The soft swish and click of the oars in the boats gate coincided with the soft splash of the dark waters.
Here close to the shore it was filled with seaweed that threatened to snag oars and ensnare rudders with every stroke.
With a final heave, Smedely pushed the oars through the waves, the bow sliced through the hard gravel of the beach with a crunching noise which sounded half deafening in the silent night.
Undoing the flap on the dark-lantern, I shined the light from the oil-soaked wick on their cargo.
It was only a small boat, but tobacco, brandy and the flat wine from the region champagne.
The latter would be filled with bubbles by one of their associates before being bootlegged to the gentry, minus the import and excise tax.
I always had found it ironic, that with one hand those in high places condemn us, while holding out in the other hand, a glass full of the fruit's of our labor.
This night should have been no different. Pull up on the cove, unload the cargo on the gravel and then have our men in the village help us load it into the storage cave hewn out of the limey rock of the cliff.
From there, the goods would be taken up to the village, this way no-one can sight our haul and we don't need to work without using out glims.
A lot of effort, but it was a job and it's a business that never went into decline.
This evening however, we wasn't the only ones out for a midnight stroll. Or late night pleasure cruise.
I don't mind most officials, they keep the stupes and the dangerous from making trouble.
I aint never lifted a cutlass or held up a shop at bow-point; I always make sure I know the local constabulary by name and make a point of tipping them a few florin's for their troubles.
I've known smugglers, acquaintances like, about to give themselves up, be asked by the coppers if they can help unload.
O'course, that all don't help when they have some high up toff supervising the arrest, with his nose stuck up and buck teeth braying orders like some idiot horse on it's way to the knackers yard.
I knew the men that took us both. Smedley tried to run and got shot in the back by the toff. Musket job; must have been proud of it, because he immediately began to reload. I've see people lose their fingers doing that. This fellow cocked the flint before he'd even put the powder in, an act of idiocy so bad you have to be born into it.
Even the men wot were cuffing me were unhappy with the shooting like; the man on my right, Smithson I think, Smedley had gone to his wedding, handed a box perfume he picked up over in paree. No questions by either side.
The Toff, not content with shooting smedly, backhanded me and ordered the men with him to burn the boat. The experienced officers blanched. Traditionally, the boats that get taken in become sort'a bonus like, they get to keep nice things that won't be missed.
Mind you, I think that the noble didn't care, to him it was just some story to be told and embellished at lah-dee-dah fancy get-togethers.
Anyways, not much else about that night to say; the coppers led me to the cells, apologizing all the way. They knew, see, that it's racket's like mine which make crumby little town's places where those with the cash want to do their shopping.
That's where the money is. And while they buy bootleg, they spread the rest of their wealth around. Eating houses, Doxies, salons and barbers, specialist carpenters, smithy who works special on commission like. Built on the lure of stamp free liquor and tax free tobacco.
I remember when they out-lawed tobacco a few years back. One of my best years; not just me neither. Everyone coined it then.
So, there's not much more to tell really, it's business like mine that keep's the smaller shires in business instead of glorified mutton merchants.
You just wait'n see. I'm devout, you know, which is why I agreed to come and confess; but I aint' ever done nothing wrong.
I hear that scratchin. I knows you is recording this and I hopes to lord in heaven you keep it private as you is bound to.
But mark me this. I'm not just a ferryman, who brings in sommit that I bought in some Ree-tail shop in a fancy French port. I'm a smuggler and come what may, I keep the wheel's of commerce turning. Sure the big men in their velvet robes might tell other people to hang me, but that evening they'll reach for their decanters and stop, remembering it'll be a fair chunk more expensive.
God's truth (He said it in a single syllable, which I most accurately can represent as 'strewth'),
I aint gonna hang. They can order my neck broken. But who wants to do it? The man in er-mine that don't want his hands dirty, no, not them nor the men who sit with their wigs and pompous expressions.
It'll be men, men on my level, who know me and want me to keep going, because I am what keep's them and their near's'n'dears getting their daily bread.
You though, you with your scratchy quill, you haven't been here long, I'd know you otherwise; and I see you is a bit doubting of the validity of my claiming here.
But let me tell it to you, explain like , this town, it ain't got more than three boats tied up at its little jetty.
It don't have more than two farms nearby. Yet it do have two barbershops and a posh ladies hair salon place. It ain't on a proper road, but it do have six different mer-chant-ile establishment's.
It ain't on the way to anywhere. But it have four lodging houses, a brothel or house of sin as you might say, a tanner who does bridles and work on cinches and tack. A cobbler and a good one at that, a tinker who works with clocks and mechanisms like and the like; You see where I'm going with this. You know I'm right in sayin' that there be no way this here township cloud support itself with mine and my… associates, trade.
That's why I won't be hanging young reverend, I've got many more hauls to ship and ships to haul. Looks like our time here is up.... I'll be seeing you again I'm sure.
March 15 1855: After recording my conversation with the condemned man, I was inclined to think him raving and disillusioned. Surely, a township as faithful as thif one would not be so rebellious as to defy the decree of our god-blessed monarch… However, the more I examined the township, the more I realized the truth of his words. All the customers are of a class who are more commonly found in their various court's and estates. Much of the wares in the store-rooms of Birch and son's were of continental origin and undeniable luxury.
Though I pretend to know nothing of trade, instead preferring to appear as a covenanted official of the church, my father's (God reft his soul) mercantile background has left me in little doubt as to the value and therefore illegality of these goods and their apparently thriving trade.
Most disturbing however, was the apparent abfence of either ashef or corpse for me to perform the last rite'f on post execution.
The lack of witnesses to the act leaves me in little doubt that the apparently raving man was in fact entirely correct; The townsfolk would not hang him for fear of ruining themselves by the loss of regular tax free imports.
I am unsure what to do; for already by not confessing my background to the townsfolk, I am deceiving them. Nor can I reveal what was confessed to me.
All I can hope for is to remain silent and pray that I do not learn anything else which might burden my own soul.