© Billy Bodman.
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W H E R E I T B E G I N S
The following character here is not the 'hero' of the story but becomes a shadowy figure, hiding behind a nomme-de-plume and a false history.
*The rain was without mercy, slashing and flailing at the faces of the two hunched figures in a furious assault as they ploughed their way across the sodden fields for the shelter of the trees.
The roiling, blackened sky had brought a premature darkness to the late afternoon, which adequately served to obscure their progress from the militia lookouts.
"What's happening?" gasped the slighter of the two figures through searing lungs, unable to resist the determined pull of his companion. "Idris, Idris, what's going on?"
There was no reply from his grim, doggedly persistent guide as they squelched ponderously across the soggy, open parkland until the comparative safety of the copse of beech had been attained.
Idris looked down at the pinched, exhausted face of the boy, and the naked fear that whitened his eyes.
"They've taken your father, Milord. Thurloe's men have already occupied the house and are yet searching for documented evidence. Our plans have been cruelly exposed. They know everything. Orders are out to apprehend you at this very moment. I was only minutes in front of a troop before I found you. This is our only viable escape route. All the roads will be blocked. There is no time to lose. Come, we cannot rest yet."
On they drove, the man Idris urging the boy through the trees with a strong grip to his shirtsleeve. The rain was less biting here, as they dodged the low-lying shrubbery before reaching the riverbank. Idris did not hesitate.
"Don't stop," he gasped harshly, " It is only knee high here."
In the event the waters rose to their waists, but they struggled on.
Bending double, now that they were on the opposite bank, they pushed their weary bodies forward; conscious that to slow down could be fatal. The ever-increasing gradient was punishing on their aching thighs. Buildings began to appear, looming starkly out of the gloom, until the leader slowed and then stopped, pulling his companion down behind a low hedge. He peered into the driving rain, scanning his head back and forth for potential enemies and then, seeing none, quickly hauled the youth across an open space to the wall of a tall, rambling house.
"Here," he said, swiftly wrenching open a door and slipping inside. Releasing his grip he put his finger to his lips and beckoned his charge across the floor between stacks of wooden crates, to a flight of rickety stairs. He opened a door at the top, which led into a gloomy passage, at the end of which was another door opening into a small cramped room. A vague light from a window helped them identify some sparse furniture, prompting them both to drop tiredly onto a low wooden cot, their breath sawing roughly.
"How do you know of all this?" the boy gasped painfully, after the sobbing had relented.
His rescuer got slowly to his feet.
"The groom, Thomas is it? Managed to evade the soldiers and came to me as your father instructed. He said you were at Ty Cae looking over some hunters, and that it would not be long before the militia were in possession of the very same information. I was not a moment too soon. If you had been at home with the others you would surely have been taken. It is imperative that you are not captured. The boy said he was to say that we were betrayed by one of our own, which means that the whole plot has unravelled."
"One of our own? Then everyone will be named. What of Dick Talbot? Has he been detained also?" the boy asked anxiously.
"I know only of your father."
"What of the invasion force? And the King, Idris, what of him?"
"I know not. Truly. We are isolated. Rest here now. I have to make an appearance downstairs. No one must know I have been off the premises. You must not move from this room. If anyone does come to the door, you can be sure if it is not I it will be Thurloe’s men. I may be some time, your Lordship, so you must have patience."
Then he was gone, leaving the boy alone in the false, grey darkness with the summer rain storming the window furiously. He was wet but not cold, so he lay tucked up on the cot trying to compose himself in order to come to terms with his predicament.
An infiltrator, by all that’s Holy! He thought bleakly. One of the leaders. Would all the co-conspirators of the carefully planned 'Sealed Knot' be under arrest? All those months of secret planning brought to naught. There was no doubting the ultimate fate that awaited them. Alongside his father would surely be the leading participants: Colonel Villiers of course, Sir John Compton, Sir Richard Willis, Lord Belayse would be another as well as Colonel John Russell. What also of Lord Loughborough, and the West countryman, Penruddock? Were they all implicated? Most of all, apart from his direct family, his anguish was directed towards that most charming and dashing of Irishmen, Richard Talbot, who was the persuasive driving force behind their plans to put a Stuart, a Catholic King, back at long last on the throne of England. He was expected to be making his way through the Welsh Counties at this very moment in anticipation of the invasionary force. Surely he was too bold, too clever to be caught in a militia trap.
