Come Ye To These Shores - Transcript
A scary short story about pirates, shipwrecks and strange ships!
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"Hobbart," the Captain shouted, his gray beard encrusted with salt and dripping seawater, "do you see it?"
The wind whipped around the Solent Maiden's triple masts as the vessel fought its way up the Bristol Channel against the ebbing tide, making four, perhaps five knots. The ship pitched and yawed, complaining with every creak as it battled the swell in the blackness.
"Not yet, Captain," replied Hobbart, his voice hoarse in the wind. "We'll only be a mile or two from it before we do."
Another squall propelled the whole ship into the next wave and it shook as the cascade of spray and foam fanned out where the bow dug into the waves. Hazell Head was so close that those on the bridge could almost smell it on the wind. Their darting eyes raced to and fro, seeking the lighthouse that marked the headland and the chain of submerged rocks that lay off it, rocks which would tear into the keel and smash the Solent Maiden to pieces if given the chance.
"There she is Cap'n!" yelled the Third Officer, Walsh, pointing.
At once, four wet, worn faces looked to starboard where the light of the Hazell Head lighthouse flickered high up on the black slopes, the wind and spray occasionally taking her completely from the men's sight. The Third Officer held out an arm and counted, the numbers whisked from his lips before they could reach the ears of the others.
"We're three miles off her, Captain, give or take."
"Very well, Walsh. Ten degrees starboard. Keep us a mile and a half from her. No less."
Captain Sillot, satisfied that worrisome Hazell Head would soon be behind them, bid the bridge goodnight and retired below, clasping his way along a corridor that tipped him first left, then right as he neared his sleeping quarters.
Within five minutes, First Officer Hobbart on the bridge, heard the sound of waves foaming in shallow water. He glanced quickly to starboard and there, up on the cliff, was an unmistakable silhouette, black sky the backdrop to the even blacker shape of a darkened lighthouse. A lighthouse which had been darkened by human hand.
It was too late. Hobbart turned his head and howled at the Third Officer.
"Hard to port!"
His rasping voice mingled in a sick harmony with the splintering wood as the first rock smashed into the port bow hold and unleashed a torrent of chilled sea water onto Siam's finest paprika and cardamom.
"I was the last of the mooncussers," the old man said. "It all changed along here then. You couldn't get into the lighthouses."
Young Simon loved nothing better than talking to the grandfather who, in his eyes at least, was famous, perhaps something of a local celebrity. Daniel Perrin's cliff-top cottage was less than ten miles from the scene of his most infamous exploits at a time when Victoria was still on the throne.
"Tell me about the Solent Maiden," Simon asked.
He'd read the details a thousand times in Newquay's public library, being one of the most infamous acts of wrecking in Cornwall, but he wanted to hear it from the mouth of Daniel, his grandfather and legendary Cornish mooncusser, a man who was only six days from death on that last cathartic evening with his grandson in the 1950s.
"She was loaded up to the gills with tea, spices, furs. We tried to save 'em, the crew. Always did. By God, I could hear their screams. That was my first night down on the beach. I was usually inland with the decoy lights. We pulled bodies out of the water, the wreck. Lined 'em up on the sand, we did. The captain went down with her, right there in Hazell Bay in six fathoms."
Simon, fourteen at the time, had heard these stories before. One or two insignificant details changed every time, but he cared not.
"Tell me about the last one, granddad. The last one you ever did."
Daniel Perrin's head ceased its usual steady rocking and he peered at the carriage clock above the fireplace where they sat.
"That was the darkest night I can remember."
Simon dared not hush another single word for fear of distracting the old man and denying himself the story he'd spent half his life trying to tempt out of him.
"After the Solent Maiden, it was years before we presumed to do our deeds again at Hazell Headů"
Two years to the night after the Solent Maiden, a teenaged Daniel, youthful facial down now replaced by thin wiry patches of beard, returned to the pitch-black enclosure of Hazell Bay. He was not alone for his father and two others came to the bay that moonless night with ominous intent. Those who stood beside Daniel on the wet sand were gruff, drinking, cussing men who his seventeen years looked up to and feared.
The decoy light up at Cliffden crossroads was clearly visible from the beach. Daniel's father peered down the Channel with a spyglass to see what approached. Another shouted out.
"Ship ahoy! Twenty degrees off Elva Head."
Daniel's father swung his spyglass through the black and found it, a smudge of lights swaying with the wind and water.
"Good eyes, Charlie. She's big, men, and close too. Three-master. Forty-man trader. Heading straight for the rocks."
The large vessel was following a course its crew believed kept it a mile or so offshore. Those on the beach watched it come on, come straight, veer to port a touch, then back, straining against the gales.
The waters off Hazell Head boiled and swirled over the unforgiving rocks that lay just below the waves, rocks that Daniel glanced at to his right. Two years before, he had seen a great ship impale itself there, a noble horse of a thing, the beast staked through the heart in a dense Cornish thicket that offered no escape. He lay on wet sand, the firm hand of his father on a shoulder, listening, waiting for the first crack of timber, daring not to even let out a breath.
When it was almost there, when its figurehead would have perhaps been looking down in wide-eyed terror onto the rocks that awaited her, Devonian boulders that would have glinted in the bow navigation lights, a voice bellowed out, carrying to them through the squalls.
"Hard to port!"
And then, the watching men's breaths stilled, the ship glided across the water, riding high and light, straight through. The grinding, tearing of the hull did not come that night.
"What a most peculiar thing," a young Daniel said out, unaware, surprised that it was even his voice.
As the 200-foot trader slipped through and past Hazell Head, a silence fell on the men like a thick autumnal fog. Daniel turned his head to follow. And then she was gone.
Behind him, Daniel's father eased the grip on his son's shoulder and said something that Daniel kept secluded away until a grandson seduced it out of him seventy years later.
"As God is my witness, that was the Solent Maiden."
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