Excerpt for The Horned Whale or An Morvil Kornek by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


The Horned Whale

or

An Morvil Kornek



by Jeremy Schanche





Published by The Invertebrate Press, 8th October, 2016.

Copyright © Jeremy Schanche, 2016.

All rights reserved by the author.

EPUB edition. ISBN: 978-0-9934909-1-0

Distributed by Smashwords.

The Janetta Stone was originally published in serial form in The Limpet, 2009 – 2011. The Limpet can be found at savetheholyheadland.blogspot.co.uk

The Kramvil was originally published in serial form as The Journal of Elias Gillpington, in The Caterpillar, 2011 – 2015. The magazine has also featured several of the poems found in this ebook. The Caterpillar (and The Caterpillar Dub) can be found at yecaterpillar.blogspot.co.uk

All editions mentioned, including those available at the above blogs, are covered by this copyright notice and may not be reproduced for financial gain, in any form whatsoever without the permission of the author.

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Contents


The Janetta Stone

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6


The Kramvil

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25


Poems


Gerlyvrynn Kernouac / Cornish Glossary


International Glossary


Ghost-Hulk of a Phantom






to the people







The Janetta Stone


Chapter One

A fog had swept in from the sea bringing fresh, damp air and the smell of the ocean. I wandered through this briny air all along the Promenade, lost in thoughts of the sea and underwater fish types.

It was good to be outside. I’d found the office a bit limited and constricting lately. ‘The Limpet’ was one of those local papers that was small, old-fashioned and fiercely independent – much like its editor, Brennigenn Pennskrifer. It’s not that I didn’t like the old geezer, it’s just that his concept of ‘editorial parameters’ was just a wee bit narrower than mine. I wanted to expose local government corruption, police brutality, custody deaths, the Chinese slave labour camps that flood the West with cheap goods… issues that mattered. Brennigenn always listened sympathetically and agreed that the world was a terrible place but that our job was to report only the events that occurred locally, in the far-flung western tip of Britain’s toe, whether they be dog-shows, cricket-matches or pasty-suppers.

Besides, we did get an interesting story once in a while, like the case of ‘Old Janner’, a self-styled, latter-day prospector and tinner who had just announced his claim to the mineral rights of Battery Rocks. This would have been passed over as mere eccentricity but for one thing. The multinational Royale Group had recently unveiled their extremely controversial plan to build a massive hotel and apartment complex right on the beach at Battery Rocks. This had annoyed a lot of people. Admittedly it was a small and insignificant beach, surrounded by rocky outcrops and largely overlooked. But it had a certain wild beauty to it, as a playground for snakelockses and seals – and to destroy a Cornish beach in the name of attracting tourists seemed a pretty crass idea to most people in the town, so the sudden emergence of Old Janner as the ‘rightful claimant’ of the area caused a smile to ripple through the town.

The whole business had a slightly abstract quality about it that was mystifying and archaic. Our medieval Cornish legal system was still alive in the twenty first century and it seemed that this ‘Janner’ character was using Stannary law to assert his rights. Sounded like a good Local Interest Story – just the kind of thing old Pennskrifer liked.

A wave burst over the prom and spattered puddles of frothy brine at my feet. Gulls were skrawking and the light was failing – I decided to head back to the office. Climbing the stairs to the fifth floor I heard the incessant ringing of a telephone. The light was murky and greenish coming through the skylights. I looked into my desk. There was a paper bag with half a saffron bun in it – stale. I put some coffee on to re-heat. Just then the rain started in earnest – a fog had swept in from the sea. The room felt like an aquarium – the light was thick and gelatinous. I noticed ticker-tape spilling onto the floor. I checked the teleprinter and found the following wire…


To: Pat Vulgata

Re: Battery Rocks

Get yourself down there tonight at 7.00 to meet ‘old Janner’ – he’s agreed to talk to us. Good luck! Brennigenn


Hhhmmmm… I mused – good old Brennigenn, laconic as ever. I liked the idea of meeting this old miner though, I was curious to see what lay below his talk of tin and copper and seams of mineral wealth. I feasted on stale bun rehydrated with coffee and headed down to Battery Rocks.

I found Old Janner waiting on the rocks, standing gaunt as a jynnji against the darkling sky – he was staring out to sea. A barrel of strength in his overcoat, he exuded a glow of health. His age was indeterminate, his face rounded and open. We greeted each other and I started to ask him a few questions.

“So, I understand that you’ve claimed this area of beach and rocks for your mineral ventures, is that right Janner?”

“That’s right Pat, rocks and beach, and an area of sea-bed too. It was when I was walking on the beach down there, found some fine pieces of cassiterite I did – that’s tin-ore, that is – and I thought to meself ‘J, here’s my chance’. I ‘bounded’ the area and wrote a letter to Truro, all legal and proper, telling the Stannary authorities that I was registering a claim and I intended to start work directly.”

“And how do you ‘bound’ an area of sea-bed?” I asked him.

“Ah well, that was easy! I just went out in me little boat and dropped a few rocks overboard at the two seaward corners of my bounds. Marking the corners with stones – that’s what we was doing long before the Black Prince come along and wrote it up into a law-code. Some of these old traditions, see, they lie at the very roots of mining.”

“You must have looked into all this in some depth…”

“Well, it’s a deep subject, i’n’it? Deep as Dolcoath! Ha ha.” Old Janner seemed to be rooted in the rocks and earth and his laugh came from deep inside him, like the mineral, booming voice of the earth.

