She could taste the sea on her lips as she drove her Hudson Super Six towards Summertown, Nova Scotia on a day that only God could have made. Amy and Ben, her grandchildren, whooped and hollered as they stood on the automobile’s back seat, arms flapping wildly in the wind. “We’re eagles, Grandma, look we’re flying”
“No, we ain’t” claimed Ben “We’re areo-ma-planes”.
“You children can be whatever or whoever you damn well want to be, always remember that” said Sadie talking out one side of her mouth, the other side being the occupied territory of a Turkish cigarette; Murad being her current favourite.
“Don’t say ‘damn’ Grandma, it ain’t right”.
“She can if she’s a wanting”, gasped Ben through the rushing air, “I can too, Amy, you see if I can’t – Damn! Damn! Damn!”
“You’ll go to hell Ben, I swear you will” Amy worried far too much about other people going to hell.
The large red automobile whisked through the outskirts of town throwing up large masses of dust. White laundry didn’t remain clean as Sadie’s machine did its worst along the potted roads but there was no one to object – the streets were deserted.
She moved the cigarette to the other side of her mouth just as her big automobile screeched around the corner into Main Street.
“Shit”, the word escaped from Sadie’s mouth.
“Shit” repeated Ben.
“Ben” said Amy, worrying about his soul again.
In front of them stood a wall of people, all facing the other way and the big red Hudson was just about to mow them down.
Sadie braked just as hard as she had been cussing, throwing Amy on to the floor and Ben straight over the seat with the boy laughing all the way. Now with a little luck and providence those at the back of the crowd stepped aside, letting the automobile slide through to the front. It came to rest in the middle of Lincoln Street just as the soldier boys were marching past. They had to work their way around the car and pass Ben who was standing on the hood saluting, one or two of them returned the salute; this was Summertown, 1918 and the men had finally come home from overseas.
“In no time at all your father will be home too, he can’t stay in Paree forever, although lord knows he’s tried” added Sadie quietly. One of the older soldiers at the back of the parade waved her through the crowd and on a whim she leaned out of the car and kissed him; if she couldn’t kiss her son John then this boy would have to do.
It must have been all of fifty years since Sadie first came here and today was to be the final trip to this peculiar little town at the edge of the world; this time she had brought John’s kids. In the old days she would bring her husband but now he was way too sick to travel and so she normally came up this way alone.
Sadie had promised herself that this was to be her last time and that she would say farewell to The Ice Ghosts forever, someone else would have to remember.
It was a long hot drive from New York City to the little town that clung on to a continent. Summertown’s one hotel, The Prince of Wales, looked proudly over the bay and surprisingly little had changed in it over the years. The hotel had opened its doors in 1860 to celebrate His Royal Highnesses’ visit to Nova Scotia but the external wood was now in need of a fresh lick of paint but just like an old friend, it always wore a warm smile on its face.
As the Hudson parked up alongside several other automobiles there was a noticeable swell blowing in from the Banks; a big storm was coming and forcing Sadie to consider waiting until the following morning to visit the stones.
Like all the other fixtures and fittings in the hotel, Umbrosia was still here, still laughing, and still known as Old Umbrosia even although she was younger than Sadie.
“Well I declare it warms my heart to see you missus and you’ve brought the little chill’ins this time. They sure look like ya, they surely do missus” then she laughed all the way up the stairs like an angel had whispered the funniest joke in the world into her ear.
“Here we are missus, your usual room nice and clean as always” Umbrosia managed to hold the luggage, retrieve the keys from her pocket and open the door all at the same time. She needed to give the door a slight nudge with her shoulder which had her laughing wildly all over again.
“Just been newly painted, we couldn’t get the paint during the war but the boss lady insisted it be ready for missus Sadie and here we are”
Umbrosia dumped the bags on the floor and sat on the edge of the bed. “Just needs to catch my breath missus ‘cause Old Umbrosia just keeps getting older. Now what’s your name young un’?”
“Well Amy, you sure is unusually pretty, you sure is, and is this your brother? What you called boy?”
“That little urchin called Old Umbrosia ‘Mam’, did you hear him missus? I do declare” And with that Old Umbrosia laughed her way out the door and slammed it behind her.
The bedroom was just as Sadie remembered it, the one room that never changed and the thought of it always kept her warm. Each night as she nursed her husband Alex through the bad times, she closed her eyes and dreamt of this room.
