After a week, I began to think that my fear of sabotage might be unfounded and that the broken beam incident was nothing more than a mechanical failure. However, on the Sunday night, one week before Christmas, Pumblewood’s foresight was proved right.
It had been raining steadily for two days and during the Saturday night, a storm hit the coast with such ferocity that fair scared Elys and my aunt. I spent the night with them down in the parlor in front of a roaring coal fire. As the mine owner, I spoiled myself without conscience while the villagers burned wood. My aunt and Elys, I had promised, would want for nothing for their comfort.
At first, the storm blew in from the Atlantic with much sudden force, and an hour later, as waves were crashing against the cliff face, a deluge of rain poured, pounding the ground. Sunday morning brought sunshine and a calm ocean, but after noon the sky darkened again. My first thoughts were for Wells, for he scarcely went home, although home was a small shack along the bridle path to the next village and no better than Pumblewood’s hut that he slept in during the day.
I stood at the kitchen window while Elys helped our new housekeeper prepare a large pot of stew that would sustain us for several days.
“Can you prepare two helpings for Wells?” I asked. “It looks like a storm again, and in case we are rained in tomorrow, he will need his meal. A small bag of bread too. I’ll go to him tonight at eight o’clock.”
For the next hour or so, while the women busied themselves, I sat and pondered over a list of wedding guests. Elys had asked me to make a list of personal business acquaintances and prominent persons that I wished to attend our wedding, just a month away. As I laboured over this task, the windows began to rattle, and from the kitchen, I heard the unmistakable high-pitched whistle coming through the cracked window frame as the wind grew in strength. At eight, I wrapped myself in jacket and coat and wound a long woolen scarf around my neck. Elys gave me a hug at the door and quickly closed it behind me. The bitter cold coming in off the ocean made my eyes water.
I headed for the path to the mine and stopped to look back at the house. Although the night was pitch black, I could clearly hear the waves roaring in and smashing against the steep cliff that supported one end of Condurrow House. I shivered and hurried on. At the steps to the lower path, I stumbled as a fork of lightning turned night into day. A moment later, a crack of thunder deafened my ears and rolled on and on. By the time I arrived at the yard, the sight of a blazing brazier was a welcome sight.
Wells was standing just inside the canvas opening to the makeshift tent covering we had affixed to the side of Pumblewood’s cabin. He greeted me with a nod and took the food from me.
“I thank you, sir, and Miss Elys. Tis grateful I am to be sure. These nights are gettin’ cold.” He joined me as I put wood on the fire and rubbed his hands together over the brazier.
“Nothing happening?” I asked, expecting his usual reply.
“Well if I were to be honest, sir, I would say I saw somethin’ a while ago, but nothin’ has happened so I’m thinkin’ I must have seen a shadow.”
As Wells only had one leg, I had arranged for him to ring a bell alarm when trouble came. The bell was a ship’s bell Pumblewood had from his last ship that had wrecked on the coast near Plymouth. The bell could easily be heard from the village and indeed Condurrow House. I hoped it would also act as a deterrent to any intruders. On hearing the bell, all the men had been instructed to run for the mine.
“Did Rogue hear anything at all? Did he growl?”
Wells had brought his dog, a large broad shouldered Irish Wolfhound that quite scared anyone not used to such animals. Rogue had a habit of making a low growl that warned one to move very carefully. He was a fearsome brute, and this was made worse whenever saliva dripped from his jaws. I looked down at him curled up in one corner and was glad of his protective company.
“Aye, he did growl but did not shift himself. Went out to yard and back again and that was that.”
Wells sniffed and produced a large dirty handkerchief from his jacket pocket. He blew his nose and hobbled closer to the brazier. As light from the flames cast his face in an orange glow, I noticed an ugly scar across his throat and kept silent. Many seamen of the time bore such scars about them, and I had learned that Pumblewood’s association with Wells went back to both men's service in the King’s navy. It was a rough life at sea, and only the toughest survived both weather and living conditions.