“And have you had experience of mining before now?”

“Oh yes, I’ve had some experience here and there.” He gazed off into the misty distance. “In the old days, we used to say ‘when it’s not farming time it’s mining time’. Most people would have their own little patch of land, and when all the planting was done we’d go back to the ‘bal’ or the stream-workings till it was harvest time. It’s a good land to work. What more could ‘ee want? Beautiful blue sky above, an ocean that rolls at our feet and a good bit of pasture-land and what have you. Underneath the land lies wealth, if you can find it and dig it out – tin, copper, lead, wolframite, gold…. Oh yes… many a day I’ve spent down there Pat, it’s another world, I can tell ‘ee! You know sometimes I’d be working a level on my own. I’d stop to eat me kroust – we usually blew out the candles at kroust to save wax. All alone – just me and whatever wallows in the tewlwolow. Sometimes I thought I could hear the tapping of a little pick, like a sprigan working away in the gloomy half-light. You know, sometimes you’re working away and the candle gutters and spits, it goes quiet, you can hear the sea booming and something like, it’s a funny thing to try to put into words, but anyway, it’s like a feeling that the rock all around you feels like a good place, that’s the only way I can put ‘n, it feels right to be working away there, where the old ones worked before, inside the land. ‘Cause you know Pat, land ain’t just something on a piece of paper, or a word in a book. It’s one thing to walk across it, on a sunny, rainy or windy day, but to be inside the land, the granite that supports the land – that’s a deep feeling, my friend. After so long underground it becomes another home for you and you’re happy there. Not that mining’s one long picnic, I can tell ‘ee!” A shadow flickered over his face, as if he was recalling some past sorrow.

“It must be a tough life,” I agreed, feeling like I was stating the obvious.

“You get used to it – it’s a living and anyway, it keeps the rain off your head. Look, we didn’t use to make money so much as dig it up, you see. Mineral is money. Our word moenek means mineral. Everything’s just what people agree it is, mostly. People always wanted our Tin so we always dug it up and sold it to ‘em. Then, after so, so long, something caved in, the market subsided and our ancient industry just frizzled out like a spent candle on a winter’s night. Well, that was a terrible shock to we, I can tell ‘ee, it was hard for us to understand, still is. Anyway, contrary to what most people think, mining never really died – it just went underground. Not buried, more like withdrawn into itself like the sap of a tree in winter, waiting for the Spring to bloom, and bloom it will. You must surely have wandered alone across the high moors under a hunter’s moon, following ancient trackways and recalling ancient memories as the world slumbers and the wind shrieks around your ears like a seething hellion spending its last vain breath in an eldritch wail of despair. Have you never seen lights around the old stacks and engine houses then, strange lights, and heard the song of pick and shovel a-tappin’ and a-scrapin’ away for all the devil, eh? Come on boy! Don’t bother denying it, we all have. So yes, mining is tough, but losing it was tougher. The spirit flickers, it might wane but it will not die out. It lives on unseen, as spirits do, of course.”

“Well, the spirit certainly seems to live on in you, Janner,” I smiled. He was gazing out to sea again, darkness was falling all around us.

“Well,” said Janner, “anyone who wants to get a taste of the miner’s life should take an underground tour – there’s still a couple of old mines here in Cornwall that are open to the public. You pay your ten bob and they lead you all round the adits and round about. You can see where the old-time miners, men and boys laboured away for generations, hundreds of years of history, right there in the rocks!”

“Sounds well worth a visit.”

“Like visiting mines, do ‘ee?” asked Janner suddenly with a little glint in his eye. “Well, step this way Pat, and I’ll show ‘ee round mine!”


We walked over the rocks and down onto a strip of shingle. After glancing around furtively once or twice, he produced from his pocket a tiny wicker-work basket crudely covered in leather. He let me examine it for a couple of seconds, then, much to my surprise he flung it into the water.

“Will you look at the state of the wall!?” he suddenly shouted with such violence that I spun round, alarmed – and found myself examining the neglected pointing of the pier. “Come on boy.” Now he was striding towards the water’s edge; I followed and was stunned to see floating a couple of feet away from us, a coracle that exactly resembled the little basket. My mind was racing now and I suddenly realized that my heart was beating very fast. “Don’t worry Skipper,” said Janner, divining my mind, and something about the flavour of his broad grin assured me that I really didn’t have to worry. I thought to myself wryly that I needed to get out of the office more often and have the odd adventure before middle-age condemned me to some grey hell of dullhood. Get away from the ridiculous clicking of the ‘Go-Getter’ Gestetner machine that reeks of purple ink; the ‘wire’ machine that seems to flicker inside its bakerlite casing with rogue flashes of miniature lightning and of course, that preposterously raucous and irregular photocopier. Anyway, like I said, it was time for an out of office experience….. I really was day-dreaming again. Janner guided me patiently towards the little boat and we embarked without getting too wet, which surprised me. If I’d tried to do it on my own, I’d have probably fallen in.

