The Ghost of Smugglers Run
The 14th Installment in the
Chronicles of the Team of Four
Copyright © 2017 by Robert Sullivan
‘I am sure of nothing but the heart’s affections
and the truth of the imagination.’
‘I be a rich man tonight me lads
But that the seas run smooth
I be a rich man tonight me lads
For there be no Revenooer’
17th century folk (smugglers’) song
Pat O’Leary, Max Priestley, Georgina Greene and Charlene Anderson are the Team of Four. They live in Murwillumbah on the north coast of New South Wales and attend Year 8 at Murwillumbah High School. They’ve had many adventures. They’ve been deep sea diving in the Pacific, crawled through the caves under Eight Mile Plains, and climbed the temples of Yucatan. They’ve explored the pyramids of Egypt, trekked the icy wastes of the Himalayas, and ridden camels across the endless sands of the Gobi. But those are other stories. This time they had their 14th adventure. An adventure on the rain swept coast of England. An adventure that brought them face to face with a mystery that spanned two centuries. This time they went treasure hunting in Cornwall.
Table of Contents
1. The Rocks of Gold
2. Barney’s Tale
3. Mrs. Mahoney
4. Rohan’s Journal
5. The Map
6. The Powder Mill
7. Three hundred Steps
8. The Princess Cave
We left the warmth of the Cod’s Roe in the gloom of early morning, stepping onto the slick cobbles that circled Polperro harbour. A dozen blue and white fishing boats rolled gently on the light swells curling in from the headland, their lines and ropes creaking and rattling against gantries and moorings. The air above the harbour was filled with gannets, gulls and kittiwakes, wheeling and crying as they swooped and circled, feathers flashing white in the weak rays of the sun. On the deck of one boat, close by the end of the seawall, several fishermen clustered near the bright halo of a lamp. It looked like they were cleaning fish, and half the birds of the North Sea had come for breakfast.
As we neared the fishing boats we could hear someone whistling, and the clank of metal against metal. It was coming from a faded wooden fishing boat with the name ‘Myrtle’ painted on the stern. The clanking sounds were coming from an open hatch in the rear deck of the boat. The Myrtle was similar to all the other boats in the harbour. She was about twenty-five feet long, with a small wheelhouse set in the middle of the deck, just forward of midships. The wheelhouse had thick windows at the front and sides, and was barely large enough for two people. The interior held a captain’s chair and a white formica dashboard, with various dials and switches on the left, and a ships-wheel and radio on the right. The wheel looked just like the steering wheel of a car. For some reason I felt disappointed. I thought all boats had a huge wooden ships-wheel.
The wheelhouse was open at the rear, with a series of small lockers stacked four high on each side. On the top of the wheelhouse two long antennas sprouted, thick cables snaking from their bases across the roof of the wheelhouse, through a small opening at the top of the windows, and down to the radio. In the deck behind the wheelhouse there was a raised engine hatch, set in the middle of the deck, with lockers below the railing at each side. At the rear of the port side lockers a small winch was set on a heavy metal base, its drum wound with a braided line.
Like all the other boats in the harbour, the Myrtle was painted blue and white, though her colours had obviously dimmed. The hull, the wheelhouse and the inner decks were painted a faded foggy white, mottled with the black marks of buffer burns and dock strikes. At the bow, on the port side, an arrow shaped anchor hung at the opening of a small anchor slot. The shank of the anchor was at least three feet long, its surface wrinkled with rust. The anchor was secured by a thick rope that passed through the head ring, then back through the anchor slot into the boat. Rust streaks ran across the faded white paint below the anchor slot. Low down on the water line, amidships, there was a row of rounded black blotches, each larger than a fifty-cent piece, the result of recent caulking repairs. The deck railings, lockers, engine hatch and wheelhouse roof were all painted a murky blue, bleached by years of salt to the colour of old work boots, and wearing the stains of rusted cleats and broken bolts and screws. The Myrtle was an old timer, battered and well used, but she seemed sturdy. Most people would say she had character.
We stopped on the seawall, looking into the stern of the Myrtle. The clanking sounds were louder. “Anyone home?” called Dad. Immediately a round red face popped up above the edge of the hatch. The face was topped with white hair and a dark blue sailor’s hat, a corn pipe clamped between its teeth. This would be Barney Applegate. He was taking us fishing.
“Well blow me down” he said. “Would ye look at ‘em now? What a sorry lot o’ land lubbers, bless me soul.” Barney climbed up out of the hatch and stepped down onto the seawall and shook hands with everyone. “Been fixin’ the motor right enough” he said. “The Good Myrtle ain’t what she used te be.”
Barney wasn’t very tall, not much more than George, but he looked tough, like the Myrtle. He wore a heavy navy woolen sweater, with ratty sleeves and a worn neck, and thick grey woolen trousers, tucked into knee-high gumboots. A woolen scarf was wrapped round his neck. It was so blotchy I couldn’t tell what colour it was. He had huge hands, with fingers the size of sausages.
“Ok” he said. “We be headin’ out on the mornin’ tide. ‘Bout eight o’clock I’m thinkin’, so ye right on time. We’ll tog up and be gone in no time, God willin’.”
“What’s the weather forecast?” asked Dad. “Is it going to be a fine day?”
“Weather, scmeather” rasped Barney. “Don’t be listenin’ te that malarkey. The glass is good and the wind is fresh. We’ll have some rain tonight, that be sure from the look o’ those clouds, but today we just be dandy. It be right good on the water today. Calm and clear. We be fishin’ off the wreck. Fine fishin’ thereabouts by gum. But be takin’ ye seasick tablets I’m thinkin’. Don’t want no sick and sorry souls on board.”
“What’s the wreck?” asked George.
“First let’s be getting’ ye togged out. We always be needin’ the wet weather gear” replied Barney, opening a large locker in the stern of the Myrtle. “Then we be on our way, and I kin tell ye about the wreck. And it be a good tale too.”
Barney quickly ‘togged us out’ in our wet weather gear. “I bain’t be thinkin’ there be rain comin’ today” he said. “But better than not ye wearin’ full clobber.” Barney gave us green-grey ‘sou’westers’ for hats. They were made of a heavy, waterproof material and had a long beak that hung low over our necks. “That be keepin’ the cold stuff out o’ ye collars” chuckled Barney. Over our sweaters we pulled on heavy, navy blue waterproof jackets that reached to our knees, and over our jeans thick yellow waterproof pants that felt like they were made of rubberized canvass. Finally, Barney handed everyone a pair of green lace-up gumboots. These reached to our knees and were lined with felt. By the time I was finally ‘togged up’ I could hardly move. I looked at the rest of the team. We looked like abominable snowmen. It was very uncomfortable.
“Now I know ye be feelin’ like a sausage wrapped in plastic, true and all, but just be waitin’ till we hit the westerlies me boys and girls. Then ye be feelin’ the chill, right quick, and ye be real glad o’ the oilskins.” Yet Barney wasn’t finished. We still had to struggle into our life vests. The vests were bright orange, made of tightly woven nylon, each with a thick flotation collar at the neck, and large round flotation blocks on the chest. The vests had no sleeves, and were sealed at the front with a heavy plastic zipper, a short lanyard tied to its toggle. At the waist there were two flaps with matching snap studs. Now we looked worse than abominable snowmen. We looked like a small herd of abominable Santa Clauses.
“Ye should always be wearin’ the life vest” said Barney. “Ye should never be goin’ te sea without ye vest.” With that he clamped his pipe between his teeth and jumped on board the Myrtle. “Let’s be goin’ then” he said. “We bain’t be havin’ all day ye know.”
After we all clambered aboard and grabbed a seat, Barney kicked the engine into gear and spun the wheel, and the ‘Good’ Myrtle started to move out towards the open sea, a soft phut-phut-phut coming from the exhaust on the starboard side. Barney and Dad stood in the wheelhouse chatting, their faces blurred by the crusted glass. The rest of us sat on the lockers near the stern, our gumboots knocking on the engine hatch. “It not be far” said Barney “Just a short run and we be droppin’ anchor. Today is mebbe a mite unusual mind ye, what with a smooth sea and a fair wind, but best be careful. The anchor kin drag easy as there bain’t be much down there te hold ye firm, only the small rocks and sech. It be a sandy bottom right thereabouts, and we be only a tad away from the Maw. No-one be wantin’ te go down there today, no sirree.”
With those words we popped out of Polperro’s harbour entrance and into the first gusts of the ‘westerlies’. We felt the boat rise to meet the swells, every now and then the bow plunging into an oncoming wave with a thump, peppering us with spray. Barney settled back in his captain’s chair, his pipe now somehow alight in his hand, and told us about the wreck.
“The Wreck be right good fishin’ fer sure” said Barney. “She be the U467, an old German U-boat, a submarine, from the War she was. Damaged and sunk by the Royal Oak. We called her The Oak. And a fine cruiser she be. Still sailin’ te this day do ye believe? But in ’44, mid winter it was and the ice thick everywhere, and hard as iron, the Jerries be sendin’ their U-boats te hunt the convoys comin’ in te Plymouth. The Oak be followin’ the convoy on this evenin’, and she sights the 467 on the surface, gettin’ ready te fire on the convoy. Must have fired off all its ‘toe-pee-doe’ things and so was goin’ te use its deck gun. But the Oak was too quick, and forced the U-boat te dive. And then the Oak chased it. Up and down the coast they went and finally the Oak damaged the U-boat with its ‘depf’ charges. She right scragged the Jerries that night.” Barney paused for a moment and puffed furiously on his pipe. He checked it a couple of times and when he was happy that it was burning properly he took another puff and continued the story.
“Now that U-boat was hurt sore, but it struggled inte the shallers near Point Perdition, not far off Blind Bluff, and it be sunk in ten fathoms no less. They was good sailors, the Jerries. They laid the U-boat on her side and all of ‘em ‘exscaped’. No man lost ye know. But it was off te the POW camp it was, fer the whole crew. And all of ‘em went home after the war, fat and happy I tell ye. Best thing that could be happenin’ to ‘em I think. But she lies there since the war, the 467. And the fish be likin’ her ye know. We been catchin’ fine mackerel and cod off her nigh on 30 year. She like te be a sunken reef, and ye be seein’ her clear as clear when we come te anchor.”
We dropped anchor 500 metres south of Blind Bluff. To the east, maybe a kilometre distant, we could see the white water churning around three large rocky outcrops that lay off Long Nose Point. To the south of the rocky outcrops there was another, taller spire of rock that rose sharply from the sea. “That be the Gannet” rasped Barney. “And right there, the channel between, it be the Maw.” Towards the end of the headland I could see the top half of the Looe lighthouse, its white roof bright in the weak sunlight. To the west, another kilometre away, Point Perdition loomed, then ‘nuttin’ but ocean till ye be hittin’ Labrador’. Beneath us the water was green and clear and, just as Barney had said, we could see the old submarine lying on its side below. It was covered in long streamers of seaweed and sea grass, schools of fish moving lazily along its sides.
“Awesome” breathed Max. “You can still see its guns.” We stared down through the rippling green. The submarine looked like it was in perfect condition, except for a thick forest of barnacles and sea grass, and some damage at its stern.
“That be done when the ‘depf’ charges went off. Right dangerous they were, that’s fer sure.”
I shuddered and looked back towards the headland. “Why is it called Point Perdition?” I asked Barney. “Is it dangerous or something?”
“Aye. That it be lad. That it be” replied Barney, spinning the anchor rope easily around a cleat. “The shallers hereabouts be right dangerous. All around Point Perdition and right across te the Maw and Long Nose Point. Ye see, we be gettin’ mostly the westerlies and a heavy sea. And when the sea be hittin’ the shallers then it be right savage. The shallers make fer a steep wave and a breakin’ wave, and they come right close one on top t’other. It be no place fer any craft when both wind and tide are agin ye.”
“I think I can see another wreck” called George.
“Ah, that be so’ said Barney. “Just be lookin’. There be many a wreck hereabouts.”
And sure enough, below us we could see two more wrecks, each coated with reeds and barnacles, and both surrounded by fish. One of the wrecks looked like a small fishing boat, but the other appeared to be an old sailing ship, its masts rotted stumps, streaming seaweed like tattered sails.
“That be the Annie Rose” said Barney as he baited the hooks. “She went down in 1880 close on – lost 25 that night we did. Be carryin’ spices from the East Indie she was. And fer nigh two whole months after she founder, the sea be black like tea what with all them spices and sech. So they say. Tis a sad tale too, the story o’ the Annie Rose. She not only be carryin’ the spices but also women and children, who did not travel on sech ships in the usual way. They be missionaries, quite rightly, travellin’ home from the Africa they was, but their ship sprung its seams in the Canary’s, and so the Annie Rose called in and brought them on te England. Twere a fateful voyage indeed.”
We all hung over the side and stared into the depths at the Annie Rose. What sort of ship was she? She didn’t look that big, but who could tell from up here. It must have been terrifying when she was sinking. Darkness, roaring winds, scouring rain, the pounding of the waves, the rocks coming ever closer. It was frightening.
By now Barney had baited all the lines. “Ye be havin’ a hunnert metres on each spindle” he said. “And that be more’n enough fer fishin’ hereabouts. All the lines be double hooked, so ye be catchin’ up te two fish each time. Ye be needin’ Amos’ breakfast fer sure.” Dad’s face turned a nasty shade of green at the mention of breakfast.
Following Barney’s lead, we spun the baited hooks, sinker and leader in a wide arc over our heads and flung them as far from the boat as we could. Everyone did it perfectly, and Barney seemed a bit surprised. “We’ve been fishing quite a few times in Australia” said Dad in explanation. Barney harrumphed a couple of times and chewed on his pipe. “I see I be fishin’ with experts then” he grumbled.
Our fishing expedition was a great success. Max hooked in a huge halibut that even Barney seemed impressed with. “By gum, we be seein’ that on the table this very evenin’ I’m thinkin’” he chortled. George landed seven large mackerel, and Charlie and I managed three each, all “a good size” according to Barney. Dad caught four cod and a halibut. Of course we only knew what kind of fish they were after Barney told us.
We ate lunch as the Myrtle bumped up and down on the swell. Dad seemed to have recovered and even had something to eat. The time flew by and it was late afternoon before we knew it. The wind and the sea were starting to pick up. The swell had become sharp and lumpy, and every now and then a gust of wind whipped the crest off a wave and dashed it across our faces. It was refreshing and exhilarating, but Barney was starting to look nervous, glancing frequently at the swell, then back over his shoulder towards the waves breaking on the rocks near Long Nose Point. And the light was starting to fail. On the headland we could see that the lighthouse had started operating. The beam rotated in a clockwise fashion, sweeping to the west, flashing as it passed over our heads.
“Best get movin’” said Barney, reeling in his lines and stowing them in a locker. We followed Barney’s lead and packed our gear as quickly as we could. In the background we heard the heavy thud of breakers, mixed with a dull roar. It was coming from the rocks to the east. Even though it was getting darker, we could see that the sea was very fierce where it broke over the rocks. The water heaved in all directions, and sheets of spray and wind borne snakes of foam were blown high into the air.
“That be the Maw” said Barney “Like I be tellin’ ye this mornin’. If we blown down there it will chew us up fer sure. If it be takin’ us inte the Corehole we be goners, and that be that. We best be leavin’ now.”
But Max suddenly hopped up and ran to the stern. He pointed towards the rocks. “There’s a light on the rocks” he shouted. Barney spun round and stared, his face suddenly a pasty green. On the rocks we could see a faint wobbling glow. It floated slowly across the smallest of the rocky outcrops. “No. It canna be” croaked Barney. “It only be October.” For long minute we all stared at the light, our boat pitching heavily in the rising seas. When he spoke again his voice was rough and hoarse. “We canna tarry. We be goin’. Now!”
By this time we had dragged our anchor, and were much closer to the rocks off Long Nose Point. The waves were steeper, coming one on top of the other, and breaking on the crests. As the Myrtle heaved and rolled, Barney hauled up the anchor and fired the motor, then turned the Myrtle and we moved quickly into deeper water. We motored west, into the wind, then turned and cut across the run of the sea towards Polperro harbour. Darkness was settling fast as we approached the harbour entrance, the harbour foreshores and hillsides filling with golden pools of light as the streetlamps flickered into life. As we moved smoothly into the harbor Dad asked Barney about the light on the rocks. Barney didn’t say anything for a long time. He just sat there, one hand on the tiller, the other holding his old pipe to his mouth. He called it ‘Me Comfort’. As we motored towards our mooring he looked at us sadly.
“Well me lads and lassies, that be a right long story” he said. “And one I best be tellin’ over a Guinness and ‘Me Comfort’ in front o’ the warm fire. Mebbe later tonight we kin talk. But I tell ye, I be right puzzled, and not a little affrighted too, fer ‘tis early te be seein’ this I’m thinking’. And I tell ye this! That light is mebbe no light. That light is mebbe the Ghost o’ Smugglers Run. He be lookin’ fer the sailors that be lost in the storm. He be takin’ the careless, and he give none back. And the rocks he be standin’ on? Why they be The Rocks o’ Gold.”
After we docked and secured the boat, Barney made sure that everyone cleaned their fish before finishing up. It was an unpleasant job, but we had done it before, so it took only a few minutes and the fish were cleaned and packed. Some of the fish Barney would take home, some he would sell. Dad put aside two large fillets of halibut, wrapped in greaseproof paper. These we would take back to Amos. When we finished cleaning the fish we took off our ‘togs’ and hosed and wiped them down, and helped Barney put them back in store. We did the same with our fishing gear, rolling the lines and placing the reels in the lockers behind the wheelhouse. “Ye should always be takin’ the greatest care with ye gear” said Barney. “It’s ever true ye be dependin’ on ye gear.”
Barney took the bait buckets and headed home. “Somethin’ te feed the ducks” he said. “I be seein’ ye in mebbe an hour or so.” We trooped back to the hotel and cleaned up for dinner. Everyone was excited by the day’s events, and we spent half an hour telling Mum and Anna about the wrecks and the fishing. When Charlie told them about the ‘ghost’ Mum frowned. “Well I’ll certainly look forward to hearing Barney’s story tonight” she said.
The wind had risen by the time we went down to the dining room, gusts buffeting the front doors, and squalls of light rain dashing across the windows. Thankfully Amos had a fire going in a huge fireplace at one end of the dining room, the hearth glowing beneath a huge mirror, surrounded by several large green easy chairs, some ottomans, and a sofa made from dimpled brown leather. The dining room was filled with warmth and enticing aromas. Whatever Amos was cooking, it smelled delicious.
We were the only guests at the hotel except for a tall bald man with glasses named Milo Leibowitz. Milo sat at a table by himself, nearby the door to the kitchen, chatting with Amos as he carried plates to and fro. Milo was a film producer from New York and was in Cornwall “…on a sabbatical man. Ya know! Ya gotta take a break now and then! That business is cut throat. It’s fulla sharks. Yeah!” Milo sounded like he came from one of his own movies.
Barney arrived just as we finished dinner. He waved to Amos, took a quick peek at Milo, then waddled over and sat down in one of the easy chairs. Barney pushed his feet to the edge of the hearth and spent a couple of minutes stoking his pipe, holding a match above the bowl and sucking at it loudly. Finally, with a large cloud of blue smoke hanging over his head, he looked around. “Ok now. Let’s be tellin’ the tale o’ the Ghost o’ Smugglers Run. And Amos, a large Guinness if ye don’t mind. I’m like te be dry with the tellin’ o’ sech a long story.”
We all grabbed seats nearby, while Mum and Dad settled on the sofa with Anna in between. Amos and Milo leaned on the bar, each with a Guinness at their elbow. Barney leaned back in his chair and sucked lovingly on his pipe.
“There be much te the tellin’ o’ this tale” he said. “We be goin’ back more’n two hunnert years, te the time o’ the smugglin’, te the French, and the failure o’ the fishin’. And the Revenooer. And a right hard time it be fer the folk o’ Looe and Polperro, fer they be poor and strugglin’. And, bein’ good folk and all, and jest like any other folk with children, they be wantin’ a good life fer the bairns. And so it be a tale o’ grand plannin’, o’ danger and loss, and some sadness too. But it be a tale o’ the human spirit, rightly, fer they be brave souls ye know. And even though their fortunes seemed often grim, they din’t never give up. But now I be prattlin’. On with the story.
