the animal submitted calmly enough, blinking her eyes, and gently swinging her tail.
"I think I could milk her, sir," said Archy.
"Think so, Raystoke?" said the lieutenant. "I was just thinking I should have liked some new milk."
"So was I, sir. Shall I try?"
"Yes," said the lieutenant. "I believe I could do it myself. It always looks so easy. But no; won't do," he said firmly, as he drew himself up and tried to look stern and tall and big, an impossibility with a man of five feet two inches in height, and whose physique had always been against his advance in the profession. For as a short energetic little man he might have gained promotion; as a little fat rosy fellow the Lords of the Admiralty thought not; and so, after endless disappointments regarding better things, he had been appointed commander of the little White Hawk, and sent to cruise off the south coast and about the Channel, to catch the smugglers who were always too clever to be caught.
"No," he said shortly, as he drew himself up; "won't do, Raystoke, though you and I are condemned to live in this miserable little cutter, and on a contemptible kind of duty, we must not forget that we are officers and gentlemen in His Majesty's service. Milking cows won't do. No; we must draw the line at milking cows. But I should have liked a drop for my breakfast."
"Ahoy!" cried one of the men loudly.
"Ahoy yourself!" cried a voice from off the sea on the shore side, and all turned to see a boat approaching rowed by a rough-looking fisherman, and with a lad of about sixteen sitting astern, who now rose up to answer the man who shouted.
"Where did he come from?" said the lieutenant. "Anybody see him put off?"
"No, sir! No, sir!" came from all directions; and the lieutenant raised his glass to sweep the coast.
"What do you want?" cried the man at the side as the boat came on, and the lieutenant bade the man ask.
"Want?" shouted the lad, a sturdy-looking fellow with keen grey eyes and fair close curly hair all about his sunburned forehead. "I've come after our cow!"
"How do, Sir Risdon?"
The speaker was a curious-looking man of fifty, rough, sunburned, and evidently as keen as a well-worn knife. He was dressed like a farmer who had taken to fishing or like a fisherman who had taken to farming, and his nautical appearance seemed strange to a man who was leading a very meditative grey horse attached to a heavy cart, made more weighty by the greatcoat of caked mud the vehicle wore.
He had been leading the horse along what was called in Freestone a road, though its only pretensions to being a road was that it led from Shackle's farm to the fields which bordered the cliff, and consisted of two deep channels made by the farm tumbril wheels, and a shallow track formed by horses' hoofs, the said channels being more often full of water than of mud, and boasting the quality of never even in the hottest weather being dry.
The person Blenheim Shackle—farmer and fisher, in his canvas sailor's breeches, big boots, striped shirt, and red tassel cap—had accosted, was a tall, thin, aristocratic-looking gentleman, in a broad-skirted, shabby brown velvet coat, who was daintily picking his way, cane in hand, over the soft turf of the field, evidently deep in thought, but sufficiently awake to what was around to make him stoop from time to time to pick up a glistening white-topped mushroom, and transfer it to one of his pockets with a satisfied smile.
"Ah, Master Shackle," he said, starting slightly on being addressed. "Well, thank you. A lovely morning, indeed."
"Ay, the morning's right enough, Sir Risdon. Picking a few mushrooms, sir?"
"I—er—yes, Master Shackle. I have picked a few," said the tall thin gentleman, colouring slightly. "I—beg your pardon, Master Shackle, for doing so. I ought to have asked your leave."
"Bah! Not a bit," said the fisher-farmer, with a chuckle. "You're welcome, squire."
"I thank you, Master Shackle—I thank you warmly. You see her ladyship is very fond of the taste of a fresh gathered mushroom, and if I see a few I like to take them to the Hoze."
"Ay, to be sure," said Shackle, as he thought to himself "And precious glad to get them, you two poor half-starved creatures, with your show and sham, and titles and keep up appearances."
"I—er—I have not got many, Master Shackle. Would you like to see?" continued the tall thin gentleman, raising the flap of one of his salt-box pockets.
"I don't want to see," growled the other, as he stood patting the neck of his old grey horse. "Been to the cliff edge?"
"I—yes, Master Shackle."
"See the cutter?"
"I think I saw a small vessel lying some distance off, with white sails."
"That's the White Hawk, Luff Brough. And I wanted to speak to you, Sir Risdon."
The gentleman started.
"Not about—about that—" he stammered.
"Tchah! Yes. It was about that, man," said the other. "Don't shy at it like a horse at a blue bogey in a windy lane."
"But I told you, man, last time, that I would have no more to do with that wretched smuggling."
"Don't call things by ugly names."
"My good man, it is terrible. It is dishonourable, and the act is a breaking of the laws of our country."
"Tchah! Not it, Sir Risdon," cried the other so sharply, that the grey horse started forward, and had to be checked. "Not the king's laws, but the laws of that Dutchman who has come and stuck himself on the throne. Why, sir, you ought to take a pleasure in breaking his laws, after the way he has robbed you, and turned you from a real gentleman, into a poor, hard-pressed country squire, who—"
"Hush! Hush, Master Shackle!" said the tall gentleman huskily. "Don't rake up my misfortunes."
"Not I, Sir Risdon. I'm full o' sorrow and respect for a noble gentleman, who has suffered for the cause of the real king, who, when he comes, will set us all right."
"Ah, Master Shackle, I'm losing heart."
"Nay, don't do that, Sir Risdon; and as to a few mushrooms, why, you're welcome enough; and I'd often be sending a chicken or a few eggs, or a kit o' butter, or drop o' milk, all to the Hoze, only we're feared her ladyship might think it rude."
"It's—it's very good of you, Master Shackle, and I shall never be able to repay you."
"Tchah! Who wants repaying, Sir Risdon? We have plenty at the farm, and it was on'y day 'fore yes'day as I was out in my little lugger, and we'd took a lot o' mackrel! 'Ram,' I says to my boy Ramillies, 'think Sir Risdon would mind if I sent him a few fish up to the Hoze?'
"'Ay, father,' he says, 'they don't want us to send them fish. My lady's too proud!'"
Sir Risdon sighed, and the man watched him narrowly.
"It's a pity too," the latter continued, "specially as we often have so much fish we puts it on the land."
"Er—if you would be good enough to send a little fish—of course very fresh, Master Shackle, and a few eggs, and a little butter to the Hoze, and let me have your bill by and by, I should be gratified."
"On'y too glad, Sir Risdon, I will.—Think any one's been telling tales?"
"'Bout us, Sir Risdon."
"You see the revenue cutter's hanging about here a deal, and it looks bad."
"Surely no one would betray you, Master Shackle?"
"Hope not, Sir Risdon; but it's okkard. There's a three-masted lugger coming over from Ushant, and she may be in to-night. There's some nice thick fogs about now, and it's a quiet sea. Your cellars are quite empty, I s'pose?"
The last remark came so quickly, that the hearer started, and made no reply.
"You see, Sir Risdon, we might run the cargo, and stow it all up at my place, for we've plenty o' room; but if they got an idea of it aboard the cutter, she'd land some men somehow, and come and search me, but they wouldn't dare to come and search you. I've got a bad character, but you haven't."
"No, no, Master Shackle; I cannot; I will not."
"The lads could run it up the valley, and down into your cellar, Sir Risdon," whispered the man, as if afraid that the old grey horse would hear; "nobody would be a bit the wiser, and you'd be doing a neighbour a good turn."
"I—I cannot, Master Shackle; it is against the law."
"Dutchman's law, not the laws of Bonnie Prince Charlie. You will, Sir Risdon?"
"No—no, I dare not."
