LOOKING SEAWARD AGAIN
Sir WALTER RUNCIMAN, Bart.,
Author of The Shellback's Progress, Windjammers and Sea Tramps, etc.
London: Walter Scott Publishing Co. Ltd.
TO MY WIFE THESE FRAGMENTS ARE AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED.
The following tales have been told to some few men and women by the fireside. The stories themselves only claim to be unvarnished matters of fact; and I may repeat here what I said in a previous volume, that my object has not been to strain after literary effect or style. My too early desertion of home-life to graduate in the harsh and whimsical discipline of sailing-vessels in the days when they had still some years to live and "carry on" ere steam took the wind out of their sails, precluded such studies as are natural to the embryo man of letters. But the circumstances that told against mere study did not prevent my preserving many memories of my sojourns ashore and voyages in distant seas. I mention this fact, not as an apology, but as an explanation which I hope may commend itself to the amiable reader.
3rd December 1907.
THROUGH TORPEDOES AND ICE FAIR TRADE AND FOUL PLAY SMUGGLERS OF THE ROCK A PASHA BEFORE PLEVNA A RUSSIAN PORT IN THE 'SIXTIES "DUTCHY" AND HIS CHIEF
Through Torpedoes and Ice
"Osman the Victorious," as Skobeleff called the matchless Turkish pasha, had kept the Russian hordes at bay for one hundred and forty-two days. Never in the annals of warfare had the world beheld such unexpected military genius, combined with stubborn endurance, as was shown during the siege of Plevna. On December 10th, 1877, Osman came out and made a desperate struggle to break through the Russian lines; but after four hours' hard fighting the Turks sent up the white flag, and boisterous cheering swelled over the snow-clad land when it became known that the greatest Turkish general of modern times had surrendered. His little army of Bashi-Bazouks had annihilated more than one Siberian battalion. The Russian loss was forty thousand, and the Turkish thirty thousand. Had Suleiman and the other Turkish generals shown the same stubborn spirit as Osman, the Russian army would never have been permitted to cross the Balkans, much less reach Constantinople. But after the fall of Plevna the resistance of the Turkish army was feeble, and the Muscovites were not long in pitching their camp at San Stefano. Indeed, a rumour got abroad one night that the Russians were in the suburbs of Constantinople. This roused the indignation of the English jingoes to such a pitch that the great Jewish Premier, with the dash that characterized his career, gave peremptory orders for the British fleet to proceed, with or without leave, through the Dardanelles, and if any resistance was shown to silence the forts. Russia protested and threatened, and Turkey winked a stern objection, but Lord Beaconsfield was firm, and suitable arrangements were arrived at between the Powers.
Bismarck offered his services as mediator, and suggested that a European Congress should be held at Berlin to discuss the contents of the Treaty of San Stefano. This was agreed to, and Lord Beaconsfield, accompanied by Lord Salisbury, were the British representatives at the Congress. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary drove a hard and favourable bargain for Turkey and for Britain. Turkey, it is needless to say, got the worst of it; but, considering her crushing defeat, came well out of the settlement. Cyprus was ceded to the British, to be used as a naval station, and subsequent experience has proved the wisdom of this acquisition. Lord Beaconsfield proclaimed to a tumultuous crowd on the occasion of his return to London that he had brought back "peace with honour." This was the acme of the great Jew's fame. It looked as though he could have done anything he liked with the British people, so that it is no wonder that the old man lost his balance when such homage was paid him by that section of the public which was smitten with his picturesque and audacious personality.
Naturally, his policy impregnated Russia with a strong anti-British feeling, and it was said that her activity in running up earthworks and apparently impregnable fortifications was in anticipation of Disraeli declaring war and ordering the fleet to bombard the Crimean ports; hence, too, in addition to the strong fortifications, torpedo mines were laid for miles along the seaboard, and every possible means and opportunity were taken to make it widely known that the Black Sea was one deadly mine-field. The Press on all sides was, as usual, brimful of reports of the most alarmist nature—these, of course, for the most part extravagant and inaccurate rumours. Nor did the Russian Press minimize accounts of the terrible devastation that was wrought on unarmed trespassers who came within the zone of terror. I read twice of my own rapid and complete destruction. There is no doubt that mines were laid, though both their capacity for destruction and the number of them was very much exaggerated.
From the end of —— outer breakwater to beyond the —— there was a line of mines which left between the land and them a channel less than half a mile wide. A gunboat with torpedo pilots aboard was moored at the south end, and vessels prior to the war and during the armistice were compelled to take a pilot in and out; but no vessel was allowed to pass in or out from sunset to sunrise. A gunboat was also stationed outside the inner breakwater. A large fleet of steamers had been attracted by the high freights, inflated by the war fever that permeated Europe at that time, and also because the season was far advanced, and merchants were anxious to get their stuff shipped in case hostilities broke out. The heavy snowstorms had made the roads almost impassable, but in spite of great difficulties the loading was carried on; slowly, it is true, but with dogged perseverance. The frost had become keen, and large floes of ice were rushed down the reaches by the swift current. Booms were moored outside the vessels to protect them, but these were constantly being carried away, and not a little damage was done. A consultation amongst the captains was held as to the advisability of leaving with what cargoes they had aboard, but only two decided to start on the following morning. Some of the others said they could force their way through six inches of ice, and would risk waiting to receive their whole cargo. Accordingly, as soon as it was daylight one of the captains who had made all arrangements to leave gave orders to unmoor. The other had changed his mind, and fell in with the views of the majority. The captain of the Claverhouse, however, got underweigh, but before getting very far his engineer reported that the hot-well cover had broken in two. It was temporarily repaired, and she got along famously until they came to a bend in the river where there was much packed ice. For two hours manoeuvring continued without any appreciable result. At last the big mass began to move, and a navigable channel was opened, which enabled the vessel to make slow though risky progress through a field of moving ice.
The anchorage at —— was reached before darkness set in, and a vessel which had left four days previously was observed to be ashore, with the ice drifting up against her port side, forcing her farther on to the bank. Signals were hoisted offering assistance, but before the reply could be made a blinding snowstorm came on, which lasted all through the night. The next morning, at daylight, signals were again made by the Claverhouse to the stranded vessel asking if they would accept assistance. The reply came, "I want lighters." The crew were jettisoning the cargo of wheat on to the ice as it flowed past, but the more they lightened the farther the vessel was forced on to the bank by the rushing current. The master of the Claverhouse, observing the critical position, sent a boat away with a small line. A communication was effected, but not without great difficulty. The master of the Aureola was worn out with anxiety and want of rest, for his vessel had been ashore for forty-eight hours. He very wisely accepted the assistance which had opportunely come to him. A tow-rope was attached to the small line, and by this means a thick tow-line was got aboard, and she was dragged off the bank; then orders were unaccountably given to cut the tow-rope. This very nearly resulted in a more serious disaster, as the engineers in the confusion kept the engines going astern, and the rope drifting with the current, became entangled round the propeller. If the anchor and chains had not held the great strain that was put on them, she would have gone ashore again in a worse position, and inevitably have broken her back. As it was, the propeller was cleared in about a couple of hours. The captain of the Aureola was not well acquainted with the locality, and arranged that he should follow the other steamer to——. Suitable plans and signals were settled, and both vessels weighed anchor and proceeded as fast through the ice as was compatible with safety. Once out of the narrows and clear of the obstruction, the engines were put at full speed and kept going until they were forced to slow down on account of the snow squalls, which obscured everything. The sea had become rough, and the utmost resources of the commanders were taxed in their efforts to navigate the coast and yet keep together. They groped their way until —— town lights were visible. It was then seen that the gunboat anchored at the south end of the mine-field was signalling to them to stop; but still they went slowly on, feeling their way by the lead, while those aboard the gunboat began to fire rockets with exciting rapidity. Regardless of the warning, the two steamers kept on their way until they got to the anchorage, when the warship was hidden from view.
It was past midnight; and although the crews of both vessels had gone through a severe ordeal of physical endurance, they were each anxious to hear what the other had to say about the events of the last forty-eight hours, which were beset with peril, and had culminated by boldly running into the anchorage over the mines in defiance of the regulations—to say nothing of the danger of being blown up, or the mysterious prospect of Siberia! The captain of the Aureola was greatly perturbed, and he promptly ordered his gig to be manned to take him to the Claverhouse. On getting aboard, he reproached his friend for leading him into what might prove a serious scrape. The two men talked long of the exciting doings of the day and the policy that should be adopted on the morrow, when they would be confronted with officials that were not over well-disposed to British subjects. They fully realized that the case would have to be managed with great astuteness, so they bethought themselves of one of the cleverest and most popular men in——, and sent a message to him asking his help. His name need not be mentioned; he is long since dead, and it is sufficient to say that he was an educated Maltese, and held a kind of magnetic influence over the harbour authorities. The Admiral was an amiable man in an ordinary way, and susceptible to the temptations that beset officials in these places; but the Claverhouse's offence was no common one, nor could it be approached in an ordinary way of speech.
On going ashore, the captains were ushered into the presence of the infuriated official who was to decide their destiny. He fumed and foamed savagely, and whenever an attempt was made to speak his paroxysms became inhuman. Their Maltese friend had come to their aid, and was waiting patiently for the storm to subside, so that he could explain how it happened that the regulations came to be broken. Things looked black until Mr. C—— began to speak in Russian. It took him some time to get the great man pacified, and as soon as that was accomplished he said to the master of the Claverhouse—"You know that you could be sent to Siberia or less. How am I to explain it? Why did you not keep at sea all night? There is only one thing that will save you."
