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. Today is Part II and In this story, you will meet Sarah, Rebecca Hopkins and a band of ruthless smugglers.
As the sisters enjoyed the feel of warm air washing over them they were oblivious to the door being locked behind them. They looked around the room to find it was small, barely twenty-foot square with several tables and chairs set across the flagged floor with the only illumination coming from a blazing fire and some tallow candles set on a single table around which sat four men who eyed the girls with grim faces. All were dressed in the thick, warm, hard-wearing clothing of those who made their living hunting the herring shoals in the cold waters of the German Ocean. Their weathered faces were as care-worn as their clothes and not a single smile welcomed the girls to the Dolphin. Only sullen, suspicious and unfriendly eyes stared darkly at them. That sour welcome was an unfamiliar sensation. Generally, they received, by dint of class and breeding, warm words and fulsome praise on how attractive they were. The only ‘compliment’ they heard here was a chuckled, “Aye, they’d dae for warming yer bed on a night like this, eh?”
The youngest of these figures sitting around the table with tankards resting before them was in his middle thirties. The eldest a grey bearded figure in his late sixties. What all had in common the hard-uncompromising look of men who did not welcome strangers into their midst.
“What are you doing letting the likes of them in here, chief?” the eldest man growled around the stem of a clay pipe clenched between stained teeth. “We’ve business needing sorted out, and we don’t need an audience for that.”
“Och, sit at peace, William,” the doorkeeper growled back sharply as he smirked while running his eyes over the sisters. “They’ve promised me five pounds to give them shelter from the storm. And, as you all know, I am a man of my word.”
“Yer a man wanting five pounds,” another man snorted merrily. His smile dissolved into a wicked leer as he added, “Who knows they’re here? They didn’t fetch up in Ainster on their own.”
Sarah, a cold shiver running over her body that had nothing to do with the weather beyond this snugly warm room, swallowed nervously. Forcing a weak smile to her lips she said as pleasantly as she could, “perhaps one of you gentlemen would be kind enough to place a note in our coach? It would let out coachman know where we are once he returns. We would both be so grateful, wouldn’t we, Rebecca?”
Her sister gave her a narrow look before looking back towards the fishermen with a look of disdain barely hidden on her lovely face.
Her look was missed by the men as the doorkeeper said, “Aye, I promised them that one of you would do that very thing.” This was delivered with a hidden wink. “Right, young miss, you write out your note and young Bobbie there will run along to leave it all safe and sound for your man to find. Won’t you, lad?”
The youngest figure scowled but finally nodded in response to the grim look the doorkeeper shot him. All this was missed by Sarah as she produced a pocket book and pencil from the reticule she carried. A moment later the man left with the hastily written note in one scarred hand. As he left the doorkeeper, a tall bearlike figure with massive shoulders and a dour expression on his heavily bearded face, waved the sisters to take seats by the table closest to the fire while the mariners were told roughly to move. As they left they took all but one of the candles with them to sit as far as the room allowed from them. Once seated the men resumed their study of the young women in a brooding silence.
* * *
Within a few minutes Bobbie returned, the note still crumpled in his hand as he slammed the door shut behind him and twisted the key to relock it. Neither fact went unnoticed by the girls. With the hand still clutching the note he pointed a finger towards them as he hissed angrily, “It’s the excise man’s coach. They have been sent here by the excise man himself!”
“I know,” the menacing doorkeeper replied with a grim smirk. “I recognised them as Sir Hector’s daughters the moment I saw them. What I don’t know is why he has sent them in here to spy on us.” He rested great fisted hands on the table as he leaned over them. “How many excisemen are waiting out there?” he barked at their shocked faces.
“Excisemen?” Sarah gasped out, her eyes darting from face to face as she struggled to understand what was happening. “There are no excisemen out there. We are alone. No one has sent us to spy on you, sir. I give you my word. Why would there be anyone else?”
“Because your father thinks he can outwit me,” the man laughed without humour. “I’ll give the man credit though. He has some nerve to send his own daughters into the very lair of his prey. He can’t place much value on your lives, can he?”
“What? I don’t understand what you mean…”
“I do,” Rebecca spat out, cutting Sarah’s words off. “These scums are the very smugglers that father has been looking for!”
“Prove it!” The doorkeeper chuckled as he turned his back on the sisters. “Bobbie, go back out there and see what’s afoot. Big George is watching the east road. Find out how many others have come creeping after us tonight.”
“What about them?” the younger man asked with a nod towards the girls.
“That depends on what you find out, doesn’t it? Be on your way, and don’t be o’er long. It wouldn’t be polite to keep the girls waiting to find out what happens next.”
Read-DAY OF STORMS PART I HERE
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 spent 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 finds 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
Part three of this story will be posted next Friday here at Layered Pages!