The poise of this great enterprise was hanging largely in the sky, from which come all things, and to which resolved they are referred again. The sky, to hold an equal balance, or to decline all troublesome responsibility about it, went away, or (to put it more politely) retired from the scene. Even as nine men out of ten, when a handsome fight is toward, would rather have no opinion on the merits, but abide in their breeches, and there keep their hands till the fist of the victor is opened, so at this period the upper firmament nodded a strict neutrality. And yet, on the whole, it must have indulged a sneaking proclivity toward free trade; otherwise, why should it have been as follows?
November now was far advanced; and none but sanguine Britons hoped, at least in this part of the world, to know (except from memory and predictions of the almanac) whether the sun were round or square, until next Easter-day should come. It was not quite impossible that he might appear at Candlemas, when he is supposed to give a dance, though hitherto a strictly private one; but even so, this premature frisk of his were undesirable, if faith in ancient rhyme be any. But putting him out of the question, as he had already put himself, the things that were below him, and, from length of practice, manage well to shape their course without him, were moving now and managing themselves with moderation.
The tone of the clouds was very mild, and so was the color of the sea. A comely fog involved the day, and a decent mist restrained the night from ostentatious waste of stars. It was not such very bad weather; but a captious man might find fault with it, and only a thoroughly cheerful one could enlarge upon its merits. Plainly enough these might be found by anybody having any core of rest inside him, or any gift of turning over upon a rigidly neutral side, and considerably outgazing the color of his eyes.
Commander Nettlebones was not of poetic, philosophic, or vague mind. “What a ——— fog!” he exclaimed in the morning; and he used the same words in the afternoon, through a speaking-trumpet, as the two other cutters ranged up within hail. This they did very carefully, at the appointed rendezvous, toward the fall of the afternoon, and hauled their wind under easy sail, shivering in the southwestern breeze.
“Not half so bad as it was,” returned Bowler, being of a cheerful mind. “It is lifting every minute, sir. Have you had sight of anything?”
“Not a blessed stick, except a fishing-boat. What makes you ask, lieutenant?”
“Why, sir, as we rounded in, it lifted for a moment, and I saw a craft some two leagues out, standing straight in for us.”
“The devil you did! What was she like? and where away, lieutenant?”
“A heavy lugger, under all sail, about E.N.E, as near as may be. She is standing for Robin Hood’s Bay, I believe. In an hour’s time she will be upon us, if the weather keeps so thick.”
“She may have seen you, and sheered off. Stand straight for her, as nigh as you can guess. The fog is lifting, as you say. If you sight her, signal instantly. Lieutenant Donovan, have you heard Bowler’s news?”
“Sure an’ if it wasn’t for the fog, I would. Every word of it come to me, as clear as seeing.”
“Very well. Carry on a little to the south, half a league or so, and then stand out, but keep within sound of signal. I shall bear up presently. It is clearing every minute, and we must nab them.”
The fog began to rise in loops and alleys, with the upward pressure of the evening breeze, which freshened from the land in lines and patches, according to the run of cliff. Here the water darkened with the ruffle of the wind, and there it lay quiet, with a glassy shine, or gentle shadows of variety. Soon the three cruisers saw one another clearly; and then they all sighted an approaching sail.
This was a full-bowed vessel, of quaint rig, heavy sheer, and extraordinary build — a foreigner clearly, and an ancient one. She differed from a lugger as widely as a lugger differs from a schooner, and her broad spread of canvas combined the features of square and of fore-and-aft tackle. But whatever her build or rig might be, she was going through the water at a strapping pace, heavily laden as she was, with her long yards creaking, and her broad frame croaking, and her deep bows driving up the fountains of the sea. Her enormous mainsail upon the mizzenmast — or mainmast, for she only carried two — was hung obliquely, yet not as a lugger’s, slung at one-third of its length, but bent to a long yard hanging fore and aft, with a long fore-end sloping down to midship. This great sail gave her vast power, when close hauled; and she carried a square sail on the foremast, and a square sail on either topmast.
“Lord, have mercy! She could run us all down if she tried!” exclaimed Commander Nettlebones; “and what are my pop-guns against such beam?”
