Ghost of my uncle (NLS104185164)/Chapter 2


Some writers have stated the number of islands in Strangford Lough to be upwards of two hundred, but it has been ascertained that there are not more than fifty-four. Some are inhabited; on others cattle of various kinds are kept by the proprietors of the grounds on the opposite shore. Upon one of them there is a very extensive rabbit-warren. The individual who resides on this island had for many years derived a very considerable income from the sale of the rabbit skins, and although he had erected very good house, he never once dreamed of paying any thing in the shape of excise or taxes. At length, however, a tax-gatherer, who had paid a visit to the houses on the neighbouring shore, beheld with anxious gaze the goodly edifice which presented itself upon the island, and determined upon visiting it in the name of his Majesty. The proprietor of the place, having been in the habit of receiving visits from persons who came to purchase his skins, and supposing the taxman to be one of them, sent off a boat to fetch him to the island. On reaching the place, the man of taxes began to make various enquires as to the time the house had been erected, the number of windows, hearths, &c., it contained: and, having gained the desired information, he immediately demanded, on behalf of his Majesty, a considerable sum, as the amount of taxes and arrears due upon the place. In vain I the poor man protested against the proceeding', as an imposition, in vain he contended, that the demand, never having been made before, he had no right to pay it then. The stranger was inexorable, and nothing would satisfy him but the payment of the money down, or, in default thereof, he threatened to return direct, with a party of the army, and lead, drive, and carry away all that he could find upon the island. At length, fearing such a catastrophe, and finding every effort to soften the hard heart of the excise man completely fruitless, the poor man paid down the amount demanded, and got a regular acknowledgement for the same; and the officer, having put the money in his pocket, haughtily desired that he might be put ashore. 'No, no,' said the old man; although his Majesty may compel me to pay taxes, he cannot compel me to keep a boat to row you, and the likes of you, back and forward.' After many threats and entreaties, the islander at last consented, as he had brought his visitor over, to give him 'a bit of a row' back again; and both getting into the boat, along with a young lad, son to the proprietor, they pulled for some time in the direction of shore. When about midway, however, the islander, quietly laying down his oar, informed the officer, that although he had promised to give him 'a bit of a row,' he had never any intention of taking him the entire way, and that he must now do the best he could, as he was himself obliged to return to the island, or that they would land him on Phaddy Lhug, (a large rock, which was visible at low water, but was many feet beneath the surface at full tide,) from which, if he shouted loud enough, perhaps some of his friends on the shore might hear him, and send a boat to convey him the remainder of the distance. On the other protesting against such conduct, and insisting that they should continue their labour, and take him ashore——the old man, pulling his oar into the boat, and desiring his son to do the same, very drily observed, that if the gentleman did not wish to quit the boat, they would not insist upon his doing so, as they 'could swim like two water dogs, and thus easily regain the island; but that if he chose to pay him for it, he would willingly land him at any place he wished, Finding himself outwitted by the islanders, the officer deemed it the more advisable way to accede to the terms proposed——when, to his astonishment, he found that the demand was nothing less than the entire amount he had received for the taxes, together with a receipt or those of the following year, and a special engagement, that he would never again return to that island to demand taxes on excise. Hard as the terms were, he was at length compelled to accede to them, rather than take on a tide which, at the time, was running at the rate of nine miles an hour, the alternative of being left to drift out to sea in an open boat, with scarcely a hope of relief from any quarter. It is scarcely necessary to observe, that having paid back the money, and giving the required receipt, the crest-fallen taxman was put safely ashore, and never again visited the island, or trusted himself in company with so tricky a customer is the old dealer in rabbit skins.