Now the story be takin’ place way back around 1737. Those be the days o’ King George II te be sure. He was German born was George, and comin’ te the throne nigh ten year earlier. George weren’t a bad king mind ye, and he cared greatly fer his wife, sech that when she passed in the winter o’ that year, he was right sad. And fer many a month no man could speak long with him. And sad though it be it was mebbe this that saved some o’ the men o’ Looe. But I be comin’ te that.
And in those days, why Looe was a right big town. Much bigger than Polperro, ye know. Looe had a large fishin’ fleet, one that sailed with the Plymouth boats, cross the Atlantic te the Grand Banks. Best fishin’ ever they say. Was cod they was lookin’ fer. And cod they found. So many cod ye could walk across the water on top of ‘em. So they say. But the Basque and the Spaniard was greedy. They sent their big fleets out fer the cod. And they fought the men o’ Plymouth and Looe. That they did. And so the great cod trade through Looe, it all but stopped. Fer the Plymouth boats did not go out so frequent and, with the fightin’ and all, the catches was poor. And Looe fell on hard times. Many families it was that packed up and went off te Bournemouth, or te Bristol, or even London. Those that stayed looked fer other work. But there be little work in a town with no money. And while Looe be doin’ poorly, Polperro be growin’, what with the high road te Bournemouth and all. But even so it were only a little work was comin’ te Looe from Polperro, not more than cleanin’ and cookin’ and sech fer the richer folk. And the earnin’s be meager.
But some good fortune did come te Looe, and in a strange way I be thinkin’. Around the 1730’s a French family name o’ Dreyfus set up a powder mill. That be right. A powder mill. Makin’ gunpowder fer the King and his army. And it be a gunpowder with unusual quality mind ye, fer it was, by a turn o’ fate, that there be in the hills behind Looe and Polperro a single vein of coal o’ highest grade. And the Dreyfus, they be burnin’ this coal te make coke, and they be grindin’ the coke inte fine powder, and mixin’ it with sulphur and saltpeter and whatever te be makin’ the best gunpowder ever. Fer this gunpowder could fire wet or dry, and that be somethin’ that any king or army would value most high.” Barney stopped speaking and held up his glass. Amos was already filling another at the bar. He handed it to Barney, who took a long sip and smacked his lips. He took another puff on ‘Me Comfort’.
“And so the factory be set up on the cliff atop Looe, and the powder be produced in small quantities and sent on te London each month. Some o’ the men and boys o’ Looe worked in the factory and, though the earnin’s still be poor, every shillin’ was a godsend in that time o’ hardship.
Now it were that no family be earnin’ full enough te get by on what the factory be payin’, and so they be lookin’ always te earnin’ extra so te feed the bairns. And fer somethin’ more they was. Fer with the shrinkin’ o’ Looe there was the closin’ o’ the school. And the teacher be moved te Salisbury and not ever replaced. Now the schoolin’ be somethin’ dear te the hearts o’ the families o’ Looe. Fer they din’t wish te see their children toilin’ in the powder mill or strugglin’ with poor catches. Nay. They wanted fer the bairns te get a learnin’, and te make a good life fer thesselves.
And so it was, when the French started te want fer the gunpowder, that the Dreyfus, bein’ French and all, was right happy te sell. And the men and boys o’ Looe was right happy te do the run, te take the powder out te the French ships, and te bring home the Frenchie’s payment. The gunpowder was like gold almost, and with gold and rum would the Frenchie pay. Oft with stolen gold, pillaged from the Spaniard or the Dutch no less. And oft as not the gold the Frenchies stole from the Spaniard was stolen first by the Spaniard hisself.
On one night every month, when there be no moon, the men and boys o’ Looe would row te the Smugglers Cove, below the beacon o’ Long Nose Point. They would load their dories te the gunnels with the powder, 10 or 12 kegs in every boat. With a crew o’ two or three men they would row te meet the French just west o’ the Maw. Fer the Revenooer was ever about, but the Maw they thought was dangerous, and not a place where any sane man would tarry. And that was the Revenooer’s weakness. Fer they knew that there was smugglin’, true, but they couldna catch the smugglers. But they wanted that powder fer thesselves, and even more so, wanted that the Frenchies should not have it. And so the smugglers was ever careful. They wrapped rags around each keg that it would not knock agin its neighbours, and they greased the ‘ro’locks’ with gannet grease. And they rowed quiet, no splashin’ mind ye, and kept the boats well clear. Fer sound kin travel far over water, and if the boats was te be knockin’ up one upon t’other then it may be the sound te set the Revenooer loose.”
“What’s a Revenooer?” asked Max, in a quavering voice. “And why was it so dangerous?” Max’s question made me think of a story I once read, called The Hound of the Baskervilles. It was about a huge dog with glowing jaws, that came out on foggy nights and ate careless travellers. It was a terrifying story. But it turned out the Revenooer was something else entirely.
“The Revenooer. Ah, the Revenooer “sighed Barney. “But it bain’t be what, it be who. They be the banes o’ our lives they be. They be the Department o’ Customs and Excise quite rightly they do, the Revenooer. Set up by the King they was, te collect his taxes. And collect the taxes they do. They be good at it too, and ruthless fer sure. They never give up. Never ever. And whenever ye be makin’ a pound or a shillin’, or producin’ somethin’ that the King might have a likin’ te, then there they be, one hand palm up, the other with a gun. The Revenooer. And we all hate the taxes, don’t we? Taxes on rum, taxes on salt, taxes on our roads, taxes on our water. We even pay taxes fer te pay the very wages o’ the Revenooer thesselves, them who comes te take the taxes. I ask ye. What is the world comin’ te? We all be goin’ te hell in a hand basket me old Da used te say. Aye. And he be tellin’ it true.” Talking about the Revenooer seemed to upset Barney. He puffed on ‘Me Comfort’ a couple of times and took a long sip from his ale. Then he continued.
“And so the men and boys o’ Looe rowed out each month. On the darkling nights they rowed, te the French brigand, standin’ off the Maw. Even if the sea and the wind was wrong, still they would go, fer the lure o’ the lucre and the need fer food was too strong. Stronger than the fear o’ the Maw, and stronger than the fear o’ the Revenooer. They rowed out on the night we be talkin’ about. Twas the eve of December 6, 1737, and it be a black and cloudy night, with a strong wind and a bad sea. But the Frenchie was there. The light had been sighted and waved but three times. The dories was full loaded and they set forth.”
As Barney spoke we were transported back. Back to the time of the French and the Revenooer and the smugglers of Looe. The room seemed to fade and the wind grew loud. The fire died and we felt sea spray hitting our faces and rattling on our sou’westers, and the thump of the waves as they raised up behind us. Jimmy Herriot leaned hard against his oar, feeling his Dad’s strong arms next to him as they both pulled hard against the rolling seas. He was scared, but he knew that this trip was the last one. “One more” his Dad had said. “One more and we will have t’ money we need for t’ teacher and t’ books.”
Jimmy and his Dad Leslie, together with their good friend Purtaph, manned the dory. They did this every month, always on the darkest nights so as to beat the Revenooer. They hauled the gunpowder out to the Frogs and the Frogs paid handsome like. Always in gold and rum. They did it to survive and to build a school in Looe. Jimmy’s dream was that his brothers and sisters would get the ‘edercation’ that he never had. He didn’t want them to work in the powder mill or haul the nets and lines on the fishers. He wanted them to learn, to travel, maybe even as far as London, and to become something great, maybe even a schoolteacher.
They were the last of five dories that were taking powder to the Frogs this night, all loaded full off the Shell Beach in Smugglers Cove. Jimmy felt the surge of the sea and glanced at his Dad. He knew that his Dad and Purtaph had discussed the weather with the other skippers, Ned Huxley, Rohan Venables and David Swain. All were concerned, but all had agreed to do the run. “It bain’t be lookin’ so bad” said David Swain. “And wit’ t’ winter weather now comin’ in, it like t’ be two or even t’ree month before we can set forth again.” It seemed that everyone had reluctantly agreed, though Jimmy noticed that Rohan and Ned caught each other’s eye and shook their heads.
As they came up close by the French brigand they could see David Swain’s boat casting off. It was manned by David and his friends, Roger Docherty and Martin Haggley. The dory was low in the water, as if overloaded. Roger and Martin pulled heavily on the oars as they passed, with David at the tiller. “God Speed” shouted Leslie, and David waved.
The Frogs pulled them tight against their ship. With the wind and rain and the rising seas the dory and the ship were like to come together at times with a crash. “Be keepin’ your hands clear o’ the gunnels” shouted Leslie, the roar of the wind and the waves all but drowning his voice. “We bain’t be losin’ any fingers this night”.
Leslie and Purtaph quickly passed over the kegs of powder. The Frogs used an ingenious net for loading, one in which they could fit three kegs. With the net they could haul the load up and over the side of their ship in but seconds. In short order the powder was gone, and they started to load the kegs of rum and gold. Even as they stacked the kegs near the forward gunnels, both Purtaph and Dad were glancing continuously at the rising swells. The waves were hitting harder by the minute, and even Jim could tell that the wind was stronger. The Frogs were also worried, and worked quickly so as to load and be off. They knew of the Maw, and wished not to venture too near.
Finally the Frogs cast them adrift. Jim heard a cry of “Bon Soir”, faint upon the wind, and then they were alone in the dark. Like Swain’s dory they had a full load. Eight cases each of rum and gold. And they too were low in the water. As they moved out of the lee of the larger boat they were hit with the full force of a rising gale. “This is bad” cried Leslie. They had drifted close by the Maw and the crashing white waves were almost upon them, close enough to throw spray and foam across their shoulders. Above the wind they could hear the grinding roar of the current swirling between the rocky outcrops. And it was a following sea. With their gunnels close to the waterline it would take but one rogue wave to put them in peril.
“We canna row back” shouted Purtaph. “We be too close to the Maw. We must run the gauntlet.” At this Jimmy’s blood almost chilled. They had to run the gauntlet between the rocks off Long Nose Point and the Gannet, which stood alone some several boat lengths off. The channel through the Maw was a narrow one and, with the shallows, as dangerous as it could be. Leslie and Purtaph had often regaled Jimmy and the other children with terrifying stories of the ships lost in the Maw, and the power of its currents and tides.
With Purtaph at the tiller, and Leslie and Jimmy pulling hard on their oars, they turned for the Maw. Each swell seemed to rear up high over their stern, ready to engulf them, before their dory rose heavily and slowly over the crest. But the dory was too heavy. It moved with the seas but did not rise easily with the swells coming through behind it. Spray was spearing off the crests of the waves and driving into the faces of Jimmy and his Dad. “Stay firm, Jim, stay firm” Jim heard his Dad say. But the noise of the wind was deafening, and the increasingly violent swells, the desperate rowing, took everything he had. A larger wave crested behind them. It was much bigger than the earlier waves. If it came to them while they were deep in the Maw, then it would be perilous close.
Both Leslie and Purtaph saw the wave at the same time. Purtaph turned towards Leslie with a look of anguish on his face. Jimmy saw that both Purtaph and his father were afraid and, for the first time that night, he knew true fear. Faintly, through the crashing of waves and the roaring of the gale he heard his Dad shout “Row Jimmy, row. Row like ye never rowed before.” And they bent their backs to the oars and they rowed to break their hearts, but the huge wave bore down on them, and the stern of the dory rose slowly to meet it. They knew, even as they pulled desperately on the oars, that the wave was too big. Purtaph was hunched at the tiller, looking in dread over his shoulder at the monster bearing down on them.
They were ‘in the cut’, deep in the heart of the Maw, when the wave broke over the stern of the dory. Kegs of rum were swept past them and they were buried in water and foam. Purtaph was flung overboard with a scream. Jim felt his Dad’s strong hand close around his arm for a moment before it was swept away. Jim felt the boat surge forward, fully submerged, as the wave took it through the Maw. He was underwater and choking. He struggled to swim to the surface, but the boots and the oilskins seemed to drag him back. He felt the darkness closing over him and he thought of his brothers and sisters and the school they would never have. As the darkness finally took him he thought he felt the boat spinning and diving. “Davy Jones” he thought. “ I’m goin’ to Davy Jones.”
There was a loud crash and suddenly we were all back in the warm dining room of the Cod’s Roe. The fire was a pile of grey ash, and Mum and Dad were sitting together with their arms around each other, Anna squashed between them. Amos and Milo were still standing at the bar, Milo with his drink halfway to his open mouth. Amos was staring at the floor. He had dropped his drink with the crash that startled us all out of our trance. It had all seemed so real. What a story! But how did it end? What happened to Jimmy and his Dad, and what happened to Purtaph? Did they swim ashore? What happened to the other dories? Was the gold ever found?
“Barney” said Dad. “What happened to Jimmy and Leslie and Purtaph? Did they survive? And what about the gold? What happened to the gold?”
Barney took a puff on ‘Me Comfort’. “Purtaph and Leslie be saved” he said. “They be swept ashore down wind and so missed the Corehole. But Jimmy be lost. They searched fer many a day but couldna find nay Jimmy nay the gold. Nor David Swain nor Roger Docherty nor Martin Haggley neither. They all be lost. Lost in the Maw and the Corehole. And there be other bad tidin’s as well. Fer even as they was loadin’ te the French the Revenooer was waitin’. And when the dories was back te shore there they was. And some they caught. And they took the men te London, and te the Bailey they went. Fer nigh two years. But lucky they were, fer the King had lost interest, what with his family troubles ye see. It was good fortune, true, that they didna meet the axeman, but the jailer were waintin’, and it were the jailer that took ‘em down. And so it were, that two years gone, they was comin’ back te Looe.
But the Revenooer had had enough o’ the doin’s o’ the Dreyfus, and the men o’ Looe and Polperro. They took the Dreyfus off te the Bailey too, though the story goes that a large stipend was paid te the King, and the Dreyfus went free and back te ‘Paree’. Sad it be, but ever true. There be little that the money canna buy it would seem. But the Revenooer didna stop there. They took the very gunpowder that the mill produced and with it they blew the mill te smithereens. Smithereens mind ye. They blew up the path the smugglers used and they burned the dories. They set Looe back nigh ten year and caused even greater hardship fer the poor souls still livin’ there. But the Looers be strong in spirit. And we be knowin’ that the spirit o’ young Jimmy Herriott lives on. Jimmy be lost, true, but his spirit walks in the Ghost o’ Smugglers Run. It do, just rightly. And the gold? The gold be gone too. Never seen again, hide nor hair, lost in the grindin’ o’ the Maw. And many’s the man has searched fer it. But all fer naught. And Jimmy? It’s said that his spirit won’t never sleep, not till the gold be found and the littluns o’ Looe be proper schooled.”
“What about the history of Looe?” asked Dad. “Are there any official records anywhere? You know, things like registers of births and deaths and marriages, old journals, maps, other historic stuff?”
Barney took another long draw on his pipe and then a long drink from his pint of Guinness. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve and looked at Dad. “Ye kin be tryin’ the ‘liberary’” he said, drawing out the word. “They got lots of books an’ readin’ stuff at the ‘liberary’. I be pretty sure ye be findin’ maps even. Lots of old sea dog papers too. These years gone there was other ‘liberaries’ ye know, what with Seaton and Widegates, and even one all the way up in Liskeard I’m thinkin’. But they be closed long ago. I would look meself, but I canna be makin’ any sense of it. Ye should be talkin’ with Mrs. Mahoney. She be showin’ ye the books. But don’t make no noise mind ye. She be a demon fer noise, our Mrs. Mahoney. But remember, ye be followin’ all them other treasure hunters. Lots of ‘em. Many they be that have come lookin’. Many times. And like to be, they all go to see Mrs. Mahoney.”
But we weren’t deterred. We all turned to Dad. ‘Let’s go to the library tomorrow” I said. Charlie, Max and George nodded in support. Dad glanced around, as if searching for an answer. Amos and Milo nodded as well then took big gulps of their drinks. Dad looked and Mum and she nodded too. “Ok” he said “The library it is. Tomorrow we search. We try to solve the mystery of the Ghost of Smugglers Run and the Rocks of Gold.”
Everyone started talking at once. How would we ever sleep after listening to Barney’s story? We wanted to get going straight away. What would we find? What if we couldn’t find anything? No, that would be just too disappointing. There had to be clues somewhere, something that could help us find out a little more about Jimmy Herriot, the gold and the Ghost of Smugglers Run.
“Thanks Barney” said Dad. “It’s a fascinating story. And it’s amazing that it’s still such a mystery. Maybe it’s one we can solve.” Dad looked at us when he said this. “And thanks for the fantastic day out fishing. We all enjoyed ourselves a lot.” We all chipped in to say thanks. “Awesome” said Max, “Sweet” was Charlie’s opinion, and a big “Rockin!” from George. “It was great Barney” I said. “Thanks a million.”
“Ah, it be nothin’ me lads and lasses. I do enjoy the fishin’ quite rightly. And good luck in ye search. Fer a million it mebbe is if ye be findin’ the gold ye know. Fer the story goes that the gold be Spanish, mined in the New World it was, and its value now be far greater than what it were when stolen by the Frenchie or the Spaniard.
And there be one last thing that might interest ye, but mebbe not so surprisin’ and all. Ye should be knowin’ that Jimmy Herriott was me great, great granduncle. Or mebbe a few more ‘greats’ in there, I’m never sure. And we still be searchin’ fer te find the gold and bring Jim home. It be strange indeed but in some ways we Appletons and Herriotts be like the infernal Revenooer. We never give up. Never ever.”
The following morning we could hardly wait to get moving. As soon as we finished breakfast we kitted up and set off for Looe. Amos told us that Mrs. Mahoney was the librarian, and that she was very fierce. He echoed Barney’s words. “Make sure that ye dinna make too much noise” he said. “Mrs. Mahoney really likes a quiet ‘liberary’.”
We trekked along the cliffs to Looe. The path was smooth and wide and circled the cliffs at quite a height. The scenery was terrific and, as we climbed along the face of Point Perdition, we had spectacular views of Polperro. To our right, from the south, there was an endless procession of the grey-blue rolling swells of the Atlantic Ocean and, in front of us to the east, we could see Long Nose Point, the white water of the Rocks of Gold and the Maw, and a million seabirds swirling above the Gannet. I wondered about the secrets of the Rocks and about what we might discover.
When we arrived outside the library the village clock was chiming 10 o’clock, right on opening time. And sure enough, there was Mrs. Mahoney, a large white haired lady with an apron, sweeping the front steps and the footpath.
“So!” she said, stopping and propping one hand on her hip. “You must be the treasure hunters. Barney called me this morning to tell me that you’d be coming over. It seems every year there’s more and more treasure hunters. Sometimes they come in droves. But ‘know-alls’ every one, they never listen. Well, I wish you luck. I only ask, like all the rest, that you be as quiet as you can. I like a tidy library. And I like a quiet library.”
She led us into the library, which was set up in the ground floor of an old two-story building. “Used to be a tavern” Mrs. Mahoney said with a sniff. “ Place was full of taverns in its hey day. But we’ve had the ground floor since the young Elizabeth was married. And it serves us well.”
The library was large rectangular room with a long table in the centre. Eight chairs were set around the table, four to each side. There were newspapers and magazines scattered on the top. In the ceiling above there were two large wooden fans, both revolving slowly. In one corner of the room there was a children’s section, the shelves filled with colourful books. There were also two or three children’s chairs and tables and a huge pile of thick plastic blocks in yellow, white, red and blue. All the remaining wall space of the library had floor to ceiling shelves of dark timber. The shelves were filled with books of all shapes and sizes. Mrs. Mahoney pointed to the far corner where the shelves had row upon row of large books with dark green covers and red spines. They looked like they were about the same size as our art books at school, though much thicker. “If what you’re looking for is here, it will be in that section” she said. “In the ledgers. Everything is alphabetic, we don’t use any high falutin’ number systems here. Good luck and be quiet!” And with that she went to her desk and left us to our search.
We looked at the crowded shelves. There were lots of large registers covering ‘Births, Deaths & Marriages’, a long shelf groaning with the ‘Title Deeds for the Towns of Looe & Polperro’, and other shelves filled with journals and official looking books by the score. There were hundreds, maybe even thousands. We would never be able to search all of these books.
