Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XXXI

Tactics of Attack

“I am sorry to be troublesome, Mynheer Van Dunck, but I can not say good-by without having your receipt in full for the old bilander.”

“Goot, it is vere good, Meester Lyth; you are te goot man for te pisness.”

With these words the wealthy merchant of the Zuyder–Zee drew forth his ancient inkhorn, smeared with the dirt of countless contracts, and signed an acquittance which the smuggler had prepared. But he signed it with a sigh, as a man declares that a favorite horse must go at last; sighing, not for the money, but the memories that go with it. Then, as the wind began to pipe, and the roll of the sea grew heavier, the solid Dutchman was lowered carefully into his shore boat, and drew the apron over his great and gouty legs.

“I vos married in dat zhips,” he shouted back, with his ponderous fist wagging up at Robin Lyth, “Dis taime you will have de bad luck, sir.”

“Well, mynheer, you have only to pay the difference, and the ketch will do; the bilander sails almost as fast.”

But Master Van Dunck only heaved another sigh, and felt that his leather bag was safe and full in his breeches pocket. Then he turned his eyes away, and relieved his mind by swearing at his men.

Now this was off the Isle of Texel, and the time was Sunday morning, the very same morning which saw the general factor sitting to be preached at. The flotilla of free trade was putting forth upon its great emprise, and Van Dunck (who had been ship’s husband) came to speed them from their moorings.

He took no risk, and to him it mattered little, except as a question of commission; but still he enjoyed the relish of breaking English law most heartily. He hated England, as a loyal Dutchman, for generations, was compelled to do; and he held that a Dutchman was a better sailor, a better ship-builder, and a better fighter than the very best Englishman ever born. However, his opinions mattered little, being (as we must feel) absurd. Therefore let him go his way, and grumble, and reckon his guilders. It was generally known that he could sink a ship with money; and when such a man is insolent, who dares to contradict him?

The flotilla in the offing soon ploughed hissing furrows through the misty waves. There were three craft, all of different rig — a schooner, a ketch, and the said bilander. All were laden as heavily as speed and safety would allow, and all were thoroughly well manned. They laid their course for the Dogger Bank, where they would receive the latest news of the disposition of the enemy. Robin Lyth, high admiral of smugglers, kept to his favorite schooner, the Glimpse, which had often shown a fading wake to fastest cutters. His squadron was made up by the ketch, Good Hope, and the old Dutch coaster, Crown of Gold. This vessel, though built for peaceful navigation and inland waters, had proved herself so thoroughly at home in the roughest situations, and so swift of foot, though round of cheek, that the smugglers gloried in her and the good luck which sat upon her prow. They called her “the lugger,” though her rig was widely different from that, and her due title was “bilander.” She was very deeply laden now, and, having great capacity, appeared an unusually tempting prize.

This grand armada of invasion made its way quite leisurely. Off the Dogger Bank they waited for the last news, and received it, and the whole of it was to their liking, though the fisherman who brought it strongly advised them to put back again. But Captain Lyth had no such thought, for the weather was most suitable for the bold scheme he had hit upon. “This is my last run,” he said, “and I mean to make it a good one.” Then he dressed himself as smartly as if he were going to meet Mary Anerley, and sent a boat for the skippers of the Good Hope, and the Crown of Gold, who came very promptly and held counsel in his cabin.

“I’m thinking that your notion is a very good one, captain,” said the master of the bilander, Brown, a dry old hand from Grimsby.

“Capital, capital; there never was a better,” the master of the ketch chimed in, “Nettlebones and Carroway — they will knock their heads together!”

“The plan is clever enough,” replied Robin, who was free from all mock-modesty, “But you heard what that old Van Dunck said. I wish he had not said it.”

“Ten tousan’ tuyfels — as the stingy old thief himself says — he might have held his infernal croak. I hate to make sail with a croak astern; ’tis as bad as a crow on forestay-sail.”

“All very fine for you to talk,” grumbled the man of the bilander to the master of the ketch; “but the bad luck is saddled upon me this voyage. You two get the gilgoes, and I the bilboes!”

“Brown, none of that!” Captain Lyth said, quietly, but with a look which the other understood; “you are not such a fool as you pretend to be. You may get a shot or two fired at you; but what is that to a Grimsby man? And who will look at you when your hold is broached? Your game is the easiest that any man can play — to hold your tongue and run away.”

“Brown, you share the profits, don’t you see?” the ketch man went on, while the other looked glum; “and what risk do you take for it? Even if they collar you, through your own clumsiness, what is there for them to do? A Grimsby man is a grumbling man, I have heard ever since I was that high. I’ll change berths with you, if you choose, this minute.”

“You could never do it,” said the Grimsby man, with that high contempt which abounds where he was born —“a boy like you! I should like to see you try it.”