“It’s getting dark, Grandma”
Amy watched from the window as the frothy sea horses were being chased on to the shore by the gathering storm.
The first lightning bolt startled the little girl who began to let tears flow down her cheeks.
“Come away from the window Darling, come to Grandma”
Her granddaughter rushed to the safety of her Grandma’s arms.
“How ‘bout you Ben, you want a hug?”
“I ain’t scared Grandma”
“You ain’t scared, huh? Then maybe you can fetch Old Umbrosia and tell her to bring up some lamps”
Ben, like the man his father would expect him to be, walked along the corridor slowly until the next crash drowned the hallway in white light and as no one was watching, Ben found a place to hide.
By supper time the storm had continued to grow in strength and ferocity so Umbrosia had delivered cheese, milk and wine to tide them over. Sadie and Amy were sitting together on the big bed eating the last of the Monterey Jack while Ben sat grownup like, by the door.
“Don’t you want to join us Ben? I think we’ll be safe, I honestly do”
“No thank you kindly, Grandma”
But just as she finished talking, the biggest flash and crash in the history of storms found Ben sitting next to Amy and Grandma.
"Well then, ain’t this cosy, ain’t this real cosy? What shall we do then children? Amy?”
“A story Grandma, please”
“What about you Ben, do you want a story?”
“A boy’s one, not a girl’s one”.
“Well let me see, I could tell you how I came to this country and why I come to Summertown every year”.
“You came from far, far, away didn’t you Grandma?” Amy was proud that she knew this fact.
“I did indeed” said Sadie, kissing her beautiful little granddaughter on the forehead.”Tell you what, let’s close the curtains and hunker down”.
When they’d made themselves comfortable and Sadie had built up the roaring log fire, they all sat close on the bed and readied themselves for their Grandmother’s story.
“Truly, it was all so, so long ago but I always try my best to remember everything and everyone, just as it should be.
“The year we are talking about, 1868 was so long ago that your Mom and Dad weren’t even born. I had just turned fourteen years of age and I lived in the town of my birth, Greenock on the west coast of Scotland. I was without any word of a lie a wild child but I had a bunch of friends, The Nelson Street Gang as we called ourselves. Apart from me, there was Will, he was sixteen and the leader, there was Alex and Rory, the twins, they were thirteen years old and although they lived in Glasgow they would travel the twenty miles to come to the town for the day. James was much older, I think he said he was about twenty years old and it was he who came up with the idea that changed our lives. James had a pal John Paul or Pauley, as we called him, who would also have been about sixteen and it was he who gave us the name of a ship.
“It was a game that many of us were involved in, a game of stowing away aboard a ship and then revealing ourselves at the last minute as the vessel was about to leave the Firth of Clyde; that, my darling children, was the river I grew up beside.
“My mother, Isabel, was not an unkind woman but she did have to love and care for seven other children, so each of us was overlooked from time to time and if I disappeared for a few days it would not cause her a great upset. Will’s idea was to see how far we could travel without being discovered but it was the older boy, James, that sealed our fate, he wanted to work on the railroads of North America and knew of a ship that would get him there. The vessel was known as the Arran and its first mate was a friend of Pauley’s father, so even if we were found quickly Pauley felt we’d be well looked after.
“We made our move when old Dreamer, the harbour master, had fallen asleep from his daily rum potion and the crew were out in the streets of the old town. We weren’t the only ones that night looking for a ship to board. I reckon this happened most evenings at the harbour. The crews weren’t too concerned as they knew they would catch most of the stowaways in time and those they didn’t, well they would be set to work.
“Our ship was headed for Quebec, although we were unsure where that was, it sounded far away and that was good enough for us.
“I, James, Pauley, Alex and the twins managed to find our way into a cargo hold and lower ourselves behind the rope store. We’d bumped into five others, three boys and two girls also boarding the Arran that night but they had made their way to the stern of the ship. Little did we realise at the time that they would be the lucky ones.
