In the Roar of the Sea/Chapter 49
NOTHING LIKE GROG.
The Black Prince had been observed by Oliver Menaida. He did not know for certain that the vessel he saw in the offing was the smuggler's ship, but he suspected it, as he knew that Coppinger was in daily expectation of her arrival. He brought his father to the cliffs, and the old man at once identified her.
Oliver considered what was to be done.
A feint was to be made at a point lower down the coast so as to attract the coastguard in that direction; whereas, she was to run for Pentyre as soon as night fell, with all lights hidden, and to discharge her cargo in the little cove.
Oliver knew pretty well who was confederate with Coppinger, or were in his employ. His father was able to furnish him with a good deal of information, not perhaps very well authenticated, all resting on gossip. He resolved to have a look at these men, and observe whether they were making preparations to assist Coppinger in clearing the Black Prince the moment she arrived off the cove. But he found that he had not far to look. They were drawn to the cliffs one after another to observe the distant vessel.
Oliver now made his way to the coastguard station, and to reach it went round by Wadebridge, and this he did because he wished to avoid being noticed going to the Preventive Station across the estuary at the Doom Bar above St. Enodoc. On reaching his destination he was shown into an ante-room, where he had to wait some minutes, because the captain happened to be engaged. He had plenty to occupy his mind. There was that mysterious confession of Judith that she had tried to poison the man who persisted in considering himself as her husband, in spite of her resistance, and who was holding her in a condition of bondage in his house. Oliver did not for a moment believe that she had intentionally sought his life. He had seen enough of her to gauge her character, and he knew that she was incapable of committing a crime. That she might have given poison in ignorance and by accident was possible; how this had happened it was in vain for him to attempt to conjecture; he could, however, quite believe that an innocent and sensitive conscience like that of Judith might feel the pangs of self-reproach when hurt had come to Coppinger through her negligence.
Oliver could also believe that the smuggler captain attributed her act to an evil motive. He was not the man to believe in guilelessness, and when he found that he had been partly poisoned by the woman whom he daily tortured almost to madness, he would at once conclude that a premeditated attempt had been made on his life. What course would he pursue? Would he make this wretched business public and bring a criminal action against the unfortunate and unhappy girl who was linked to him against her will?
Oliver saw that if he could obtain Coppinger's arrest on some such a charge as smuggling, he might prevent this scandal, and save Judith from much humiliation and misery. He was therefore most desirous to effect the capture of Coppinger at once, and flagrante delicto.
As he waited in the ante-room a harsh voice within was audible which he recognized as that of Mr. Scantlebray. Presently the door was half opened, and he heard the coastguard captain say:
"I trust you rewarded the fellow for his information. You may apply to me——"
"O royally, royally."
"And for furnishing you with the code of signals?"
"That is well—never underpay in these matters."
"Do not fear! I emptied my pockets. And as to the information you have received through me—rely on it as you would on the Bank of England."
"You have been deceived and befooled," said Oliver, unable to resist the chance of delivering a slap at a man for whom he entertained a peculiar aversion, having heard much concerning him from his father.
"What do you mean?"
"That the shilling you gave the clerk for his information, and the half-crown for his signal table were worth what you got—the information was false, and was intended to mislead."
Scantlebray colored purple. "What do you know? You know nothing. You are in league with them."
"Take care what you say," said Oliver.
"I maintain," said Scantlebray, somewhat cowed by his demeanor, "that what I have said to the captain here is something of which you know nothing—and which is of importance to him to know."
"And I maintain that you have been hoodwinked," answered Oliver. "But it matters not. The event will prove which of us is on the right track."
"Yes," laughed Scantlebray, "so be it; and let me bet you, Captain, and you Mr. Oliver Menaida—that I am on the scent of something else. I believe I know where Coppinger keeps his stores, and—but you shall see, and Captain Cruel also, ha, ha!"
Rubbing his hands he went out.
Then Oliver begged a word with the Preventive captain, and told him what he had overheard, and also that he knew where was the cave in which the smugglers had their boat and to which they ran the cargo first, before removing it to their inland stores.
"I'm not so certain the Black Prince dare venture nigh the coast to-night," said the Captain, "because of the sea and the on-shore wind. But the glass is rising" and the wind may change. Then she’ll risk it for certain. Now, look you here. I can't go with you myself to-night, because I must be here; and I can only let you have six men."