“Remember, both of you,” said Robin Lyth, “that you are not here to do as you please, but to obey my orders. If the coast-guard quarrel, we do not; and that is why we beat them. You will both do exactly as I have laid it down; and the risk of failure falls on me. The plan is very simple, and can not fail, if you will just try not to think for yourselves, which always makes everything go wrong. The only thing you have to think about at all is any sudden change of weather. If a gale from the east sets in, you both run north, and I come after you. But there will not be any easterly gale for the present week, to my belief; although I am not quite sure of it.”

“Not a sign of it. Wind will hold with sunset, up to next quarter of the moon.”

“The time I ha’ been on the coast,” said Brown, “and to hear the young chaps talking over my head! Never you mind how I know, but I’ll lay a guinea with both of you — easterly gale afore Friday.”

“Brown, you may be right,” said Robin; “I have had some fear of it, and I know that you carry a weather eye. No man under forty can pretend to that. But if it will only hold off till Friday, we shall have the laugh of it. And even if it come on, Tom and I shall manage. But you will be badly off in that case, Brown. After all, you are right; the main danger is for you.”

Lyth, knowing well how important it was that each man should play his part with true good-will, shifted his ground thus to satisfy the other, who was not the man to shrink from peril, but liked to have his share acknowledged.

“Ay, ay, captain, you see clear enough, though Tom here has not got the gumption,” the man of Grimsby answered, with a lofty smile. “Everybody knows pretty well what William Brown is. When there is anything that needs a bit of pluck, it is sure to be put upon old Bill Brown. And never you come across the man, Captain Lyth, as could say that Bill Brown was not all there. Now orders is orders, lad. Tip us your latest.”

“Then latest orders are to this effect. Toward dusk of night you stand in first, a league or more ahead of us, according to the daylight, Tom to the north of you, and me to the south, just within signaling distance. The Kestrel and Albatross will come to speak the Swordfish off Robin Hood’s Bay, at that very hour, as we happen to be aware. You sight them, even before they sight you, because you know where to look for them, and you keep a sharper look-out, of course. Not one of them will sight us, so far off in the offing. Signal immediately, one, two, or three; and I heartily hope it will be all three. Then you still stand in, as if you could not see them; and they begin to laugh, and draw inshore; knowing the Inlander as they do, they will hug the cliffs for you to run into their jaws. Tom and I bear off, all sail, never allowing them to sight us. We crack on to the north and south, and by that time it will be nearly dark. You still carry on, till they know that you must see them; then ‘bout ship, and crowd sail to escape. They give chase, and you lead them out to sea, and the longer you carry on, the better. Then, as they begin to fore-reach, and threaten to close, you ‘bout ship again, as in despair, run under their counters, and stand in for the bay. They may fire at you; but it is not very likely, for they would not like to sink such a valuable prize; though nobody else would have much fear of that.”

“Captain, I laugh at their brass kettle-pots. They may blaze away as blue as verdigris. Though an Englishman haven’t no right to be shot at, only by a Frenchman.”

“Very well, then, you hold on, like a Norfolk man, through the thickest of the enemy. Nelson is a Norfolk man; and you charge through as he does. You bear right on, and rig a gangway for the landing, which puts them all quite upon the scream. All three cutters race after you pell-mell, and it is much if they do not run into one another. You take the beach, stem on, with the tide upon the ebb, and by that time it ought to be getting on for midnight. What to do then, I need not tell you; but make all the stand you can to spare us any hurry. But don’t give the knock-down blow if you can help it; the lawyers make such a point of that, from their intimacy with the prize-fighters.”

Clearly perceiving their duty now, these three men braced up loin, and sailed to execute the same accordingly. For invaders and defenders were by this time in real earnest with their work, and sure alike of having done the very best that could be done. With equal confidence on either side, a noble triumph was expected, while the people on the dry land shook their heads and were thankful to be out of it. Carroway, in a perpetual ferment, gave no peace to any of his men, and never entered his own door; but riding, rowing, or sailing up and down, here and there and everywhere, set an example of unflagging zeal, which was largely admired and avoided. And yet he was not the only remarkably active man in the neighborhood; for that great fact, and universal factor, Geoffrey Mordacks, was entirely here. He had not broken the heart of Widow Precious by taking up his quarters at the Thornwick Inn, as she at first imagined, but loyally brought himself and his horse to her sign-post for their Sunday dinner. Nor was this all, but he ordered the very best bedroom, and the “coral parlor”— as he elegantly called the sea-weedy room — gave every child, whether male or female, sixpence of new mintage, and created such impression on her widowed heart that he even won the privilege of basting his own duck. Whatever this gentleman did never failed to reflect equal credit on him and itself. But thoroughly well as he basted his duck, and efficiently as he consumed it, deeper things were in his mind, and moving with every mouthful. If Captain Carroway labored hard on public and royal service, no less severely did Mordacks work, though his stronger sense of self-duty led him to feed the labor better. On the Monday morning he had a long and highly interesting talk with the magisterial rector, to whom he set forth certain portions of his purpose, loftily spurning entire concealment, according to the motto of his life. “You see, sir,” he said, as he rose to depart, “what I have told you is very important, and in the strictest confidence, of course, because I never do anything on the sly.”