For a while the bilander seemed to mean to try it, for she carried on toward the central cruiser as if she had not seen one of them. Then, beautifully handled, she brought to, and was scudding before the wind in another minute, leading them all a brave stern-chase out to sea.
“It must be that dare-devil Lyth himself,” Nettlebones said, as the Swordfish strained, with all canvas set, but no gain made; “no other fellow in all the world would dare to beard us in this style. I’d lay ten guineas that Donovan’s guns won’t go off, if he tries them. Ah, I thought so — a fizz, and a stink — trust an Irishman.”
For this gallant lieutenant, slanting toward the bows of the flying bilander, which he had no hope of fore-reaching, trained his long swivel-gun upon her, and let go — or rather tried to let go — at her. But his powder was wet, or else there was some stoppage; for the only result was a spurt of smoke inward, and a powdery eruption on his own red cheeks.
“I wish I could have heard him swear,” grumbled Nettlebones; “that would have been worth something. But Bowler is further out. Bowler will cross her bows, and he is not a fool. Don’t be in a hurry, my fine Bob Lyth. You are not clear yet, though you crack on like a trooper. Well done, Bowler, you have headed him! By Jove, I don’t understand these tactics. Stand by there! She is running back again.”
To the great amazement of all on board the cruisers, except perhaps one or two, the great Dutch vessel, which might haply have escaped by standing on her present course, spun round like a top, and bore in again among her three pursuers. She had the heels of all of them before the wind, and might have run down any intercepter, but seemed not to know it, or to lose all nerve. “Thank the Lord in heaven, all rogues are fools! She may double as she will, but she is ours now. Signal Albatross and Kestrel to stand in.”
In a few minutes all four were standing for the bay; the Dutch vessel leading with all sail set, the cruisers following warily, and spreading, to head her from the north or south. It was plain that they had her well in the toils; she must either surrender or run ashore; close hauled as she was, she could not run them down, even if she would dream of such an outrage.
So far from showing any sign of rudeness was the smuggling vessel, that she would not even plead want of light as excuse for want of courtesy. For running past the royal cutters, who took much longer to come about, she saluted each of them with deep respect for the swallowtail of his Majesty. And then she bore on, like the admiral’s ship, with signal for all to follow her.
“Such cursed impudence never did I see,” cried every one of the revenue skippers, as they all were compelled to obey her. “Surrender she must, or else run upon the rocks. Does the fool know what he is driving at?”
The fool, who was Master James Brown of Grimsby, knew very well what he was about. Every shoal, and sounding, and rocky gut, was thoroughly familiar to him, and the spread of faint light on the waves and alongshore told him all his bearings. The loud cackle of laughter, which Grimsby men (at the cost of the rest of the world) enjoy, was carried by the wind to the ears of Nettlebones.
The latter set fast his teeth, and ground them; for now in the rising of the large full moon he perceived that the beach of the cove was black with figures gathering rapidly. “I see the villain’s game; it is all clear now,” he shouted, as he slammed his spy-glass. “He means to run in where we dare not follow: and he knows that Carroway is out of hail. The hull may go smash for the sake of the cargo; and his flat-bottomed tub can run where we can not. I dare not carry after him — court-martial if I do: that is where those fellows beat us always. But, by the Lord Harry, he shall not prevail! Guns are no good — the rogue knows that. We will land round the point, and nab him.”
By this time the moon was beginning to open the clouds, and strew the waves with light; and the vapors, which had lain across the day, defying all power of sun ray, were gracefully yielding, and departing softly, at the insinuating whisper of the gliding night. Between the busy rolling of the distant waves, and the shining prominence of forward cliffs, a quiet space was left for ships to sail in, and for men to show activity in shooting one another. And some of these were hurrying to do so, if they could.
“There is little chance of hitting them in this bad light; but let them have it, Jakins; and a guinea for you, if you can only bring that big mainsail down.”
The gunner was yearning for this, and the bellow of his piece responded to the captain’s words. But the shot only threw up a long path of fountains, and the bilander ploughed on as merrily as before.
“Hard aport! By the Lord, I felt her touch! Go about! So, so — easy! Now lie to, for Kestrel and Albatross to join. My certy! but that was a narrow shave. How the beggar would have laughed if we had grounded! Give them another shot. It will do the gun good; she wants a little exercise.”