"And it gives a neighbour a chance to beg your acceptance of a little drop o' real cognac, Sir Risdon—so good in case o' sickness. And a bit of prime tay, such as would please her ladyship. Then think how pleasant a pipe is, Sir Risdon; I've got a bit o' lovely tobacco at my place, and a length or two of French silk."
"Master Shackle! Master Shackle!" cried the tall thin baronet piteously, "how can you tempt a poor suffering gentleman like this?"
"Because I want to do you a bit of good, Sir Risdon, and myself too. I tell you it's safe enough. You've only to leave your side door open, and go to bed; that's all."
"But I shall be as guilty as you."
"Guilty?" the man laughed. "I never could see a bit o' harm in doing what I do. Never feel shamed to look my boy Ramillies in the face. If a bit o' smuggling was wrong, Sir Risdon, think I'd do it? No, sir; I think o' them as was before me. My father was in Marlborough's wars, and he called me Blenheim, in honour of the battle he was in; and I called my boy Ramillies, and if ever he gets married, and has a son, he's to be Malplackey. I arn't ashamed to look him in the face."
"But I shall be afraid to look in the face of my dear child."
"Mistress Denise, Sir Risdon? Tchah! Bless her! I don' believe she'd like her father to miss getting a lot of things that would be good for him, and your madam. There, Sir Risdon; don't say another word about it. Leave the door open, and go to bed. You shan't hear anybody come or go away, and you're not obliged to look in the cellars for a few days."
"But, my child—the old servant—suppose they hear?"
"What? The rats? Tell 'em to take no notice, Sir Risdon. Good day, Sir Risdon. That's settled, then?"
"Ye-es—I suppose so. This once only, Master Shackle."
"Thank ye, Sir Risdon," said the man. "Jee, Dutchman!"
The horse tugged at the tumbril, and Sir Risdon went thoughtfully along the field, toward a clump of trees lying in a hollow, while Master Shackle went on chuckling to himself.
"Couldn't say me nay, poor fellow. Half-starved they are sometimes. Wonder he don't give up the old place, and go away. Hope he won't. Them cellars are too vallyble. Hallo! What now?"
This to the fair curly-headed lad, who came trotting up across the short turf.
"Been looking at the cutter, father?"
"Oh, she don't want no looking at. Who brought those cows down here?"
"He's a fool. We shall be having some of 'em going over the cliff. Go home and tell mother to put a clean napkin in a basket, and take two rolls of butter, a bit of honey, and a couple of chickens up to the Hoze."
"And see if there's any eggs to take too."
"Yes, father. But—"
"Think the lugger will come to-night?"
"No, I don't think anything, and don't you. Will you keep that rattle tongue of yours quiet? Never know me go chattering about luggers, do you?"
"Then set your teeth hard, or you'll never be a man worth your salt. Want to grow into a Jemmy Dadd?"
"Then be off."
The boy went off at a run, and the fisher-farmer led his horse along the two rutted tracks till he came down into the valley, and then went on and on, towards where a couple of men were at work in a field, doing nothing with all their might.
Ramillies—commonly known by his father's men as Ram—Shackle trotted up over the hill, stopping once to flop down on the grass to gaze at the cutter, lying a mile out now from the shore, and thinking how different she was with her trim rigging and white sails to the rough lugger of his father, and the dirty three-masted vessels that ran to and fro across the Channel, and upon which he had more than once taken a trip.
He rose with a sigh, and continued his journey down into the hollow, and along a regular trough among the hills, to the low, white-washed stone building, roofed with thin pieces of the same material, and gaily dotted and splashed with lichen and moss.
He was met by a comfortable-looking, ruddy-faced woman, who shouted,—"What is it, Ram?" when he was fifty yards away.
The boy stated his errand.
"Father says you were to take all that?"
"Then there's a cargo coming ashore to-night, Ram."
"Yes, mother, and the cutter's lying a mile out."
"Oh, dear, dear, dear!" cried the woman; "I hope there won't be no trouble, boy."
She stood wiping her dry hands upon her apron, and gazed thoughtfully with wrinkled brow straight before her for a minute, as if conjuring up old scenes; then, taking down a basket as she moved inside, she began to pack up the various things in the dairy, while Ram looked on.
"Father didn't say anything about a bottle of cream, mother," said the boy, grinning.
"Then hear, see, and say nothing, my lad," cried his mother.
"And I don't think he said you was to send that piece of pickled pork, mother."
"He said chickens, didn't he?"
"Said a chickun."
"Chicken means chickens," cried Mrs Shackle, "and you can't eat chicken without pork or bacon. 'Tisn't natural."
"Father said two rolls of butter."
"Yes, and I've put three. There, these are all the eggs I've got, and you mind you don't break 'em!"
"Oh, I say, mother," cried Ram, "aren't it heavy!"
"Nonsense! I could carry it on my finger; there, run along like a good boy, and you must ask for her ladyship, and be very respectful, and say, Mother's humble duty to you, my lady, and hopes you won't mind her sending a bit o' farm fare."
"But she ought to be thankful to us, mother?"
"And so she will be, Ram?"
"But you make me speak as though we were to be much obliged to her for taking all these good things."
"You take the basket, and hold your tongue. Father's right, you chatter a deal too much."
Ram took the basket, grunted because it was so heavy, and then set off up the hill-slope towards where the patch of thick woodland capped one side of the deep valley, and at last came in sight of a grim-looking stone house, with its windows for the most part covered by their drawn-down blinds. Under other circumstances, with fairly kept gardens and trim borders, the old-fashioned building, dating from the days of Henry the Seventh, would have been attractive enough, with its background of trees, and fine view along the valley out to the far-stretching blue sea; but poverty seemed to have set its mark upon the place, and the boy was so impressed by the gloomy aspect of the house, that he ceased whistling as he went across the front, outside the low wall, and round to the back, where his progress was stopped by the scampering of feet, and a dog came up, barking loudly.
"Get out, or I'll jump on you—d'ye hear?" said Ram fiercely.
"Down, Grip, down!" cried a pleasant voice, and a girl of fifteen came running out, looking bright and animated with her flushed cheeks and long hair.
"Don't be afraid of him, Ram; he will not bite."
"I'm not afraid of him, Miss Celia; if he'd tried to bite me, I'd have kicked him into the back-garden."
"You would not dare to," cried the girl indignantly.
"Oh yes, I would," said Ram, showing his white teeth. "Wouldn't do for me to be 'fraid of no dogs."
The girl half turned away, but her eye caught the basket.
"What's that you came to sell?" she said.
"Sell? I don't come to sell. Father and mother sent this here. It's butter, and chickuns, and pork, and cream, and eggs."
"Oh!" cried the girl joyously, "my mother will be so—"
She stopped short, remembering sundry lessons she had received, and the tears came up into her eyes as she felt that she must be proud and not show her delight at the receipt of homely delicacies to which they were strangers.
"Take your basket to the side door, and deliver your message to Keziah," she said distantly.
"Yes, miss," said Ram, beginning to whistle, as he strode along with his basket, but he turned back directly and followed the girl.
"I say, Miss Celia," he cried.
"You like Grip, don't you?"
"Yes, of course."
"Then I won't never kick him, miss. Only I arn't fond on him. Here, mate," he continued, dropping on one knee, "give us your paw."
The dog, a sturdy-looking deerhound, growled, and closed up to his mistress.
"D'ye hear? Give's your paw. What yer growling about?"
The dog didn't say, but growled more fiercely.
"Grip, down! Give him your paw," cried the girl.
The dog turned his muzzle up to his mistress, and uttered a low whine.
"Says he don't like to shake hands with a lad like me," said Ram, laughing.
"But I say he is to, sir," cried the girl haughtily. "Give him your paw, Grip."
