I thought I would use this week’s blog post to give you a taste of what it’s about.
“When Dewi Luscombe is rescued from a shipwreck by the young Master of Mellin Hall, Kit St Neot, she has lost her memory.
Touched by the girl’s vulnerability and confusion about who she is, Kit undertakes to help her.
But Dewi is haunted by the thought that someone close to her died in that shipwreck and so, she sets off with Kit to ride across Cornwall to discover her true identity.”
Mistress of Mellin Cove
Kit had been keeping his eye on the approaching storm for the past hour, anxious to get back to Mellin Hall before it broke. His brother, Nathan, had tried to persuade him to stay another night at Penmere, but Kit’s thoughts were on the new ship being built in his yard. If the weather turned as foul as he feared, he needed to be there to protect it.
The wind was already whipping the sea into a frenzy, sending the waves thundering against the rocks at the foot of the cliff track. Ahead, he could just make out the rocking masts of the fishing luggers down in the harbour.
His brother-in-law, Jem’s, two boats – the Sally P, and the Bright Star – were tied up with the rest of the fleet, but despite the shelter of the cliffs they were taking a pounding.
He stopped, reining his black stallion to a skidding halt, and peered into the flying spume. Was that a ship trying to ride out the storm? He could have imagined it. In these conditions it was difficult to tell. He sat rigid in the saddle, trying to focus his stare on the spot where he thought he’d seen the ship. He could have been wrong…but no, there it was again – and no mistaking it this time.
The three-masted schooner was being lashed by the gale, one minute riding the waves, and the next disappearing into the troughs. And every second was driving it closer to the rocks!
Kit cursed, keeping his eye on the pitching vessel. What the devil was her Master doing bringing his ship so close to shore? Didn’t he know the treacherous Cornish coast?
A small crowd was gathering at the top of the cliffs following the ship’s progress. They were strangers to Kit, but no doubt they were biding their time, waiting for the moment when the ship hit the rocks. There would be rich pickings this day. Kit wheeled his horse around, galloping down the muddy path towards the cove. If the ship ended up at the bottom of the cliffs there would be no chance of reaching any survivors, not in these conditions. The only hope for those on board would be if the vessel was driven towards the cove.
The deafening crack of the masts splitting as the ship struck the harbour wall momentarily spooked his horse, and it slithered to the edge of the path before regaining its footing.
The ship had smashed apart on impact. Suddenly the sea was full of debris, masts, and sails…and bodies!
Mellin Cove was in turmoil as people ran from their cottages down to the beach. Other groups gathered by the water’s edge, unsure what to do.
Kit’s horse slewed to a halt on the quay, and he vaulted down onto the cobbles. Stripping off his heavy doublet, he ran to the shore and launched himself into the churning foam.
Others followed his lead, striking out for the wreckage of the ship. Soon the beach was full of people plunging into the sea, every man trying to save what lives he could. Kit kept his sights focused on the bodies in the water, sailors desperately fighting for survival as the determined rescuers battled in vain to save them. On the periphery of the chaos he was aware of others on the beach, shadowy individuals, disturbingly familiar, who had no thought of saving lives. Like the strangers on the cliff, they would have a different agenda. There would be plenty of plunder for the wreckers today. Then he spotted it – a small body being tossed by the waves like a lifeless doll. Was it a child? He wasn’t sure. There was no time to wonder. He fixed his eye on the limp shape and swam out to it. Struggling to keep the victim’s head above water, he turned and made for the shore.
He could see his groom, Tomas, on the beach, cupping his hands to his mouth, trying to yell above the noise of the surf, but his words were being snatched away by the wind as soon as he shouted them. But still he hollered.
“Is he dead, sir? Is the boy dead?”
He was splashing into the foam now, fighting his way towards Kit, but the strength of the waves was forcing him back. Tomas looked round wildly, desperate to find help, but the crowds scavenging at the edge of the waves were too intent on grabbing what they could from the wreckage.
Kit’s legs felt like leaden weights, almost too heavy to move. He glanced to the limp body in his arms. His heart pounded against his ribs as he concentrated all his energy on reaching the shore. He had to keep swimming.
Then he saw Jem racing across the shingle, a rope slung over his shoulder. He had lashed one end to the wooden jetty, and was swimming towards them. In seconds he was by his brother-in-law’s side, tossing the rope at him.