“I think we need to do some planning” said Dad, so we went into a huddle near the official section. “This is what we’ll do. Max, you look for anything under ‘Smuggling’. Pat, you search for information under ‘Eighteenth Century’ and ‘18th Century’ – use both words and numbers. George, look for ‘Herriott’. And Charlie, could you search for anything under ‘Looe’. I’ll search under ‘gunpowder’ and ‘industry’.” By this time Mrs. Mahoney was looking at us menacingly. “Let’s keep it quiet too” said Dad. And so we started.
Dad called a halt after two hours and we went outside to discuss what we’d found. Not much really. I found lots of references to the 18th Century, but nothing related to what we were searching for. 18th Century embroidery, farming, fishing, carpentry – everything but 18th Century smuggling. No one else found anything either, except Max, who unearthed many books on “Smuggling”, but all were set in the early 17th Century. It was interesting, but we needed the 18th Century, between 1700 and 1750. That was our target.
“Ok” said Dad “Lets first have some lunch, then we give it another try. If we don’t find anything by 3 o’clock, which is closing time, we’ll call it quits. The mysteries of the Ghost of Smugglers Run and the Rocks of Gold might have to wait another day.” I was disappointed at the thought of not finding anything. We had been whipped into frenzy by Barney’s story, but Dad’s approach was sensible. We couldn’t spend the whole of our holidays searching for maps and lost treasure. But, heck! Why not? We were having a good time so far.
We had lunch at the only cafe in Looe, a small dingy place with rickety chairs and sticky plastic tables. It sold Dagwood Dogs, hot chips, ‘Toad in the Hole’ and ‘Spotted Dick’, whatever they are, and weak tea. Everyone ordered Dagwood Dogs and chips, but when George was told there was no tomato sauce she said she was ‘aghast’. Charlie just sniggered. Max and I had no problems. After lunch we trooped back to the library. “Two more hours” said Dad. “Let’s go!”
We slogged on through shelf after shelf. We searched every category we could think of and, as the time ticked away, we could feel our chances slipping away with it. We would never find anything. The library was too big and, anyhow, was the information even collected in the first place, and even if it was, was it in the categories we’d selected? And to make things really difficult, we didn’t actually know what we were looking for. “We’re shooting blind” said George. “We might be here forever.”
Over lunch Dad had said that the reason there was no information on 18th Century smuggling was possibly because the books had been borrowed or stolen by other treasure hunters and never returned. He was right. Everyone was interested in the lost gold. And they might have taken anything they found, without telling Mrs. Mahoney. And if millions of others had already searched for the gold and failed, why would we succeed? I was starting to think that maybe this treasure hunter stuff wasn’t so hot after all.
We watched the clock as we searched. Slowly the minutes ticked by and then, at 2.45, when we had all but given up, George let out a loud whistle. “I’ve got it” she yelled. Mrs. Mahoney jumped to her feet but Dad waved to her. “It’ll be fine. We’ll keep it down” he said.
As Mrs. Mahoney sniffed and ‘harrumphed’ herself back into her chair, we all clustered in the corner around George. She plopped the book on the table. “It’s the journal of Leslie Herriott” she said. “But it wasn’t where we thought it might be.”
“Where did you find it?” asked Charlie.
“Well” said George “The journals weren’t really in strict alphabetic order. They were, sort of – but they were also in year order. So I had to search all the “Js” and “Hs” in each year. I searched all the years between 1700 and 1750 but didn’t find anything. So I decided to keep going. I found Leslie Herriott’s journal in the 1765 section.”
“That’s awesome” said Max.
“Yeah. Good one George” said Charlie.
“Sure is” said Dad “Well done George, that’s smart sleuthing.” George almost popped with pride. “Now let’s have a look at the journal and see what we can find.”
Dad placed the journal on the table. It was almost the same size as one of my schoolbooks, but much thicker. The covers were made of stained leather, which might have been dark brown once, but was now so scratched and scuffed that it had the colour of sawdust. Imprinted on the front cover were three letters in large type – L.A.H. Dad opened the journal to the first page. It was the title page, and it told Leslie’s life story is only five lines. Leslie Aloysius Herriot. Born in Lincolnshire in 1700, and died in Cornwall in 1765. We could see that there were two different styles of writing. Leslie would have written his own name and birthday, but someone else would have added the date that he died.
Leslie Aloysius Herriott
Born – Lincolnshire May 7th, 1700
Departed from this Life in Polperro on this day of our Lord
June 22nd 1765
We all stared at the page for a few moments. It was so long ago. Then Dad turned to the next page. It was the Herriott family tree. It showed the names and birthdays of all the Herriott family. Dad ran his finger down the page.
The Family Tree of Herriott & O’Donoghue
Leslie Aloysius Herriott – Elizabeth Mary O’Donoghue
James Ogilvy Elizabeth Eleanor William Leaven Harold Leslie Portia Estelle
“It shows that Leslie and Elizabeth were married in 1722 and that they had five children. Of which Jim was the eldest. Three were born in Looe – Jim, William and Harold. Elizabeth was born in Polperro, and Portia was born in Plymouth. So these are the ‘littluns’ that Barney referred to.”
Dad began to skim through the journal. “There’s too much here for us to go through right now” he said as he turned to Mrs. Mahoney. She agreed to let us borrow the journal as long as we returned it the next morning. “Done deal!” said Dad. “Let’s get back to the hotel. We’ll set up in the dining room. Amos might even be able to help.”
We trekked back along the path to Polperro. It was late afternoon and the sun was low on the horizon, giving its last glare beneath a bank of purple clouds before it slipped into the sea. The seas below were calm. Even waters around the Maw and the Rocks of Gold looked peaceful. But there was a faint wetness in the air, a soft touch that gave you goose bumps, and we remembered Barney’s chilling words from last night, in front of the fire in the Cod’s Roe. “Never underestimate the Maw” he said. “It ne’er sleeps nor rests and if ye be careless for but one moment, it be strikin’, and ye be gone.”
When we arrived back at the Cod’s Roe we told Amos what we had found. “Well that be right good me young buckos” he boomed. “And good luck too. We’ve had lots o’ people search for an answer to that one. But none has ever found it. So be getting’ ye’selves into the dinin’ room and I’ll be stokin’ the fire for ye.”
We clustered around the big easy chair as Dad opened the journal. “The journal’s in date order” he said. “That’s good for us because we’re looking for the 6th of December, 1737.” He turned the pages over slowly and respectfully. “The first entry is on the 7th of May, 1716 and the last entry is on the 15th of June, 1765. It’s the story of his whole life. Let’s see what it says in December 1737.”
We watched as Dad turned through the pages, looking for the right year and month. A whole life I remember thinking. In one book? I couldn’t imagine keeping a journal for every day of my life. If I did, and Mum saw it, I’d be grounded for months. Dad stopped and looked up. “Here it is” he said.
‘Date of December 6, in this year of our Lord 1737.
The catch remains poor as throughout this past year. It provides not an ample wage and we must work double hard to secure our table. Our toil at the powder mill is most vexatious. Though we may scour till our flesh be raw, still we are never clean, for the powder seems to sink into the very skin. Jim’s eyes are ever red and water constantly and the ointment seems not effective. I would that we could put the boy to better toil for he is strong and of sharp wit.
Young Bess and William grow like weeds and Harold is oft his mother’s bane. I worry for Portia, our youngest, for she grows quickly and is strong of mind, but her chest doth trouble her and the Cornish winter is hard.
Another shipment is planned this eventide. Some 60 kegs will be transported, requiring the use of full five dories. Ned Huxley and Rohan Venables will lead, followed by David Swain and Eric Mickle. I, Purtaph and Jim will carry the final load. God speed us on our journey, for with this will our endeavours be secured and the school and the books be safeguarded by the French coin.’
We looked at each other in excitement, pulling our chairs closer so that we could all read the journal at the same time. Just then Amos came in and dropped a plate of fat yellow scones on the side table. “These be from Petra at the café” he said. “Petra’s pumpkin scones are famous for sure. I think ye’ll be likin’ them.” But only George grabbed one. The rest of us just wanted to find out what was written in Leslie’s journal. Dad turned to the next entry.
‘Date of December 7, in this year of our Lord 1737.
We are beset with grief. Our shipment of last evening has gone awry and our dear son Jim is lost to the sea. His good mother Elizabeth has taken to her bed and the children cannot be consoled. Though Purtaph and I, and good Ned Huxley and Rohan Venables did all search both the night and the day, we could find no trace of Jim or the boat.
Also lost are the good men David Swain, Roger Docherty and Martin Haggley. Their families are stricken. And the Revenooer has given no peace. He has destroyed the powder mill and blocked the run so the Princess Cave is sealed forever. And he has captured and taken Eric and his crew up to London and we fear for them. God has spared good Purtaph and I but I wonder that we can ever recover this dreadful loss.
The clock is striking twelve. It is the midnight hour and I am sorely tired. Tomorrow we will search again, but the glass is low and the storm grows worse. I fear that we may not see our Jim again.’
While we watched expectantly Dad continued to page through the journal, studying each entry, looking for anything that could tell us what had happened. After several minutes he glanced up. “I’ve found a couple of entries that look like they might help. One is in May 1738, and the other is a year after the loss of Jim and the gold, in December of the same year.”
‘Date of May 22nd, in this year of our Lord 1738.
It is nigh six monthe that Jim is gone. Our search has continued but has brought us naught. The children grow like small trees and seem happy. Elizabeth is strong but is melancholy. I am better myself by far, but my heart grieves for her.
This day good Purtaph attended our door. His daughter, Jawali Kaur, his princess as he so often makes comment, is to London gone. She is to serve in a large house in the Knightsbridge. Purtaph said that with the springing of the new growth and the sadness of this past winter she could not bear to remain any longer in Looe. I would that I could do as she but I fish now with Ned and, though the catch is sometimes poor, both families find it ample. Oft times we have fish to sell and the money is most welcome. I am of the mind that Ned and I will meet some success with the joining of our endeavours.’
“So it’s six months later and Leslie and Ned have gone into business together” said Dad. “They’ve continued to search for their lost friends, but without success. Then, in, December, something amazing happens. Listen to this.” What Dad read out made my hair stand on end.
‘Date of December 7, in this year of our Lord 1738.
This day I can scarce think and my thoughts race pell mell. Rohan Venables was last night fishing close by the Maw. The wind and the sea being calm, he felt it not unsafe to venture near. At the hour of 9, just as he turned for Looe, a light appeared on the rocks of the Maw. Rohan said that the light moved upon the rocks, as if searching, and that though he was terribly affrighted, still did he have his boat drift near, for to better view the apparition. But he did not tarry long for, as he neared the rocks, he heard the cries of a child, a sobbing to wrench your very bones he said. And he cried out in fear, at which he saw the light stop and he felt it look upon him and he heard words that made his skin to crawl. He swears that the words were “Where is my gold, Rohan Venables? Where is my gold?” And then Rohan spoke the words that were to sear my soul. He said “It be a ghost just rightly Leslie. That’s for sure. But Leslie, how could it but know my name if it not be your young Jim?’
We all leaned back and stared at each other. The Ghost of Jimmy Herriott! Could that be what we saw only two nights ago on the Rocks of Gold? But Max started shaking his head. “It couldn’t be the Ghost of Jimmy” he said. “It’s only October, and Barney said the Ghost only comes on one night each year, on the 6th of December. So it can’t be Jimmy’s ghost.”
“That is a puzzle” said Dad. “And we may never know the answer. Maybe the ghost was trying to make contact, to get someone new, like us maybe, to search for the gold and the lost dories. Maybe Barney will have an answer for us.”
Dad continued to page through the thick journal. In some years there were only a couple of entries. It seemed that Leslie would write in his journal only when something important occurred. There were several entries about the children, about things that happened while they were growing up, some entries when the children married, and a couple of entries that mentioned local events such as fires or the loss of a fishing boat. Dad stopped turning the pages, holding his finger in the centre of a blotchy page of writing. “This might be the last entry that Leslie made” he said. “It’s a long one.”
‘Date of June 15, in this year of our Lord 1765.
Even though my hand shakes with the palsy and the hour grows late I must write to my journal. I have kept to this without fail since its gift by my good mother these fifty years past.
This last year the gout and the flux have claimed me. My blood is impure, says physician Peck, and my diet bad. No more mulled wine he says. No more boiled mutton. Or salted cod. But what joy in life then if I eat only his dried beans and pickled beetroot.
I have been blessed in this life with 65 years, a good wife and fine teeth. I have many of them still. My children are well married and have prospered. Bess and Harold are to London gone and William and Portia to Salisbury. Bess and the boys are in service in fine homes and this warms me for their future is secure. But Portia has excelled. I feared much for her as a child but she grew sturdy and is now a teacher of mathematics and geometry at the King’s School. Portia was always dark of eye and sharp of wit and in many ways oft brings to my mind a picture of her brother Jim.
And my partnership with Ned has been successful. The catch has been strong these many years and we have prospered. Ned now sails three dories and I four. Our incomes and the wellbeing of our families have been well served.
And I am further blessed with 12 beautiful grandchildren. I cannot describe the lightness that these tiny beings bring to my heart. I feel at times that my chest is fit to burst when I hold them close. I have not seen them this past monthe and would dearly wish to see them again before I go.
Good Purthaph has visited me this last week and Ned and Rohan too. They are not the strong men they once were but their eyes are bright as before. I oft think how strange it is that the body and face I now have do hide the mind and soul of the boy I once was.
My one regret is that we found naught in our search for Jim and the gold. Even now, many years hence, Looe has not school nor teacher. And we did search, for many a year. Our talk is still of the next plan but I fear that all is now too late, though Rohan’s map may preserve our thinking. The gout and the flux will take me soon I think, though physician Peck says I am strong and will leave my bed before spring. My bones say otherwise. I am tired now and must sleep. Perhaps I will meet my boy.’
We were all silent for a while, even George. “Looks like this last entry was made only a few days before Leslie died” said Dad. “He was sixty five years old. Doesn’t seem that old to me”
“Ah, yes” piped Amos. “But ye should be knowin’ that sixty five be a right long life in that time. Why Leslie be keeping his teeth too, when many a folk was gone to the physician for to have their rotten teeth pulled. With large pincers no less, and they din’t be nigh twenty year. So, Leslie, he was a goodly age and enjoyed right fine health for most of his life it would seem.” I think we were all pleased to hear that. It was a relief to know that Leslie had a good life in spite of the hardships. But we knew that nothing could really make up for the loss of his boy.
“But the map?” queried Max. “What map was he talking about? Go back to that bit and look at it again.”
“Max’s right” said Dad, turning back to the earlier page. “Sure enough, and I quote ‘…though Rohan’s map may preserve our thinking.’ Preserve our thinking? What does that mean? If there’s a map, we need to find it. It might be our best chance of finding the gold.”
“But where would they put the map?” asked Charlie, turning the pages of the journal, then turning it over and picking at the binding. “Why didn’t he put the map in his journal?”
“Let’s put our thinking hats on” said Dad. And we did. The map! Where was it? And what did it look like? It was old, obviously, more than two hundred years, so maybe it had fallen apart by now. Anything could destroy it, water, insects, even people. Maybe someone didn’t know what it was and just threw it out with the rubbish. What a bummer that would be. And what secrets did the map hold? Leslie called it Rohan’s map. Did Rohan have a journal? Maybe the map, if it existed, was in Rohan’s journal. Or was that too obvious? Maybe it was somewhere in Rohan’s house. But we didn’t even know where Rohan had lived. And the people living there now wouldn’t want us searching anyhow. We were stumped. We just couldn’t see any way forward. Where did we go from here? Was this the end of our quest?
“OK” sighed Dad, leaning back in his chair. “There’s only one way to do this. We need to be systematic! Remember what Mrs. Mahoney said. We need to listen to her. That means we start at the start – and we do a thorough job.” We all groaned. Please, no more searching. But Dad was relentless.
“We start with a search for Rohan’s journal” he said. “But we need to narrow it down. We cast our net too wide today. When George found Leslie’s journal it was in year order, under date order. Unusual maybe, but not impossible to follow. Leslie’s wife stored his journal in the library in the year he died. Maybe Rohan’s wife did the same, assuming, of course, that she outlived him, and assuming that he even had a journal. I think we should go back to the library at Looe and look for the year of Rohan’s death. Rohan must have died within ten to fifteen years of Leslie at a rough guess. That should be our starting point.”
Mrs. Mahoney didn’t seem surprised to see us waiting for her the next morning when she arrived, five minutes early, to open the library. “I just don’t know” she sniffed. “ Everyone is so impatient these days.” We grinned and trooped in behind her. Despite the gloomy warnings of Barney and Amos, we were learning that Mrs. Mahoney’s bark was a lot worse than her bite. While we arranged ourselves around the table, Dad went over to Mrs. Mahoney’s desk to ask for help. Mrs. Mahoney was pleased to point out the old registers.
“If you’re wanting to find a death from the 1700s then that’s where you should be looking. They run from 1600 up to 1865 when all the BDMs went to Polperro.”
“Is that the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’?” asked Dad.
“Yes” replied Mrs. Mahoney. “That’s the BDMs. But there hasn’t been much in that way over the past few years. Most of the registers relate to the years when Looe was booming, between 1650 and 1720.”
The registers were in year order and there were dozens. Lots for the years 1600 to 1700, at least six per year, dwindling to one per year by about 1820. From 1820 on each register seemed to contain about 5 years of entries. From what we had learned, this pattern seemed to follow the fortunes of Looe pretty closely. Obviously there hadn’t been much action in Looe after the Powder Mill was destroyed. Many people had left the town. Even today there couldn’t be more than 200 people left living in the village. We were pretty sure that Rohan had outlived Leslie, so we started our search in the year Leslie died, 1765, with each of us taking a consecutive year. I ended up with 1768.
The registers were large and very heavy. They were all bound in rough and battered leather, dark brown in colour, with embossed gold lettering. Each register was about 2 inches thick and contained about 200 pages. Each page had six entries, three on each side. That sure was a lot of BDMs. All the entries were in date order followed by a surname, so they were easy to read. Though all the entries were handwritten I was able to scan each page quickly. Some entries, however, were difficult to decipher, and I had to be careful that I didn’t miss anything. Staples, Malaprop, Cawnsey, Barnstable, Appleton – James Bigley – probably a relative of Barney’s, Cruz, Nunes, De La Hoya. I stopped and stared again at the names. Cruz, Nunes, De La Hoya! These weren’t Cornish names. And all had the same date.
‘Lost at sea on this 14th day of May in the Year of Our Lord 1768. The Fishing Barque, The Paula Christina, foundered on the Grande Banks in a Fierce Storm. All hands were lost.
Capitan Geraldo Rivera de la Christobal, Commander of the Sister Shyppe, Rosa i Figeira, on this 28th day of October in the Year of Our Lord 1768.’
Lost in a storm, just like Jim Herriott. They were only a few years older than us and yet they were sailing the high seas, braving wild storms and wide oceans. Just to catch fish. And so far from home. I wondered what sort of life they had. I kept reading, running my finger down the name column and keeping the name ‘Venables’ firmly in my mind. When I finished the 1768 register I switched to a new one. As there were five of us searching I ‘leapfrogged’ to the next fifth register, 1773. Again, there were so many entries. Thomas, Marlon, Battleby, Jacques, Albert, Whinney. The entries rolled on. Schultz, McBreedy, Markham, Venables, Addison, Hendren….. I stopped and ran my finger back up the page.
April 6, 1773. Venables, Rohan. Passed from this life on the 23rd day of March, 1773. Taken by a severe inflammation of the lung. Survived by Beatrice Mary (wife,) Albert Ronald (son), Mabel Jane (daughter). Signed: Albert Ronald Venables
I was lucky that I hadn’t overlooked the entry. My eyes were getting tired and it would have been easy to miss it. I read it quickly. Rohan had died in 1773, eight years after Leslie. Now, with a bit of luck, we might be able to find Rohan’s journal.
“Well done” said Dad when I showed it to him. George was so pleased that she slammed her register shut with a huge bang. Dust flew in the air and Mrs. Mahoney nearly went airborne. We knew where to start now and fanned out quickly on the row of journals covering the years from 1773 onwards. But it was another hour before Max spun round holding a thick dark book. “Got it” he shouted. We were running out of credits with Mrs. Mahoney at a great rate.