She took the dog by the ear and led him unwillingly toward the boy, whose eyes sparkled with delight while the hound whimpered and whined and protested, as if he had an unconquerable dislike to the act he was called upon to perform.
"Now," cried the girl, "directly, sir. Give him your paw."
What followed seemed ludicrous in the extreme to the boy, for, in obedience to his mistress's orders, the dog lifted his left paw and turned his head away to gaze up at his mistress.
"The wrong paw, sir," she cried. "Now, again."
"Pow how!" howled the dog, raising his paw now to have it seized by the boy, squeezed and then loosened, a termination which seemed to give the animal the most profound satisfaction. For now it was over, he barked madly and rushed round and round the boy in the most friendly way.
"There, miss," said Ram with a grin; "we shall be friends now. Nex' rats we ketch down home, I'll bring up here for him to kill. Hey, Grip! Rats! Rats!"
The dog bounded up to the boy, rose on his hind legs and placed his forepaws on the lad's chest, barking loudly.
"Good dog, then. Good-bye, miss; I must get back."
"You call, miss?" cried the boy, turning as he went whistling away.
"Yes, yes, Ram," said the girl hesitatingly, and glancing behind her, then up at the house where all was perfectly still. "Do you remember coming up and bringing a basket about a month ago?"
"Yes, miss, I r'member. That all, miss?"
"No," said the girl, still hesitating. "Ram, are the men coming up to the house in the middle of the night?"
"Dunno what you mean, miss."
"You do, sir, for you were with them. I saw you and ever so many more come up with little barrels slung over their shoulders."
Ram's face was a study in the comic line as he shook his head.
"Yes you were, sir, and it was wicked smuggling. I order you to tell me directly. Are they coming up to-night?"
"Mustn't tell," said the boy slowly.
"Then they are," cried the girl, with her handsome young face puckering up with the trouble which oppressed her, and after standing looking thoughtful and anxious for a few moments, she went away toward the front of the house, while Ram went round to the side and delivered his basket.
"Course we are," he said to himself, as he went down the hill again. "But I warn't going to blab. What a fuss people do make about a bit o' smuggling! How pretty she looks!" and he stopped short to admire her— the she being the White Hawk, which lay motionless on the calm sea. "Wish I could sail aboard a boat like that, and be dressed like that young chap with his sword. I would like to wear a sword. I told father so, and he said I was a fool."
He threw himself down on the short turf, which was dotted with black and grey, as the rooks, jackdaws, and gulls marched about feeding together in the most friendly way, where the tiny striped snails hung upon the strands of grass by millions.
"It'll be a fog again to-night," he said thoughtfully, "and she's sure to come. Ha, ha, ha!" he laughed, as he made a derisive gesture towards the cutter; "watch away. You may wear your gold lace and cocked hats and swords, but you won't catch us, my lads; we're too sharp for that."
Shackle was quite right; the fog did begin to gather over the sea soon after sundown, and the depressing weather seemed to have a curious effect on Farmer Shackle, who kept getting up from his supper to go and look out through the open door, and come back smiling and rubbing his hands.
Mrs Shackle was very quiet and grave-looking and silent for a time, but at last she ventured a question.
"Did you see her at sundown?"
"Ay, my lass. 'Bout eight mile out."
"But the cutter?"
"Well, what about the cutter?"
"Will it be safe?"
"Safe? Tchah! I know what I'm 'bout."
That being so, Mrs Shackle made no remark, but went on cutting chunks of bread and butter for her son, to which the boy added pieces of cold salt pork, and then turned himself into a mill which went on slowly grinding up material for the making of a man, this raw material being duly manipulated by nature, and apportioned by her for the future making of the human mill.
"Now, Ram," said his father, "ready?"
"Yes, father," said the boy, after getting his mouth into talking trim.
"Lanthorns! Off with you."
"Lanthorns won't be no good in the fog."
"Don't you be so mighty clever," growled Shackle. "How do you know that the fog reaches up far?"
"Did you signal s'afternoon, father?"
"Lanthorns! And look sharp, sir."
The boy went into the back kitchen, took down from a shelf three horn-lanthorns, which had the peculiarity of being painted black save in one narrow part. Into these he glanced to see that they were all fitted with thick candles before passing a piece of rope through the rings at the top.
This done he took down a much smaller lanthorn, painted black all round, lit the candle within, and, taking this one in his hand, he hung the others over his shoulder, and prepared to start.
"Mind and don't you slip over the cliff, Ram," said his mother.
"Tchah! Don't scare the boy with that nonsense," said the farmer angrily; "why should he want to slip over the cliff? Put 'em well back, boy. Stop 'bout half an hour, and then come down."
Ram nodded and went off whistling down along the hollow for some hundred yards toward the sea, and then, turning short off to the right, he began to climb a zigzag path which led higher and higher and more and more away to his left till it skirted the cliff, and he was climbing slowly up through the fog.
The lad's task was robbed of the appearance of peril by the darkness; but the danger never occurred to Ram, who had been up these cliff-paths too often for his pleasure to heed the breakneck nature of the rough sheep-track up and up the face of the cliff, leading to where it became a steep slope, which ran in and on some four hundred feet, forming one of the highest points in the neighbourhood.
"It's plaguey dark," said Ram to himself. "Wonder what they're going to bring to-night?"
He whistled softly as he climbed slowly on.
"Fog's thicker than it was last night. They won't see no lanthorns, I know."
"Dunno, though," he muttered a little higher up. "Not quite so thick up here. How old Grip growled! But he had to do it. Aren't afraid of a dog like him. Look at that!"
He had climbed up the zigzag track another fifty feet, and stopped short to gaze away at the bright stars of the clear night with the great layer of fog all below him now.
"Father was right, but I dunno whether they'll be able to see from the lugger. Don't matter. They know the way, and they'd see the signal s'afternoon."
He whistled softly as he went on higher, laughing all at once at an idea which struck him.
"Suppose they were to row right on to the cutter! Wouldn't it 'stonish them all? I know what I should do. Shove off directly into the fog. They wouldn't be able to see, and I wouldn't use the sweeps till I was out of hearing, and then—oh, here we are up atop!"
For the sheep-track had come to an end upon what was really the dangerous part of the journey. The zigzag and the cliff-path had been bad, but a fall there would not have been hopeless, for the unfortunate who lost his footing would go down to the next path, or the next, a dozen places perhaps offering the means of checking the downward course, but up where the boy now stood was a slope of short turf with long dry strands which made the grass terribly slippery, and once any one had fallen here, and was in motion, the slope was at so dangerous an elevation that he would rapidly gather impetus, and shoot right off into space to fall six hundred feet below on to the shore.
This danger did not check Ram's cheery whistle, and he climbed on, sticking his toes well into the short grass, and rising higher and higher till he reached some ragged shale with the grass, now very thin, and about a hundred feet back from the sea, in a spot which he felt would be well out of the sight of the cutter if those on board could see above the fog. He set down his lanthorns, two about five feet apart, lit them all, and held the third on the top of his head as he stood between the others, so that from seaward the lights would have appeared like a triangle.
It seemed all done in such a matter of course way that it was evident that Ram was accustomed to the task, and supporting the lanthorn on his head, first with one and then with the other hand, he went on whistling softly an old west country air, thinking the while about Sir Risdon and Lady Graeme, and about how poor they were, and how much better it was to live at a farmhouse where there was always plenty to eat, and where his father could go fishing in the lugger when he liked, and how he could farm and smuggle, and generally enjoy life.
"That's good half an hour," said Ram, lowering his lanthorn, opening the door, and puffing out the candle, afterwards serving the others the same.
A peculiar whishing of wings from far overhead, as a flock of birds flew on through the darkness of the night, following the wonderful instinct which made them take flight to other lands.