The young man, just sixteen, convinced himself finally that his great hero must surely have evaded capture, had almost certainly made his way to the Pembrokeshire coast, commandeering a boat there and sailing to the safety of his Irish Catholic friends. The thought helped to play down his fears. He at least would live to carry on the fight. He prayed assiduously that one day he would be in a position to join him. Not so with his father, he realised, choking on an uncontrollable sob. The Lord Protector Cromwell's wrath would be violent and terminal. There would be the block, the certain sequestration of their estates and goods and destitution for his mother and the little ones. Death too for him should the door open to reveal the arresting officers. All that was between him and a certain fate was the redoubtable Idris, who served the cause as robustly as any Jesuit.
Very few were aware of his dual role as landlord of the 'Foresters Arms' and conduit for illegal, immigrant priests. This would be as safe a haven as any for which he could have wished. Now all his future hopes of inheriting the Earldom after his father were in tatters, and the dream of a Catholic Kingdom flattened.
The staccato spattering of the rain, and the tightening grip of darkness gradually conspired to drift him off into a deep sleep, so that when the door opened and the glow of a lamp invaded the shadows he only muttered a complaint as Idris draped a blanket across his crumpled body.
He was alone for ten days, except for Idris bringing him food and drink and emptying his pot. The heavy curtains were closed now at all times so that no light would show from the comforting candle, and he could only guess at the sun when the better weather re-asserted itself.
The scant news that the landlord brought was all of an ill wind. Everyone of prominence in the conspiracy had been apprehended and the worst expected of his or her fate, but there had been no sign of an invading army and no sight of Charles Stuart. The numbness that held him in its grip, and the all-pervading lethargy that accompanied each bolt of bad news left him almost too weary to feed himself. Then, finally Idris came in with an urgency that shifted his limbs into action.
"Time my Lord," he said decisively. "Time to move on. Here are fresh papers drawn up in your mother’s name. No one must know your real identity. Not even I know whom to trust in these days of loose affiliations. It is almost certain that Sir Richard Willis was the informer. It seems he was Thurloe’s man all along. There will surely be a reckoning one-day. You are in no way to concern yourself with your mother, or the siblings. She has adequate assets of her own, which are untouchable by law, and I believe she is returning to her father’s estates. You are not to go anywhere near her or your grandfather, as they are certain to be spied upon. I have booked you a passage on a cargo ship leaving Bristol for Rotterdam. Do not look to be met even there, but make your own way to the address. There will be another day, have no doubts."
He handed his charge a complete change of workmanlike clothing, which he immediately donned.
"For safety sake you must make your own way to Bristol. Should you be stopped and questioned, which is not unlikely in the present climate, you will say that you are to be apprenticed to your uncle's chandlery business there. Here is a letter confirming your appointment. He is a true friend to Rome. You will be in his charge until the boat docks. You should endeavour to act a little subservient. Most of these militiamen are louts. Here also is a dagger for your protection and this walking staff will be useful. Any other form of armament would mark you out. When in Bristol, where you are even more likely to be questioned, do not forget that some like yourself will also be looking for an escape route by sea. At the appropriate time, you will show these other papers indicating a similar employment in Rotterdam. Finally, there is this money belt. It contains one thousand guineas that your father had me hold for such a day as this. He was a great one for contingencies, which is how he survived for so long against so many enemies. He trusts you to continue the battle to maintain the true faith, but that will almost certainly be conducted from abroad where the true King waits. Now there is no time to waste. Follow me. God speed and keep you safe.”