As it turned out we had been nearly spot on with our thinking. Rohan had indeed kept a journal, almost identical to Leslie’s in many ways. He had died in 1773 and his wife, Beatrice, had finished the journal and filed it with the library, just as Leslie’s wife Elizabeth had done. But Max had found the journal in the 1776 section. So Beatrice had either not given the journal to the library until a few years after Rohan’s death, or the library had simply misfiled it.
Dad quickly examined the thick, dark book. “Rohan’s journal is similar to Leslie’s. It starts in 1718, when Rohan was 17, and the last entry is just after New Year in 1773, about two months or so before he died. I guess his wife finished the journal and then forgot about it for a couple of years. Or maybe one of his kids found it and put it in the library.”
“Let’s follow the same approach we used with Leslie’s journal. We’ll check the entries around the night they lost the dories. And then we’ll scan the entries in the following years to see if they give us any clues.” With that Dad turned quickly to December 6, 1737. The entry was brief and ominous.
‘Date of December 6, in this Year of Our Good Lord 1765.
We have been successful in our endeavours to this day. Our money saved is substantial but is not sufficient for the needs of both books and teaching. Leslie is keen to run to the French but one last time, on this very night. He feels that our earnings on the run will see us free to achieve our ends. But I am fraught with worry. The glass is low this last week and I feel a knyffe in the wind. There is a fyne storm brewing and I think we must treade with care. If another monthe was to pass before we had sufficient then it would little hurt us.’
Rohan had been worried. He could see that there was a storm brewing but obviously could not contain the others. And, as we knew, disaster followed. We turned to the next entry.
‘Date of December 7, in this Year of Our Good Lord 1737.
My fears have come to pass. We sent forth five dories this evening past and but three returned. The storm did come, as I afeared, and it was worse than could be imagined. The tragedy for the village cannot be fathomed with four souls lost. David Swain, Roger Docherty and Martin Haggley, all good men, have perished. And it is as a spear through my heart that I must write that young Jim Herriott is also lost. My grief is so great for young Jim and for my good friend Leslie, his wife Elizabeth and their family, that it strips the strength from my fingers that I can scarce write. This has been a fearful day and many will be the year to pass, I think, before we again feel joy and contentment in our breast.’
Rohan’s journal mirrored Leslie’s, though obviously Leslie had been so overcome with grief about Jim that he didn’t say much about the other Looers who had been lost in the storm. No wonder the legend had lived on, passed down from generation to generation. It was a pretty bad night all round back in December 1737. One that they could never, and would never, forget.
Dad skimmed through the journal. “Babies born, children married, festivals, new dories. These journals are amazing. And look at how many there are” he said, sweeping his arm towards the shelves. “Can you imagine the stories that are hidden in these dusty old books? I’d love to spend a fortnight reading some of these books, but today it’s the map we’re after. Listen to this. It’s dated six months after Jimmy and the others perished.”
‘Date of May 15, in this Year of Our Good Lord 1738.
Thanks be to the Lord for my continuing good health and the well being and good fortune of my family. Emily, my fine daughter, has this day journeyed to London. She will serve in a Lord’s house in the Fulham Road. She will reside not far from Miss Jawali Kaur, the daughter of my good friend Purtaph. I trust that they will strive to meet, for our families are close and I would not wish to see us lose our friendship.
This past week I have been joined in the dory by my other good friend Leslie. Both he and Elizabeth grieve still for the loss of Jim but it brightens my heart to see them returning to colour and strength. I enjoy Leslie’s company fully for I find him a man of minds, with thoughts and ideas that oft fly far from our small town.’
Dad ran his finger down the page. “So it looks like Leslie has now gone into business with Rohan. That agrees with Leslie’s journal.” Dad continued to thumb through the pages, many of which were the dusty yellow of age, mottled and brown in patches and, in some spots, almost unreadable. “Let’s check the entry for December 7 the following year” he said. “That’s when Rohan first saw the Ghost on the Rocks of Gold. Let’s see what he says about it.”
‘Date of December 7, in this Year of Our Good Lord 1738.
I have read in the Good Lord’s Book that there be more things in heaven and earth than any man can but see or understand. I believe that this last eventide I have seen these things, and it all but froze my heart with fear when I first did see them. The story be told thus.
As it was a fine day with good sea and wind, and the water clear, I judged it to be a day for fish, and so I set forth in the mid afternoon on December 6, to fish off Point Perdition.
My catch was steady, for the whelks of Blind Bluff are fat and the fish found my bait to their taste. My anchor was firm set and though the sea and wind both freshened I was able to fish beyond eventide. Though now full darkling and the beacon bright on Long Nose Point, still the fish came. My dory was well set with a fine catch when I drew anchor at the 9 o’clock.
As I turned my boat for Looe I spied a light upon the Rocks of Gold. At first I thought a beacon had been set, and I wondered at the brave or foolish soul who would venture so near the Maw. For even now the seas and the wind grew firm and the Maw was ever ready to strike. But I then saw that the light did move about upon the rocks, as if it searched.
To better view the light I grew careless and allowed the dory to move with the sea close unto the Maw. This was very near my undoing for, as I drew closer upon the Maw I loosed the oars and, at the sound of the ro’locks, the light stopped and, in that moment, it became clear to me that it was perchance an apparition.
And as it stopped, it turned, and while I could see no feature to its face, neither eye nor nose, still I knew that it stared upon me, and I cried out in fear. At this the apparition sent forth the words that caused my heart to all but fail.
“Save me, Rohan Venables. Save me” it moaned. Its voice was high and raspy and of the wind but I knew the voice. It was the voice of young Jim. The voice of Jimmy Herriott.
And that be the truth, by all that is holy. I have spoken to Leslie who is greatly excited, for he believes it to be Jim’s ghost. He says it may help us in our quest for the gold. Perhaps he is right. I hope so, for the return of my friend in good health has gladdened my heart and I would be saddened to see him return to the melancholy of this last winter.’
“Wow” said Max. “Do you think that’s what we saw with Barney? The ghost of Jimmy Herriott?”
“Well that’s what Barney thinks” said Dad, putting his hand on his chin.
“What did you think Mr. O’Leary?” asked George.
Dad rubbed his hands together, “Well, there was certainly something there, but Barney got us out of there so quickly I didn’t really get to see it. I’m not convinced it’s a ghost but who knows. Maybe its St Elmo’s fire?”
“What’s St Elmo’s fire?” I asked.
“Who’s St Elmo?” asked Charlie.
“Who cares?” said George. I could see that George was getting fidgety. And probably hungry.
“Hold it!” said Dad, patting the air with his hands. “I’ll try to explain.” We pulled out chairs closer to the table.
“St Elmo’s fire is a natural phenomenon. It often occurs at sea during thunderstorms. Sailing ships often have high masts with a small tip. When the air is charged up electrically by the storm it will sometimes develop what is called a voltage differential. This is where the electrical charge of the air is greater than that of other objects nearby, in this case the ship. And so the air at the tip of the mast can begin to glow. Of course this is most visible at night, and it gives the impression of a lantern or a bright candle burning at the masthead. It’s named after the patron saint of sailors, St Elmo. It’s considered to be a good omen.”
“But there’s no ships on the Rocks of Gold Mr. O’Leary.” Charlie was right.
“Yes. That’s correct. There’d have to be something made of iron, or something reasonably sharp and tall, otherwise there’d be St Elmo’s all over the rocks. And I don’t think there’s much out there except rocks.”
Then Max piped up again. “But Mr. Herriott said that the ghost asked about the gold. That’s not what Mr. Venables said.”
Dad frowned and pursed his mouth, then picked up Leslie’s journal and flicked through the pages. “Max is right” he said. “Leslie’s journal says that the ghost asks ‘Where is my gold Rohan Venables? Where is my gold?’ Dad turned to Rohan’s journal. “And now according to Rohan the ghost says ‘Save me Rohan Venables. Save me’.”
We were all silent for a moment. Did it mean anything? Did it have any significance? Then Dad shrugged. “What the heck” he said. “We’ll never know. Maybe it’s just the way things go when people tell stories. Everyone always tells it a little differently. Everyone always hears it a little differently. How about we see what else Rohan has to say? Here’s the entry about the men who were captured by the Revenooer. They’ve just come back from two years in gaol.”
‘Date of March 12, in this Year of Our Good Lord 1740.
I ventured this day to the town square, for today our friends Eric Mickle, Martin Newby and Arthur Valentine did return from their hideous incarceration in the Old Bailey. Leslie, Rohan, Ned and I stood with their families when they alighted from the coach and it was with shock that we greeted them. For they are now older men, their hair white and their muscles wasted. They were glad to see their families and greeted us well but one could see their discomfort. It has been more than two years since the Revenooer took them.
They have told us that their life in the Bailey was so terrible as not to be spoken of. Many good men perished from the poor food and sanitation, and it was only by their vigilance, and keeping to themselves, that they prevailed. They said also that the Revenooer was cruel but careless, and boasted that the Run was smashed and the smugglers broken. The Revenooer purchases his greed with musket and ball. But with greed oft comes blindness. Both Eric and Martin said that the Revenooer may have destroyed the mill and the Run, yet still he did not find the cave for he did not know the rule of the 300 steps.
Eric and Martin are keen to sail once again and will go to sea with Rohan and I this coming week. Arthur will take up the leatherwork in his father’s shop. We are glad that our friends are back and we trust that they will return soon to full health.’
Dad scrolled slowly through the journal. It was quite thick, and the pages were stained and blotchy. On some pages the ink had seeped into the paper. It made the writing fuzzy, and the ink had leached through onto adjoining pages. Many of the pages had a spotty appearance.
“There’s a lot of history here” said Dad. “Rohan wrote a lot about the town and the fishing. Many entries talk about how Polperro was doing so much better than Looe. There’s an entry about the Rocks of Gold and the ghost every December, but usually only a few words. It also looks like he and Leslie had a successful business. Which is good to know.”
Dad gently flattened out a page of the journal. “Here’s the entry for Leslie’s death, in 1765.”
‘Date of June 24, in this Year of Our Good Lord 1765.
This day we laid to rest my friend of many years, Leslie Herriott, who has passed away some two days past. I have known Leslie since boyhood and our friendship has been ever firm. Only once did Leslie want not to speak with me, and this for nigh two monthes in late summer in 1717, after I danced with Miss Jane Simmons on the Mid Summer’s Eve. Though I did never see Leslie speak with Miss Simmons, I am of the mind that he was fond of her for she was very comely. In any case he found his true love in Elizabeth and I stood with her today at the graveside. She is a fine and strong woman and good friend to my own good wife Beatrice.
Though Leslie was ill with the flux and the gout these last two years I did never hear his complaint. We spoke frequently and of this I am glad, for I feel I have not failed my friend nor I in our later years. To preserve our thinking, which I note to be a little cloudy of late, we have this last year prepared a map, which I will keep with my journal. We have searched many years but of both Jim and the gold found naught. Each year we watch for the Ghost at the hour of 9 on the eve of December 6. Never has the Ghost failed in its visitations though it speaks only rarely. We have journeyed as close to the Maw as seemed safe but on no occasion could we see the Ghost clear. But it looked upon us many a time, we were sure. And it brought us to tears what with the sound of its cries.
I will continue to search for both Jim and the gold, and I have sworn so to Leslie and Elizabeth though Beatrice thinks me daft. Both Leslie and I have been ever sure that Jim and the gold are to be found. But where? The Princess Cave is forever sealed and the run destroyed, thanks to the infernal Revenooer, and the Maw and the Rocks of Gold are beyond us. May the Good Lord grant me firm limb and clear eye to continue my search.’
“And that’s pretty much it” said Dad. “After this entry in 1765 Rohan seems to have lost interest in the journal. All the entries appear to be weekly, or even monthly. I guess he was busy with other things. There’s nothing at all about the gold. There’s one last entry in 1773. Listen to this.”
‘Date of January 16, in this Year of Our Good Lord 1773.
I am now in my 72nd year of life, and well past my allotted three score years and ten. Beatrice has nursed me patiently these last twelve monthes. Her kindness knows no bounds and she has been a great comfort to me though this bed is my prison and I am wont to escape it.
I am confined to my bed with the palsy. My limbs now shake so much that it be difficult to write. And I am ever cold, as if my blood does not flow unto my feet and my hands, and though I wear gloves and three stockings, always must I have a fire.
But it is the boat I miss. I have not felt the thump of the waves beneath my feet or the whip of salt spray upon my cheek for such a long time. And the smell. How I long for the smell. Of the sea, of the rain, of the distant storm, of the fish fresh caught. And the cries of the gulls, the gannets, the albatross. I feel my heart swell as I recall these things so dear to me. I know that I will fly to meet them when my time comes.
I have not been able to honour my pledge to Leslie. No trace did I find of either the gold or young Jim. It is now so many years past that I have oft wondered if our search was naught but folly. But so what. We searched for love’s sake. And love will not be vanquished. I have asked Beatrice to pass my journal and the map to Ned Huxley. I hope that he and his son can prevail where we could not.’
Underneath Rohan’s last entry was a single sentence, written in ink of a darker shade, and in a different hand.
‘I close the journal of Rohan Venables, this 12th day of March 1775. BV’
The rest of the journal was empty. This was the last entry. Was Rohan too sick in February and March to make any more? The last sentence seemed to indicate that Rohan’s wife, Beatrice, had held on to the journal for over two years before she made the closing entry in 1775. Did she forget to give it to Ned? Or did she give it to Ned who then gave it to the library? Maybe Beatrice simply forgot about the journal for two years and then gave it to the library herself. Was it possible that no one else had ever seen the journal? Or the map? But where was the map? And what was the significance of the Princess Cave and ‘the run’ that both Leslie and Rohan had mentioned?
We all stared at the journal. It was fat, dark and dog-eared and covered in stains. It looked like someone had mopped the floor with it. Dad flicked through all the pages but there was obviously no map. We were all pretty disappointed. If we didn’t have any other clues we could be stuck. “What next?” I wondered. We sat there scratching our heads for ages, until finally Dad called it quits.
“I think it’s time for lunch” he said. “Maybe a Dagwood Dog will pry loose some ideas. Let’s go to the café and talk it over.” George did a double V for Victory salute. Charlie moaned. No kale smoothies today Charles!
We had lunch at the same café. It was the only one in Looe anyhow, right across the street from the library. The menu was still Dagwood Dogs, hot chips and weak tea. Some date scones had also appeared, but these looked so old they must have been made by Julius Caesar. And this time, tomato sauce was served with the chips. “Awesome” breathed George.
We were stumped. We’d looked in every nook and cranny in Mrs. Mahoney’s ‘liberary’, even in the children’s section, but hadn’t found anything that even looked like a clue. Dad pointed out that Rohan had asked that Beatrice pass his journal and map to Ned Huxley, so that he could continue the search. Had she done this? And if she had, had Ned then given the journal to the library? And had he also given the map to the library? Or, worst of all, had he kept it? It could be anywhere. But Dad was never one to give up easily.
“We’ve been through the BDMs” said Dad. “I don’t think there’s anything more there for us. Not unless we start searching for some of the other fishermen, Mickle, Newby, Valentine and so on, but there’s nothing in either Leslie’s or Rohan’s journals that indicates there was anyone else involved in their search.”
“Maybe there’s stuff in other libraries” said Charlie. “It’s possible that some things went to other libraries.”
Dad nodded. “That’s true” he said. “Would it be likely that old journals and papers found their way into other libraries? Maybe some in nearby towns? Perhaps the map ended up in one of these.”
Max was pushing the last few cold chips around on his plate. “Let’s go and have another look” he said. “Maybe we missed something.”
“You reckon?” asked George, picking up one of Max’s chips. “We’ve been through everything. The library’s not that big.” She was right. We all stared at the table. George ate another chip.
“I think we’ve looked everywhere” said Dad. “Like George said, it’s a small library. I don’t think we’re going to find anything more. Let’s call it quits. We can have another chat tonight. Maybe we’ll come up with some ideas.”
“But what about the other libraries, the one’s that Barney said were closed? What happened to their books?”
“Good question” said Dad, frowning and rubbing his chin. He sipped his tea. “Maybe we can go back and ask Mrs. Mahoney about them. But I think they were probably not much more than a shelf or two in a local hall. They were probably integrated with the other books long ago. Or maybe even lost.”
“Worth a try though” said George, popping the last of Max’s chips into her mouth.
Dad nodded. “Yep. Absolutely worth a try. And we know that no one else has ever found anything.”
“But what if someone found something and didn’t tell anyone? They could have found the journals and the treasure and no one would know.” This was a terrible thought, but George was right again. I could feel the disappointment. Everyone looked dejected. Except George.
“I don’t know how you can eat those cold chips” said Charlie, watching George. “They’re gross.”
George laughed. “Tomato sauce, Charles. Nectar of the gods.” I reckon George would eat tomato sauce on her cereal if no one was watching.
Then Dad slapped the table. “Ok. Let’s give it another try. Let’s go see if Mrs. Mahoney has anything on the other libraries. It’s nearly one. Two more hours. Library closes at three.”
When we trooped back into the library Mrs. Mahoney was sitting on one of the kid’s chairs, packing yellow, white, red and blue blocks into a large plastic crate. There was another older lady on the other side of the room, looking at the books in ‘Cornish Cooking’. Mrs. Mahoney held her finger to her lips. “Don’t be making any noise. Marlene is hard of hearing but she still comes here for the peace and quiet.”
Dad pulled up one of the other kid’s chairs and sat down. So did Charlie and George. There were no other chairs so Max and I sat on the floor. Mrs. Mahoney stopped packing the blocks and turned her chair around so we all faced one another. “No luck?” she asked.
“No luck Mrs. Mahoney” said Dad. “We’ve been through everything on every shelf. But there’s nothing on anything associated with smuggling in the 18th century. And not many other journals or papers from that period. You said that there’s been a lot of treasure hunters in the past. Do you think that they might have taken some of your books away?”
Mrs. Mahoney nodded. “Yes. I have no doubt the many of them have taken books away and not returned them. Some of the old maps even. It’s ever the way isn’t it?”
“You have old maps?” suddenly Dad’s voice was urgent. I felt a surge of excitement.
But Mrs. Mahoney had no good news for us. “Not so much old maps. More like new maps really. The maps that we have were prepared by the Admiralty. Around the time of the Second World War. There’s nothing that dates back earlier than that.” I felt another wave of disappointment flow over us. But then Dad asked about the ‘liberaries’.
“Mrs. Mahoney, last night when we were talking with Barney he said that there used to be a number of small libraries in the villages close by. He mentioned Seaton and Widegates. Is there any chance some of the books from those libraries might still be around?”
“Why yes, of course, the branches. But we had four actually, not two. There was one in Seaton and one in Widegates, but there were also branches in Liskeard and Herodsfoot. Though, truth be known, Herodsfoot wasn’t used very much. It was in the church hall at All Saints, and with Father Thomas getting on and all, the hall wasn’t open very often.”
“What happened to the branches?” asked Charlie
“Well the branches were closed down a long time back. In the 70s I think. The town council over in Truro couldn’t see its way to funding the branches when there were so many other things to spend money on. The roads, the water, the hospitals and so on.”
“What happened when the branches were closed?” asked Dad. “What happened to the books?”
Mrs. Mahoney frowned, then looked surprised. “Well. Now that’s a thought” she said. “I haven’t thought about those books for over twenty years. When the branches were closed all the books were packed and taken away to storage. My memory isn’t what it was but I recall no more than six or eight chests. The branches were never very large mind you, sometimes nothing more than a few shelves in the corner. But always much appreciated by the village.” Mrs. Mahoney paused for a moment, lost in her thoughts. “I do recall that we had trouble in getting in touch with Father Thomas. All the other branches were long closed but we hadn’t been able to speak with the father and have the books packed and stored.”
“Where did the books go to be stored?” asked Dad. But Mrs. Mahoney wasn’t finished. She leaned forward and whispered.
“Father Thomas liked the rum you know. And sometimes he would sleep a whole day. And he never answered his phone or his door. He was a terror. Why one time he fell out of the pulpit because the rum was on him. And only Doris Tregear and Marjorie Tims in the flock that morning, mind you. Well, they weren’t able to lift the father and help him to a chair. He was too heavy you know, and he was so addled that he couldn’t help himself. They had to walk nearly all the way to Duloe before they saw Malcolm Addison. Malcolm was plowing and went with them back to the church. They put the father in a chair and gave him water and a fan. It was a terrible to-do.”
“So were the books from the church hall ever packed?” asked Dad.