"Well, then," responded the captain of the Claverhouse, "let that one thing be arranged; but let me also state the cause of our breaking the law. We could have kept the sea quite well had we known exactly where we were, but we could see nothing, and had to navigate by taking soundings, and as soon as we got into seven fathoms the water became smooth, and, fearing we might run aground, the anchor was let go. As for the rockets that were fired by the gunboat, we had passed the line of torpedoes before our attention was attracted by the firing. The Admiral himself could not have avoided it. Surely he cannot think we deliberately ran into the anchorage?"
"That is just what he does think," said Mr. C——. "What am I to do?"
"Settle on the best terms," said the captain.
At this point two officers took the captains to another room, and they were locked in. An hour afterwards Mr. C—— came to them and said—
"I have managed to get him quietened down. You have had a narrow squeak. It took me a long time to get him to speak of liberating you, and now I am requested to bring you to him so that you may be severely reprimanded. He talked of gaol, and sending you out of the country for ever, and inflicting a heavy fine; but that stage has passed, so come with me."
When they were ushered into the Admiral's presence he frowned severely at them. Russian officers and high officials always expect you to tremble when they administer a rebuke. Needless to say, the reception was harsh. There was a good deal of long stride, prancing from one end of the room to the other, vehement talk in Russian, and wild gesticulation. The Maltese told the somewhat callous captains that the Admiral declared the next Englishman that attempted such a thing, if he were not blown up, would have to be shot. An example must be made. The genial intermediary interjected with apparent sternness—
"Captains, you must apologize for the crime you have committed, and be thankful that you are going to be dealt leniently with. The Admiral is right: you deserved to be blown up with your ship. But apologize suitably, and leave the rest to me."
All but the last sentence was interpreted to the gallant official. An apology was made, and silently accepted; but the real penalty was not disclosed to the captains until afterwards, and then it was kept secret by them and by the two contracting parties. The two commanders, when being congratulated on their release, said they did not know what all the fuss was about. They had done no harm to anybody, and if hostilities were resumed they hoped the Turks would wipe the Russians off the field, and so on.
Three stirring months passed before the Claverhouse returned to ——. When she arrived at the gunboat guarding the torpedo channel, she took a pilot, and proceeded into the harbour in a law-abiding manner, while her captain, audibly and inaudibly, declaimed against a Government whose barbarous notions led them to impose restrictions that caused expense and interrupted the normal process of navigation. "What right have these beastly Russians to hamper British shipping like this?"
When the captain landed he was met by several friends, who cheerfully inquired if he had found another new channel into the port. He jokingly retorted—
"No; but I might have to find a new one out."
He was solemnly advised not to attempt it. The Admiral, whom he occasionally met, was unusually cordial, and this attitude of courtesy was ungrudgingly reciprocated. One evening the captain wished to visit a friend of his, whose vessel lay at the forts. The sentry asked him to retire. He refused to move, and commenced to harangue the soldier in a language he supposed to be Russian. There must have been something wrong about it, for after a few words of conversation the sentry rushed at him with the bayonet fixed, and but for the swiftness of his heels there might have been a tragedy. He immediately called at the Admiral's office, informed him of what had occurred, and requested that he should be escorted where he desired to go. An officer was sent with him, and when they got to the sentry the officer spoke to the man in a heated tone, and then slapped him on the face with the flat of his hand. The captain asked why he had struck the sentry. The officer replied—
"Because he told me you had used some Russian language to him that caused him to believe you were a suspicious character. I told him he was a fool, and that you were a friend of mine and of the Admiral. You will have no more trouble."
A douceur was slipped into the willing hand, and on the return journey another was given to the poor sentry, who showed a meekness and gratitude that was nearly pathetic.
On the following day there was a sensational rumour that the armistice would be raised and hostilities between the two belligerents resumed. At the forts and at the military quarters of the city there was much activity. The troops were being reviewed by one of the Grand Dukes, and there were evidences of conscription everywhere. Aboard the warships the flutter was quite noticeable, and the frequent communications between them and the shore augured trouble. Merchants, agents, and captains displayed unusual energy to complete their engagements. A strongly-worded order was handed to the captains of the few vessels still remaining in port that, on penalty of being sunk by the warships or blown up by torpedoes, no vessel was to go out of the port after sundown at 6 p.m.
On the second day after this instruction was given the loading of the Claverhouse's cargo was completed. A gentleman sent a note requesting the captain to see him, and not to remove the staging between his vessel and the quay, as it would be required to carry out an important shipment which would be of great benefit to himself and all concerned. Negotiations were opened, and were briefly as follows:—This estimable Briton had been approached by a person of great astuteness and easy integrity, who was neither an Englishman nor a Turk, to engage at all costs a steamer to take bullocks on deck to a certain unnamed destination. The freight would be paid before the cattle were shipped, but the vessel would have to sail that night, and a large sum would be paid for running that risk.
"State your price," said the genial agent; "anything within reason will be paid."
The captain was as eager to do a deal as his new acquaintance, though he pleaded the almost impossible task of running out of the port without being observed, and if observed the inevitable consequence of being sunk, probably with all on board. The agent, having in mind his own considerable interest, played discreetly on the vanity of the commander, and laughed at the notion of an astute person like him allowing himself to be trapped; appealed to his nationality, and the glory of having run out of a port that was severely blockaded. The captain cut this flow of greasy oratory short by stating that for the moment he was thinking of the amount of hard cash he was going to get, and not of the glory.
"I know what I will have to do, and I think I know how it will have to be done; but first let us fix the amount I am to have for doing it. My price is L——. Do you agree?"
"Yes," said the agent; "though it's a bit stiff. But the animals must go forward."
The captain did not expect so sudden a confirmation, and remarked, "I fancy I have not put sufficient value on the services I am to carry out; but I have given my word, and will keep it."
In due course the money was handed over in British gold. The cattle were taken aboard, and just as the sun was setting the moorings were cast off, and the vessel proceeded to the outer harbour and anchored. The chief mate was instructed to put as little chain as possible out, and the engineer was told to have a good head of steam at a certain hour. Meanwhile, the captain proceeded to the city to clear his ship, and at the stated hour he was stealthily rowed alongside. The pawls of the windlass were muffled, and the anchor was hove noiselessly up by hand; the engines were set easy ahead, and as soon as she was on her course the telegraph rang "full speed." She had not proceeded far before a shot was fired from the inner gunboat, which landed alongside the starboard quarter. The chief officer called from the forecastle head—
"They are firing at us—hadn't you better stop?"
"Stop, be d——d! Do you want to be hung or sent to the Siberian mines?"
The next shot fell short of the stern. They now came thick and heavy, but the Claverhouse by this time was racing away, and was quickly out of range. The most critical time arrived when she was rushed headlong over the line of torpedoes; and as soon as the outer gunboat was opened clear of the breakwater, she, too, commenced to fire. Once the line of mines was safely passed, the course was set to hug the land. The firing from the torpedo gunboat was wildly inaccurate, never a shot coming within fathoms of their target, and soon the little steamer was far beyond the reach of the Tsar's guns.
Her captain had no faith in the report industriously circulated that the Crimean coast and the Black Sea were impenetrably mined, so he proceeded gaily on his voyage, shaking hands with himself for having succeeded in running the gauntlet without a single man being hurt, or the breaking of a rope-yarn. The crew were boisterously proud of the night's exploit. They knew that no pecuniary benefit would be derived by them, and were content to believe that they had been parties to a dashing piece of devil-may-care work. The average British sailor of that period loved to be in a scrape, and revelled in the sport of doing any daring act to get out of it. It never occurred to the captain that his crew might jib at the thought of undertaking so perilous a course. He had been reared in the courage of the class to which he belonged, and his confidence in the loyalty of his men was not shaken by the thoughtless interjection of the chief officer, who, in a shameful moment asked him to turn back after the first shot was fired. He had no time to think of that senseless advice when it was given, but it may be taken for granted the cautious mate did not add to his popularity with the crew. He had commanded large sailing vessels in the Australian passenger trade, and this was his first voyage in steam. The new life, with all its varied sensationalisms, was a mystery to him, and this little incident did not increase his belief in the wisdom of his change from sail to steam. He explained that the thought of what he regarded as inevitable disaster caused him to spontaneously call out that they were firing.
"Besides," he continued, "I don't like the business; so I'll resign my position and go back to sailing vessels again, on the completion of the voyage."
The captain reminded him of the fine spirit of enterprise that prevailed amongst the crew; only in a lesser degree, perhaps, than that which caused Nelson under different circumstances to say of his sailors, "They really mind shot no more than peas."
"Nelson may have said that, and our crew may have a fine spirit of wholesale daring, but I don't like to be mixed up with either the enterprise or the shot," retorted the reflective officer; and I daresay if the captain were asked for an opinion now he would be disposed to take the mate's view.
The thought of being pursued kept up a quiet excitement. The vessel was pressed through the water at her maximum speed and arrived at her first destination without any mishap to herself or the deck cargo, which was landed expeditiously. She then continued on her voyage. On arrival at the discharging port, a letter was received from the owners complimenting the captain on the success of an undertaking which would contribute so considerably to the profits of the voyage, and at the same time calling his attention to a newspaper cutting. An official telegram to the English Press stated that "A British steamer, name unknown, in attempting to run out of —— harbour over the torpedo lines, was warned and fired upon by a Russian warship which was guarding the harbour. The steamer refused to stop. She was shelled, and in crossing the mine zone the vessel, with her crew, was blown to atoms!" This was a sensational piece of news to read of one's self.
