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Wilson's Border Tales
The Smuggler
Chapter 1


The golden days of the smuggler are gone by; his hiding places are empty; and, like Othello, he finds his "occupation gone." Our neighbours on the other side of the herring pond now bring us dry bones, according to the law instead of spirits, contrary to the law. Cutters, preventive boats, and border rangers, have destroyed the trade—it is becoming as a tale that was told. From Spittal to Blyth—yea, from the Firth of Forth to the Tyne—brandy is no longer to be purchased for a trifle; the kilderkin of Holland gin is no longer placed at the door in the dead of night; nor is a yard of tobacco to be purchased for a penny. The smuggler’s phrase, that the "cow has caked," is becoming obsolete. Now, smuggling is almost confined to crossing "the river" here and there, the "ideal line by fancy drawn;" to Scotland saying unto England—"Will you taste?" and to England replying, "Cheerfully Sister." There was a time, however, when the clincher-built lugger plied her trade as boldly, and almost as regularly, as the regular coaster, and that period is within the memory of those who are yet young. It was an evil and a dangerous trade; and it gave a character to the villagers on the sea coasts, which, even unto this day, is not wholly effaced. But in the character of the smuggler there was much that was interesting—there were many bold and redeeming points. I have known many; but I prefer at present giving a few passages from the history of one who lived before my time, and who was noted in his day as an extraordinary character.

Harry Teasdale was a native of Embleton, near Bamborough. He was the sole owner of a herring-boat and a fishing-coble; he was also the proprietor of the house in which he lived, and was reputed to be worth money—nor was it any secret that he had obtained his property by other means than those of the haddock hand-line and the herring-net. Harry, at the period we take up his history, was between forty and fifty years of age. He was a tall, thin, man, with long sandy hair falling over his shoulders, and the colour of his countenance was nearly as rosy as the brandy in which he dealt. But, if there was the secrecy of midnight in his calling, his heart and his hand were open as mid-day. It is too true that money always begets the outward show of respect for him who possesses it, though in conduct he may be a tyrant, and in capacity a fool; but Harry Teasdale was respected, not because he was reputed to be rich, but because of the boldness and warmness of his heart, the readiness of his hand, and the clearness of his head. He was the king of fishermen, and the prince of smugglers, from Holy Island to Hartlepool. Nevertheless, there was nothing unusual in his appearance. Harry looked like his occupation. His dress (save where disguise was necessary) consisted in a rudely glazed sou’-wester, the flap of which came over his shoulders, half covering his long sandy hair. Around him was a coarse and open monkey or pea jacket, with a Guernsey frock beneath, and a sort of canvass kilt descending below the knee; and his feet were cased in a pair of sea boots. When not dressing his hand-lines, or sorting his nets, he might generally be seen upon the beach with a long telescope under his arm. As Harry was possessed of more of this world’s substance than his brother fishermen, so also was there a character of greater comfort and neatness about his house. It consisted of three rooms, but it also bore the distinguishing marks of a smuggler’s habitation. At the door hung the hand-line, the hooks, and the creel; and in a corner of Harry’s sleeping room, a "keg" was occasionally visible while over the chimney-piece hung a cutlass and four horse-pistols, and in a cupboard there were more packages of powder and pistol bullets than it became a man of peace to have in his possession. But the third room, which he called his daughter’s, contained emblems of peace and happiness. Around the walls were specimens of curious needle-work, the basket of fruit and of flowers, and the landscape—the "sampler," setting forth the genealogy of the family for three generations, and the age of her whose fair hands wrought it. Around the window, also, carefully trained, were varieties of the geranium and the rose, the bigonia and cressula, the aloe, and the ice-plant, with others of strange leaf and lovely colouring. This Harry called his daughter’s room—and he was proud of her. She was his sole thought, his only boast. His weather-beaten countenance always glowed, and there was something like a tear in his eyes when he spoke of "my Fanny." She had little in common with the daughter of a fisherman; for his neighbours said that her mother had made her unfit for anything, and that Harry was worse than her mother had been. But that mother was no more, and she had left their only child to her widowed husband’s care; and rough as he appeared, never was there a more tender or a more anxious parent, never had there been a more affectionate husband. But I may here briefly notice the wife of Harry Teasdale, and his first acquaintance with her.