"That will suffice."
"Under Wyvill. I cannot, of course, put them under you, but Wyvill shall command. He bears a grudge against Coppinger, and will be rejoiced to have the chance of paying it out. But, mind you, it is possible that the Black Prince dare not run in, because of the weather, at Pentyre Cove, she may run somewhere else, either down the coast or higher up. Coppinger has other ovens than one. You know the term. His store-places are ovens. We can't find them, but we know that there are several of them along the coast, just as there are a score of landing-places. When one is watched, then an other is used, and that is how we are thrown out. There are plenty of folk interested in defrauding the revenue in every parish between Hartland and Land's End, and let the Black Prince, or any other smuggling vessel appear where she will, there she has ready helpers to shore her cargo, and convey it to the ovens. When we appear it is signalled at once to the vessel, and she runs away up or down the coast, and discharges somewhere else, before we can reach the point. Now, I do not say that what you tell me is not true, and that it is not Coppinger's intent to land the goods in the Pentyre Cove, but if we are smelt, or if the wind or sea forbid a landing there, away goes the Black Prince and runs her cargo somewhere else. That is why I cannot accompany you, nor can I send you with more than half a dozen men. I must be on the look out, and I must be prepared in the event of her coming suddenly back and attempting to land her goods at Porthleze, or Constantino, or Harlyn. What you shall do is—remain here with me till near dusk, and then you shall have a boat and my men and get round Pentyre, and you shall take possession of that cave. You shall take with you provisions for twenty-four hours. If the Black Prince intends to make that bay and discharge there, then she will wait her opportunity. If she cannot to-night, she will to-morrow night. Now, seize every man who comes into that cave, and don't let him out. You see?"
"Very well. Wyvill shall be in command, and you shall be the guide, and I will speak to him to pay proper attention to what you recommend. You see?"
"Very well—now we shall have something to eat and to drink, which is better, and drink that is worth the drinking, which is best of all. Here is some cognac, it was run goods that we captured and confiscated. Look at it. I wish there were artificial light and you would see, it is liquid amber—a liqueur. When you've tasted that, ah—ha! you will say, 'Glad I lived to this moment.' There is all the difference, my boy, between your best cognac and common brandy—the one, the condensed sunshine in the queen of fruit sublimed to an essence; the other, coarse, raw fire—all the difference that there is between a princess of blood royal and a gypsy wench. Drink and do not fear. This is not the stuff to smoke the head and clog the stomach."
When Oliver Menaida finally started, he left the first officer of the coastguard, in spite of his assurances, somewhat smoky in brain, and not in the condition to form the clearest estimate of what should be done in a contingency. The boat was laden with provisions for twenty-four hours, and placed under the command of Wyvill.
The crew had not rowed far before one of them sang out:
"Aye, aye, mate!" responded Wyvill.
"I say, Gearge. Be us a going round Pentyre?"
"I reckon we be."
"And wet to the marrowbone we shall be."
"I reckon we shall."
Then a pause in the conversation. Presently from another, "Gearge!"
"Aye, aye, Will!"
"I say Gearge! where be the spirits to? There's a keg o' water, but sure alive the spirits be forgotten."
"Bless my body!" exclaimed Wyvill, "I reckon you're right. Here's a go."
"It will never do for us to be twenty-four hours wi' salt water outside of us and fresh wi'in," said Will. What's a hat wi'out a head in it, or boots wi'out feet in 'em, or a man wi'out spirits in his in'ard parts?"
"Dear, alive! 'Tis a nuisance," said Wyvill. "Who's been the idiot to forget the spirits?"
"Aye, aye, Samson!"
"I say, Gearge! hadn't us better run over to the Rock and get a little anker there?"
"I reckon it wouldn't be amiss, mate," responded Wyvill. To Oliver's astonishment and annoyance, the boat was turned to run across to a little tavern, at what was called "The Rock."
He remonstrated. This was injudicious and unnecessary.
"Onnecessary," said Wyvill. "Why, you don't suppose firearms will go off wi'out a charge? It's the same wi' men. What's the good of a human being unless he be loaded—and what's his proper load but a drop o’ spirits."
Then one of the rowers sang out:
"Water-drinkers are dull asses
When they're met together.
