[From Mannin, #1, 1913]
THE evening shadows were gathering in the common room of a public house in Strand Street, Peel, about ninety years ago. The day had been stormy; a strong wind had kept the fishing fleet in the harbour. For hours the house had been busy with fishermen who had called to cook and eat their food, discuss the weather, and drink jough and rum.
Those fishermen living in the country had gone to their homes for the night, and the place seemed deserted, except for the crew of the Mauthe Dhoo. These were half a dozen swarthy fellows, who, with serious faces, sat at a table, talking in undertones.
The walls were white-washed. The floor, which was lower than the street, was of hard clay, sprinkled with dean white sand from the sea shore. Near the fireplace a few large stone flags, whose edges were decorated with a pattern in white chalk, gave an air of superiority to the room, and served as a place of honour where favoured customers sat in arm chairs with straight high backs.
The ceiling was formed by the floor of the room above. A heavy oak beam supported the joists and flooring boards. Age and tobacco smoke had stained the timber a rich warm brown, which helped to give a cosy homelike feeling to the place.
The fishermen seated at the table were deep-chested, well.built fellows, with unmistakable Celtic features. All were dressed in rough homespun. Their deep coats and waistcoats, with great collars, and wide double breasts ~ were secured by rows of large horn buttons.
They stopped talking as the door opened, and four sailors with drawn cutlasses entered the room. Captain Bartlett, of the revenue sloop "Hawk," the officer in charge, looked around, and singling out one of the fishermen beckoned him aside.
Juan Robin, skipper of the "Mauthe Dhoo," and Captain Bartlett drew their chairs to the chiollagh and began to converse in whispers.
The fishermen glowered suspiciously at the sailors who remained on guard near the door.
Suddenly Juan Robin turned in his chair and called "Pyee, bring some supper to these good fellows, and let them drink our health in some of the rum we got from the Atlantic. Give them as much as they can hold. King George is rather stingy with his rations, as I know from experience." Then lighting his pipe, he turned again to listen to Captain Bartlett.
A tall, strong featured woman, in a frilled cap, and short gown, with a blue and white check apron, brought in a large wooden tray laden with barley and oat cakes, butter and cheese. These she set on the table near the door, and went again into the back room, returning quickly with a large wooden jug of jough, and a bottle of rum.
The sailors remained standing, but at a nod from their leader sheathed their swords, and sat down on a form by the table and fell to the supper, which they soon devoured. Having finished his business the Captain rose from his seat, shook his head emphatically at the skipper, and with his men left the room without another word.
The place was now dark, and the candles were lighted. After making sure that no one was within hearing, Juan Robin joined the fishermen and said, "Captain Bartlett and I were shipmates in the Shannon frigate, and manned the same gun. He knows that the brig is "lying to" off the Calf. He says, I am suspected of smuggling, and they have been sent to watch us. He advises me to give up the business and stick to fishing. Now that the Isle of Mann has been handed over to the English Government, he says that they intend to hang the first Manxmen caught handling contraband goods. He must do his duty. I told him that we intend to meet the brig, and expect him to capture us if he can. Men, I know Bill Bartlett; he would take his own brother if duty demanded. But, we must live; we cannot stop our trade because the Government changes hands. When the Isle of Mann was sold we were not consulted."
Here one of the fishermen broke in:
"Theres neer an old wife that loves a dram, But will rue the sale of the Isle of Mann."
"Right thou are Illiam," said the skipper "but they did not sell us, and if we stick together we can land the cargo in spite of the Duke of Athol, or the English Government."
He finished speaking, and looked in turn into each dark face with questioning eyes. Each man solemnly nodded his head in agreement. Then bending nearer across the table they laid their plans for landing a small cargo of rum, from the brig "Lily" in from Jamaica, and running with it to a place of safety by the help of accomplices who were to watch their movements from the shore.
Juan Robins boat, the "Mauthe Dhoo" was the fastest craft in the Manx fishing fleet.
He was a man of original ideas, and with his own hands had built his boat regardless of the prevailing fashion. He reasoned that a boats bottom built on the lines of the body of a fast swimming fish like the mackerel, should ensure great speed, and he had built his vessel accordingly.
The "Mauthe Dhoo" was about thirty five feet long, and clincher built, and, in the coming race with the revenue sloop, the boats fast sailing and staying qualities would be tested to the utmost; and her speed, and her masters seamanship would be needed to save her crew from the gallows.
His Majestys sloop "Hawk" had been selected as a fast vessel to capture some of the notorious Manx smugglers, who were playing havoc with Customs regulations. She was of about 60 tons burden, and was in command of Captain Bartlett. She carried a large crew, and on her foredeck mounted a small truck gun which fired a seven pound ball. In addition to her fore-and-aft sails she was able, when running before the wind, to set a large square sail, which gave her a great advantage when the wind was astern.
The masters of both vessels were old shipmates, and both were men of desperate character.
Next morning before sunrise, the tide being out, the crew of the "Mauthe Dhoo" were busy smearing the bottom of the boat with some damaged butter, which Illiam the mate had brought from his home in the country. This was an idea of the skippers to enable the boat to slip through the water with the least possible friction.
By sunrise the boat was afloat, and they dropped lower down the harbour, and moored astern of the "Hawk."
On the deck of the skop a drowsy sailor was keeping watch, and roused himself to look with interest at the fishermen, who pretended to be busy with nets and molags.
Soon the sailor discovered that his watch was up, and went down the ladder into the forecastle, and could be heard rousing his mate, who was to relieve him.
There was a hurried consultation on the fishing boat, and then four men ran along the jibboom, and leaped on the deck of the sioop, and in a few seconds had secured the cabin companion, and the forecastle scuttle, imprisoning the crew of the "Hawk" below. Then wetting the blades of their knives at their lips, they sawed through the hempen lanyards of the cannon which was lashed to ringbolts in the deck.
