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Reminiscences

Sussex Smugglers.



I CANNOT help mentioning the Sussex smugglers, as I recollect some of them, who, when I knew them, came to Church regularly, and passed as most respectable men, though a few years before they had ridden through the village in gangs of from fifty to a hundred, well mounted and carrying rolls of silk and small barrels of spirits, Hollands or Brandy, slung across their saddles, from the coast into the Weald. Many of the smaller farmers and tradesmen were smugglers, and these rose their own horses; but others hired horses in a rather summary manner : they simply took a horse out of some stable, usually a farmer's, at night after dark, and returned the animal before daylight in the morning, always leaving a roll of silk or barrel of spirits on the doorstep of the owner's house. The rustics were very superstitious, and the smugglers worked on their fears. One morning the whole place was in consternation, owing to a report that two men had been frightened close to a large wood by a ghost, which appeared in the shape of an animal about the size of a calf, with flaming eyes. Everyone was afraid to go near the place. Mr. Thomas Marchant, who gave me this account, went and examined it, and found a large quantity of smuggled goods.

This old gentleman, who was rather eccentric and a bachelor and a thorough sportsman, who still kept a few beagles, was very fond of children, some of whom, now "in the sere and yellow leaf," will recollect him as "Uncle Tom Marchant." I was a favourite with him, and he implanted in me the love of field sports which I have always retained. He believed himself, and I almost think correctly, for I can account for it in no other way, that when about or over seventy, he cut a new set of teeth. What the real explana-tion may be I know not, but I do know that, whereas he had at one time few or none, in the course of a few months he had a good set, of which he was not a little proud, and I have seen him frequently crack nuts to show how strong they were. My mother, who saw a good deal of Mr. Marchant's mother, told me that when very advanced in years, she cut a beautiful white tooth, from its situation in the jaw, I believe, a molar. He had "no opinion of parsons," and often said that when he died, he hoped he should have a "view halloo" over his grave. I was at his funeral some years after at Edburton Church, which is situated some two or three hundred yards from the foot of the Downs. During the service a hare, hard pressed by the Brighton hounds, came over the front of the hills and squatted about half-way down them, and perhaps a quarter of a mile to the east of the Church. As the coffin was being lowered into the grave the huntsman and hounds appeared over the top of the hill; he gave the view-halloo, the hounds ran the hare in view to about a quarter of a mile to the west of the Church, where she was killed exactly as the service ended. So the old man had his wish.

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Reminiscences