When Harry was a youth of one-and-twenty, and as he and others of his comrades were one day preparing their nets upon the sea-banks for the north herring-fishing, a bitter hurricane came suddenly away, and they observed that the mast of a Scotch smack, which was then near the Ferne Isles, was carried overboard. The sea was breaking over her, and the vessel was unmanagable; but the wind being from the north-east, she was driving towards the shore. Harry and his friends ran to get their boats in readiness, to render assistance if possible. The smack struck the ground between Embleton and North Sunderland, and being driven side-on by the force of the billows, which were dashing over her, formed a sort of break-water, which rendered it less dangerous for a boat to put off to the assistance of the passengers and crew, who were seen clinging in despair to the flapping ropes and sides of the vessel. Harry’s coble was launched along the beach to where the vessel was stranded, and he and six others attempted to reach her. After many ineffectual efforts, and much danger, they gained her side, and a rope was thrown on board. Amongst the smack’s passengers was a Scottish gentleman, with his family, and their governess. She was a beautiful creature, apparently not exceeding nineteen; and as she stood upon the deck, with one hand clinging to a rope, and the other clasping a child to her side, her countenance alone, of all on board did not betoken terror. In the midst of the storm, and through the raging of the sea, Harry was struck with her appearance. She was one of the last to leave the vessel; and when she had handed the child into the arms of a fisherman, and was herself in the act of stepping into the boat, it lurched, the vessel rocked, a sea broke over it, she missed her footing, and was carried away upon the wave. Assistance appeared impossible. The spectators on the shore, and the people in the boat, uttered a scream. Harry dropped the helm, he sprung from the boat, he buffeted the boiling surge, and, after a hopeless struggle, he clutched the hand of the sinking girl. He bore her to the boat— they were lifted into it.

"Keep the helm, Ned," said he, addressing one of his comrades who had taken his place; "I must look after this poor girl—one of the seamen will take your oar." And she lay insensible, with her head upon his bosom, and his arm around her waist.

Consciousness returned before they reached the shore, and Harry had her conveyed to his mother’s house. It is difficult for a sensitive girl of nineteen to look with indifference upon a man who has saved her life, and who risked his in doing so; and Eleanor Macdonald (for such was the name of the young governess) did not look with indifference upon Harry Teasdale. I might tell you how the shipwrecked party remained for five days at Embleton, and how, during that period, love rose in the heart of the young fisherman, and gratitude warmed into affection in the breast of Eleanor—how he discovered that she was an orphan, with no friend, save the education which her parents had conferred on her, and how he loved her the more, when he heard that she was friendless and alone in the world—how the tear was on his hardy cheek when they parted— how more than once he went many miles to visit her—and how Eleanor Macdonald, forsaking the refinements on the society of which she was a dependant, became the wife of the Northumbrian fisherman. But it is not of Harry’s younger days that I am now about to write. Throughout sixteen happy years they lived together; and though, when the tempest blew and the storms raged, while his skiff was on the waves, she often shed tears for his sake, yet, though her education was superior to his, his conduct and conversation never raised a blush to her cheeks. Harry was also proud of his wife, and he showed his pride, by spending every moment he could command at her side, by listening to her words, and gazing on her face with delight. But she died, leaving him an only daughter as the remembrancer of their loves; and to that daughter she had imparted all that she herself knew.