Two years elapsed before the captain again steamed into —— harbour. He expected to meet his old friend the Admiral, and a few other Russian gentlemen in whom his interest was centred; but they had either gone to their rest or had been removed. It seemed as though the incident that caused so much commotion at the time had passed out of recollection. Indeed, there seemed quite a new order of things. New officials were there. The gunboats were removed from their familiar stations. The torpedoes that had been the dread of navigators had been lifted, and it was commonly reported that many of them were loaded with sand. No signs were visible of there having been war defences that were meant to be regarded as impregnable—and it is not to be denied the earthworks justified that opinion. There were whisperings that when those in high places discovered what some of the mines were charged with, the persons responsible for the laying of the mines were seized; and tradition has it that an impromptu scaffold had been erected outside the town, and every one of the suspects hanged without trial—and merely on the suspicion that they knew of, even if they had not contributed to, the treacherous act. In the light of the horrors that are occurring in Russia at the present time, it is not improbable that there was treachery; and that when it was discovered, suspicion centred on certain persons, who were, in accordance with Muscovite autocracy, dispatched without ceremony, guilty or not guilty.
"Ah!" said Mr. C—— to the captain, who had just finished describing his last departure from —— Harbour, "you may thank your stars that the torpedoes were loaded with sand or some other rubbish, or you wouldn't have been here this day. The officers were in a great fury at the wires not operating when you were running out, and the men—submarines, I think, they are called—who were behind the earthworks were knocked about badly. They came to my place to get to know the name of the vessel, but I bamboozled them, and gave them cigars and vodka, and they weren't long in forgetting about what had happened. I think there is no doubt about your being the cause of having the mines raised, as, to my certain knowledge, they tried to explode them the day after you left the port, and very few of them went off. Things were kept a bit quiet, but I can always get to know what is going on, and if the gunboats had been properly handled that night it would have been all up with you."
"But," said the captain, "what on earth is the use of talking that way! They were not properly handled, and here I am. And what I want to know is this: do you think there will be any more about it, now the war is over, and old Pumper Nichol [the Admiral] and his friends are not here?"
"I don't know," said his friend. "You never can tell what these sly rascals are thinking or doing; but I will know as soon as there are any indications. If I had been you, I wouldn't have come out here so soon; or, at least, have first made sure that all danger was over. But never mind; we'll soon smuggle you off, if we can get the slightest hint. 'Palm oil squares the yards,' as the old sailors used to say, and nobody has had more experience of that than I."
"Does G——d and old J——b know about the affair?"
"I think they are bound to, though they may have forgotten. Anyhow, they are absolutely loyal, and may be depended upon if their aid is called into requisition. Do you know they had to clear out of the country with their families, and nearly every English family had to do the same?"
"Well, Patrovish C——," said the captain, "they may seize the steamer, but they will never be allowed to seize me, even should it be legal to do so, now the war is at an end."
"What do they care about what is legal," said Patrovish. "If it suits their purpose, and those in authority learn what took place, there will be no scruples about doing anything. My advice is to keep quiet and cool-headed, and I feel almost certain you won't be interfered with. But there comes Yaunie. Hear what he says."
This gentleman was a Greek pilot, who had previously been a boatswain aboard a Greek sailing-vessel. He saw an excellent opening at the beginning of the steamship era to add to his income, so commenced a business which flourished so well that his riches were the envy of a large residential public, to say nothing of the seafaring itinerants who swarmed in and out of the port. He spoke English with a Levantine accent. Physically, he was a fine-looking, well-built man, who commanded attention and respect from everybody. He was on excellent terms with the port authorities, and with sea captains, and deemed it part of a well thought-out policy to share with popular shrewdness a portion of his takings. His benevolence was more partially shown towards the officials than to those from whom he derived his income; but because of his geniality, and—mostly, I should say—on account of his generosity, he was well liked by both sections of people. He was quite uneducated, and, like most clever men who have this misfortune, he had great natural gifts. His memory was prodigious, and he invested his savings with the judgment of an expert, keeping mental accounts with startling accuracy; but, notwithstanding this, his memory never retained anything he conceived it to be policy to forget. When asked his opinion as to whether there was any likelihood of anything more being heard of the captain's running out of the harbour and over the torpedoes, he suggestively put his finger to his mouth, and said—
"I can know nothing, but I tink it is over." And shrugging his broad shoulders, he 'cutely remarked, "Some dead, some maybe Siberia, and"—with a significant smile he lowered his voice to a whisper—"some, maybe, 'fraid to say anything because for many reason. Yes, I tink finis; but if not, den you trust me to help. I knows these people, and some of dem knows me."
Yaunie was taken fully into the confidence of the captain and Patrovish, and when he took his leave they felt sure that to have him as a friend was of great value in the event of the affair being resurrected. The captain had renewed many old friendships, and spent his evenings in the hospitable homes of an English colony whose kindness is unequalled anywhere. Unlike most English families who settle in foreign countries, they retained a great many of their national customs in food, and also in their mode of life generally. Of course the extremes of climate have to be considered, but all their homes preserve their British atmosphere.
The Claverhouse had nearly completed loading, and the kindly emissaries of her captain had reported nothing of a disturbing character, until one morning a steamer came in and was moored alongside the Claverhouse. Yaunie was the pilot, and after completing his work he went aboard the Claverhouse and asked to see the captain.
"He is not astir yet," said the steward.
"I must speak with him at once," said Yaunie.
The captain, overhearing the conversation, called out, "All right, come to my room."
"Well, Yaunie, what news this morning?" asked the captain.
"Ah, it is very bad news," replied Yaunie. "That fool Farquarson," pointing to where the other steamer lay, "speaks all the time about what happened when you went from the port without permission. He say that he was aboard the gunboat asking for a torpedo channel-pilot, and that he could not get one because they were firing at you all the time. They asked him the name of the steamer, but he told some other. I say to him he was wrong, but he say no; and he will jabb, as you call it."
"Well, Yaunie, what's to be done? What is the remedy?"
"What's to be done—I don' know what you call the other. I say, get the steamer loaded quick and away. I don' tink trouble, but O Chresto! his tong go like steam-winch, and you much better Black Sea dan here."
"Very excellent advice, Yaunie. Now let us go on deck."
A sudden inspiration came to the captain, which caused him to exclaim—
"Yaunie, I'll ask him to eat with us. This is our English mode of settling obstacles, and making and retaining friendships. Don't you think it a good suggestion?"
"Do anything you like. Give him the Sacrament, but keep him quiet. He is very dangerous now."
The captain of the other steamer was on deck, and as soon as he got his eye on them he bellowed out in terms of unjustifiable familiarity—
"Hallo, old fellow, how are ye? So they've not sent ye to the silver mines yet?"
"No," smartly retorted the captain, with some warmth, "they've not, or I wouldn't have been here. But they d—d soon will if you don't keep your mouth shut!"
Without heeding what was said to him, the distinguished commander of the new-comer slapped his thigh vigorously with his right hand, and laughed out—
"By Joshua, you were in a tight corner, and will never be nearer being popped! [sunk]. They were furious at me, and would have blown all England up because I said I didn't know who it was."
"Oh," said the Claverhouse's commander, "that is old history. Come aboard and have breakfast with me."
"All right," said Farquarson, "I'll have a wash up, and then come. But what a darned funny thing not to blow you up with the mines. I just said to my mate, they are a lot of lazy beasts, or there's something wrong with the wires. But the mate said, 'No; he's taken them unawares.' 'Unawares be d——d!' said I; 'he's not taken these gunboat chaps unawares, for I couldn't get them to stop firing.'"
"He's off again!" interjected Yaunie.
"All right, all right!" replied the impatient captain to his voluble compatriot. "Come to breakfast as quick as you can, there's a good fellow."
Farquarson got to the companion-way—i.e. the entrance to the cabin—and was about to make some further remarks when the captain of the Claverhouse said to Yaunie, "Let's go below, for God's sake! As long as he sees us he'll keep on."
When they got into the cabin, the burly pilot was almost inarticulate. All he could say was—
"My goodness, what a tong! He must be dangerous to his owners. I have never see such a tong."
In due course the irrepressible person appeared, and was received with professional cordiality. He had no sooner taken his seat at the table than he became convulsed with laughter, slapped his hand on the table, and shouted—
"By Cocker, I'll never forget it! The rage of them Russians, and the way they blazed away their shot, and it never going within miles of where you were! Miles, mind you!"
Yaunie and his friend looked at each other in savage despair, as he persisted in reeling off quantities of disconnected incoherencies. But relief to his perturbed friends came when the steward placed the breakfast on the table. He stopped the flow of narration, and exclaimed—
"Ah! that's what I like—dry hash and a bit of ham with an egg or two. I was just saying to my mate—who's as big a born fool as ever drank whisky—there's not a better meal made at sea than dry hash."
By this time his mouth was full, and it was difficult to know what he wished to convey. His eating was quite as boundless as his talk, though he could not do both at once. Having finished a good sound plate of hash, he passed his plate along for some ham and eggs, and asked his host if he did not observe what a good appetite he had compared with what he used to have.
