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A TALE OF THE COAST-GUARD. I HAD a conference with Sir Joseph Yorke one afternoon at Portsmouth, shortly after receiving a rather extraordinary commission from the comptroller of the CoastGuard and the secretary of the Admiralty, and had no sooner made him acquainted with its chief features, the plan of action sketched out, and the kind of person I stood chiefly in need of to successfully carry into effect the instructions of my superiors, than he exclaimed : • Warneford, I know the very man that will suit you : Tom Davis, one of the cleverest fellows in his way I ever met with—cool as steel, and sober, too, except when off duty, as a water-cask. A native, moreover, I verily believe, of the very place you mention - certainly of Devonshire. We shall find or hear of him, I daresay, somewhere about Common-Hard. Let us after him at once. He was my cockswain for a long time, but has been many months out of a berth, and is of course hard aground; so that I shall serve him as well as you.'
We had not far to go. The very first street we turned into presented an amusingly characteristic scene. About
fifteen men, belonging to an Austrian vessel of war then in the harbour, had taken advantage of being on shore to procure themselves a supply of fresh fish, as every one of them had two or three suspended from his right-hand forefinger. They were walking, unaccompanied by an officer as far as I saw, quietly and steadily, in single-file, along the edge of the pavement, towards the harbour : when it is added that they wore braces, stocks round their necks-perhaps this was a part of shore dresssmall gold rings in their ears, and had that drilled, halfmilitary carriage which distinguishes the levies of the maritime conscriptions of continental states, the contrast they offered to the rolling gait, the loose array, the slack apparel, the tipsy, boisterous fun, and altogether devilmay-care aspect of a party of British men-of-war's-men ashore under similar circumstances, was certainly a very striking one. This was clearly the opinion of a smart, athletic English seaman, who chanced to meet the foreigners; and instantly swinging himself off the pavement into the gutter, contemplated them as they passed with such a half-drunken yet intense look, made up of astonishment, contempt, disdain, as it is possible to conceive. He remained dumb till the last had gone by, and then slowly turning on his heel, breathed out his pent - up compassion and surprise in one emphatic exclamation : 'Well, I'm!'
We had approached so closely, that the coarse participle which concluded the sentence was uttered almost directly in Sir Joseph's face, a circumstance which brought the sailor suddenly up in some dismay.
• You will be, Tom Davis,' exclaimed the admiral, sternly enough, but for the merry twinkle of his eyes you will be, depend upon it, if you don't shake off the disgraceful habit you are giving way to. What right have you to grin and sneer at those respectable foreign A Bs, I should like to know? I am sure you couldn't toe a line of kerbstone, at this moment, as straight as they are doing it. And how would you look, I wonder, strapped up in stays and braces, your nose cocked into the air by a throat-collar, and with rings in your ears ! -eh?'
• But aint they lubbers, your honour?' replied Davis, quickly recovered from his momentary confusion. “Only just look at that long, wall-sided ’
• Hold your tongue, sir! I have recommended you to this gentleman for a particular service ; though, if he were to judge of your general conduct by present appearances, he would certainly have nothing to do with you.
Davis mumbled out something about having nothing else to do but drink to drown care; and as I knew from Sir Joseph, that, like hundreds of other seamen I have known, he could resolutely abstain from liquor when it was necessary to do so, and as I altogether greatly liked his aspect, especially his keen, resolute, honest look, we soon came to an understanding, and it was agreed that he should call on me early the following morning for precise instructions.