"Wasn't geese; and I don't think it was ducks," said the lad to himself, as he slung his darkened lanthorns together, and began to descend as coolly as if he had been provided by nature with wings to guard him against a fall down the cliff.
"Wonder whether they saw the lights," he said to himself. "Not much good showing them, if they were in the fog."
He went on, gradually approaching the mist which lay below him, and at last was descending the zigzag path with the stars blotted out, and the tiny drops of moisture gathering on his eyelashes, finding his way more by instinct than sight.
"Come in with the tide 'bout 'leven," said Ram, as he still descended the face of the cliff, then the path, and at last was well down in the little valley, whose mouth seemed to have been filled up in some convulsion of nature by a huge wall of cliff, under which the streamlet which ran from the hills had mined its way.
As soon as he was down on level ground, the boy started for home at a trot, gave the lanthorns into his mother's hands, and, after a brief inquiry as to his father's whereabouts, he started off once more.
The part of the cliff for which he made was exactly opposite Sir Risdon's old house, and to a stranger about the last place where it would be deemed possible for a smuggler to land his cargo.
Hence the successful landing of many a boat-load, which had been scattered the country through.
For there, at the foot of the cliff, lay a natural platform or pier, almost as level as if it had been formed for a landing stage. The deep water came right up to its edge, and here, at a chosen time of tide, a lugger could lie close in, and her busy crew and their helpmates land keg and bale upon the huge ledge,—a floor of intensely hard stone, full of great ammonites, many a couple of feet across, monsters of shell-fish, which had gradually settled down and died, when the stone in which they lay had been soft mud.
Revenue boats had of course, from time to time, as they explored the coast, noted this natural landing-place, but as there was only a broad step twenty feet above this to form another platform, and then the cliffs ran straight up two hundred feet slightly inclined over toward the sea, and the existence of even a moderate surf would have meant wreck, it was never even deemed likely that there was danger here, and consequently it was left unwatched.
The smugglers had a different opinion of the place, and on Ram reaching the spot he was in nowise surprised to find a group of about thirty men on the cliff, clustered about the end of a spar, whose butt was run down into a hole in the rock, which lay a foot beneath the turf, and at whose end, as it rose at an angle, was a pulley block and rope run through ready for use should the lugger come.
"Where's father?" whispered Ram to one of the men, who looked curiously indistinct amid the fog.
"Here, boy," was whispered close to his ear. "Going down to help?"
"May I, father?"
Shackle grunted; and, after speaking to one of the men, Ram took hold of the loop at the end of the rope, thrust a leg through, held on tightly, and, after the word was given, swung himself off into the fog.
The well-oiled wheel ran fast, and it was a strange experience that of gliding rapidly down and steadily turning round and round with the thick darkness all around, and nothing to show that he who descended was not stationary. The peril of such a run down would have appeared the greater, could he who descended have seen how the rope was allowed to run. For no careful hands held it to allow it to glide through fingers, which could at any moment clutch the line tightly and act as a check. The rope lay simply on the turf, and the man who watched over the descent, merely placed his boot over it, the hollow between sole and heel affording room for the rope to run, and a little extra pressure stopping its way.
Thus it was that Ram was allowed to glide rapidly down, till by experience the man knew that he was nearly at the bottom when the rope began to run more slowly, and then was checked exactly as the boy's feet touched the stone shelf, and he stepped from the loop on to the ammonite-studded rock.
Dimly seen about him was a group of a dozen men, whose faces looked mysterious and strange, and this was added to by the silence, for only one spoke, and he when he was addressed, for the first few minutes after Ram's arrival among them, every one there being listening attentively for the distant beat of oars.
"Think she'll come to-night, young Ram?" said the man close by him.
"Been to show the lights?"
"Was there any fog up there?"
"No; clear as could be."
"Then she may come. Pst!"
Hardly a breath could be heard then as ears were strained, and after a good deal of doubt had been felt, a kind of thrill ran through the men who had taken hold of a line fastened to a stanchion and lowered themselves down to the broad ledge.
The low, regular, slow beat of great sweeps became now audible, but though Ram strained his eyes seaward, nothing was visible for quite another ten minutes, when, as the boy stood at the brink of the upper ledge he dimly saw something darker than the mist coming into view. Soon there came a faint crunching noise as of a fender being crushed against the rock, followed by the sound of ropes drawn over the bulwark, and Ram hesitated no longer, but ran to the loop, placed his leg through it, gave the signal by shaking the rope, and in an instant he was snatched from his feet, run up, the rope drawn in, and he was landed on the turf.
A small bag of stones was then attached to the loop, the wheel spun round, and the bag went whizzing down, while the group of men stood waiting and waiting, for they could see nothing below, hardly see each other, so dense was the mist now.
Sundry familiar sounds arose from time to time, and more than once the farmer uttered an ejaculation full of impatience at the length of time taken up in bringing the vessel below and taking precautions to keep her from grinding and bumping against the edge of the shelf, for though the sea was calm, there was the swell to contend with.
There was a murmur from below which those two hundred feet above knew well, and as two stood ready, another man by them took hold of the rope, and suddenly started off at a run, disappearing at once in the fog, while a peculiar whizzing sound was heard, as the little wheel in the block now ran round till all at once a couple of kegs and the bag of stones appeared level with the top of the cliff. These were seized, unhitched, and as the bag ran down, a man knelt, fitted a short rope about the kegs and hoisted them on his shoulder, just as the man who held the rope trotted up out of the fog into which the other with the kegs disappeared.
There was a faint hiss, and away ran the man again bringing the next two kegs up rapidly, to be set at liberty, slung, and hoisted on another man's back as the hauler came back out of the fog.
And so the unloading went on with marvellous rapidity, the hauler rushing off into the fog, a couple of kegs coming up into sight, being taken out of the loops, slung and hoisted just as the hauler came back and the bearer disappeared, till quite a line of men were trudging slowly up the hill, down into the valley, and up again toward Sir Risdon Graeme's old house, the Hoze, till all the bearers were gone, and the kegs still kept coming up out of the fog.
The silence was astonishing, considering the amount of work being done and the rapidity with which all went on. Away to left and right sentries were placed, from among the haulers who, as they grew tired by their exertions in running up the kegs, were placed there to rest and listen for danger from seaward; but hour after hour went on, the carriers, augmented by a dozen more, came and went in two bands now, so that part were returning as the others were going.
But still they were not in sufficient force, for the Hoze was some distance away, and the number of kegs kept increasing on the turf at the top of the cliff.
About half the cargo was landed when Shackle whispered an order to Ram, who at once stooped to pick up a keg.
"No, no; run without, and see that they store them all up well."
Ram was used to the business, and he went off at a trot, breasted the hill, dived down into the hollow, and then passing men going and coming, made for the Hoze, entered by the side door, made his way along a stone passage, and then down into a huge vault with groined roof lit by a couple of lanthorns hanging from hooks.
Here for the next three hours he worked hard, helping to stack the little brandy kegs at first, and afterwards the small tightly packed bales and chests which were brought more quickly now—a dozen of swarthy, dirty-looking men, with earrings and short loose canvass trousers which looked like petticoats, helping to bring up the cargo, and showed by their presence that all had been landed from the lugger— that which was now being brought up consisting of the accumulation on the ledges and at the top of the cliff.
"Much more?" Ram kept asking as he toiled away, wet now with perspiration.
"Ay, ay, lad, it's a long cargo," he kept hearing; and the lanthorns had to be shifted twice as the stacks of kegs and bales increased, till just as the boy began to think the loads would never end, he realised that the French sailors had not been up lately, and one of their own men suddenly said—
Ram drew a breath full of relief as the men came out silently, and he stopped behind with one lanthorn only alight to lock the door of the great vault, and then stood in the stone passage, thinking how quiet and still the house seemed.
