Into what hands soever these leaves may fall, they will instruct him, during a certain time at least, in the history of the life of an unfortunate young man, who, in the heart of a free country, and without any crime being laid to his charge, has been, and is, subjected to a course of unlawful and violent restraint. He who opens this letter, is therefore conjured to apply to the nearest magistrate, and, following such indications as the papers may afford, to exert himself for the relief of one, who, while he possesses every claim to assistance which oppressed innocence can give, has, at the same time, both the inclination and the means of being grateful to his deliverers. Or, if the person obtaining these letters shall want courage or means to effect the writer’s release, he is, in that case, conjured, by every duty of a man to his fellow mortals, and of a Christian towards one who professes the same holy faith, to take the speediest measures for conveying them with speed and safety to the hands of Alan Fairford, Esq., Advocate, residing in the family of his father, Alexander Fairford, Esq., Writer to the Signet, Brown’s Square, Edinburgh. He may be assured of a liberal reward, besides the consciousness of having discharged a real duty to humanity.
MY DEAREST ALAN, Feeling as warmly towards you in doubt and in distress, as I ever did in the brightest days of our intimacy, it is to you whom I address a history which may perhaps fall into very different hands. A portion of my former spirit descends to my pen when I write your name, and indulging the happy thought that you may be my deliverer from my present uncomfortable and alarming situation, as you have been my guide and counsellor on every former occasion, I will subdue the dejection which would otherwise overwhelm me. Therefore, as, Heaven knows, I have time enough to write, I will endeavour to pour my thoughts out, as fully and freely as of old, though probably without the same gay and happy levity.
If the papers should reach other hands than yours, still I will not regret this exposure of my feelings; for, allowing for an ample share of the folly incidental to youth and inexperience, I fear not that I have much to be ashamed of in my narrative; nay, I even hope that the open simplicity and frankness with which I am about to relate every singular and distressing circumstance, may prepossess even a stranger in my favour; and that, amid the multitude of seemingly trivial circumstances which I detail at length, a clue may be found to effect my liberation.
Another chance certainly remains — the Journal, as I may call it, may never reach the hands, either of the dear friend to whom it is addressed, or those of an indifferent stranger, but may become the prey of the persons by whom I am at present treated as a prisoner. Let it be so — they will learn from it little but what they already know; that, as a man and an Englishman, my soul revolts at the usage which I have received; that I am determined to essay every possible means to obtain my freedom; that captivity has not broken my spirit, and that, although they may doubtless complete their oppression by murder, I am still willing to bequeath my cause to the justice of my country. Undeterred, therefore, by the probability that my papers may be torn from me, and subjected to the inspection of one in particular, who, causelessly my enemy already, may be yet further incensed at me for recording the history of my wrongs, I proceed to resume the history of events which have befallen me since the conclusion of my last letter to my dear Alan Fairford, dated, if I mistake not, on the 5th day of this still current month of August.
Upon the night preceding the date of that letter, I had been present, for the purpose of an idle frolic, at a dancing party at the village of Brokenburn, about six miles from Dumfries; many persons must have seen me there, should the fact appear of importance sufficient to require investigation. I danced, played on the violin, and took part in the festivity till about midnight, when my servant, Samuel Owen, brought me my horses, and I rode back to a small inn called Shepherd’s Bush, kept by Mrs. Gregson, which had been occasionally my residence for about a fortnight past. I spent the earlier part of the forenoon in writing a letter, which I have already mentioned, to you, my dear Alan, and which, I think, you must have received in safety. Why did I not follow your advice, so often given me? Why did I linger in the neighbourhood of a danger, of which a kind voice had warned me? These are now unavailing questions; I was blinded by a fatality, and remained, fluttering like a moth around the candle, until I have been scorched to some purpose.
