Roy Glashan's Library
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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS T.C. BRIDGES)

GREEN LEDGES

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover
Based on a 19th-century painting of Bristol Channel


Ex Libris

As published in
The Queenslander, Brisbane, Australia, 10 Apr 1926

Also appeared in:
The Age, Melbourne, Australia, 21 Mar 1925
The Western Mail, Perth, Australia, 2 Jul 1925

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2021
Version Date: 2021-11-28

Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

Click here for more books by this author


A LEDGE of limestone jutting out from the thin turf of the great headland formed a convenient seat, and there in the eye of a scarlet sunset which painted sky and sea with unbelievable brilliance sat a man and a girl.

"Did you ever see anything so perfectly gorgeous?" asked the girl with her eyes on the western blaze which crimsoned the creeping currents of the Bristol Channel till they were the colour of blood.

"It's pretty wonderful, Gwen," agreed Jack Bellamy. "The trouble is, that one can't live on a view."

Gwen forgot the sunset and glanced anxiously at Jack's face. It was a good face, sunburnt, square-cut, and honest, but in the steady grey eyes under the peak of the shabby tweed cap was a look which troubled the girl. "Of course, you can't," she answered, "but there's the land, Jack."

"There's the land, as you say, Gwen. Seventy acres of it, and about as much use from a money-making point of view, as that sunset. We are siting on a sample of it." He grinned ruefully, and went on. "Gwen, dear. I have put in nearly three years trying to make a living out of Bare Down, and I'm just two hundred pounds worse off than when I started. I'm chucking it."

Distress showed in Gwen's blue eyes.

"What do you mean? You're not going to sell Bare Down?"

"Sell Bare Down! Why, Gwen, it has belonged to a Bellamy for three hundred years, and I'd starve sooner than sell it."

Gwen's face expressed her relief. "I am so glad to hear you say that, Jack. You see, I knew that Mr. Millard was after it."

Something very like a scowl crossed Jack's pleasant face. "Millard," he repeated. "That's news to me. What does he want with it?"

"He said it was so beautiful," Gwen answered.

"Bah! You wouldn't find a chap like Millard paying for mere beauty," said Jack with scorn. "If he wants it you can bet that he thinks he can make something out of it. All the same I can't imagine what, for it's like its name, bare down and bare cliffs."

"Might start a quarry?" suggested Gwen.

"Or a gold mine," jeered Jack.

"He might," said Gwen seriously. "The Marycoombe Monastery plate is supposed to be buried somewhere on your land. But, Jack, we are wandering from the point. Where are you going if you leave Bare Down?"

"To British Columbia Gwen."

"Then I'm coming, too."

Jack faced her. "My dear you are not," he said firmly. "No," as he saw her lips open to protest, "listen to me. I am going to take up new land. I shall live in a two-roomed shack with home-made furniture, where I shall be my own cook and bottle-washer. There won't be any society, any fun. I shall be working all day and too tired to do anything but go to bed when I come in. There will be no doctor, no dentist, no shops, no church—not even a cinema. I'm not quite such a selfish beast as to drag you out to be household drudge in a place like that."

"I don't mind, Jack. I'll come," Gwen answered.

"No." Jack's tone was almost violent. "I won't let you, Gwen."

"You don't want me, then?" said Gwen in a hurt voice.

"It isn't that. You know I want you—oh, Gwen I can't tell you how I want you—but—"

"You won't let me come."

"I can't. Gwen, you must understand."

Gwen stood up. "I understand very well, Jack. You think, because I am a girl, that I care for nothing but my pleasure. You think I am just selfish."

Jack, too, jumped up. "Oh, do be reasonable, Gwen," he cried.

"I'm trying to be," said Gwen, "but it is difficult if you cannot keep your temper."

"I'm not angry," retorted Jack, biting his lip. "I'm—" he stopped short, spun round and walked a few steps away, struggling to control himself. When he turned again he saw Gwen going quickly away up the slope. "Gwen!" he cried. "Gwen!" But she took no notice. He hurried after her, then suddenly stopped.

