I’ve challenged Author Stuart S. Laing to write a story inspired by this photo shared on Facebook a few weeks ago and he accepted my challenge and wrote a short story called The Day of Storms that takes place in The Kingdom of Fife, Scotland, February 5th 1794. In this story, you will meet Sarah, Rebecca Hopkins and a band of ruthless smugglers.
The Kingdom of Fife, Scotland.
February 5th 1794.
Sarah Hopkins rolled her eyes in annoyance as she watched the dwindling figure of her coachman being swallowed up by the driving wind lashing across the frozen quayside. With a barely suppressed sigh her hazel eyes turned towards the broken wheel which had brought her journey to a sudden halt here in the small fishing village of Anstruther on the East Neuk of Fife. Losing a wheel had been bad enough, but the coach driver had then contrived to somehow allow the horses to escape as he unharnessed them. With a flick of their tails the two black geldings had galloped off into the stormy night with the hapless driver in pursuit.
“The man is a fool,” she declared into the blizzard with a firm nod of her delicate chin. Burying her head deeper into the shelter of her hooded cloak she pouted in annoyance while snow and sea spray blew around her in the gale force wind. What should have been a simple journey was rapidly descending into a nightmare following a visit to relatives in the village of Crail. A day which had started with bright sunshine had given way to increasingly powerful winds and heavy rain which soon turned to heavy snow shortly after the coach had begun the eleven miles back to Kilconquhar and home where, no doubt, father would be ready to complain endlessly about the problems caused by smugglers. The relatives had been equally keen to expound on the ne’er-do-wells who caused no end of trouble to those responsible for taxing everything that landed in the string of villages clinging along the coast between Leven and St. Andrews. Sarah was sure she had heard all she ever wanted to about these nefarious mariners. A journey which normally took less than two hours had stretched into four as the coach fought its way through gathering snow drifts and badly maintained roads. And now, thanks to a broken wheel, the journey seemed endless. With an angry glance back through the white wall of snow at the hidden coachman she said in high dudgeon, “A complete and contemptible fool!”
“I can’t say I argue with you on that, sister,” the young woman standing in the shelter of the tilted coach said as Sarah joined her, narrowly avoiding being soaked by a deluge of sea water as storm lashed waves crashed against the quay sending great geysers of water and foam fountaining high into the frigid air to be blown across the road to drown the row of cottages facing the water. It seemed a competition between the white spume and snow to see which would cover the quayside first against the sullen darkness of the night sky. “But until he returns I suggest we find somewhere out of this weather.” Her own hazel eyes looked back and forth along the row of cottages to see a score of low buildings, all silent as though the entire village had retired to bed to sleep away the storm. Bed sounded so good right now, she thought. The very thought of being nestled down below warm blankets and quilts was enough to make her smile.
“Rebecca!” Sarah scolded her with a fresh pout. “I can see no good reason to be standing there with a silly smile on your face. We could catch our death of cold if we persist in standing here like complete ninnies!”
“Exactly what I was saying, Sarah,” Rebecca replied with a fresh smile playing on her lips.
With a huff of annoyance at the foolish, frivolous nature of her twin Sarah scowled but then shivered violently as a fresh blast of freezing air drove snow and spray against her body and face. Her own eyes gazed towards the snug looking homes, all battened down against the foul night. “Should we knock on one of the doors? Perhaps we can rouse the occupants. I am sure they will make us welcome when I tell them who our father is.”
“Yes? Or they blow us to Kingdom Come with a blunderbuss!” Rebecca laughed lightly. With one hand holding her hood firmly in place, she peered through the driving snow and spray sweeping across the quayside. Finally the snow eased just enough to reveal a hint of light peeking around the edge of a tightly shuttered window. “There,” she announced triumphantly as she pointed out her discovery. “Sanctuary awaits us.” Not waiting for her twin to respond Rebecca was already boldly striding towards the light as the easterly storm force winds pushed at her back.
Sarah, uncertainly followed in her wake. She felt nervous about seeking shelter with complete strangers and, if she was completely honest, was sorely tempted to call Rebecca back so they could await the coachman’s return within the scant shelter of the broken coach. With an exasperated exhale she unwillingly forced herself to follow her sister’s footprints through the several inches of snow already covering the cobbles. As the sisters drew closer the building was revealed to be a tavern. The crazily swinging sign hanging above the door named it as The Dolphin.
Rebecca, turning her face towards her sister said smugly as she blinked hard against the wind and snow buffeting her chilled flesh, “See! A tavern. They’ll have a warm fire, hot food and a glass of wine to chase away the cold.”
