Tuesday, 27 July 2010
KNOW THINE ENEMY By Andrew Millen
Know Thine Enemy
Arundel 12th May 1741
Thirty men sat on the beach around a makeshift fire, passing round flasks of rum. Smoke from clay pipes curled into the air as they laughed and joked with each other. One of the men pulled out a fiddle, and began to play a tune, another sang while a couple more danced to the tune in the cool moonlit night.
Sitting on his own, Arthur Grey watched this sight briefly, and then turned his head back to watch the sea; watching for the five lantern flashes that indicated the cutter they were expecting was closing in. Taking a pull on his drink as he glanced over at the ponies standing on the beach, obediently waiting to be loaded up with the cargo from the ship, he smiled to himself. He knew he was working with men who knew their jobs well, and could be relied upon when the call to action came, and he forgave them their casual attitude while they were doing the waiting.
From the distance, the flashes came, Grey counted them, and, satisfied that this was the boat he was waiting for, he held up his own lantern, removing the cloth covering it so it shone like a solitary beacon in the night, guiding the ship to the shore, ready to be unloaded. He called out, and the men stopped their merriment, and stood ready to work, this was what they did, this was how they earned their money.
As the boat came to a halt close to the beach – it’s shallow hull making it easy to navigate the shallow waters and get as close to the beach as possible, most of the thirty men went forward, forming a human chain to unload the tubs of tea and rum and secure them on the ponies, ready to be distributed later on, most ending up in the fashionable tea houses of London. Five of the men stood watch on the top of the beach, in case they were disturbed by the men from the revenue.
Tom Kingsmill was one of these men. One of the younger of gang, he nevertheless was beginning to command the trust and respect of his comrades in a way that belied his age. He never shirked his duties, be they loading, or, in this case, on lookout duties. His sharp eyes scanned the approach to the beach, looking for any sign that they had been discovered. His hands rested on the sword buckled by his side, and the pistol that he always kept with him, which he had loaded and primed ready. The pistol was his prized possession; the tale of how he had obtained it five years earlier, taking the life of its previous owner, cemented his reputation at the age of thirteen as a man unafraid to use violence, and a man not to cross without good reason.
Meanwhile, Josiah Bentley; the collector of customs for the Chichester area; led his party of men riding on the road between Arundel and the beach. He looked back at the fifteen men that accompanied him, confident that the nine dragoons would hold sway in what was to come. He had dismissed objections from some of the riding officers that rode with him that their numbers were not large enough to be effective with a wave of his hand. “Trained Dragoons, Mr Johnson, Trained dragoons against a rabble of drunkards and ne’er do wells, there will be no need to worry,” he proudly stated. Johnson, the older man by more than a decade, was less than convinced, he had been a riding officer long enough to know that what they were up against was far from a rabble, but a well organised force, fully capable of holding their own in a fight, but, he allowed himself to be silenced, knowing that Bentley would not listen to any contrary viewpoint, but fearing what they would encounter.
“Let’s show these rogues that the law rules around here, eh Mr Johnson?” Bentley said, his confidence never wavering.
“Just be careful, the informant never said how many men were on the beach, they will have enough to make a fight over it.” Johnson warned, hoping that he could persuade his superior into a cautious approach.
“Piffle,” Bentley replied, dashing Johnson’s hopes in one word. “I have trained soldiers, that man Grey has a drunken rabble of cowards, we will have them nicely in Gaol by the end of the night and hung before the week’s out.” He turned to face the beach, now seeing the men at work by the light of well placed lanterns. Even seeing the number of men on the beach, his confidence never wavered. “That’s the trouble, you lot have no backbone. With me in charge, that will change.” He spurred his horse on, calling the men to arms.
“Soldiers!” came the cry from one of the lookouts, and Grey swore under his breath. He had expected discovery, but the soldiers meant a fight rather than bribery would be the way this would end.
“How many?” he called back.
“Perhaps twelve, perhaps fifteen, I reckon mo more,” the lookout called.
“Men, to arms!” Grey called out, the cry taken up around the beach, the men immediately put the tubs they were carrying down, and drawing their weapons, swords and cudgels mostly, but some of the men ran to one of the ponies, loading expertly the long guns they carried with them, ready for the prospect of having to fight their way off the beach. It wasn’t just the revenue they feared, other gangs weren’t averse to trying to snatch the goods once they were unloaded; the Hawkhurst men were far from their usual haunts, and were extra cautious.
Bentley looked at the men on the beach, and smiled to himself. He ordered his force to spread out, and be ready, while he rode his horse a small way in front. Raising his voice, he addressed the smugglers directly. “You men are all under arrest in the name of King George, by the grace of God second of that name. I order you to put down your weapons and surrender immediately. Those goods belong to the Crown.”
Grey walked towards the mounted Officer, stopping a few feet short. He hawked and spat in the ground in front of the man, as if directly challenging him. “The Crown’s goods?” he asked. “Did Good King George pay for them? Is he here, unloading the boat? No, we paid for them, we are unloading them and we will sell them. Best you turn around and find an inn somewhere. Toast the Good Kings health, and be thankful for your own,” he said, receiving a cheer from his men behind him.