“Oh yes. Really it was all too much for Father Thomas. The church was closed soon after the pulpit incident and Father Thomas retired to a church home in Plymouth. Everything was sold, all the pews and furniture and so on. Even the old stove and hot water in the church hall. But finally two men from the town council went down and packed up the books.”
“And the books?” said Dad.
“Yes. They were packed and sent to storage with the others.”
“Where were they sent for storage?” Dad was very patient, but it was killing me. And I could see George was starting to fidget again. And Charlie was rolling her eyes.
Mrs. Mahoney thought for a second, then her face brightened. “Why here of course. All the books were sent here.” I felt my heart drop through the floor. And everyone else’s as well. Even Dad seemed deflated. He waved his hands towards the bookshelves.
“Well that’s it. We’ve already checked all the books.”
Mrs. Mahoney looked puzzled. “Well I never” she said. “Sometimes I think my memory is completely gone. But no one has ever asked me before and I don’t know why I never thought of it. The books are still in the chests. They’ve never been taken out and put back into our collection.” She shook her head and blinked a few times. “I just don’t know why I never remembered them.”
Dad’s voice was filled with excitement. “Where are the chests stored Mrs. Mahoney? Do you know if they’re still around?”
“Of course they’re still around Mr. O’Leary. They’re stored in the annex. I saw them this last November when Barney and Amos came to take away the trestles for the Xmas fete. I always meant to get to them but one thing and another and after a while it didn’t seem to matter. I had completely forgotten about them.”
“Where’s the annex?” I asked. “Is it in Truro?”
“Well no young man, it’s not in Truro. It’s right here, outside the door, at the back of the library.” Mrs. Mahoney smiled and raised one eyebrow. “Why I even have a key.”
George let out a whoop of delight, and there was a ‘shush’ from Marlene in ‘Cornish Cooking’. I felt like whooping as well. Max and Charlie gave each other ‘high fives’. Mrs. Mahoney held up her hand, rolling one finger in the air. Then she pointed to her desk. “Let’s get the key.”
Mrs. Mahoney fossicked in her desk for ages till she found the key. It was pushed right to the back of the bottom drawer, under papers and lollie wrappers. “I do like the toffees you know.” When she pulled the key out we saw that it was attached to a polished lump of dark grey rock as large as a cricket ball. The key was about six inches long and made of iron, and it was obviously old. The bow, the bit you hold on to when you’re turning the key, was oval shaped, and at least two inches long. It had a small curl of iron at the back, like a tiny leaf. The shaft of the key had several collars, raised pieces that ran around the circumference of the shaft. One collar was much larger than the others so I guessed this must be the one that locked the key into place when it was inserted in the lock. And the blade of the key, the piepartce that actually opens the lock, was nearly the size of a box of matches, with small oblongs cut out of each side and into the bottom. It really was a huge key. It was big enough to use as a mallet.
Behind Mrs. Mahoney’s desk a door opened into a small room with a sofa and a tiny kitchen. In one corner there was a sink and a microwave. At the back of the room there was another door. Mrs. Mahoney marched over and opened the door to a short set of stone steps. Mrs. Mahoney led us down the steps and along a cobbled path that ran beside the building. “I can’t believe that I forgot about the branches. Deary me. And for so long.” She looked at Dad. “But then, Mr. O’Leary, you’re the only ones who have ever asked.”
The annex was attached to the rear of the library, almost as if it was an afterthought. Like the library it was built of bricks, except that, unlike the library, the annex bricks had been painted rather than rendered. The paint was dark grey in colour, almost dark blue, and thick as if a lot of coats had been added. The cobbled path led along the side of the annex and turned left at the end, where there was a small yard with stone walls and some dead plants. The door to the annex was situated in the middle of its rear wall. The door was painted a dark grey, similar to the bricks, but the paint job appeared to be much more recent. A dull brass handle was fitted to the right hand side of the door at waist height. There was a large keyhole immediately below the handle. Mrs. Mahoney inserted the huge key and turned it. The door opened with a scraping sound. She stepped back and handed the key to Dad. “Now I’ll leave you to it. The chests are against the side wall, behind the trestles. I’ll go and see to Marlene and then I’ll be closing up, but I’ll be here until five so you have plenty of time. Just be sure to keep everything tidy, Lock up when you’re finished, and I’ll need the key. And please take care if you’re moving the trestles. We’ll be needing those again come December.”
After Mrs. Mahoney went back to ‘see to Marlene’ we all piled into the annex. The annex had no windows and it took a minute to find the light switch, which was mounted behind the door. “Now that’s logical” said Dad in one of his sarcastic tones. The switch was a round wooden fixture, about the size of a saucer, with a brass toggle switch in the middle with a knob on top. A tube of metal pipe ran up the wall away from the switch until it disappeared into the brickwork about ten feet up, no doubt connected to the library mains. There was no ceiling, only a series of exposed beams and metal braces. At least these were all painted white, though from the dust and cobwebs it had been a long time. A single light socket was fitted to the wall close by the spot where the pipe exited. It all looked pretty old, but funnily enough the light globe was a recent addition, a low energy globes so impossibly bright that it was almost blinding. It lit the annex completely.
There wasn’t much to the annex. The walls were brick, painted an ugly yellow that flowed over the bricks like treacle. The floor was bare cement so I guessed that was also a more recent addition. To our left there was a rack of adjustable steel shelves with paint cans, brushes, bundles of canvass and some rolls of wire. The far wall held a stack of three desks and six or seven chairs, all stacked tightly against the wall. To our right there were two stacks of trestle tables with folding legs. Each stack had at least six tables. Behind the tables we could see the top of a large wooden box. We had the trestles moved and restacked near the shelves in ten minutes.
There were seven chests, each one about three feet long, and two feet high and two feet deep. There were four chests in one stack and three chests in the other. Each chest was made of timber with a lid about six inches deep. Wide metal handles were attached to the ends of each chest, just below the lid. Two bands of green metal were wrapped around each chest. Each band ended in a latch on the front of the chest. A quick check showed that all the latches were closed, but none were padlocked. We were in luck.
Each chest was also marked with a name, written in faded black ink. It looked like a stencil had been used. Two chests had the name ‘Widegates’ stenciled about six inches below the latches in the centre at the front. Two others showed the name Seaton, though this time it was stenciled on the top of the lid. Another two were marked as Liskeard, again stenciled on the lid, and the last chest had just two huge letters, ‘HF’, painted on the front in slashes of peeling white paint.
“Ok” said Dad. “First we get the chests onto the floor, then we go through whatever’s inside them. Oliver, can you and Max help me get the top ones down?” With Dad taking one end of the chest, and Max and I the other, we moved the top five chests onto the floor. Luckily the three chests at the top weren’t heavy, but it was hard work moving the two in the middle. When we finished with had all the chests set in a fan shape across the floor, two near the shelves, three in front of the far wall, and two that we didn’t have to move, against the right wall. Dad pointed at the two chests that had been on the bottom. “I think there’s been some flooding in here. See how the wood is rotted at the bottom. Whatever books are in these chests are likely to be quite brittle after so long. We’ll need to be careful.”
“Now, before we divvy up the work, let’s see what we have.” Dad moved over to the chests near the shelves and knelt beside it. We all moved over and stood behind him. The latches on the chest were green and corroded. “That’s verdigris” said Dad. “These chests are pretty old. I’m sure the metal on the chests is copper. Or at least brass. And it must have been here a long time to have this sort of build-up.” Dad pulled at the clasps but each one was too corroded to open. Dad scratched his chin and thought for a minute, then he took our Mrs. Mahoney’s huge key. “Let’s see how this works” he said, and gave each clasp a solid whack with the blade of the key. This loosened both latches and he pulled each one open with a small screech. Then, holding the tongue of each latch, he lifted the lid. The hinges on the back of the lid opened stiffly, with small shrieks and creaks.
As Dad pushed the lid back we all moved forward to see what was inside. But the chest was only half full. Two rows of books were stacked across the inside, five to each row. I guessed that there were probably about four or five rows, so only about forty or fifty books in the chest. If it was the same with all the chests, even the heavy ones, then there must be a little over three hundred books. That wasn’t very many. We were going to be finished in no time. Dad reached into the chest and carefully picked up one of the books. It had a dark red cover and black binding. The title on the front said ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ in ornate black writing.
Dad slowly opened the front cover, then slowly turned over the first few pages. “It seems Ok” he said, shaking his head. He sounded surprised. “The paper’s going yellow but there’s no cracking.” He turned the book around and inspected the spine. “All the stitching is intact. And no bugs or water damage either. Amazing.” He scratched his chin again and stared at the title page. “Printed in 1864. These books might be quite interesting, even if we don’t find anything about the treasure. I’ll have to talk to Mrs. Mahoney about them.”
“Will we all take a chest each Mr. O’Leary?” asked Charlie.
Dad shook his head. “I think two to a chest will work best. That way we can cross check with each other if we find something interesting. How about Max and Oliver start with the Widegates? I’ll do the Seatons. Charlie and George take the Liskeards and the one from Herodsfoot. All good with that?”
“Triple AOK Mr. O’Leary” said George. Then we all waited while Dad opened each of the chests. Every latch was corroded and he had to whack the key against some latches two or three times. But eventually each one was freed up and each lid was pulled open with squeaks and moans, a slight smell of musty books and old rags filling the air. George and Charlie were checking the chests that had water damage. These were the smelliest so Dad checked inside before they started. They were also filled with books but there were rolls of paper and cloth on top of the books. Dad lifted these out and unrolled them. We all thought for a second that they might be maps. But on closer inspection it looked as if the cloth had been torn from a flag, or from many flags, because there were stripes and symbols in red and white and gold and blue. There were three large sheets of paper, each with a drawing on it. The paper had been oiled or waxed, so it was in good condition, though Dad was careful as he unfolded each piece. One sheet showed a drawing of two men, each on pulling at opposite ends of a cow, while another man milked the cow. The drawing was covered in curly writing. Dad rolled it back up with the other paper and put it aside. “The stuff on top is fine” he said. “Just be careful as you go through the books. If they’ve been waterlogged at the bottom they’ll probably all be stuck together. Yell out if this happens.” Dad tapped his watch. “Three fifteen. Let’s see what we can do.”
For the next hour we searched steadily through the books in each chest. To make sure we didn’t miss anything Max and I would take one each, check to see what it was, then swap books and recheck. Once we had checked each of the books we placed them carefully on the cement floor beside the chest, keeping each small pile the same size as in the chest. We made sure the floor was dry and free of dirt and grit.
But there was no journal among the books in the first chest. Though all of the books were quite old. I know because I checked the print date for each one. Well, some didn’t have print dates but the others did, and they were all between 1847, a book called Jane Eyre, and 1921, a book called The Great War. Not a journal in sight. We packed all the books back into the chest and closed it. Then we turned to the second Widegates. It had more books than the first chest.
It was nearly four thirty as we continued checking the books in the second chest, swapping and rechecking each one. George and Charlie were rustling behind us, while Dad was making ‘Wow!’ exclamations every now and then. I thought at first he had found something but then I realized it was just Dad being Dad. Everything’s amazing to Dad. Twice George asked Dad to take a look at the Liskeard chests. One of these had been damaged by water and some of the books had disintegrated. Dad said “Try to see what the spines say, or whether there’s a title legible on the cover, but don’t touch them otherwise. They’ll just fall to bits.” We’d just have to hope that one of them wasn’t what we were looking for.
But our luck had run out. It was almost 4pm when we closed the last chest. We’d looked through another thousand books. George said it was a bust, which made Charlie angry.
“We can’t just give up George. We’re so close.”
“I wasn’t suggesting we give up. I was just saying it was a bust. You know. We found nothing.”
“Yep. Sad but true” said Dad. “Let’s go have another gander at the journal. Maybe it has some other clues. But first, let’s get the chests and trestles packed away.”
Mrs. Mahoney was still sitting at her desk, picking away on an old typewriter. It was past closing time but she said nothing about finishing up. We must have been in the good books big time. Both Leslie’s and Rohan’s journals were sitting at the edge of her desk. Dad picked up both and we walked over to the long table. Dad placed both journals on the table.
Both journals were similar in size, though Rohan’s journal was much thicker. The covers were made of leather, scratched and yellow, the L.A.H barely visible. The covers of Rohan’s journal were made of waxed paper, almost black in colour, scratched and scuffed and heavily stained. Rohan’s name had been imprinted into the front cover but it was almost invisible.
“Rohan’s journal is different to Leslie’s” said Charlie. “The covers are fatter.”
“No it’s not” said George. “ Leslie’s journal is the same, just a different colour.”
“Yes it is. It’s different” said Charlie. “Look at it, you can tell. And the back cover is the fattest.”
“Hang on a sec” said Dad. “Charlie’s right. Rohan’s journal does have fat covers, much fatter than Leslie’s. Max, pull the light over close and let’s have a look.” Max pulled the reading lamp up next to the journals. Even Mrs. Mahoney had become so interested that she was forgetting to shush us. She hovered nervously at Dad’s shoulder. Dad positioned the light over the journals and opened Rohan’s to the last page with the cover exposed. We all jumped with excitement. Even Mrs. Mahoney squealed. It was obvious there was something underneath the inside back cover of the journal.
“Look at that” said Dad, pointing at Rohan’s journal. “The inside cover has been sealed with a new page. You can see clearly that it isn’t the original.” Then Dad picked up Leslie’s journal and opened it at the front and then the rear covers. “Now look at Leslie’s journal. You can see that nothing has been opened and re-sealed. The covers are untouched. At least I think they are.”
“Do you think it’s the map Mr. O’Leary?” asked Charlie.
“I don’t know Charlie” said Dad. “It looks like old work, but how old? We don’t know when it was done. It could be that someone simply repaired the journal at some time. It might be nothing more.”
“What a bummer” said George.
“Do you have a kettle Mrs. Mahoney?” asked Dad. “If we had a kettle we could boil some water and direct the steam onto the glue. If we do that we might be able to lift the new page without damaging anything. And then we can see what’s underneath.”
Mrs. Mahoney didn’t have to be asked again. She clattered into her small kitchen and had the kettle whistling in no time. She brought it back to the table and Dad carefully directed the steam from the spout onto the top inside corner of the page. We all watched expectantly.
After several seconds the edge of the paper began to curl. “That’s it. That’s it. Nearly there” whispered Dad with a grin. He teased the curling edge of the page until he gripped it between his thumb and forefinger and then, carefully directing the steam into the ever widening gap, slowly pulled back the inside cover, exposing a carefully folded, yellowed document.
We all whooped. We could barely contain our excitement. There was no doubt that it was a map. We could see roads and villages, and even the arrow for True North. Dad held back the back page with his thumb and carefully wiggled the map until it suddenly dislodged and fell to the table with a thump.
Dad unfolded the map slowly. The map was perhaps twice the size of a standard sheet of paper and, though old and yellow and blotchy, unfolded easily. “The map has been greased” said Dad. “Rohan was smart. He wanted to make sure that it was preserved. Greasing the paper will protect it for many years. In this case it’s lasted over two hundred years. Let’s see what it tells us.
We all crowded up to the table, Mrs. Mahoney as well, as Dad spread out the map and repositioned the lamp. You could see that it was an old document. The paper was brown and stained and the edges curled. All the words and drawings were in a beautiful handwriting, but the ink had smudged in some spots and the writing was hard to read. There was a criss-cross pattern on the map, where the paper had worn on the folds. There was also a date at the top. September 17, 1764. Two hundred and thirty seven years ago.
“Just look at this” said Dad, running his finger slowly across the yellowed paper. “You can see that Looe is quite a bit larger than Polperro. And look at all the wrecks.” His finger moved slowly along the coast. “Look how dangerous these shallows must be. The Duc de Bourbon. The Paulus. The Baron of Hull. The lost dories of Herriott and Swain, lost in the Maw. Then through the Maw we see the Silken Purse.”
Dad paused, his finger lying on Long Nose Point. “This is it” he said. We all leaned closer. Inland from Long Nose Point there was the outline of a building with the words ‘powder mill’ inscribed above. And at the end of Dad’s finger we could see a series of dotted lines zigzagging from the powder mill back towards Long Nose Point. At about half way between the mill and the Point the dotted lines split, and went in two different directions. One headed westward to Smugglers Cover and Shell Beach. The other headed eastward till it joined a dotted circle that appeared to touch the coastline. A big arrow pointed at the circle and above the arrow two words were printed. ‘PRINCESS CAVE’. These words were scratched roughly onto the paper, the ink darker than that on the rest of the map. I guessed they had been added after the map was finished.
“Here we are” said Dad, as he traced the zigzag from the site of the old factory. “This is marked as The Run. Both Leslie and Rohan mentioned the Princess Cave and The Run in their journals. And we can see that the cave touches the water. At least it appears to on the map. But we have no way of knowing how accurate the map is or whether the scale is right. It could be quite misleading.”
Dad stood up and turned to the Team. “I think we need to get Barney involved in this. He has a personal interest and I’m sure he’ll be able to help. And we need another, more accurate map, perhaps an official one, one that we can compare to Rohan’s. Then we’ll be sure of what we’ve got.”
“We have all the admiralty maps. Like I said. Maybe they can help.” We all turned. Mrs. Mahoney stood proudly holding two large volumes. “The Navy left these with us in 1984” she said. “Can’t say I remember anyone ever asking for them. But I knew they’d be useful one day.” She dropped both volumes on the table with a thud. “I think you’ll find the Polperro area in volume two. You can borrow these as well, but be warned, I keep good records and I’ll be wanting them both back this coming week. And the journals too, mind you. And I’ll be wanting a full accounting of what you find and what happens.”
“That’s great” said Dad. “Thanks Mrs. Mahoney. We’ll treat them with care. And we’ll keep you posted. Let’s roll gang. We’ll go pick up Barney and then dig into the maps after dinner.” We all stared at each other, surprised. Time had flown and it was already 4.30pm. Mrs. Mahoney must have blown a fuse to let us stay in the library so long after closing time. We were probably lucky to get out alive. But we could tell she was pretty interested in the story. I guess that’s why she let us stay.
We trekked back along the path to Polperro, Max and George hauling the books of maps, Dad carrying the journals. The sun was low and the sky had turned purple. The ocean looked oily and black, with long, low swells rolling by until they spiked up suddenly on the run into the Maw, and crashed and swirled white around the Rocks of Gold. In the distance we could see a large tanker, pushing slowly west towards Ireland. I marveled again at how pretty it all appeared. Who would ever believe the secrets it held and how deadly it could be?
We were excited by what we had found. Dad said that we had done far better than he had hoped and, with some luck, who knows what else we might discover. Even though we were getting a little tired of all the searching at the library, Dad’s encouragement raised our spirits. And we were all starving. Amos seemed to be a great cook and we were looking forward to dinner. Especially George.
We arrived back in Polperro around six o’clock. Barney’s head was visible, bobbing up and down on his boat. We walked out along the seawall to tell him about our afternoon discoveries, and to ask if he could come for dinner and help us check the maps. Barney was busy mopping the deck of the Good Myrtle, but he was pleased to see us and excited to hear about the maps and journals. “Aye” he agreed “I be pleased to come te dinner. And I be right pleased that ye askin’ me fer help. Thank ye fer that, fer this be somethin’ close te me heart, me bein’ an Applegate and all.”
Amos cooked another fine dinner. Cod this time. Fresh and fried in a sweet batter. Garlic mashed potatoes and tons of butter, golden pumpkin and long green beans in a sweet chili sauce. Even Milo was surprised. “Amos!” he yelled. “This is great! Why ya hidin’ out here in the boondocks? Come ta Noo York and we’ll set up in Tribeca. Beat out that De Niro place like candy. Yeah!” Milo was over the top, but we all laughed and agreed it was a great meal. Amos chuckled as he served Barney a third helping. “I think Barney might be bit tired of his own cooking” laughed Mum. Barney nodded and winked at her then plowed into Amos’s huge serve.
After George finished everyone else’s bread pudding we gathered in front of the fire, Milo groaning and rubbing his tummy. Dad pulled the coffee table close by Barney’s easy chair and spread out Rohan’s map. Barney’s eyes widened. Then Dad paged steadily through Volume 2 of the Admiralty Maps. “I think this might be it” he said “Plymouth, Bournemouth, Polperro! No, that’s not it. The scale’s too large.”
