Wi’ coulters and wi’ forehammers
We garr’d the bars bang merrily,
Until we came to the inner prison,
Where Willie o’ Kinmont he did lie.
Old Border Ballad.
We return to Portanferry, and to Bertram and his honest-hearted friend, whom we left most innocent inhabitants of a place built for the guilty. The slumbers of the farmer were as sound as it was possible.
But Bertram’s first heavy sleep passed away long before midnight, nor could he again recover that state of oblivion. Added to the uncertain and uncomfortable state of his mind, his body felt feverish and oppressed. This was chiefly owing to the close and confined air of the small apartment in which they slept. After enduring for some time the broiling and suffocating feeling attendant upon such an atmosphere, he rose to endeavour to open the window of the apartment, and thus to procure a change of air. Alas! the first trial reminded him that he was in jail, and that the building being contrived for security, not comfort, the means of procuring fresh air were not left at the disposal of the wretched inhabitants.
Disappointed in this attempt, he stood by the unmanageable window for some time. Little Wasp, though oppressed with the fatigue of his journey on the preceding day, crept out of bed after his master, and stood by him rubbing his shaggy coat against his legs, and expressing by a murmuring sound the delight which he felt at being restored to him. Thus accompanied, and waiting until the feverish feeling which at present agitated his blood should subside into a desire for warmth and slumber, Bertram remained for some time looking out upon the sea.
The tide was now nearly full, and dashed hoarse and near below the base of the building. Now and then a large wave reached even the barrier or bulwark which defended the foundation of the house, and was flung up on it with greater force and noise than those which only broke upon the sand. Far in the distance, under the indistinct light of a hazy and often overclouded moon, the ocean rolled its multitudinous complication of waves, crossing, bursting, and mingling with each other.
‘A wild and dim spectacle,’ said Bertram to himself, ‘like those crossing tides of fate which have tossed me about the world from my infancy upwards. When will this uncertainty cease, and how soon shall I be permitted to look out for a tranquil home, where I may cultivate in quiet, and without dread and perplexity, those arts of peace from which my cares have been hitherto so forcibly diverted? The ear of Fancy, it is said, can discover the voice of sea-nymphs and tritons amid the bursting murmurs of the ocean; would that I could do so, and that some siren or Proteus would arise from these billows to unriddle for me the strange maze of fate in which I am so deeply entangled! Happy friend!’ he said, looking at the bed where Dinmont had deposited his bulky person, ‘thy cares are confined to the narrow round of a healthy and thriving occupation! Thou canst lay them aside at pleasure, and enjoy the deep repose of body and mind which wholesome labour has prepared for thee!’
At this moment his reflections were broken by little Wasp, who, attempting to spring up against the window, began to yelp and bark most furiously. The sounds reached Dinmont’s ears, but without dissipating the illusion which had transported him from this wretched apartment to the free air of his own green hills. ‘Hoy, Yarrow, man! far yaud, far yaud!’ he muttered between his teeth, imagining, doubtless, that he was calling to his sheep-dog, and hounding him in shepherds’ phrase against some intruders on the grazing. The continued barking of the terrier within was answered by the angry challenge of the mastiff in the courtyard, which had for a long time been silent, excepting only an occasional short and deep note, uttered when the moon shone suddenly from among the clouds. Now his clamour was continued and furious, and seemed to be excited by some disturbance distinct from the barking of Wasp, which had first given him the alarm, and which, with much trouble, his master had contrived to still into an angry note of low growling.
At last Bertram, whose attention was now fully awakened, conceived that he saw a boat upon the sea, and heard in good earnest the sound of oars and of human voices mingling with the dash of the billows. ‘Some benighted fishermen,’ he thought, ‘or perhaps some of the desperate traders from the Isle of Man. They are very hardy, however, to approach so near to the custom-house, where there must be sentinels. It is a large boat, like a long-boat, and full of people; perhaps it belongs to the revenue service.’ Bertram was confirmed in this last opinion by observing that the boat made for a little quay which ran into the sea behind the custom-house, and, jumping ashore one after another, the crew, to the number of twenty hands, glided secretly up a small lane which divided the custom-house from the bridewell, and disappeared from his sight, leaving only two persons to take care of the boat.