Bentley looked apoplectic with rage at this show of defiance. “This is your last warning,” he shouted back. “My trained soldiers have orders to shoot if you refuse to surrender; you will be brought to justice dead or alive” The laughter that greeted this remark merely served to anger him further.
Kingsmill spoke up “How are you proposing to arrest us? There seem to be more of us than there are of you, Do as Mr Grey says, and find an Inn.” This was met with more cries of laughter from the men on the beach.
Bentley just turned to the Dragoon officer, and, with a nod of his head, signalled the start of the attack. “Men at..” The Captain started to say, but a well aimed shot caught him between the eyes, before he was able to finish. Bentley looked across, swearing under his breath, and completed the order for the dragoons to attack. The death of their officer spurred them into the fray, battle hardened men who were unafraid to take on the enemy. They were met with more resistance than they thought. Far from being an “unorganised rabble” they soon found their opponents able to hold their own, meeting the dragoons charge with a volley of fire from their long guns and pistols, felling three of their number before they had got close. This effectiveness caused some of them to falter, their pause creating gaps in the line which the smugglers were keen to exploit.
Kingsmill, smiling to himself at his accuracy in shooting the officer, drew his heavy sword and charged into the nearest man, a riding officer. Pulling the man off of his horse, he rained in a series of blows with his sword and boots, ignoring his victim’s screams for mercy. “Take your mercy to God, see if he will listen, because I will not,” he spat as he struck the man with his sword, the blow nearly taking his head from his shoulders. He looked up, to see that the battle had progressed down the beach, the dragoons and customs men surrounded by the rest of the gang, who had cut off their chance of escape. Smiling to himself, he made his way to the two men on horseback who hadn’t charged in, signalling for others to follow him.
Bentley watched the events unfold with horror; knowing he had miscalculated the enemy. To his left, Johnson looked at his superior, his contempt showing in his eyes. “See!” he hissed. “You have got these men killed with your stupidity. I suggest we leave quickly, before we share their fate.”
Numbly, Bentley nodded, and turned his horse around, ready to follow the local officer, but found his way blocked by four men, pistols and swords raised.
“Now, where do you think you are going?” Kingsmill said.
“Just let us go, you have beaten us, we have wives and families...” Johnson pleaded.
“That may be, but you set out to thieve from us, and thieves must be punished,” Kingsmill replied, as the other three men took hold of the two horses’ reins, preventing escape. The men were soon unceremoniously dragged from their horses, Kingsmill holding one man at pistol point while one of the others pointed his pistol at Bentley.
“I will see you hang for this!” snarled Bentley. Kingsmill’s response was to turn his pistol round, and smash the butt into the man’s face, his nose exploding into a mass of snot and blood. The stricken man’s screams filled the air, and Kingsmill turned to the other men and laughed.
As he turned back to look at his prisoner, Bentley saw the murderous look in his eyes. “Yeah, you and who’s army?" Kingsmill sneered. “I mean, this one did you not bloody good.” This was met by more laughter from his companions, Johnson, meanwhile just lay there, snivelling in fear.
The other gang members soon came up the beach, towards Kingsmill, letting the surviving dragoons flee, the two prisoners were tied up, and dragged protesting towards the shore line, where they were dumped unceremoniously on the ground, as the smugglers went back to the job of unloading the cargo.
After an hour, the job was finished, and the horses were led off up the beach towards the town, where the goods would be weighed out and sold on; by morning, each man would be richer, and the goods distributed far and wide, much of it ending up in the very tea houses favoured by Members of Parliament and the aristocracy.
“What about us?” spluttered Bentley; fear overcoming the pain from his smashed nose; as Grey and Kingsmill began to walk up the beach to rejoin their comrades. “You can’t just leave us here; the tides damn you, the tides.”
Grey turned round to the two men, chained up and helpless, unable to move; let alone save themselves from the incoming tide. Indeed, Johnson was already feeling the waves lapping at his feet, paralyzed in fear.
“Actually, we can.” Grey said, observing the look of horror on the Collector of Custom’s face. “See, that’s what you don’t realize, this is our land here, we make the law, not you, nor Parliament, nor the King. Us. Our word is law, and you have broken that law."
Kingsmill looked at the two men, spitting at them in contempt. “Best you start praying to ‘im upstairs” he said. “And make ‘em good ones, I reckon you have a hour to save your souls,“ he paused, staring at the sea, and the boat disappearing off into the horizon, before hurriedly rejoining the others, leaving the two men to their fate, the bodies of their comrades littering the beach, the cries of the gulls mocking them as the waves drew in.
Living in Hawkhurst for many years, the local history of its inhabitants has always interested Andrew, and as most of the fiction around this subject romanticises the smugglers, Andrew is keen that his writing does just the opposite.
Recently divorced, he is due to attend university in October as a mature student. He has written other short stories and ideas purely for his own amusement. His recent split from his wife has prompted him to take what he writes seriously. As well as the short stories he has written a full length novel, Staymaker, based around the downfall of the Hawkhurst gang in the late 1740's. He is currently developing more ideas around the same period and theme, research for Staymaker has given him ideas for other books which are being sketched out at the moment. He is very keen to stay within this topic for future work.