Dad turned a few more pages. “Ah, we’re down at the fine detail here. Moving west along the coast we have South Hampton, Bournemouth, Torquay, Plymouth, Polperro. Spot on!” Dad quickly laid the book open on the coffee table. “George, could you bring that lamp over?” he asked. We positioned the lamp over the top of the table, the bright light shining directly onto the admiralty map.
“We’ll need to check the maps carefully against each other” said Dad. “Let’s start by putting Rohan’s map behind the admiralty map. You can see that these official maps are produced on a translucent sheet, so they can be used on light tables on ships. They’re made from plastic of some sort I think, so we should be able to see the darker writing and features of Rohan’s map if we place it underneath.” Dad picked up Rohan’s map and slipped it behind the Admiralty map. Rohan’s map showed clearly through the plastic sheet. Dad jiggled Rohan’s map to and fro and up and down then twisted it sideways a little.
“Got it!” he said. “The coastlines don’t quite line up and the scales are different, but it’s close enough. Let’s take it from the western edge, left to right.”
Dad’s finger traced slowly across the map. “The Govett. Pipers Heights. The Neck. They’re all there. See how much bigger Polperro is on the Admiralty map. The town is much larger and there are more roads.”
Dad’s finger kept moving along the coast. “There’s the parking lot above the town. Point Perdition and the Shallows – the Shallows cover a larger area on the later map – and all the new wrecks are shown. There are the Annie Rose and the U467. The Duc de Bourbon isn’t marked, but there’s a new one off Blind Bluff. The HMS Wolverine, not far from the Paulus.” Dad looked at Barney. “What about the Wolverine, Barney? Was she a warship? Was she sunk during the war?”
“Nope” replied Barney. “She not be sunk durin’ the war but she be a warship fer sure. A destroyer she was. Built in Hull in ‘34. Saw lots o’ action too. Mostly on the Ruskie convoys in the 40’s. Run right round te Murmansk she did. But no, she be an old lady by 1978, and so they be scuttlin’ her in the new marine park. She be a boon te divers and fishermen ever since.”
Dad turned back to the maps, his finger moving east. “Smugglers Cove. Shell Beach. Long Nose Point. You can see where the lighthouse is marked on the naval map. It’s high on the spine of Long Nose Point, quite a way from where the beacon is marked on Rohan’s. The Shallows. There are the Baron of Hull and the Rocks of Gold. The Maw and the Gannett. But no Silken Purse or Princess Cave. Neither is the Run marked on the admiralty map, and of course there’s no sign of the lost dories. We still have the Kaurhole between Long Nose Point and Wilson’s Bluff, but the maps show a huge difference in the locations of the factory. Rohan’s map shows the factory as being much closer to the coastline. Barney, could you help us again? What do you know about the factory and the Kaurhole?”
By this time Barney had his pipe going like a steam train and a cloud of blue smoke hung above the lamp. Barney took a last puff and leaned forward. “Well I bain’t be knowin’ much about the factory. Just that it be in ruins. Bin like that since I kin remember. But it do be right close on Long Nose Point. Why, ye kin see it clear from the Smugglers Cove. I be thinkin’ them Navy lads mebbe makin’ their map wrong and the factory not be where they put it.” He paused and took another puff. “But I do be knowin’ about the Kaurhole. The Kaurhole be at the heart o’ the maelstrom. The sea be runnin’ hard through the Maw and it sweeps round and through the Rocks inte the Kaurhole. What with the current, the wind and the shallers, the water turns inte the Kaurhole and like te forms a whirlpool. A vortex some would call it, and if the Maw don’t take ye then the Kaurhole will. And if ye be sucked down it kin jam ye under the rocks and ye be lost fer good. We all stay well clear o’ the Kaurhole.”
“Could there be a cave there?” asked Dad. “Rohan’s map shows the Princess Cave meeting the water just there.”
“Nay” said Barney. “At most it be a ledge under the rocks. Te be sure ‘tis hard te get close by te see it clear, but on a fine day in the early mornin’, if ye be standin’ high on Wilson’s Bluff, ye kin see the dark o’ the Kaurhole. But there be no cave. Jest a vicious wash and deep ledges under the water.”
There was a lengthy silence as we all contemplated the maps. Which one was correct? Was either one correct? It seemed likely that the Admiralty map was more accurate. They were professional mapmakers after all. But then, Leslie and Rohan had been experienced professional seaman. And they had lived all their lives in this area. There had to be something in it, but who was right?
“Purtaph’s daughter was called Jawali Kaur. Like the Kaurhole.” We all looked around. “You know” said Charlie. “In the journals! He called her his princess. She went to London.”
George sneered at Charlie. “What would you know?”
“Well at least I can read George. That’s what Purtaph called his daughter. It said so in Leslie’s journal.” Charlie was clearly grumpy. “All you think about is tomato sauce.”
“Wait a second” interrupted Dad in an excited voice, before George could retaliate. “Charlie might have something here. There might be a connection. We have the Kaurhole on the Navy map, while on Rohan’s map we have the Princess Cave, but no mention of the Kaurhole. And in both Leslie’s and Rohan’s journals they refer to Jawali Kaur as a Princess. That’s a lot of coincidence and maybe it means something. Everything points to a cave, possibly connected to the sea, with its underwater entrance visible from Wilson’s Bluff. And see how the factory is connected to the cave and Smugglers Cove by the Run.
Dad was quiet for a few moments, while Barney puffed ferociously on ‘Me Comfort’. George looked like a brewing storm. Dad tapped the admiralty map with his finger. “Ok. I’m drawing a very long bow here, but I’m guessing that the Run is an underground tunnel. I know, I know. Crazy! But bear with me. I’ll bet there’s a cave, the Princess Cave or Kaur Cave if you like, a name that has morphed into the Kaurhole over the past two hundred and fifty years, and that the cave is connected to the sea and accessible from the old powder mill. If I’m correct, it means that the Navy map, for some inexplicable reason, is wrong. Amazing, but that error might be the main reason why no one has ever found the gold. This could be our big chance. We may have stumbled on some clues that no one else has ever seen. I think our starting point has to be the factory.”
Dad gave a nod to Charlie. “Well done Charlie” he said. “I think you might just have saved our bacon.” Charlie grinned and turned bright red. Even George agreed.
“I been there many a time.” Barney chimed in as we all crowded closer to peer at the maps. “Bain’t never seen nuthin’ that looked like a tunnel. Jest be a big pile o’ bricks and all, covered in grass and trees. And the pigeons and gulls be makin’ it home too. Right messy it is. And we be searchin’ up there, same as on the beaches. Bain’t nuthin’ there though. No one never mentioned no passage. We be lookin’ fer the pathway but we didna find it. No one never found nuthin’. And the Kaurhole? It always be there and always be called the Kaurhole. I din’t be knowin’ about there bein’ a Princess and all.”
We met at Barney’s dock early the next morning. The clouds were so low we couldn’t see the cliff tops, and the rain came in bursts, like a dash of spray on our faces. It wasn’t comfortable and we scurried over to Barney’s boat to get ready.
Barney kitted everyone up in wet weather gear, sou’wester, gumboots and long raincoat. No oilskin pants this time. They were much too heavy for walking. Barney and Dad both carried packs with small picks and extra batteries plus water and chocolate. Barney handed each of us a heavy, rubber encased torch and a shoulder bag. Barney also looped a long piece of rope around his shoulders, and he carried half a dozen karabiners on his belt. In his waistband he clipped a packet of sharp, silver spikes with a hole in the end. “These here be pitons, just rightly. Ye never know what ye be needin’” he said.
We hiked up to the car park above Polperro. No walk along the cliffs today. We were going to the old powder mill in Barney’s truck. This would take us up along the Killigarth road until we reached the turn off to the old factory and, if the old road was passable, we could drive right up to the factory itself.
Polperro was silent and closed up against the rain as we trudged through the cobbled streets. Water sluiced over the cobbles and sloshed and splashed in the gutters on the way to the harbour. It was so gloomy that the streetlights were on, each one surrounded by a glittering halo of raindrops and mist. Even the gulls and gannets were inside today. When we arrived at the car park Barney stopped and pointed, beaming, at a funny little contraption parked in one corner. “There she be” he said.
“No kidding! It’s a motor bike” exclaimed George.
Barney beamed at us. “This be me old Fiat. Fiat Piaggio just rightly. Been ridin’ in her this past twenty year. And there be naught complaint in all that time. Why, she hardly be usin’ any o’ the petrol or the oils ye know.” The Fiat was tiny. It had three wheels, one at the front of the small cab, and two at the rear, where they supported an equally small tray. It would be lucky to haul Barney, let alone all of us. I thought it looked like a bug with pop eyes. George said she was flabbergasted.
“I’m afraid to ask if we’re insured” whispered Dad as we clambered aboard. We fitted everyone in, but only just. Dad and Barney and their packs squeezed into the cab while we all climbed into the tray, Max and I sitting at the rear, George and Charlie wedged up in the front of the tray, hanging on tight to the roll bar that stretched across the top of the cab. Barney fired up and, with a squealing sound like Mum’s old sewing machine, we puttered out of the car park and turned onto the main road. The rain kept pouring down, getting even heavier. Every now and then there was a rattle of hail on the metal of the Piaggio. The light was dim but we could still see the ocean, churning and grey where it crashed onto the rocks, the waves tipped with yellow foam. Barney flicked on the single headlight and, even though it wasn’t really dark, it just seemed to get a little gloomier. Then we were in the clouds.
We popped and squealed up along the road, the beam of the Piaggio’s headlight turning the cloud into a white fog. We couldn’t see a thing and every now and then the Fiat would slide on the wet road, bringing a shriek from the tray. We could hear Barney laughing but not a peep from Dad. It didn’t take us long to get to the turnoff to the mill and Barney immediately pulled over to the side of the road. He and Dad hopped out and began inspecting the old road. They walked down the hill for about a hundred metres, inspecting the road and sloshing through deep puddles and sticky black mud. As Barney had explained earlier, it was better for us to come by road, because it was much quicker than walking. And the packs were heavy, what with ropes and karabiners and pitons. But in our short trip in the Fiat we had climbed up high above the old factory, and now had to follow the old road back down the hill. The old road was never used much any more, and Dad and Barney were worried that it might be too steep and slippery and dangerous because of the rain.
After an inspection they decided it was too slippery. The mud was inches thick and some of the holes were really deep. “Why the poor Fiat be likely te flop right over on this road” said Barney. So we would have to go the remainder of the distance on foot. “It not be far though” said Barney. “But take care with ye feet, fer the ground be treacherous and all.” With that Dad and Barney shouldered the packs, we made sure our torches were secure in our shoulder bags, and we set off.
Barney wasn’t kidding. The track was really rough. It was an old gravel road, with rocks marking and supporting the edges, but the years and the weather had taken their toll. We splashed through large pools where parts of the road had caved in and slipped down the hill. In a couple of places saltbush and small trees almost covered the track. And it was steep. Much steeper than it looked from the new road, and much steeper than we could have imagined. The road wound back and forth on itself as we followed it down the slope to the factory. How on earth did they ever get anything out of here? And how did they get all the stuff here to build the factory in the first place?
The old factory site was a mess. After two hundred years only a few parts of the old stone walls were still standing, some with ragged pieces of timber jutting out at odd angles. Vines and saltbush, small trees and unkempt grasses clothed the site and festooned the ruins. The ground underfoot was treacherous, sometimes grass, sometimes deep mud, sometimes old paving stones covered in slippery moss. And everywhere we were ankle deep in water!
Off to one side, about a hundred yards from the factory, was a row of what appeared to be large cottages. Each one was about thirty feet high with a sloped roof and a chimney at the peak. All had large metal doors or openings at the front and all were falling into ruin and, now, mostly covered in vines and grass.
“Who are the houses for?” asked Charlie. “Is that where the people lived?”
“They bain’t be houses, me lass” said Barney. “They be the coke ovens. Ye be seein’ the grates at the front? They be bringin’ in the Polperro coal by wagon and burnin’ it here. Then they be crushin’ it in the mill fer te make the powder.” We paused and looked at the ovens, then back up at the road, and at the track that we had, literally, climbed down. They brought wagons of coal down that road I asked myself? The poor horses!
The rain still poured down, turning the surrounding landscape into a drenched, dripping greyness. We had walked in at the north end of the old factory and we looked around to get our bearings. Dad had Rohan’s map with him, now encased in clear plastic. I bet Mrs. Mahoney didn’t know.
We all crowded close together while Dad and Barney peered at the map. “If there’s a tunnel, it will be at the south end, closer to the cliff top” said Dad. “We need to make our way down to that end. Single file, guys. I’ll lead. And everyone be careful. There’s water everywhere and this rock could be like cheese. No busted ankles, please.”
We filed off, following Dad into the overgrown ruin, with Barney at the rear. It was hard going. We could see the remains of the long eastern wall, most of it broken down except for one section where a piece of slate roof still hung. “Amazin’, ain’t it?” said Barney. “Bin more’n two hunnert years and it still be standin’. That be good Cornish buildin’ ye know.”
After climbing over broken bricks and slopping through wet ferns and puddles Dad stopped to pull vines away from the wall to let us pass. Behind the vines was an old piece of rusted equipment. It was a huge drum, covered in rust, with jagged teeth around the sides. Pushed up against it was a bunch of long iron rods, each with a large iron ball at its foot. Everything dripped and ran with moisture. Water swirled around our feet.
“Aye!” said Barney, stopping and puffing on his pipe. How did he keep it going in this rain I wondered? “That be the crusher I‘m thinkin’. Ye kin see the crushin’ rods there though they be right rusty.”
“We must be near the south end by now” said Dad, looking at the map and gazing around the ruins. We skirted a couple of large pools filled with slimy water, their surface coated in purple algae. “The sulphur pits I be wagerin’” muttered Barney. “They be right deep so don’t be fallin’ in mind ye.”
“Ok!” said Dad. “We’re at the southern corner.” We could all see the damaged corner wall and, beyond it through the rain, the rocky jut of Long Nose Point and the Rocks of Gold, and the thick spike of the lighthouse. Looming darkly in the background, barely visible through the mist and rain, was the Gannett.
“Rohan’s map shows that the tunnel, if there is one, is somewhere close by this end of the factory” said Dad. “But not right at the corner. The map shows that the tunnel starts a few metres back along the eastern wall. Let’s spread out and see what we can find. Remember. We’re looking for some type of opening or trap door, in the wall or in the floor. It might be of brick or cast iron, or even timber, but whatever it is it will be rotten. Look closely and give everything a good knock to see if it’s hollow. And be careful.”
We spread out along the wall. Everyone flicked on their torches because of the gloom, and we picked up the nearest chunk of wood we could find. For the next two hours we searched on both sides of the wall. The wall was almost completely collapsed and we found no tunnel or trapdoor anywhere. George had a false alarm when she found an old cupboard, but even it was empty. We pulled vines and grass away from the ruins and even moved piles of old bricks but there was nothing under them, only an old, scarred stone floor. And it continued to rain. Icy cold streams showered us when we pulled down the vines, and water ran around our feet in torrents. Away to our right the flare of the lighthouse cut through the murk at intervals of about 20 seconds. If anything it seemed to make it darker. At midday Dad stopped the search and stood up, rubbing his back. “We’re not having any luck” he said. “Let’s have some lunch and a think about it. Maybe there’s a better way.”
We sat down in the shelter of the remaining corner wall. It gave us a little cover from the rain and it was quieter, being away from the wind. As we munched on the chocolate and sipped our water we were all a bit dejected. It was all just a gamble anyhow. Dad has pointed that out last night. The map was two hundred and fifty years old, and so were the ruins. There might not even be a tunnel. And everything was so old and wrecked we might not find it anyway.
We sat and stared forlornly at the ruins. We were dry where we sat, and protected from the wind, but beyond the wall the rain pounded down. “Listen to that” said Charlie. “It sounds like a waterfall. The water must be pouring down the cliff.” We all stopped eating and listened. Sure enough, somewhere close by we could hear the rush of water.
“Probably lots of waterfalls here, it rains so much” muttered George.
“Well I’ll be.” We turned and looked at Barney and Dad. They were staring at each other, their faces excited. “I think the lass may have it do ye think?” asked Barney. Dad and Barney jumped to their feet.
“Look!” said Dad, his voice loud “Look where you’re sitting. It’s dry. All morning we’ve been slogging through water up to our ankles and the old factory was full of water as well. But not here! Why not in this corner? Because water always seeks the easiest path. If we want to find the tunnel, we follow the water!”
Dad turned and looked over the broken bricks of the old wall and down the slope towards Long Nose Point. “We need to search outside the factory. The sound of the water tells us it’s flowing in that direction” he said, pointing down the hill. “Let’s take another gander at those maps.”
Dad took off his rain jacket and laid it on the rough stone floor, with the inside up. Then he took the maps out of his backpack and spread them on top of the rain jacket. He put the naval map on top of Rohan’s map, as he had done before, and lined up the coastal landmarks and towns as best he could. There were a lot of differences. We saw that on our first examination of the maps. The coast was out of alignment, and the shape of headlands and bays was different. But the key difference we were concerned about was the location of the Powder Mill and the tunnel. Dad traced his finger across the page from Polperro to Looe and up to the Powder Mill.
“You can see that there’s a lot of variation between the two maps. I think we have to accept that the naval map is the more accurate of the two, but that’s not to say that it’s accurate in every aspect. As we saw with the siting of the mill.” His finger tapped on the map paper. “See here. The location of the Powder Mill on Rohan’s map, and the location of the ‘abandoned factory’ on the naval map, are roughly two to five hundred metres apart. I’m guessing that distance based on the scale shown on the naval map. But we don’t have any scale reference for Rohan’s map, so it could be one hundred metres, or it could be eight hundred metres. Let’s settle on two to five.”
Dad jiggled the maps a little to reposition them then pointed at the location of the powder mill on the naval map. “Here” he said. “You can see that the navy has marked the ‘abandoned factory’ as being further east – by say two or three hundred metres – when compared to Rohan’s map. If we accept that the navy map is the more accurate of the two, then Rohan’s map is incorrect in its location of the Powder Mill.” Dad paused and looked up. “Could it be possible that the entry to the tunnel is also incorrectly shown on Rohan’s Map. We shouldn’t see this as criticism of Rohan by the way. It may have been done deliberately, in case the map fell into the wrong hands.”
“I’m thinkin’ ye may be right Andrew” said Barney. “If ye be lookin’ at the naval map ye kin see all those toe-poe-graphic lines. They be showing the landfall, ye know, the hills and gullies and sech like, and they be showing the height o’ the land as it falls away te the sea. Ye kin see here that it falls right sharp from the old mill down te the Smugglers Cove. And we know the tunnel be goin’ in that direction. And as we know water will always be runnin’ down hill, followin’ the easy path so te say. I think if we were te follow the water then we’d be findin’ the entry te the tunnel. Right quick I’m thinkin’.”
“And we’ve heard the water running underground near the mill” Max’s voice was excited. “So the tunnel must be nearby.”
“Maybe not” said Dad. “Barney’s correct to point out the height lines. See here how the lines fall away to the east of the mill and form a shallow valley that runs towards Smugglers Cove. Then they rise again up over the top of Long Nose Point before they hit the cliffs overlooking the Shallows and the Maw. So any run off we can hear is heading first into the shallow dip to the east of the mill and then directly south towards Smugglers Cove.” He paused and peered closely at the maps. So did everyone else. Where was the tunnel entry? Dad tapped the map again with his finger. “And then you see where a split in the tunnel is marked, just to make things a little more difficult. You know, I have a feeling that it’s not just the naval map that’s inaccurate. I think both maps might be wrong about the location of the mill.”
Barney moved his finger to a spot just below the sharp jink in the topographic height lines that showed the start of the shallow valley. It was about three hundred metres south east of the mill. If the scale was correct. “I think we start here” he said. “I’m thinkin’ it be maybe fifty or maybe a hunnert feet lower than where we’re standing, but close by the fall o’ the land and the run o’ the water.”
Dad looked at Barney. “But wouldn’t they have wanted something easy to access. They wouldn’t have wanted to carry barrels of powder for hundred of yards across the rough ground.”
Barney grimaced and took off his hat. He rubbed his head. It was covered in white stubble. “That mebbe so. But then needs be I’m thinkin’. Maybe it was te keep it secret like, so the Revenooer couldn’t be findin’ it.” We all stared expectantly at Dad.