Sarah, as she reached her sister’s side, looked apprehensively at the tavern with its closed door and shuttered windows. There was nothing to suggest this was an establishment which was looking, or wishing for, customers this night. Once more she was on the verge of suggesting they simply hurry back to their coach when another blast of icy air swept over her raising goose-flesh on every inch of her body. “Very well,” she all but shouted to be heard above the roar of wind and endless waves crashing explosively against the stone quay and wooden jetties. As they approached the door a nagging thought caught her mind. Lying a restraining arm on Rebecca’s arm she called out, “How will our driver know where to find us if we are there?”
Rebecca gave an eloquent shrug. “I am confident he will have the wits about him to realise that this tavern is the most logical place to look for us. Now come on. I can barely feel my fingers and toes. If we loiter here much longer we shall become icicles.”
* * *
Sarah, still not entirely convinced as to the wisdom of seeking shelter here, allowed her frozen feet to trudge through the snow as blinding billows of snow swirled around her while Rebecca wasted no time in pushing at the tavern door below the madly creaking sign only to find it firmly locked. Placing an ear against the cold wood she could the muted sound of laughter from within. Blowing a crowd of angry steam through pouting lips she rapped loudly on the ancient planks of the door. At her first rap all sound was extinguished instantly. When, after a moment’s wait, no’one responded to her knocking she repeated her action with even more force.
“We’re closed,” a man’s rough voice barked out from behind the sealed portal. “Come back in the morning.”
“Please, sir, you cannot leave helpless children outside on a night like this. We shall surely perish if you turn us away.” Rebecca’s eyes rolled as she made this seemingly heartfelt plea while her sister cast a look back towards the coach hidden by the falling snow. Rebecca meanwhile had an ear pressed once more against the door to barely discern the sound of hurried murmurs as though several men were debating what to do. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, she could hear a key grating in the lock before the door opened barely an inch to reveal a hooded, dark eye staring suspiciously at her.
That eye could see two young women standing shivering in the heavy snow. They were wrapped in thick travelling cloaks of the finest quality. Their pale, chilled faces were beautiful to behold and the lack of worry lines on their clear skin reflected they had never once in their lives had to fret over where their next meal was coming from. “Gentry,” he thought to himself with a dismissive snort. “And you are no children either, are you? No, my girls, I know just how old you are. Nineteen come your next nativity if memory serves. But what I don’t know is why you are here. A place where your kind have no business being.” The unblinking eye stared coldly at their imploring faces. “Like I told you, girl. We are closed. Best be on your way home now.”
“What?” Rebecca stuttered out in shock. “You cannot seriously refuse to offer us shelter, sir.”
“I can. And I am!”
“Please, sir. Our coach has lost a wheel. Our coachman has taken off in pursuit of the horses which he managed to let loose. We just need somewhere to rest out of this vile weather until he returns and finds us.”
“And I have five pounds,” Sarah added quickly despite being increasingly uncertain about whether she would not rather take her chances of returning to the coach rather than enter the tavern. Forcing herself to smile as warm air seeped out around the door to enticingly tempt her. Swallowing down her misgivings she added, “That money is yours, sir, if you can see fit to allow a seat by your fire, a glass of wine and perhaps something to eat? We just need some respite from this weather.”
“Five pounds, eh?” The doorkeeper’s eye glinted darkly as the mind behind it weighed up various options, none of which either woman would want to know about. After a moment’s thought he said, “Your coachman, you say he has taken off after the lost horses, eh? Does he know you have come here? Who else is with you?”
“No’one but us, sir. And no, he ran off before we thought to seek shelter. Perhaps there is someone within who could place a note inside our coach for him to find? He would then know where to find us when he catches the horses and returns.”
“Aye, perhaps I could do just that,” he replied with a low chuckle. “Well, best you come on in then and warm your bones by the fire.” The door swung open only wide enough for them to squeeze through before it was closed and firmly relocked at their back.
About the Author:
Born and raised on the east coast of Scotland in the ancient Pictish Kingdom of Fife Stuart grew up looking across the Firth of Forth towards the spires and turrets of the city of Edinburgh and its castle atop its volcanic eyrie.
He has always been fascinated by the history of Auld Reekie and has spend most of his life studying Scottish history in all its aspects whenever he finds the time between family, work and the thousand and one other things that seek to distract him.
Despite the vast panorama of Scotland’s history he always find himself being drawn back to the cobbled streets of the Old Town. Those streets have provided the inspiration for his stories and characters.
He would urge all visitors to Scotland’s ancient capital to (briefly) venture into one of the narrow closes running down from the Royal Mile to get a flavour of how alive with mischief, mayhem, love and laughter these streets once were.
Stuart’s books on Amazon