CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 14. . . . March 14, 2003
"For France, ye say?" Captain Crowe stared at me with a look of utter amazement. "For France?" he said again. "Did I hear ye right?" "Isn't the Dragon as fast as any ship around?" I asked. "Couldn't we sail to France before the smugglers and get the brandy that's waiting for them? Couldn't we make the signal they would make?" I opened the book and tapped the pages. "It's only a pair of flags. The blue peter and the yellow jack. We could hoist them ourselves, Captain Crowe." It seemed his eyes might pop from his head. He looked at me in the same astounded way that a visitor to Bedlam would stare at the lunatics. And I heard the excitement in my voice, and blushed. "It's foolish," I said. "Isn't it?" "Foolish?" said he. "Not at a', lad."
One day you're an innocent 16-year-old, and the next you're smuggling casks of French brandy along the English coast in a schooner name the Dragon. It turns out that your shipmates are actually villainous ruffians who would run you through without a thought if they believed you might betray them. That's not the worst of it, however. His Majesty King George's excise men are afoot, and you will surely dance a gallows hornpipe if apprehended with contraband spirits. Such is the tale of young John Spencer who naively sets out with his merchant father to purchase a small ship, the Dragon, for their wool trading business. During their coach trip to Dover, a pistol-wielding highwayman shoots John's father who is then rushed to a local inn for medical care. Luckily the highwayman's gun had misfired, and Mr. Spencer survives. A drunken Scottish sea captain warns them of a curse plaguing the ship which the Spencers want to purchase, but they are determined to acquire the Dragon. Young readers can barely imagine the hardships and danger John will face. The demented Scottish captain inevitably becomes sailing master of the newly purchased ship and hires on a crew of scallywags. John, who is charged by his father to protect the family's interests on the boat's short sail to London, is tricked into diverting the Dragon to France in the hope of a quick profits from the smuggling trade.
The Smugglers follows the tried and true pattern set by the wonderful adolescent sea-yarns Moon Fleet and Treasure Island. John barely survives one deadly adventure before being beset by other disaster. Friends turn into enemies and enemies into friends. All John's mental and physical abilities are tested to their limits as he frantically endeavors to save his own miserable skin and the family's ship. Perhaps reading John's frenetic escapades will persuade want-to-be buccaneers to dive deeper into the wonderful world of Falkner, Stevenson, Monsaratt, and Forrester. After all, you can't go wrong with the tangy whiff of salt-sea air.
A prairie boy by birth but a sea-pirate at heart, Ian Stewart teaches in Winnipeg School Division, Winnipeg, MB.
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