“Between the movements of the vessel and the rancid smell of the ropes I felt I was going to be sick and found sleep hard to come by. I heard the crew return just before dawn and the Arran set sail soon afterwards. The sun was shining through the spaces in the deck and so the hold warmed up fast. Within an hour they were calling for the hatches to be battened down, this is when the crew do their final search before heading out to the high seas. I could see the boys holding their breaths as our area was searched but no one thought to look behind the ropes. ‘I’ve found some’ I heard one of the crew call out but it turned out it was the five from the stern. They were transferred on to the pilot cutter and that was that, we, on the other hand, were bound for some foreign land called Quebec.
“I heard someone call that we had passed ‘Paddy’s milestone’ and that we were heading out into the Irish Sea. Will felt it was time to make a move and since the first mate knew Pauley, Will suggested he should go up with him. What was the worst that could happen to us? We would be made to work to the next port, a life on the open seas then a trip home.
“Things,however, didn’t work out like that, the boys had been gone only a few minutes when we were all being hauled up to the deck. I knew almost immediately that something was very wrong. Standing next to Pauley was a man I will remember for the rest of my life, his name was James Kerr and he was the first mate of the Arran and probably a drinking pal of Beelzebub himself. He came from Lochranza and was thirty one years of age at the time. The skipper was Andrew Watt, twenty eight and married to Kerr’s sister. By all accounts, Andrew Watt was known as a kind and fair man but whatever hold Kerr had over him had poisoned his good nature.
“I don’t want to scare you kids, suffice to say that life aboard the Arran was far from heaven. We were beaten regularly and given only water for days. When the ship’s cook threw the potato peelings over the side, James and Will jumped over to catch those pieces that were stuck on the side of the ship. Some days we had one piece of peeling each. As the eldest those two were whipped ever day, only Pauley escaped the cruelty. Some of the crew tried to smuggle dried meats to us but paid for it by being whipped in front of us. On other days Captain Watt tried to dampen Kerr’s anger but one look from the first mate and Watt would fold. I will always wonder what he had over him.
“Days passed and the air grew colder, much colder. Sometimes Will was tied to the mainsail without a shirt and left there for hours as ice formed on the sails. Then that day came – the ship stopped. All around the Arran was an ice pack which had stuck the vessel solidly. On that day Kerr ordered Will, James, Alex, Rory and I off the ship on to the ice floe but Watt countered this decision and told us to return to the Arran; perhaps his conscience or God made him reconsider but the next day he was back on the devil's side.
“Pauley watched as we were marched back down the gangplank on to the ice floe again. Watt told us that the provisions on the Arran would not support all six of us as well as the crew. He went on to say that another ship, The Dark Shadow, was stuck about a mile to the north of the Arran and would accept us with all haste. How or why he knew this did not strike me at the time. Pauley had tears on his face and the smirking Kerr had his arm around the boy as we stood on the ice. ’God bless’ was Watt’s final words. I will always remember those words.
“To add to the pain both the twins had travelled in their bare feet and that was all they had to stand on in the ice. Will had been given a knife from one of the kinder crew members and had succeeded in hiding it in his turned-up trouser bottoms. As you may have guessed no such ship as The Dark Shadow existed or at least we never saw it. By the time we realised this fact we had lost sight of the Arran and had no idea if we were five, fifty or five hundred miles from landfall and perhaps Kerr had expected us all to expire.
“As darkness fell James made each of us tie a piece of clothing to one another, so that if the ice broke in the night we could at least keep together. We huddled closely and with God's grace made it through to the morning.
“Of the twins, Rory was not faring well and the frost bite was starting to blacken his toes. As we continued to walk into the white wilderness, the ice began to break up. Sometimes there were small gaps filled with water that had to be jumped. All of us made the other side except for Rory who fell in and it took all our energy to pull him out again. Alex tried to carry him but it was almost impossible and Rory began to fall behind. When Rory fell in once more we pulled him out but we all felt we had no energy reserves left. He asked to remain to catch his breath and we moved silently on, even Alex didn’t look back but I heard ,as I’m sure we all did, Rory slip back off the ice and into the water for the last time; a small part of me died that day.
“As it grew dark towards the end of the second day we saw a bonfire neither from a ship nor a lighthouse but from a building on a distant shore, the problem was that the ice stopped about a mile from the safety of a landfall. We called, shouted and screamed but no one called back so Will decided we needed to make our own way across the water, it was now almost dark and if the ice broke we would not survive. Will used his knife to cut blocks of ice for each of us, we could sit astride them and paddle our way across. Being the heaviest, Alex and James tried first and it worked, the blocks floated and supported their weight. After another two blocks had been cut Alex and I took to the open seas. Will felt the three of us should start out and send for help when we got to safety, he would cut one final block of ice and follow us over.
