THE LOVEDAY REVENGE
Adam Loveday was running hard. It was night and the moon gave little
light through the foliage of the wood. The tree trunks were dark
cathedral pillars, their branches linked overhead like a vaulted
ceiling. He veered to avoid them, the ground mist swirling upwards
blurring his vision. Around him the bracken was waist high, hampering
his speed. Impatiently, his hands pushed the fronds aside and he cursed
the closely packed stems that wound around his legs, threatening to trip
him with every step. A man could easily hide here and a pursuer pass
within a few feet and not see him. But this was not the time for hiding.
He paused briefly to get his bearings. Every sense was alert to danger.
His heart was thundering in his chest, almost suffocating him in its
intensity, and the night air fanned the sweat that drenched his body. No
landmark was recognisable amongst the towering oaks. He swung round
scanning the landscape. His eyes, accustomed to the darkness, detected a
thinning in the trees to his right. On the wind blowing from the
direction of the moor he could smell the dankness of peat and gorse.
That way lay treacherous bogs that could suck a man into their cold
embrace if he lost his way on the secret tracks.
Fear tightened his throat, tasting bitter as bile, and his rasping
breath echoed in his ears. It was not caused by panic that tonight could
end in his death, although that was a possibility; it was dread that
retribution would be denied him. Defeat was not an option he would
consider. Too much depended on the outcome of this confrontation.
Loyalty to his family made his own life insignificant. He owed it to
those dear to him who had sacrificed their lives to uphold the family
honour and pride. Tonight justice demanded revenge.
Ahead of him the sound of a body crashing through the undergrowth was
easily discernible. It was closer, the pace unrelenting, driven by
There could be no escape. Destiny had dealt its hand. The confrontation
was long overdue.
He increased his speed. The mist thinned, revealing the figure of a
thickset man. Adam raised his pistol and drew back the firing hammer.
'Stop or I shoot!'
The form lunged into the veil of surrounding bracken, diving to the
ground. The thickening mist further obscured Adam's vision and an eerie
stillness hung over the wood. Then a burst of coarse laughter was
followed by a challenge.
'Loveday, are you ready to die!' his tormentor bellowed.
Adam clutched the pistol, his arm outstretched ready to fire as he
slowly circled, searching for sight of his enemy.
Without warning the figure attacked from behind. Adam's legs were kicked
from under him and he fell to the ground. Instinctively he rolled, but
as he came up on his knee to rise, a pistol was cocked close to his ear.
Time spun out and expanded with ethereal slowness. Harry Sawle's face
was a foot from his own, the pistol barrel cold against Adam's temple.
Hatred contorted the smuggler's features. They had been adversaries for
years. Was this how it was to end? It was Adam's last thought before the
trigger was pulled.
There was no blinding flash, just an ominous click. The weapon had
misfired. Adam sprang to his feet, his hands reaching for Sawle's
throat, and the two men fell to the ground with Adam's weight on top of
the smuggler. His fingers pressed harder. Sawle's eyes bulged with
terror, his hands on Adam's arms rapidly losing their strength. This was
the moment of Adam's triumph. Sawle would die for his part in Edward
Loveday's death, and for the brutality he had inflicted on other members
of Adam's family.
The voice shocked him into loosening the pressure of his fingers. Sawle
lay unmoving on the ground beneath him, but his harsh gasps for breath
told that he was still alive. Adam stared at the shadowy figure emerging
out of the mist.
'There is no honour in murder. This man is not worth you endangering
your immortal soul. Only the law can judge him and claim his life.'
Adam cried out. He was shaking violently as he stared into the darkness
where the vision of his father had been. But now there was no man. No
mist. No trees. No body lying prone beneath his hands. Only a memory of
'Good Lord, Adam, you look as though you have seen a ghost.' His wife
Senara was gently shaking his shoulders as she sat up in bed next to
Adam groaned and shook his head. The dream had been too real. It haunted
him still. 'I had hunted down Sawle. The time for revenge had come. I
had his throat between my hands and the moment of his death was upon
him. Then my father appeared. Real and solid and no ghost. He told me
that was not the way. He was angrier than I had ever seen him. He told
me that the law should deal with Sawle; that I must not have his blood
on my hands.'
