Kingsmill looked at the men gathered in the Oak and Ivy, his men. They had done him proud this past year, and it raised his sprits to see them, all ready to work for him again. Most of them were labourers, anxious to supplement their meagre wages and provide more for their families. In return for unloading the tea, rum and coffee, the Cutter would be filled with wool for the return journey, given by farmers in return for a cut in the profits. These ships were filled to bursting with illegal goods, there was a lot of money involved, and a large number of inns across the country owed their livelihoods to what was brought in. Tea was the most profitable of the smuggled goods; since the King had introduced the duties on it, London’s fashionable had turned to the tea brought in by Cutters like the one they were waiting for, and unloaded by men like these. Of course, for that, there was big money involved, not paid for by a few bales of wool alone. It was said that four fifths of all the tea consumed in Britain was brought in under cover of darkness.
“Gentlemen,” Kingsmill raised his voice in an attempt to silence the crowd. “In three nights, we will be back to work again. Proper work. The ship will arrive along the coast – I will let you all know where on the night, the usual rules apply here.” This got a nervous laugh from the assembled men. “We will unload, and deliver the cargo to Jacob Pring. We will be paid handsomely for this; some big London money has been put up this time, so their better not be any fuck-ups., We are working with the men from Chichester on this, and I expect you all to work together fairly; we have too much at stake to risk it all on silly arguments. Now, we will meet in the usual place in Hurn Forest in a couple of days’ time, until then, gentlemen, goodnight.”
As he finished, the men began to wander off, in groups of two or three, some calling out for another drink, others hurrying home to their wives, ready for a long day in the fields tomorrow, Isaac crept out from his hiding place, just behind a door at the back. He tried to creep through to the kitchens, without being spotted. He knew what happened to bad boys who listened to things they weren’t meant to; leastways his Ma would fetch him a clip round the ear if he ever dared to listen to what was going on with her and her callers. He feared that if he was caught, Kingsmill would fetch him more than a clout; leastways, it would be more painful. He was just about to open the door, when he felt a tug at his ear. He looked round, and saw that it was Ferial that had grabbed him. “Please sir, I heard nuffin, nuffin. I wasn’t listening, honest sir…Ow”
“Aah, laddie,” Ferial just laughed, and, still holding the boy by his ear, dragged him to the centre of the inn, and to Kingsmill. “I has caught me a rat Tom. What are we gonna do with it, eh? Feed it to me hounds,” he laughed, and nodded over at the two large dogs that had accompanied him. Isaac shuddered, and started to cry.
“P…Please sir, I d…didn’t mean to sirs. I w…won’t tell a soul,” he said between sobs.
“Easy Billy, easy” Kingsmill looked down kindly at the boy. He didn’t want the lad to come to any harm, but knew that if he didn’t get him on side, the lad might just run away, and then he would have to be stopped, lest he decided to talk. “Hey, Isaac lad, can you count? Did your Mammy learn you your Numbers, eh?”
“Yes, Sir,” he sniffed, and continued in a proud voice. “All the way to ten sir. I have ten fingers, look,” and he started to count them.
“Good lad, I can use a boy that can count, a bright lad like you will go a long way. I will need you to stand on the cliff, and count the number of flashes from a lantern, then flash back, understand?” Kingsmill said, laughing.
Isaac nodded, his face brightening. He had heard the tales of the smugglers from the Mermaid, and now he was going to be part of them. His face swelled with pride.
“Right, now run along, I’m sure Connie has a bed ready for you.” Kingsmill said. Isaac run out, almost charging straight into Connie as she strode towards the men.
“You fucking bastard Thomas Kingsmill” she shouted as she slapped him. He grabbed her arm, and pulled it roughly down to her side. She winced through the pain, but carried on her rant. “He’s no part in this, he is just a kiddie. You leave him out of it, do you hear!”
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