Milk is meat for infancy;
Ladies like to sip Bohea;
Not such stuff for you and me,
When we're met together."
Oliver was not surprised that so few captures were effected on the coast, when those set to watch it loved so dearly the very goods they were to watch against being imported untaxed.
On reaching the shore, the man Samson and another were left in charge of the boat, while Wyyill, Will, and the rest went up to the Rock Inn to have a glass for the good of the house, and to lade themselves with an anker of brandy which, during their wait in the cave, was to be distributed among them. Oliver thought it well to go to the tavern as well. He was impatient and thought they would dawdle there, and, perhaps, take more than the nip to which they professed themselves content to limit themselves. Pentyre Point had to be rounded in rough water, and they must be primed to enable them to round Pentyre.
"You see," said Wyvill, who seemed to suppose that some sort of an explanation of his conduct was due. "When ropes be dry they be terrible slack. Wet 'em and they are taut. It is the same wi' men's muscles. We've Pentyre Point to get round. Very strainin' to the arms, and I reckon it couldn't be done unless we wetted the muscles. That's reason. That's convincin'."
At the Rock Tavern the Preventive men found the clerk of S. Enodoc, with his hands in his pockets, on the settle, his legs stretched out before him, considering one of his knees that was threadbare, and trying to make up his mind whether the trouser would hold out another day without a thread being run through the thin portion, and whether if a day, then perhaps two days, and if perchance for two days, then for three. But if for three, then why not for four? And if for four, then possibly for five—anyhow, as far as he could judge, there was no immediate call for him to have the right knee of his trouser repaired that day.
The sexton-clerk looked up when the party entered, and greeted them each man by name, and a conversation ensued relative to the weather. Each described his own impressions as to what the weather had been, and his anticipations as to what it would be."
"And how's your missus?"
"Same, thanky'. A little troubled wi' the rheumatics."
"Tell her to take a lump o' sugar wi' five drops o' turpentine."
"I will, thanky"—and so on for half an hour, at the end of which time the party thought it time to rise, wipe their mouths, shoulder the anker, and return to the boat.
No sooner were they in it, and had thrust off from shore, and prepared to make a second start, than Oliver touched Wyvill and said, pointing to the land, "Look yonder."
"There is that clerk. Running, actually running."
"I reckon he be."
"And in the direction of Pentyre."
"So he be, I reckon."
"And what do you think of that?"
"Nothing," answered Wyvill, confusedly. "Why should I? He can't say nothing about where we be going. Not a word of that was said while us was there. I don't put no store on his running."
"I do," said Oliver, unable to smother his annoyance. "This folly will spoil our game."
Wyvill muttered, "I reckon I'm head of the consarn and not you."
Oliver deemed it advisable, as the words were said low, to pretend that he did not hear them.
The wind had somewhat abated, but the sea was running furiously round Pentyre. Happily the tide was going out, so that tide and wind were conflicting, and this enabled the rowers to get round Pentyre between the Point and the Newland Isle, that broke the force of the seas. But when past the shelter of Newland, doubling a spur of Pentyre that ran to the north, the rowers had to use their utmost endeavors, and had not their muscles been moistened they might possibly have declared it impossible to proceed. It was advisable to run into the cove just after dark, and before the turn of the tide, as, in the event of the Black Prince attempting to land her cargo there, it would be made with the flow of the tide, and in the darkness.
The cove was reached and found to be deserted. Oliver showed the way, and the boat was driven up on the shingle and conveyed into the smugglers' cave behind the rock curtain. No one was there. Evidently, from the preparations made, the smugglers were ready for the run of the cargo that night.
"Now," said Will, one of the Preventive men, "us hev' a' labored uncommon. What say you, mates? Does us desarve a drop of refreshment or does us not? Every man as does his dooty by his country and his king should be paid for 't, is my doctrine. What do y' say, Gearge? Sarve out the grog?"
"I reckon yes. Sarve out the grog. There's nothing like grog—I think it was Solomon said that, and he was the wisest of men."
"For sure; he made a song about it," said one of the coastguard. "It begins:
"'A plague of those musty old lubbers,
Who tell us to fast and to think,
And patient fall in with life's rubbers,
With nothing but water to drink.'"
"To be sure," responded Wyvill, "never was a truer word said than when Solomon was called the wisest o' men."