The greater part of the day had passed, and time hung heavy on my hands. I ought, perhaps, to blush at recollecting what has been often objected to me by the dear friend to whom this letter is addressed, viz. the facility with which I have, in moments of indolence, suffered my motions to be, directed by any person who chanced to be near me, instead of taking the labour of thinking or deciding for myself. I had employed for some time, as a sort of guide and errand-boy, a lad named Benjamin, the son of one widow Coltherd, who lives near the Shepherd’s Bush, and I cannot but remember that, upon several occasions, I had of late suffered him to possess more influence over my motions than at all became the difference of our age and condition. At present, he exerted himself to persuade me that it was the finest possible sport to see the fish taken out from the nets placed in the Solway at the reflux of the tide, and urged my going thither this evening so much, that, looking back on the whole circumstances, I cannot but think he had some especial motive for his conduct. These particulars I have mentioned, that if these papers fall into friendly hands, the boy may be sought after and submitted to examination.
His eloquence being unable to persuade me that I should take any pleasure in seeing the fruitless struggles of the fish when left in the nets and deserted by the tide, he artfully suggested, that Mr. and Miss Geddes, a respectable Quaker family well known in the neighbourhood and with whom I had contracted habits of intimacy, would possibly be offended if I did not make them an early visit. Both, he said, had been particularly inquiring the reasons of my leaving their house rather suddenly on the previous day. I resolved, therefore, to walk up to Mount Sharon and make my apologies; and I agreed to permit the boy to attend upon me, and wait my return from the house, that I might fish on my way homeward to Shepherd’s Bush, for which amusement, he assured me, I would find the evening most favourable. I mention this minute circumstance, because I strongly suspect that this boy had a presentiment how the evening was to terminate with me, and entertained the selfish though childish wish of securing to himself an angling-rod which he had often admired, as a part of my spoils. I may do the boy wrong, but I had before remarked in him the peculiar art of pursuing the trifling objects of cupidity proper to his age, with the systematic address of much riper years.
When we had commenced our walk, I upbraided him with the coolness of the evening, considering the season, the easterly wind, and other circumstances, unfavourable for angling. He persisted in his own story, and made a few casts, as if to convince me of my error, but caught no fish; and, indeed, as I am now convinced, was much more intent on watching my motions than on taking any. When I ridiculed him once more on his fruitless endeavours, he answered with a sneering smile, that ‘the trouts would not rise, because there was thunder in the air;’ an intimation which, in one sense, I have found too true.
I arrived at Mount Sharon; was received by my friends there with their wonted kindness; and after being a little rallied on my having suddenly left them on the preceding evening, I agreed to make atonement by staying all night, and dismissed the lad who attended with my fishing-rod, to carry that information to Shepherd’s Bush. It may be doubted whether he went thither, or in a different direction.
Betwixt eight and nine o’clock, when it began to become dark, we walked on the terrace to enjoy the appearance of the firmament, glittering with ten million stars; to which a slight touch of early frost gave tenfold lustre. As we gazed on this splendid scene, Miss Geddes, I think, was the first to point out to our admiration a shooting or falling star, which, she said, drew a long train after it. Looking to the part of the heavens which she pointed out, I distinctly observed two successive sky-rockets arise and burst in the sky.
‘These meteors,’ said Mr. Geddes, in answer to his sister’s observation, ‘are not formed in heaven, nor do they bode any good to the dwellers upon earth.’
As he spoke, I looked to another quarter of the sky, and a rocket, as if a signal in answer to those which had already appeared, rose high from the earth, and burst apparently among the stars.
Mr. Geddes seemed very thoughtful for some minutes, and then said to his sister, ‘Rachel, though it waxes late. I must go down to the fishing station, and pass the night in the overseer’s room there.’
‘Nay, then,’ replied the lady, ‘I am but too well assured that the sons of Belial are menacing these nets and devices. Joshua, art thou a man of peace, and wilt thou willingly and wittingly thrust thyself where thou mayst be tempted by the old man Adam within thee, to enter into debate and strife?’
