Authors: Hammond Innes
When David Cunningham returns to the Cornish coast to mourn a wartime love affair, he little imagines the mysterious quest that awaits him: it will lead him to the Mediterranean, to danger and a life of adventure, to the dark world of racketeering in Naples, the bleak hills beyond Tivoli, and a woman with a tragic past.
Proceeds from this book will be donated to ASTO (Association of Sail Training Organisations) – a charity which promotes adventure at sea for young people.
Ralph Hammond Innes was born in Horsham, Sussex, on 15 July 1913 and educated at Cranbrook School, Kent. He left school aged eighteen, and worked successively in publishing, teaching and journalism. In 1936, in need of money in order to marry, he wrote a supernatural thriller,
, which was published in 1937 as part of a two-year, four book deal. In 1939 Innes moved to a different publisher, and began to write compulsively, continuing to publish throughout his service in the Royal Artillery during the Second World War.
Innes travelled widely to research his novels and always wrote from personal experience – his 1940s novels
The Blue Ice
The White South
were informed by time spent working on a whaling ship in the Antarctic, while
The Lonely Skier
came out of a post-war skiing course in the Dolomites. He was a keen and accomplished sailor, which passion inspired his 1956 bestseller
The Wreck of the Mary Deare.
The equally successful 1959 film adaptation of this novel enabled Innes to buy a large yacht, the
, in which he sailed around the world for the next fifteen years, accompanied by his wife and fellow author Dorothy Lang.
Innes wrote over thirty novels, as well as several works of non-fiction and travel journalism. His thrilling stories of spies, counterfeiters, black markets and shipwreck earned him both literary acclaim and an international following, and in 1978 he was awarded a CBE. Hammond Innes died at his home in Suffolk on 10th June 1998.
The Angry Mountain
The Big Footprints
The Black Tide
The Blue Ice
The Doomed Oasis
The Land God Gave to Cain
The Last Voyage
The Lonely Skier
The Strange Land
The Strode Venturer
The Trojan Horse
The White South
The Wreck of the Mary Deare
Wreckers Must Breathe
Six years is a long time. Please accept this as a gesture from one whom circumstances have made a rather poor husband.
As soon as she opened the door I was certain I should not have come. The little farmhouse, cream-washed against the green of the valley side and the grey granite outcrops, looked just as I had known it before. There was the same sound of running water in the rock below the rotten planks of the water wheel. There was the same smell of dung and new-mown grass. And there were spring flowers bright in the lichen-covered wall. The warmth of the setting sun swept time aside and memory took me by the hand and we came back tired and happy after a day in the sun and the sea. There would be chicken and fresh peas and new potatoes and a great bowl of Cornish cream to be eaten with whortleberry jam.
And then Mrs. Penruddock opened the door and I knew I had been a fool to come back to Trevedra. The lines of her face and the greying hair told me of the passage of the years and I remembered that Jenny would never walk with me again through the purple and gold of the slopes above the granite cliffs.
It was loneliness that held my hand as I entered that house, so packed full of memories. The dim hall was just the same—but the hat-stand was bare. It was our room that I was shown into. I went over to the window and gazed down the Rocky Valley to the sea. The land was warm in the dying sun. And I felt a desperate urgency to pick up my suitcase and run out of Trevedra—run without stopping until I was in the train and on my way back to London.
Sarah—we’d always called her Sarah—touched my arm. “How is she?” I sensed by the sympathy in her voice that she knew.
“She’s dead,” I told her bleakly.
She didn’t say anything. That somehow made it harder. And I felt an awful desire to put my head in her arms and cry.
Instead I said, “We weren’t married when we came here. We said we were. But we weren’t.” I said it brutally, unsteadily—I wanted to dam her sympathy at all costs.
But all she said was, “I knew that. But you were in love. That’s as good when the world is going mad and you haven’t much time.” The sun had gone down now and the valley was darkening with the chill of the night. A fresh breeze, tanged with the sea, blew in through the window. “Did you ever get married, Mr. David?” she asked.
“No,” I said, and turned away from the window. “No, we never got married. She married an R.A.F. officer while I was out in the Mediterranean.”
I started to unpack. I had to do something.
She said, “I understand how you feel, dear. Mr. Penruddock died just two years ago. His ship went down off Anzio. It’s hard to forget—this house is too full of memories.”