The dash of these men’s oars at first, and latterly the suppressed sounds of their voices, had excited the wrath of the wakeful sentinel in the courtyard, who now exalted his deep voice into such a horrid and continuous din that it awakened his brute master, as savage a ban-dog as himself. His cry from a window, of ‘How now, Tearum, what’s the matter, sir? down, d — n ye, down!’ produced no abatement of Tearum’s vociferation, which in part prevented his master from hearing the sounds of alarm which his ferocious vigilance was in the act of challenging. But the mate of the two-legged Cerberus was gifted with sharper ears than her husband. She also was now at the window. ‘B— t ye, gae down and let loose the dog,’ she said; ‘they’re sporting the door of the custom-house, and the auld sap at Hazlewood House has ordered off the guard. But ye hae nae mair heart than a cat.’ And down the Amazon sallied to perform the task herself, while her helpmate, more jealous of insurrection within doors than of storm from without, went from cell to cell to see that the inhabitants of each were carefully secured.
These latter sounds with which we have made the reader acquainted had their origin in front of the house, and were consequently imperfectly heard by Bertram, whose apartment, as we have already noticed, looked from the back part of the building upon the sea. He heard, however, a stir and tumult in the house, which did not seem to accord with the stern seclusion of a prison at the hour of midnight, and, connecting them with the arrival of an armed boat at that dead hour, could not but suppose that something extraordinary was about to take place. In this belief he shook Dinmont by the shoulder. ‘Eh! Ay! Oh! Ailie, woman, it’s no time to get up yet,’ groaned the sleeping man of the mountains. More roughly shaken, however, he gathered himself up, shook his ears, and asked, ‘In the name of Providence what’s the matter?’
‘That I can’t tell you,’ replied Bertram; ‘but either the place is on fire or some extraordinary thing is about to happen. Are you not sensible of a smell of fire? Do you not hear what a noise there is of clashing doors within the house and of hoarse voices, murmurs, and distant shouts on the outside? Upon my word, I believe something very extraordinary has taken place. Get up, for the love of Heaven, and let us be on our guard.’
Dinmont rose at the idea of danger, as intrepid and undismayed as any of his ancestors when the beacon-light was kindled. ‘Od, Captain, this is a queer place! they winna let ye out in the day, and they winna let ye sleep in the night. Deil, but it wad break my heart in a fortnight. But, Lordsake, what a racket they’re making now! Od, I wish we had some light. Wasp, Wasp, whisht, hinny; whisht, my bonnie man, and let’s hear what they’re doing. Deil’s in ye, will ye whisht?’
They sought in vain among the embers the means of lighting their candle, and the noise without still continued. Dinmont in his turn had recourse to the window — ‘Lordsake, Captain! come here. Od, they hae broken the custom-house!’
Bertram hastened to the window, and plainly saw a miscellaneous crowd of smugglers, and blackguards of different descriptions, some carrying lighted torches, others bearing packages and barrels down the lane to the boat that was lying at the quay, to which two or three other fisher-boats were now brought round. They were loading each of these in their turn, and one or two had already put off to seaward. ‘This speaks for itself,’ said Bertram; ‘but I fear something worse has happened. Do you perceive a strong smell of smoke, or is it my fancy?’
‘Fancy?’ answered Dinmont, ‘there’s a reek like a killogie. Od, if they burn the custom-house it will catch here, and we’ll lunt like a tar-barrel a’ thegither. Eh! it wad be fearsome to be burnt alive for naething, like as if ane had been a warlock! Mac-Guffog, hear ye!’ roaring at the top of his voice; ‘an ye wad ever hae a haill bane in your skin, let’s out, man, let’s out!’
The fire began now to rise high, and thick clouds of smoke rolled past the window at which Bertram and Dinmont were stationed. Sometimes, as the wind pleased, the dim shroud of vapour hid everything from their sight; sometimes a red glare illuminated both land and sea, and shone full on the stern and fierce figures who, wild with ferocious activity, were engaged in loading the boats. The fire was at length triumphant, and spouted in jets of flame out at each window of the burning building, while huge flakes of flaming materials came driving on the wind against the adjoining prison, and rolling a dark canopy of smoke over all the neighbourhood. The shouts of a furious mob resounded far and wide; for the smugglers in their triumph were joined by all the rabble of the little town and neighbourhood, now aroused and in complete agitation, notwithstanding the lateness of the hour, some from interest in the free trade, and most from the general love of mischief and tumult natural to a vulgar populace.
Bertram began to be seriously anxious for their fate. There was no stir in the house; it seemed as if the jailor had deserted his charge, and left the prison with its wretched inhabitants to the mercy of the conflagration which was spreading towards them. In the meantime a new and fierce attack was heard upon the outer gate of the correction house, which, battered with sledge-hammers and crows, was soon forced. The keeper, as great a coward as a bully, with his more ferocious wife, had fled; their servants readily surrendered the keys. The liberated prisoners, celebrating their deliverance with the wildest yells of joy, mingled among the mob which had given them freedom.