‘I am a man of peace, Rachel,’ answered Mr. Geddes, ‘even to the utmost extent which our friends can demand of humanity; and neither have I ever used, nor, with the help of God, will I at any future time employ, the arm of flesh to repel or to revenge injuries. But if I can, by mild reasons and firm conduct, save those rude men from committing a crime, and the property belonging to myself and others from sustaining damage, surely I do but the duty of a man and a Christian.’
With these words, he ordered his horse instantly; and his sister, ceasing to argue with him, folded her arms upon her bosom, and looked up to heaven with a resigned and yet sorrowful countenance.
These particulars may appear trivial; but it is better, in my present condition, to exert my faculties in recollecting the past, and in recording it, than waste them in vain and anxious anticipations of the future.
It would have been scarcely proper in me to remain in the house from which the master was thus suddenly summoned away; and I therefore begged permission to attend him to the fishing station, assuring his sister that I would be a guarantee for his safety.
That proposal seemed to give much pleasure to Miss Geddes. ‘Let it be so, brother,’ she said; ‘and let the young man have the desire of his heart, that there may be a faithful witness to stand by thee in the hour of need, and to report how it shall fare with thee.
‘Nay, Rachel,’ said the worthy man, ‘thou art to blame in this, that to quiet thy apprehensions on my account, thou shouldst thrust into danger — if danger it shall prove to be — this youth, our guest; for whom, doubtless, in case of mishap, as many hearts will ache as may be afflicted on our account.’
‘No, my good friend,’ said I, taking Mr. Geddes’s hand, ‘I am not so happy as you suppose me. Were my span to be concluded this evening, few would so much as know that such a being had existed for twenty years on the face of the earth; and of these few, only one would sincerely regret me. Do not, therefore, refuse me the privilege attending you; and of showing, by so trifling an act of kindness, that if I have few friends, I am at least desirous to serve them.’
‘Thou hast a kind heart, I warrant thee,’ said Joshua Geddes, returning the pressure of my hand. ‘Rachel, the young man shall go with me. Why should he not face danger, in order to do justice and preserve peace? There is that within me,’ he added, looking upwards, and with a passing enthusiasm which I had not before observed and the absence of which perhaps rather belonged to the sect than to his own personal character —‘I say, I have that within which assures me, that though the ungodly may rage even like the storm of the ocean, they shall not have freedom to prevail against us.’
Having spoken thus, Mr. Geddes appointed a pony to be saddled for my use; and having taken a basket with some provisions, and a servant to carry back the horses for which there was no accommodation at the fishing station, we set off about nine o’clock at night, and after three-quarters of an hour’s riding, arrived at our place of destination.
The station consists, or then consisted, of huts for four or five fishermen, a cooperage and shed, and a better sort of cottage at which the superintendent resided. We gave our horses to the servant, to be carried back to Mount Sharon; my companion expressing himself humanely anxious for their safety — and knocked at the door of the house. At first we only heard a barking of dogs; but these animals became quiet on snuffing beneath the door, and acknowledging the presence of friends. A hoarse voice then demanded, in rather unfriendly accents, who we were, and what we wanted and it was not; until Joshua named himself, and called upon his superintendent to open, that the latter appeared at the door of the hut, attended by three large dogs of the Newfoundland breed. He had a flambeau in his hand, and two large heavy ship-pistols stuck into his belt. He was a stout elderly man, who had been a sailor, as I learned, during the earlier part of his life, and was now much confided in by the Fishing Company, whose concerns he directed under the orders of Mr. Geddes.
‘Thou didst not expect me to-night, friend Davies?’ said my friend to the old man, who was arranging seats for us by the fire.
‘No, Master Geddes,’ answered he, ‘I did not expect you, nor, to speak the truth, did I wish for you either.’
‘These are plain terms: John Davies,’ answered Mr.Geddes.
‘Aye, aye, sir, I know your worship loves no holiday speeches.’
‘Thou dost guess, I suppose, what brings us here so late, John Davies?’ said Mr. Geddes.
