DONALD MACPHERSON,

SMUGGLER.

HIS ADVENTURES IN AND AROUND DUFFTOWN.

CHAPTER III
THE MILLER’S “WORD.”

Some time after this Donald had occasion to visit some friends in the neighbourhood of Auchleven in Aberdeenshire, where he proved conclusively that not only was he an adept at smuggling, but he could defeat the gaugers, and turn their own weapons upon themselves when he chose in the easiest possible manner, as the sequel will show.

Donald had left the neighbourhood of Dufftown for a short while “for the benefit of his health, “as he said, “but as some ill-natured people construed it, “until Janet had got reconciled after the water kelpie business,” and although he began to get wearied of his long absence, yet he found a congenial occupation in giving assistance to his friends in their usual employment. It is unnecessary to say that this consisted in initiating the younger members of the fraternity into the mysteries of the production of ”a wee drappie that never saw the eye of a gauger.”

In this locality every means were reported to by the officers of the law to discover the exact place where the malt was stored, but without success. An old mill in the neighbourhood had been suspected and repeatedly searched, but no malt could be found. It’s more than probable, however, that had the officers not made the smugglers aware of their suspicions by these repeated searching they would have eventually discovered the hiding place.

Finding their unexpected descents upon the old mill and their continued presence in the neighbourhood only served to make the smugglers more cautious, the excisemen resolved on another plan. The smugglers had always some pretext for their meetings for the interchange of information as to the whereabouts of the gaugers of any other matter of similar importance. On these occasions they would appear at a neighbouring market as so many ploughmen on a holiday, or general labourers out of employment and looking for a job.

At this time ploughmen, cattlemen, millers, and all members of any specific craft or pursuit were supposed to have a secret password (generally a doggerel rhyme), by the aid of which alone they could be successful in their respective vocations. This word was called the “secret” word, and was generally wrapped in mysterious formulæ by old stagers in order to wheedle their younger and inexperienced brethren out of a couple of bottles of whisky or an equivalent in money. The ceremony of initiation was as ridiculous as the word itself was absurd, and was usually accompanied by the same mystic rites as that among free masons.

In the locality lived a half-witted young fellow whose sole ambition was to becomes master of these mysterious words. Often had he remained for whole days at the mill in hopes that the miller would give him an inkling into the secret. His next ruling passion was his love of money. Any action, no matter how deceitful, he could be got to performing expectation of a pecuniary reward.

The supervisor of excise, casting about in his mind for some additional means of unearthing the smugglers, at length hit upon this individual as a promising adjunct to the elaborate preparations he had already made for making a clean sweep of the smugglers.

One night as Donald was on outpost duty in a little shubbery on an eminence near the mill he overhears a conversation that sets his wits on the alert. The road passes in close proximity to the shubbery, and Donald had scarcely taken up his position, when he observed two figures approaching apparently in earnest conversation.

As they came opposite Donald’s hiding place they paused to adjust some particulars, and he at once recognised the supervisor of excise and the half-witted young fellow already alluded to, who was known among his acquaintances as Jock Slow.

“I tell you it is a very simple matter, and the money easily earned,” the supervisor was saying. “You have only to make an appointment with the miller for any night you like to get the ‘word’ from him. While in the mill getting initiated, make every observation in your power as to what the sacks lying about contain and who is present. Here is one guinea beforehand, and you will get another when you report the result.”

“But suppose some harm should come to me while they’re gi’en me the word, what then?” queried Jock, in not over-confident voice. The supervisor laughed. “Why,” he said, “what harm could come to you? Don’t you know that the whole thing is a farce, and that at most it will cost you a bottle or two of whisky for which you will be well paid. Let me know what night you arrange to get the ‘word,’ and meet me here after the ceremony is over.

“Weel, I’ll try,” returned Jock, still dubiously, “I’ll dae my best, an’ that’s a’ I can dae.” The supervisor and Jock now parted, and Donald was left to his own reflections. “I think there’s danger in the wind,” muttered Donald as he descended towards the mill. “However, there’s nothing like being prepared for it. I’ll see the miller.”

Donald reached the mill and reported what he had heard to the miller, who held a council of war as to what was best to be done under the circumstances. Each of the party stated his own method of procedure, but Donald’s was unanimously voted the best.

“I’ll tell ye what it is,” he said, “you appoint the night and leave the rest to me, an’ I’ll warrant he’ll no’ be in sic a hurry to get the ‘word’ for a month o’ Sundays.”

This was arranged, and in due time Donald was apprised of the night set apart for the event. Early in the evening he began his preparations; he started by making everyone, with the exception of the miller, blacken his face, and otherwise disarrange his garments that it would be impossible to identify him again. He then proceeded with his own part of the programme. Getting a cow’s hide, to which the skull and horns were attached, he fastened it together in such a way that he could easily draw it over his head and down over his body, the skin of the legs serving the same purpose for him, while the skull and horns surmounted his head.

When dressed in it, with a lighted candle in the interior of the skull, he indeed looked a fearful object. There was the head, with the eyes blazing forth beams of fire, giving the horns and upright and terrible appearance, while when he moved on all-fours the clanking of a chain gave note of warning of the presence of his sable majesty from the nether world. In addition to this, he had also placed in several corners of the mill loft where the reception was to be held small pieces of brimstone ready to be set on fire at a moment’s notice.

Nor was this all, in the same loft was a grass winnowing machine which Donald placed in such a position between the doors that when the doors were opened simultaneously the draught caught the fans and the machine began working of its own accord.

At length night arrived, and with it Jock Slow. The mill loft was lighted up for the occasion, candles being stuck in sconces around the walls. The miller dressed in a suit of rusty black, ushered him with great solemnity to a chair in the centre. As yet there was no appearance of anybody being present except themselves. The miller now pretended to read some gibberish out of a book, while Jock sat quaking in the chair. “We will now call the witnesses,” said the miller solemnly, at the same time stamping on the floor. 

At the sound, out from the dark corners, from the rafters, and through the doors, rushed a number of dark figures, which to Jock’s excited imagination, appeared as so many spirits, and formed a circle round him, each uttering in a shrill key the word “Witnesses,” while the winnowing machine started operations with a hollow rattling sound, the blade of the fans causing a cold current of air to pass over Jock’s face.

His face now became an ashy pale colour, while great beads of perspiration gathered on his brow. In vain he attempted to rise – he seemed glued to the chair.

“The test!” cried the miller in sepulchral voice.

Again the doors opened, again the winnowing machine started rattling while a figure on all fours appeared at one of the door and advanced slowly towards where Jock sat. When within a couple of yards of him it slowly erected itself upon its hind legs, and presented a cloven hoof as if to shake hands, its eyes burning brimstone pervaded the room.

This was to much for Jock. With a wild yell he sprang from the chair, out of the door, and disappeared in the darkness. The supervisor has not discovered that malt yet.

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