“I think I should take a look around and make sure. How long ago did this happen?” I asked.
“An hour since, sir.” Wells snapped his fingers at Rogue. “He’ll go with you, sir. He’s used to you, and he’ll stay close.”
I looked down at Rogue, his large gray hairy head level with my lower chest. His eyes stared into mine, never moving away for a moment. A long pink tongue hung from one side of his jaw, the end of it flipping up and down as he panted.
“Okay, Rogue, let us go and take a look around,” I said.
We set off, leaving Wells to heat his stew on the brazier fire. By then, the wind had abated somewhat, but the rain had grown even heavier as it had the night before and walking through the muddy yard and over to the boiler and pump house my trouser legs were soon wet and covered in mud.
Inside the pump house, I stood looking around, checking for anything out of place. Rogue, shaking himself, stopped and started to growl. I had picked up a stout club from Wells before moving off and gripped it firmly. If there were intruders, I intended to give a good account of myself. From behind the large pump, two figures appeared in the shadows.
“Show yourselves, whoever you are,” I challenged. “I have a guard dog with me that you would do well not to ignore.”
There was a distinctive snigger from one of the figures. “You think we be scared of a dog? Comes near and I’ll be the end of him,” threatened the other.
Rogue took a few steps forward and started to growl deeply. Every few seconds the growl would end briefly in a bark. In the surroundings of the pump house save the sound of rain on the roof, the growling echoed off the walls.
“Come into the light and let me see you,” I called. “If you do not, I will have the hound at your heels.”
One of the men stepped forward. Dressed in torn clothes and wearing a coat that reached the ground, he was, I knew, the kind of ruffian one might hire from an ale house. Unable to see his face, he produced a club and held it high in the air.
“You see this, mister? I’ll do for your dog he comes near.”
By now, the second figure had moved sideways and moved into some light. Outside, a peel of thunder broke above us. It was obvious these men meant to harm me, and I turned to watch both men. Rogue stood growling until the first man moved a second time.
In the dim moonlight, I watched Rogue’s lips curl back over fanged teeth and stepped away. My attackers advanced with clubs and lunged at me. I felt the full force of a club across my back, and I fell to the ground. From that moment on, I felt no more blows. With a terrifying series of snarls and blood-curdling growls, Rogue was upon the men. Amid shouts of panic and painful screams, they ran with Rogue in hot pursuit.
With pain coursing through my back, I managed to regain my balance and limp to the yard. Wells was ringing the bell, but I was sure the intruders were long gone. Of Rogue, there was no sign.
“There will be help on the way, sir,” shouted Wells as I approached him. “Those men will not get far. They have to run along the bridle path and past the village.”
We sat, drying out in front of the brazier. I was full of praise for Rogue, and an idea came to me that I kept to myself until I could talk to Elys. My thoughts were broken when several men arrived, including Talan, Elys father.
“We have them, sir,” said Talan with a grin. “One of them has a lump of his arse stuck in Rogues stomach, I’m thinkin’. The women folk be makin’ a big fuss of him and feedin’ him some bones. He’ll be back when filled.
I laughed along with the others.
“We need to find out what mischief they were up to and who’s pay they are in,” I answered.
Talan agreed. “Young Hudson found out what they had done but don’t ask, sir, how he did that. They fixed some wheels on a couple of ore skips. We will need to check them in morning. As to who paid them, I think we can all make a good guess at that for they were too scared to impart that to us.”
I nodded knowingly at young Hudson who had helped so much during the mine flooding and was making a name for himself as a good worker.
I placed an arm across Wells' shoulder and gave him a little shake. “Rogue is a hero. If it were not for him, we could have had an accident here. I think we should have you here as watchman all the time. Well done, Wells.”
There was a chorus of agreement.
“The Sherrif has those two men in custody. I think, sir, he will be visiting you in morning to see what they did.”
With that, the men left for home, and I left Wells to return to Elys, sure that despite a successful evening, she would not be pleased to see me in such a state. That apart, I returned in good spirits, sure that I had thwarted Treleaven.