‘I do suppose, sir,’ answered the superintendent, ‘that it was because those d — d smuggling wreckers on the coast are showing their lights to gather their forces, as they did the night before they broke down the dam-dyke and weirs up the country; but if that same be the case, I wish once more you had stayed away, for your worship carries no fighting tackle aboard, I think; and there will be work for such ere morning, your worship.’
‘Worship is due to Heaven only, John Davies,’ said Geddes, ‘I have often desired thee to desist from using that phrase to me.’
‘I won’t, then,’ said John; ‘no offence meant: But how the devil can a man stand picking his words, when he is just going to come to blows?’
‘I hope not, John Davies,’ said Joshua Geddes. ‘Call in the rest of the men, that I may give them their instructions.’
‘I may cry till doomsday Master Geddes, ere a soul answers — the cowardly lubbers have all made sail — the cooper, and all the rest of them, so soon as they heard the enemy were at sea. They have all taken to the long-boat, and left the ship among the breakers, except little Phil and myself — they have, by —!’
‘Swear not at all, John Davies — thou art an honest man; and I believe, without an oath, that thy comrades love their own bones better than my goods and chattels. And so thou hast no assistance but little Phil against a hundred men or two?’
‘Why, there are the dogs, your honour knows, Neptune and Thetis — and the puppy may do something; and then though your worship — I beg pardon — though your honour be no great fighter, this young gentleman may bear a hand.’
‘Aye, and I see you are provided with arms,’ said Mr. Geddes; ‘let me see them.’
‘Aye, aye, sir; here be a pair of buffers will bite as well as bark — these will make sure of two rogues at least. It would be a shame to strike without firing a shot. Take care, your honour, they are double-shotted.’
‘Aye, John Davies, I will take care of them, throwing the pistols into a tub of water beside him; ‘and I wish I could render the whole generation of them useless at the same moment.’
A deep shade of displeasure passed over John Davies’s weatherbeaten countenance. ‘Belike your honour is going to take the command yourself, then?’ he said, after a pause. ‘Why, I can be of little use now; and since your worship, or your honour, or whatever you are, means to strike quietly, I believe you will do it better without me than with me, for I am like enough to make mischief, I admit; but I’ll never leave my post without orders.’
‘Then you have mine, John Davies, to go to Mount Sharon directly, and take the boy Phil with you. Where is he?’
‘He is on the outlook for these scums of the earth,’ answered Davies; ‘but it is to no purpose to know when they come, if we are not to stand to our weapons.’
‘We will use none but those of sense and reason, John.’
‘And you may just as well cast chaff against the wind, as speak sense and reason to the like of them.’
‘Well, well, be it so,’ said Joshua; ‘and now, John Davies, I know thou art what the world calls a brave fellow, and I have ever found thee an honest one. And now I command you to go to Mount Sharon, and let Phil lie on the bank-side — see the poor boy hath a sea-cloak, though — and watch what happens there, and let him bring you the news; and if any violence shall be offered to the property there, I trust to your fidelity to carry my sister to Dumfries to the house of our friends the Corsacks, and inform the civil authorities of what mischief hath befallen.’
The old seaman paused a moment. ‘It is hard lines for me,’ he said, ‘to leave your honour in tribulation; and yet, staying here, I am only like to make bad worse; and your honour’s sister, Miss Rachel, must be looked to, that’s certain; for if the rogues once get their hand to mischief, they will come to Mount Sharon after they have wasted and destroyed this here snug little roadstead, where I thought to ride at anchor for life.’
‘Right, right, John Davies,’ said Joshua Geddes; ‘and best call the dogs with you.’
‘Aye, aye, sir,’ said the veteran, ‘for they are something of my mind, and would not keep quiet if they saw mischief doing; so maybe they might come to mischief, poor dumb creatures. So God bless your honour — I mean your worship — I cannot bring my mouth to say fare you well. Here, Neptune, Thetis! come, dogs, come.’