With ease, the Captain of this funny vessel paddled towards the open sea. “You weren’t kidding about claiming a bit of sea, then?” I ventured. Janner chuckled quietly. Then, clearing his throat, he seemed to take on the air of a museum guide showing wide-eyed children the skeleton of a Megatherium. “This is the rannvor,” he announced. “I used to do a lot of diving round here in the old days.” The sea was glossy black slopping at the gunwales of our Celtic Saint-basket. Glinting and reflecting were gleams of running silver light, flashing and flowing together in universal flux. A sense of quiet happiness descended and the atmosphere felt charged with a calm sparkling vibrancy. Black sea-water under the twinkling stars, vague patches of deeper blue in the murk. Were we really just a few yards from Penzance? Suddenly the shore I'd just left and the world it borders and everything that goes with it seemed ineffably remote like the half-recalled dream of a sunny morning in childhood, the falling of a single beech leaf.

"Now, let's have a little light on things" – and Janner was striking a match and lighting a stub of candle. He produced two hats of compressed felt, with lumps of clay on the brims. "Here, like this,” he said, sticking a candle into one of the lumps of clay and putting on the strange headgear. I did likewise. “Nice bit of stars tonight though?” he said as he flicked the burning match into the black sea, it flew through the air leaving a miniature trail of smoke like a stricken Messerschmidt. I looked up at the firmament. Wondrys, truly wondrous. The stars were swimming along with the glinting mackerels and skates below. I looked down. I didn’t remember seeing a little wooden pontoon rising out of the dark water before… Not much bigger than a kitchen table, fashioned of battered sea-timbers, a trap door in the centre. We tethered up the boat and stepped aboard the weird island.

For just a moment, when my foot I did place on the old oaken deck, I thought I could hear the sound of singing, distant singing. The impression was very brief, yet quite vivid. I had a sense of the presence of many singers, strong young singers and old ones, working together in the yellow candle-light a long time ago. The voices were pure and totally natural – sometimes lapsing into what seemed like a few bars of call and response before soaring off into layers of hearty and cheerful harmony that seemed to shine like an underground light. “Easy now, ‘s a bit slynk, y’ know.” My foot was sliding on the deck, but Jan caught my arm. “Sorry, squire, guess me mind was wandering,” I apologized. He didn’t seem to mind, but simply fumbled in his pocket and produced a large metallic key. Then I noticed that the trap door was secured by a large padlock that was countersunk into the surface. This seemed to be wrought from the same stuff as the key – top grade Cornish Tin… Janner opened the padlock and went to lift the trap. “Here, give us a hand, will you?”

Chapter Two

“Wait a minute” said Janner, suddenly changing his mind. He paused, then pointed at the sparkling moonlight glittering on the dark waves. “Do you see that?” he asked. “Yes.” “Do you know what it is?” “What do you mean, Janner?” He didn’t take his eyes off the water, but slowly pointed again – “Do you know what it is?” he asked again, in what seemed like exactly the same tone. “No,” I said. He paused again. The sound of sploshing waves sounded rather nice and although it was an odd place to be at night it did have a certain wild beauty and peacefulness about it. The odd question he had asked had faded from my mind and I was quite happily absorbed in watching the dark little mountainous waves dancing and breaking and dancing anew. I’d never really looked up close at the surface of the sea at night before I s’pose, and suddenly I realized that I’d been missing out on something kind of beautiful, in a wild and vaguely unsafe sort of way.

“Come on greenhorn!” he guffawed loudly and I started chuckling and the mystery fizzled into laughter. After a moment we both looked towards the great ring of tin at the centre of the old wooden trap-door. “Here, give us a hand will you?”

Our combined efforts soon had the trap-door up and I followed my companion into the pit. It was only the effects of cold that had me shivering, my wet clothes clung to me with a nauseating embrace and I confess it an effort to control the shudders that threatened to overwhelm my frame. The iron ladder to which I clung offered no scintilla of warmth to my magpie hands as we descended. I recall an impression of damp walls of granite, rusty looking and composed of many textures – the next thing I knew we had reached the floor of the initial shaft and I now followed Janner along a tunnel – I cannot say in what direction it led, but it continued straight for a couple of minutes, always through unpropped granite, and soon we were standing in front of a low wooden door. Janner produced another key and we stepped in.

I almost laughed aloud in surprise to see the comfortable chamber that had been hewn from the rock – a subterranean dwelling of style. It was rounded, without corners, and seemed to recede into the distance. Jan lit various candles and a clearer picture emerged. I immediately noticed bookshelves, a large collection of tools, ropes, all manner of gear, numerous sea-trunks and a small galley area. Some archaic portraits of mining ancestor types graced the walls. “Right, let’s get you kitted up then” said Jan and threw down on the table a set of mining clothes, a hunk of bread and some cheese. “I’ll be back in a minute when I’ve got the beam-engine going.” The door closed. I looked around in amazement. In the ceiling was a small extraction shaft for the stale air – this place was immaculate! I donned the miner’s garb and attacked the victuals. This was more like it! No more splashing around in the ocean of everyday boredom, darkness and confusion. Mining seemed to offer a release from so much of what was wrong up above. But mining for what? And to where? The centre of the Earth? Or the very bowels of Hell? OK – take a deep breath, get used to the novel situation, don’t let it go to the head… My scattered musings were interrupted by the intrusion of a vague thumping, chugging noise, more felt than heard. The old man must have that beam-engine of his going. It must do a pretty good job, to stop this whole place being flooded by the sea – wait a minute though, it wasn’t even running till we got here… this struck me as odd. The door opened and Jan ducked through. “There’s much to explain to ‘ee Pat, but we’ll do it as we go along.” That seemed fair enough. We ate together in silence for a while and Janner made some coffee. “Ever been underground before, Pat?” asked my companion. “Only if you count the tube,” I replied with a smile. “Hmmm, that’s like a kind of goldmine I suppose – for the ticket-company!” quipped the old one.

