Well – the writephoto prompt for today – always makes me think of that old joke: ‘well, well, well.’ ‘Yes, three deep holes in the ground.’

Thanks to KL Caley at New2Writing.com we have an intriguing view of a well this week. As I passed the lane to Moonfleet Bay on my holiday, this sprang to mind immediately. It’s just over 1300 words. And I sort of reviewed Moonfleet (in two parts) when I reread it a few years back.

a path amongst some foliage leading to a pyramid-shaped building.

Well, well, well

The guide staggered ahead of them, picking up a lantern as he led them into a copse, albeit along a roughly paved path. 

Peter thought he must be as old as the castle. With his slanted shoulders, and bowed legs, he must be ancient. And his face! A patch over one eye, and the other all droopy, showing red and yellow flesh of the lower lid… and then his hand, the one that now held the lantern aloft, all twisted and curled. The other he clutched to his side. Maybe it was broken beyond repair.

He shivered, not from horror or disgust, but because…well, he might be a pirate.

Then again, maybe he was an actor. Maybe it was just make-up.

He listened as the guide told his tale to the party who had gathered around the stone pyramid at the end of the path.

“…And when young Jim was let down into the well, he counted the stones, and sure enough, the sixth level down was different. He saw the mark, as clear by his candle as the day itself.”

Peter frowned, and looked around, half listening as the guide continued the tale of betrayal and riches stolen from the young man and his father.

There was no sign of the castle from here. No walls within reach, the roots of the trees had never been under any castle courtyard, although the path might be original. And surely it was John, not Jim? John Trenchard. Jim Hawkins was in Treasure Island.

Why had this tour of Carisbrooke Castle got it all wrong?

He’d already asked so many questions the guide had stopped listening to him.

He looked up at his father.

“What’s up, son?” he whispered.

“He’s got the story all wrong!” Peter tried to keep his voice low, but the couple in front of him turned and shushed him.

“I thought as much,” his dad whispered. “I wonder why. Keep shtum now; we’ll talk later.” He gave Peter a look, and Peter nodded.

They had finished the tour of the grounds by the time the guide left them, sending them all out of the gate towards the cafe, and holding a purse for donations as they passed. It was hard not to give him something. Peter’s father put a pound coin in, although he could see some had given five or even ten. They’d paid for the tour, it wasn’t like the guide wasn’t part of the ‘experience’.

“What do you think, dad?”

He sipped his tea, while Peter slurped his smoothie. All the food was organic and most grown or produced locally. The cakes looked good, though. His dad had said ‘maybe later’ when he’d ogled them.

“I think someone is working a con here.”

“A con! You mean, tricking everyone?”

“Yes. It may be a simple bit of private enterprise, but if that was the official tour I’d be very surprised.”

“But we booked it on the internet, on the castle website!”

“We did. Which just goes to show how easy it is to trick people into buying things online. Remember that, won’t you.”

Peter nodded. “But what are you going to do? We wanted to see the well in Carisbrooke Castle, the real well where they found the diamond.”

“We did. And we still do, don’t we?”

Peter nodded eagerly. His dad seemed to be on the case.

Half an hour later they were at the entrance to Carisbrooke Castle again, having gone a different way from the cafe, and found another, more official looking entrance.

Peter peered up at the inside of the castle from the gift shop door. It was just as he imagined it. Steep high walls, a short way across the yard to a formidable door, and the main body of the castle beyond its dark portal. He wanted to go in there, to the level where the well should be, and see where the diamond had been hidden. How terrified John must have been to have been lowered into a well, in a bucket, all that way in the darkness, with only a candle to help him see where the diamond was hidden. What if it had blown out? What if the rope had broken and he’d fallen to the bottom, and swum, and swum, until he drowned? Peter shivered.

“Getting cold in here?” his father asked, coming up behind him.

“Oh, no, I was just imagining…. What about the well?”

“Unfortunately, we’ve missed the last tour of the day. But we can look at the pictures of it, in the hall over there. But the upper rooms are closed, I’m afraid.”

“Aww. I really, really wanted to see it. That’s why we came.”

“Yes, and we have to go back on the ferry tonight, we can’t stay over.”

Peter shrugged and scuffed his shoe on the doormat. “Let’s see the pictures, anyway.”

“Good chap. Over there.”

It was an interesting display. Several wells had been built at the castle, so it wasn’t easy to work out which would have been the one John Trenchard used. Peter hardly noticed his father leave for a few minutes. He didn’t worry, he was bound to be back. And this picture had a coat of arms that seemed to remind him of one in the book he’d read. He went closer to read the history.

He finished his tour of the room and his father hadn’t returned. Now what?

He looked across the yard. The door of the gift shop was closed, and a liveried porter ushered the tourists out of the gate at the side. Five o’clock already! Where was his father?

“Are you all right young man? I’m just about to lock up, here.” Another porter, in the green and gold uniform of the castle, stood smiling at him.

“Er, yes, but my father’s gone missing. That is, he left me here and said he was stepping out for a few minutes.”

“Ah yes, I saw your father, I think, talking to our manager. Wait here a minute and I’ll be back when I know what’s happening.”

This was very strange. Would the horrible guide they’d had earlier in the day appear and kidnap him, and force him down a well? Peter looked around, looking in all the shadows, of which there were now many. He jumped as he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Sorry, young man. Please follow me. Your father is with the manager upstairs.”

“Um, I think I should stay where he left me…”

“Good. He said you’d say that. He gave me this to show you it’s okay to come with me.” He held out his father’s wristwatch. “Okay? Want to bring it back to him?”

Peter took the watch, and put it in his pocket. Why would… oh, it must be all right.

He followed the porter up a stone staircase that hugged the side of the castle wall, up to a corridor made of wood which then disappeared through an archway. He could hear his father talking to someone further along.

“Ah, good, well done, Peter.” His father smiled at him, and turned to the porter: “Did he pass?”

“He did indeed, sir.”

“So. We can’t manage the well expedition at dead of night, but we can go up there now with his lordship here, who is delighted that we’ve given him all the necessary proof of the illicit tours being run.”

“We have?”

“Well, I have. And you took the photos of the villains. So your reward is to see the actual well where the diamond was hidden. But I’m afraid you can’t go down in the bucket. It’s too dangerous, even by my standards.”

So Peter got to see the real well that hid the diamond in the story of Moonfleet by J Meade Falkner.

Which of course is just a story.

But the well holds its own secrets, of which Peter is now the keeper.

© J M Pett 2022

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Well (well, well) | #writephoto Flash Fiction
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