“James drifted off to the left and I could only hear his voice grow fainter. Three times I fell off the ice and it was only with Alex’s strength and help that I survived. Somehow James made landfall first and attracted the attention of the farmer who was tending the bonfire. He and his sons cast a rowing boat out to sea and collected me and Alex but no matter how hard they looked, and believe me they did, all through the night and the next day and the following night, no trace of Will was ever found.
“When the farmer’s wife found out about Rory and Will she told us not to worry, she said the Ice Ghosts would take care of them, they take care of everyone lost out there and in turn our lost boys would look after the others. I didn't know what others she meant.
“A couple of days later James announced he was moving on and would head to the nearest town for a train. That turned out to be Summertown; we had been washed ashore at Nova Scotia. He was going on to Philadelphia to meet with an uncle who worked on the Pennsylvania railroad, we never heard from James again.
“When the farmer told the locals about the Arran, the council contacted Quebec and the good folks of Greenock. When we recovered most of our health Alex and I returned home to Scotland by means of a schooner skippered by one of Summertown’s great and good, he had heard of our plight and wanted to help.
“News had already hit my hometown before we arrived and there were many at the quayside to welcome us, including the mother of Alex and Rory who was unaware of her son’s demise.
“When the Arran finally returned to Greenock both Kerr and Watt were arrested, initially for their own safety as the crowd were ready to lynch them. They both stood trial at Glasgow High Court and were sentenced to eighteen months in prison. On their release, Kerr went back to sea but I hear tell that Captain Watt died soon after in Pensacola, Florida.
“I married Alex, your Granddad, and we moved to New York City in the summer of 1873.The following year I promised I would return to Summertown to remember absent friends and to thank the farmer and his family. I collected two stones on the beach, one for Rory and one for Will, and I laid them on a rock. Each year, your Granddad and I would return and lay more stones in remembrance and so my lovely grandchildren that is what I hope you shall help me do tomorrow”.
By now Ben and Amy were fast asleep and Sadie wasn’t sure how much of the story they’d heard but it didn’t matter, it felt right telling it even if it was only to the lamps. Sadie put the kids to bed and took a look out of the window. The storm had passed and all was right with the world again.
In the morning Sadie, Amy and Ben went to the beach early. The sun was shining and the shore was chock full of souvenirs from the storm. Sadie went to pick a stone from the beach when she suddenly changed her mind.
“Ben, Amy why don’t you kids bring me a stone each”. The children loved the game and Amy returned with what she thought was the most beautiful and Ben with the biggest stone.
“Now come with me” as Sadie guided them to a pile of stones on the ridge.
“What are these?” asked Amy.
“These are for the Ice Ghosts, ain’t they Grandma?” smiled Ben.
“I heard Grandma, I’ll tell you about it later Amy” said her brother then both of them ran off.
Sadie laid the two stones on top of the others and was about to say a short prayer when she was interrupted by a scream.
“Grandma, come quickly, Amy’s stepped on a jellyfish”, Sadie, whispered ‘goodbye’ to the stones and knew her life now rested with her family and the future and that the past was the past.
The Nova Scotia summers came and went and the stones lay undisturbed for many years, then one sunny morning a man and his son walked towards the pile of stones and each placed a rock upon it.
The man smiled at his son, “That’s it, Rory my boy, that’s it” then Ben took his son’s hand and led him back to the car.
2. Captain Kidd And The Greenock Road
He never slept.
Or at least that was the impression he gave and it had served him well throughout his life. He might only have been on this earth seventeen summers but he was brave, respected by his men and ready to face any foe. Everything he did was in the pursuit of treasure and in the search for those great adventures.
He was Billy to his friends, at least the small number whom he trusted, but to his enemies and his crew he was Captain William Kidd; seadog, pirate, thief and killer.
Now he was resting with his eyes closed and his legs raised on the deck of the Greenock Road. This was his vessel and it carried the name of the town that was etched on his heart - and soon the ship would have a new worthy cargo, a passenger, a man by the name of Archibald Campbell known to world as the Earl of Argyll. The Earl’s family would pay very handsomely, very handsomely indeed to have their own rascal returned in one piece.