After these refreshments we left the ‘Kroust Hut’, as Jan seemed to call it, and he led the way along what he called the ‘Top Adit’, another monument to some very strong men, whose piggals and visgeys had gnawed their relentless way through this rock like a Philosopher chewing through the flimsy arguments of a bunch of sophists. Here and there were little niches in the rock wall, some held old candle stumps and were bearded with ancient wax drippings. There was a lingering smell. A bit like earth, a bit like rock, somewhat damp and very subtlely stale, though without offending the nostrils – something like the smell of a stone when you dig it up. I was to become very familiar with this ambient osmosis in the time to come, the time that I had just entered, unbeknowingly, when I walked out of that stuffy old office and decided to see just what this crazy old geezer was up to. I’m so glad I made that choice. How was I to guess what wonders would lie awaiting beneath the overburthen of daily dust and quotidian clods; what mysteries lurked under the crust, the patina of the Earth. All my life I’d lived ‘topside’ like a man asleep, never once thinking about what was the ground that supported my questing restless feet. And now, because I had gone for the adventurous option and decided that rather than rejecting him as a colourful but perhaps time-wasting fool; because I had approached Mr Janner with an open mind, he was now giving me the incredible privilege of a tour round his subterrain.

I was glad to be warm again and enlivened by the food. My attention was on the rock walls around me, their changing faces, all the hues and grades of granite were gradually being unearthed and revealed to me. In fact, there was something quite hypnotic about walking along this old adit of his, like motorway driving, part of your mind switches off, and another part can switch on. Janner’s footsteps kept up a rhythmic and unvaried pulse ahead of me, our twin candles guttering and flickering and emanating magic paintings from their kysten liwyow skeusek (their shadowy box of paints)

I was definitely settling in to the experience and starting to feel at home. This took me back to a remark the old man had made earlier, something about being safe inside the rocks. I felt like I was starting to get it, even though I was conscious of being a novice, a novelty-taster, compared to one who had worked long and dangerous years down here. Still, I felt more than content; I was excited, enthusiastic for the journey to the centre of the mine. It did start to occur to me that we’d been walking for a good few minutes now, we must have covered several hundred yards, how long had he been working at this place? Was it just him – had he had help? Were these workings ancient or modern? Nothing seemed clear. Anyway, on reflection I decided not to worry about it – hadn’t Mr J said that he’d explain things in due course? I felt that I would trust to his words. So far he had certainly not let me down in any way. Besides, curiosity was the far strongest force at work, and this, combining with the sheer joy of adventure – rare food for a small-time West Country journalist such as I – was enough to make me grin like the Cheshire Cat.

Finally, after several more minutes of speculative trudging along the adit, Janner finally broke the silence – “Now I do have a promise from my friend Mr Treviddick to help sort out the tren for me, but he had to rush up to London where some gentlemen up there wanted him to burrow a road-way under their River Thames for ‘em. ‘Course he couldn’t afford to turn down a chance like that so ‘e’s off to Blighty to strike it rich by mining out a few English pockets HA HA HA ha ha!” “What, so this pal of yours, is he working on the docklands project or something like that?” I asked. “Some such grand scheme” said Jan, perhaps slightly disapproving of tunneling that was not aimed at tin. “Anyway, Ricky’s got an ‘andsome design for a new engine for the tren, but till he gets back to our country, we’ll just have to make do with this…” and as he finished speaking we arrived at the start of a metalled railway track, only a couple of feet wide. Sitting on the track was a bizarre vehicle wrought from dark iron and tarred wood with brass bolts. The front was just an open wooden box with a couple of old crates serving as seats, this section was followed by a large enclosed box, and behind that was one of those V-shaped ore-car things that tip up. I noticed a small deposit of extremely fine grade Tin-Ore lining the mineral ore-car, and some glittering bits of crystal collected in the front of the truck-thing. “You said you liked tube trains I believe, Mr Vulgata?” said Jan with a twinkle in his eye as he made an ushering gesture with his hand towards the extraordinary ersatz Hadean chariot. “What makes it go, Jan?” I couldn’t help asking. “Well, ok, first, you and me start pushing until we’re up to a good run; then we jump on, and, that’s it!” I must not have looked too thrilled. He frowned for a second then burst out laughing once more, in which I joined again. Then we pushed that crate of preposterous Orphic propulsion out of its inertia until its iron wheels were clicking over the rails with a regular ticking.

It wasn’t actually going that fast when Janner said “OK, watch what I do, then copy,” and breaking into a little sprint he drew alongside the front of the tren and jumped in. I did likewise. He reserved the forward seat for me – as the ‘skrifer’ I was there to observe and record and now I was in a supreme position to do both.

There must have been a very slight decline to the angle of the floor, because no sooner had we got on board than the little tren started to gather momentum.