'Edward was a wise man. When revenge is governed by hatred, it can bring
no good upon the perpetrator. The feud between Sawle and your family has
raged for a decade. This dream is an omen.'
'You would say that.' He placed a trembling hand on his brow. 'You see
omens and premonitions in everything.'
'You may mock my gypsy blood, but I am rarely wrong. I believe in an
afterlife. This was Edward's way of warning you. If you kill Sawle, then
you will be guilty of murder and will face the noose. Nothing will stop
you pursuing the smuggler for his crimes against your family, but only
the law can judge him and mete out justice.'
She gripped his arm, her eyes round with fear. 'Promise me you will heed
Adam would give his life to spare the woman he loved suffering, but he
would give her no false promises.
'I will remember the dream.'
He did not tell Senara that the dream had also shown that Sawle would do
everything in his power to kill him.
The black-painted hull of the cutter sliced through the waves with a
speed few others of its class could match. The dozen sailors were
hardened and experienced and kept a wary eye upon the coastal waters for
any sign of danger. All but a single sail had been trimmed, for the
sliver of moon in the midnight sky turned the canvas to ghostly spectres
and could reveal the ship's position. And this was a ship whose illicit
cargo needed to be landed in secret. Fortunately, tonight the banks of
cloud would hide the moon for most of her voyage and the cutter would
escape detection by all but the most vigilant of her enemies.
Since entering British waters, the crew of Sea Mist had been nervous,
and extra men had been posted on watch to warn of any lights from a
patrolling revenue ship. Captain Ezra Lerryn knew these Cornish waters
well. He gave a wide berth to the headlands with treacherous
undercurrents that could drive a ship on to the spikes of granite rocks
hidden beneath the water, and navigated with expertise the shallows
where a vessel could run aground. He needed no map to show him the
concealed inlets and coves that were the salvation of their clandestine
He scanned the dark outline of the land where small bays and jutting
headlands were protected by high cliffs. His landing site had been
chosen so that the pack ponies could reach the beach. It was a small
cove they often used, but that made it more prone to excise patrols, on
either land or sea, lying in wait to ambush them. This stretch of water
from Falmouth to Plymouth was regularly patrolled. Sea Mist approached
Gibbon Head with the stealth of a sneak thief, all lights doused on
Ezra Lerryn began to breathe more easily and wiped the droplets of spume
from his bushy beard. Soon the longboats would be lowered to ferry their
cargo ashore. Even so he remained vigilant, his deep-set eyes focused on
the shore. The men had been ordered to silence; sounds carried great
distances at night. The cove was almost within hailing distance but the
moon was behind a cloud, concealing any movement on the beach.
Without warning, a flash of light illuminated the headland and the
accompanying boom of a cannon startled him. He swore savagely, angered
by the incident. This could be their undoing, but he had weathered other
such attacks. All was not yet lost.
'Damn their eyes, the revenue bastards be on to us!' His gut knotted
with tension as the moon was uncloaked and its light showed the
silhouette of the vessel that had fired on them. This was no ordinary
revenue ship they could easily outrun. He cursed their ill fortune. They
had been sighted by Challenger, the sister ship to Sea Mist, built in
the Loveday shipyard. Only Challenger could match the smuggling vessel
in manoeuvrability and speed.
'Hard to port and get us out of these waters,' shouted Captain Lerryn,
desperate to escape.
The sailors, aware of the danger, were clambering up the rigging to
unfurl the sails. The tiller responded and the cutter began to turn
about, but tonight both wind and fate were against them. Challenger,
already under full sail and with the wind in her favour, bore down on
them like an avenging fury. Lerryn would never concede defeat. He had
the strength, physique and volatile temper of a bull. This was a duel of
skill and tenacity that was long overdue. Reputations and livelihoods
were at stake. Ruthless men captained both ships, and neither would
yield until there was a victor and a vanquished.