“Mr. Mordacks, you have surprised me,” answered Dr. Upround; “though I am not so very much wiser at present. I really must congratulate you upon your activity, and the impression you create.”

“Not at all, sir, not at all. It is my manner of doing business, now for thirty years or more. Moles and fools, sir, work under-ground, and only get traps set for them; I travel entirely above — ground, and go ten miles for their ten inches. My strategy, sir, is simplicity. Nothing puzzles rogues so much, because they can not believe it.”

“The theory is good; may the practice prove the same! I should be sorry to be against you in any case you undertake. In the present matter I am wholly with you, so far as I understand what it is. Still, Flamborough is a place of great difficulties —”

“The greatest difficulty of all would be to fail, as I look at it. Especially with your most valuable aid.”

“What little I can do shall be most readily forth-coming. But remember there is many a slip — If you had interfered but one month ago, how much easier it might have been!”

“Truly. But I have to grope my way; and it is a hard people, as you say, to deal with. But I have no fear, sir; I shall overcome all Flamborough, unless — unless, what I fear to think of, there should happen to be bloodshed.”

“There will be none of that, Mr. Mordacks; we are too skillful, and too gentle, for anything more than a few cracked crowns.”

“Then everything is as it ought to be. But I must be off; I have many points to see to. How I find time for this affair is the wonder.”

“But you will not leave us, I suppose, until — until what appears to be expected has happened!”

“When I undertake a thing, Dr. Upround, my rule is to go through with it. You have promised me the honor of an interview at any time. Good-by, sir; and pray give the compliments of Mr. Mordacks to the ladies.”

With even more than his usual confidence and high spirits the general factor mounted horse and rode at once to Bridlington, or rather to the quay thereof, in search of Lieutenant Carroway. But Carroway was not at home, and his poor wife said, with a sigh, that now she had given up expecting him. “Have no fear, madam; I will bring him back,” Mordacks answered, as if he already held him by the collar. “I have very good news, madam, very grand news for him, and you, and all those lovely and highly intelligent children. Place me, madam, under the very deepest obligation by allowing these two little dears to take the basket I see yonder, and accompany me to that apple stand. I saw there some fruit of a sort which used to fit my teeth most wonderfully when they were just the size of theirs. And here is another little darling, with a pin-before infinitely too spotless. If you will spare her also, we will do our best to take away that reproach, ma’am.”

“Oh, sir, you are much too kind. But to speak of good news does one good. It is so long since there has been any, that I scarcely know how to pronounce the words.”

“Mistress Carroway, take my word for it, that such a state of things shall be shortly of the past. I will bring back Captain Carroway, madam, to his sweet and most beautifully situated home, and with tidings which shall please you.”

“It is kind of you not to tell me the good news now, sir. I shall enjoy it so much more, to see my husband hear it. Good-by, and I hope that you will soon be back again.”

While Mr. Mordacks was loading the children with all that they made soft mouths at, he observed for the second time three men who appeared to be taking much interest in his doings. They had sauntered aloof while he called at the cottage, as if they had something to say to him, but would keep it until he had finished there. But they did not come up to him as he expected; and when he had seen the small Carroways home, he rode up to ask what they wanted with him. “Nothing, only this, sir,” the shortest of them answered, while the others pretended not to hear; “we was told that yon was Smuggler’s house, and we thought that your Honor was the famous Captain Lyth.”

“If I ever want a man,” said the general factor, “to tell a lie with a perfect face, I shall come here and look for you, my friend.” The man looked at him, and smiled, and nodded, as much as to say, “You might get it done worse,” and then carelessly followed his comrades toward the sea. And Mr. Mordacks, riding off with equal jauntiness, cocked his hat, and stared at the Priory Church as if he had never seen any such building before.

“I begin to have a very strong suspicion,” he said to himself as he put his horse along, “that this is the place where the main attack will be. Signs of a well-suppressed activity are manifest to an experienced eye like mine. All the grocers, the bakers, the candlestick-makers, and the women, who always precede the men, are mightily gathered together. And the men are holding counsel in a milder way. They have got three jugs at the old boat-house for the benefit of holloaing in the open air. Moreover, the lane inland is scored with a regular market-day of wheels, and there is no market this side of the old town. Carroway, vigilant captain of men, why have you forsaken your domestic hearth? Is it through jealousy of Nettlebones, and a stern resolve to be ahead of him? Robin, my Robin, is a genius in tactics, a very bright Napoleon of free trade. He penetrates the counsels, or, what is more, the feelings, of those who camp against him. He means to land this great emprise at Captain Carroway’s threshold. True justice on the man for sleeping out of his own bed so long! But instead of bowing to the blow, he would turn a downright maniac, according to all I hear of him. Well, it is no concern of mine, so long as nobody is killed, which everybody makes such a fuss about.”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31