Highways and Byways in Sussex - online book

An illustrated appreciation, of the most interesting districts in Sussex.

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xi.ii                           NICK COSSUM'S HUMOUR                           429
"The Air-Mothers"—"For on the high chalk downs, you know, where farmers make a sheep pond, they never, if they are wise, make it in the valley or on a hillside, but on the bleakest top of the very highest down ; and there, if they can once get it filled with snow and rain in winter, the blessed dews of night will keep some water in it all the summer thro', while ponds below are utterly dried up." There is, however, another reason why the highest points are chosen, and that is that the chalk here often has a capping of red clay which holds the water.
To the smuggling chapter might have been added, again with Mr. Lower's assistance, a few words on the difficulties that con­fronted the London revenue officers in the Sussex humour. To be confounded by too swift a horse or too agile a "runner" was all in the night's work ; but to be hoodwinked and bamboozled by the deliberate stealthy southern fun must have been eternally galling. The Sussex'joker grinds slowly and exceeding small; but the flour is his. " There was Nick Cossum the blacksmith [the words are a shepherd's, talking to Mr. Lower]; he was a sad plague to them. Once he made an exciseman run several miles after him, to takeaway a keg of yeast he was a-carrying to Ditchling ! Another time as he was a-going up New Bostall, an exciseman, who knew him of old, saw him a-carrying a tub of hollands. So he says, says he, ' Master Cossum, I must have that tub of yours, I reckon !' ' Worse luck, I suppose you must,' says Nick in a civil way, ' though it's rather again' the grain to be robbed like this; but, however, I am a-going your road, and we can walk together—there's no law again' that I expect.' ' Oh, certainly not,' says the other, taking of the tub upon his shoulders. So they chatted along quite friendly and chucker1 like till they came to a cross road, and Nick wished the excise­man good bye. After Nick had got a little way, he turned round all of a sudden and called out : ' Oh, there's one thing I forgot; here's a little bit o' paper that belongs to the keg.' 1 Chucker; in a cheerful, cordial manner.
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