"But what of...? " he began, but Idris was pre-occupied with his arrangements, and he knew in that instant to bite his lip, because there were still some associations that not even Idris knew about. Trust no one was as good a maxim as any, he decided, allied to secrecy and prudency. They would be the rules that would guide him from now on.
He did as Idris bade him. He spoke to no one, other than a nod and g'day to the various groups or solitary travellers he encountered on the Gavenny road. He neither hurried nor loitered, stopping only to eat the food Idris had prepared for him, squatting at the roadside on the fringes of other parties. He was confused, worried, excited, and terrified in turn. He was not a person to take orders lightly and unconsidered, but there was something nagging insistently at him, like toothache, but it was not until he had reached the walls of Abergavenny Castle that he forced himself to question it.
Sir Richard Willis. Representing the government, making him Thurloe the spymaster’s man. Other than the prime conspirators then, who else was he able to name with certainty? There would of course be a great deal of suggestion and innuendo, and it was obvious that the sons of the main protagonists of the 'Sealed Knot' group would, like himself, be implicated, but there were those who would not be so obvious. He still harboured a desperate, insatiable need to know of the fate of Richard Talbot. He was the key to any insurrection, with his enthusiastic energy and fighting spirit that he so admired, and any future plans would lack the necessary momentum without him. He knew he could not go on without knowledge of him.
He had various contacts of his own all across the valleys, but who now could he trust? Only two names on which he could unquestionably rely suggested themselves to him.
He tightened his lips in determined fashion and turned away from the Raglan road that would have taken him toward Bristol, heading instead across the valleys towards Casnewydd and the Du Bari estate.
He reflected on the Du Baris’ as he followed the main track toward the coast of the Bristol Channel. A once great family brought low, he thought, with as ancient a lineage as any of the foremost Welsh dynasties. Rooted in devout Catholicism, they had, just like his family, taken a high-profile position in the Civil War. Where they had erred in their enthusiasm, his father had told him, more as a warning than for mere information, was in their decision to back the King with hefty loans, but unlike the all-powerful Pembrokes they did not have the comfort of limitless funds. As the war dragged interminably on, they found themselves walking a very fine financial tightrope. When the final surrender came after the Battle at Naseby over in Leicestershire, the punishing fines levied on the family almost wiped them out. Property after property, holding after holding disappeared from their portfolio, until all that was keeping their heads above bankruptcy and ruin was the highly-respected stud farm centred on their estate in Monmouthshire. The near descent into penury had been too much for Lady Du Bari and she died, his mother impressed on him on more than one occasion, purely out of a sense of shame. As if that was not painful enough, quite soon afterwards, in most ironic fashion, their only real source of income was to cause the death of the patriarch Du Bari himself, when a fractious mare lashed out one morning, cracking his head open like an axe-split plank.
He had insisted on accompanying his father to the funeral, having formed a particular affinity with the remaining Du Bari children, Simon and Bronwen, the eldest son, Robert, having met his end at Worcester in the early days of the war. They were united in their espousement of the cause, never failing to engineer the opportunity to meet whenever the chance arose. It was they who presented him with the opportunity to forge some extremely useful contacts in that part of the world. There was no one more steadfast with whom he could place his trust.
To everyone’s dismay, the officers of the courts sent to deal with the question of guardianship of the minority orphans, appointed some little-known half-brother of their late father and his wife, simply because they proved themselves to be unrelentingly Puritan, unlike the more deserving and sympathetic factions of the family who were antithetically Papist. He recalled his father bitterly averring that the level of vindictiveness and malevolent spite that had overlain the decision had been shocking to behold. The couple, dour and humourless to a fault, had wasted little time once ensconced in adopting a strict regimen of authoritarianism in the household, rudely dissuading him and any of the children’s contemporaries from visiting or even corresponding. None of his letters had been afforded the courtesy of a reply, giving him cause to wonder if they had ever reached their goal. They might as well have been spirited abroad.