He went out, closing the door after him, and stood in the garden.
"Wonder whether Miss Celia heard us," he said; "never thought of it before; they must have tied up old Grip."
He glanced up at the windows as he went out, then they seemed to disappear in the mist as he made for the track and went downwards, to hear low voices, and directly after he encountered his father.
"Got 'em all right, boy?"
"Yes, father," said Ram, handing the key. "Lugger gone?"
"Hour and a half ago, lad; just got her empty as the tide turned. Best run we've had."
He burst into a low fit of chuckling.
"What are you laughing at, father?"
"I was thinking how artful revenue cutters are, boy. I don't believe that White Hawk's more than half a mile away."
"But then see what a fog it was, father?"
"Tchah! To me it's just the same as a moonshiny night, boy. There, come on home and get to bed. Must be up early; lots to do to-day."
Seeing that it could not be long before morning, Ram asked himself what was the use of his going to bed; but he said nothing, only hurried to keep pace with his father; and soon after, feeling fagged out, he was fast asleep, and dreaming that whenever he piled the kegs up they kept on rolling down about him, and that the midshipman from the White Hawk stood looking on, and laughing at him for being clumsy, and then he awoke fancying he was called.
It was quite right, for Farmer Shackle was shouting—
"Now you, Ramillies, are you going to sleep there all day?"
Ram had thrown himself down, dressed as he was, so that an interview with a bucket of water at the back door, and a good rub with the jack towel, were sufficient to brighten him up for the breakfast waiting, and the boy was not long before he was partaking heartily of the bowl of bread and milk his mother placed before him, his father muttering and grumbling the while to himself.
"I'm sure you needn't be so cross this morning, master," said Mrs Shackle reproachfully.
"If you had as much to fret you as I do, wife, you'd be cross."
"Why, you told me this morning that you carried your crop of sea hay without a drop of water on it."
Farmer Shackle shut one eye, tightened up his mouth, and looked with his other eye at his wife, which was his idea of laughing.
"Well, then," she said, "what makes you so cross?"
"Cross! Enough to make any man cross. I shall be ruined—such a set of careless people about me. Those cows left out on the cliff field all last night, and Tally must have gone over, for I can't see her anywhere."
"Oh, poor Tally! My kindest cow," cried Mrs Shackle.
"Yes, I shall set that down to you Ramillies. That's a flogging for you if she isn't found."
"No, no, master; don't be so hard. The poor boy was out all night looking after signals and—"
Bang! Down came the farmer's fist on the table making the plates and basins jump.
"Hay, woman, hay!" he roared. "Mind what you're talking about!"
"Don't do that, Blenheim!" cried Mrs Shackle. "You quite frightened me."
"Yes, I'll frighten the whole lot of you. Ten golden pounds gone over the cliff through that boy's neglect."
"Well, never mind, dear. You made ever so much more than that last night, I'll be bound!"
"Will you hold your tongue?" roared the farmer. "There, make haste and finish that food, boy. Take Jemmy Dadd and the boat and find her. Skin's worth a few shillings. I must have that."
"Did you look over the cliff, father?" asked Ram.
"I looked over? Of course, but how could I see in that fog?"
Ram was soon out and away, to hunt up Jemmy Dadd, whom he found at last with his eyes half-closed, yawning prodigiously. They went down to the boat, launched her, and rowed out along under the tremendous cliffs, and were about to give up in despair, convinced that the unfortunate cow had been swept right out to sea, when Ram exclaimed—
"Look yonder, Jem?"
"What for?" grumbled the man; "I'm half asleep, now."
"Never mind that! Look at the cutter."
"Shan't! I've seen un times enough."
"Yes, yes; but look on her deck."
"What for?" said Jemmy, who was steadily pulling homeward.
"Oh, what an obstinate chap you are, Jemmy! Look there; Tally's on deck."
"Ck!" ejaculated the man, this being meant for a derisive laugh. "Why don't you say she's having a ride in the Saxham coach."
"I tell you she is. They've got her there, and the sailors are trying to milk her."
"Then I wish 'em luck," said Jemmy. "There's only one man as can milk Tally, and that's me."
"Turn the boat's head, and let's go for her."
"Ck!" ejaculated Jemmy again. "What a one you are to joke, Ram Shackle; but it won't do this mornin'. I'm burst up with sleep."
"Open your stupid eyes, and look for once. I tell you they've got Tally on the deck of the cutter."
"And I tell you, you young Ram Shackle, I'm too sleepy to see fun anywhere. Won't do, my lad—won't do."
Ram jumped up, stepped over the thwart, seized the man's head, and screwed it round toward the cutter, where the scene previously described was plain in the sunshine.
"Well!" ejaculated Jemmy, "so she be."
"Why couldn't you believe me before, when I told you?"
"Thought you was gammoning me, my lad!"
"There, row away!" cried Ram; and as soon as they were well within hearing he answered the hail, and next shouted—
"I've come after our cow."
"Very undignified proceeding, Mr Raystoke," said the lieutenant, busily walking up and down as the boat with Ram in it was being rowed alongside. "It all comes of being appointed to a wretched, little cobble boat like this, and sent on smuggling duty. If I—if we had been aboard a frigate, or even a sloop-of-war, we shouldn't have had such an affair as this. Why, confound that boy's impudence, he has jumped on board. Go and speak to him; order him off; pitch him overboard; anything. How dare he!"
Archy drew himself up, laid one hand upon his dirk, and strutted up to Ram, looking "as big as a small ossifer," as Dirty Dick said afterwards; and gave him a smart slap on the shoulder as he was going after the cow.
"Here, you sir!" cried Archy, as the boy faced round. "What do you mean by coming aboard one of His Majesty's ships like that?"
"Touch your hat, sir, when an officer speaks to you."
"Touch my hat to you like I do to Sir Risdon?"
"Like you do to any gentleman, sir."
"Oh, very well," said Ram giving one of his fair brown curls a tug, and showing his teeth.
"That's better. Now then, what do you want?"
"Our cow, Tally."
"How do I know it's yours?"
"Why, it is. She must have walked over the cliff in the fog. Was your cutter close under so as she fell on deck?"
"Of course not, bumpkin," said Archy impatiently, as the men burst into a guffaw, and then looked horribly serious as if they had not smiled. "We saw her swimming and fetched her on board."
"Thank ye," said Ram. "I say, how am I to get her home? Can you lend us a rope?"
"Who are you, boy?" said the lieutenant, marching up.
Ram faced round, stared at the officer's rather shabby uniform, and gave his curl another tug before pulling his red cap over his brow.
"Ram Shackle, sir."
"Is—is that your name, sir," said the lieutenant pompously, "or are you trying to get a laugh at my expense?"
"Do you hear what I say, sir?"
"Yes, but I dunno what you mean."
"Here, my man, what's that boy's name?" cried the lieutenant to Jemmy Dadd in the boat.
"Ram Shackle," said Jemmy gruffly. "Christen Rammylees!"
"And is this your cow?"
"Then, you young rascal, how dare you come and claim it," cried the lieutenant wrathfully.
"Because it's ours. My father's; I didn't mean it was my own."
"Can you give me some proof that it is yours?" said the lieutenant.
"Eh!" exclaimed Ram, staring.
"I say, show me that the cow is yours, and you shall have her."
"Oh," cried Ram, and he ran to the side, unfastened the rope used as a halter for the patient beast, ran right forward, and began to call, "Tally, Tally! Coosh-cow, coosh-cow!"
The effect was magical, the cow turned sharply round, stretched out her nose so as to make her windpipe straight, and uttered a low soft lowing, as she walked straight forward to where Ram stood, thrust her nose under his arm, and stood swinging her tail to and fro.