Nothing loath was master gunner, as the other bow-gun came into bearing, to make a little more noise in the world, and possibly produce a greater effect. And therein he must have had a grand success, and established a noble reputation, by carrying off a great Grimsby head, if he only had attended to a little matter. Gunner Jakins was a celebrated shot, and the miss he had made stirred him up to shoot again. If the other gun was crooked, this one should be straight; and dark as it was inshore, he got a patch of white ground to sight by. The bilander was a good sizable object, and not to hit her anywhere would be too bad. He considered these things carefully, and cocked both eyes, with a twinkling ambiguity between them; then trusting mainly to the left one, as an ancient gunner for the most part does, he watched the due moment, and fired. The smoke curled over the sea, and so did the Dutchman’s maintop-sail, for the mast beneath it was cut clean through. Some of the crew were frightened, as may be the bravest man when for the first time shot at; but James Brown rubbed his horny hands.
“Now this is a good judgment for that younker Robin Lyth,” he shouted aloud, with the glory of a man who has verified his own opinions. “He puts all the danger upon his elders, and tells them there is none of it. A’ might just as well have been my head, if a wave hadn’t lifted the muzzle when that straight-eyed chap let fire. Bear a hand, boys, and cut away the wreck. He hathn’t got never another shot to send. He hath saved us trouble o’ shortening that there canvas. We don’t need too much way on her.”
This was true enough, as all hands knew; for the craft was bound to take the beach, without going to pieces yet awhile. Jem Brown stood at the wheel himself, and carried her in with consummate skill.
“It goeth to my heart to throw away good stuff,” he grumbled at almost every creak. “Two hunder pound I would ‘a paid myself for this here piece of timber. Steady as a light-house, and as handy as a mop; but what do they young fellows care? There, now, my lads, hold your legs a moment; and now make your best of that.”
“With a crash, and a grating, and a long sad grind, the nuptial ark of the wealthy Dutchman cast herself into her last bed and berth.
“I done it right well,” said the Grimsby man.
The poor old bilander had made herself such a hole in the shingle that she rolled no more, but only lifted at the stern and groaned, as the quiet waves swept under her. The beach was swarming with men, who gave her a cheer, and flung their hats up; and in two or three minutes as many gangways of timber and rope were rigged to her hawse-holes, or fore-chains, or almost anywhere. And then the rolling of puncheons began, and the hoisting of bales, and the thump and the creak, and the laughter, and the swearing.
“Now be you partiklar, uncommon partiklar; never start a stave nor fray a bale. Powerful precious stuff this time. Gold every bit of it, if it are a penny. They blessed coast-riders will be on us round the point. But never you hurry, lads, the more for that. Better a’most to let ’em have it, than damage a drop or a thread of such goods.”
“All right, Cappen Brown. Don’t you be so wonnerful unaisy. Not the first time we have handled such stuff.”
“I’m not so sure of that,” replied Brown, as he lit a short pipe and began to puff. “I’ve a-run some afore, but never none so precious.”
Then the men of the coast and the sailors worked with a will, by the broad light of the moon, which showed their brawny arms and panting chests, with the hoisting, and the heaving, and the rolling. In less than an hour three-fourths of the cargo was landed, and some already stowed inland, where no Preventive eye could penetrate. Then Captain Brown put away his pipe, and was busy, in a dark empty part of the hold, with some barrels of his own, which he covered with a sailcloth.
Presently the tramp of marching men was heard in a lane on the north side of the cove, and then the like sound echoed from the south. “Now never you hurry,” said the Grimsby man. The others, however, could not attain such standard of equanimity. They fell into sudden confusion, and babble of tongues, and hesitation — everybody longing to be off, but nobody liking to run without something good. And to get away with anything at all substantial, even in the dark, was difficult, because there were cliffs in front, and the flanks would be stopped by men with cutlasses.
“Ston’ you still,” cried Captain Brown; “never you budge, ne’er a one of ye. I stands upon my legitimacy; and I answer for the consekence. I takes all responsibility.”
Like all honest Britons, they loved long words, and they knew that if the worst came to the worst, a mere broken head or two would make all straight; so they huddled together in the moonlight waiting, and no one desired to be the outside man. And while they were striving for precedence toward the middle, the coast-guards from either side marched upon them, according to their very best drill and in high discipline, to knock down almost any man with the pommel of the sword.