"Yes," said the captain, in blissful ignorance of what he was saying. "Your appetite was never very good. I'm glad to see you making such a good breakfast."
"Well, you know," replied the guest, "the worst of me is, I appear to be unsociable when I'm eating, as I cannot both eat and talk."
"Go on eating, then," said the host.
"Yes, go on eatin'," responded Yaunie. "You had a long passage, and must be hungry."
"Quite right," replied the guest, with his mouth full. "I'm glad you don't think me uncivil, but as I say, I like my breakfast better than most meals, and I can only do one thing at a time. My wife always says I must have been born either eating or talking."
He laughed heartily at this little domestic joke, and proceeded with the putting in of the "bunker coals," as he called it. The captain of the Claverhouse and the pilot had purposely lingered over their meal to keep him company. He observed this, and effusively asked them not to mind him a bit, and to leave the table if they wanted to. After expressing a few unreal excuses for their apparent rudeness, they were prevailed upon to go into the state-room, where the captain solemnly conveyed to Yaunie that he never thought he would live to have imposed upon him such humiliation.
"I hope the brute will have an apoplectic fit!" said he.
Yaunie did not quite understand all that was said, but knew it meant some form of obliquy, and replied, "Yes, and I hope so too."
As soon as Farquarson had finished eating, he straightway came to the state-room and assured his host that he never remembered enjoying a breakfast so much.
"Let's have a cigar," said he, "to soothe my nerves a bit."
This was given him. He lit up, and was proceeding to discuss the merits of good feeding with great volubility when his harangue was snapped by a request from his host to "cut it," as he wished to have a yarn with him about a matter which was of great importance to himself. "In short, I wish you to be most careful not to attract attention to me by any friendly comment about that affair of two years ago. No one who is in office now would appear to have any suspicion of what took place; or if they do, it is obvious they are not desirous of opening the question up again. But should it be brought prominently before them, they will have to do something, and it may make it very awkward for me. Now, what I want you to do for me is this: never mention the incident again. I am sure you would not intentionally do anything that would jeopardize my safety, and I feel that I have only to ask and you will give me your word not to do it."
Farquarson jumped to his feet, gripped the hand of the captain in a sailorly fashion, and said—
"On my Masonic honour, I swear never to breathe again what you have warned me against, and I'm glad you told me. I might innocently have got you into a nasty mess. It never struck me when I was bawling out to you that there was danger. But between ourselves, it was a bit thick your dashing out of the 'impregnable port,' as they called it, and expectin' to get off scot-free, I have often spun long twisters about it, and you can bet it was always made attractive."
"I feel sure you would do that, Farquarson, as you were always a good story-teller."
This encouraging flattery switched his mind with eager interest on to a subject quite irrelevant to the one which had engaged their attention so long.
"Yes," said he, with a self-satisfied smile, "that's true. But talking about yarns, you remember when I was with Milburn's, running to Hamburg? The old gentleman asked me to take a few overmen a trip. They belonged to some mine he was interested in. By the time we got outside, and got the decks cleared up, it was dark, and the watch was set. The look-out man went on to the topgallant forecastle, and I was walking from side to side of the bridge when one of the miners came running up, and in great excitement he said—
"'Captain, for God's sake gan doon to the cabin and pacify them! They're playin' nap, and they've faalen oot amang theirselves, and there's fair almighty hell gannin' on. Aa's sure if ye divvent get them pacified ther'll be morder!'
"'My good man,' I said,'I cannot leave the bridge.'
"'Ye canna' leave the bridge! What for, then?'
"'Because,' I said, 'I must keep a look-out and see that that man on the forecastle-head does the same. If he were to see me leave the bridge, the chances are he would get careless and sit down and go to sleep, and we might run into something, and probably sink ourselves or somebody else and lose a lot of lives.'
"By this time I heard loud voices and awful oaths coming from the after-end of the ship, so says I, 'This must be put a stop to, but I cannot leave here without somebody takin' my place. You must take it, and walk across and across as I am doing, so that that fellow on the look-out will think it's me.'
"'Aa'm not pertikler what aa dee, mister, if ye ony get thor differences settled before ye come up. Aa nivor heerd sic swearin'.'
"'Very well,' said I; 'you do what I've told you to do. Walk steadily to and fro, and I'll go and see what can be done.'
"When I got down below they were still wrangling, but I soon made peace with them, and they asked me to have a hand with them. I had a look on deck. It was a fine moonlight night, and nothing seemed to be in the way, so I began to play, and forgot all about the fellow on the bridge, and everything else for that matter, until I heard four bells go. This reminded me, so I stopped short, went on to the poop, and the other fellows came up with me. I was chaffing them about their row, and I heard the look-out man call out, 'A red light on the port bow, sir!' I saw we were going a long way clear, so took no notice; but the miner on the bridge increased his pace. In less than a minute the look-out man called out again, 'A red light on the port bow,' and got no answer. I thought to myself, 'What's going to be the upshot of this?' when the man called out again, sharply this time, 'A red light on the port bow!' The miner quite excitedly shouted at the top of his voice, 'Blaw the b——y thing oot, then, and let's hear ne mair aboot it!'"
At this conclusion the two captains laughed heartily, and so did Yaunie. Then all at once Farquarson began as suddenly as he had left off—
"Now, let us make up our minds never to broach running the gauntlet again in Russian waters, for they're devils to listen, and you never know where they are. Why, I've seen them at the time of the war crawlin' and sneakin' about all over, lying on the sofa in the billiard-rooms, and come and ask you to play in good English. Sometimes the impudent villains would come and barefacedly sit down at the same table where you were having a meal, and begin speakin' and get you to say something disrespectful about Russia and their Tzar, and lots of poor fellows were asked to leave the country for it. Talk about despotism and bribery! Well, I've seen some of their goings on. What did they do when the poor Turks that were taken prisoners when Plevna fell marched into Reval? A few of us cheered them, and the Russians got quite annoyed about it, and hustled us about as though we were common thieves, and threatened to run us into their filthy gaol. My word, how things have altered since the days when you could kill a Russian and nobody cared a brass button! But now—well, there's no word to express it."
"Ah! they're a cruel, merciless lot," interjected Captain S—; "but I think you are getting excited, Farquarson, so you better cease talking about them."
"It is time I was getting up to the city. They are rattling it into her. She'll be loaded in a jiffy, and I've much to do."
"Very well," said the bluff skipper, "get away. And it's understood that mum's the word; but mind you're not through the wood yet. What do you say, Yaunie?"
"I say you no speak so loud or so much. It is better not."
"Very well, old skin-the-goat," said Farquarson playfully; "I suppose I am a bit noisy."
He then jumped aboard his vessel, and invited the trusty pilot to follow him so that they might work out a scheme that would thwart any possibility of a raid being made on the Claverhouse. He prided himself on being fertile in strategy, and certainly his notions were not those of an ordinary person. His confidences were given to Yaunie without any reserve. First, he suggested inveigling the raiders from S——'s vessel to his own, getting them down below and filling them full of champagne or whisky, whichever they preferred; and in the event of their remaining on board his friend's ship, they were to be made drunk there, and that being accomplished, the vessel was to be unmoored and taken to sea with them aboard, and they were to be landed or cast adrift in an open boat. The recital of these dare-devil propositions caused Yaunie's face to wear a careworn look, and when asked what he thought of it he said—
"Well, I try to tink, bit it is impossible. You speak what cannot happen. If you do what you say, how can you come back here? No, no; that must not be. I have better plan. No trouble, no get drunk, no run off with officers, no put him in boat; but leave it me: I settle everyting, suppose trouble come."
"Agreed again, old cockaloram. I'm only saying what I'd do. As I said before, you can do as you like, but I prefer giving these fellows 'what cheer!' I says again, what business have they to interfere with Englishmen carryin' on their business in their own way? I say they had no right to put a blockade on, and England should see that her subjects are duly protected."
This eloquent pronouncement of patriotism, with comic gesture added, excited the fiery dissent of the critical Levantine.
"Yes!" he retorted; "you tink everyting foreign should be for English. You swagger off with other people's country and say, 'This mine.' You like old J——b and G——d; they speak all the time same as you. English, English, everyting English! an' I say what for you stay? I Greek, an' I stay because Russia better for me."
This was said partly in jest and partly in good-natured earnestness, for Yaunie was a student of English characteristics. Farquarson explained that he would have to go to the Custom-house, and then to see his agents. Yaunie, with a significant look and gesture, warned him not to speak too much to port officers, bade him good-morning, said he would call back again in the afternoon, jumped on to the stage and went ashore.
It was late in the afternoon before Captain S—— got down to the docks. His steamer was loaded and ready for sea. At the quay, close to the stern of the vessel, Mrs. C——, with her daughter, was seated in a drosky. She explained that they had come to say good-bye, and to convey a message from Patrovish that he, Yaunie, and some officers were aboard Captain Farquarson's vessel. "He commissioned me to say that you were to slip out of the harbour quietly to avoid trouble, as he had reason to believe that there was something going on, and you might be stopped. Meanwhile, they are doing some entertaining for your benefit, so I will not detain you longer. Good-bye, and we hope to see you again soon."
The captain made haste aboard, and gave instructions to cast off the moorings. The Claverhouse glided quietly out of the harbour, and in less than an hour she was steaming fall speed towards the Bosphorus. The two captains did not meet again for several months, and when they did, Farquarson gave a vivid account of the development and ultimate success of what he termed the plot to extricate S—— from the possibility of being detained or heavily fined.