Ezra Lerryn was a seasoned sea dog with thirty years' experience as a
free-trader, and was confident in his ability to outrun the revenue
ship. No excise vessel had ever come close to him since he had commanded
The craggy features of his second-in-command, Walter Finch, were thrust
close to his face as he shouted against the wind. 'Do we ditch the
'Damn their eyes! I bain't lost a cargo and I won't lose this 'un.'
Finch shook his head, his voice whistling through the gap in his front
teeth. 'She be gaining on us. Better to lose the cargo than the ship be
impounded as a free-trader with the goods on board.'
Lerryn lashed out, swiping Finch across the mouth. 'Lily-livered
varmint! It be you I'll throw overboard at any more such talk. No
preventive men have got the better of me.'
'Then you'll get us all hanged.' Finch ducked another vicious punch
aimed at his head, then yelped in fear as another cannon shot splashed
into the water close to their starboard side. 'There bain't no
outrunning that demon ship.'
'To arms!' Ezra yelled in defiance. 'To arms, men! They bain't caught us
A shout carried across the water. 'Heave to! This is the King's ship
Challenger. Heave to, or we fire again!'
The command chilled Finch's blood, and as he ran down the deck shouting
orders for the cannon to be run out, he saw that Challenger's lights
were now ominously close. Several of the sailors were lashing brandy
kegs together in preparation for throwing them over the side. They were
weighted to sink just below the water. It was a common ruse by
smugglers, for if there was no cargo on board there was no evidence to
incriminate them. They would then return the following night to haul in
'Leave the cargo be,' bellowed Ezra Lerryn.
With the force of fear of capture turning his guts to water, Finch
lashed out at the sailors with a belaying pin. 'Forget the kegs! Get to
the guns. Blast the revenue ship out of the water, or we be done for.'
Two of the cannon were fired but their shots fell wide of the mark. Ezra
Lerryn screamed abuse at his men. The crew were terrified, making their
movements clumsy. Arrest meant prison and either transportation or
hanging. Those who were religious uttered prayers, others cursed the
poverty that had forced them into this dangerous life. The nightmare
continued as a shot from Challenger whistled overhead and shattered the
mainmast. Sail and wood crashed to the deck and the air was filled with
the cries of three wounded smugglers writhing in agony. Splinters from
the mast, lethal as arrows, had speared the men.
As the moon scuttled behind a cloud, Captain Lerryn ordered: 'Get those
cannon reloaded and man the swivel guns! They bain't taking us or our
They were brave words, but Lerryn knew that if he lost the cargo he'd be
a dead man anyway. The owner of this ship had warned him of such a fate
when he took command, and Harry Sawle never made idle threats.
Lerryn was prepared for a long sea chase and if need be a bloody battle.
However, he was not prepared for the next cannon ball from Challenger
landing on the quarterdeck, splinting the planking. A shard of wood
exploding upwards was driven into Lerryn's throat, puncturing his
larynx, and another fragment blinded Finch, who fell screaming to the
deck clutching his bloody face.
As the captain writhed in his death throes, the crew panicked. A cannon
ball smashed through the ship's railing, mortally injuring another man.
Without a captain, and with the second-in-command wounded, the smugglers
were thrown into chaos. One man was dead and five were badly injured.
Under the skilful command of Captain Ambrose Pinsett, a local man from
Helston, Challenger was brought alongside. Revenue men armed with rifles
trained their weapons on the smugglers.
'In the King's name surrender, or you will be shot for resisting
arrest,' ordered Pinsett.
The smugglers knew they were beaten, and only two of them put up any
sort of fight as Sea Mist was boarded. One jumped overboard and was shot
in the back as he tried to swim ashore. His body was dragged back on
board with a grappling hook. The rest of the men were clapped in irons
and put in the hold. The demasted cutter was then sailed in triumph to
Plymouth by Pinsett and his men.
The repercussions of that night would unleash a storm of retribution
that would wreak havoc upon the local communities for many months to