But the smugglers also showed high discipline under the commanding voice of Captain Brown.
“Every man ston’ with his hands to his sides, and ask of they sojjers for a pinch of bacca.”
This made them laugh, till Captain Nettlebones strode up.
“In the name of his Majesty, surrender, all you fellows. You are fairly caught in the very act of landing a large run of goods contraband. It is high time to make an example of you. Where is your skipper, lads? Robin Lyth, come forth.”
“May it please your good honor and his Majesty’s commission,” said Brown, in his full, round voice, as he walked down the broadest of the gangways leisurely, “my name is not Robin Lyth, but James Brown, a family man of Grimsby, and an honest trader upon the high seas. My cargo is medical water and rags, mainly for the use of the revenue men, by reason they han’t had their new uniforms this twelve months.”
Several of the enemy began to giggle, for their winter supply of clothes had failed, through some lapse of the department. But Nettlebones marched up, and collared Captain Brown, and said, “You are my prisoner, sir. Surrender, Robin Lyth, this moment.” Brown made no resistance, but respectfully touched his hat, and thought.
“I were trying to call upon my memory,” he said, as the revenue officer led him aside, and promised him that he should get off easily if he would only give up his chief. “I am not going to deny, your honor, that I have heard tell of that name ‘Robin Lyth.’ But my memory never do come in a moment. Now were he a man in the contraband line?”
“Brown, you want to provoke me. It will only be ten times worse for you. Now give him up like an honest fellow, and I will do my best for you. I might even let a few tubs slip by.”
“Sir, I am a stranger round these parts; and the lingo is beyond me. Tubs is a bucket as the women use for washing. Never I heared of any other sort of tubs. But my mate he knoweth more of Yorkshire talk. Jack, here his honor is a-speaking about tubs; ever you hear of tubs, Jack?”
“Make the villain fast to yonder mooring-post,” shouted Nettlebones, losing his temper; “and one of you stand by him, with a hanger ready. Now, Master Brown, we’ll see what tubs are, if you please; and what sort of rags you land at night. One chance more for you — will you give up Robin Lyth?”
“Yes, sir, that I will, without two thoughts about ’un. Only too happy, as the young women say, to give ’un up, quick stick — so soon as ever I ha’ got ’un.”
“If ever there was a contumacious rogue! Roll up a couple of those puncheons, Mr. Avery; and now light half a dozen links. Have you got your spigot-heels — and rummers? Very good; Lieutenant Donovan, Mr. Avery, and Senior Volunteer Brett, oblige me by standing by to verify. Gentlemen, we will endeavor to hold what is judicially called an assay — a proof of the purity of substances. The brand on these casks is of the very highest order — the renowned Mynheer Van Dunck himself. Donovan, you shall be our foreman; I have heard you say that you understood ardent spirits from your birth.”
“Faix, and I quite forget, commander, whether I was weaned on or off of them. But the foine judge me father was come down till me — honey, don’t be narvous; slope it well, then — a little thick, is it? All the richer for that same, me boy. Commander, here’s the good health of his Majesty — Oh Lord!”
Mr. Corkoran Donovan fell down upon the shingle, and rolled and bellowed: “Sure me inside’s out! ’Tis poisoned I am, every mortial bit o’ me. A docthor, a docthor, and a praste, to kill me! That ever I should live to die like this! Ochone, ochone, every bit of me; to be brought forth upon good whiskey, and go out of the world upon docthor’s stuff!”
“Most folk does that, when they ought to turn ends t’otherwise.” James Brown of Grimsby could see how things were going, though his power to aid was restricted by a double turn of rope around him; but a kind hand had given him a pipe, and his manner was to take things easily. “Commander, or captain, or whatever you be, with your king’s clothes, constructing a hole in they flints, never you fear, sir. ’Tis medical water, and your own wife wouldn’t know you tomorrow. Your complexion will be like a hangel’s.”