“But then again, if the maps aren’t accurate, the tunnel could be a lot closer than we think. But let’s get going. Let’s move our search over to the east a little. We’ll start near the mill, to be certain, then move steadily further down the slope.” Dad ran his finger over the section of the map that showed the head of the small valley. “Everywhere in this area. Both sides of the valley.”
The ground below the old powder mill was rough and broken, covered in thick scrub and dangerously slippery. We collected our gear and climbed gingerly over the wall, back into the rain and wind. There was a steep drop just below the corner of the factory and we climbed down over broken timbers, shattered bricks and a jungle of vines, small shrubs and grass.
“Well this be a right adventure” grumbled Barney as he picked his way through the tangle.
We could hear the sound of splashing water more clearly now. It came from under the pile of bricks and rock that spilled down the slope when the mill collapsed. The pile was a dangerous mixture of jagged timber, mixed with bricks and twisted undergrowth. It looked impenetrable. Dad and Barney inspected the mess. We all stood close by, rain dripping off our sou’westers and puddling around our boots. We sure were glad we had Barney’s gumboots.
Dad gazed at the tortured pile then looked up towards the old factory. “This could be the tunnel” he said, turning back towards us. We all crowded closer in excitement. Dad pointed back towards the ruined mill. “When the Reveenooers blew up the old powder mill, the roof and walls collapsed. Up there above us is what remains of the southwestern corner of the factory. But the western wall has come tumbling down the slope and now all that’s left is this giant pile of rubbish. And the western wall was the start of the tunnel. At least that’s what it shows on Rohan’s map. There must have been a door or an opening in the wall and it was destroyed and covered up in the explosion.”
Dad stopped speaking for a moment and pointed to the mound of bricks and vines. He put one hand to his ear. “We can hear the sound of the water quite clearly, so it’s obviously finding a way though the rubble. It’s going somewhere. We need to do the same – but carefully.” We studied the enormous pile. After two hundred years it was covered in thick grass and a layer of earth. And it was filled with broken brick and pieces of rotted timber. We would need to be careful.
We pulled at the grass and the larger rocks and wriggled and tugged at the pieces of blackened timber that jutted in all directions through the grass and shrubs. Because everything was so tangled and overgrown it took ages to work things free of the earth. The grass seemed to break off in clumps but the roots of the small shrubs and bushes were locked onto the timber and rocks and bound them into the earth. In some places the bricks and timber seemed to be welded together. Though we worked hard for a couple of hours, we were able to pluck only a tiny pile of bricks and wood from the ground.
By midday we were nearly exhausted and had made almost no progress through the wreckage. We had a small heap of rubble behind us, and we could hear the water rushing by beneath us, but we were no closer to it or any tunnel. But at least the rain had stopped. We could see clearly out to the Gannet and the cloud and mist had lifted. Dad finally called a halt when a big clump of rocks and bricks were dislodged and crashed down near Charlie and George.
“That’s it!” he said, standing up and groaning. “This is too dangerous. We’ll have to look for another way in.”
We backed off and looked around. Everywhere was a battleground of fallen masonry and timber, covered with tangled undergrowth. It seemed impossible. We could tell that it didn’t matter where we searched, every spot was as difficult as the next. Then Barney pointed down the hill, towards Long Nose Point. “I think we be goin’ that way” he piped. “That’s where the water be goin’ and we best be followin’ it.”
Dad followed Barney’s pointing finger. “I think Barney’s right. Let’s fan out, about five paces apart, and work our way down the slope. Be careful. And we’re looking for a way into the tunnel. So listen for the sound of the water.”
We spaced out in a long line across the bumpy slope, Dad at one end, Barney at the other. Our clothes and boots made it cumbersome, climbing and sliding down the hill, and we moved slowly. But in spite of the difficult terrain and our clumsy outfits, it took only half an hour for find what we were seeking.
“I can see water!” yelled Max. By this point we were about a two hundred metres from the factory and at least a hundred feet lower down the slope into the valley. As we clustered around the large hole in the side of the hill, half overgrown with thick grass, Dad leaned down, holding his torch, and pushed his arm and shoulder into the hole. Then he wriggled his head through. The sun was breaking through the clouds as we watched Dad wriggle and twist to get a better view. I didn’t expect much. We hadn’t had any luck so far and there was no reason to think it was changing.
Dad pulled himself back out of the hole. “Well done Max. There’s something down there but I can’t see clearly. It appears that it may be a couple of metres down. I can see bricks, so it could be a tunnel. Or part of a tunnel that’s caved in.” We all whooped but Dad waved us quiet. “Don’t get your hopes up. Let me slide down and take a peep.”
Barney unslung his rope and Dad tied one end around his waist. “Doesn’t hurt to be careful” he said, then turned and lowered himself into the hole. He wriggled for a couple of seconds then disappeared beneath the thatch of grass. We could hear his boots scratching and a thud every now and then as he banged his torch against the rocks. There was silence for a while and we all peered into the hole. We could see Dad’s torch flickering just a few feet below us but we couldn’t see anything clearly. Then Dad’s voice echoed up out of the hole.
We couldn’t understand a word Dad was saying. His voice was muffled under the grass and earth but he sounded excited. Then suddenly his head popped up out of the hole, grass and mud sticking to his hair. “The tunnel” he whooped. “It’s the tunnel alright. It’s caved in back towards the factory but it’s clear on the downhill side. I can see steps leading off into the dark. There’s a lot of water through but it seems to be easing. Everything’s covered in slime so it’ll be slippery. It seems ok, but we’ll have to watch our step.”
We danced around slapping shoulders and yelling. Even Barney was laughing. Dad and Barney pulled away some large clumps of grass and below us we could see exposed the caved-in sides of the tunnel. Over the centuries some of the rocks and earth had leached away, creating a sinkhole, which eventually collapsed and exposed the tunnel. Max had stumbled across the sinkhole, which led us straight to the tunnel.
We couldn’t see much, but from what I could see it looked as if the tunnel had been carved through the rock of Long Nose Point. I could see the marks of picks on the walls, even through the slime and moss. In some places the roof of the tunnel appeared to be supported by brick walls. In others it was solid rock. The floor of the tunnel was also partly paved with bricks. There were steps at intervals in the floor, some of brick, others carved from the rock. Dad and Barney climbed down to the tunnel one after the other and easily moved some of the fallen bricks, pulling them out one by one and passing them up and placing them carefully on the ground behind us. Then they both climbed back up out of the hole.
“We’re in” said Dad settling back onto the grass. “I reckon we’ve found the Run, the secret tunnel that the smugglers used to haul the gunpowder. If the map’s right, it will lead us to the Princess Cave.”
And just as he said it the sun came out in full, beaming down on the hole in the ground and sparkling off the water against the sides of the tunnel. We all stared at each other. We were in! But in what? And now that we’d found it, did we really want to go inside? I remember that we all stared at Dad as he wiped the mud off his hands. He grinned at us.
“Let’s rock & roll” he said. “Who’s first?”
But of course it wasn’t that simple. Dad made us have lunch before we went into the tunnel. Barney produced sandwiches magically from his pack – ham and pickles never tasted better. We washed it down with some water then packed up. We were ready to go. Dad and Barney led us over to the entry to the Run.
Barney had his small pick in one hand and his torch in the other. He climbed through the hole and peered about, shining the torch up and down the tunnel and over the walls. “I think we need be right careful” he said, gazing back up through the hole. “The tunnel be clear but slippery, and the rock and the bricks maybe a little rotten. It’ll hold us but we best be goin’ slow. And I be puttin’ some rope up te help us.”
Barney took a piton from his belt and positioned it between two bricks high on the wall. With a smart crack of the pick head on the top of the piton he drove it deep into the old mortar. All that jutted out was the top with the circular hole in it. Barney gave the piton jiggle but it held firm. Then he quickly unlooped his rope and threaded it through the hole, tying a seaman’s knot to secure it.
“Now” he said. “I be goin’ first and be checkin’ the tunnel. It’s near five hunnert feet o’ rope I’m carryin’. I be goin’ as far as I kin, and checkin’ the tunnel. I be givin’ two sharp tugs on the rope every now and then, all bein’ fine.” We watched as Barney disappeared into the tunnel. We could hear him moving across the slippery steps but he was soon out of earshot. Dad stood with the rope looped over his forearm. Every now and the rope jerked twice.
We stood there waiting. It seemed like ages, but it was only ten minutes later that we heard Barney’s slithery footsteps on the slimy steps below. Then his head reappeared below us. “Well blimey” he said. “The tunnel be in right fine condition. I be mighty surprised, that’s fer sure. I walked down mebbe two hunnert metres. I’m thinkin’ the water runs off down te the Shell Cove, so the rest o’ the tunnel be cool and dry. Bit mouldy mind ye, but cool and dry. Just this first part ye be watchin’ ye feet.”
Barney tested the rope. “Now I be releasin’ me rope as I go. Ye should be holdin’ tight te the rope as ye come down the steps. Keep ye torches up, and watch ye feet. There be some holes and sech and, the steps are maybe rotten in places. But not fer long. I be testin’ ‘em before ye step on ‘em anyway but ye still need care.”
Barney moved slowly off down the tunnel, gingerly testing each step as he went and poking at the tunnel roof and walls with the end of his pick. But the roof and walls were all solid rock. We climbed through the opening one at a time, following Barney down the steps, treading carefully and playing our torches over the slime covered walls and roof, dripping with long green stalactites of wet moss and rock crystal. Barney led the way down the steps of the tunnel while we clung to the rope he played out behind. Max and George followed Barney, followed by me, followed by Charlie. Dad brought up the rear.
We picked our way steadily down the steps, our torches showing the way. Some lengths of the tunnel were lined with bricks, and in some places there were small niches with what looked like the remains of old oil lamps. These were covered in mould and rust. The smugglers must have used these when they did the run to Smugglers Cove.
Even though there was a lot of mould and slime we could still see that the bricks had been well laid. The steps were square and firm beneath our feet, despite Barney’s warning, and the layered bricks in the walls and the zigzagging brick patterns formed in parts an arched roof. But mostly it was all rock. After about forty steps Barney stopped and pointed his torch at the roof.
“Jest look at that” he said, shaking his head. “Those Looers be right good builders. Jest look at the brickwork, still standin’ solid these two hunnert years and more. And the path be right good, the steps wide and not too high. The smugglers could carry their barrels down the Run right quick.” Barney was right. The tunnel was high and wide and dry, and the steps were easy to use. Each step was at least half a metre wide. The smugglers would have been able to run up and down the tunnel quite easily. I guess you needed to be quick if the Revenooer was around.
Barney turned his torch back down the tunnel. Right in front of us was a small landing. The tunnel turned left on the other side of the landing. Barney stepped down and pointed his torch around the bend. “Aye, the way be clear. And dry too.” After pausing for a moment to hammer in another piton, Barney waved us forward.
“This next section is a long one. I think we best be checkin’ the map.” Dad passed Rohan’s map down along the line to Barney who peered at it under his torch. “I reckon we be at the first bend” he said. “There be a long run, mebbe fifty or sixty steps I think, then another turn, this time te the right. Then we be havin’ two short runs o’ steps before we be hittin’ the junction te the Princess Cave. Now I be stoppin’ every ten metres or so te drive home a piton so just be waitin’ on me when I do that.” Barney did a quick loop around the head of the piton to keep the rope taught then stepped past the corner and into the next section of the Run.
We negotiated the next three sections easily. The walls were dry and firm and our torches showed the tunnel in glaring detail. Just past the second bend we came across a small alcove cut into the rock. This part had a small bench cut out of the granite. We shone our torches around.
In one corner was blackened area with a small pile of ashes and some small chunks of rotted wood. And nearby were pieces of what appeared to be broken pottery. It looked like someone had cooked a meal here. A long time ago. Over two hundred years ago I asked myself? Then George yelled and pointed up high in the alcove, above the fireplace. Barney pointed his torch upwards and we saw that words had been scratched into the rock. We pushed in as far as we could but the alcove was too small. Only Barney, George and Max could fit.
“What does it say?” said Charlie. “Who wrote it?”
“Well this be interestin’, that’s fer sure” said Barney. “It be two names, just rightly. And by different hands far as anyone kin tell. And the names be names we know. They be James Herriott and Martin Haggley, and they be dated too. 1737 it seem. So it be lookin’ like young Jim and Martin were mebbe cookin’ here some time. But when? It must be takin’ place some time before they was lost in December ’37. Right sad it be, don’t ye think?”
Everyone was quiet. Barney was right. After Barney’s story, and after reading the journals of Leslie and Rohan, we had begun to feel that we knew the Looeers. Leslie, Jimmy, Rohan, Ned, Purtaph, their ‘good’ wives, and the other fishermen, David Swain, Roger Docherty and Martin Haggley. Until now it had only been a story. But seeing the remains of the fire, the old pottery and the scratched names in the rock, brought home to us just how real it was.
We continued down the tunnel, Barney pausing every now and then to drive a piton into the rock wall. As we moved downhill towards the fourth bend in the tunnel Barney paused. He peered down at Rohan’s map. “If the map be right, the junction to the Princess Cave be right close” he said. “Mebbe we soon be findin’ out what happened?”
As we filed around the fourth bend, the tunnel began to widen, until it opened suddenly into a cave filled with strange shadows and a dank, salty smell. The pick marked tunnel floor stopped and was replaced with rough outcrops of dark granite, soaring to a cave roof far above, spotted with white stalactites where minerals had leached through the rock. The steps now were narrow, cut roughly from the granite and winding steeply downwards between stalagmites that reached up from the floor, each one as if melting under a pink and green coating of dissolved minerals. There were pools of water everywhere, reflecting the lights of our torches onto the cave roof like a laser light show and casting flickering shadows across the walls.
Barney paused and scratched his head. “I bain’t be understandin’ this map” he said. ‘Fer jest a moment there I be thinkin’ we found the Princess Cave. But this bain’t be the Princess Cave, it couldna be. And it bain’t be marked on the map neither. It be right confusin’. Fer the map be marked with a junction, where the Run splits off te the Princess Cave. And I be lookin’ fer the junction but blowed if I be seein’ it. And I be right sure we dint pass no junction on the way down.”
As we stepped carefully down the old rock steps, we shone our torches around. The cave was quite large, and the steps had been cut right through the middle. We could see an opening low down on the far wall, beyond a large dark pool, and we pushed on. If this wasn’t the Princess Cave then what was it? Where did the tunnel on the far wall lead to? Would it lead us to the Princess Cave?
“Maybe it’s a little further down the tunnel” said Dad. “Let’s keep going. We’ve come quite a way so we can’t be far from the junction, or the Cave or Smugglers Cove.”
“Aye. Mebbe that’s right” said Barney, folding the map and bending slightly to enter the tunnel. The tunnel descended steeply from the cave. Barney tried to hammer a piton into the rock but the rock fell away in soft lumps. Barney held his torch up close to the walls of the tunnel. “Hmmm” he said. “We be close down by the water I’m thinkin’. The salt be rottin’ everything. I’m thinkin’ mebbe we should be turnin’ back.”
But it didn’t matter. As Barney shone his torch around it flashed across a wall of fallen rock, not more than twenty steps further down the tunnel. We saw large boulders, shattered and cracked and mixed with sand and slivers of crushed rock. The tunnel had caved in. We couldn’t go any further. Where were we? And what had happened to the Princess Cave? Maybe the map was inaccurate, as Dad had suggested in the library. Dad pushed his way to the front to join Barney and they stared at the map, frowning deeply and shaking their heads.
After a while Dad glanced up. “We’re stumped” he said. Barney nodded in agreement, looking miserable. “We know where we are” said Dad. “But we have no idea where the Cave is.” Dad pointed to the wall of rocks. “The Revenooer blew up the tunnel opening on to Shell Beach in Smugglers Cove. This is the cave-in that blocked the entrance. I think that’s certain. There’s no way through it so we have to go back. We’ve followed the Run and it’s loosley as shown on Rohan’s map. The distances aren’t right, we know that, and none of the bends in the tunnel were shown accurately. We’re shooting blind here. It’s just the Princess Cave – where is it?”
While we stood there, sweeping our torches around and wondering what to do next, George placed her torch upright between two large rocks, pointing it at the ceiling of the tunnel. The light reflected back down on us and seemed to brighten the whole area. And our spirits as well. The walls were clear of slime and moss but the ceiling dripped small stalactites and drops of water. We found a couple of rocks to sit on and unpacked some water and chocolate. While we sipped we discussed our next steps.
“It’s pretty neat really” said Max, flicking his torch up under his face, looking slightly devilish. “After more than two hundred years of searching we’ve found the tunnel. We even found some names and stuff. I think it’s awesome.”
“Me too!” said Charlie. “I thought Cornwall would be really dumb but we’ve had a fantastic time. It was so cool to see the wrecks, and we still might find some gold.”
“The food’s good” added George.
Meanwhile Dad and Barney hunched over the map. The plastic was getting smeared with the moisture in the tunnel and Dad had to wipe it a couple of times. While the Team chatted about the old mill and the tunnel, and which were stalactites and which were stalagmites, Dad and Barney retraced our steps. I watched Dad’s finger moving up and down the zigzag of the Run. He tapped the point where the junction with the Princess Cave was supposed to be and then looked up, tapping his chin. Barney sat on a large rock with his legs crossed, slowly rocking back and forth. He had ‘Me Comfort’ going full blast and the tunnel was beginning to smoke up.
“Did anyone notice anything that looked like another path, branching off, as we came down the tunnel?” asked Dad. “Was there anything, anything at all that looked like it could be another tunnel or an opening?” Everyone shook their heads, Barney included. There was nothing in the tunnel. It was too small and narrow. And we had checked all the alcoves.
“Can anyone remember anything from the journals?” asked Dad. “I wish we brought them with us.”
“Aye” nodded Barney. “But kin ye think what Mrs. Mahoney be doin’ if we did that? Life is mebbe too short te be testin’ the ire o’ Mrs. Mahoney.” We all nodded, Dad included. It didn’t bear thinking about. As it was Mrs. Mahoney didn’t know we had the map, and we’d be in big trouble if she found out. And the journals? Forget it! Barney was right. Life was too short.
But we cast our minds back to the entries in Leslie’s and Rohan’s journals. The tragic voyage on the night of December 6, 1737 and the ensuing sadness. The never-ending search for Jim and the Gold. The capture of Eric and his crew. The departure of Jawali Kaur to London and the lives of Bess and Harold, William and Portia. Leslie’s gout and the sighting of the ghost on the Rocks of Gold. The return of Eric, Martin and Arthur. The death of Leslie. And, of course, the mention of the map.
Somewhere in the journals lay the clue we needed. But where? Did we have to go back to the library and search through the journals again? And would we find it? So far we had been extremely lucky. With Barney’s help and Dad’s thinking we had found our way much further and much closer to the answers to the mystery than anyone else had ever done. And people had been searching for over two hundred years.
We sat there munching on our chocolate bars. I had one with raisins. George swapped me a piece with caramel. Barney sat puffing on his pipe and Dad sat rubbing his chin. It didn’t look promising.
“What about the rule of the three hundred steps?” It was Charlie. Her voice made a strange echo in the damp air.
“What do you mean?” asked Dad, after a few moments.
“You remember” said Charlie. “In Rohan’s journal Eric and Martin said that the Revenooer didn’t know the rule of the three hundred steps, so they didn’t find the cave. After they came back from the Old Bailey.”
“That’s right!” said Dad. “They did say that. But what did it mean? What three hundred steps?”
“The lassie’s right” puffed Barney, sending another cloud of blue smoke into the air. “I be thinkin’ on what Rohan said. It seems te me that three hunnert may be the count. Ye know, mebbe ye be countin’ off three hunnert steps from the mill te the junction, or summat like that. Mebbe then ye be findin’ the Princess Cave.” Barney puffed again on ‘Me Comfort’. “So we need to be gettin’ back te the top o’ the Run and then be countin’ off our steps as we come down the tunnel. Mebbe then we’ll be seein’ the way te the Cave.”
Dad nodded. “Barney may be right” he said. “And we’ve got nothing to lose, so let’s do it. And Charlie. Your memory is brilliant. Thanks for remembering that entry”. Charlie beamed. George swiped the last piece of raisin chocolate.
“Let’s get back up to the cave area with the stalactites and wait there. Barney and I will go back up to the start of the tunnel and count the steps on the way back.”
