If you wake at midnight, and hear a horse's feet,
Don't go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street,
Them that asks no questions isn't told a lie.
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!
Five and twenty ponies trotting through the dark,
Brandy for the Parson,
Baccy for the Clerk,
Laces for a Lady,
Letters for a Spy,
And watch the wall my darling
While the gentlemen go by
From The Smugglers' Song, Rudyard Kipling.
Taxes are never popular and, if you're like me, you probably mutter and grumble a bit come the time to prepare taxes each year. Our dislike of taxes isn't a new thing. People have tried to avoid taxes or circumvent them since the Romans first introduced the idea.
Let's travel back to England in the 1700s. If you wanted a bottle of good brandy, some quality tobacco or your wife demanded tea or a length of French silk, chances are you'd turn to smugglers to provide the goods.
Smuggling was big business during this era. The Custom officers were few in number and poorly armed. This, along with the possible profits, led to a surge in smuggling. The smugglers were highly organized, often with entire families or villages helping to unload goods off ships under the cover of darkness. They'd blacken their faces and muffle their shoes with worsted stockings, carrying the goods themselves or on ponies. The locals who weren't involved knew to keep to their beds and ignore any sounds they heard during the middle of the night.
The smugglers would make more money in one night than they could earn in a week fishing or farming while the local gentry would receive the goods they coveted.
In the world of historical romance, we tend to think of smugglers as potential heroes, but smuggling was a dangerous business. Some of the smuggling gangs consisted of 20 - 40 men, all armed, which made the job of the Custom officer very dangerous indeed. The gangs in the south-east of England were prone to violence. It wasn't safe for locals to go out at night. Far better, I think, to pull the curtains against the night and enjoy the spoils the next day!
When I first decided to write a historical romance, I picked all my favorite elements and played with them to see if they'd fit my plot. Smugglers were the one element I managed to keep and I had fun writing them into my story.
Here's the blurb and a short smuggler excerpt from The Spurned Viscountess:
She must marry him.
Cursed with the sight and rumors of witchcraft, Rosalind's only chance at an ordinary life is marriage to Lucien, Viscount Hastings. She doesn't expect love, only security and children of her own. Determined to go through with the wedding, she allows nothing she encounters at the gloomy Castle St. Clare to dissuade her.
He wants nothing to do with her.
Recently returned from the Continent, Lucien has no time for the English mouse his family has arranged for him to marry, not when he's plotting to avenge the murder of his beloved Francesca. He has no intention of bedding Rosalind, not even to sire an heir.
Dark secrets will bind them.
Though spurned by her bridegroom, Rosalind turns to him for protection when she is plagued by a series of mysterious accidents and haunted by terrifying visions. Forced to keep Rosalind close, and tempted into passionate kisses, Lucien soon finds himself in grave danger of falling in love with his own wife…
“Stop right there, you thieving bastards! In the name of the king! Stop!”
Harry ignored the bellowed order and kept running. A gunshot rang out. Frank faltered beside him. The cask of brandy Frank carried smashed on the rocky ground. Harry turned, but blank eyes stared back. Frank was dead.
“Run, lad. Frank's done for. Save yer own skin.”
More gunshots. It was dark, so dark Harry couldn't see the path, but he kept running, his lungs wheezing like the blacksmith's bellows. Another shot. Pungent gunpowder. Wind whistled past his ear. Something hit a rock right by his leg. Then his leg collapsed under him. He staggered, the bundle of silk toppled, but he grabbed it before it rolled away.
“Don't stop, lad. You're almost safe.”
Pain. God, his leg hurt so bad.
“Lad, let me help you.” The man appeared in the mouth of the cave. A black cloak billowed in the breeze.
“I got my load,” Harry muttered. “Hawk will pay me.”
“Yes, lad. You'll get your portion.” The man helped Harry stagger to his feet.
“Hawk,” he gasped, seeing the black mask that went with the cloak.
“Let's get you to safety and we'll see about digging that bullet out. We need you better so you can watch Hastings and the castle. You! Fire at the excise men if they come too close to the cave. Give the rest a chance to get to safety through the labyrinth. Half an hour should do it.”
“You'll pay?” Harry demanded.
Hawk chuckled and ruffled his hair. “Yes, lad. You do a good job. You'll get the money you deserve.”
Purchase link for The Spurned Viscountess.
Thanks to Book Faery for having me here to visit today.
Source: The History of Customs & Excise, National Museums Guide, Merseyside.
CONTEST: I'm giving away a download of The Spurned Viscountess to one reader. Do you like smugglers or highwaymen in your historical romances? Do you prefer them to be the hero or the villain? Do you have any favorite smuggler stories?
Shelley Munro lives in New Zealand and enjoys both writing and reading historical romance. She's always on the lookout for a good gothic historical and when she can't find any, she writes her own. Plans are underway for her next…. You can visit Shelley and learn more about her books at http://www.shelleymunro.com