In the midst of the confusion that ensued three or four of the principal smugglers hurried to the apartment of Bertram with lighted torches, and armed with cutlasses and pistols. ‘Der deyvil,’ said the leader, ‘here’s our mark!’ and two of them seized on Bertram; but one whispered in his ear,’ Make no resistance till you are in the street.’ The same individual found an instant to say to Dinmont — ‘Follow your friend, and help when you see the time come.’
In the hurry of the moment Dinmont obeyed and followed close. The two smugglers dragged Bertram along the passage, downstairs, through the courtyard, now illuminated by the glare of fire, and into the narrow street to which the gate opened, where in the confusion the gang were necessarily in some degree separated from each other. A rapid noise, as of a body of horse advancing, seemed to add to the disturbance. ‘Hagel and wetter, what is that?’ said the leader; ‘keep together, kinder; look to the prisoner.’ But in spite of his charge the two who held Bertram were the last of the party.
The sounds and signs of violence were heard in front. The press became furiously agitated, while some endeavoured to defend themselves, others to escape; shots were fired, and the glittering broadswords of the dragoons began to appear flashing above the heads of the rioters. ‘Now,’ said the warning whisper of the man who held Bertram’s left arm, the same who had spoken before, ‘shake off that fellow and follow me.’
Bertram, exerting his strength suddenly and effectually, easily burst from the grasp of the man who held his collar on the right side. The fellow attempted to draw a pistol, but was prostrated by a blow of Dinmont’s fist, which an ox could hardly have received without the same humiliation. ‘Follow me quick,’ said the friendly partizan, and dived through a very narrow and dirty lane which led from the main street.
No pursuit took place. The attention of the smugglers had been otherwise and very disagreeably engaged by the sudden appearance of Mac-Morlan and the party of horse. The loud, manly voice of the provincial magistrate was heard proclaiming the Riot Act, and charging ‘all those unlawfully assembled to disperse at their own proper peril.’ This interruption would, indeed, have happened in time sufficient to have prevented the attempt, had not the magistrate received upon the road some false information which led him to think that the smugglers were to land at the bay of Ellangowan. Nearly two hours were lost in consequence of this false intelligence, which it may be no lack of charity to suppose that Glossin, so deeply interested in the issue of that night’s daring attempt, had contrived to throw in Mac-Morlan’s way, availing himself of the knowledge that the soldiers had left Hazlewood House, which would soon reach an ear so anxious as his.
In the meantime, Bertram followed his guide, and was in his turn followed by Dinmont. The shouts of the mob, the trampling of the horses, the dropping pistol-shots, sunk more and more faintly upon their ears, when at the end of the dark lane they found a post-chaise with four horses. ‘Are you here, in God’s name?’ said the guide to the postilion who drove the leaders.
‘Ay, troth am I,’ answered Jock Jabos, ‘and I wish I were ony gate else.’
‘Open the carriage then. You, gentlemen, get into it; in a short time you’ll be in a place of safety, and (to Bertram) remember your promise to the gipsy wife!’
Bertram, resolving to be passive in the hands of a person who had just rendered him such a distinguished piece of service, got into the chaise as directed. Dinmont followed; Wasp, who had kept close by them, sprung in at the same time, and the carriage drove off very fast. ‘Have a care o’ me,’ said Dinmont, ‘but this is the queerest thing yet! Od, I trust they’ll no coup us. And then what’s to come o’ Dumple? I would rather be on his back than in the Deuke’s coach, God bless him.’
Bertram observed, that they could not go at that rapid rate to any very great distance without changing horses, and that they might insist upon remaining till daylight at the first inn they stopped at, or at least upon being made acquainted with the purpose and termination of their journey, and Mr. Dinmont might there give directions about his faithful horse, which would probably be safe at the stables where he had left him. ‘Aweel, aweel, e’en sae be it for Dandie. Od, if we were ance out o’ this trindling kist o’ a thing, I am thinking they wad find it hard wark to gar us gang ony gate but where we liked oursells.’
While he thus spoke the carriage, making a sudden turn, showed them through the left window the village at some distance, still widely beaconed by the fire, which, having reached a store-house wherein spirits were deposited, now rose high into the air, a wavering column of brilliant light. They had not long time to admire this spectacle, for another turn of the road carried them into a close lane between plantations, through which the chaise proceeded in nearly total darkness, but with unabated speed.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00