“Grab that, Kit. I’ll take the child.”
“No,” Kit yelled back into the storm. “I don’t want him slipping away. I have a firm hold.”
Jem whipped the rope around the three of them, using all his strength to keep it taut as they struggled, waist deep, through the angry surge.
And then Tomas was splashing towards them.
“I brought the horse and wagon down,” he yelled, his eyes on the limp body in Kit’s arms. “The little lad don’t look good, do ee, sir?”
Kit’s expression was grim. “Let’s just get everybody out of here.”
Ahead he could see a group of women gathered on the quay, shawls gripped tightly around them. He saw Jem stiffen.
“What’s Hedra doing down here?” Jem muttered crossly. “I told her to stay indoors.”
Despite his exhaustion, and his fears for the slender, still body in his arms, Kit smiled.
“My sister’s never been one for doing what she’s told. You should know that Jem.”
“Aye,” Jem’s mouth twisted into a grin. “Nigh on two years married, and I’m still not Master in my own home.”
“Nor ever will be, if I know our Hedra,” Kit returned.
The water level had dropped to the men’s ankles and they moved more easily through the waves. As they stepped ashore, Hedra hurried forward, reaching out to touch the half-drowned victim’s face.
“Poor little thing.” She stroked the wet cheek. “How many others got to safety?”
Kit shook his head and looked at Jem.
“Surely this can’t be the only survivor?” Her green eyes widened with horror.
“As far as I know, the ship’s Master managed to get ashore, and I think a couple of his crew, but as for the rest…” Jem’s words trailed off.
“We’ll come up to the Hall with you, Kit,” Hedra said, “to make sure this one at least gets half a chance.”
Jem stared at his wife.
“Have you forgotten about the child you’re carrying? There’s only one place you’re going young lady, and that’s home.”
“Do as Jem says, Hedra. I will manage just fine with Tomas and Jesemy to help me.”
They lifted the lifeless body into the back of the wagon, and Tomas tucked a blanket around it.
“I’ll let you know how this one gets on,” Kit called back to them as he sprinted up into the driving seat and began to move off. “Will you bring my horse, Tomas?”
He didn’t wait for an answer as the wagon took off at speed up the winding hill to Mellin Hall.
Tomas’s wife, Jesemy, was waiting in the yard when the wagon rumbled in. Kit swung it round to the servants’ kitchen entrance before skidding it to a halt. He threw himself down and clambered into the back and then gently lifted the figure out.
“I thought I saw the eyelids flutter for a minute,” Jesemy said. “Be quick, sir. Bring the poor creature through here.” She hurried ahead into the kitchen where a fire leapt and sparked in the vast black cooking range, and swept a hand over the table, scattering bowls and cooking utensils to the far corners. “Here,” she said. “Just here will be fine.”
Kit did as he was told and stood back, gazing at the small ashen face of the figure on the table. He frowned. “He has very long hair for a boy.”
Jesemy made a shooing away gesture with her hand.
“That’s because this boy is a girl, sir. And you’re getting in my way, if you don’t mind me saying.”
Kit’s eyes narrowed. A girl? What was a girl doing on board a cargo ship? And why was she wearing a lad’s leather waistcoat and breeches?
Dewi heard the voices through a haze. She had no idea where she was, and wondered for a moment if she might actually be dead. Was this what heaven was like? Or maybe it could be…oh, glory, was that it? Was she in that other place? She turned her head towards the black kitchen range and felt the heat of the fire on her face. Through the fog of her mind she imagined the flames leaping out to engulf her. Her eyelashes fluttered and closed, and the darkness settled around her again.
Off and on, the woman’s voice floated to Dewi through a swirling mist of semi-consciousness.
“Ah…so you’ve decided to wake up,” the voice said.
Was she awake? It felt like a dream. Her eyelids were so heavy that she hardly had the strength to keep them open. Shadowy figures moved about on the periphery of her awareness…too frightening to even think about. Slowly she drifted back into the darkness.
She was vaguely aware of being carried up a flight of stairs, and then softness as though her body rested on feathers. More voices floated around her, none of them solid enough for her to make sense of – and then they were gone!
Thank you all for reading the above short opening chapter of Mistress of Mellin Cove, which is available to download here.