'I suppose you'll be right,' Beth agreed. 'But he did promise me solemnly, and this is the
first time he has ever broken his promise to me.'
'It is Christmas, you know,' Frank reminded her. 'They will have got him as drunk as a
But when her father-in-law had not arrived by dinner-time on Tuesday, Beth did become
anxious, and before the meal was over she had persuaded her husband to take a lantern and go to
Sancreed to see what was amiss.
'I feel it in my bones something has happened to him,' she insisted.
At his father's cottage, Frank found all in darkness. From the general tidiness of the place,
however, he surmised that his father had not been there that day, or had set out for St. Just. But if
the latter were the case, they must have met.
Puzzled, Frank went down to the inn. There he learned that his father had left at three
o'clock on the Sunday afternoon. Certainly he had been drinking, but he knew what he was
about; and if he was a bit unsteady in his gait, he knew the direction he must take.
'Then he must have gone off the track,' Frank told them, 'because there was no sign of
him as I came over.'
It was too late to do anything that night, but early next morning, as soon as it was light, the
men and boys of Sancreed met at the inn, divided themselves into parties and set off in all
directions. They returned at dusk, all to report failure. No sign of John Thomas had been found.
A similar search next day having similar results, they concluded that whatever had
happened to the old man he must now be dead. All they could do was to wait until some
wanderer stumbled on his skeleton.
The following Sunday, James Trethewy, one of John Thomas's neighbors, set out from
Sancreed to visit his sister in St. Buryon. Like the old man, he decided to cross the dunes.
Not far from the track which he was following there were two or three of the ancient
workings. One of which he had to pass by quite close.
As he approached this pit, though was still some distance away, he saw a stranger sitting
on the bank which had been throw up round the edge of the pit on the track side, as a protection
for travelers like himself. On his coming nearer, the man stood up and walked round to the other
side of the pit, and disappeared behind a bush.
Thinking to warn him of the danger he was running, Trethewy left the track and hurried
round the edge of the pit, but when he came to the place where he had last seen the man there was
no one there, and though he went carefully round the edge of the pit, searching behind every bush,
and looking in every direction, he could find no one, nor any indication that anyone had been
Bewildered, but wishing to be in St. Buryon before darkness fell, Trethewy went on. He
stayed the night with his sister, and in the middle of Monday morning, set off back to Sancreed,
following the way by which he had come.
It was a bright, sunny day, though the sun was low in the heavens, and the rays of it pale
and feeble. Still, it was a practical day for practical people. On such a winter day there could be
no possibility of seeing strange sights or hearing strange sounds, as could often be heard over the
dunes when the skies were black and lowering, and heavy banks of clouds scudded over sea and
During his short stay with his sister, Trethewy had forgotten about the man who had been
by the pit as he had come over the day before. But as he started to cross the dunes the scene
brought the incident back to him, and as he went along whistling quietly to himself, stepping out
with the exhilaration of the autumn borrowed day, he pondered upon who the stranger might be
and where he had gone. Cornishmen, even today, do not take kindly to those they do not know or
cannot identify as having legitimate business them. In the times of which we are writing, when
the smugglers and the wreckers were at the peak of their activities, they disliked even more
anyone who might be an excise spy.
'It was obvious that he didn't want to speak to me, or to let me get a close look at him,'
Trethewy mused. 'But what I can't make out is, how did he manage to disappear so completely?
I've never heard of there being caves in or nearby the pits. This will keep Tom Blower happy for
hour after hour.'
Blower was the Sancreed parson's clerk, who, because he could read, write and cipher,
believed himself to be, among his illiterate fellow-villagers, the fountain of all knowledge.
And so Trethewy went along, now creasing his forehead with answered questions, now
smiling as he heard Blower from the chimney settle in the inn begin, 'Well, my ignorant friends,
it is like this, as you would know if any two of you had an A and a B between you...'
He was perhaps half a mile from the pit, when his eye caught something which made stop
in his tracks and utter an oath.
'By St. Michael! That's him again!'
There was no mistaken the man, who, despite the cold of the last days of December, wore
no hat, a point about him which Trethewy had unconsciously taken note of the day before.
'What's he doing here? He must be an excise agent. I've heard that some of the
Boskenna men have a hide-out hereabouts. If he is an excise man, they must be warned. I'll
catch up with him and see what he has to say for himself.'
So he began to walk more quickly, but the faster he went so the man walking before him
seemed to go. He put his hands about his mouth and called out as loudly as his lungs would give,
'Holla, there! Wait for me, and we can walk together.'
But if the man heard he did not turn his head or stop, but hurried on.
Angry at the man's refusal, and more suspicious now than ever, and determined to come
up with the man and have a look at him, Trethewy broke into a run. But though the man did not
appear to be running himself, he came no nearer.
As the bank edging the pit came into sight, the man left the track and began to move round
the top of the pit, exactly as he had done yesterday.
Trethewy swore aloud.
'He must have a hide-out there somewhere, and he's making for it,' he said aloud
between pants, for he was not so young as he had been. 'I'll watch carefully where he goes.'
So he slowed up to a walk, and moved from the track himself, keeping his eyes always on
the man, who was now nearing the bush behind which he had seemed to disappear on that first
occasion. But this time, when he reached the bush, he did not go behind it, but stood on the edge
of the pit looking down, his back still turned to his pursuer.
Now at last Trethewy was coming up with him.
'Hi,' he called. 'Stand back from the edge. It's dangerous, man. If it breaks away,
you'll be done for.'