“But the tunnel’s caved in” said Max. “Lot’s of the steps might be covered up.”
“Yes. That’s true. So we’ll just have to make a guess. Frankly we’re guessing but let’s say we start at step number fifty. That might give us a chance at pin-pointing the cave.” I looked over at Max and shrugged. Fifty was as good as any. If that didn’t work we could try forty. Or sixty. Or whatever.
We trooped back up the tunnel to the open area, everyone glad of Barney’s rope and pitons. When we arrived back in the cave Dad and Barney dropped their packs in a dry spot near to the top, just where the tunnel started again, then began their climb back to the mill.
“We won’t be long” said Dad “Sit tight. And don’t fiddle with anything.”
We sat down next to some tall stalagmites, though there was still some disagreement about which was which. In less than five minutes we could hear Dad and Barney returning by the sound of Barney’s voice. “Two hunnert ‘n seventy, two hunnert ‘n seventy one…” and as they finally popped out into the cave “two hunnert and eighty eight.”
“Only twelve more steps” said Dad. “We started at fifty like we said. Let’s see what we have. Two eighty nine, two ninety.” Dad stepped down the steps one at a time, skipping past where we were standing. “Two ninety eight. Two ninety-nine. Three hundred!” Dad was on the far side of the cave, standing on the steps cut from the rock, and surrounded by the stalagmites and pools of water. Barney stood on the other side, near the opening to the tunnel, puffing on ‘Me Comfort’, while the rest of us stood further down the path, near the middle of the cave. The torches played over the roof and walls of the cave but there we couldn’t see anything that looked like a tunnel, or even any sort of opening.
Dad frowned and shook his head. “It must be here” he said, climbing back to the top near Barney. “I’m going to try every step.” He stopped on each step, from the opening at the top of the cave to the start of the tunnel on the far side. We joined him in shining our torches everywhere. But no matter what step Dad stopped on, and no matter where we played our torches, the cave looked just the same.
“Blow me down” said Dad, puffing out his cheeks and trudging back up to Barney. “It’s got me beat.” He and Barney stood beside each other, peering at the maps, Barney’s pipe filling the still air with curling wreaths of smoke. While Barney puffed, Dad tapped his chin and frowned. “It must be here” he said. “I can’t see how we’ve missed it.”
Then Dad stopped, and turned his torch towards the roof of the cave. “Watch the smoke from Barney’s pipe” he said. We all looked up, and saw the blue plume of smoke, eddying along the top of the cave. And we saw what Dad meant. The smoke was moving, along the top of the cave, and disappearing into the darkness. That meant there was a draft, sucking the smoke out, but to where?
“Ok” said Dad. “Here’s what we do. I want everyone standing two or three steps apart from the top to the bottom. Keep your torches on the smoke.”
We spaced out down along the steps, Barney right at the top and Max right the bottom. Keeping our torches trained on the smoke we tried to make out where it was going. But it was impossible. Even though our torches were bright and powerful, it was still dark in the recesses of the cave and the smoke was dissipating as it moved. We couldn’t tell where it was going.
“I have an idea” said Dad. “When I say Go! Turn off your torches. If the smoke’s finding a way out then maybe some light is finding a way in. Go!” We all switched off our lights and the dark closed over us like a thick blanket. It was so black I felt it pushing on my eyeballs. I opened my eyes as wide as I could but there was nothing. Not a thing.
“Anyone see anything?” came Dad’s voice from further up and seeming, suddenly, to echo through the cave.
“Nope.” That was Barney.
“I can’t see anything” said George “It’s all black.” No kidding!
“Me either” said Max.
“What about you Pat? And Charlie? Anything at all?”
“No” I said “Nothing from here”. There was silence for a few seconds, the darkness closing in tighter around us. I could feel the cave getting smaller.
“Charlie? Are you there?” said Dad.
“Yes.” Charlie’s voice echoed in the dark.
“Can you see anything?” asked Dad.
“I think I can see something” cheeped Charlie. “But it’s hard to tell.”
“What can you see?”
“A sort of glow. But it’s really faint.”
Dad’s light came on suddenly and the cave walls seemed to fly back away from us and the cave seemed huge. Dad trotted down the steps followed by Barney. We all crowded around the spot where Charlie was standing, near the bottom of the cave, only a few metres from the start of the tunnel to Smugglers Cove.
“Ok, it’s off with the torches again” ordered Dad. Everyone switched off. And then we saw it. It was a pale glow, coming from the eastern side of the cave, behind the faint outline of some stalagmites. It was so faint that I felt I was imagining it at first.
“Charlie, you’re a star.” Dad’s voice boomed out in the darkness. Then Barney and Dad switched on their torches simultaneously and pointed them towards the eastern wall of the cave. “Look” said Dad. “You can see a couple of steps at the base of that stalagmite.” The steps were on the far side of a dark pool of water, emerging near the bottom of the stalagmite and disappearing behind it. We didn’t know how deep the pool was but Dad didn’t hesitate. Holding his torch low to the water he stepped in, his foot finding a firm step just below the surface. Then he gingerly lowered his other foot into the water. This time he went in above his ankle before he touched the bottom. After two or three steps he stopped, the water just above his knees. “This is it” he said, “I don’t think the water gets any deeper. Let me get to the other side then you can all follow.”
We watched as Dad cautiously slid his feet along the bottom of the pool, slowly making his way across. But it didn’t get any deeper and in less than a minute he was climbing the few steps around the base of the stalagmite. He disappeared behind it and we could see the flickering of his torch, the shadows of stalagmites dancing over the ceiling.
“Come on over” his voice a hollow echo. “It’s safe and there’s plenty of room.”
One after the other we filed over, wading carefully along the gritty bottom of the pool, its dark water throwing a light show onto the ceiling. We climbed up around the stalagmite and joined Dad on a flat ledge of rock.
“Turn off your torches again” Dad said. This time the glow sprang out at us, brighter than before, and coming from behind a large stalagmite close to the wall of the cave. Without saying anything Dad stepped forward and moved around the stalagmite. We followed silently.
Behind the stalagmite there was a low opening in the wall, letting us into a tunnel that angled away to the right, its walls smooth and rounded, its floor smooth and worn, pieces of shell and sand crunching under our feet. The dank smell was much stronger and the light was much brighter. “It be the smell o’ the sea, by gum” whispered Barney.
The tunnel wound steeply downwards, the floor rough and uneven. At each step the glow grew brighter. Ahead I could see a bend, the sides of the tunnel touched with a soft blue light. And then, as we turned the corner of the tunnel, we burst suddenly into an enormous grotto, filled with crystal clear, emerald green seawater. Flickering shafts of sunlight speared through the water from the underwater opening to the sea, bathing the grotto in a rippling glow of blue and emerald. And there, in front of us, on a small beach of broken shingle and shells, a spray of shooting stars. Dozens and dozens of gleaming golden stars, scattered among the shells and sand and shining brightly in the reflected light.
The Kaurhole! The Princess Cave!
Dad wasn’t far out in his guess. The three hundredth step was lower down the cave by only seven steps. Than meant that the cave-in at the top of The Run near the old factory had covered about fifty steps. But the real key to the discovery of the cave had been Dad’s idea of turning off our torches. Without that Charlie would never have seen the glow of light behind the stalagmites, and we would never have found our way to the Princess Cave.
As we looked around the grotto we marveled at it. The Princess Cave was beautiful. Even after more than two hundred years. Barney was so overcome that he just sat above the small beach, puffing on his pipe, staring at the hundreds of gold doubloons scattered among the shells and watching the sunlight play in streams through the water and reflect across the ceiling in bands of blue light. He had tears in his eyes.
While Barney watched and puffed we all jumped down onto the small beach. The gold coins were everywhere, as if someone had taken them by the handful, and scattered them across the sand. We could see hundreds more at the bottom of the pool, flickering and glinting in the sunlight streaming through the underwater opening. And at one end of the small beach, embedded in the shells and sand like the mouldy skeleton of a dinosaur, lay the rotted timbers of an old boat. Part of one oar still hung from a rusty, crumbling rowlock. After two centuries there wasn’t much left of the dory. The bottom timbers were rotted and gone and only a few parts of the bow and stern were still visible.
While we picked up coins from the beach and waded into the water to get more, Dad picked around inside the boat. Near the bow he found several hoops of iron, almost rusted through, with pieces of curved timber still attached. He said that these were probably the remains of the rum kegs. When he held up a rusty piece of steel Barney smiled. “I be needin’ a good rum right now I be thinkin’” he said, with a wry smile on his face.
“Wow!” said Dad. “Just look at this.” Dad was crouched in the stern holding some ragged pieces of cloth. At least it looked like cloth. We all crunched over to the remains of the old dory.
“It’s leather!” said Dad “From the bags of gold.” He dug both hands into the broken shells and sand and when he pulled them free they were filled with dozens of gold coins. And in the hole he created we could see hundreds more. Thousands even. This was the treasure we had been searching for. “There must be thousands of gold doubloons here” said Dad. “It looks like the boat was carried in through the entrance in the big seas during the storm. The wash must have been enormous to take the boat so deep. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been carried into the cave. But what about Jimmy Herriott? What happened to him? Did he get carried into the cave with the boat”
“Andrew. Ye best be comin’ over here. I think we might be findin’ some answers.” Barney was standing away to one side of the grotto, near a long ledge that ran out over the water. Dad dropped all the doubloons into George’s hands and said, “Count these George.” While George knelt in the dory digging out gold we followed Dad over to Barney’s ledge.
Barney was leaning against the rock wall, puffing furiously on ‘Me Comfort’, and staring at something on the ledge. As we came up to him he turned on his torch and we all gasped. On the ledge we could see the soles of two pairs of boots, lying next to each other, unmoving.
“There’s someone there” squeaked Charlie. “Wh-who-oo is it?”
George pushed past Charlie. “It’s no-one. It’s not a person Charlie. It looks like a scarecrow.” But even as George spoke I could see that she didn’t believe it.
Lying on the ledge, next to each other like they were asleep, were two bundles of rotted clothes. Rags really, But under the rags were bundles of brown sticks. I realized that these were bones, a bony claw poking out of each frayed sleeve, and a grimacing, eyeless skull under each mouldy hat.
“Who is it?” asked Max. “Is it the Revenooer?”
“No Max. We’ve read the journals. I’m pretty sure we’ve found Jimmy Herriott and Martin Haggley” said Dad.
“Holy smoke!” said George. Charlie sobbed. Max gulped. I didn’t say anything
“Holy smoke for sure” said Dad.
Barney’s eyes were a bit misty. “Me heart tells me that this be Jim and Martin. And they be lyin’ here this two hunnert years and more. Amazin’ really, that they come through the Maw and all. But it be makin’ fer a sad endin’, that’s fer sure. I’m guessin’ they couldna escape what with the Revenooer blowin’ the Run and the mill and so on. So they’re mebbe survivin’ down here fer many a day. And I guess they be lost in the end te the hunger and the thirst. A sad endin’ fer two brave men it be. Right sad. And terrible too. But it be good that we found ‘em. Fer it mean that two good men are comin’ home. And after so long and all.”
I looked at Barney for a moment. Even though we had found what everyone had been searching for since 1737, Barney was sad. Maybe it was the finality of discovering Jim and Martin, and the Cave and the gold. An anti-climax perhaps, after so long, but maybe also a real sadness that their true fate had been discovered. We looked at them as they silently on the shelf of rock, where they had lain for more than two centuries. Then we left them alone on the shelf in the quiet grotto. But we didn’t leave the gold. Well, not all of it.
We filled Dad’s and Barney’s packs with as many doubloons as we could, then we solemnly waved goodbye to Jim and Martin and set off. It was time to go back to Looe and Polperro and give them the news. And what news it was! Jimmy and Martin were finally coming home. And they were coming home with the treasure!
The trek back up the tunnel seemed to take far longer than coming down. Dad and Barney grunted a bit from the weight of the gold but we finally climbed out of the tunnel below the old factory. It seemed strange re-emerging into the real world. The late afternoon sun cast a golden glow across the headland. Even the ruins and undergrowth around the old mill seemed inviting. To our left we could see the red shaft of the lighthouse, bright in the late sunlight, behind it Long Nose Point and the Maw. The wind was still strong and white caps were flying from the waves rolling green into the Maw. To our right we could see Blind Bluff in the distance, and the white of the waves breaking at its foot. The clouds and the downpour of the morning seemed a distant memory.
There were still large puddles around the factory, but the steep track up to the main road had started to dry out. We hauled the gold and our gear up the track to Barney’s Piaggio and loaded the tray. When we climbed in the old car groaned loudly and settled onto its springs. “This be a heavy load” said Barney. “Best be drivin’ slow. I bain’t be wantin’ te be strainin’ me Piaggio.”
With that Barney turned the whining Piaggio back towards Polperro. As the Piaggio popped and squealed along the road, we bounced around in the tray. I felt excited that we’d found the treasure. But I also felt sad that we’d found Jim and Martin. I could tell that George and Charlie and Max felt the same. Our trip back was quiet, no one saying much, the only sounds the screeching whine of the Piaggio. After we parked the car in the car park and unloaded the tray Dad and Barney paused for a moment.
“Ok. Everyone listen up” said Dad. “I know it was sobering to find Jim and Martin, and I know we all feel a bid sad about that. But I want you to cheer up. I want you to know that you’ve all done something great. That we’ve all done something great. This is going to mean a lot to so many people.” When Dad said this I felt my spirits lift. George and Max started to smile too, and Charlie’s face brightened.
Dad put his hand around Barney’s shoulder. “We’re a great team, but without Barney’s guidance we wouldn’t have found anything. Hats off to Barney.” Barney went bright red and started fumbling with his pipe.
“Oh and it be nothin’. Not really.”
“Don’t forget Mrs. Mahoney” piped Charlie.
“We wont forget anyone” said Dad. “But be warned. Once we break the news on this the place will probably be crawling with people. I think it will make Polperro famous. Are you ready?”
“Yes” we all shouted.
“Ok Barney?” asked Dad.
“Ok” smiled Barney.
“Then let’s go” said Dad. “Let’s go tell everyone that Jimmy Herriott is coming home.”
‘May 1, 2002
Dear Andrew, Sheila, lads and lasses,
I find it hard to believe that already it is these six months gone that we had our great adventure. There’s so many things have happened I knew it was time to write. The winter has been hard but I have spent much time out on the shallows off Smugglers Cove. The catch is always excellent and has often blessed Amos’s table. But the westerlies have done their worst and everywhere I see now the signs of the springtime. The headlands are covered in wildflowers and the water is warm. Last week, when I fished off the wreck, I could see her clear, which I could not do since last October.
I have painted the Good Myrtle, a nice dove grey mind you, and will take her out again this next weekend. Amos Puck is also painting the Cod’s Roe, but a colour you would like not to believe. He says it is called chartreuse and, to be true, it looks to me as if the colour of chum in a strong current. Though Mrs. Mahoney likes it, and told me so when she came to dinner this last week. She sends her regards and said to tell you that she has an assistant now, from the Admiralty, but more about that later.
What with all the fuss after the discovery of Jim and Martin and the gold, Looe and Polperro were right crawling with the Admiralty and the Revenooer for weeks. It seemed like they would never go. And the television people too. And their cars and trucks, with antennas and cables all over them. Why they even camped one night outside Mrs. Mahoney’s library. Looking to get in and take some pictures they were. Amos and Petra said it was like summer holidays, with the clamouring and all for lodging and food. But both Amos and Petra looked right pleased I must say.
And the Admiralty too was right interested in Rohan’s map. I suppose they were pleased to correct their own maps. And the Revenooer was after the gold of course. It is hard to believe, indeed, that nothing has changed in over two hundred years. The Revenooer wanted the gold in 1737 and still they want it. I guess it just proves what we said before – that they never give up. I am told, though, that some of the gold doubloons be on display in the Tower of London. So you can see them there if you be wanting.
After the Admiralty and the Revenooer and the television folk all left we heard nothing for a long time. I must say I thought they had forgotten us. I went forth often in the Good Myrtle and, as December approached, I wondered at what might occur. And so it was, on the eve of December 6, that the Myrtle and I rode low in the water, not far off the Maw. The weather was poor, with mist and rain, and the sea ran foul over the Rocks of Gold. Our anchor was firm set, but as it darkened I worried greatly. Finally the hour of 9 o’clock came, and though I waited and watched until nigh on 10 o’clock, no ghost did I see. I will go again every December but I believe now that the ghost of Jim has been put to rest. I must say this gives me great comfort.
Then, in March, a man from the Ministry of Education arrived. A meeting was called in the Polperro Town Hall and it was announced that the school in Looe was to re-open at the beginning of April. And with a new teacher mind you. The townsfolk were overjoyed, that’s for sure.
Two weeks later the Admiralty sent down a young man to work with Mrs. Mahoney. She says he is to stay for twelve months to catalogue the maps and journals and registers. She says that the Admiralty is calling her library a ‘national treasure’.
The school is now open this last month and has twenty children. And Petra has a new awning on her shop and is putting chairs and tables in the front. She says that she will serve lartays, whatever that is, and that she will add hamburgers to the menu.
I drive up to the cemetery now and then to visit Leslie and Jim and Purtaph and Rohan. Strange it might be but it seems that I know these men. I feel that we joined with them in a great endeavor, and that we finished the search that they began, in 1737. Jim is home with his family, where he rightly belongs, and so is Martin Haggley. I sometimes get a tear in my eye when I think of these brave men and their hopes, and I am glad that we were able to bring those hopes to life. To be sure, the children of Looe and Polperro will never haul the lines and nets of the fishers, or toil long hours in the powder mill, but the school is no less a boon.
And so, me young friends, it be a fine end to a fine story. And after so long and all. Who would have thought it could ever be. I tips my hat to you and your Dad. He be a right good man and lucky to have such fine hands. And Amos and me, we would be right pleased if you were to come again to Polperro. What with the Good Myrtle having a new motor and Amos now tryin’ the Frog food, why Polperro be better than Blackpool.
Always your friend
1 Cockleshell Lane
Pat O’Leary, Max Priestley, Georgina Greene and Charlene Anderson are the Team of Four. They live in Murwillumbah on the north coast of New South Wales, and attend Year 8 at Murwillumbah High School. They’ve had many adventures. They’ve been deep sea diving in the Pacific, crawled through the caves under Eight Mile Plains, climbed the temples of Yucatan, and visited the pyramids of Egypt. They’ve explored the ancient monuments of Italy, trekked the icy wastes of the Himalayas, and ridden camels across the burning sands of the Gobi. But those are other stories. This time they confronted a mystery that was more than two hundred years old. This time they went treasure hunting in Cornwall. “Well me lads and lassies, that be a right long story” said Barney. “And I be right puzzled, and not a little affrighted too, fer ‘tis early te be seein’ this I’m thinking’. And I tell ye this! That light is mebbe no light. That light is mebbe the Ghost o’ Smugglers Run. He be lookin’ fer the sailors that be lost in the storm. He be takin’ the careless, and he give none back. And the rocks he be standin’ on? Why they be The Rocks o’ Gold.” The Team of Four have stumbled across a mystery on the rain swept coast of Cornwall. With Pat’s Dad in the lead, and their friend Barney Applegate at their side, the Team set off to solve the riddle. The riddle of the Rocks of Gold. “They were ‘in the cut’, deep in the heart of the Maw, when the wave broke over the stern of the dory. Kegs of rum were swept past them and they were buried in water and foam. Purtaph was flung overboard with a scream. Jim felt his Dad’s strong hand close around his arm for a moment before it was swept away. Jim felt the boat surge forward, fully submerged, as the wave took it through the Maw. He was underwater and choking. He struggled to swim to the surface but the boots and the oilskins seemed to drag him back. He felt darkness closing over him and he thought of his brothers and sisters and the school they would never have.” Using all their wits, the Team and Dad and Barney search for clues. Their search takes them into the mighty Atlantic, where they fish off the wrecks of the Annie Rose and the U467; to the dusty bookshelves of Looe, where Dagwood Dogs and stale scones are abound; and to the rocky slopes of Long Nose Point, where the broken timbers of the Powder Mill tell a dark history. Will the Team solve the riddle? Or will the Ghost of Smugglers Run once again be victorious, shrouding its secrets forever in the icy mists of winter and the crashing waves of the Rocks of Gold?