Photo of treasure map and coins by Mastertux for Pixabay
Photo of treasure map and coins by Mastertux for Pixabay

Flash Fiction: Blue Plums

“Officers from both Rye and Hastings dared to search out a gang of 30 armed men with 50 horses who had been seen heading inland through Iden, north of Rye. The officers caught up with the smuggling convoy at Stonechurch . . . but were disarmed and threatened with pistols ready cocked and held to their heads. They were forced to walk with the party for the next five miles on the road toward the smugglers’ headquarters at Groombridge. They were finally released near Lamberhurst and given back their weapons (now unserviceable), and later reported that the leaders called themselves Old Joll, Toll, The Miller, Yorkshire George, Nasty Face and Towzer.” (p. 71)

Dear Eliza,

My dearest darling, by now the news that I am safely returned to Hastings despite our trouble at Stonechurch will surely have made its way to you. It is only but a fortnight until we will be together yet in this letter, I will ask you to be the solemn witness of my own account of the kidnapping, for I’m fearful to share it with anyone else lest I be thought mad. But share it I must. The account of our travail as related in the papers does not tell the whole story.

You do know that I am not mad, don’t you, Eliza?

It’s true enough that a gang of armed men on horseback had been seen heading inland through Iden. Templeton had been sent by his constable to interview witnesses in Rye, but they had all told him the same curious story. Though the men were seen heading inland each night, no one had ever seen them heading back out toward the coast.

It had been arranged that Templeton and I would wait for the convoy in the carriage alley alongside the Red Lion Pub in Stonechurch. We had intended to covertly follow them back to Groombridge where it was thought they headquartered. Though no one knew of our plan but the two of us and our constables, a small gang from the convoy surprised us in that alley as if they had been sure we’d be there.

But these chilling events weren’t the worst of it, I tell you. Though their guns gleamed in the moonlight well enough, and I could clearly hear the clicks of cocked pistols, I have trouble even now believing what I had seen and heard. For when I attempted to take control of the situation, my hand found no body to shove causing me to lose my balance and fall right through the figure into the dirt-covered cobblestones beneath me.

Our weapons surrendered, we were then forced to walk for what seemed like two maybe three hours, with pistols held to our heads as gravel and dirt crunched underfoot. The men chattered incessantly, telling bawdy jokes, and recalling exploits. We learned at least a few of their names – Old Joll, Toll, The Miller, Yorkshire George, Nasty Face, and Towzer. Eliza, you can’t imagine all the thoughts swirling through my head. Of course, I pictured your face for comfort, wishing I could be back in your arms. But this was quickly melted away by the fear of what had transpired in that alley and the uncertainty of where we were heading. At one point I laughed out loud at the absurdity of being kidnapped by men who possibly weren’t actually there.

Eliza, when we approached the bridge at the River Grom, we were stopped dead in our tracks by the sight of the convoy disappearing across the water. One by one the figures dissipated into the mist like smoke from a bonfire rising into the night. Templeton hadn’t noticed me spying him. He was shivering and pale and he sported a growing dark streak running down his right trouser leg. As for me, I tried to speak but found my voice ineffective. In the silence, the old man in the filthy, ragged, Georgian soldier’s uniform, the one they called Towzer, turned back to me at the bend of the bridge, held up a crooked finger, and pointed directly at me. “Thanks for the blue plums,” he hissed as he threw my own pistol back along the dirt my way. When I picked it up, I saw that all the blueys were now missing. How could I shoot at someone with no bullets…or who vanishes into thin air?

And today I visited the Groombridge town hall to see what I could learn about Towser and his mates. Eliza, it seems that Benjamin Towser, formerly of George I’s guard, perished in a shipwreck off the south coast during a Jacobite uprising. More amazingly, this occurred over 100 years ago. What am I to make of this?

You do know that I am not mad, don’t you, Eliza?

Until I hold you in my arms,
Your devoted George