Echoes From The Past – Episode 04

Background. The more Helen knew, the easier it would be to fit whatever she found into place. Frowning, Helen browsed along the dimly lit shelves of the Eyemouth public library, searching for the Local History section. She loved the smell and feel of old books, and had to fight against being side-tracked by the small biography section.

Finally, beside a handful of books on geography and geology, she found the history section. A grandiose title for a couple of dozen books where, in some, the yellowed pages had been hand-cut by the first reader’s knife. There were books on Berwick-upon-Tweed and Dunbar. Picking up one of the latter, she found the index and searched through it for smuggling. Leaning against the shelves, she began to read, angling the book to catch what little light was filtering in.

A coast tailor-made for smuggling, with deserted cliffs, rocky bays and steep grassy paths from the shore to wild headlands. Useful information, but she could do with something more specific and local. She glanced up at the end of the shelf, and saw a small dark book, with Smugglers’ Trails Of Eastern Scotland on its spine.

As she reached for it, her hand bumped against another rising hand.

“Oh!” She gasped.

“So sorry.” It was the artist from the harbour, looking as surprised as herself. “My apologies, but I’ve been waiting for this book. When I saw it was on the shelf I reached up never seeing you in the gloom.”

Helen smiled.

“I’ve been reading about how locals looked the other way when smugglers passed them. I was absorbed in that and got a fright.”

The artist grimaced.

“I’m not surprised they looked the other way. Some of these old smugglers were ruthless men, often from outside the district, professional risk-takers. Not cuddly locals, trying to make a few pennies on the side. I saw old Fred bend your ear. He knows his stuff, by the way. I’ve checked out some of his tales.”

“I didn’t know you were interested in smuggling, too,” she said.

He shrugged.

“A hobby. I read all the old blood and thunder books on seafaring when I was a boy. Running contraband and racing the revenue men’s fast cutters fascinated me. There was a local character here, further down the coast, who challenged any revenue man to catch him in the act. Once they nearly did. Two cutters pounced on him, fast boats, the greyhounds of the sea. But hopeless in a storm. He led them a merry dance, but they were gradually overhauling him when, just as a squall hit the three boats, he spun round and dived up between them. They couldn’t stop or turn before the squall hit them. And as he passed, he took off his cap and bowed first to the captain on his starboard side, then the captain on his port bow. By the time they turned about, he was hundreds of yards away and it was blowing a gale. He disappeared into the rain, and they lost him.”

“He sounds quite a character!”

The artist smiled.

“He was but I still wouldn’t have liked to annoy him.” He took his hand away. “You won the race for this book fair and square like my smuggler. By the time they got back and searched his home, there wasn’t so much as a pinch of snuff in it. Keep the book. I can borrow it tomorrow.”

“Are you sure?” Helen asked.

“I insist. My name’s Andrew, incidentally. Andrew Barclay.”

“Helen Malcolmson.”

He nodded.

“Nice to meet you again. Good luck with your research.”


Used to make posts more anonymous, eg a criminal case where you don’t want to expose the actual journalist.