I must have dozed off, it had been quite an eventful evening, what with the coracle and going underground and everything. On a normal evening I’d probably be nodding off by now, with some early Duke Ellington and some endless Russian novel I was always trying to read, but it always had the unfortunate effect of putting me out. Anyway, you know how a train journey can make you sleepy… I was in the hypnagogic trance, flitting like a swallow in the rare aether that separates sleepfulness from wakefulness. A rich broth of imagery betided my mind and left a telling flotsam. I recall seeing Aethiopians hollowing out Coptic temples, inspired by their faith, they worked down into the rocks, the cool deep bedrock of Africa. They sculpted altars and holy images and forms. Other temples opened up – Hindu masterpieces of mystery initiation and yogic white heat – Petra seemed very familiar to me, I was right up in one of the high galleries, looking down on the street below, full of life, people and camels passing, shouts and laughter and donkeys braying – a thriving city in the rock. The mesas of the American Southwest gave way to an indescribably ancient city now swallowed by the Sea of Japan. The catacombs of Rome seemed to connect to the silver mines of Laurium and the quarries of Syracuse. Then I seemed to dream of a vast tube-system, linking the London Underground with the New York Subway, Paris Metro, and all the other metropolitans and centrals all over this earth. Then I awoke and we were still trundling forward in Janner’s old ‘tren’ under the ‘Rannvor’, that dark and glistening sea that swelled and swirled around the weird wooden island just off Battery Rocks – the pit-head of this most extraordinary bal.

Janner was humming a little air to himself, the tren seemed to be slowing down. “Now, let’s have a little look down here, shall we?” says he; just as the tren pulled up to a halt. We stepped out of the curious vehicle and started walking up a side tunnel. There was no rail going along this bit of tunnel and it was a bit narrower and lower than the previous one. The walls too, seemed to have been hewed out much more crudely and irregularly. Then I was amazed to see a strange image of a horse, daubed onto the rock wall. I was about to comment on this, but at that moment Jan pointed forward and I noticed a curious light, well, at least, a light, coming from ahead of us. We walked on. The light grew gradually brighter, warmer and what was that sound? I thought I heard a tapping, ringing noise in the distance – are there some other miners down here? Then we were out of the tunnel and back in the daylight, the terra firma, the world of sunshine and clouds and breezes blowing across green fields that run down to the sea.

Before I could begin to speculate on how we had got there, I noticed a group of people in the distance, huddled around a fire, and again that tapping noise. “Don’t worry,” says Janner, and we strode towards the strange group. We walked down a wooded incline into a lovely valley. There were a couple of very rough looking huts on the flat land of the valley bottom and everyone seemed to be watching a tail of smoke emerging from some kind of earth oven. Then I noticed the hammering – actually it stopped when they noticed us.

For a couple of seconds I confess to feeling a little nervous – but then such a shout of joy went up as they seemed to recognize Janner, that any forebodings instantly evaporated. There was a lot of embracing and babble in a strange language and general excitement. Then they showed us how they broke up the ore with their hammers, they kept pointing at the little stream, indicating it as their ore-source. Next they showed how the crushed ore was put into clay moulds and pushed into the earthen furnace with a pole. Finally they took us to one of the huts and showed us some axe-heads, sickle blades and spear points they’d fashioned for themselves, as well as a quantity of big irregular-shaped ingots that seemed to be their ‘savings’ perhaps, or goods to be traded with some other group. Considering these people were barefoot and dressed in skins, they certainly seemed to be catching up with the technological side of life. I could have sworn one of them looked a tiny bit like Janner… anyway, they made us most welcome and luckily weren’t offended when I declined their food, just burst out laughing. They seemed so innocent and friendly, despite the nascent armaments factory they had going. Theirs was a very direct and open way of communicating, devoid of the usual layers of false sophistication and distrust inherent in most ‘civilized’ conversation. I could understand their mumbo-jumbo now, and it was starting to make sense!

Sadly we had to leave almost as soon as we’d got there, they escorted us back up to the cave mouth – I couldn’t help noticing another curious painting above the cave – another horse, only this one was sporting a wheel under each hoof… hmmmm. With much laughter and shouting the wild folk bade us their goodbyes and old Janner and I set off down the tunnel again, past the other horse and back to the main adit where our Orphic Victorian chariot lurked locomotive.

Chapter Three

My companion ushered me towards the unworldly vehicle once again and we boarded in silence. The only sound was a faraway gentle dripping, drops of water falling onto granite in dark cavernous obscurity, dripping. The faint, stale, earthy smell of the rocks filled the atmosphere. We trundled slowly forth, to who knows where. Monotonous walls of damp granite flickering in the light of our candles, yard after yard, minute after long subterranean minute. The hardness of the granite was unrelieved by any softening influence, as you usually experience in the upper world, the world we’d left behind. No trees, no gorse or bracken-clad hills rippling in the wind. No rolling seas, no skies, no blue.

“Time for a bit of kroust, eh?” Mr Janner’s remark brought me out of my reverie and I looked back to see that he was opening a small wooden hatchway in the boxlike middle section of the ‘tren’. After reaching inside he produced two large pasties and passed one to me. It was hot. I looked at him in amazement, but he merely took a large bite out of his pasty with a look of joyful concentration in his twinkling eyes. I followed his example. The pie was more tasty than I can possibly describe. From the first bite of crust it kept getting tastier until in was gone and, not realizing how hungry I’d become, I was now pleasantly full. The kroust had seemed to contain all the goodness of the country, the wheat of the crust had taken me back to the sunny fields near Zennor where the stooks of corn had dried in the wind and summer sun as the downvor ocean rolled in inky writhing energy-display at the foot of the cliffs. I thought I heard larks singing and bees buzzing drowsily as butterflies whirled by in flickers of flight. A lizard played in the sunshine of the granite wall and the distant tolling of the church bell was punctuated by the clattering hooves of a pony. “You know Janner, that has got to be the nicest pasty I’ve ever had,” I told him. He passed me a mug of hot tea. “It’s always best when you use you own ingredients,” he replied, “one day I’ll have to show you my place up at Chyannor, got a nice little losowek, little veg-garden up there.” “That would be great – but I wondered, when you’re down here for long periods, don’t you ever miss the upper world, you know, the sky and everything?” “Hang on,” he replied mysteriously, and once again he was searching around in that box of his. This time he produced a Davy Safety Lamp, lit it and handed it to me. He showed me how it fixed onto the front of the tren. “Now, let me show you something,” he said.

