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Authors: Phyllis Mallett

The Heart is Torn

BOOK: The Heart is Torn
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The Heart is Torn 

 

Phyllis Mallett 

 

 

© Phyllis Mallett 2013

 

Phyllis Mallet has asserted her rights under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.

 

First published in 2013 by F. A. Thorpe.

 

This edition published in 2015 by Endeavour Press Ltd.

 

 

1

 

Beth Farrell sighed as she dismounted on the cliff top overlooking Polgarron Bay. The sea was surprisingly calm in this last week of September 1782, but the sky to the south-east had an ominous blue-grey tinge to it that warned, to a native of Cornwall accustomed to local weather, a hint of bad things to come.

Trailing the reins of her brown mare, Beth allowed the horse to graze on the lush grass and moved to her favourite spot overlooking the wide expanse of water that gave access to the port of Polgarron. The town nestled in a fold of land that protected it from the worst of the wild elements that frequently raged in autumn in this remote corner of England.

Beth’s blue eyes were sad, her usually smooth brow furrowed with a frown as she gazed over the deserted English Channel. She had been coming to this spot daily for more than a month, waiting impatiently for a first sight of Adam Traherne’s ship,
Seagull
, which was expected daily to sail over the horizon on the last stretch of its long voyage from the Americas.

Her heart seemed to miss a beat as she pictured Adam’s powerful figure. His handsome, weathered features and far-seeing hazel eyes were indelibly imprinted on the screen of her mind, for she loved him with every fibre of her being, and he had declared his undying love for her. They planned to wed on his return and, now that the time was drawing near, her anticipation was overwhelming. She pressed both her hands to her breast, aching with repressed love as she lowered her gaze from the desolate Channel. She surveyed the deserted sand of the cove below, which curved around the water’s edge all the way to Polgarron, two miles away.

A lone figure was walking along the rocky shore, and Beth ducked back. It looked like Martin Cresse, and if he spotted her he would undoubtedly intercept her in yet another attempt to wear down her resistance to his amorous wiles. She detested him as much as she loved Adam, and never failed to avoid him where possible, for Cresse was reputed to be one of the leaders of the wrecking gang that operated during the terrible gales.

Turning her back to the sea, Beth gazed towards the grey stone house, only partially visible behind its screen of tall poplars, where she had been born twenty-three years before. She shook her head sadly as she considered how happiness had faded from its portals since her mother’s death. Her father, Henry Farrell, was the owner of a prosperous tin mine and three farms in the area, but in the three years since the unhappy event of his wife’s death, he had changed from his high state of happiness into a grief-stricken man sinking slowly into despair, gambling and frittering away his fortune and businesses in a decline that could have only one ending.

Beth turned to her mare and took up the reins. Mounting, she rode along the top of the cliff, wondering when Adam would finally return from his voyaging. She was in the habit of going into Polgarron at least twice a week, mingling with the seafarers frequenting the bars and other low establishments along the waterfront, to pick up the rumours that always abounded, and which usually proved to be true when concerning the sailings and arrivals of those ships which used Polgarron as their home port. She had heard several times lately that the Traherne ship would be arriving any day now.

But so far, the rumours of
Seagull
had proved unfounded. Beth put her mare into a canter, painfully aware of her impatience as she allowed the horse to follow the twisting path along the top of the cliffs. The cool breeze coming off the sea stung her cheeks, and the exhilarating ride put a sparkle into her blue eyes, until the mare baulked at the sudden appearance of a powerful figure which arose unexpectedly into view over the rim of the cliff and confronted her with extended arms.

The mare stopped, whirling sideways in fright. Beth lost her balance and pitched from the saddle. Hardly aware of what was happening, she landed heavily on thick grass, which mercifully cushioned her impact. But the breath was buffeted from her body, and she lay motionless while her senses whirled and shock paralysed her limbs.

The figure who had caused the upset came to her side and stood over her. Beth’s sight cleared and she looked up into the heavy, pock-marked face of Martin Cresse, who was grinning, his steely eyes gleaming maliciously in his weathered countenance.