He remembered also, with distaste, on his very last visit to the estate when he had adopted the pretext of mating his father’s well-bred mare to one of their prime stallions, the degree of intimate familiarity that the orphans were subjected to, giving rise to his suspicions that a more salacious motive lay behind the guardians unsociable stance. He had not been given the slightest opportunity to be alone with either of them, having to assume their condition from the down-cast eyes and meek demeanour. Thenceforward, neither he nor his closest intimates were in a position to investigate more fully, and the Du Baris were only fleetingly sighted and never alone. Only their inherited skill with the stud animals - not only horses but also bulls and boars - allowed them a certain unsupervised freedom around the property.
It was in light of this background that he persuaded himself that they would not be on Thurloe’s list of suspects, with the reasonable chance that he would find at least one of them occupied with the stud, which was located at the rear of the main house.
He was sure that any employable staff would not be in residence which, testament to the couple’s frugality had been pared down to a cook, a cleaner and one Jack-of-all-Trades farrier. They would be in any case, he cautioned himself, all of Puritan stock, encouraged to spy upon the children’s activities and not to be trusted under any circumstances.
He arrived at the familiar front gates around mid-afternoon, braced himself, and then walked briskly along the tree-lined drive until he was in sight of the stabling area. Almost immediately he spotted the slight but easily recognisable figure of Simon carrying a pitchfork of hay. A discreet cough got his attention. Wasting no time he urged him into an empty horse-box, where they embraced joyfully. Then a low, tuneless whistle startled him until Simon called out sharply, "Bronwen, in here."
Several intense minutes were spent exchanging whispered information. No one to their knowledge had been apprehended in their circle of acquaintances, although the towns had been full of interrogating militia. As for Dick Talbot nothing specific was known, but there were tales circulating of an important arrest being made just yesterday close to Bettws. The man was being held apparently in the County Judge's house until the army came to take him off to London.
"It must be him," he speculated with excitement. "Is it Derwen House that you mean?"
"Yes, on the old Rhos road. I have the judge's daughter, Gabriella's pony here as it happens, conducting some tests on the brute for evidence of ringworm."
"Are they complete? These tests."
"Yes, two days since. She will be coming for him in the next day or so," Bronwen volunteered.
"No," he said quickly, "The other way around would serve better. Can you deliver the animal yourself? You would have a valid excuse to visit and reconnoitre."
"Not until the afternoon. The Guardians are very circumspect, aren't they Simon. Only one of us will be allowed to go."
Simon grimaced sourly and nodded. "We are slaves in our own home. We are misused very badly. Bronwen and I...," his voice cracked tailing off wearily.
He turned from Simon and stared at Bronwen. The pair had a delicate beauty that was startling, but while Simon carried with him an air of fragility like bone china, she promised to grow into something wholly exceptional. If there was less urgency to his cause, he told himself, he could perhaps…
"Never mind us," she said sharply, anticipating the direction of his thoughts, "There are more important issues at stake. I had better return to the house in case one of them takes it into their heads to search us out. Simon will put you safe until tomorrow. I expect you have much to catch up on. Until then."
She slipped out of the box like a wraith, leaving the two friends alone to make arrangements.
Mid-afternoon, and Bronwen was sitting elegantly on her bay mare, holding the reins in one hand and a rope controlling Gabriella's pony in the other.
"The main thing is not to arouse suspicion," he told her. "Just find out where the prisoner might be held and how many guards are in attendance. If she asks you to stay awhile plead another engagement. There is little time. Be very careful. We may not get another chance."
Bronwen nodded seriously and clicked her mount forward. He clambered out of the sunken lane into the hedgerow of bushes, away from the eyes of casual by- passers.
It seemed to him an age before Bronwen returned.
Now, after urging her away with all haste to affect a solid alibi, he assessed the information she had managed to garner. She had found out that the unnamed prisoner was in an empty horse-box which she could clearly see was bolted on the outside. Inside, he had no doubt, his target would be securely tethered. The guards, she had observed, were lounging about casually, but taking turns to circumnavigate the outbuildings periodically. He had hidden himself in the profusion of greenery, nodding off for a while until the moon bleached the woods, then cutting through the copse of trees until he was at the rear of the stable-block. Only boldness now would chart the way.