The tren rumbled on at a gentle speed. The adit seemed to open out now as if we were going through a cavern of some kind. The walls were increasingly coated with an unearthly green moss, that seemed to glow slightly with its own preternatural luminosity. There were great rounded boulders heaped up in the cavern, all coated with the iridescent carpet of golden green, resembling ranges of tiny green rolling hills. “Now,” said Janner, “there’s some green hills to keep you going for a while!” I couldn’t help laughing. The track snaked around all these velvety green boulders – a miniature landscape! After a while, the cavern walls seemed to open out even more, and to take on a darker, more violet bluish hue. “And there’s a nice blue sky for you” said Janner. The cobalt blue was startlingly refreshing to the eye and did actually remind me of a summer sky in the heat of noon. As we traveled on, the ‘sky’ of blue rock darkened into black. Tiny crystals of quartz now started occurring in the upper reaches of the cavern – stars to glitter in our rocky underground sky. The microcosmic illusion was completed by a small rivulet running alongside the tracks like a slow-worm and reflecting the glittering ‘stars’ on its shiny skin. I caught his eye and laughed with delight – this place really had everything!

Janner’s face became serious. “How are you with depths?” he asked. “Depths?” I echoed; but as curiosity tried to frame the question that was welling up in my mind, it suddenly became clear what he meant by ‘depths’. The cavern opened out – in all directions, including down! The rails seemed to be suspended in space by a flimsy superstructure of spars, runners and tubular poles, teetering out into an abyss, as the floor fell away into a gaping void. The little rivulet suddenly became a miniature Niagara as it leapt down the staggering rockface in silver splashing tongues, disappearing into the gloom below. The walls receded to left and right, and the roof rose above; our flickering lights could not reach a surface to illuminate and for a while we rushed onwards in a great empty dark space, dizzyingly vast. We seemed to be picking up speed all of a sudden too. I started to get glimpses of the cave’s floor, far far below us. Large pools of water seemed to shimmer down there, but quickly the vehicle passed on. I would be glad when we were back in a normal tunnel again, I wasn’t happy on this ‘bridge of hairs’. Our truck was going so fast it was starting to vibrate, and the structure supporting the tracks was rattling and clacking back. The Davy lamp was blazing up in the stream of oxygen and the wind was rushing in our ears. The place seemed to be more and more filled with light – the walls were closing back in again and the gulph below us was being filled with rising boulders – terra firma at last! A few more moments and everything seemed back to ‘normal’ and we were back in the regular ‘adit’. Janner laughed and clapped me on the shoulder – I laughed with relief.

The next moment we were in a moderate sized cavern, or chamber, surrounded by the activity of men and machines, operations were in progress. Now the singing welled up as the miners harmonized on an old song. Then I noticed the ‘mills’, wooden chutes that spewed out streams of ore into the waiting trucks, each pushed away by a miner. Others were swinging hammers at spikes and chewing into the seam wherever they found it. There was sawing too, as a team of carpenters cut wood to various sizes. All the miners seemed to favour an archaic look, with drooping moustaches and hobnail boots. They shared our unworldly headgear of felt hatcaps, with the lump of clay stuck on the brim, to hold the candles. The ore-trucks were being emptied into the cage of a herculean skip and hoisted aloft. A bell was rung and the burden went soaring up, followed by the high-pitched whirring of the winding gear. The men would return the empty trucks, or ‘trams’ to the face and the whole operation would start another round. Picks eked out the mineral, grain by grain. Long handled shovels threw it into the cars. The work-song seemed to keep stopping and starting. Then our tren came to a halt and several of the miners recognized Janner and called out and waved to him. They clustered round our vehicle and it seemed that we were all shaking hands at the same time, and Janner was introducing me to the gang.

“How are ‘ee getting on Davy?” asked Janner of an old miner with sideburns and a barrel chest. “We’ve found a beauty of a lode, and we’re digging like there was no tomorrow. Keeps getting wider as we go. The whole village is starting to prosper!” “Glad to hear it, boy!”

Janner produced a tall earthenware jar of ale and a large loaf of bread and some other provisions and placed them on a flat stone by the side of the tracks. The miners were pleased with the offering and threw shovelfuls of glittering mineral into the ore-compartment of our tren. We said our goodbyes and the miners pushed the tren back into motion. Our course lay in front of us. We must follow these tracks of steel through the growanek wonderland under the ground, under the sea, the dark, glittering rannvor.

Chapter Four

We seemed to have been in the underworld for an eternity. Boring along inside the rocky skin of the Earth like a death-watch beetle in an oak panel… It seemed like an incredibly long time since I’d walked down the stairs of the Invertebrate Press Office, back in Penzance, eager to set out on this assignment with the enigmatic mineralist of Battery Rocks. Anyway, all that was a long time ago now, and I seemed to be starting to get ‘tunnel-fever’ from being underground too long. The diet of tea and pasties was OK and certainly Mr Janner could not have been kinder, I could hardly imagine a more pleasant companion, yet I felt a slight yearning for the upper world.

