What happened there?
The night air was cold enough to steal your breath, and the mists rose from the marshes as I looked out over the river. Across from the docks from where I stood to lay the old church of St. Simon in the Wolds, long forgotten, since the building of the new town of Creech Hinton. I watched as a sea mist rolled down the river Bowles. The port of Creech Hinton was six miles from the sea, and even less from the old town area of Porterton, but they could have been in two different time eras. Porterton; the once thriving port on the north shore of the Bowles had been a vital medieval port in its time, and the sailor’s church had seen some good years service.
One day, so it is said; a boat was seen leaving the back door of St. Simon’s church carrying a large bag. Later stories told of the disappearance of Lord David Endersliegh the local land baron. He went missing although the family owned most of what later came to be Creech Hinton. Creech Hinton grew from strength to strength, as Porterton died away and the old church got left to rot.
The Endersliegh family went into shipping and got wealthy from the fishing trade, with a mansion house in Creech Hinton and another five miles inland at King’s Porrow they grew to be the principal landowners on this side of the Bowles. Trade had started to boom when on a year, the family got hit with a series of illnesses and bad deals. People began talking about the St. Simon’s curse, and how years before it had claimed a family, trying to leave Porterton.
I stood on the dockside and from my viewpoint, I was able to view the church and the single lane track leading to the church. From this side of town all you look at is a huge mud bank; as I watched events unfolding before me, I saw a sight which chilled me. Along the river coming out of the mists came a low punt, being pushed by two men with poles; they were heading to the back of the church. I stood fixated at the sight; then one of the men shouted, "Come out Endersliegh and pay your debts, like a man!"
After a short while, there followed a shout from the second man, "If you don’t come out, we'll come and get you!"
A shout from inside the church echoed across the mists of time, "Try as you may, I am not coming out!"
I stood with my mouth agape. I had been witnessing an event from the distant past for some reason; I had no idea of the events happening on the far shore, nor why I was shown these strange happenings from the past The punt appeared to move to the west bank and pitch. The men got out and walked to the church, daggers at the ready, when they turned the corner of the church I lost sight of them, but I heard the struggles going on inside the building. The sounds of men in a struggle carried through the mists as did the sounds of metal upon metal.
Through the struggles, there came a shout from inside the church, "Davis Martenfeld, I curse your family to stay here until this church falls around you."
The men left carrying a large and apparently heavy object rolled in a church drape. One of the men I recognised one as the second boatman. The other man I didn’t see but I assumed he had been in the church during the fighting as his clothing was torn and bloodied. This man stood a head above his companion and had a darker complexion. From this distance and through the mists, all I was able to tell was the men rowed up the river and disappeared into the mists. This mysterious happening had intrigued me so much; I started to enquire in the town as to its meaning. With my interest in a new pitch now I set off back into Creech Hinton, to have a meal at the Towers Inn.
I was musing to myself, when I asked the barmaid, "Excuse, as I don’t know the area well, what is the easiest way to Porterton by car?”
The bar hushed, she looked at me with a mix of trepidation and horror in her eyes, as she leant forward to say, "Sir, in these parts we don’t mention that place, there is still a lot of folks who have bad feelings about the area."
A gent at the bar glanced over at me and said, "I watched as you were looking over the river at Porterton earlier, the young man and at you had the appearance of somebody who had witnessed some strange events. You won’t get much shift from folk here about Porterton, that's as close as folks here are likely to get to going there; we remember the spring of 1995 and the terrible accident which befell the Martingfield family."
With a look of interest, I replied, "Did you say Martingfield?"
"Yes sir, John, his wife Jane and son Philip tried to leave the area but the car went off the road and got stuck in the bogs; the weird thing it was a clear day, and John knew the road, so why did the car go off the road? He lost his family and went mad with grief." Seeing my interest, he added, "Why are you so intrigued by the name? They are an old family and lived here in Porterton longer than memory can recall.”
"I can imagine, I found out they had been here for centuries.”
"How can you? You said you haven’t been to the area.”
