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picion hesitated between the smugglers and the gipsies. The fate
That the ship destroyed was Dirk Hatteraick's, no one doubted. His lugger was well known on the coast, and had been expected just at this time. A letter from the commander of the king's sloop, to whom the Sheriff made application, put the matter beyond doubt; he sent also an extract from his log-book of the transactions of the day, which intimated their being on the outlook for a smuggling lugger, Dirk Hatteraick master, upon the information and requisition of Francis Kennedy, of his majesty's excise service; and that Kennedy was to be upon the outlook on the shore, in case Hatteraick, who was known to be a desperate fellow, and had been repeatedly outlawed, should attempt to run his sloop aground. About nine o'clock A. M. they discovered a sail, which answered the description of Hatteraick's vessel, chased her, and after repeated signals to her to show colours and bring-to, fired upon her. The chase then showed Hamburgh colours, and returned the fire; and a running fight was maintained for three hours, when, just as the lugger was doubling the Point of Warroch, they observed that the main-yard was shot in the
slings, and that the vessel was disabled. It was not in the power of the man-of-war's men for some time to profit by this circumstance, owing to their having kept too much in shore for doubling the headland. After two tacks, they accomplished this, and observed the chase on fire, and apparently deserted. The fire having reached some casks of spirits, which were placed on the deck, with other combustibles, probably on purpose, burnt with such fury, that no boats durst approach the vessel, especially as her shotted guns were discharging, one after another, by the heat. The captain had no doubt whatever that the crew had set the vessel on fire, and escaped in their boats. After watching the conflagration till the ship blew up, his majesty's sloop, the Shark, stood towards the Isle of Man, with the purpose of intercepting the retreat of the smugglers, who, though they might conceal themselves in the wood for a day or two, would probably take the first opportunity of endeavouring to make for this asylum. But they never saw more of them than is above narrated.
Such was the account given by William Pritchard, master and commander of his majesty's sloop of war, Shark, who concluded by regretting deeply that he had not had the happiness to fall in with the scoundrels who had had the impudence to fire on his majesty's flag, and with an assurance, that, should he meet Mr. Dirk Hatteraick in any future cruise, he would not fail to bring him into port under his stern, to answer whatever might be alleged against him.
As, therefore, it seemed tolerably certain that the men on board the lugger had escaped, the death of Kennedy, if he fell in with them in the woods, when irritated by the loss of their vessel, and by the share he had in it, was easily to be accounted for. And it was not improbable, that to such brutal tempers, rendered desperate by their own circumstances, even the murder of the child, against whose father, as having become suddenly active in the prosecution of smugglers, Hatteraick was known to have uttered deep threats, would not appear a very heinous crime.
Against this hypothesis it was urged, that a crew of fifteen or twenty men could not have lain hidden upon the coast, when so close a search took place immediately after the destruction of
their vessel; or, at least, that if they had hid themselves in the woods, their boats must have been seen on the beach; that in such precarious circumstances, and when all retreat must have seemed difficult, if not impossible, it was not to be thought that they would have all united to commit a useless murder, for the mere sake of revenge. Those who held this opinion, supposed, either that the boats of the lugger had stood out to sea without being observed by those who were intent upon gazing at the burning vessel, and so gained safe distance before the sloop got around the headland; or else, that, the boats being staved or destroyed by the fire of the Shark during the chase, the crew had obstinately determined to perish with the vessel. What gave some countenance to this supposed act of desperation was, that neither Dirk Hatteraick nor any of his sailors, all well-known men in the fair-trade, were again seen upon that coast, or heard of in the Isle of Man, where strict inquiry was made. On the other hand, only one dead body, apparently that of a seaman killed by a cannonshot, drifted ashore. So all that could be done was to register the names, description, and appearance of the individuals belonging to the ship's company, and offer a reward for the apprehension of them, or any one of them; extending also to any person, not the actual murderer, who should give evidence tending to convict those who murdered Francis Kennedy.