"I assure you," said he, "they were on the scent. They asked if I was the man who was on the gunboat when the English steamer ran over the mines. I swore by all that was holy that I didn't know what they were talking about. Then Yaunie and Patrovish asked them in Russian to have some refreshment aboard my ship, and they kicked up a devil of a row when they found you had gone without saying good-bye. Yaunie swore it was to cheat the pilotage, and Patrovish said he couldn't have believed it of you. I said you always were a bowdikite, and that you were putting on 'side.' The Russians were very jolly. They had a thimbleful or two of whisky, which made them talk a lot. We had a good laugh after they went away, and Patrovish said it was a good job you were gone, because they would have been sure to have caused trouble. Yaunie wasn't sure, but I was on C——'s side, for, I said, why did they mention the gunboat to me, if they didn't mean anything?"
"Whatever their intentions were," rejoined Captain S——, "the precautions you took to checkmate were successful, and I am much obliged for the trouble you took after you realized the danger. I must always be grateful to you for that; and the next time you go out there, thank my two friends for their important share in it, and say to Patrovish that his own and his wife's wish to see me soon back is much appreciated, but my present plans are such that I will not be able to visit Russia for a long time to come, and it may be I never shall again."
[Footnote 1: How came it to pass that the Russians were allowed to cross the Balkans? How was it that they were allowed to take possession so easily of the Schipka Pass? Did the personages who so soon afterwards disappeared mysteriously and were never heard of again yield up this stronghold to the possessors of a golden key? Poor Turkey!]
Fair Trade and Foul Play
Smuggling at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and right up to the middle of it, was rampant, and was regarded as a wholesome profession by those who carried it on. They called it "fair trade," and looked upon those whose duty it was to destroy it with an aversion that oftentimes culminated in murderous conflict. The seafaring portion of this strange body of men, in characteristic contrast to their "landlubber" accomplices, never at any time, or under any circumstances, tried to conceal what their profession was. They were proud to be known as smugglers; whereas their shore colleagues, many of whom were gentry, or offshoots from it, adopted every possible means to turn suspicion from themselves when the preventive men were on the scent. Smugglers of that day were adroit tacticians; they had their signs just as Freemasons or any other craft have theirs. The pursuit was exciting, and the romance of it attracted men and women of gentle as well as of humble birth into its ranks. The men who manned the luggers were sailors who knew every bay and nook round the coast. They made heroic speeches expressive of their contempt for death. They talked boldly of powder magazines, and of blowing themselves and any one else up who put them into a tight corner; and there are instances on record that this was actually done. Be that as it may, they had great organizing skill and not a little business ability, whilst in their combination of strategy and valour they were unsurpassed. In many ways they were akin to pirates, though it could never be said that they went outside their own particular business—i.e., they were not predatory buccaneers who murdered first and plundered afterwards. They believed, as I have said, their calling to be as legitimate as any other form of trading. Their doctrine was that it was the Government that acted illegally, and not themselves. It was not surprising, therefore, that the system should take so long a time to wipe out, notwithstanding the rigid way in which the whole coastline of the British Isles was guarded. Much has been written about the desperate ways of these men, but no accurate estimate can be formed by the present generation of the extent of the system, and the methods adopted to carry it on. Romance has gone far, but rarely too far, in describing it; and to really know it as it was you must have lived in its atmosphere, or have taken part, either for or against, in its attractions. One of the greatest ambitions of my early boyhood days comes to me now. I had resolved that when I grew up I would secretly leave my home and join some smuggling lugger. Happily for me, the luggers had disappeared before I grew up.
Here is an authentic instance of professional attachment and pride. When I was quite a small boy a brig ran on to the rocks beneath my father's house. The captain was a fine, rollicking, sailorly-looking man, with a fascinating manner. He often came to our house during his stay in the locality, and one of the first things he told my parents was that in his younger days he was a smuggler, and had had many encounters with Deal coastguards. He spoke sadly of the way the "trade" was ruined by Government intervention, and said that he had never been really settled or happy since he was driven out of the business, and had to take service in the merchant navy for a living. He was asked if he would like to go back to it again.
"Go back to it again!" said he; "I wish I could! There is nothing to fill its place in the whole world. But that is done for now. Oh! what good money we used to make, and what narrow squeaks we had of being captured or killed."
It seems incredible that so great a change should have taken place in so short a time, considering that these sea-rovers were so firmly persuaded that their profession was as lawful as any other, and that they were persecuted and hounded to death by a set of whippersnappers who made insufferable laws! The system became so gigantic in the early part of last century that the Government had to appeal to the Navy, and a large number of officers and men were landed on the coast of Kent and Sussex, where a strict blockade was enforced. Later, a semi-civilian force under the control of the Customs was formed. This was called the "Preventive Water Guard," and subsequently it went under the new title of "Preventive Coastguard." The duties were arduous and risky. The men never went forth unless armed with a big dagger-stick and a flint-lock pistol, both of which were not infrequently used with effect. Owing to the dangerous character of the occupation, a high wage and pension was offered as an inducement to join the service; at least, the wage and pension were considered very good at the time. The men, however, rarely had decent houses to live in. Their uniform was rather like that of a naval officer. They would have disdained wearing the garb of the present-day coastguard. Their training in most cases consisted in service aboard a Revenue cutter for a few months before being appointed to a station. Many of these men were tradesmen who had never been to sea at all, and often were men of education and sterling character. For the most part these educated men were Wesleyans—or "Ranters," as they were called—and not a few were local preachers, and some of them were well versed in theology. They were stationed usually eight miles apart, right along the coast, and their ordinary duty was to meet each other half-way and exchange despatches. This gave the religious section opportunities of comparing experiences and discussing the faith that was in them. I knew one who spoke and taught French and Latin, another who could make an accurate abstract of Bishop Butler's Analogy from cover to cover, and another who became possessed of a small schooner, which made him a fortune while he was still in the service. The wives of these three coastguardsmen were quite as well informed and as ardent religionists as themselves, and took a common interest in books, educational matters, and in each other's home affairs. Their homes were always neat and clean, and the children were disciplined into a rigid, methodical life. It is a remarkable fact that the sons of each of these men have all risen to high positions in commerce, literature, art, and politics, and those that still survive are proud to acknowledge that they owe their position to the splendid example and beautiful home-life which they were taught to live when children. Guarding the coast was not the only occupation of the Preventive Coastguard.
There arose in 1848 a manning difficulty in the Navy, which became so grave that the large force of disciplined men employed in protecting the revenue were drilled in gunnery to fit them for sea service. Many of them were called out to serve aboard ship during the war with Russia in 1854. One of the grievances in the service was the irritating and unfair policy of the Board of Customs in constantly moving the men from one station to another. In many instances the hardships constituted a public scandal. Adequate recompense was never made for this breaking-up of their little homes, and frequently when they arrived at some outlandish coast village there was no provision made for housing them. I know of several instances where families were beholden to the generosity of the villagers or farmers for lodgings until a house was found. During the interval their furniture was stored in some dirty stable or store. It was not an uncommon thing for these poor fellows to be removed, with their families, from one end of England to the other two or three times in a year, at the behest of an uneasy bureaucratic commander-in-chief who knew little, and probably cared less, about the domestic hardships incurred. From Holy Island or Spital to Deal in those days of transit by sea was a greater and more hazardous voyage than that of Liverpool to New York to-day. The following story may give some idea of their life as they then lived it.
A group of fishermen stood at the north end of the row, watching a smart cutter that was beating from the north against a strong S.S.E. wind and heavy sea, which broke heavily on the beach and over an outlying reef of rocks which forms a natural breakwater and shelters the fishermen's cobles from the strong winds that blow in from the sea during the winter months. The cutter tacked close in to the north end of the ridge several times during the forenoon. Her appearance was that of a Government vessel, and her commander evidently wished to communicate with the shore. When the ensign was hoisted to the main gaff, the onlookers knew that she did not belong to the merchant service. The simple people who inhabited this district were concerned about the intentions of what they regarded as a mysterious visitor, and the firing of a small cannon from the taffrail did not lessen their perplexity. At last the national flag was hauled up and down, and the squire, who had come from his mansion amongst the woods, told the fishermen that those aboard the cutter were really asking for a boat to be sent to them.
The flood tide had covered the rocks. A volunteer crew of five fine specimens of English manhood were promptly got together, and a large coble was wheeled down the beach and launched into the breaking sea. They struggled with accustomed doggedness until they had passed the most critical part of the bay and got safely within speaking distance of the vessel. Two good-looking fellows in naval uniform stood on the quarter-deck, and one of these, the commander, asked the fishermen to take one of his officers ashore. To this they readily agreed, though they said it would be most difficult to land, as it was much safer to go off than come in, but they would risk that. The officer jumped into the boat, the rope was slipped, and then commenced a struggle between the endurance and skill of the hardy fishermen on the one hand and the angry cross seas which threatened to toss the boat and its occupants to destruction on the other. The officer suggested that the reefs should be let out of the sail to rush her over the dangerous corner of the entrance.
"I have used this plan often," said he, "and it always succeeded."