The fishing boat then hauled alongside, and gun and carriage were lifted on board. Winding their vessel, they put out to sea, leaving behind the sloops crew hammering at the scuttle.
A fresh south-west wind was blowing, and the "Mauthe Dhoo" stood across the channel for an hour. As they opened the Calf, they saw far to windward the brig lying "hove to" waiting for them. They stayed, and lying as close the wind as they dared, stood in again for the land. As they did so, they could see the "Hawk" standing out to sea in pursuit.
"We can beat them on the wind," said Juan Robin, "but we have no time to lose if we want to get the rum on board. This will mean a chase round the Island, or I am very much mistaken. If our friends on shore cannot help us, we must hang on till dark, and then alter our course to shake off the sloop."
Nearer they crept to the brig, which now had squared her yards, and was running before the wind to meet them. Then dewing up her courses, she backed her main yards, and the small craft laid alongside and about twenty small kegs of rum were transhipped. The crew of the "Hawk" were near enough to see the business transacted, but were powerless to prevent it.
The brig was laid again on her course, and the "Mauthe Dhoo"with her cargo, stood in for the land. Before the fishermen rose the cliffs; but with the assurance of men who were familiar with the rocks and tides from boyhood, they ran boldly for the Calf Sound. The flood was still running strongly, and giving an extra pull on sheets and hailiards, they entered the narrow passage.
Under their lee the white breakers dashed on the Kitterland. A solitary sheep raised its head from the grass and looked in wonder at the intruders.
A few yards away on their starboard the tide surgedand eddied around the Thousla rock. Oars were got ready in case of mishap, but, keeping their luff well, the tide swept them through the dangerous passage, and in a few minutes they were safe in tbe open water with Spanish Head frowning down upon them.
Easing their sheets they steered for Langness, and then pulling out a big jib they ran it to the mast head, and with an oar for a boom they set it as a spinnaker on one side, and with the mainsail on the other they ran goose wing before the wind.
Meanwhile the crew of the "Hawk," shamed at the loss of their gun, and feeling their reputation as seamen at stake, were determined to overtake the smugglers.
They reached the entrance of the Sound too late to take advantage of the tide, and, as none of the crew had ever been through, they did not dare risk the passage.
There was nothing for it but to beat around the Calf. This delayed them a considerable time, and when at last they turned their vessel to the northward, they saw the smugglers far away to leeward.
The wind freshened, yet they crowded on sail and tore through the water after the fishing boat.
The smugglers soon found that they kept ahead with ease, and decided to allow the sloop to close on them, knowing that they could easily sail away when they wished.
"We will show these Englishmen that we can teach them how to build and sail boats," said the skipper to his crew. So they pulled in their sheets and allowed the Hawk to overtake them. While crossing Douglas Bay,the "Mauthe Dhoo" suddenly put down her helm and stood smartly across the bows of the "Hawk," which vessel, with her great square sail set for running, shot past to leeward. The fishing boat then stayed and stood out to sea.
The captain of the sloop was puzzled. There was no help for it but to return and give chase. This he did and soon both vessels were beating back to the southward again.
Then again the smuggler put about, slackened his sheets, hauled up his spinnaker, and ran before the wind. The "Hawk" did the same, and, being to leeward, their positions were reversed, and it now appeared as if the smuggler were the pursuer. Keeping at a safe distance, the fishing boat ran past the sloop, and Illiam sarcastically held out a rope to the Englishmen, offering them a tow.
Captain Bartlett now saw with mortification that the smugglers were playing with him.
Past Maughold Head they raced, and then lay across Ramsey Bay for the Point of Ayre. Here they met the wind ahead. Then the fishermen hailed the sloop and said that they had enjoyed their company very much, but now they must part. They found enough powder on the boat to charge the gun, and fired off the cannon in derision as a parting shot.
Laying the vessel close to the wind, they beat southward, tack for tack, leaving the sloop far astern.
Nearing Ballaugh, they observed a column of smoke ascending from a fire on the brews. Steering for the smoke, they saw men and carts waiting on the shore, and a boat coming off to meet them.
They ran in as low as they dared, and the rum was quickly transferred to the carts. With the last .boat load the cannon was sent ashore in charge of Juan Robin and Illiam and then, the "Mauthe Dhoo" stood away for the fishing grounds and shot her nets late that evening.
The "Hawk" followed the smugglers to the shore, and a party of armed sailors were landed. They found the coast sandy and desolate, and the fields bare, and with no place of concealment near.
At the nearest farmhouse they stopped and found only an old man digging in a field, leisurely planting cabbages.
~Where is the rum? they shouted." He shook his head and answered in Manx: "Teh fo nyn gassyn." *
Brandishing their cutlasses, they yelled; "Where is our cannon ?" "Where is the rum? " But he only smiled, and said, "Teh fo nyn gassyn." *
At last, in despair, they left him, and commenced to search the neighbourhood; but they discovered no trace of smuggler, or rum, or cannon, and late that night they tramped to Peel, angry, tired, and baffled.
The next day, Captain Bartlett, sore at the loss of his gun, approached Juan Robin, and said, "Give up the the gun, Juan, or I shall be disgraced, and, if you will, I shall not report the other matter."
"Bill," said the smuggler, "we can beat you close hauled, or running free, and as for the gun, we have no further use for it. If you care to go to Ballaugh, you will find it under the cabbages, in the field nearest the shore. The rum has been removed, but both rum and gun were under the cabbages at your feet, as the old Manxman told you, when you were bullying him.
CHRISTOPHER R. SHIMMIN.
* Anglice: "under your feet."