‘So, Mistress Beth!’ he exclaimed. ‘I little thought you would fall for me when I decided to accost you. I saw you on the cliff top back along. Still looking for sails on the horizon, eh? Why waste your time on Adam Traherne when I could fulfil your dreams? You know I have great admiration for you, and you would do well to pay heed to me before a bad fate befalls your family.’

Beth struggled to her feet, staggering as she slipped on the coarse grass. She looked around for the mare, which was quietly grazing nearby.

‘Martin Cresse, how many times have I to tell you that there could never be anything between us?’ Beth spat out with anger. ‘If my father was aware of how you besiege me with your unwanted attentions, he would whip you.’

‘Your father has other things on his mind these days, good Beth.’

Cresse towered over her, his face creased with barely repressed passion. A powerful man, known for his uncertain temper, he grasped Beth’s wrist as she cringed away from him.

‘I have a mind to take you as my wife, but you spurn me as if I were but a weed under your feet. Yet you know you could do worse than me. I would treat you well, and save you from others who would have you.’

‘And compel me to live on those poor acres you call a farm, to endure a life of toil and servitude?’ Beth was scornful. ‘I care not for you or the wicked company you keep, Martin Cresse, and if you accost me one more time I shall tell my father.’

‘I would cure you of your arrogance and pride, mistress,’ he rapped angrily. ‘You know not of the trouble that is approaching you and yours. How will you go on if your family is evicted from Sedge Manor? Your good times are ending, and you will have need of any friend who would be disposed to help you. It might happen that you would then find me attractive, if what I have heard is true.’

Beth gazed at him in disbelief, his harsh words overcoming her innate dislike of him. ‘What do you mean?’ she demanded. ‘What have you heard about Farrell affairs? And who would talk so about my family?’

‘Ah, now you have time for me.’

Cresse laughed as he drew her close to his hard, powerful body. His breath fanned her averted cheek and she could smell rum on his breath.

‘What have I heard, indeed?’

The pounding of rapidly approaching hoofbeats came to Beth’s ears and she glanced around as Cresse released her hurriedly. She staggered as a rider reined in beside her, and her spirits sank even lower when she recognised the heavy figure of the newcomer. Jonah Peake, ship owner and Mayor of Polgarron, was another whose attentions she disliked.

‘What are you about, Cresse?’

Peake curbed his fractious stallion with insensitive hands, jerking on the reins and using his heels unmercifully on its flanks. The animal reared, champing on its bit, but was brought quickly under control.

‘Mistress Farrell fell from her horse.’

Cresse was hard put to speak civilly, his eyes burning with a sullen expression as he regarded Peake.

‘But she is unhurt.’

‘It was not help you were providing. More likely you were accosting her.’

Peake lifted his riding crop menacingly and Cresse retreated a step, instinctively raising a hand to protect his face.

‘I have warned you to stay away from Sedge Manor and its occupants. If I catch you in like manner again I’ll teach you a lesson you’ll never forget! Depart now and attend to your own affairs. And heed my warning or I’ll flail the flesh from your back.’

Cresse turned away, his sullen gaze boding ill for Beth. Peake turned his horse and rode to snatch up the reins of the mare. His fleshy face was set in angry lines and the devil peered out of his dark gaze. A man who was midway through his forties, Peake, medium-sized and powerful, had thick, beetling brows and a long nose that jutted over fleshy lips. His limbs were sturdy, his shoulders wide and heavy.

‘You must tell me if Cresse bothers you again, Elizabeth,’ he said, dismounting to assist her. ‘That man is not to be trusted.’

Beth suppressed an instinctive shudder as he grasped her waist with inordinately strong hands and lifted her into the saddle as if she weighed no more than a feather. She took up her reins, fighting an impulse to gallop away from him. He remained holding her for overlong moments, gazing up at her with unveiled passion in his animal-like eyes, his whole manner tacitly expressing his desire for her.