Besides his calling as a fisherman, and his adventures as a smuggler on sea, Harry also made frequent inland excursions. These were generally performed by night, across the wild moor, and by the most unfrequented paths. A strong black horse, remarkable for its swiftness of foot, was the constant companion of his midnight journeys. A canvass bag, fastened at both ends, and resembling a wallet, was invariably placed across the back of the animal, and at each end of the bag was a keg of brandy or Hollands, while the rider sat over these; and behind him was a large and rude portmanteau, containing packages of tea and tobacco. In his hand he carried a strong riding-whip, and in the breast pocket of his greatcoat two horse-pistols, always laden and ready for extremities. These journeys frequently required several days, or rather nights, for their performance; for he carried his contraband goods to towns fifty miles distant, and on both sides of the Border. The darker the night was, and the more tempestuous, the more welcome it was to Harry. He saw none of the beauties in the moon, on which poets dwell with admiration. Its light may have charms for the lover, but it has none for the smuggler. For twenty years he had carried on this mode of traffic with uninterrupted success. He had been frequently pursued; but his good steed, aided by his knowledge of localities, had ever carried him beyond the reach of danger; and his stow-holes had been so secretly and so cunningly designed, that no one but himself was able to discover them, and informations against him always fell to the ground.

Emboldened by long success, he had ceased to be a mere purchaser of contraband goods upon the sea, and the story became current that he had bought a share of a lugger, in conjunction with an Englishman then resident at Cuxhaven. His brother fishermen were not all men of honour; for you will find black sheep in every society, and amongst all ranks of life. Some of them had looked with an envious eye upon Harry’s run of good fortune, and they bore it with impatience; but now, when he fairly, boldly, and proudly stepped out of their walk, and seemed to rise head and shoulders above them, it was more than they could stand. It was the lugger’s first trip; and they, having managed to obtain intelligence of the day on which she was to sail with a rich cargo, gave information of the fact to the commander of a revenue cutter then cruising upon the coast.

I have mentioned that Harry was in the habit of wandering along the coast with a telescope under his arm. From the period of his wife’s death, he had not gone regularly to sea, but let others have a share of his boats for a stipulated portion of the fish caught. Now, it was about daybreak, on a morning in the middle of September, that he was on the beach as I have described him, and perceiving the figure of the cutter on the water, he raised his glass to his eye, to examine it more minutely. He expected the lugger on the following night, and the cutter was an object of interest to Harry. As day began to brighten, he knelt down behind a sand bank, in order that he might take his observations without a chance of being discovered; and while he yet knelt he perceived a boat pulled from the side of the cutter towards the shore. At the first glance, he described it to be an Embleton coble, and before it proceeded far, he discovered to whom it belonged. He knew that the owner was his enemy, though he had not the courage openly to acknowledge it, and in a moment the nature of his errand to the cutter flashed through Harry’s brain.

"I see it!—I see it all!" said the smuggler, dashing the telescope back into it’s case; "the low, the skulking coward, to go blab upon a neighbour! But I’se have the weather-gage o’ both o’ them, or my name’s not Harry Teasdale."

So saying, he hastened home to his house—he examined his cutlass, his pistols, the bullets, and the powder. "All’s right," said the smuggler, and he entered the room where his daughter slept. He laid his rough hand gently upon hers.

"Fanny, love," said he, "thou knowest that I expect the lugger to-night, and I don’t think I shall be at home, and I mayn’t be all to-morrow; but you won’t fret—like a good girl, I know you won’t. Keep all right, love, till I be back, and say nothing."

"Dear father," returned Fanny, who was now a lovely girl of eighteen, "I tremble for this life which we lead— as my poor mother said, it adds the punishment of the law to the dangers of the sea."

"Oh, don’t mention thy mother, dearest!" said the smuggler, "or thou wilt make a child of thy father, when he should be thinking of other things. .Ah, Fanny! when I lost thy mother I lost everything that gave delight to my heart. Since then, the fairest fields are to me no better than a bare moor, and I have only thee, my love—only my Fanny, to comfort me. So, thou wilt not cry now—thou wilt not distress thy father, wilt thou? No, no! I know thou wilt not. I shall be back to thee to-morrow, love."

More passed between the smuggler and his daughter— words of remonstrance, of tenderness, and assurance; and when he had left her, he again went to the beach, to where his boat had just landed from the night’s fishing. None of the other boats had yet arrived. As he approached, the crew said they "saw by his face there was something unpleasant in the wind," and others added—

"Something’s vexed Skipper Harry this morning, and, that’s a shame, for a better soul never lived."

"Well, mates," said he, as he approached them, "have you seen a shark cruising off the coast this morning?"

"No," was the reply.