"Ay, ay, sir!" said Archy, going aft and saluting.
"It seems to be their cow; let them take it ashore."
"Ay, ay, sir!"
"Stop. Bring the boy here," said the lieutenant.
Archy marched forward.
"Come here, boy," he said importantly; and Ram followed him to where the little fat officer stood near the helm, frowning.
"Now, sir," said the lieutenant, "I want you to answer me a few questions. What is your name—no, no, stop, you told me before. Where do you live?"
"Yonder, at the farm."
"Oh! At the farm. Look here, boy, did you ever hear of smugglers?"
"Did you ever hear of smugglers?"
"Yes, lots o' times," said Ram glibly. "They're chaps that goes across to France and foreign countries, and brings shipfuls o' things over here."
"Yes, that's right. Ever seen any about here?"
"Well," said Ram, taking off his red cap, and scratching his curly head, "I dessay I have. Father says you never know who may be a smuggler: they're all like any one else."
"Humph! Know where they land their cargoes?"
"Oh, yes; I've heard tell as they land 'em all along the cliff here."
"Bah! Impossible," shouted the lieutenant.
"Is it, sir?" said Ram vacantly. "My father said it was true."
"Seen any smugglers' craft about during the last few days?"
"No, sir; not one," cried the boy with perfect truth.
"That will do, boy. Mr Raystoke let him take his cow and go."
"Ay, ay, sir!"
"Then get the gig alongside, and we'll explore round more of the coast close in."
"Ay, ay, sir! Now, boy, this way."
Ram looked vacantly about him, but there was a very keen twinkle about his eyes, as he followed Archy forward to where the cow stood blinking her eyes, and swinging her tail amongst the men.
"I say," he said.
"Did you speak to me, sir?" cried Archy, facing round, and frowning.
"Yes. Is that little sword sharp?"
"Pull it out, and let's have a look."
"Take your cow and go," he said. "She is a miserable thing without a drop of milk in her."
"What?" cried Ram, with his face becoming animated. Then he shouted to the man in the boat, "Hi! Jemmy, he says Tally's got no milk in her."
"How do he know?" cried Jem scornfully.
"Why, I tried ever so long," said Dick, who could not refrain from joining in.
"Ck!" laughed Jemmy.
"Why, she's our best cow," cried Ram. "I say skipper."
"Here, you mustn't speak to an officer like that," whispered Archy.
"What does the boy want?" said the plump little lieutenant, marching forward.
"On'y want our cow."
"Then take her, sir, and go!"
"Have a drop of milk?"
"No," said the lieutenant, turning his back. "Perhaps Mr Raystoke here might like a little. Can you milk?"
"I can't," said Ram, shaking his head. "He can. Here, Jemmy, take hold of the painter and come aboard."
"Stop!" cried the lieutenant, "you must not speak like that. You must ask leave, sir."
"Ask who?" said Ram, vacantly.
"Touch your cap, and ask the lieutenant to let you."
"Why, I have touched it twice. Want me to pull my hair off? I say, skipper, if you'll let him come aboard—oh! He is aboard now,"—for Jemmy was already making the boat fast—"Here, give me a clean pail."
The little commander of the cutter tried to look important, and Archy more so, but they forgot everything disciplinarian the next moment, in the interest of the proceedings, as Jemmy Dadd took the bucket handed to him, turned another up beside the side of the cow, and as he was sitting down, Dirty Dick dug his elbows into his messmates' ribs right and left, whispered "Look out! And over he goes." Then he drew in a long breath, ready for a roar of laughter when the bucket went flying, and stood staring waiting to explode.
But, to Dick's great disappointment, Tally uttered a soft low, and began to swing her tail gently round, so as to give Jemmy a pat on the back. At regular intervals there was a whishing noise, then another whishing noise half a tone lower, then whish—whosh—whish—whosh, two streams of rich new milk began to pour into the bucket, whose bottom was soon covered, and a white froth began to appear on the top.
"I say!" cried Dick eagerly, "shall I lash her legs?"
"What for?" growled Jemmy.
"'Cause she'll kick it over directly."
"Not she. You wouldn't kick it over, would you, Tally, old cow?"
The cow waved her tail and whisked it about the man's neck as the milking went on, to the delight of the men, who began to see biscuit and milk in prospect, while the two officers, who were none the less eager for a draught as a change from their miserable ordinary fare, veiled their expectations under a severe aspect of importance.
"Here you are," said Jemmy, drawing back at last—while Dick seemed to be watching, in a state of agony, lest a kick should upset the soft white contents of the bucket—"More'n a gallon this time. How much are we to leave aboard?"
"All of it," said Ram generously; "they deserve it for saving the cow. I say, you," he continued, turning to Archy, "what do you say to her now?"
"Thank you," replied Archy. "Here, Dick, take that bucket aft, and you, my lads, open the side there, and help them to get the cow overboard."
"Thank ye, sir," said Ram, smiling. "I say, Jemmy, she'd stand in the boat, wouldn't she? Or would she put her feet through?"
"Let's try," was the laconic reply, and taking hold of the rope that had been used as a halter, the man stepped down into the boat, the cow, after a little coaxing, following, without putting her feet through, and showing great activity for so clumsy-looking a beast. Ram followed, and took one of the oars, settled down behind Jemmy, and the next minute, with the whole crew of the cutter standing grinning at the side, they began to row shoreward.
"How about the tide, Jemmy?" said Ram, when they had been rowing a few minutes, with the cow standing placidly in the boat.
"Too high, can't do it," said the man.
"Let's row to the ledge then, and land there till the tide goes down."
"Right," said Jemmy, and they bore off a little to the east, made straight for the shelf of rock, which was just awash; and as they rowed, they saw the lieutenant and the midshipman enter the light gig, four men dropped their oars in the water, and with the drops flashing from the blades, the gig came swiftly after them.
"Why, they're coming here too, Jemmy," said Ram, as they reached the ledge, and leaped on to the ammonite-studded stone, over which the water glided and then ran back.
"Well, let 'em," said Jemmy, following suit with the painter, the cow standing contentedly with her eyes half-closed. "Don't matter to us, lad, so long as they didn't come last night."
They made fast the hawser to an iron stanchion, one of several dotted about and pretty well hidden by the water, climbed up on the rock, and sat down in the warm sunshine to wait for the turn of the tide, while after a pull in one direction, the gig's course was altered, and they saw its course changed again.
"I liked that chap," said Ram, as he gazed across a few hundred yards of smooth water, at where Archy sat in his uniform, steering.
"What are they up to?" said Jemmy, shading his eyes. Then quite excitedly, "Say, lad, lookye yonder," he whispered.
"I was looking," cried Ram excitedly; "they've picked up a brandy keg."
There was no denying the fact; and as the dripping little barrel was placed by one of the men in the fore part of the gig, the others gave way, and the light vessel came rapidly now toward the ledge.
Archy was shading his eyes just then, and pointing out something to the lieutenant a little to the left of where Ram and his companion were seated, and the boy's eyes, trained by his nefarious habits, gazed sharply in search of danger or criminating evidence, in the direction the midshipman pointed.
A chill of horror ran through him, for there, with the wash of the tide half covering and then leaving them bare, were two more brandy kegs, which had been missed the previous night during the fog.
"Ah!" ejaculated Ram, as in imagination he saw the well-filled vault, and the crew of the cutter being marched up to make a seizure, and arrest his father perhaps.
If he could but get away and give the alarm!
"Get away, and give the alarm?"
How could we?
There was no rope and pulley up on the cliff now, and the boat was occupied by the cow; while, even if it had been empty, it would have meant a six mile row to reach a landing-place at that time of the tide, and an eight miles' walk back.
