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Smugglers at RyeCome to think of it, there’s a good deal of fiction set in XVIIIth and Early XIXth Century England that deals with smuggling… Daphne Du Maurier‘s Jamaica Inn, Georgette Heyer‘s The Unknown Ajax and The Talisman Ring, Rosemary Sutcliff‘s Flame Coloured Taffeta, and Russell Thorndyke’s Doctor Syn novels come to mind – but there are many more stories of the Free Traders, or Gentlemen, as they were commonly called, sneaking into England such goods as French liquor, silk and lace under the noses of the excisemen…

Here is Kipling’s take on the matter, a delightful poem aptly called A Smuggler’s Song, that conveys a child’s romanticized of the comings and goings of these mysterious characters:

IF you wake at midnight, and hear a horse’s feet,
Don’t go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street,
Them that ask no questions isn’t told a lie.
Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by.

Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark –
Brandy for the Parson, ‘Baccy for the Clerk.
Laces for a lady; letters for a spy,
Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by!

Running round the woodlump if you chance to find
Little barrels, roped and tarred, all full of brandy-wine,
Don’t you shout to come and look, nor use ’em for your play.
Put the brishwood back again – and they’ll be gone next day !

If you see the stable-door setting open wide;
If you see a tired horse lying down inside;
If your mother mends a coat cut about and tore;
If the lining’s wet and warm – don’t you ask no more !

If you meet King George’s men, dressed in blue and red,
You be careful what you say, and mindful what is said.
If they call you ” pretty maid,” and chuck you ‘neath the chin,
Don’t you tell where no one is, nor yet where no one’s been !

Knocks and footsteps round the house – whistles after dark –
You’ve no call for running out till the house-dogs bark.
Trusty’s here, and Pincher’s here, and see how dumb they lie
They don’t fret to follow when the Gentlemen go by !

‘If You do as you’ve been told, ‘likely there’s a chance,
You’ll be give a dainty doll, all the way from France,
With a cap of Valenciennes, and a velvet hood –
A present from the Gentlemen, along ‘o being good !

Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark –
Brandy for the Parson, ‘Baccy for the Clerk.
Them that asks no questions isn’t told a lie –
Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by!

And here’s Peter Bellamy setting the thing to music:

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