“Now, if you go to Helstone, you will notice that Wendron Street runs down into Coinagehall Street – why do you think that is?” asked Janner out of the blue, as the little tren clattered along its cold steel rails. I had to admit I did not know the answer to this riddle. “Well,” said the old one, “Wendron is the tin country, you see, and Helstone is the coinage town. Now, in Cornish, ‘Moenek’ means mineral, and this is where the English get their word ‘Money’ from, and no doubt ‘Mint’ too. So, back in the old days, our mineral wealth, our tin, was taken from Wendron down to Helstone, via Wendron Street, to the Coinage Hall Street, where we made a ‘mint’ and ‘coined it in’, as they say. ‘Mineral’, ‘Money’, ‘Mining’, they all mean the same thing you see, well at least round here they do,” said Janner with a sweep of his hand. Although he gesticulated at bare rock walls, I felt that he was speaking for Cornwall as a whole.

“I hear Wendron has quite an ancient history of mining,” I said. “Older than you’d think, old chap” replied Janner with a twinkle in his eye. “There’s a mention of a mine down Wendron way in an old paper from 1856, which talks about ‘Old Man’s Workings’. It talks of a certain Wheal Roots, and describes it as “an ancient tin mine,” and that was in 1856!” Something about that name, ‘Wheal Roots’ struck a deep chord within me – I don’t know why, sometimes you just feel a strong reaction to something you encounter, and that name seemed to stir my imagination in a way I could neither fathom nor explain, yet it sent a thrill through me like a half-forgotten dream.

“We’ll be there soon, at Wheal Roots,” announced Janner calmly. “But I thought….” my voice trailed off into nothing. I was mystified. “You mean we’re nearly at Wendron?” I asked in astonishment. “Oh yes,” he replied with a smile, “nearly back to the Roots!”

I had somehow assumed we were still in the West Country, in Penwith, in some outlying section of Janner’s Mine at Battery Rocks. I had no idea we had travelled all these subterranean miles, but Old Janner seemed to take it all as perfectly normal, all this tube-training around under Cornwall’s hills and fields in our crazy little mineral chariot. Arne Sacknussen would have been right at home with me and the old one on this Central Line to Cornwall’s mineral treasury.

The Davy lamp cast a flickering white glow on the granite walls and occasional timber stulls, as the Cornish miners call their props when they have occasion to use them. The experience of spending so much time inside the earth seemed to lend me a curious strength and give a sharpness to reality. Hanging out on the surface of the earth all the time tends to make you forget the titanic realms below your feet. People travelling in ships at sea don’t usually spend too much time contemplating the oceanic depths beneath them, but they are there none the less. When you travel by road or across country in Cornwall, you are constantly passing over deep subterranean passages, countless miles of dark, flooded, abandoned mine workings lurk beneath your wheels as you zoom along the surface. How often do people remember the generations of men and boys who worked so hard down there, for so little reward? From what Janner had shown me so far, it seemed that a lot of these workings had never been completely abandoned, and there seemed to be some twilight miners, moonlighters and bootleggers, who either made periodic forays underground, or else had simply moved down there hundreds of years ago, and never come back up – it seemed hardly possible, but then I was learning not to rush too quickly into concepts of what might or might not be possible in a world such as this.

There seemed to be a pounding of hammers coming from far above, as if there was a gang working a stope, or perhaps we were passing underneath some gigantic forge. After a while we passed a series of sumps, where strange wooden pipes were drawing the water upwards to some kind of pumping system. There was a clanking noise of chains coming from above, and the slurping and sloshing noises of water in motion. “Got to keep the Cober out, boy!” said Janner. The ‘Cober’, I seemed to recall, was the river that wound through that part of the country, taking its name from the Cornish word for copper.

“Right then, old chap, how about a breath of fresh air?” quoth my companion. “Air, did you say, air, Janner – as in breezes and clouds, are you talking about ‘Up There’?” Janner just smiled and lolled back his head, his eyes pointing upwards with a deal more eloquence than a forefinger could have achieved. Jan took his pick and held it over the side of the tren with both hands. A cloud of sparks flew up with a grinding noise and soon we were at an unaccustomed halt. The stillness and quiet were pregnant and loaded. The sense of possibility oozed out of the rock walls, roof and floor that formed our world. A drip, drip, dripping soon met the ear, and then, in the distance the rattle and clunk of the primitive Cober-Extractor. Janner rummaged in the box-compartment of our unlikely chariot and seemed to be packing provisions – I glimpsed the ubiquitous pasties, and the old stoneware tea-bottle, as well as some other small objects that I could not make out properly. We set off on foot. After speeding along on wheels for so long, it felt good to move my legs, and also I could now examine the walls of the ‘adit’ a little more thoroughly. I was amazed to observe that the surfaces were totally covered in pick-marks, telling me that this section of the ‘Minotaurean’ realm was chipped out by hand. “Oh yes,” said the old one, divining my mind once more, “our work was a lot harder before Tommy, I mean, before Mr Epsley brought in the black powder.” “When was that then, Jan?” I asked. “Oh, let’s see now, that’d be the mid-summer of ’89.” I must have looked at him very quizzically – I always got that strange, dislocated feeling that he was back there in history, like he had a personal connection with the past. “What, 1889, or…” my voice trailed off into the uncertainty that was flooding into my chest. “No Pat, that would be in the year of Our Lord 1689, the year after our good Bishop was put in the Tower. There was a notion going about that we’d use it to help ease the King’s door open, but it didn’t come to that in the end.”