Another opinion, which was also plausibly supported, went to charge this horrid crime upon the late tenants of Derncleugh. They were known to have resented highly the conduct of the Laird of Ellangowan towards them, and to have used threatening expressions, which every one supposed them capable of carrying into effect. The kidnapping the child was a crin much more consistent with their habits than with those of smugglers, and his temporary guardian might have fallen in an attempt to protect him. Besides it was remembered, that Kennedy had been an active agent, two or three days before, in the forcible expulsion of these people from Derncleugh, and that harsh and menacing language had been exchanged between him and some of the Egyptian patriarchs on that memorable occasion.
The Sheriff received also the depositions of the unfortunate
father and his servant, concerning what had passed at their meeting the caravan of gipsies as they left the estate of Ellangowan. The speech of Meg Merrilies seemed particularly suspicious. There was, as the magistrate observed in his law language, damnum minatum a damage, or evil turn, threatened, and malum secutum-an evil of the very kind predicted shortly afterwards following. A young woman, who had been gathering nuts in Warroch wood upon the fatal day, was also strongly of opipion, though she declined to make positive oath, that she had seen Meg Merrilies, at least a woman of her remarkable size and appearance, start suddenly out of a thicket she said she had called to her by name, but, as the figure turned from her, and made no answer, she was uncertain if it were the gipsy, or her wraith, and was afraid to go nearer to one who was always reckoned, in the vulgar phrase, no canny. This vague story received some corroboration from the circumstance of a fire being that evening found in the gipsy's deserted cottage. To this fact Ellangowan and his gardener bore evidence. Yet it seemed extravagant to suppose, that, had this woman been accessory to such a dreadful crime, she would have returned that very evening on which it was committed, to the place, of all others, where she was most likely to be sought after.
Meg Merrilies was, however, apprehended and examined. She denied strongly having been either at Derncleugh or in the wood of Warroch upon the day of Kennedy's death; and several of her tribe made oath in her behalf, that she had never quitted their encampment, which was in a glen about ten miles distant from Ellangowan. Their oaths were indeed little to be trusted to; but what other evidence could be had in the circumstances? There was one remarkable fact, and only one, which arose from her examination. Her arm appeared to be slightly wounded by the cut of a sharp weapon, and was tied up with a handkerchief of Harry Bertram's. But the chief of the horde acknowledged he had “corrected her” that day with his whinger; she herself, and others, gave the same account of her hurt; and, for the handkerchief, the quantity of linen stolen from Ellangowan during the
last months of their residence on the estate, easily accounted for it, without charging Meg with a more heinous crime.
It was observed upon her examination, that she treated the questions respecting the death of Kennedy, or “the gauger,” as she called him, with indifference; but expressed great and emphatic scorn and indignation at being supposed capable of injuring little Harry Bertram. She was long confined in jail, under the hope that something might yet be discovered to throw light upon this dark and bloody transaction. Nothing, however, occurred; and Meg was at length liberated, but under sentence of banishment from the county, as a vagrant, common thief, and disorderly person. No traces of the boy could ever be discovered; and, at length, the story, after making much noise, was gradually given up as altogether inexplicable, and only perpetuated by the name of “The Gauger's Loup,” which was generally bestowed on the cliff from which the unfortunate man had fallen, or been precipitated.
Enter Time, as Chorus.
Winter's Tale. OUR narration is now about to make a large stride, and omit a space of nearly seventeen years; during which nothing occurred of any particular consequence with respect to the story we have undertaken to tell. The gap is a wide one; yet if the reader's experience in life enables him to look back on so many years, the space will scarce appear longer in his recollection, than the time consumed in turning these pages.
It was, then, in the month of November, about seventeen years after the catastrophe related in the last chapter, that, during a cold and stormy night, a social group had closed around the kitchen-fire of the Gordon Arms at Kippletringan, a small but