"Better wait till to-morrow," he said heavily, and dropped again on the ledge.


DEEP in unhappy thought, he was roused by footsteps on the cliff path below, and looked up to see a large, prosperous-looking man in a suit of violently checked tweeds coming towards him. "Millard, of all people!" he growled under his breath.

"Evening, Bellamy," said the other loudly. "You're just the man I wanted to see."

"Yes," Jack answered, "what about?"

"This place of yours. I'm told you're clearing out. What will you take for it?"

Jack looked at him. "Bare Down is not for sale," he said, in a tone which would have choked off any one less thick-skinned than Millard.

But Lawrence Millard had a hide like that of a rhinoceros. "Oh, nonsense!" he retorted. "You're hard up Bellamy. Every one knows that, and you'll want a bit of cash wherever you're going. Come now, I'll give you a thousand down for the whole show, and that's more than any one else would offer, for the old house is little better than a ruin."

Jack went rather white, and his eyes narrowed. "I'm not asking you for any criticisms on my house, Mr. Millard," he answered. "And I'll tell you this that I'd sooner burn it than see it in your hands. And now perhaps you'll get off my land."

At last he had got under Millard's skin. The big man's cheeks turned purple, and the knotted veins rose up on his forehead. "So that's the way you talk, you insolent beggar. All right, I don't want your rotten land. I wouldn't have it at a gift. But before I'm finished I'll have something you value even more than your bare acres."

"And what may that be?" asked Jack with dangerous quietness.

"Your girl," sneered Millard, and the words were hardly out of his mouth before his lips split under the impact of Jacks fist.

Millard staggered back, and clapped a hand to his bleeding face. "I'll kill you for that," he snarled thickly.

"You'd like to, I've no doubt," replied Jack with scorn. "Now get out before I chuck you over the cliff."

Millard glared at him for a moment, as if weighing his chances in a tough and tumble, then thought better of it, and swung away.

"Lord, what a reptile!" said Jack, as he watched him go. "So he's after Gwen, is he? Well, thanks be, that face of his will keep him quiet for a day or two." His thoughts turned again to Gwen. "She'd come like a shot if I'd let her? Shall I?" He dropped again on his ledge, and sat in the darkling twilight, struggling with the hardest temptation he had ever known. "No!" he said at last. "I won't do it. Whatever happens, I'll play the game."


IT was nearly dark when he started home along the cliff path. It was ugly going for a stranger, but Jack had known it all his life, and never thought of danger. He had reached the narrowest part when a sound in the thick bracken above him made him start. Next instant a huge stone came crashing dawn the steep slope, bounding from ledge to ledge.

Jack leaped aside—jumped too far, and, as the rock whizzed past, felt the treacherous ledge give beneath him. He flung out his arms, and dug his fingers desperately in the thin turf.

There was no hold, and he felt himself slipping, slipping. For a moment he hung dangling, then the end came, and he dropped into space.


JACK held his breath for the plunge into the sea nearly two hundred feet below. Instead, there came a crackle, and a crash, and with a heavy thud he brought up short. For a moment he was too dazed to know what had happened; then, as breath came back, he found himself lying in the midst of a patch of gorse and brambles growing on a projecting spur of rock.

It was a most amazing piece of luck, for if he had fallen a yard either way he must have gone clean to the bottom, and even if not killed outright by such a tremendous drop been swept away by the fierce tides of the Bristol Channel. As it was, he was unhurt, and scrambling thankfully to his feet, he began to look for a way up.

There was none. The cliff-top actually overhung his narrow perch. He looked down. It was not a pleasant prospect, for in the deepening dust the waves broke in white foam against the foot of the cliff. He opened his month to shout, but checked himself. That stone had not fallen by itself. If he was not very much mistaken, this was some of Millard's work. "One comfort. The swine will get the scare of his dirty life when he sees me again," said Jack grimly.