"But I have," said Harry, "though she is making off to keep out of sight now; and, more than that, I have seen a cut-throat lubber that I would not set my foot upon—I mean the old Beelzebub imp, with the white and yellow stripe on his yawl, pull from her. And what was he doing there? Was it not telling them to look out for the lugger?"

Some of the boat’s crew uttered sudden and bitter imprecations. "Let us go and sink the old rascal before he reach the shore," said one.

"With all my heart," cried another—for they were all interested in the landing of the lugger, and, in the excitement of the moment, they wist not what they said.

"Softly, softly, my lads," returned Harry; "we must think now what we can do for the cargo and ourselves, and not of him."

"Right, master," replied another; "that is what I am thinking."

"Now, look ye," continued Harry, "I believe we shall have a squall before night, and a pretty sharp one too; but we mus’nt mind that when our fortunes are at stake. Hang all black-hearted knaves that would peach on a neighbour, say I; but it is done in our case, and we must only do our best to make the rascal’s story stick in his throat, or be the same as if it had; and I think it may be done yet. I know, but the peacher’s can’t, that the lugger is to deliver a few score kegs at Blyth before she runs down here. We must off and meet her, and give warning."

"Ay, ay, Master Teasdale, thou’rt right; but now that the thing has got wind, the sharks will keep a hawk’s eye on us, and how we are to do it, I can’t see."

"Why, because thou’rt blind," said Harry.

"No, hang it, and if I be, master," replied the other; "I can see as far as most o’ folks, as ye can testify; and I now see plain enough, that if we put to sea now, we shall hae the cutter after us, and that would be what I call only leading the shark to where the salmon lay."

"Man, I wonder to hear thee," said Harry, "folk wad say thou hast nae mair gumption than a born fool. Do ye think I wad be such an ass as to send out spies in the face o’ the enemy? Hae I had a run o’ gud luck for twenty years, and yet ye think me nae better General than that comes to? I said, nae doubt, that we should gang to sea to meet the lugger, though there will be a squall, and a heavy one too, before night, as sure as I’m telling ye; but I didna say that we should dow sae under the bows o’ the cutter, in our awn boat, or out o’ Embleton."

"Right, right, master," said another, "no more you did,--Ned isn’t half awake." The name of the fisherman alluded to was Ned Thomson.

"Well, Ned, my lad," continued Harry, "I tell thee what must be done; I shall go saddle my old nag—get thou a horse from thy wife’s father—he has two, and can spare one—and let us jog on as fast as we can for Blyth; but we mustn’t keep by the coast, lest the King’s folk get their eyes upon us. So away, get ready, lad, set out as quick as thee can—few are astir yet. I won’t wait on thee, and thou won’t wait on me; but whoever comes first to Felton Brig, shall just place two bits o’ stones about the middle, on the parapet I think they ca’ it; but it is the dyke on each side o’ the brig I mean, ye knaw. Put them on the left hand side in gaun alang, down the water; or if they’re there when ye come up, ye’ll ken that I’m afore ye. So get ready, lad—quick as ever ye can. Tell the awd man naething about what ye want wi’ the horse—the fewer that knaw onything about thir things the better. And ye, lads, will be upon the look-out; and if we can get the lugger run in here, have a’ thing in readiness."

"No fear o’ that, master," said they.

"Weel, sir," said Ned, "I’ll be ready in a trap-stick, but I knaw the awd chap will kick up a sang about lendin’ his horse."

"Tell him I’ll pay for it if ye break its legs," said Harry.

The crew of the boat laughed, and some of then said—"Nobody will doubt that, master—you are able enough to pay for it."

It must be observed that, since Harry had ceased to go regularly to sea, and when he was really considered to be a rich man, the crew of his boat began to call him master, notwithstanding his sou’wester and canvas kilt. And now that it was known to them, and currently rumoured in Embleton, that he was part proprietor of a lugger, many of the villagers began to call Fanny, Miss Teasdale; and it must be said that, in her dress and conversation, she much nearer approximated to one that might be styled Miss, than a fisherman’s daughter. But when the character and education of her mother are taken into account, this will not be wondered at.


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