Author: John Meade Falkner
Work from the English novelist and poet, best known for his 1898 swashbuckler, Moonfleet, a tale of smuggling which was extremely popular among children mostly for its themes of adventure and its gripping storyline.
Everyone in the tiny village of Moonfleet lives by the sea one way or another, so it's no surprise when young John Trenchard gets involved in the smuggling trade. Forced to flee England with a price on his head, John little guesses the adventures and trials he will have before he sees Moonfleet again or the change in his fortunes when he does.
The novel is set in a fishing village in Dorset during the mid 18th century. The story concerns a 15-year-old orphan boy, John Trenchard, who becomes friends with an older man who turns out to be the leader of a gang of smugglers.
One night John chances on the smugglers' store in the crypt beneath the church. He explores but hides behind a coffin when he hears voices. He finds a locket which contains a parchment, in the coffin belonging to Colonel Mohune ("Blackbeard"). Unfortunately after the visitors leave, he finds himself trapped inside, and is only rescued two days later when two of the smugglers, Ratsey, the sexton and Elzevir Block, the innkeeper of the Why Not? (Mohune Arms), investigate his disappearance. His aunt insists he leave her house and Elzevir Block takes him in to live at the inn.
The local magistrate, Maskew, is engaged in the struggle to put a stop to smuggling, and outbids Block for the lease to the inn when it comes up at auction. Maskew discovers the time and landing point of a smuggled consignment, and tips off the militia. Due to a change in the tide the smugglers arrive earlier and catch Maskew hiding in bushes, all the smugglers apart from John and Elzevir get away before the soldiers arrive. During a struggle with Block, whose son Maskew had previously killed, Maskew is shot by the soldiers by chance. John is also shot in the leg, and is carried up the cliff path by Elzevir to safety in an old quarry on the Isle of Purbeck. He and John are now outlaws, as they are believed to have murdered Maskew. John, with some inadvertent help from Ratsey, deciphers the coded parchment which allows him to locate a missing diamond of huge value. The diamond was obtained as a bribe from King Charles I during his imprisonment at Carisbrooke Castle and was hidden in a deep well by Colonel Mohune. Block and Trenchard recover the diamond from its hiding place after a desperate struggle between Block and Ezra the keeper of the well. Here and in the final chapter Block's great physical strength is crucial in the outcome.
They flee the country to The Hague in Holland, where they are duped by a diamond merchant named Mr Aldobrand while attempting to sell him the diamond. Elzevir is content to let the diamond go as he believes in the curse that is on it but John has almost become obsessed by it. John attempts to recover the diamond by burglary, but sets off an alarm, and both are arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment. They spend over a decade at a prison camp at Ymeguen, where they are branded with a Y which strongly resembles the coat of arms of the Mohune family and a symbol often seen around Moonfleet. They are eventually condemned to be transported to Java. A storm breaks out and by coincidence, their ship is cast ashore in Moonfleet Bay. Elzevir drowns in the surf on the beach after going back into the waves to rescue John. John recovers some semblance of his old life, marrying his childhood sweetheart, Maskew's daughter Grace, and unexpectedly inheriting the diamond merchant's wealth which he spends on charitable causes to appease the spirit of Colonel Mohune.