But would they meet again? As Jack considered his position he had his doubts. The cliff path was hardly used, and the place one of the loneliness on all the coast. Again he looked down. The limestone wall was crossed and seemed with ledge upon ledge. Gorse, thorn and coarse grass greened them, and gave hand hold. Surely it was possible to make his way down to the strip of beach which would be bare at low tide. But not in this light. He must wait for the moon, which, luckily, was due to rise in another hour.


SEATING himself with his back to the cliff, he waited until at last the sky began to silver in the East, and the moon climbed slowly up over Exmoor. Yet even then he had to wait a long time before the shadow was off the cliff face. At last he started.

The first part was not too bad, for a ledge sloping steadily to the left took him fifty feet down before it ended. He had a desperate scramble to reach the next ledge, and this he found to be broken and treacherous. It narrowed and narrowed until he was forced to crawl like a fly on a wall, at every step in terror less the ledge should peter out completely, and leave him stranded. At last it widened, and he rested and looked round.

He found himself more than halfway down, but it seemed to him that the worst was still to come. The ledge on which he stood ended a little way further on, and there was a sheer drop of at least eight feet to the next below. If he slipped—if the lower ledge should break beneath him. It did not bear thinking about, so Jack hardened his heart, and searched at once for hand-hold.

A tough looking gorse bush offered this, and, getting a good grip, he slid cautiously outwards, and began to let himself down. The moment his full weight came upon the bush he heard an ominous cracking, and a shower of dry earth came rattling over him. The whole thing was giving, and there was nothing for it, but to let go and chance it. He felt his foot strike the lower edge, but the bulge of the cliff flung him outwards. One clutching hand brushed against something, he grasped it desperately, and found solid support.

For a moment he clung, panting for breath, his heart beating wildly with the narrowness of his escape, then, as he palled himself together he realised that what had saved him was a huge rusty iron staple firmly fixed in the face of the cliff.

Jack stared at it in amazement. Who could possibly have fixed it there, and for what object? Presently he saw that this ledge which he had reached ran downwards at a steep but steady angle, while to the left it ascended without a break. It was a regular path, or had been at some former time.

Light broke upon him. "A smugglers' path—and I never knew of it." His spirits rose as he started downwards, feeling certain that now he would reach the bottom in safety.

A fresh surprise was in store. Some fifty feet above the narrow strip of beach the path dipped into a great fissure in the cliff, and at the innermost angle of this deep rift he reached a low-roofed tunnel leading deep into the rock.


IN most men there is still something left of the boy, and Jack was no exception. To start cave exploring with no better outfit than a box of matches was rank lunacy, but Jack could not resist it, and presently he was walking, bent almost double, down a passage which sloped steadily seaward. It looked to Jack as if the floor had been artificially levelled, yet evidently it was a long time since any one had been there, for in places the passage was almost choked by falls of rock from the roof. Yet a draught of cool, fresh, salt air which constantly met him and from which he had to protect his matches, was pretty good proof that an opening existed somewhere below, and with every step he was getting nearer sea-level.

The roof rose, the floor became more level, and striking another match, Jack fond himself in a large rock chamber. It was long and narrow, with a vaulted roof, and bore an odd resemblance to the aisle of a church, a resemblance strengthened by a raised platform at the back which was strangely like a chancel.

At the seaward end, the cave mouth was blocked by great rock masses, but not solidly, for the moonlight leaked through crevices and made splashes of light upon the floor of the strange place. By the sound of the waves outside Jack knew he must be near sea-level.

For some moments he gazed around, then slowly the truth dawned on him. "The Smugglers' Chapel!" he exclaimed, sharply.