A squeaking noise from above stole my attention, and I looked up to see that we were under a shaft and that a crude basket was descending towards us, the squeak evidently coming from the whim far above. The old tinner gestured theatrically towards the crumpled basket at our feet, and like Victorian balloonists we climbed in and rose. The basket started spinning dizzyingly round and round, turning our balloon ride into a fairground experience. At one point I stupidly looked down – seeing the tren look small enough to put in my pocket did not do much to make me feel secure. The next moment though we had risen up through a trap door and grimy strong hands were grabbing the rope and swinging us onto a sturdy platform of hewn timber.

“How are ye, Mr Janner, and who’s the gentleman with ye? But first, let’s take a morsel!” The unbroken voice came from a lad of twelve or thirteen years, he seemed to be the leader of several others, by dint of being the oldest. His arms were well developed by labour though his face spoke of childhood and an innocent heartiness. “Bless you Joseph, I am well. This is Mr Vulgata, we’ll call him Patrick, he works for one of them fancy newspapers out West. He’s come to have the ‘grand tour’ of our world, ain’t you Pat?” They looked at each other, then at me, and for some reason, we all started laughing.

A few moments later, as we wiped the crazy tears of humour from our various blinking eyes, we sat together and broke the ceremonial crusts. One particularly ragged boy hesitated for the briefest moment, but he was literally shoved forward into the circle of feasting stennors. “Come on Eddy-Boy, have you forgotten ‘All for One and One for All?’” It seemed these fellas had their own home-made social security system going and by the time Eddy had taken his place in the circle there was a very generous pile of food in front of him; in fact, he soon had more than any of the others! “And there’s a crumb to take home for your kin,” said Janner, placing two extremely large ‘plate-hanger’ pasties, a pound of cheddar and a bottle of cream in front of the ragged Eddy-Boy. “We all give what we can, see?” explained another young subterranean. “Old Ed’s got a nose for tin, see? We reckon his eyes can burrow through granite like a cannonball through snow and see the seams hiding inside. You never fail us, do you Eddy-lad?” Eddy murmured some incomprehensible syllables through his pasty-mouth and the laughter started up again.

“I saw a newspaper once, it showed King George coming back from the wars a-France.” The food had loosened everyone’s tongues and set their shrewd minds at work. “What’s the name of your newspaper, Mr Patrick?” asked one. “Oh, it’s, er, The Limpet.” I felt vaguely embarrassed to be merely digging out words and stories while these guys were dealing with much tougher material. “Limpets? We d’ boil ‘em up with calf-tongues and cream for broth,” said one. “I heered that in ‘zance they go a-merry-making and throw the old krogens against the gentlefolks doors!” offered another. “Well, you know boys,” said I, “a lot of doors in Penzance slam shut tight when they see this Limpet coming!” This time the laughter was unstoppable and it rang through the levels like fire in a chimney.

Soon the young miners trooped off along another tunnel, after many ‘Fare ye wells’ and ‘God be with ‘ee’s’. Jan and I took our own way along yet another passage, this one considerably narrower than any I had yet seen; it led to another wooden platform, at the bottom of another shaft. Protruding up from this platform was a great angled beam, near on two foot square, but angled acutely up a-tilt. Janner grabbed a line running along-side this mighty old beam and gave it a tug. A bell sounded dimly from far above, and the beam dipped down, only to rise again. “Jump on!” he said, and leapt onto a tiny plank that was set into the beam. I followed him onto a lower plank and soon we were soaring gracefully upwards, through a floor above. “Jump off!” he commanded. By this time I was feeling a long way from the Press Office, and had learned to trust instantly to Janner when he spoke with seriousness. Standing on that second platform, we watched the crude lifting engine descend again. As it rose back up, we simply stepped back on and rose up another level. “What do you call this thing?” I asked Jan. “Man-Engine,” he replied. I lost counting after about twenty-eight such junctions – these mines go deeper than you think! At last we reached the top of the man-engine and met its keeper. A moustachioed gaffer wearing a Sou’-Wester that sported a flickering stub of candle packed into the now familiar blob of china-clay; and tall sea-boots that spoke of another life. “Mornin’ Mr J, how are e’ farin’?” His face cracked into the familiar grin that all these fellas seemed to put on with such ease. “Hallo Mr Morgan, not too close to the wind, I’ll venture!” replied my guide with warmth. “I trust your voyage up the pole was to your liking, Sir” twinkled the old fella. Our laughter was drowned out by the sound of a stream of atal hitting the floor, echoing down some distant level in this Cretan wonderland of ours. “Long as we all net a profit!” quipped Mr Morgan as he pulled out a clay pipe and a tiny paper twist of rough black baccy. “Touch pipe?” he asked. We both declined, Janner because it was ‘not his way’, and me because I didn’t want to puke my guts up in front of the guys. I’ve never been the macho type, and it’s always good to try and keep your dignity…. “I trust Mary is well” asked J. “Back to her girlish health, thanks be to The Lord – and our good Wendron Parish fresh air…” “Glad to hear it Morgowles,” said Jan – this was really too much and the two of them laughed like a pair of jellies. “Morgan, you look smugger than an Earl, a right smug Earl!” said Jan, and we were off down another level – or rather, along it, I should say.


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