I searched despondently for the right thing to say. But when I looked up, she had gone. The white of the bed that Jenny had slept in showed emptily in the gloom.
For supper that night there were lamb cutlets and fresh peas and new potatoes. But there was no whortleberry jam and only a small bowl of cream to go with the gooseberry tart. The room was warm with the lamplight and a blazing log fire. When she had cleared away Sarah came in and sat in the big cross-patched arm-chair and her knitting needles clicked rhythmically as I sat and smoked and stared into the flames.
I asked her who ran the farm now. “My younger son,” she said. “He’s over to my daughter’s at Bude to-night. There’s a big sale to-morrow. We could do with some calves. My eldest is still abroad. He took a regular commission. He’s in China now.”
“And your husband?” I asked. “Why did he go to sea?”
She put down her needles and looked into the fire. “It was after Dunkirk,” she said, and her voice was soft. “He was a sailor, not a farmer, you know. We were married in Penzance just after the last war. I was nurse to Mr. Cavanna’s children—he had the mines out to Redruth. My husband and I met when he was on survivor’s leave. His ship was torpedoed off the Lizard. He was first mate in those days. But by the end of the war he had his Master’s certificate and his own ship. He was a farmer’s son, but he’d run away to sea. He’d got it in his blood.
“But then, after the war, cargoes became difficult and at length his ship was laid up with the others. And he came to me than and said, ‘Sarah, we must go back to the land. You’d like that, with your own house and all, wouldn’t you?’ The youngest of Mr. Cavanna’s children was away to school then, so we came up to Tintagel and bought this farm. Let me see now, that was in 1924. It was good land and close to the sea—and though the sea was in his blood he never wanted to go back.
“That is, not until Dunkirk. He was at the wireless all day. After that he couldn’t work, but wandered day after day along the cliffs. I knew what was in his mind. And I said, ‘When are you going down to Plymouth?’
“That made it easier for him. He had been worrying about me and the farm. George had been in the Territorials and was in Egypt. But Mervin was already working on the farm. He was sixteen. Mr. Penruddock showed him everything, and he was away a week later. They made him a first mate on an old tramp called the
A year later he was master of one of the new Liberty ships and was away to North Africa, landing supplies for the First Army. His ship was hit at Salerno the following year. And then two months later it went down off Anzio. They say it was a glider bomb. She was loaded with petrol and ammunition.” She sighed and began to knit again. “There were no survivors. The Admiralty sent
me a telegram. It arrived when I was milking the cows and I remember the poor beasts were very uncomfortable because I couldn’t go on, but went up on to the cliffs, which I hadn’t done since he’d left.
“And then a nice young man, whose family live over by Bridgewater, came and told me all about it. He was about your age and very awkward, poor lamb. He’d been the skipper of a landing craft that had been unloading my husband’s ship.”
Strange how the threads cross and recross on the loom of life. “His ship was the
, wasn’t it?” I said.
She paused at her knitting and looked at me over her glasses. “How did you know?” she asked.
“I was at Anzio, too,” I told her. “I had one of the landing craft. We were quite close to the
when it happened—near enough for my eyebrows to be singed by the heat, and our paintwork to be blistered. It was quite instantaneous, you know,” I added hastily.
She nodded slowly. Her gaze had wandered back to the fire. “Yes,” she said. “Yes, I know. I’m glad it was sudden, like that. I’ve seen men back here—there’s young Billy Arken over to Boscastle, both legs gone and his side and face all shattered. Better to die quickly when the time comes. But it’s hard on the ones left behind.”
The click of the needles filled the silence of the room again. A log slipped in the grate—a momentary flame and a shower of sparks.
“Why did you come back here, Mr. David?” she asked. “You should have known better. Memories are for the old. You’re still a young man.”
I sucked at my pipe. Hell! Why had I come back?
“I’m not quite sure,” I told her. “But I think I know. I think it is because I have lost my roots in England and I am trying to find them again.”
“Was there no other girl?”
“Yes,” I said, “but——” The fire flared and the gilt hands of the grandfather clock in the corner glinted.
“No, there wasn’t—I know that now. Jenny was an impulsive creature. She was like a child with those lovely laughing eyes and mass of untidy hair. She bubbled with the joy of life. It was like a fountain that made every moment with her exciting. We hadn’t known each other long when we came here. That was in July, and in August I was called up because I was in the Reserve.