There was a shot across the bow of the Greenock Road and then another which hit the stern, knocking Kidd flying back and sending wood splinters into the eyes of those close. He crawled to the edge and tried to look through his eye-piece but there was too much smoke. His first thoughts were of the excise men but then he saw the flag, it was the dogs who normally lay off of Tobermory and their ship, the Black Death.
“We’re trapped Cap’n, there’s them at our stern and that monster over there.” One-eyed Harry always saw the worst of things.
One-eyed was right ‘though, there were only two ways out of this. He couldn’t outrun the larger vessel but maybe, with the luck of the devil, he could find a passage through the monster called Corryvreckan. That would allow them to take shelter in a small cove at the back of the isle of Scarba and let their troubles pass.
Corryvreckan was said to be the largest whirlpool in the known world and everyone could tell you bad stories about the place. With the seas being at a flood tide, he could hear the roar even now and they were at least a half hour’s sail from the eye. The waves spread out like a web and could easily reach up to thirty feet or more. This was going to be a ride that would see them safely home or take every last one of them to hell.
When times were hard, which they always seemed to be these days, Kidd had raided the Black Death on more than one occasion. He’d wait until many of its crew were ashore and then his gang would steal whatever they could. He’d thought about taking the Black Death itself but he didn’t have the men to get it safely away.
It meant that if they caught him it wouldn’t just be death, it would be a long slow agonising one for him and his crew - this made the dangerous transit through Corryvreckan the more attractive option.
Kidd lived by one philosophy and that was, he knew he had the ability to do anything. He did it and he succeeded. If you thought of failure you were half way there as his father, the old minister, used to tell him every day of his early life. So he was going to take his ship through the Corryvreckan at flood tide and he was going to survive.
Those on the Black Death knew these waters just as well as Kidd and perhaps even better, but Kidd was certain that they had not sailed the Corry’ at flood otherwise he would have heard of it – and what would be the point? All you had to do was wait for slack water and pass safely through but there was not enough time for that, so he had to gamble on the fact they wouldn’t follow him.
He sailed the Greenock Road around to the east towards the isle of Jura as this avoided the Pinnacle, a rock-stack that lay just below the surface and one of the reasons for the Corry's existence.
Looking over the stern, Kidd could see that the Black Death was gaining on him and despite the turbulence in the water the larger ship fired another cannonball which luckily only hit a corner. There wasn’t much damage but old Master Curry, the lookout, was now heading for the bottom of the sea.
“They can’t follow us through here. They will not follow us.” Kidd shouted to the men.
Tweeky Adams shouted back “I don’t think they can hear you Cap’n. Look”
Sure enough they were coming up fast and the waves were growing in size, it looked like neither ship was going to make it. Then one of the sea gods whispered in Kidd’s ear and a smile lit up his face.
“About. Hard about”
“If we go through the Corry’ on this heading we’ll capsize anyway” cried Kidd through the increasing maelstrom and yet he was still smiling – he was loving this. So about turn they did, causing the Greenock Road to sweep out towards Jura. The Black Death however, being a large vessel, shot past with a very surprised crew all staring at that last manoeuvre of Kidd’s.
“How, in all that's God given, did he do that?” shouted Hair-lip Hansa who was hanging upside down from the poop deck of the Death.
That was the final sighting of the Black Death as it disappeared into the whirlpool and into folklore. Songs would be sung and stories would be told of the ghostly figures who haunted the Corryvreckan.
Kidd was just happy but not surprised to have escaped once again.
They waited until slack water to see if there were any survivors but not even a stick of wood floated to the top, the vessel must have sunk without trace and in doing so taking all hands.
Kidd had a smile to himself then ordered the men to set sail for Saint Agnes’ Bay, a small inlet to the south of Inveraray on Loch Fyne.
They could wait there for the Earl’s ship, the one taking him to Edinburgh by a route around the top of Scotland. This sea trip was safer for the Earl than taking the coach and horses through Glen Douglas and down the Rest-and-be-thankful where bandits lay in wait for any, and all, well-healed traveller. Very few ever made it to Arrochar alive.
