THE LOVEDAY TRIALS (extract)
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Since the evening was still early, St John rode to Fowey where he knew a card game would be in progress.  He was in a restless mood after Adam’s return.  The favoured twin had fallen from grace and St John felt the need to celebrate.  He felt lucky tonight.
The tavern in Fowey was a regular haunt for St John and his friends.  The private room attracted merchants and landowners intent upon an evening of gaming.  To St John it had become a place to escape the complaints of a discontented wife and the constraints of a life which was becoming daily more onerous.

After three hours of play St John was in a buoyant mood.  There was a pile of two hundred guineas in front of him from his winnings.  The low-beamed ceiling of the panelled room reflected the heat of the roaring fire and the men had removed their jackets, relaxing in shirtsleeves and long embroidered waistcoats.  Their faces were flushed from the excitement of the gambling and good brandy. 
‘Luck seems to be smiling on you, Loveday.’

The cold belligerent voice behind him made the hair on St John’s neck crackle.  For a moment the room seemed to rock and the ground give way beneath him with the violence of a landslide.  The pleasure of the night was gone.

Affecting an outward show of calm, St John glanced over his shoulder at the man he knew to be his enemy.  Thadeous Lanyon was short, with a beer-barrel stomach and bulbous, hooded eyes which now glinted with malice.

‘Lanyon, it is not often we see you away from counting the profits in your coffers, St John jeered.

Two of St John’s companions sniggered, the others made a show of studying their cards.  Lanyon was a man who instilled fear in many.  He lived in Penruan - a village a short distance from the Loveday estate of Trevowan - where the Loveday’s owned several properties.  Lanyon appeared outwardly to be a respectable merchant, but St John knew him for a smugglers’ banker who financed several gangs.

‘Many are jealous of my success.’  Lanyon made the comment sound like a threat.  He was overdressed in a gold-braided jacket and elaborate cravat.  A large ruby pin gleamed like the eye of Cyclops from its centre.  Lanyon’s short powdered wig emphasised his heavy jowls as he went on, ‘Yet I succeed when others fail.  Though you prosper from the looks of it, Mr Loveday.  Strange, when one hears rumours that your family be in financial difficulties.’

St John felt sweat trickle down his neck as he held Lanyon’s hostile stare.  ‘What difficulties would they be? Have you not recently taken possession of a cutter built in the Loveday shipyard?  Though I hear the revenue cutter, which we also built, is pursuing the vessels of free-traders.’

‘Be amused while you may, Loveday.’ Lanyon leaned closer to whisper in his ear.  ‘There be money come your way by an ill wind.  I’ve an unforgiving memory.  You keep poor company in that of your brother-in-law Harry Sawle. The man should take care who he makes his enemy.’

St John shrugged.  ‘Harry is his own man and, unlike many of the fishermen of Penruan, he is not in your debt.  You have no power over him.’

Lanyon showed two missing front teeth as he grinned sarcastically.  ‘Do I not?  Sawle lost his intended bride to me.  He’ll lose much more if he doesn’t learn respect.’

Lanyon left the room but St John could still feel the malevolence of his presence.  He played recklessly to boost his confidence and, in consequence, the cards changed.  Within an hour his winnings and own stake money of thirty guineas had been lost.

Damn Lanyon, he fumed. The smuggler was too full of his own importance.  Yet despite his bravado, St John was alarmed that Lanyon may suspect that he was now involved in smuggling with Harry Sawle.  After finishing another brandy St John’s confidence returned.  Why should he fear Lanyon? Had not Harry Sawle and himself ambushed and stolen one of Lanyon’s cargoes last year?  That had been in retaliation for Lanyon informing on an earlier run of theirs to the excise men.  St John had been careful to cover his tracks where his smuggling was concerned.  The good name of his family must be protected.

His partnership with Harry Sawle sat ill with him. Harry had a violent streak and, since they had ambushed Lanyon’s cargo, Harry had begun his own vendetta against Lanyon - to the point of taking Lanyon’s wife as his mistress.  That Harry had courted Hester Moyle for years before she had married Lanyon made the rivalry between the two men more dangerous.  If Lanyon ever suspected that Harry and Hester were again lovers, he would think nothing of having them both murdered.

St John scowled as he regarded his empty purse and rose from the gaming table.  ‘That’s me finished this night.’

