The Neal James Website

                                   A Golden Opportunity

                     

               

 

When you are a little boy of ten with no brothers or sisters, living in a cottage in the middle of nowhere and with just your mum for company, life can be very boring. There was Patch, his dog, of course and they went just about everywhere together, including school. He was allowed to take him with along for security due to the long walk to school and back (5 miles each way) because you just never knew who was likely to be around in the bleak Cornish countryside, especially in winter when the early mornings and late afternoons were dark.

William Daddow and his mother Rosemary had very little spare money and kept a variety of animals and birds to eke out their food supply. All other items had to be home grown, and there was a patch of land behind the cottage where his mother grew all the vegetables and fruit that they needed. His father, George, had been killed in an accident at the tin mine five years earlier, and Rosemary had taken in sewing and knitting for a textile retailer in Penzance in an attempt to make ends meet.

William spent much of his spare time, after helping around the house, out on the cliff tops with Patch. They would run and play or just lie in the grass staring out to sea. He wondered what it would be like to be a sailor, braving the elements across the world to bring home riches from around the globe. He dreamed of captaining his own boat and making a fortune so that his mother would no longer have to work the long hours she did to put food on their table.

It was after school had finished and he had completed what jobs Rosemary had given him, that he lay with his head right on the edge of the cliffs and saw the ship on the horizon. It was getting dark but he could just make out its shape by the lights hanging fore and aft. Maybe it had arrived back home from the Far East and was laden with valuable cargo ready for unloading. It was strange then, that it appeared to drop anchor instead of heading for one of the Cornish ports. Stranger still half an hour later when a boat was lowered into the water amid the gathering gloom and rowed for shore.

There were six men aboard, and in complete silence, with only storm lanterns to light the way, they unloaded a number of items and carried them into one of the caves which nature had cut into the foot of the cliffs. The operation lasted only fifteen minutes and they had taken what looked like a small chest back to the ship with them.

What could this be? He had heard of smugglers from some of the old men in the village where he went to school, and their tales were filled with blood curdling accounts of huge men with swords and daggers who would cut your throat as soon as look at you. He wasn’t scared, you learned not to be when you were growing up on your own, but his pulse quickened as he made his way down one of the many rocky paths which led to the beach below. It was getting dark very quickly now so he didn’t have much time to spare and the path back up to the top could be dangerous without a lamp.

He had a good idea which cave had been used and found it almost immediately. There were twenty or thirty barrels and they smelled strong and sweet. Whistling for Patch he made his way back to the top of the cliff and headed off for home. He was late for supper and Rosemary had been out looking for him, but when he told her what he had seen she sat him down and made him repeat everything word for word. 

She explained that the barrels probably contained brandy smuggled across the Channel from France and that the chest could have contained payment for the delivery. All this activity was illegal of course, and if caught the men would face severe punishment. If the money could be intercepted before the next delivery had been taken and the customs post in Penzance alerted, then they could get away in the confusion which would surround the arrest. They would need to monitor the next few shipments to ensure that they themselves did not get caught up in the aftermath of the events.

William and Patch duly spent all their spare evenings up on the cliff top looking out for the return of the smugglers’ ship, but it wasn’t until after sunset on the seventh day that he saw a sail appearing over the horizon. He kept low in the grass at the edge of the cliff to avoid detection and waited. The ship dropped anchor as before and lowered the rowing boat on to the incoming tide. Hardly daring to breathe he watched as the men went about their business and left once more. When they had gone he scrambled down to the cave to see what they had left; as before there were at least twenty small barrels.

Rosemary kept him away from school the following day. He needed to watch for any activity on the beach from the same spot on the cliff top so that they would have some idea as to how much time they would have to intercept the money. He stayed up there all day, but it wasn’t until dusk that he heard someone approaching along the cliff top road. Two men in a small cart drove along the gravel track. The horse’s hooves had been muffled with cloth to prevent them being detected, and if he hadn’t been lying in wait he wouldn’t have heard them.

With two dark lanterns they made their way down the cliff pathway and were back in little over ten minutes with four barrels each, strung with ropes and hung about their shoulders. Four trips later and they were done. The last trip saw them take two bags down to the cave, and this must have contained payment for the barrels. William had used his father’s pocket watch to time the whole operation – it had taken less than half an hour from start to finish. Five more minutes and they had disappeared from sight and it was as if nothing at all had happened. When he told his mother what had taken place, she set him up for one more observation the following week. The ship was right on schedule, the cart appeared at the same hour the following day and all the timings matched exactly.

She now knew what to do. An anonymous letter to the Revenue Men would ensure that the smugglers got a warm welcome but she would have to make sure that William and she were well clear by that time. She was due to travel into Penzance with her latest batch of sewing and could ride with the local mail carrier – this would give her the chance to drop a letter into the day’s deliveries without arousing the suspicion of the village postmaster.

All was set, and when William reported the arrival of the next delivery they set out for the cliff top the following evening. They didn’t have long to wait, and the cart arrived on schedule. As soon as the two men descended to the beach Rosemary and William ran to the cart. They found the cash bags immediately but were startled by loud voices and gunfire from the beach. Running as fast as they could they made their way home, hid the bags beneath the floorboards in the workshop and closed the house up for the night.

It was a week later that they learned about the capture not only of the men in the cart, but also of the entire crew of the smugglers’ ship which had been intercepted by the Royal Navy whilst trying to return across the Channel. There was no mention of any money, but it was another three weeks before Rosemary summoned up the courage to remove it from beneath the floor boards. What she discovered almost took away her breath – she had never seen so many gold sovereigns in her life before.

It was a further two weeks before Mr Potts, the village schoolmaster, paid Rosemary a visit. William had been absent from school and this was most unlike the boy, but when he arrived at the cottage it was to find no one there. Enquiries in the neighbourhood revealed nothing – they had simply vanished leaving the house unlocked, the remains of a fire in the grate and the mouldy remnants of a meal on the kitchen table. A search of the area, including the cliff tops revealed nothing and after six months the whole matter was forgotten.

In a small township outside of Boston, Massachusetts a middle aged woman was sweeping the front porch of a typical New England house. She paused and stared at the changing colours of the trees surrounding the settlement. No one had questioned their appearance in the town or their reasons for travelling the width of the Atlantic in search of a new life. Since changing their names to Dunston, Rosemary and William’s previous existence in England had become untraceable. They had rid themselves of the hard life in Cornwall and with the proceeds of the failed smuggling attempt safely deposited at the local bank, their futures were now assured. She smiled to herself, turned and went back into the house.

 

Back to Top