The prisoner was in the third-end box, so he slithered down the slope to where an old chestnut threw a profusion of shadows onto the path. There was a barred ventilation grill high up the stone wall and, with the employment of an old discarded barrow as a step he managed to reach the grill.
"Dick," he whispered hoarsely. "Dick Talbot, are you there?”
"Yes," came the swift reply.
"Thanks be to God. How are you secured?"
"If I drop a knife through the bars can you make use of it?"
"I believe so."
"If you cannot all is lost."
"Drop it through. Nothing ventured..."
He manoeuvred the dagger through the bars and let it fall.
"I have it," came the triumphant cry, and then, only seconds later. "Free."
Exultation leaped in his breast, followed almost immediately by a gut-wrenching lurch of fear as he realised the next steps would be much more difficult.
"A guard will be around soon. I will have to deal with him. If I fail you will know soon enough. Hold hard.”
He climbed down and quickly found a large, handy stone before hiding himself in the shadows. Long nerve-wracking minutes passed before he heard the rattle and clink of metal on metal. He heard the footsteps and then a grunt of surprise as the misplaced barrow was spotted. As the guard bent over to examine the object, the boy leaped fiercely forward and crashed the stone onto the exposed skull. His victim fell without a murmur. He speedily removed a short sword from the man’s belt, and then stole cautiously around to the front of the building. The two-part door was bolted top and bottom but the lower one would suffice. In seconds the prisoner was out and the door re-locked. He indicated his man to follow him, and soon enough they were crouching by the sunken lane.
After assuring himself that he had indeed freed his idol, Dick Talbot, he introduced himself along with a little of his most recent history. The Irishman had looked pained at the revelations.
"Have you made plans for yourself?" he whispered anxiously.
"I am attempting to get abroad. I have new papers. My immediate thought was to free you. Luck was with me."
"Luck indeed. Have no fears about me, my good friend. My original destination is still secret. I will continue on, and so the quicker we depart the better. There is no guarantee the guard will remain undiscovered for long. Go on you way and take my heart-felt thanks. We will meet again in happier circumstances have no doubt. Keep the faith."
"Always," said the boy. "God go with you."
He watched while his brave mercenary hero drifted out of sight, and then made his own rapid way to the Chepstow road and then on toward the River Severn crossing. There were soldiers at the ferry crossing and, while he had taken the precaution of attaching himself to a family of Quakers, his fears had proved groundless as his papers got only the most cursory of examinations. By late afternoon he was striding down the leafy, traffic-hardened lane into Bristol. Within the hour he had located the address Idris had given him, and was soon being directed to the owner of the bustling chandlery.
The whippet-thin man he was introduced to read the letter slowly, stopping occasionally to peruse him with his pale-blue eyes.
"You must be tired nephew," he said deliberately. "Come with me."
He was fed by his new ‘uncle’s’ equally skinny but morosely- taciturn wife, who led him afterwards up a flight of rickety stairs into a loft bedroom, where the gulls marched on the timber roof like chained prisoners. He slept like a stone, waking to lances of dusty sunlight and the scratching birds.
The fragility of his position was made implicitly clear to him as soon as he was able to quiz the chandlery owner.
The apparent laxity of the ferry militia had been but a government ploy to lull any escapee into a false sense of security, the intention being to lure any fugitives unsuspectingly into port. The dockside was swarming with soldiers scrutinising the documents of all potential passengers. It would be better, he was advised, to lie low for a few weeks and not even attempt to board his designated ship.
All those half-formed plans and ideas that he had begun to instigate on his travels to the Du Baris, now took the shape of something less fluid. In the next few days they slowly hardened into firm resolve, leaving him with a cold certainty of what he knew he must do. Laying abed in his attic-room he began to plan an alternative life.