Both Kidd and Samson, the blackest of the dogs and the Cap’n and leader of the Tobermory gang had played a waiting game with the Earl. They had both steered well clear of attacking the ship, as each time they did so the military on board would have doubled. So to let the Earl think that he had safe passage was to have the opposite effect. The Earl had fewer men on board each trip, leaving him wide open for that one attack, the one that Kidd planned to carry out today.
Kidd had another Greenock lad working in the kitchens of Inveraray castle who knew by the food he was being asked to prepare, that a voyage by the Earl was imminent. The Greenock Road had to be moving at speed to attack the Earl’s ship so it needed advance warning of the movements.
Kidd had another Greenock lad working in the kitchens of Inveraray castle who knew by the food he was being asked to prepare, that a voyage by the Earl was imminent. The Greenock Road had to be moving at speed to attack the Earl’s ship so it needed advance warning of the movements.
Kidd and the kitchen boy had rehearsed their moves several times, each time Kidd would let the Earl’s ship pass safely. Kidd has several pigeons on board, some for eating and some had been trained to fly to the castle by the Earl’s staff. They were used to send messages back to Inveraray as the ship sailed around the coast. The kitchen boy had stolen some of them and they had been passed on to Kidd.
When Kidd was sitting in St. Agnes’ Bay he would place a small blue ring around one of the pigeon’s leg then release it. The boy would always watch for pigeons returning, if one had a blue ring, he knew that Kidd was waiting.
When the Earl’s ship, the Queen Margaret, was ready to set sail, the boy would get his father to fire a shot high above the woods of Loch Fyne. It could be heard way over towards St Agnes’ Bay. No one had ever put the shot and the ship’s departure together as nothing ever happened.
This time they were ready, the Greenock Road had a full set of sails and was heading off down Loch Fyne, all the time gathering useful knots. The Queen Margaret rounded the rocky head just as Greenock Road’s one cannon fired on her, then came along side.
It was a quick and clever manoeuvre from Kidd that found the crew of the Margaret completely overwhelmed. The pirates boarded the ship and the Earl was tied and stowed within thirty minutes. The few military men who were on the vessel were either put to the sword or thrown overboard. Normally Kidd did this on the high seas when there was nowhere for them to swim to but the speed and success of this kidnap had pleased him, he was willing to let some of them go.
The plan was to take the Earl to a small island near Rum and hold up there a few days, word would be sent back to the mainland regarding the ransom.
When the crew had taken what they needed from the Queen Margaret it was set ablaze, mainly to let the good folks of Argyll know what had just taken place.
The Earl and Kidd dined together that evening and found each other’s company agreeable. Kidd even mentioned that in another life the two of them might have become friends. They drank to that point several times and to a few more besides.
When the Earl, who insisted that Kidd call him Archibald, finally collapsed at the table, the Captain went above to take in some sea air and think about things.For instance, he knew that someday soon he would spread his young wings and head for a far flung place like New York City - stolen from the Dutch by the English and most definitely a place he could own, but until then the waters of the West were his hunting ground.
Was that a flicker of light he could see on the Port side? It looked almost like a ship. The sky went dark once more and although he was usually sharp eyed he felt the brandy had perhaps taken its toll.
But there it was again but this time he could see it wasn’t a ship, it was where they were headed in fact. It was the little village of Cancarn a pirate haven especially as far Captain William Kidd was concerned, they loved him there but now the place was ablaze.
The Captain called for all hands on deck, the sooner they made Cancarn, the sooner they could save what was left of it, that included his woman, Isabel, a bonnie lass of sixteen.
By the time they berthed and headed for shore the sun was already up and they could see that the town was now only a shell, there was smoke rising everywhere.
Cancarn was a ruin.
When they landed One-eyed Harry ran ahead for he too had a woman in port, Rose. She was the sister of Isabel and both sisters lived at the village pub.
There wasn’t much left of the place and in what was once the corner of the bar was Old Jake, now a shrivelled frightened old man.
Kidd had left the Earl back on the ship with most of his crew on the slim chance that this was a trap. Although he was sure that the King’s men could not have heard the news about what had happened at Inveraray and then crossed here so fast. No, this was the work of someone else.
And his question was answered when One-eyed Harry carried Old Jake back.
“He says this were all Samson’s doing with the help of those on the Black Death.”
“He’s sure it was the Black Death?”
“Swears his life on it, and they’ve taken the women – all of them – you’ll get them back when he gets the Earl.”