And here was the cutter's gig close to them, and the lieutenant ready to ask him the meaning of the smuggled spirits being there.
For there was no mistaking the fact that the kegs were full of smuggled spirit. The one the king's men had dragged dripping from the sea, bore certain unmistakable markings, and it was evidently brother to those on the rock.
Ram and Jemmy had no time for thinking; the gig was run quickly up alongside of the ledge, and Dick tossed in his oar, sprang out, sending the clear water splashing with his bare feet, as he crossed up to the kegs, and, taking one under each arm, went more slowly and cautiously back to the boat, where his messmates took them carefully, with many a chuckle and grin, to deposit them beside the others.
"Now, my lad, run her alongside of the cow—I mean of the other boat," cried the lieutenant.
This was quickly done, and the little officer turned sharply to where Ram and Jemmy Dadd were seated on the rock, looking on as stolidly as if nothing whatever was coming.
"Hi! You, sir; come here!" cried the lieutenant.
"Me, or him?" replied Ram coolly.
Ram got up, whistled softly, and went down to the boat.
"Want some more milk?" he said, with a grin.
"Silence, sir! Do you see those?"
"What, them tubs?"
"Not till you got 'em. Wish I had!"
"I dare say you do, sir. Now, then: how did they come there?"
"Why, your chaps put 'em there. I see 'em just now."
"No, no; I mean in the sea and on that rock."
"Come there?" said Ram, with a vacant look.
"Yes, sir! How did they come there? Now, no trifling; out with it at once."
"Been a wreck, p'r'aps, and they're washed up."
"Bah!" cried the lieutenant.
"Ah, you may say 'Bah!' but they might. Why, there was a big ship's boat and a jib-boom washed up here one day; warn't there, Jem?"
"Yes," growled the rough-looking fellow, half-fisherman half farm-labourer. "And don't you 'member the big tub o' sugar, as was all soaked with water, till she was like treacle?"
"Ay, and the—"
"That will do—that will do!" cried the lieutenant.
"Washed up, eh? What's in those kegs?"
"I know," cried Ram, showing his teeth, and looking at Archy. "Full o' hoysters! Give us one!"
"Come, sir; this won't do for me. You know as well as I do what's in those kegs. Where are the rest?"
"Rest?" said Ram, looking round. "Are there any more of 'em?"
"Yes, I'll be bound there are. Now, then, out with it, if you want to save your skin."
"Skin? That's what father said this morning about the cow; but she wasn't drowned."
"Look here, boy. All this sham innocency won't do for me. Now, then, if you will tell me where the other kegs are, you shall have a reward; if you don't, you'll go to prison as sure as you're there. Jump ashore, two of you, and arrest them before they run."
Ram turned, and stared at Jemmy Dadd with an ill-used countenance.
"What does he mean, Jemmy?"
The man shook his head.
"Do you know where the other little barrels are?"
"Wish I did," grumbled Jemmy. "Say, master, what would you give a man if he showed you where they were?"
"Ten guineas; perhaps twenty," said the lieutenant eagerly.
"Ten guineas! Twenty pounds!" said Jemmy, taking off his red worsted cap, and rubbing his head. "My! Was they your'n? Did you lose 'em?"
"No," roared the lieutenant; "it's plain enough, and you know. A cargo has been run here on this ledge. Now, then; it's no use to try and hide it. You know where it is; so will you gain a reward by giving evidence, or will you go to prison?"
Jemmy shook his head, and gave Ram a puzzled look.
"We came after our cow, sir, please," said the latter, looking up at the sailor, who stood with a hand upon his arm, while Jemmy did the same.
"Here, boy!" cried the lieutenant. "You know what a lot of money ten guineas would be?"
"Yes," said Ram grinning.
"Why, you could buy yourself a watch and chain, and be doing your duty to the king as well. Come, did you see a French boat down here last night?"
"No," said Ram. "It was so foggy."
"You are playing with me, sir. Now then, will you answer?"
"I did answer," said Ram meekly. "Didn't I, Jemmy?"
"Jump ashore, you two," said the lieutenant, "and have a good search all among those rocks. The cargo's there for certain. You two others," he continued, "draw cutlasses, and keep guard over the prisoners."
His orders were obeyed, and the two men stood by guarding Ram, Jemmy, and the cow, who blinked her eyes and smelt at the sea water from time to time, raised her head and uttered a soft low, which was answered from the green top of the cliff two hundred feet above them, where another cow stood gazing down.
The lieutenant and Archy stood up in the boat watching and directing as Dick and his companion searched about in all directions along the lower ledge, and then managed to climb up to the one twenty feet above, where the next minute Dick gave a shout.
"Hah!" cried the lieutenant joyfully. "He has found them."
Ram shut one of his eyes at Jemmy, who made a rumbling noise, but his face did not change.
"What is it, my lad?"
"Cave," cried Dick.
"What's in it?"
"Lobster-pots and old sail. All wore out."
"You go and look."
The second man disappeared, but returned directly.
"It's on'y a bit of a hole, sir, and there's nothin' else."
The search was continued and ended, for the ledge was shut in by the mighty wall of rock towering above their heads, and the lieutenant was soon convinced that it was impossible for any one to climb that without tackle from above.
"Come back aboard," he said. "You two stop and guard those prisoners."
The sailors stepped back into the boat and resumed their oars, to row steadily east for about half a mile, past several shallow caves, but they could not see one likely to become a hiding-place for smuggled goods, and the rock rose higher and higher above their heads, precluding all ascent.
The boat was rowed quickly back past where the prisoners sat contentedly enough; save the cow, which kept making the great rock wall echo with her lowings, while three more of her kind now stood on high, gazing down at her plight.
The lieutenant now had himself rowed west for about the same distance, but in this direction they did not pass a crack in the great rock wall, let alone a cave, and once more the gig was rowed back.
"Get back into your boat," said the little officer sharply.
"Thank ye, sir," cried Ram. "Come along, Jemmy. Find your little barrels?"
"Come aboard, my lads," continued the lieutenant, without replying to the question. "Make fast her painter to the ring-bolt here."
This was done, a fresh order given, and, with the rough boat and cow in tow, the gig began to make slowly for the cutter.
Ram bent his head down in the boat.
"Hist, Jemmy!" he whispered.
"Shall we jump over and swim ashore?"
"Nay; what's the good?—they'd come arter us, and there's no getting away."
"I say," shouted Ram, "what are you going to do?"
Archy turned to the lieutenant.
"Take no notice. A day or two aboard will make him speak."
"The cow wants turning out to grass," shouted Ram; but no heed being paid to his words, "Oh, very well," he said, "I don't care. She'll die, and you'll have to pay for her. I wish my father knew."
He need not have troubled himself to wish, for Farmer Shackle was lying down, hidden behind some stones on the top of the cliff, watching what was going on, with his brow rugged. He had heard enough of the conversation, after being attracted to the place by the action of his cows, to know that the kegs had been discovered, and he smiled as he made out that his boy and man were quite staunch, and would not say a word.
"Won't get anything out o' them," he muttered, as he watched the returning boats. "Shall I tell old Graeme? No; that would only scare him. They'll land a party, and come and search; but they won't dare to go to the Hoze, so I'll leave the stuff there and chance it."
Having made up his mind to this, he lay behind the stones watching till he had seen Ram, Jemmy, and the cow on board the cutter and the boats made fast; after which, as he could see that the lieutenant was busy with his glass, he waited his opportunity, got a cow between him and the sea, and then with raised stick began to drive the cattle from the neighbourhood of the precipice, his action seeming perfectly natural, and raising no suspicion in the officer's breast.