"When I stood on the dockside, through the sea mists, I saw a boat row up to the church, and two men got out and went into the church. I heard the struggles of a fight inside, and two men came out, I recognised one, he was one of the two who went in. The other was darker and taller than the first.” The bar went silent as I continued with the story of my sightings, "Next, there was a cry of Davis Martenfeld I curse your family to stay in the area until this church falls around you!”
People that only a few minutes ago had once been happily chatting away, now started leaving, as the bar cleared I turned to the man sat by me and said, "What did I do wrong?"
My companion said to me, "Buy me a pint kind sir, and I shall tell you a tale."
This request for a drink I did with relish as I’m fascinated by the stories of the folks in villages. "First I shall introduce myself, I am Roger de Endersliegh. Yes, the same family that owned Porterton lands and now Creech Hinton. I too am a local fisherman as were my kin down the centuries. Earlier today I came ashore from a fishing trip, the night is warm and with no breeze; yet you witnessed a sea mist rolling in. I can assure you we had no mist tonight; if the mist had rolled in I would have been ashore a lot sooner than 8:00, the bogs and channels here can change shape in the mist and getting lost in them would be easy; even for an experienced waterman like me. Folks around here had long awaited and feared this day; the folk story says “A stranger will cross the barriers of time and reel back the truth for all to realise.” I don't doubt what you saw; folks around here are mighty suspicious being as they are fishermen."
"Where did the people go?" I asked Roger.
"Probably to the church of St. Mark’s down the road."
"Why? There are some churches a lot closer.”
"St. Mark’s is the largest church in Creech Hinton; they've gone to pray to save their souls, safety in numbers I guess. For the time they let the Martenfeld family suffer the sins of my family."
"Aren’t you worried about your soul?" I asked him.
"Not in the slightest!"
"Why aren’t you afraid? By your admission, your family are the sinners here.”
"Are we, or was the town itself to blame for blaming the Martenfeld family for that night over the centuries? They should have stood by the family, instead of running to this side of the Bowles to escape their combined guilt. The Endersliegh’s would still own a lot; we had the boats, the men worked them, and the ladies cleaned and mended the nets for us.’
"Do you believe your family is cursed? You had all the illness and lost the money.”
"No. Why should I?"
"The people here mentioned the curse.”
"Mainly because they want to, the losses were no more than some bad business deals; as for the illnesses, we found out fifteen years ago it was a genetic ailment which had lain dormant for centuries, it could come to the fore any time.”
“Why do the folks here believe in the curse so strongly?"
"Their way of cleansing their souls-I guess."
"Are you going to put them out of their misery after all this time?"
"Perhaps, I need to decide yet. The Martingfield’s suffered for centuries. I think a year or two more for these folks won’t go amiss; after all this time."
The bar closed for the night and my new friend and I went back to the docks to continue our chat about the area and its history. Roger said, “You won’t get much help from folk here if you want to visit Porterton and the church, but I am willing to drive you to the church. I know the bogs and marshes. The people around here won’t go, nobody from here has been to Porterton for almost thirty years, and they are not sure of the roads."
"Partially you say. What is the rest of the reason?”
"Mainly, they are very superstitious about the area and think the area haunted since the curse was laid and don’t wish to go over."
"You don’t believe in the curse."
"No, the family feel secluded. The old church isn't comfortable, but at least they were not scorned. The accident had been no more than a slight miscalculation of the tides. The tides move the sandbars on which we drive. Miss one and you are in the bogs; another reason is people think the sands are haunted because they move but that is tidal pressures on sands.”
We went on our way, agreeing to meet after breakfast the next day for the journey; although the trip was short, owing to the land conditions a ten-mile drive was to become a twenty-five-mile journey to avoid the marshes. On the drive to the church, we had another exciting discussion linking to events of the previous day.
"I couldn’t help notice your name is de Endersliegh and not Endersliegh," I queried.
"Yes, the de Endersliegh’s are a French family. We go back centuries; that's why the man you saw was darker and taller than the two who entered the church. He was a foreigner, and the locals thought Martenfeld might be helping him start a series of raids on the coastal villages as Martenfeld did not sound English either. The name they use now is their real one, not a modern variation.”