“You d —— d rogue,” cried Nettlebones, striding up, with his sword flashing in the link-lights, “if ever I had a mind to cut any man down —”
“Well, sir, do it, then, upon a roped man, if the honor of the British navy calleth for it. My will is made, and my widow will have action; and the executioner of my will is a Grimsby man, with a pile of money made in the line of salt fish, and such like.”
“Brown, you are a brave man. I would scorn to harm you. Now, upon your honor, are all your puncheons filled with that stuff, and nothing else?”
“Upon my word of honor, sir, they are. Some a little weaker, some with more bilge-water in it, or a trifle of a dash from the midden. The main of it, however, in the very same condition as a’ bubbleth out of what they call the spawses. Why, captain, you must ‘a lived long enough to know, partiklar if gifted with a family, that no sort of spirit as were ever stilled will fetch so much money by the gallon, duty paid, as the doctor’s stuff doth by the phial-bottle.”
“That is true enough; but no lies, Brown, particularly when upon your honor! If you were importing doctor’s stuff, why did you lead us such a dance, and stand fire?”
“Well, your honor, you must promise not to be offended, if I tell you of a little mistake we made. We heared a sight of talk about some pirate craft as hoisteth his Majesty’s flag upon their villainy. And when first you come up, in the dusk of the night —”
“You are the most impudent rogue I ever saw. Show your bills of lading, sir. You know his Majesty’s revenue cruisers as well as I know your smuggling tub.”
“Ship’s papers are aboard of her, all correct, sir. Keys at your service, if you please to feel my pocket, objecting to let my hands loose.”
“Very well, I must go on board of her, and test a few of your puncheons and bales, Master Brown. Locker in the master’s own cabin, I suppose?”
“Yes, sir, plain as can be, on the starboard side, just behind the cabin door. Only your honor must be smart about it; the time-fuse can’t ‘a got three inches left.”
“Time-fuse? What do you mean, you Grimsby villain?”
“Nothing, commander, but to keep you out of mischief. When we were compelled to beach the old craft, for fear of them scoundrelly pirates, it came into my head what a pity it would be to have her used illegal; for she do outsail a’most everything, as your honor can bear witness. So I just laid a half-hour fuse to three big-powder barrels as is down there in the hold; and I expect to see a blow-up almost every moment. But your honor might be in time yet, with a run, and good luck to your foot, you might —”
“Back, lads! back every one of you this moment!” The first concern of Nettlebones was rightly for his men. “Under the cliff here. Keep well back. Push out those smuggler fellows into the middle. Let them have the benefit of their own inventions, and this impudent Brown the foremost. They have laid a train to their powder barrels, and the lugger will blow up any moment.”
“No fear for me, commander,” James Brown shouted through the hurry and jostle of a hundred runaways. “More fear for that poor man as lieth there a-lurching. She won’t hit me when she bloweth up, no more than your honor could. But surely your duty demandeth of you to board the old bilander, and take samples.”
“Sample enough of you, my friend. But I haven’t quite done with you yet. Simpson, here, bear a hand with poor Lieutenant Donovan.”
Nettlebones set a good example by lifting the prostrate Irishman; and they bore him into safety, and drew up there; while the beachmen, forbidden the shelter at point of cutlass, made off right and left; and then, with a crash that shook the strand and drove back the water in a white turmoil, the Crown of Gold flew into a fount of timbers, splinters, shreds, smoke, fire, and dust.
“Gentlemen, you may come out of your holes,” the Grimsby man shouted from his mooring-post, as the echoes ran along the cliffs, and rolled to and fro in the distance. “My old woman will miss a piece of my pigtail, but she hathn’t hurt her old skipper else. She blowed up handsome, and no mistake! No more danger, gentlemen, and plenty of stuff to pick up afore next pay-day.”
“What shall we do with that insolent hound?” Nettlebones asked poor Donovan, who was groaning in slow convalescence. “We have caught him in nothing. We can not commit him; we can not even duck him legally.”
“Be jabers, let him drink his health in his own potheen.”
“Capital! Bravo for old Ireland, my friend! You shall see it done, and handsomely. Brown, you recommend these waters, so you shall have a dose of them.”
A piece of old truncate kelp was found, as good a drinking horn as need be; and with this Captain Brown was forced to swallow half a bucketful of his own “medical water”; and they left him fast at his moorings, to reflect upon this form of importation.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:47