The coxswain demurred, although these men are very skilled in the handling of their boats; but at last he was prevailed upon by his crew to allow the officer to try the experiment. The latter only agreed to do so on condition that he was in no way interfered with, and his orders were strictly carried out. Up went the close-reefed lug; the occupants were instructed to lie low to windward, the men at the main sheet were ordered in a quiet, cool manner to ease off and haul in as necessity required. In a few minutes they had reached the crucial point. The men began to express anxiety, when amid the shrill song of the wind and the noise of the breaking seas, the man now in charge called out with commanding vigour—
"Steady your nerves, boys! I know quite well how to handle her."
The helmsman had barely finished his appeal when the combers began to curl up in rapid succession; the mass of water threatened to overwhelm the rushing craft, but she was manipulated with such fine seamanship that only the spray lashed over her in smothering clouds. Suddenly orders were given to stand by to lower the sail, and in another minute the helm was put down to bring the boat head to sea and wind. The sail was lowered, oars shipped, and she was manoeuvred stern on to the beach. As soon as she struck, a rush to help was made by those who had watched with feverish anxiety the passage through the broken water, lest the frail craft should be overturned and all aboard drowned. A rope was bent on to the stern, and the crowd quickly hauled the coble away from the heavy surf into safety. At this point, an elderly gentleman, tall, with a long, shaggy beard and bushy grey hair, which might have been a wig, rode up on a brown mare. His appearance and demeanour stamped him with the characteristics of a real old country gentleman, who put on what sailors would call an insufferable amount of "side." He promptly introduced himself to the officer as the Lord of the Manor, giving his name as Crawshaw.
The naval man gave his as Thomas Turnbull, and explained that he was sent to organize some system of resistance to the smuggling that was being carried on along that part of the coast. Mr. Crawshaw volunteered assistance, and hinted that the task would be rendered all the more arduous as he would not only have the smugglers to deal with, but their accomplices, the fisher-folk and farmers. After a few weeks' experience, it was quite obvious that the squire was right, and in view of this, Thomas Turnbull sent for his wife and six children, and settled down to his work in real earnest.
The intimation that the new-comer was a religious man, and could preach and pray, soon spread through the villages, and large numbers flocked to see and hear him. Many came out of pure curiosity, and some to mock and jeer, but these seldom succeeded in setting at defiance the great power that was behind the preacher. He was of commanding presence; his face, as some of the villagers used to say, was good to look at, and the message that he delivered to his audience came with irresistible force, which broke the spirit of some of the most determined obstructers, and turned many into friends, and a few even into saints. The fisher-folk did not take kindly to him, and so strong was their opposition that they threatened many times to take his life. Their savage ignorance would have unnerved and discouraged a less powerful personality, but this man seemed to be buoyed up by his belief that it was God's work and he was only the instrument in carrying it out. He was often warned of the violence that was threatened towards him, but the intimation never disturbed his inherent belief that no earthly power could break through the cordon that protected him; and so he continued his work, temporal and spiritual, undisturbed by the threats of a class whom he was determined to civilize, and, "with God's help, Christianize." The process was long, the methods of resistance wicked.
Jimmy Stone, one of the worst scoundrels in the district, had laboured to persecute Turnbull, and to break up the meetings for months past. He tyrannized over men and brutally maltreated women, and his blasphemy was terrible to listen to. It was during one of his outbursts of wrath against the "Ranter" preacher that he was suddenly staggered by Turnbull going up to him, laying his hand on his shoulder, and admonishing him to refrain from such shocking conduct. He attempted to seize the preacher by the throat, and I fear at this juncture Turnbull forsook for a little his usual attitude of equanimity, for before the giant knew where he was he lay on the ground, stunned by a left-hander. The preacher was an awkward customer to deal with, and it would seem as though he did not entirely trust to Divine interposition when hands were laid on him. His tormentor lay, a humiliated heap, at his feet. Never in Jimmy's life had any one dared to resent his attacks in this way. He could not understand it, and was overcome more by superstition and a fear of Turnbull's reputed supernatural aids than by real fear of his physical powers. Turnbull ordered the bully to stand up, and warned him against experimenting on strangers. He then, in quaint, old-world phraseology, the outcome of much deep reading of Butler, Baxter, and Jeremy Taylor, and wholly without cant or affectation, went on to say—
"I intend to let you off lightly on this occasion, but if I hear of you practising any injustice or in any way giving annoyance to your neighbours again, I shall deem it my duty to teach you a salutary lesson. Now, bear in mind what I say to you; and remember that the Almighty may visit you with His wrath. It may be that He will send to your house affliction, and even make it desolate by taking some one from you whom you love. Or He may see that the only way of checking the course of your wickedness is to have you laid aside with sickness. It is probable that He will smite you by taking away from your evil influence some of your children. God is very merciful to little children when they are in the hands of brutes like you. Go away from me! and ponder over what I have said."
Jimmy slouched off, muttering vengeance against the Almighty if He dared to interfere with his bairns, and, as an addendum, he vividly portrayed the violent death of Turnbull. He slunk listlessly into his cottage, tumbled on to a seat, and was lost in meditation. Jenny, his wife, tremulously asked what ailed him. She was alarmed at his subdued manner; she had never known him come into the house without bullying and using blasphemous language to her and the children, and oftentimes this was accompanied by blows that well-nigh killed her and them; and yet she stood loyally by him whenever he needed a friend. Suddenly he jumped to his feet, and as though he had become possessed of an inspiration, broke silence by vigorously exclaiming to his wife that he had settled the manner of the "Ranter" preacher's death.
"Aa'll catch him some neet betwixt here and the burn [stream], and finish him. That'll stop his taak aboot the Almighty takin' ma bairns frae me!"
Jimmy's idea was that Turnbull was in communion with the Almighty for the removal of his children, and if he were put out of the way there would be an end to it. Jenny was no less ignorant than her husband, and therefore no less superstitious about meddling with this mysterious person who had come amongst them and wrought such extraordinary changes in the lives of many of her class. She doubted the wisdom of killing the preacher, as she had heard that these people lived after they were killed, and might wreak more terrible vengeance when their lives assumed another form. She urged her husband to leave well alone; not because she in any way differed from his views in regard to Turnbull's preaching and his attitude generally towards evil-doers, or objected to his being put to death; but she preferred some person other than her husband should do it. Hence, she disagreed with his policy, and he in turn raged at her for taking sides against him.
"This interloper's spyin' into everythin' we dee and say," said he. "We had nee taak aboot religion afore he cum, and noo there's nowt but religion spoken, so that we can hardly get a man or a woman t' dee any trootin' inside the limit; an' when we dee get a chance we hev t' put wor catches into th' oven, for feor him or his gang gan sneakin' aboot and faal in wi' summat they hae nee reet t' see. Forbye that, within the last few months he's driven the smugglers off the coast, and deprived us o' monny an honest soverin' in helpin' them t' and theor stuff. And then he's got the gob t' tell me that if aa divvent change me ways, the Almighty'll dee God knaw's what tiv us! He'll myek sickness cum, and mebbies tyek sum o' th' bairns frae us. It'll be warse for him if harm cums t' th' bairns, or me either! Aa tell't him that this mornin', an' aa said he might tell his Almighty that he taaked see much aboot, if he liked."
Jenny secretly disapproved of carrying retaliation any further, but dared not openly say another word in favour of her views, for, as she afterwards said, "Aa was afeared ye might kill me afore ye got a chance o' killin' the preacher."
Mr. Turnbull knew what Jimmy's intentions were, and purposely put himself in his way, so that he might say a cheery word to him in passing; but he never got more than a grunt in response. He knew that this wild creature was in league with a gang of the most desperate smugglers that the "Preventer men" had to contend with. No landing, however, had been seriously attempted during the time that Turnbull had been at the station. Craft had been sighted and signals exchanged, and then the suspected craft disappeared for weeks. The men who guarded the coast knew these buccaneers had emissaries, and could have laid hands on them, but preferred to catch them red-handed.
After weeks of close watching and waiting, information was passed along the coast that a landing would take place close to the spot where Turnbull now lived with his wife and children. Men from all the stations extending over a radius of fifty miles were summoned to meet at a certain point at eleven o'clock on a certain night. Trusted civilians had been drafted into the service for the occasion; and so accurate was the information given, that within a couple of hours of the time several boat-loads of contraband were landed above high-water mark. Three carts came along, and while the process of transhipping into them was going on, the "Preventer" men, led by Turnbull, quietly came from their concealment, and with a sudden rush surrounded the smugglers. Those of their accomplices who had smelt the scent of battle fled behind the hills, and got clean away. One of the carts attempted to bolt, but a shower of shot targeted into the horses peremptorily stopped that move, and the drivers were easily captured. The smugglers fought like polecats, but received no help from the few accomplices who had not escaped. These, either from fear or policy, or both, did not attempt to extricate themselves or lend their support to a lost cause. It was common knowledge that smugglers drew lots as to who had to escape if severe fighting or capture became inevitable, and the battle became the more fierce in order to cover the escape of those few. They did not all succeed in getting off in their boat, but it was estimated half a dozen might have done so. The rest, something like a score, were ultimately overpowered, sent to prison and tried in the good old style, and sentenced to transportation to the criminal dumping-ground of Western Australia.