So saying, and with a very crestfallen countenance, John Davies left the hut.
‘Now there goes one of the best and most faithful creatures that ever was born,’ said Mr. Geddes, as the superintendent shut the door of the cottage. ‘Nature made him with a heart that would not have suffered him to harm a fly; but thou seest, friend Latimer, that as men arm their bull-dogs with spiked collars, and their game-cocks with steel spurs, to aid them in fight, so they corrupt, by education, the best and mildest natures, until fortitude and spirit become stubbornness and ferocity. Believe me, friend Latimer, I would as soon expose my faithful household dog to a vain combat with a herd of wolves, as yon trusty creature to the violence of the enraged multitude. But I need say little on this subject to thee, friend Latimer, who, I doubt not, art trained to believe that courage is displayed and honour attained, not by doing and suffering as becomes a man that which fate calls us to suffer and justice commands us to do, but because thou art ready to retort violence for violence, and considerest the lightest insult as a sufficient cause for the spilling of blood, nay, the taking of life. But, leaving these points of controversy to a more fit season, let us see what our basket of provision contains; for in truth, friend Latimer, I am one of those whom neither fear nor anxiety deprives of their ordinary appetite.’
We found the means of good cheer accordingly, which Mr. Geddes seemed to enjoy as much as if it had been eaten in a situation of perfect safety; nay, his conversation appeared to be rather more gay than on ordinary occasions. After eating our supper, we left the hut together, and walked for a few minutes on the banks of the sea. It was high water, and the ebb had not yet commenced. The moon shone broad and bright upon the placid face of the Solway Firth, and showed a slight ripple upon the stakes, the tops of which were just visible above the waves, and on the dark-coloured buoys which marked the upper edge of the enclosure of nets. At a much greater distance — for the estuary is here very wide — the line of the English coast was seen on the verge of the water, resembling one of those fog-banks on which mariners are said to gaze, uncertain whether it be land or atmospherical delusion.
‘We shall be undisturbed for some hours,’ said Mr. Geddes; ‘they will not come down upon us: till the state of the tide permits them to destroy the tide-nets. Is it not strange to think that human passions will so soon transform such a tranquil scene as this into one of devastation and confusion?’
It was indeed a scene of exquisite stillness; so much so, that the restless waves of the Solway seemed, if not absolutely to sleep, at least to slumber; on the shore no night-bird was heard — the cock had not sung his first matins, and we ourselves walked more lightly than by day, as if to suit the sounds of our own paces to the serene tranquillity around us. At length, the plaintive cry of a dog broke the silence, and on our return to the cottage, we found that the younger of the three animals which had gone along with John Davies, unaccustomed, perhaps, to distant journeys, and the duty of following to heel, had strayed from the party, and, unable to rejoin them, had wandered back to the place of its birth.
‘Another feeble addition to our feeble garrison,’ said Mr. Geddes, as he caressed the dog, and admitted it into the cottage. ‘Poor thing! as thou art incapable of doing any mischief, I hope thou wilt sustain none. At least thou mayst do us the good service of a sentinel, and permit us to enjoy a quiet repose, under the certainty that thou wilt alarm us when the enemy is at hand.’
There were two beds in the superintendent’s room, upon which we threw ourselves. Mr. Geddes, with his happy equanimity of temper, was asleep in the first five minutes. I lay for some time in doubtful and anxious thoughts, watching the fire, and the motions of the restless dog, which, disturbed probably at the absence of John Davies, wandered from the hearth to the door and back again, then came to the bedside and licked my hands and face, and at length, experiencing no repulse to its advances, established itself at my feet, and went to sleep, an example which I soon afterwards followed.
The rage of narration, my dear Alan — for I will never relinquish the hope that what I am writing may one day reach your hands — has not forsaken me, even in my confinement, and the extensive though unimportant details into which I have been hurried, renders it necessary that I commence another sheet. Fortunately, my pygmy characters comprehend a great many words within a small space of paper.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00