‘I am on my way to visit your father,’ he said. ‘Come, I shall escort you back to the manor.’

‘I have to go into Polgarron.’

Beth’s tone was obdurate and barely civil.

‘Then wait until I have concluded my business at Sedge Manor and I’ll accompany you to town.’

He turned to glance at the departing Cresse, who walked to the edge of the cliff and stepped down upon a path to vanish quickly from sight.

‘I think I have not finished with Cresse.’

‘I cannot afford to wait,’ she responded. ‘I must get on.’

She set her heels into the flanks of the mare and rode away as Peake stepped back. He called to her but she kept moving, and when she had distanced herself she glanced back over her shoulder to see him mounting his big grey stallion and fighting the spirited animal for supremacy.

Beth was afraid that Peake would forsake his business and accompany her, but he turned the horse away and rode on towards Sedge Manor. She sighed with relief and continued along the cliff top, her thoughts far from happy. Martin Cresse’s words were echoing in her mind and she felt apprehensive as she pondered on what might lay behind his utterances.

Breasting a rise, she slowed the mare to look upon Polgarron spread out below her. The many houses of the port were huddled around narrow, cobbled streets, all of which led to the stone harbour nestling against the bay. There was an assortment of craft moored in the sanctuary, but none resembled the Traherne ship,
Seagull
.

Great activity manifested itself along the stone quay. Fishing boats were unloading their catches while gulls wheeled and dived, calling frantically as they sought food. Men were busy mending nets or lobster pots. Some horse-drawn carts were transporting boxes of fish from the wharf.

Beth rode down the long decline and entered the crowded streets. She loved the bustle and apparent confusion of town life. She dismounted at the stable of The Lobster Pot Inn and led the mare inside. Old Jaime Spencer, the ostler, came limping forward out of the gloom of the low building. He grinned a welcome when he recognised her, and grasped the mare’s reins with knotty ex-seaman’s hands.

‘Mistress Farrell,’ he said in his usual high-pitched voice, ‘I can tell before you ask that there’s no word of the
Seagull
this day. Folks in certain quarters are beginning to fear that a mishap must have befallen Adam Traherne. The
Adventurer
put in late yesterday from the Indies, reporting a terrible storm blowing in from the west when she came through Biscay, but no other vessel has showed. There’s not even a whisper of
Seagull
. These be fearful days, with autumn taking hold.’

‘She’ll come home,’ Beth said with more confidence than she felt, and a quivering fear swelled in her breast as she fought to discount the alarm that was growing around
Seagull
. ‘
The
Trahernes have all the luck in the world,’ she added.

‘But luck has been known to run out.’

Spencer spoke with the experience of a man who had sailed the seven seas under the black flag of piracy and survived to live down his dangerous youth.

‘Old Jeremy Traherne dropped by yesterday, and I know by the slant of his talk that beneath the surface he’s worried about
Seagull
.’

Beth pictured the seamed face of Adam Traherne’s father. If tough, old Jeremy was worried then there had to be reason to doubt that all was well with their ship. In his younger days, Jeremy had sailed
Seagull
around the world many times in search of trade, and knew full well the dangers that attended a sailing ship in the late eighteenth century.

‘But don’t give up on
Seagull
just yet, Mistress Beth,’ the ex-pirate consoled. ‘If there is one man I would count on against all odds, it’s Adam Traherne. Any day now he’ll come up the Channel with his holds full.’

Beth smiled and went on along the cobbled street. She was heartened by Spencer’s words, but there was a cold stone in her heart that no amount of persuading could erase, and she wondered how she could continue to endure the uncertainty that had become her lot.

She shrugged away her doubts. Adam Traherne would come home. He was a competent mariner and she had the greatest faith in him.

‘Beth, what are you doing here alone?’

A harsh voice broke into her thoughts.

‘It would go hard with you if Father learned of your disobedience. I heard him telling you the other day to stay away from the town. You’re doing your reputation no good at all, mooching around these back streets like a waif.’

BOOK: The Heart is Torn
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