‘But it is early, my friend.’ Percy Fetherington looked appalled.  ‘Time enough for you to win back what you have lost.’

St John waved his hand in dismissal.  ‘I have a business appointment early tomorrow.’

As he passed through the taproom, the tobacco smoke, acid smell of poorly trimmed candles, slopped ale and press of sweating bodies clawed at his throat and eyes.  Outside, the town was in darkness.  A church clock struck one o’clock, its chimes sinister in the thin mist swirling around the roof gables.  An occasional lamp burned outside a tavern, inn, or the grander houses, creating a pool of light amongst the obsidian shadows.

There was a bite of frost in the air and, shivering, he fastened the buttons of his caped greatcoat and patted down his high-domed beaver hat.  He had stabled his horse at an inn in the next street and he began to walk briskly.

Then he heard a footfall behind him.  He froze and spun round.  There was no figure visible in the poorly lit street and no sound, yet his senses were now alerted.  The smell of an unwashed body wafted to him.  Ice coated St John’s spine and his heart thumped in mounting fear as he proceeded.  Within seconds he knew that he was being followed.

He took to his heels.  Two sets of running steps now hammered on the cobblestones behind him.

‘Don’t let him get away or we won’t be paid,’ a rough voice ordered.

St John’s lungs were bursting and his feet slithered on the icy cobblestones.  Twice he wrenched his ankle and almost fell.  The second time he was limping badly.  Fear pulsed through his veins.  The men were gaining on him.

Without slackening his pace he fumbled to tear open his greatcoat where he carried a dagger in an inside pocket.  His speed and cold fingers hampered him.

Before he could free the dagger, a cudgel slammed down upon his shoulder.  The pain made him stumble.  He recovered his balance and the dagger was in his hand as he spun round to face his attackers.  Two thickset men loomed from the shadows both armed with cudgels, St John lashed out and felt his blade slice through the flesh of a shoulder.  The man cursed and staggered back, while the other assailant swung his weapon down on to  St John’s wrist, knocking the blade from his grasp.

Instinctively, St John kicked out, his boot catching the second man in the groin.  His attacker fell to the ground, groaning.  He collided with his injured companion, bringing him down too.  It had been a lucky strike.  St John knew he was no match for the men in a prolonged fight and, with the brief reprieve, he turned and fled.
 
Angry shouts followed him. The sound of pursuit spurred him faster.  The pain in his chest was excruciating but he dared not rest, though his legs were beginning to weaken and threatened to betray him.  Ahead he saw an alley and, in desperation, sped down it.  It backed on to walled gardens.  With the last of his strength, he shinned over a wall and lay panting on the ground.

The moment he dropped out of sight, his attackers entered the alley and blundered past his hiding place.  Within a few yards he heard them stop.

‘He bain’t down ‘ere,’ one wheezed.  ‘Must be ‘iding.  You try over that wall there…’

There was a crash as the man knocked over something within the garden two houses away.  A dog barked from inside the building and a light appeared at a window.

‘Who’s out there?’ a man shouted, raising a window sash and thrusting his head through.  His nightcap fell off his bald head and he cursed. ‘There’s footpads about. Let the dog out, Bob, lad.  That will see the thieves off.  I’ll summon the watch.’  His voice resounded through the night.  ‘Thieves!  Watchman, to me.’

More windows were opened and further shouting added to the outcry.

The dog was barking frantically and as St John heard the scraping of bolts, there was a clambering from two gardens away as his assailant leaped back over the wall and ran off.  As he drew level with St John, who had flattened himself against the wall, St John heard him order his accomplice.

‘Run for it! We bain’t getting paid enough to get arrested and sent to Botany Bay.’

Although the men had slunk away, St John remained in his hiding place.  If he was discovered he could spend a night in the gaol on suspicion that he was the thief.  Fighting to control his laboured breathing, he did not move until he heard the watchmen arrive and set off in pursuit of his attackers.

St John realised that he had had a lucky escape.  Only one man would pay to have him attacked and that was Thadeous Lanyon.  Lanyon must suspect that he and Harry Sawle had stolen his cargo during the ambush last year. Therefore Lanyon would want St John dead.  And Lanyon would not now let the matter rest once he learned St John had escaped.  If St John did not want to spend the rest of his life awaiting an assassin’s blow, the smuggler must be dealt with.


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