Farmer Shackle was quite right, for it was not long before a boat, well-filled with men, under the command of the midshipman and the master, put off from the cutter, and began to row west to the little cove, through whose narrow entrance a boat could pass to lie on the surface of a cup-shaped depression, at whose head a limpid stream of water gurgled over the cleanly-washed shingle below the great chalk cliffs.
Shackle saw them go, and, guessing their destination, chuckled; for in their ignorance the search party were going to make a journey of twelve or fourteen miles round each way, when any one accustomed to the place would have made the trip in less than two.
"Well, let 'em go," said Shackle; "but if they do find out, I'd better have my two boats out at sea," and he thought of his luggers lying in the little cup-like cove. "Nay there's no hurry; people won't be too eager to tell 'em whose boats they are, and I might want to get away."
He remained thinking about his son for a few minutes and then his countenance lightened.
"Tchah!" he said; "they won't eat him, and they can't do anything but keep him. They've found three kegs—that's all. Wish I'd been behind the man who forgot 'em! He wouldn't forget that in a hurry."
Farmer Shackle went home, and was saluted by the question—
"Found my Tally?"
"No; all right."
That was sufficient for Mrs Shackle, who had some butter to make.
Meanwhile the boat containing Archy Raystoke and Gurr the master, with her crew, was rowed steadily along under the cliffs, the deep water being close up. It was a hot day and hard work, but the men pulled away cheerfully, for a run ashore was a change.
The opening into the cove was reached, and the boat run ashore, and one man being left as keeper, the little well-armed party of a dozen men were marched off along the narrow road toward the Hoze.
Archy was in the highest of spirits, and meant to search everywhere in the neighbourhood of the ledge, so as to cover himself with glory in the eyes of his superior officer. Old Gurr the master, who had been turned over to the cutter for two reasons, that he was a good officer and a man with a bad temper, found no pleasure in the walk whatever.
Now he grumbled about his corns, and said he never saw such a road; worse than an old sea beach. Then he limped with the pain of an old wound; and lastly, he forgot all about his troubles in the solace he found in a huge quid of tobacco, with whose juice he plentifully besprinkled the leaves of the brambles that were spread on either side.
The men tramped on, exciting the interest of the people of the little villages that were passed—clusters of white rough stone houses by the roadside, whose occupants looked innocence itself, but there was hardly one among them who could not have told tales about busy work on dark nights, carrying kegs and bales, or packages of tobacco from the cliff, to some hiding-place in barn or cave.
Old Gurr knew that, and he winked solemnly at the young midshipman.
"Nice chickens, Mr Raystoke," he said.
"Where, Gurr?" cried Archy, who was growing fast, and wanted material to help nature. "Let's get some eggs to take back."
"Eggs!" grumbled the weather-beaten officer; "I didn't mean fowls, I meant people."
"Eggs, indeed! Their eggs is kegs o' brandy. Right Nantes; Hollands gin. I know them. They're all in the game. Keep on, my lads. Step together like the sogers do. This here road's not the cutter's deck."
The last order was not needed, for the men marched on cheerfully and well, till they had passed on the inner side of the high cliff where Ram had displayed his lanthorns, and following the rough road, came at last to the scattered cottages occupied by Shackle's men, and those who had once been servants at the Hoze, before it had sunk down in the world, consequent upon its master's having espoused the wrong side, and its servants were reduced to one old woman.
As they reached the tiny hamlet, a short conference was held between Archy and the master, the latter, in a surly way, giving the lad a few hints as to his proceedings, every suggestion, though, being full of common sense.
"We've no right to go searching their places, Mr Raystoke, but I shall make a mistake. They won't complain. They daren't."
"Hands are too dirty; if not with this job, with some other."
So they halted the men, posted one at each end of the little place, so as to command a good view of any one attempting to carry off contraband goods, and went from house to house, the people readily submitting to the intrusion and search, which in each case was without result.
Every one of the cottages being tried, the men were marched down hill after Archy, and stood for a few moments gazing out over the cliff, to where the cutter lay at anchor, with the farmer's boat trailing out astern, and the air so clear that he could even see the cow tethered to a belaying pin, just in front of the mast.
Five minutes after they came upon Fisherman-farmer Shackle himself, leaning over his gate and smoking a pipe, as he apparently contemplated a pig, and wondered whether he ought to make it fatter than it was.
"Mornin', gentlemen," he said, as Archy and the master came up, and halted their men.
"Good morning," said Archy shortly. "Stand aside, please; we must search all your places."
"Search my places, squire—capt'n, I mean? He aren't here."
"Who is not here? Are not you the master?"
"Ay, my lad, but I mean him you're searching for. Hi! Missus!"
"Yes," came from within, and Mrs Shackle appeared wiping her hands.
"Ain't seen a deserter, missus, have you? Capt'n here has lost one of his men."
"If you'll let me speak, I'll explain," said Archy sharply. "A cargo of contraband goods was landed on the rocks below the cliff last night, and—"
"You don't say so, master!" said Shackle earnestly.
"I do say so," cried Archy; "and you are suspected of having them concealed here."
"Me!" cried Shackle, bursting into a roar of laughter. "Me, Mr Orficer? Do you know what I am?"
"Why, I'm a farmer. Hi, missus, hear him! Young gent here thinks I'm a smuggler. That is a good un, and no mistake."
Archy was taken aback for the moment, but he caught the eye of the master, who was too old over the business to be easily hoodwinked.
"The young gentleman's made quite a mistake," said Mrs Shackle demurely. "P'r'aps he'd like a mug of our mead before he goes, and his men a drop of home-brewed."
"Ay, to be sure," cried Shackle. "Put out the bread and cheese, missus, and I'll go and draw a drink or two. You'll take something too, won't you, master?"
"Yes; don't mind," said Gurr, "but I'd rather take a tot o' right Nantes or Hollands."
"Ay, so would I," said Shackle, with a laugh, as his wife began to bustle about and get knives and plates; "but you've come to the wrong place, master. I have heared o' people getting a drop from 'em, after they've used their horses and carts, but that's never been my luck; has it, missus?"
"No, never," said Mrs Shackle; and to herself,—"That's quite true."
"You are very hospitable," said Archy shortly; "but I've got my duty to do, sir. It's an unpleasant one, that we must search your place for contraband goods."
"Sarch? Oh, I give you my word, squire, there's nothing here."
"We must see about that."
"Well, this here arn't werry pleasant, Mr Orficer, seeing as I'm a reg'lar loyal servant of the king. But theer, I don't mind if my missus don't object. You won't mind, old gal, so long as they don't rip open the beds and chuck the furniture all over the place?"
"I should like to see any of them doing it, that's all," cried Mrs Shackle, ruffling up like a great Dorking hen who saw a hawk.
"Nothing about the place shall be injured, madam," said Archy politely; "but we must search."
"Oh, very well then," said Mrs Shackle; "but I must say it's very rude."
"Pray, forgive us," said Archy, raising his hat; "we are His Majesty's servants, and we do it in the king's name."
Mrs Shackle responded with her best curtsey, and a smile came back in her face as the farmer said,—
"It's all right, missus; they're obliged to do it. Where will you begin first—what are you sarching for?"
"Brandy," said Archy.
"Oh, then, down in the cellar's the place," said Shackle, laughing, and taking three mugs from where his wife had placed them. "If it had been for silks and laces, I should have said go upstairs."
He led the way to a door at the top of some stone steps.
"One moment," said Archy, and, giving orders to the men to separate, surround the premises, and search the outbuildings, then stationing two more at the doors, and taking one, Gurr, to search upstairs, he followed the farmer into a fairly spacious stone cellar, where there was a cider barrel in company with two of ale, and little kegs of elder wine and mead.