The duty to be performed had been necessitated by the following circumstances :-It had come to the knowledge of the Customs' authorities, that vast quantities of goods, silks, lace, and gloves especially, were constantly smuggled into England, chiefly along the coast of Devonshire, by a skilfully organised agency, possessed of resources so great as to baffle all ordinary means of repression. The rendezvous of the local agents of this formidable confederacy, the head-quarters of which were without question in London, was supposed to be somewhere in the neighbourhood of Sidmouth, the charming Devonshire village on the little River Sid, which issues into the sea near the beautiful bay contiguous to the Dorset line of coast. There was no blame attributed to the Preventive Service attached to the locality, either ashore or afloat; but it was deemed necessary that the cunning and novel expedients had recourse to in order to defraud the national revenue, should be met, and, if possible, defeated, by similar devices exerted in its defence. For this purpose, I had the honour of being selected. All doubtful as well as reliable information in possession of the authorities was placed in my hands, and the general course of action indicated, but still leaving me a large discretionary margin; and it was ordered that no lack of means should stand in the way of the successful accomplishment of the mission with which I was intrusted.
At my interview the next morning with Davis, I was glad to find that his natural intelligence, his quick motherwit, was as strongly marked as his fine seaman - like qualities. He was a native of Plymouth, and known by several persons about Sidmouth as a prime sailor, though just then out of luck. It was not long, either, before I discovered that he, like most of us, had his El Dorado, with its attendant houri, in shadowy perspective. In other words, that a fishing-bark of some fifteen tons burden-a cottage on the Devonshire coast, with scarletbean or other runners climbing up its front, and festooning an arbour, in which a pipe might now and then be sweetly smoked—a black-eyed damsel, at service in Tynemouth, to light and cheer it, with toddlin' wee things' in the distance—were the dreams he had indulged in, though but faintly of late—dreams that, as we talked and planned, assumed the colour of realities ; for the reward to him, if successful, would be large. I was not sorry that he had this additional incentive to exertion ; for the enterprise, I neither attempted to conceal from myself nor from him, was a perilous one.
It was at length determined that Davis should set off at once-not by coach, as that would by no means accord with the character of a distressed mariner, but on his ten toes—to Sidmouth, hang about there, and let it be well understood that he was in want of employment, and not particular to a shade of what kind, so it was a paying one. He was unknown to any of the crew of the Rose, and we agreed that he should remain so; and that, in fact, no person whatever, except myself and Sir Joseph Yorke, was to know that he and I were in correspondence with each other. Tom started off in high spirits; and a week afterwards, a large lugger-boat we had captured some time before—but now so entirely transmogrified by paint and fresh old sails, that her former owners could not have recognised her—was despatched in charge of four trusty men to a near point on the Dorset coast, with the ostensible object of fishing there. Ten more reliable seamen were sent off in five separate parties, and took up their abodes at various inland places within easy reach of each other, under strict orders to as much as possible avoid observation. This done, I started for London, booked myself by the Eclipse Devonshire coach as Lieutenant Robert-a compromise, by the way, between my unconquerable dislike to the assumption of a feigned name and the intimation of the desirableness of doing so, I had received at head-quarters—and was duly set down at the Lord Exmouth'roadside inn, about four miles out of Sidmouth on the London road.
Tom Davis had arrived some days before, and although he would not risk even a wink as I passed him, was, I soon found, getting on very well indeed. The manner in which our correspondence was carried on soon gave rise to a rumour, that I was engaged in a clandestine correspondence with a lady of the neighbourhood-an imputation, by the by, which did not in the slightest degree damage me with the fair folk of the inn and tiny neighbourhood. Davis received a number of folded sheets of paper-envelopes were unknown in those days, directed in my sister Jane's handwriting to 'Lieutenant Robert, Exmouth Inn, near Sidmouth;' together with a small lady's seal, bearing the motto, Toujours à vous ;' words which I overheard one of the ushers at a neighbouring school render, at the instance of the curious barmaid, into,' All days to you!' These sheets were filled up by Davis—who wrote a tolerable hand, though his spelling was somewhat Devonian—and slily posted in the night.
The memoranda with which I had been officially furnished, stated that one Silas Hartley, residing at Trafalgar Cottage, a few miles from Sidmouth, had exhibited great zeal in aid of the Preventive Service, although