He would make no attempt to leave the country. He would carve a place for himself here at home; re-invent himself in a brand new guise. Why should he not? He was very well educated. He could read and write, had languages and was proficient in the mathematics. He also had funds, the chafing money-belt at his waist a constant reminder. He needed to become a man of commerce, he had decided, by fair means or foul, so that he would be in a position to influence the future turns of events. He would be patient and play a long game.
As casually as he could one evening, he broached the subject of business ventures to his carer taking advantage of his ‘uncles’ penchant for the sherry to which he had such easy access.
"I know what I would do if I had a few hundred to spare, which I do not, what with all the debts owed me by hither and yon businesses," he had said expansively, after putting away a few tumblers of sack. "I should invest in property. You have seen how busy this great port is during the little errands you have run for me. There is a great deal more expansion to come. Business is booming as never before. Housing will be at an absolute premium, and if they emulate London's prices or even Oxford then anyone sitting on exploitable property will make their fortune. Build quality housing is my advice, away from the docks where the affluent, the slave traders, the plantation owners and the like would prefer to reside. There is a sure fire recipe for success. Some of the better-known developers, businessmen like Sir John Wildman, have been sniffing around the town lately, always a positive sign."
He had hinted to him that he knew where he could obtain capital; family contacts and so forth, but was concerned about his youthfulness.
"An insignificant obstacle," had come the airy reply. "Money speaks all languages. I am myself acquainted with someone who would deal with a newborn babe if that child had sufficient gold coin to invest. The man is a Jew, that despicable race, one of the many to take advantage of the Protector’s reversal of the old laws banning his tribe, but in business, the truth is we are all of a muchness."
In no time, he had been introduced to the man in question, his ‘uncle’ leaving him alone as requested to cross-examine the man. The Jew had looked at him with a shrewd, appraising gaze.
"What precisely do you want?" he had asked bluntly, without preamble.
"To make as much money as quickly as possible."
"The plan suggested by your sponsor is a long term prospect. Admirable, but long term. However..."
He had shrugged suggestively.
"You say ‘as quickly as possible’. There is much profit to be made out of housing, but not the kind you envisage. The opposite end of the spectrum you might say.“
“The docks. They are expanding at an extraordinary rate. Dockside labour is pouring into the town to fill the demand. Someone sufficiently shrewd could buy up as much frontal property as possible and fill the places with as many to a room as possible. They would not complain, as many are illegal immigrants fleeing tyranny, poverty or the law. They would be more than grateful."
"That someone would find a conscience, or a sense of compassion a severe handicap. That someone would not want to weigh profit against a sense of humanity. Then there is the question of competition, which would intensify once it is perceived that the idea is a profitable one. It is not a business for gentlemanly behaviour. In short, it is a dog eat dog venture. I myself have seen the most violent of wars for the control of such territories. Savagery of the most basic kind is the inevitable outcome. I tell you this so you will have no illusions about the degree of determination that will be expected. Only the strong and the soulless survive.“
He stopped and pressed his hands together to form a contemplative pyramid, leaving the idea hovering between them like a portcullis ready for the drop.
“Is there presently a business such as you have described operating in the city?“
“None that is organised, but I have little doubt that some one, or some group will sniff out the possibilities before too long. I am well acquainted of those who would be capable of such dealings. A swift move would dissuade them of any ambitions in that direction. If I were not who I am, I would have taken it upon myself some time ago. But alas…“
He disconnected his hands and spread them in a wry shrug.
“I am confidant that I could produce some kind of blueprint, if required, that would guarantee success for an individual with the necessary tenacity and vision. All the ingredients for a successful venture are already in place, and it may be that I have been waiting for the right person to come along. What you must have, you see, what you cannot do without, is the services of an enforcer of very particular qualities. Very exacting qualities, someone who commands respect by the installation of fear. It is possible I might know of such a man. You would have to be quick however.“
“You have a name, Jew?“
“I answer to a few. Perhaps Isaacson would suit?“
“Isaacson it will be. The plan appeals to me. I see the possibilities of not only renting existing properties but the development of new constructions. Build and rent. A construction firm would suit me admirable. There is one criterion for this, Isaacson. My part in this must never be revealed to any outsider. I have no wish to be a figurehead. Funding is not a problem, and I would not quibble over your own charges, but I insist on absolute secrecy. You will be the buffer between the logistics and me. What of this enforcer?“
“The person I have in mind is at present abiding in the town jail waiting to be sentenced to a life of transportation in one of the more remote colonies. A hefty bribe would see him released into your custody, which, I am sure, would guarantee his devotion. The destruction of his criminal records would also be a part of the bargain, but you need to turn a blind eye to certain of his personal preferences, the reasons for his incarceration. It is the price you must pay for his services.“
The young figure nodded firmly.
