People have asked me why nobody takes a horse and cart down onto the mud of the estuary so that they can recover things more easily. It has been done, but what with the quick-sands and the problems you would have getting a cart across various of the channels, it’s not commonly done.
I have been there when oxen were used to recover stuff, but they’re a lot of work. Most shore-combers reckon that they’re not worth their feed. After all you need to find an awful lot more stuff to cover the costs of your draught animals.
A coach and four
A gig at my door
A hurdle pulled to the shallows
Drawing me to the gallows
In all candour
It may seem blander
But I’d rather walk.
Still it has been done and some managed to make it pay. Sharn Gobbert was one. He had a cart pulled by one horse. He always boasted that the only living creature that knew the estuary better than him was the horse.
He might have been lucky when he started, because apparently back then you could normally reckon to fill a cart with drift wood. There might have been logging being done somewhere upriver but apparently there were twenty years or more when plenty of wood was left behind by the falling tide.
However old Sharn had other strings to his bow. He would take late-comers out to the very edge of the tide, he would carry stuff back to the shore for you, he was the one who always used to fetch the bodies in when Shena first started.
All these earned him small sums, but there again; they earned him quite a lot of small sums, and even copper starts to add up if you pile the coins high enough. Also he worked his own patch and made his own finds.
But perhaps what he was most valued for was the fact he’d never abandon anybody out there on the mud. I’ve talked to many who are still with us because Sharn and his horse forced their way through waist deep water to collect them. Shena tells the tale of how she remembered him unhitch the cart on the Old Esplanade and then ride his horse back into the tide to rescue a mother and child who’d somehow got cut off. By the time Sharn reached them the mother was holding the child on her shoulders and Sharn threw the bairn across the horse’s neck then dropped down into the water to lift the mother onto the horse’s back. Then he swam alongside the horse guiding it home.
Even now the old chap is saving lives. I know a couple of men who’ve found themselves out there on the mud when the fog has rolled in. They’ve got themselves turned round and have completely lost their bearings. Then they’ve heard the jingle of harness and Sharn Gobbert and his horse have appeared and have given them a lift back to shore.
There are darker tales. Stilbert Wheel is, for a shore-comber, a man both sober and responsible. Yet he tells the tale of being out there trying to haul in an anchor and chain. It was foggy and a night tide as well. So the rising water caught up with him unawares, suddenly he found he was surrounded and would have to swim for it. Then there was the sound of splashing, and he found Sharn looking down at him from his seat on the cart.
“Tha’s got tha sel in a reet mess Stilbert lad.”
“You’re not wrong Sharn.”
Then Sharn jerked his thumb into the cart behind him. “I’d offer thee a lift, but I doubt tha’d want to go where these beggars are going.”
Stilbert commented to me that he could see shrouded figures in the back of the cart, and thought to recognise a couple of them. Sharn continued, “So if you cut along that way,” here he pointed, “you’ll reach the Esplanade soon enough.”
He also pointed down at the anchor chain Stilbert was still holding, “Aye and dump that, it’ll still be there come morning.”
With that Sharn geed up his horse, and the cart and its huddled figures disappeared into the fog. Stilbert struck out in the direction Sharn had pointed and ten minutes later was climbing up onto the Old Esplanade.
The first time I went out onto the mud of the Estuary, Shena took me to see the wheel of Sharn’s cart. It’s a tradition; shore-combers bring their children to show them it. And they tell their children what Shena told me. Sharn might come for you, but unless your conscience is clear, don’t get into the cart. Sharn knows where you should go.
If you do wish to know more about life in Port Naain, then I’d be pleased to recommend
As a reviewer commented, “This is a collection of stories about Tallis which go to show that it’s not all drinking afternoon tea or partaking of soirees for a jobbing poet. We discover some of his early life, some of the society feuds he became entangle with, and the story of how he met his wife and acquired the boat on which they live. Great little tales!”