Echoes From The Past – Episode 09

Helen fought her rising panic. She began to edge back into the darkness behind herself, then stopped. If she hurried, she was likely to trip over something and give her presence away. Yet if she stood, she would only be found. In the smooth sides of the tunnel, there were no hiding places.

Yet what had she to fear? She was only a visitor whose curiosity had led her into a cave which she had found by chance. Nothing illegal in that.

And she had no intention of waiting to be found.

“Hello!” she called. “Can I follow you out, with your lantern, please?”

Her voice echoed through the passageway. She saw the light in front of her swing wildly. Then a lantern emerged, round a curve in the passageway.

“Hello!” a man’s voice called. “Who’s there?”

“Helen Malcolmson,” she replied as the lantern grew closer. She heard a snort.

“I should have guessed,” Andrew said. “How on earth did you find your way in here?”

“I was following footprints in the sand. They led to this cave.”

By now he was close enough for the light from the lantern to shine up on to his face, showing a wry smile.

“You should have joined the Boy Scouts.”

“I tried, but they wouldn’t let me in.”

“I’m not surprised,” he said. “You would have put the fear of death into them. As you did into me you scared me out of four years’ growth, at the very least.”

“And why are you here?” she asked.

“Curiosity,” he replied. “I knew there were smugglers’ caves along this bay and I wanted to explore one while I had the chance. I found this cave a couple of days ago and bought a lantern up in the town. So here I am.”

“Does this passageway go up to a smuggler’s house?” Helen demanded.

“Almost certainly. I have no idea which one. I didn’t go the whole way to its end there’s the incoming tide, remember. I didn’t want to take too long and get cut off down here. Talking of which, we should get a move on. I spent longer in the passageway than I meant to.”

Helen shrank against the wall to let him pass, then followed as he strode down towards the sea again. She felt real relief to have his company, not just because of the lantern he carried. She liked this man, but could not ignore the question circling endlessly in her mind how much of his story did she believe?

What was he holding back? Why was he here? Yes, he claimed a casual interest in smuggling, but why should she keep tripping over him everywhere she went? It didn’t add up.

Was Andrew involved in the modern-day smuggling? Was he one of the smugglers? Was she doing exactly what the old fisherman had warned against, namely getting under the feet of a professional smuggler?

Head down, lost in thought, she emerged into the light of day before she realised it. Even its grey light hurt her eyes.

“Drat!” Andrew said. “The tide.” He pointed to the mouth of the bay. “We’re cut off now.”

Helen shielded her eyes and saw white waves break against the foot of the point where she’d walked only a little time before.

“Looks like you’re right,” she said. “So, what do we do? Sit here on the dry sand, and wait for it to turn and ebb again?”

Her suggestion drew a sharp but guarded look.

“We can’t,” he said.

“Why not?”

Andrew frowned.

“I’m guessing it’s three hours to the top of the tide, half an hour of being idle, then three more hours to ebb to the level where we can get round the point again. And an hour home. In the dark,” he added pointedly. “That’s about eight hours . . . we would be frozen stiff by then.”

As Helen covertly studied him, he walked clear of the cliff base to look up at the rock-face above. Then he turned slowly round, examining the barrier which held them in the bay.

“How do you feel about climbing out?” he asked.

“Not rocks,” she said.

“I’m not thinking of rock faces, I’m thinking of steep grass paths.”

“How steep?”

He smiled wryly.

“Too steep for comfort,” he admitted. “But if we pick our way, do lots of traverses across the patches of grass . . . Over there, I think.” He pointed. “Up through that valley, then sideways round that rock face . . . then up that slope to the left where the cliff looks at its lowest. Are you game?”

Helen wasn’t, not really. But the alternative was an eight-hour wait.

“If we slipped?” she said.

“Better not to slip. Where it’s steep, I could hold your hand. If you permitted.”

She would have sworn there was a twinkle in his eye. Drat the man: he was enjoying this. And anything that a man could do, a daughter of the Suffrage could manage, and every bit as well.

“So long as we’re sensible about it,” she said.

“The hand-holding or the climb?” he asked, the twinkle spilling into a grin.

“Both,” she answered firmly.


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