Good day to you my friends.
My interest in the events that became the saga of the Dangerous Chimes of Goldcaster was first aroused some years ago when I was browsing in the Stacks of the London Library and inadvertently nudged a copy of Wainwright’s guide to the Western Fells off a shelf to tumble to the floor at my feet. A rather pedantic, disapproving, elderly, gentlemen grunted loudly and scowled at me. “Sorry!” I whispered and got a dismissive shake of the head in response. I bent down to retrieve the volume and as I gripped it a somewhat tattered yellowing newspaper cutting fell out. I quickly snatched it up, and was pleased to see that my fellow scholar had not noticed what had happened. I stashed my find within my folder of working notes, continued my browsing, and very naughtily left the library without mentioning my discovery. (You will be reassured to learn that when I had copied the cutting at home I later returned it.)
The cutting was rather ragged and had evidently been carelessly torn from the newspaper. It consisted only of a headline and a few lines wide beneath:
The Fartledale Post and Intelligencer 28th September 1783
Pirates Attack Cumberland Town!
Terrible Scenes at Goldcaster Harbour
Children Kidnapped and Town Stormed
Populace flee to the forest Church Plundered
Doctor Johnson and Mr Boswell feared missing
Rumours of Witchcraft Returning to the North
Fears of hurricanes and floods…
From then on I became almost obsessed with the study of the events and those involved in this intriguing chapter of eighteenth century history.
But now let us to slip away to the west coast of what then was simply Cumberland, just over two hundred years ago…
A few miles south of Goldcaster, on an island two miles from the mainland, a rather odd couple sat in the early evening sunshine on a bench outside a hut.
‘You are surprised to see me in a good humour sir?’
‘Indeed I am. You appear uncommonly sanguine sir. We have been most cruelly kidnapped, and how a ransom is to be obtained for us and our safe deliverance engineered I know not.
‘But we are fortunate, are we not, in that the Captain determined on that course of action and so saved our lives. That ill favoured Quartermaster Speke would have slit our throats.’
‘But we are now here marooned, a situation as desperate as any in either of our lives.’
‘Forgive me sir, but you forget that I have starved in a garret for want of promised patronage. I have been stranded in salons of shallow women, beset by fools and unable with honour to escape without giving offence, and I, when alone and without support, have endured poor Goldsmith in full flood of verbiage for hour upon hour on days when his brain has been apparently untenanted. Sir, I am familiar with desperate situations.’
‘But here we might die.’
‘But my dear friend, we must die somewhere must we not? And here will do as well as any other place. The prospect is most pleasant, rich farmland and grand mountains on the mainland to the east, the lowering sun on the silver sea to the west. We have each other’s company and if I am to expire I shall be content for you to see me off. I would have liked to bid farewell to all of my acquaintance, but at least they will be spared the duty of bidding farewell to me. And we may not die just yet. We have adequate victuals, we have fresh well water, we have dry lodgings.’
‘But sir, our captors will return from wherever they are bound and take us off.’
‘That was their expressed intention sir, but we know not where they are bound nor what their immediate aims are. And Sir Jasper was surprised and concerned to learn from us about the naval initiative and so may simply abandon us. But there are other considerations to raise our spirits.’
‘What considerations pray?’
‘Those contributing towards the possibility of escape. Look to the south east. What see you?’
‘Why… far, far off I see a sail. But do not raise your hopes upon that vessel, I beseech you. We have no means of attracting their attention and they are undoubtedly bound from one harbour to another, with no occasion to visit this or any other island.’
‘I assure you sir that I would have shared your reasoning, had I not been studying that sail for the past quarter of an hour with the consequence that my contentment has increased in direct proportion to the growth of your melancholy bewilderment at my condition. When first I spied that sail it was but the tiniest of triangulations. It has grown larger and yet larger. The deduction is undeniable – that boat is heading this way. And what do you see when you look about you within our intended abode? Why, you see a wood burning stove with recent ash; you see iron cooking pans, pewter flagons, and wooden plates; you see creels and lobster pots and line and netting, not decayed, not detritus, but much of it in fair, much in very good condition. This, sir, is a fisherman’s hut, and if I mistake not fishermen approach. Hence my good humour. Hope is one thing sir, the strongest of probabilities is another.’
Thank you for sharing with me these moments with Doctor Johnson and James Boswell. Next week we shall consider what I found during my research about their adventure.
Author of Dangerous Chimes, read more about Michael Macauley over here.