“We are agreed on the conditions then.“
The Jew had expressed his complicity as he reacted to the youth’s forceful display of authority, and so that afternoon the funding for the venture was agreed upon and contracts exchanged.
He had, the very next day, been taken to the holding jail to see the giant, hook-handed Struan McCheyne. Some newly-found granite heart within him helped him show no reaction to the hellish degradation he had been exposed to within the prison walls, and a massive effort of will had been necessary to stop him cringing in terror when he had been introduced to the hulking figure of the brutal monster who was to work for him. Coldly and emotionlessly, he had presented his proposition to what he could only think of as evil cloaked in a human form, and was rewarded with a pledge of loyalty that startled him with it’s apparently fervent acceptance.
From that moment on it was understood that only the Jew and McCheyne would know of his participation in the newly fledged concern, and so, without further prognostication they had begun the business under the bland banner of, ‘Western Developments’. He was content to leave it to McCheyne to recruit the necessary man-power, arranging to meet him periodically at Isaacson’s premises for his reports and to give him his instructions.
The venture almost foundered in the first week, starkly high-lighting the fragility of his position.
An errand on behalf of his `uncle' had taken him into the centre of the docklands. A noisy commotion had caught his attention in which a group of soldiers were manhandling someone off a recently docked ship. His curiosity had been sufficiently piqued to ask a bystander the cause of the furore. He was shocked to be informed that the man was a Jesuit priest caught being smuggled in on a foreign trader. He had been further shocked later, when he had brought the subject up, to be told candidly that the chandlery acted as the secret conduit for insurgent priests on their way to other parts of the Country, and that he would have been temporarily sharing his attic-room with that particular Jesuit. He did not believe that Idris Howey would be so lackadaisical.
Appalled by his discovery, he had acted with an unhesitating decisiveness. He had informed his `uncle' of his immediate intention to try and leave the Country from another port, possibly Plymouth, where he told him he had some friendly contacts.
He had packed, said his goodbyes, and then secretly taken a room on the recommendation of the Jew in the mazy depths of the docks area. His intuitive response to the sense of imminent danger had been vindicated when, only two days later, he had watched as soldiers raided the chandlery and arrested his `uncle' and spouse, along with several other suspects, as well as confiscating a mound of pamphlets and other reading material. The captured priest, he had concluded, had proved to be even less resolute than he had anticipated him to be, leaving him under no illusions that his own assumed identity would very shortly be common knowledge. He trusted that, with luck, the information about his false destination would end in a cold trail. He now had every reason to make a determined start on his venture.
Over the months that followed he learned how to adapt to his furtive existence and live in the shadows. It gave him ample opportunity to scrutinise the way that McCheyne operated, and allowed him to assimilate the calibre of the lieutenants he chose to run his gangs. It was rough work, needing harsh action, much of it, he saw, un-necessary but which served as a stark warning to others. Only one of the villains was worthy of his attention, as he watched the bully boys at work, breaking bones and venting their cruel spleen on any of the down-trodden women and howling babies that got in their way, because of the obvious efficiency and leadership qualities he displayed. His name, he learned, was Twm Shenkins, a fellow Welshman who had been incarcerated in Bristol's vile prison at the same time as McCheyne, who had recruited him as a fellow traveller on finding him co-incidentally released. He marked him down as someone who could merit promotion when the time came. Within a year, through ruthless enforcement, he had purchased every yard of waterfront property, and was expanding his empire by building more and more dwellings to satisfy the burgeoning population. Any opposition to his monopolistic venture was dealt with by the fearful hook-handed gang-leader and his violence loving cohorts.