The notorious Jimmy Stone on that memorable moaning night was disguised, but that did not prevent him being detected while rendering assistance to land and convey the contraband on to the beach and into the carts. One of the Government men was indiscreet enough to shout "James Stone, you are my prisoner!" and almost before the words were out of his mouth Jimmy dropped a keg of gin on to him and fled. The companions of the stunned man were too busy with the other cut-throats to follow Jimmy, or to see in what direction he had gone. It was only after the conflict was over that they were reminded that this lawless fisherman had escaped, and must at all costs be captured and brought to justice. A party was selected to search for him. They knew that he must be hiding in some of the hollows where the thick clusters of bents and bracken would give him cover. Some of the party had strayed from the central group, and were talking of Jimmy's prowess and astuteness, and wondering where he was concealed, when they suddenly came across a man with his head and part of his body up a rabbit-hole. He was asking in subdued tones, "Are the —— gyen yet?" and one of the party, in the same tone of voice and the same dialect and language as he had used, cautioned him not to speak too loud, as they were still hovering about.
"My God!" said he, "when aa get oot o' this mess aa'll hae ma revenge on that Ranter." And becoming impatient, he began to curse at his supposed friend for advising him to put his head in a rabbit-hole, vigorously announcing that he wished his —— head was there instead of his own. "Aa cud hae run if ye hadn't persuaded me t' hide heor."
"Hae patience!" responded the voice from without.
"Patience be d——!" said he; "Aa wish aa had them —— Government men heor. Aa wad make short work o' them, the —— rascals!"
"Whisht," said his companion; "they're comin' this way!"
In a few seconds Jimmy's posterior became the subject of some vigorous thrashing. He was dragged, yelling, from his retreat, and confronted with the men he had so recently sworn to murder. They asked if he was Jimmy Stone. He replied in the affirmative, and added—
"Aa thowt it was Jack Dent aa was taakin' tee. He cum heor wiv us."
"Where is he now?" inquired the officer.
"Hoo am aa t' knaa?" said Jimmy; "but the Lord help him when aa dee cum across him. He's betrayed me. Nivvor more will aa put me heed in a rabbit-hole!"
His soliloquy was cut short by his captors putting his hands in irons and conveying him to where their colleagues were; and Jimmy would have been included amongst the convicts but for the magnanimous intercession of Turnbull, who informed his captors that they were to leave Jimmy to him. He was working out a scheme whereby his knowledge would be invaluable to the Service. So James was not sent to the Colonies.
A well-known farmer, who was accustomed to make friendly calls on the Turnbull family, was caught in the act of bolting with a cartload of unlawful merchandise. He was sent to Australia, but not as a convict. Turnbull had found some useful purpose for him also, and he was advised to get out of the country, lest it became too hot for him.
A couple of ladies had attracted special attention; not that they were bellicose, but because in consequence of their abnormal bulk they created some suspicion that they had concealed beneath their crinolines more than their ordinary form. They were asked unchivalrously to undo their clothing, and with comic dignity and superb self-possession they defiantly declined. They were then told in the name of the Queen that if they did not undress voluntarily it would have to be done for them, whereupon they adopted the old dodge of weeping and calling themselves unprotected women, whose characters were being assailed by men whom it was not safe for females to be amongst, making the sandy hollows resound with their artificial shrieks and sobs; but it was all to no purpose. Their skirts were examined, and there were found boxes of cigars, packets of tobacco, and bottles of gin, all hooked in methodical order to an ingenious arrangement connected with the skirt. These ladies were proved to be on familiar terms with the red-capped gentlemen who were defrauding the Revenue, and not infrequently shooting down its guardians.
One of these women was the sister of Jimmy Stone, and the other his wife, and it would have gone hard with them had Turnbull not conceived the humane idea of reclaiming and ultimately drafting them into the Service. He convinced his colleagues that they would be invaluable adjutants. They would take a deal of taming, as there was little to distinguish them from a species of wild animal. He requested that they should be handed over to him for the purpose of trying the experiment. The women and Jimmy were locked up in separate rooms in the Old Tower for a week. Turnbull visited them daily, and detected on each visit the growth of penitence; his little talks had penetrated their stony, vicious natures, until at last they broke down and humbly solicited pardon and release, which was granted under well-defined conditions. There was much talk in the village about the leniency extended to the fishers. Tom Hitchings, the cartman, declared that they should have been sent to the Colonies, the same as the other smugglers; and Ted Robson said transportation was too good a punishment, they ought to have been shot or bayonetted, and had any other person but a ranter preacher been in charge it would have been done.
"How de we knaa, Tom," said Ted, "that them fiends o' smugglers winnot rise oot o' theor beds in the deed hoor o' the neet and break into wor homes and cut wor throats afore we're awake? We helped te catch them, whaat for shouldn't we hev some say aboot theor punishment?"
"That's whaat aa says," replied Tom. "But ye'll heor o' some queer things happenin' varry syen. He'll be hevvin' his meetin's in Jenny's hoose, and Jimmy'll be preachin' afore lang. Ther'll be fine scenes if it's not throttled i' the bud."
"Get away, man," said Ned; "they're the biggest blackguards roond the countryside, and they'll steal, rob, or morder, whichivver comes handiest. What d'ye think that fellow Jimmy did once? A ship was in the offin'. She had distress signals flyin'. He could get neebody te man a boat but women; the men wadn't hev onythin' te dee wiv him, so his awn wife, Ailsie's Jenny, Nanny Dent, and Peggy Story went. They pulled the boat through monster seas, and the brute was cursin' at the women aal the way until they gat alangside, when the captain said, 'Ma ship's sinkin'.' The crew were telled to jump into the boat smart, and as syen as the captain said, 'We're aal heor,' Jimmy sprang aboard like a cat, cast the boat adrift, shooted to his wife, 'She's mine! Pull the —— ashore, and then come off and we'll take her in!' The captain saa the trick and demanded to be taken back, but Jenny felled him with the tiller, and threatened to slay onny of the others. They were nearly ashore when the captain exclaimed, 'She's not his; Sancho, the dog, has been left behind!' The crew were landed, and the boat went back to the ship. The women gat aboard, and asked Jimmy if he had seen a dog. He said, 'There's nee dog heor; the ship's wors,' and they say he fand the dog on the floor and that he put it ower-board. Now, there's a born convict for ye! An' they tell me, him and his women gat the ship safely into port, and the folk shooted, 'Bravo, Jimmy Stone!' They said he was a hard swearer, but a brave, clever fellow, and aa said when aa hard it, 'Whaat aboot the dog?' The ship was selled, and Jimmy gat summit—whaat de they caal it—salvage, aa think. They say he's worth lots o' money."
"But whaat did they say aboot the dog?" said Tom.
"Wey, the captain said the dog was left as a safeguard against bein' boarded and claimed as a derelict; but Jimmy swore that the dog wasn't there when he gat aboard, and neebody saa what becam' on't, and so the matter rests. They often say te him, 'Whe tossed the dog ower board?' and aa believe he's nearly mordered half a dozen big men for sayin' sic things."
"Eh, man," said Tom pensively, "what a grand Christian gentleman he'll make!"
Shortly after Jimmy's release from the Old Tower, his youngest child succumbed to the ravages of a malignant fever. He and his wife were distracted, as, in spite of their pagan instincts and habits, their devotion to their offspring was a passion. They remembered Mr. Turnbull appealing to them to flee from the wrath to come by amending their ways, lest something terrible befell themselves or their children, and instead of the recollection of this warning kindling strong demonstrations of resentment against the lay preacher now, Jenny implored her husband to run over the moor and get Mr. Turnbull to come and administer comfort to them.
"He'll give us the sacrament, and pray for us at the bedside were the deed bairn lies."
Jimmy was dazed at the suggestion. He could not quite bring himself to give up the idea of some day renewing his former habits of aiding the smugglers, and of doing a bit of poaching. He was quite frank in stating to his wife that he feared if Turnbull came and prayed with them he would get him to join the chapel folk, and there would be no more poaching or smuggling after that.
"And see what a loss it wad be tiv us. But," said he, "to tell the truth, aa hev been for prayin' mesel ever since the bairn tuck bad, but then aa thowt it was cowardly to ask help when aa was in difficulties and nivvor at ony other time. So I didn't dee 't."
Jenny interjected that at the risk of being led to join the Methodists, and throwing over all thought of joining in any more lawlessness, he must go to the village and ask Mr. Turnbull to come.
"I feel somethin' forcin' me to this, Jimmy; so get away and be quick back."
And as James felt the same throbbing impulse, off he went, and within an hour presented his petition to Mr. Turnbull, who received him in his usual kind way, which caused the redoubtable ruffian to melt into tears, and volubly to confess all his murderous intentions towards the man he now believed to be the only agency on earth that could give him comfort.
The two men started at once for the bereaved home. The first part of the journey was tramped in solemn meditation. At last Jimmy broke silence by asking his companion if he thought God had taken his child from him as a punishment for his sins. Turnbull said—
"Well, James, I believe your heavenly Father has some work for you to do. He has often warned you of the wrath to come by confronting you with danger at sea; and only a short time since you were caught in the act of committing a crime, and narrowly escaped being banished to a penal settlement, and He mercifully used a friend as an instrument to save you from this degradation. But you still maintained the spirit of defiance, and were a law unto yourself. The Almighty saw that drastic measures would have to be taken to break down your wilful opposition. Your child was stricken with illness, and still you went on cursing God and man; and then in His wondrous compassion for you and hundreds of other men and women to whom I believe He has planned you shall carry the message of peace, He has taken your child in order that you may be saved. He knew that was the only way of bringing you to see the great plan of salvation, and to save your innocent little girl from growing up in a heathenish home, where there was no beauty, no kindness, no good example, no God. I beseech you to surrender yourself at once. Remember, the Spirit will not always strive with you, and if you chase it away now it may never return."
