Master Simon’s inn, the “Flowing Source”–“Good Entertainment for Man and Beast”–leant over the riverside by the ferry, a mile and a half above Ponteglos town. The fresh water of Cuckoo River met the salt Channel tide right under its windows, by the wooden ladder where Master Simon chained his ferry-boat. Fourteen miles inland, a brown trout-stream singing down from the moors, plunged over a ledge of rock into the cool depths of Cuckoo Valley. Thenceforward it ran by beds of sundew, water-mint and asphodel, under woods so steeply converging that the traveller upon the ridges heard it as the trickle of water in a cavern. But just above Master Simon’s inn the valley widened out into arable and grey pasture land, and the river, too, widened and grew deep enough to float up vessels of small tonnage at the spring tides. In summer, from the bow-window of his coffee-room, Master Simon could follow its course down through the meadows to the church-tower of Ponteglos and the shipping congregated there about the wharves, and watch in the middle distance the sails of a barge or shallow trading-ketch moving among the haymakers. But from November to March, when the floods were out, the “Flowing Source” stood above an inland sea, with a haystack or two for lesser islets. Then the river’s course could be told only by a line of stakes on which the wild fowl rested. The meadows were covered. Only a few clumps of reed rose above the clapping water and shook in the northerly gales. And then, when no guests came for weeks together, and the salt spray crusted the panes so thickly that looking abroad became a weariness of the spirit, Master Simon would reach down his long gun from the chimney-piece and polish it, and having pulled on his wading-boots and wrapped a large woollen comforter round his throat and another round his head, would summon his tap-boy, unmoor the ferry-boat, and go duck-shooting. For in winter birds innumerable haunt the riverside here–wild duck, snipe, teal, and widgeon; curlews, fieldfares, and plovers, both green and golden; rooks, starlings, little white-rumped sandpipers; herons from the upper woods and gulls from seaward. Master Simon had fine sport in the short days, and the inn might take care of itself, which it was perfectly well able to do. Its foundations rested on sunken piles of magnificent girth–“as stout as myself,” said Master Simon modestly–and on these it stood so high that even the great flood of ‘fifty-nine had overlapped the kitchen threshold but once, at the top of a spring tide with a north-westerly gale behind it; and then had retreated within the hour. “It didn’t put the fire out,” boasted Master Simon.
He was proud of his inn, and for some very good reasons. To begin with, you would not find another such building if you searched England for a year. It consisted almost wholly of wood; but of such wood! The story went that on a blowing afternoon, in the late autumn of 1588, two Spanish galleons from the Great Armada–they had been driven right around Cape Wrath–came trailing up the estuary and took ground just above Ponteglos. Their crews landed and marched inland, and never returned. Some say the Cornishmen cut them off and slew them. For my part, I think it more likely that these foreigners found hospitality, and very wisely determined to settle in the country. Certain it is, you will find in the upland farms over Cuckoo Valley a race of folks with olive complexions, black curling hair and beards, and Southern names–Santo, Hugo, Jago, Bennett, Jose. . . .
At all events, the Spanyers (Spaniards) never came back to their galleons, which lay in the ooze by the marsh meadows until the very birds forgot to fear them, and built in their rigging. By the Roles d’Oleron–which were, in effect, the maritime laws of that period– all wrecks or wreckage belonged to the Crown when neither an owner nor an heir of a late owner could be found for it. But in those days the king’s law travelled lamely through Cornwall; so that when, in 1605, these galleons were put up to auction and sold by the Lord of the Manor–who happened to be High Sheriff–nobody inquired very closely where the money went. It is more to the point that the timber of them was bought by one Master Blaise–never mind the surname; he was an ancestor of Master Simon’s, and a well-to-do wool-comber of Ponteglos.