The Dividing Tide – Episode 16

Feeling the ship change course, Garren looked up. The Lucy-Ann was swinging round, and there was Charlestown nestled at the edge of the sea.

He was cheered, for he loved coming into a port with all the hustle and bustle to be found there.

As soon as the schooner was secure in the deep sheltered quay, he made his way down the gangplank. Children were playing on the busy quayside and he stopped, for they reminded him of Tansy.

As he watched he felt his resolve deepen. He’d made a promise that he’d always look after his mother and his sister. And so he would, he vowed afresh.

Slinging his bag across his shoulder, he set off to explore the busy port. It was mid-afternoon before he looked for a cart bound for St Austell. A lift would give him more time to find lodgings for the night.

At the end of the quay was a wagon. A man covered in white dust was sliding the last few blocks of his load of clay down the chute into the hold of a ship. The three horses had been unhitched and were on long reins beside it.

“Beg pardon, sir,” Garren called up to him. “Will you be returning to St Austell when you’ve finished?”

The man wiped the sweat from his forehead with a grimy neckerchief.

“Needing a ride? Whoa, Dobbin!”

One of the horses gave a whinny, stamping its hoof and knocking against the wagon, which lurched.

Garren went to the horse, catching hold of its bridle and talking quietly to it.

“Hush, boy,” he said, stroking its silky forehead. “Quietly does it.”

Dobbin nuzzled his head against his arm, and he reached up to pat its neck.

“Good boy.”

“Tell you what,” the man said. “You keep Dobbin quiet while I unload, and I’ll give you a ride. How do that sound?”

Garren grinned.

“It sounds fine.”

Half an hour later, bearing several sacks of corn in place of the clay, they were clopping steadily along the dusty road that led out of Charlestown.

*  *  *  *

“Name’s Sam,” the man said as they left the port behind. He touched his cap as he spoke.

“Garren Quick.”

“Quick by name and quick by nature, eh?” Sam guffawed at his own joke.

Garren smiled politely. He’d heard all the jests about his name before.

“What you after in St Austell, then, young ’un?”

“I thought I’d try my luck as a tinner.” He gripped the edge of the bench as the wheels found a pothole. “Talk is, there’s good money to be made down the mines.”

Sam shook his head.

“Talk’s wrong, then. The metal mines are laying men off, not taking ’em on. You won’t find any tinning work hereabouts, not at the moment, you won’t.”

Garren’s spirits sank.

“You’d best try the clay mines, son.”

“The clay mines?”

“Aye. If it’s St Austell you’ve set your heart on, there’s a big works just outside town. I do a lot o’ jobs for Wheal Daniel, bringing the clay to the ships. That’s your best bet if you wants work.”

Progress was slow due to the narrowness of the lanes and constantly having to pull in to allow other carts to pass. The cart rocked rhythmically, and Garren felt his eyes closing.

The next thing he knew, the countryside had been transformed into a strange landscape of conical white pyramids. They looked like small mountains, eerie in the fading light.

“What?” He twisted round to stare at them.

Sam laughed.

“That’s kaolin waste. Some folk do call ’em the Cornish Alps. If you stay here you’ll soon get used to seeing ’em.”

Before long they were in the centre of the town. In the half light it appeared like a ghost town, for over everything lay a covering of fine clay dust.

“Whoa-ho, lads!” Sam drew the cart to a halt beside an imposing church, and Garren jumped down. Crows swooped around its castellated tower in search of a roost, reminding him that he needed a roost, too.

Sam seemed to read his thoughts.

“If you want a bed for the night, you could try Old Annie’s down the hill,” he said, pointing. “She don’t do anythin’ fancy, but your bed’ll be clean an’ you’ll get supper thrown in.”

“Thanks, Sam. I will.” Garren moved forwards to stroke each of the horses’ heads. “Bye, old fella,” he said, giving Dobbin an extra pat, and the horse responded with a soft snort.

Sam touched his cap.

“Good luck, young ’un. Gee-up now,” he called, clicking his tongue.

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.