"The two men I saw in the boat looked a lot different to him; as I said smaller and lighter skinned."
"They were probably just a pair of vagrant sailors down on their luck and after what they thought was easy money; which is why one got killed."
Roger’s car drove towards Porterton, and the clouds closed in; giving a feeling of dread, "It’s going to be stormy at sea tonight my friend, look at the clouds ahead."
While we drove, the clouds seemed to be gathering for a terrible storm, as they went from grey to black and appeared to cut off all light, so much that even though it was before midday. My friend was driving slowly on full beams.
"From what I saw the boat vanished halfway upstream, and tales say your relative had never been seen leaving the area."
"What you have to remember sailors had few charts in those days and most of the tidal knowledge had been passed by word of mouth or from memory and hearsay around ports, so they probably got caught in the riptide here as they didn’t know the currents as we do now."
When we turned off the A3589, onto the Porterton road, the road went from a drive to little more than a dirt track as so few people use it. There were strange stories of the house and church, which kept the folk away. Half a mile down the trail we met a large gate and an electric fence.
We stopped at the fence, looking around we saw a camera link, "Hello Mr Martingfield, can we come in and talk to you?" My friend asked.
A distant and tinny voice replied, "What for, I ain’t talked to anyone in years and don’t feel like doing so now."
"Can we come in, please? We have some important news for you, and I would prefer to tell you, rather than this machine.”
“What we have to say is personal and private, and I don’t want to get soaked as the storm will break soon," I added.
The clouds appeared to have heard me; as if on cue, there was a loud clap of thunder and the rains came down, pelting on the car roof and bonnet. There seemed to be no let-up, either from the storms or inside, so I decided to take a chance.
"Mr Martingfield, if you want to stay locked in there you can. We will give you five minutes, then we are off, and you will not know what you might have had. It's your choice now.” I put the phone down, turned around and said to my friend "No use waiting in the rain, let’s get in the car."
"If he calls, we won’t hear the phone in here, with the distance and rains."
"If he wants to meet, he can open the gates for us, and I'm betting he's in two minds now."
After four minutes the gates opened, and we were allowed in. For the first time in over thirty years, somebody had been down this drive other than the family It was terrifying, the trip was bereft of any signs of nature, it was as though life had given up. The old church and house were close to ruins. Apparently, they had hoped it would collapse and break the curse for them.
When we arrived at the house, a man came to greet us, dressed in an old cardigan with torn jeans and slippers, his grey hair straggly and sparse. He greeted us with, "Hello I am Paul Martingfield, the last of the line,”
We walked across the hall to the only room which appeared to have lights on, and our host bade us sit down. The old chairs creaked under the strain of being sat on for the first time in ages. We were looking at the books on the shelves in the library when our host returned with some coffee " I am sorry for being so abrupt, years on your own, knowing I won’t have family have turned me nasty to others."
"That is understandable." My friend said as we had our coffees.
"I've seen you around Creech Hinton sir, and wondered are you related to the Endersliegh’s as you have their features?" our host enquired after my friend.
"Yes, I am Roger de Endersliegh and have come to tell you that there is no curse here. In the olden days, your family knew the tides and ways here and kept to yourselves. My family lost the money in bad business deals and found we had a genetic flaw recently which is the reason for all those illnesses." My friend continued "You are free to leave whenever you wish. I am so sorry that your family suffered for things beyond your control; and for things which you did not do, for so many centuries."
When we drove up the road, you could see the look of happiness on the man’s face as we crossed his gate for the final time, him knowing he would never get drawn back there by fear again.
That night in the bar, I was chatting with my friend about the things we had done when I said: "You appeared to have rationally explained everything away, haven’t you."
"Not by a long way!”
"What do you mean? You explained the curse, your family, the missing boat. There isn't much more."
"Yes, there is a whole lot more."
"There is the story of how a stranger will cross the barriers of time and reveal the truth for all to see, and how on a clear warm night, you saw the sea mists rising. That is something I cannot explain away.”