Legend had it that in the days of the Reformation, when Marycoombe Monastery was disestablished, the monks had hewn a chapel in the cliffs, and there carried on their services in secret. Jack had heard the story as a child, but never put much faith in it; yet here he was, standing in the chapel itself. He began to search the place, but his stock of matches was running low, and it occurred to him that the first thing to do was to make certain of his way out, so he began by clambering up the pile of rocks blocking the seaweed end, towards the lowest opening. The stuff was loose and dangerous. It slipped beneath him, and he barked his skin against something very hard and sharp, which at first he thought was a rock.

Imagine, then, his surprise when he discovered that it was a chest of solid oak clamped with rusty iron and fastened by an enormous old-fashioned padlock. It was quite black with age.

Thrilling with excitement, he tried to move it, but it was far too heavy. He struck another of his few remaining matches, and, picking up a stone, endeavoured to smash the lock but this, too, was beyond his powers. "It's the plate—the Marycoombe plate!" was the thought which sang in his heart. "And on my own land!" he exclaimed jubilantly. "Well, It's safe enough where it is," he added. "I'd best get out and come back for it later."

A second attempt proved more successful than the first, and he reached an opening wide enough to climb through. Suddenly he stopped. The moonlight falling on the rocks showed queer marks— scratches. "Nailed boots!" muttered Jack, as he examined them. "Now, who the deuce—? Why, Millard, of course. Gwen was right. That's what the beggar was after."

Yes, it all fitted in—the man's keen desire to buy Bare Down, the way in which he had, of late, been haunting the cliff path and the beach. Somehow, he had found the plate, and was only waiting his chance to lift it. "Well, he'll have to be pretty nippy if he is going to get away with it now," said Jack, and even as he spoke a sound came to his ears which made him catch his breath. It was the measured beat of oars.

The sound came nearer and nearer, and presently a small boat appeared round the point a little to the north, and headed straight for the strip of beach below the cave. Jack waited only long enough to make sure that its one occupant was Millard, then drew back into the darkness, and hid in a recess between the two great rocks.

He heard the keel grate on the shingle, than a sound of heavy boots on the rock outside. The light was momentarily cut off as a thick-set figure dragged itself through the opening. Next instant came a click, and in the white gleam that illuminated the blackness Jack saw Millard come scrambling down towards the rock face. He had a bag strapped on his back.

Millard reached the chest, stopped, laid his torch upon a rock, and, unstrapping his bag, took out chisel and hammer. His greenish eyes glowed with greed as he set to work on the lock.

Five minutes' work, it yielded, and Millard wrenched up the lid. Jack, not ten paces away, heard him gasp as he directed the beam of his torch upon the contents of the chest, and took the opportunity of stepping out of his hiding place. He moved so quickly that Millard, intent on his find, did not hear him, and Jack came right up behind the man, and within arm's length.

Breathing heavily, Millard stooped and threw out an exquisitely-jewelled altar cross. Though the gold was dull and tarnished, the gems shone with wonderful fire.

"Worth a fortune in America," said Millard thickly.

"But not so much where you are going," observed Jack in a deep, hollow voice.


TO say that Millard started is too weak a way of putting it. The man's every muscle jolted as though a high-tension electric current had been switched through his body. He jerked round, and at sight of Jack his jaw dropped and his eyes took on a glassy stare. Then with a shriek that was like nothing human, he dropped the cross and made a wild rush for the outlet.

By the light of the torch Jack saw the man hurling himself up towards the opening. Somehow he wriggled through, and vanished.

A moment later came a rumble of falling rock, a crash, a groaning cry, and Jack, following, torch in hand, saw his would-be murderer lying on the beach ten feet beneath, crushed under a huge boulder.

It was only a matter of moments before he had reached him, but already it was too late. With his chest horribly crushed, Millard was dead.

Jack shivered slightly as he stood over him. "Ghastly!" he muttered, "yet it was no fault of mine, and I should be a liar if I said I was sorry." For a moment he stood looking at the cliff that towered above him, and the ledges down which he had made his way with such infinite pains and danger.

He shook his head. "The rest can wait till morning," he said, and walked down to the boat. A minute later he was afloat, and pulling steadily for the landing on the other side of the headland.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.