That night, kneeling by the side of his dead child, Jimmy implored God to be merciful to him, and professed to have experienced the great transition from death unto life. Now, Jimmy, though quite uneducated, had an intellectual head and great natural gifts, and when he was careful he spoke with amazing correctness. He commenced to take part in the prayer meetings at once, and having a good memory, he picked up all the stock phrases and used them vigorously. Being an apt pupil, he soon learned to read, and then commenced one of the most extraordinary religious campaigns that has ever been witnessed in that part of Great Britain. Hundreds of men and women were led to change their lives by this rugged, uncultured, but natural preacher. A certain number of his own class viciously persecuted him for years, and none more so than his own wife. It seemed as though Hell had been let loose on him, and yet he went on undisturbed, steadfastly believing that he was the agent of the living God to carry the message of truth to the heathen. His old enemy Turnbull had become his fast friend, from whom he sought and received much help and many acts of kindness. He owed the conversion of his wife and many of his persecutors to this spiritually-minded man, and it was remarkable that nearly all the worst characters who were "brought in" opened their doors whenever he wanted to have a prayer meeting or a preaching service, and the rooms were always packed with people.
Attracted by the originality of the converted fisherman, a few young people belonging to the better families in the locality gathered together to witness what they imagined would be mere burlesque. There was only standing room behind the kitchen bed for them, and there was anything but an air of sanctity amongst that portion of his congregation. Jimmy's pulpit style was peculiar. He was flashing out eloquent phrases that were not commonly used in the orthodox pulpit. As he warmed to his work he broke out in rhyme—"Yes, brothers and sisters, there was little brother Paal, the very best of aal, laid down his life," etc. His use of biblical names was quite eccentric, which caused the undevotional members of his audience to snigger audibly. Without seeming to heed the irreverence, Jimmy pursued his impassioned diatribe and smote unbelievers hip and thigh, in language that was not conventional, or even relevant to the subject of his discourse. The sniggering had developed into suppressed laughter, and James suddenly stopped the even flow of his oratory, brought his giant fist down on the deal table and sent everything flying. Ladies' dresses were more or less damaged by candle grease; but the cooler heads prevented an outbreak of panic by getting the candles relighted and put on to the table. Then in reverent tones they asked the preacher, who stood apparently unmoved, to proceed with the service; so Jimmie gave out the verse of a hymn which he thought would be suitable to the occasion. (Methodists always did that when the lights went out or the preacher stuck.)
In the good old days, when village Methodism was quivering with spiritual life, and pouring its converts into the cities and towns of England to teach the simple gospel of the Founder of our Faith, without any artificial fringes being attached to it, they were too poor, and perhaps too conscious of the superiority of the real God-given vocal capacity, to have anything to do with what many of them believed to be artificial aids to religion. It was a fine sight to see the leader of the songsters shut his eyes, clap his hands, and with strong nasal blasts—which resembled the drone of the immortal instrument that is the terror of the English and the glory of the Scottish people—"raise the hymn," while, as the others joined in the singing, the volume of sound swelled louder and louder, until the whole congregation were entranced by the power of their own performance.
I give the words of the verse which Jimmy asked to be sung. Here they are—
"Come on, my partners in distress, My comrades through the wilderness, Who still your bodies feel; Awhile forget your griefs and fears, And look beyond this vale of tears To that celestial hill."
This was sung with appropriate vigour over and over again. It is very difficult to stop a real country Methodist when the power of song is on him, and on occasions such as this they generally break off gradually, until only one or two irrepressible enthusiasts are left singing, and these have to be brought to the consciousness of time and the propriety of things by being pulled down into their seats. Jimmy wished to proceed with his rebuke to the persons who had been the cause of the diversion, so he put a peremptory stop to the vocalists by telling them to "sit doon, and listen to God's ambassador." He then resumed his address by stating that when his fist knocked the candles off the table he was "nearly givin' way to temptation. In fact," said he, "I was just on the point of usin' profane language to the mockers and scoffers of the sarvent of the livin' God. I mean them parvarse lads and lasses aback o' the bed theor."
"Amen!" interjected several saintly voices.
"But, hallelujah!" resumed James, "aa felt God was ha'd'en me back!"
"Glory!" shouted Adam Jefferson.
"Yes, ma brethren and sistors. Aa cum amang ye t' seek and t' save sinners that repenteth; rich or poor, it makes nee difference to me nor ma Maister, for hasn't He said 'where two or three are met tegithor in Ma Name, there am I in the midst'?"
"Bless Him!" cried Nannie Dent, a late accomplice of the smugglers.
Jimmy's rebuke to the offenders was delivered with boisterous earnestness, but the comic phrasing of it created irrepressible hilarity, and they had to leave the room. The preacher, in his closing remarks, reminded his hearers that he was once a black-hearted rascal, drinking, swearing, stealing, poaching, smuggling, and but for the mercy of God he might have added to his other crimes that of murder. A shudder went through the congregation when "murder" was uttered, and their minds were obviously centred on the derelict vessel and the dog, which Jimmy was suspected of doing away with.
"Ah!" whispered Sam Taylor, the butler, "he should never have ventured on that affair. Folks are varra queer, and whether it is true or not, they like sensation and scandal."
As though he had been gifted with prescience, Jimmy continued—"Aa can feel whaat ye are thinking aboot, but it's not true. This is the man aa threatened te kill," pointing at Turnbull. "And now let us bow oor heads in solemn, silent prayor for a few minutes, and ask forgiveness for oor past and daily sins. And aa want ye to join with me in asking for pardon and speedy repentance to be sent tiv a porson that belangs te the gentry of this district, but whe hes been, and is noo engaged in trafficking in wickedness. May the Lord bring him to His footstool of mercy before he is nabbed, as aa was."
These remarks, with the exhilarating petition, caused an amount of irreverent speculation as to who was the person alluded to. The service was brought to a close without any evidences of spiritual emotion such as had characterized previous meetings, and the people proceeded in groups to their respective homes filled with fertile curiosity, and a sinister suspicion as to who the sinful person was that Jimmy had so fervently prayed for. But only one person who heard the rugged deliverance fixed her mind on him that was guilty, and she resolved to keep her thoughts a secret, for reasons that will be explained hereafter. Meanwhile, many innocent men were suspected, and gossip ran rampant. Jimmy, when asked whom he meant, was piously reticent, and merely answered—
"That is a matter that concerns God and mysel'! The time may come when he'll accuse hissel'. Aa'm prayin' mornin', noon, and night, that the strings of his heart may be broken, and that a penitent condition of mind may take possession of him, and in the fulness of a new borth he may cry aloud, 'O Lord, once I was blind, noo I see!'"
When Thomas Turnbull and his wife arrived home, they found the younger members of their family in an excited state of hilarity. The youngest daughter was mimicking Jimmy perfectly, and had her brothers and sister in fits of laughter. Their father could not refrain from joining in the fun, but the mother was quiet and pensive, and got rather huffed when her husband chided her in his good-humoured way with being indifferent to the happy surroundings. Poor woman, she was troubled about Jimmy's prayer, and thought it irreligious to be joyous in the midst of such dark mystery.
The following afternoon, Mrs. Turnbull paid a visit to Mrs. Clarkson, who listened with eager interest to the account of the meeting, and when the words of the closing prayer were conveyed an anxious look came over her countenance, and she made an effort to change the subject, without, however, preventing Mrs. Turnbull from detecting her confusion.
"Let us talk of something else; I do not like," said she, "conversing about sensational things; it makes me nervous. And if I were you, I would try to forget what has been said to you about important personages being involved in lawless traffic. It will only make you unhappy, and serve no good purpose. If there is anything of the sort going on, it will be discovered, and those that are guilty will be brought to justice."
Mrs. Turnbull did not pursue the subject any farther, but the sad, pained look of her hostess became fixed in her memory. She could not shake the conviction from her that Mrs. Clarkson was haunted by the dread of some one belonging to herself having some connection with Jimmy's prayer.
Mrs. Turnbull paid frequent visits to the farm, and one winter evening she happened to be there when a violent snowstorm made the ground impassable, so she was prevailed upon to stay until the following day. The household consisted of Mrs. Clarkson, her sister, and two nieces, who were very pleased to have the company of a woman who was so full of information and reminiscence. Her mother was said to have been the daughter of a Scottish law-lord's son, who was disinherited because he was thought to have married beneath his station—that is, instead of marrying the lady selected by his father from his own class, who had nothing in common with him, he had chosen and fixed his affections on a lady outside his rank, who was talented, had high intellectual and religious qualities, and good looks, but was financially poor. Mrs. Turnbull had excited the curiosity of the two young ladies by relating this part of her history, and they were naturally eager to hear more. With that object in view, they asked their aunt to allow her to sleep in their room, and the request was granted. The good lady, however, had said all that she intended to say about herself, and notwithstanding the ingenious and persuasive requests of her young friends, she stood steadfastly to her resolve. She talked to them about the farm and their aunt and cousins, and her own family, and the religious work that was being carried on, but never another word about herself or her ancestry could be drawn from her. Perhaps it was that she considered it scarcely wise to discuss romance with young girls. And so they talked themselves out about other things, and then went to sleep.