Death in the Darkness

It was midnight.

Waves crashed violently against a small strip of sand which formed the cove’s circular beach. The great silver moon was hidden behind a vast sheet of black thunder clouds.

Dark figures stood in the shadow of the tall cliffs – hard to pick out against the blackness of the massive walls of limestone behind them.

A ship-shaped shadow had just appeared in front of the cove. It’s silent, graceful, well handled moves were in stark contrast to the sloshing and bucketing wildness of the fierce green sea on which it sailed.

Presently oars could be heard, moving fast and quick – fighting against the angry waves. Slowly and carefully, the small lugger picked her way through the entrance to the cove, whose cruel jagged sides could so easily brake her into ten thousand tiny pieces should she err.

She made it safely through, however, and was soon sliding onto the smooth sand.

As soon as she touched the edge of the shore figures emerged from the shadows, like so many sculptures out of a massive grey boulder. These were now splashing in the shallows around the lugger as wooden kegs were handed down.

Not long after, hands were grasping the mass of contraband and handing them down the line of men that went up the beach to a cart and pony at the end.

A sailor on board the lugger, in a curious mixture of anger and whisper, demanded that the work be sped up. He and his comrades wanted to reach the safety of the open sea before the storm got too violent. But it was all the smugglers could do to just pass kegs to one another, and so down the weary line.

These smugglers were tough, hungry, work-worn men. They kept these precarious midnight meetings in order that they and their families could survive – more then the few mere farthings earnt in weeks on the fields would allow.

But after a good hour it was at last done.

“That’ll be the last one.” This was announced by a short, stout figure as he heaved the last keg into the cart. “We’d best be a-goin’.”

Another thin, ragged looking man led the way back up a small track that led from the cliffs’ bottom to the cliff-top.

Suddenly, when the cart had almost reached the top, the man behind it dropped to the ground with a sharp intake of breath. Not a second later every smuggler was lying facedown, flat on the ground.

That is, all except the cart owner. He crouched beneath his horse’s head, his hand closed over it’s mouth with a vice-like grip.

For, not so very far away, on the very edge of the cliff-top, the small, twinkling light of a lantern could be seen.

Everything was silent for a time. A dozen wet and frozen bodies lay on the muddy pathway, whilst the wind thrashed them with its fury and the thunder rumbled on in the distance.

Then one of the smugglers started to slowly move forwards. Silently, on all fours, he crept past the cart.

The young revenue officer could see the outline of the lugger as it neared the horizon. He cocked his musket and peered searchingly into the dark night.

But it was all in vain.

Not many moments had gone by before a second dark shade joined his from behind.

Just then, the moon found a slight crack in the thunderclouds, and it’s bright beams revealed two struggling figures. That of the smuggler had a great tawny hand over the other’s mouth.

A knife blade flashed in the moonlight. Then the figure of the revenue officer went tense.

The clouds closed and all was black again.

Somewhere in the darkness, the lantern hit the ground. At the same time the musket had also dropped and gone over the cliff edge – to be followed, a few seconds later, by it’s owner – and both plunged into the breakers below.

The party of smugglers looked at their comrade, as he emerged from the night, with horror.

It took a while for anyone to speak.

Finally the ringleader found his voice. “You ougn’a don’ that.”

A slight, soft pitter-patter began sound about them. Within a minute this became an altogether more dominant sound and the rain, which had all the while been threatening, began to pour.

* * *

A very solemn revenue man was to be found at the King’s Arms the next day.

He was an old hand at his job. He wasn’t tall, but then he wasn’t exactly short either. His bulky frame was tanned from many days riding in the sun and weather beaten from many cold nights watching the sea. He had a long, unwashed face sprouted a stubby, grey beard. Through this he passed a glass of honey-coloured brandy.

He looked up when he saw the landlord come in from the parlour. It was, however, barely a glance and – after pulling his thick coat more tighter about him – he attended to his glass again.

The landlord watched him finish he brandy without say anything.

When the drinker had finished the drink he set the glass down and raised his eyes to meet those of the landlord.

“‘nother?” He asked it in a hoarse tone.

The landlord nodded, picked up his glass and went over to the counter.

“You don’t look so well sir.” He said as he handed the glass back

“No,” replied the officer shortly, “I ain’t.”

The landlord could hardly be blamed for bringing up the topic of the man’s health, for this revenue man looked in the very worst of spirits and his usually face looked several shades paler then was usual.

“We found Jonesey this mornin’.” He continued to stare about him in semi daze.

“Much hurt?” The landlord inquired.

If the revenue officer had had his wits about him, he would have pounced on the landlord’s slip – he’d never suggested “Jonesey” was in any way hurt. But he was too lost in his own thoughts to notice.

“‘e was a blooming mess!” He said it not so much as a declaration as more matter of fact in a low whisper – as if it was spoken more to himself then his companion.

“Ah! How soon will he be back at work.” The landlord was keeping up the pretense – hoping to forget his earlier mistake.

“‘e’ll be two foot under – come Sunday. No more work for ‘im – not with a skull like that!”

“So he’s dead?”

“Aye.”

“And so he’s dead.” The landlord said it softly, to himself – as if in quiet surprise.

But the revenue man assumed it it was yet another question directed at himself, and he also seemed to have tired of them.

“Do I ‘ave ta keep tellin’ ya?” The officer cried impatiently. He gave the landlord a fierce look and then downed half the brandy in one go.

The landlord retreated to behind his counter.

The glass was once again sent down and then the old revenue officer left the inn – still in a half daze.

Almost as soon as he’d left the King’s Arms, it’s owner had left his counter, gone over to the table and picked up the glass. He tutted at seeing it only half drunk, before draining the remainder down his own throat.

The door opened again, and a very different figure from the one who had just left now entered the inn. Common, ragged clothes, unshaven head and a tall gaunt frame.

“Mornin’ Tom!” Said the landlord without turning around.

“Mornin’. Brandy please.”

“Very well.” Answered the landlord, moving back over to the counter for another glass. He filled it with a rich brown liquid.

He handed this to his new customer.

“Thank yea.” Said Tom, before sitting down at the recently vacanted table.

“Heard the knews?”

The landlord nodded. “Bill was tellin’ me before ole Bonesy came in.”

“Shame.” Said Tom peering at his glass, “but he shouldn’t ‘ave been there.”

He put the glass to his lips and drained it.

Looking up at the landlord with mischief in his face, he asked, “That be good brandy from the Frenchies. You must’ve paid a pretty penny for it. Come from that londoner Merchant?”

The landlord, however, failed to see the humour. “No it ain’t – and you know it ain’t!”

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