He rewarded this unflinching loyalty, by allowing him cart blanche to operate freely, with the sole proviso that any of his debauched excesses did not get to the ears of the law. Only once in that time was his position threatened to any serious degree.
He had been frequenting a handy dockside chop-house one afternoon, when he spotted an ex-employee of the chandlery, Rueben Staunton, who slyly effected not to recognise him. He had sensed danger immediately. Staunton definitely knew him and had obviously been cleared of any participation in the yard's subversive activities, which probably marked him down as a government informant. He would certainly know his name, and possibly something of his background.
He could afford no chances. This was McCheyne’s opportunity to repay his master, and also presented him with the chance to compromise the Welshman by making sure he was a party to the ensuing crime. He had not even bothered to quiz his man, only hours later, on the successful outcome of his task, but did suggest that Shenkins be given a more prominent role in the organisation.
Fresh papers through one of the Jew's underworld contacts, another Jew, gave him yet another identity and the opportunity to become known as a property developer by following through the original advice offered by the imprisoned chandler. He began to circulate in more salubrious circles, using his innate, aristocratic demeanour as a passport to society in the affluent areas away from the docks. His smart business acumen brought him the recognition he sought as an entrepreneur of note, allowing him to form associations and partnerships where he thought politic, which allowed him at long last to put into place the next stage of his plan.
In the late autumn of '56, he took McCheyne with him to Cardiff in Glamorganshire, leaving Shenkins to take temporary charge of the Bristol operation.
His intention, he had made it widely known, was to gauge the propensity for housing ventures in that tiny port which, to his eyes had a bigger potential for expansion than the other busier wharves along the Bristol Channel. What he sought instead, however, was access to old friends and acquaintances and the information for which he yearned. He used his time in the area to make certain discrete enquiries among known sympathisers, enabling him before too long to relay a message to Clarendon, Charles Stuart's Chancellor in exile on the Continent, identifying himself in bona fide fashion by using the name given him by Idris Howey those long months ago.
Not many weeks later he received a reply, with the heart-felt news that the Irishman Dick Talbot had indeed got away and was safely ensconced with his great friend James Stuart, brother to Charles. It was the inspiration he needed to start conspiring once again.
A safe address where messages could be exchanged was mandatory, and he had not the slightest doubt about its location, one that would allow him to satisfactorily expunge the heartache and guilt he had borne since leaving Wales and arriving in England. He had his new identity, he was getting progressively wealthy, he had acquired a newly found expertise and, vitally, he had a willing assassin who obeyed him without question.
His only setback came when, without explanation, Twm Shenkins decided to terminate his employment. He had anticipated incorporating the Welshman into his future schemes, seeing him as a counter-point to McCheyne's gross animality, and this constituted a severe blow to his all-round plans.
It was some time before he was able to consolidate once again to his satisfaction.
Then, at last, he was able to slot into place the final piece in his secret jigsaw. He knew precisely what had to be done, executing his plan with ruthless precision using the grim talents of his cold-eyed killer.
By the turn of the year `57, his plans to connive for the return of the rightful King to the throne of England were under way.*
H A F O D
It was mid-morning when we stumbled across the roughly- butchered carcass and the shallow pit where the dismembered joints had been spit-roasted. All the signs pointed to three perhaps four men, and no attempt had been made to conceal the evidence of the stolen calf.
The still-warm ashes on this early autumn day suggested a departure of no more than a couple of hours and a direction that pointed to a heading along the ridge-way track. By taking the much shorter, less obvious route and with a hasty resolve, William and I expected to intercept them when their road wandered down to the river ford.
We had no doubts that the group we expected to meet would be the guilty party, as this was a rarely- travelled part of the valleys. Their free attitude also proclaimed carelessness for the law, which was dangerously indicative of the climate currently abroad in the country.