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 IV and the final chapter and in this short story, you will meet Sarah, Rebecca Hopkins and a band of ruthless smugglers.
“There’s a door here!” Sarah hissed in a harsh whisper as she watched the candle flame dance in a sudden draught as she crouched by stacked barrels of brandy. As Rebecca joined her she used the flickering flame to guide her as she methodically moved slowly along the seemingly solid wall of smooth stone blocks. The numbing terror which had all but frozen her evaporated as Rebecca’s growing excitement was transmitted to her.
“There!” she almost shouted in triumph as she clutched Rebecca’s arm. Holding the candle close to the wall she pointed out a barely discernible crack in the mortar binding the stones together. Several minutes later after painstakingly poking and prodding Rebecca’s finger found the hidden latch and a section of wall soundlessly swung slowly backwards to reveal a short stone lined tunnel. Directing the light of her lantern along its forty-foot length she revealed it ended in a stout door.
Without hesitation they scurried along the narrow length until their hands were pressed against the ancient oak planks of the door secured by a simple heavy iron bolt. Beyond it they could hear the crashing waves. Rebecca dragged back the bolt and pulled the door inwards to allow freezing spray to splash over them. Wiping the ice-cold water from her face Rebecca pushed aside an artificial curtain of seaweed clearly meant to hide the door from view to find herself only a few feet above the rolling waves pounding the quay. Above her head a wooden jetty extended fifty feet out into the stormy seas. Below her a small rowing boat thudded again and again against the quay as the waves endlessly rolled in.
“This is how we escape,” she shouted over the tumult of wind and wave as she sat herself on the tunnel mouth and carefully lowered herself into the small boat which rocked alarmingly below her. It took only a glance to see that the boat was secured to a mooring ring by a set of stone stairs leading up from the water to the quayside only a dozen yards to the left. That mooring rope had slowly been coming loose allowing the boat to happily be driven below the jetty. With frozen fingers she secured that rope to prevent the boat breaking loose entirely.
“There’s steps just a few yards away,” she shouted to Sarah as spray stung her eyes and soaked her to the bone. “We can simply pull ourselves along using this rope. We don’t even need to try and row. Come down, we are free!”
“Not yet,” Sarah said coldly. “Pass me the lantern. There is something I need to do first to prevent them following us.” As a perplexed Rebecca handed the iron lantern up Sarah turned and rushed back down the tunnel ignoring her sister’s frantic pleas to get in the boat.
Only a moment later she returned holding one of the small barrels of gunpowder leaving a trail behind her. Tossing the now all but empty barrel out over her sister’s head she knelt using her body to block the wind howling down the tunnel as she used the lantern flame to ignite the long wide trail of powder. Even as it flashed into life and rushed towards the cellar she had turned and all but threw herself into the boat by her sister.
“For God’s sake, pull that rope!” she screamed as her own hands frantically dragged the sodden cable with every ounce of strength she possessed to force the small craft away from below the tunnel mouth.
They had moved less than half way towards the promised escape offered by the stone steps before a horrendous roar tore the night apart. Instinctively they dropped low in the boat as a fountain of smoke and flame erupted volcanically from the tunnel mouth like dragon’s breath. With their ears ringing and all but scared witless they cast huge eyes back towards the tunnel now belching out thick clouds of smoke while flames briefly flickered along the underside of the jetty before sea spray extinguished them.
“What did you do?” Rebecca gasped as she began to pull once more on the rope.
“I thought that if I could start a fire in the cellar they wouldn’t be able to follow us. I didn’t think that would happen though.” As they neared the stone steps to the quayside she said, “What do we do if they are waiting for us?”
“Pray they are too busy trying to put out the blaze you started in their cellar,” Rebecca managed to reply as she all but fell onto the soaking steps and helped her sister ashore while waves sent spray washing over them. “Let’s just get up onto the quay and then get home, even if we have to walk every step of the way. Father can come back tomorrow and deal with the smugglers…”
Her voice died away as she reached the quay to find it illuminated as brightly as noon on a summer’s day. All along the quay people were tumbling from their homes to stand aghast amid the falling snow as every face stared without comprehension at the fiery gap in the street where the tavern had stood. Now all that remained was tumbled walls, broken beams and dancing flames shooting high into the snowy sky. The cottages on either side had escaped with no worse damage than broken shutters and tiles dislodged from their roofs. The Dolphin tavern had however simply ceased to exist.
Coming slowly through the crowd gathered on the quay came the absent coachman leading the horses. Catching sight of the sisters he hastened to their side to say brightly, “I found the horses, m’lady. What’s been going on here then? ‘Ere, you are both soaking wet. You should have stayed in the coach till I got back. This ain’t no night to be standing in the snow.”
Rebecca released a slow sigh before saying, “Give us a leg up. My sister and I are riding home. Feel free to follow. But you’re walking!”
A minute later Anstruther was left behind, the only evidence of their adventures a dwindling twinkle of fire and smoke before the snow hid it from sight. Then there was only the sound of hooves crunching through snow and the prospect of a cold ride home.
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