Race for a Treasure – An Excerpt
© 2008 J. Robert Whittle and Joyce Sandilands
It was a cold and drizzly morning in March 2005 and the lazy little Yorkshire village of Copmanthorpe on the outskirts of the historical walled city of York was beginning its day. Molly Coolridge was just finishing her second cup of tea when her doorbell sounded and she went to the door to take delivery of an unexpected package. Inquisitive interest caused her to make an instant examination of the large, brown, padded envelope, turning it over in her hands and wondering at its thickness before reading aloud the return address of a notable law firm from Shambles Lane in York.
Taking a yearning look at her wet and dreary-looking flower garden and, silently wishing spring would hurry up, she sighed and went back inside the little two-storey stone cottage she had called home for almost 40 years. Setting down the package on the kitchen table, she went to a drawer and found a pair of scissors. Cutting through the tape and bubble wrap, she dumped out the contents onto the table.
She was surprised to find an official-looking sealed envelope from the same law firm and eagerly tore it open. A short, none-too-friendly covering letter hastily explained that her deceased husband’s old Aunt Clara had died leaving her these papers; at the bottom was an illegible signature from a lawyer named Smith.
“Lawyers and doctors,” she mumbled in agitation, “I don’t know why they can’t write so you can read it!”
Staring at the collection of papers, she recognized some pages to be from Clara’s will and others appeared to be old with age. But it was the old leather-bound diary that really took her attention. She picked it up and examined it, opening it to a random page. It looked very difficult to read so she reluctantly closed it and put it back down on the table. I really suppose I should look at these papers first, she thought, pushing the diary aside and picking up the pages of the will.
Over the next few days a most fascinating mystery began to unfold and, with great difficulty, Molly kept it all a secret from her son, Ben, a school teacher who lived with her. Why she kept it a secret she wasn’t all that sure at first but, on finally looking at the diary more closely, she was shocked to discover that it was written in the old Coolridge family code, a secret code which was not unfamiliar to her. Now she knew she had her work cut out for her and wanted to know more before involving her son.
Stretching her memory back through the years when she was a young clerk courting Ben’s father, William Coolridge, he had taken to writing notes and letters using the code to prevent her mother and others from reading them. The code had been difficult to learn at first but once she had the pattern, it became easier and even fun. Bill had sworn her to secrecy in those days saying it was in their family for a very long time—a cipher he called it. Now, as it slowly came back to her, she realized how grateful she was to him for having confided in her. Who could have known that she would need this information so many years distant?
So it was that Molly began the loving and painstaking task of deciphering her husband’s code once again, discovering a captivating message and eagerly searching out the diary’s secret.
On the third day after the package’s arrival, as she sat two-finger typing the transcription of the diary, a sudden chill of exhilaration ran through her body. “These are the actual thoughts and words of Ben’s long dead ancestor, the legendary Captain Coolridge,” she whispered aloud. “He seems to have been on a government mission to the West Coast of Canada.” She began to read her transcription.
“I, Captain Nathaniel Coolridge, Captain of HMS Bullhorn, a British Naval gunboat ….”
“Oh my, this certainly reads like an exciting novel and he sounds so dashing!”
The events of Coolridge’s mission slowly began to unfold as Molly got the hang of the code and reacquainted herself with her primitive typing skills. So far she was able to discern that the captain’s mission seemed to be to capture or sink a Spanish ship and plunder her cargo. From his notes, she ascertained that the British Admiralty had long been suspicious that the Spanish were taking gold bullion from Vancouver Island and, with a larger show of force on the Pacific Coast, no longer respected Spain’s claim to the area.
Over the course of two years from 1809-1811, Coolridge sailed the island’s rugged coastline without catching sight of his elusive Spanish prey. West Coast fog and often severely inclement and dangerous weather, had made his quest almost impossible but still he prevailed. According to his diary, through it all, Nathaniel’s rugged determination managed to keep his crew vigilant, alert and relatively content aided by extra grog rations. Molly ran her finger down the page of her typing and turned to the next, reading aloud:
“30th May 1811 – standing well out to sea off Barkley Sound on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. We have at last spotted our prey, a Spanish merchant vessel anchored close to shore in the shadow of an island northeast of the entrance to the inlet.”
As she continued to type, she realized by Nathaniel’s tone that there was a new excitement in his next entry.
1st June – one hour before sunset – I order cannon and firearms readied.
©2008 J. Robert Whittle and Joyce Sandilands
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