Authors: Winston Graham
Tags: #Fiction, #Sagas
'I think he would not be George if he
came. He turns up, they say, from time to time to make sure the Harrys cannot altogether relax; but I don't think his visits are any more than about three-monthly.'
Geoffrey Charles did not answer for a while. The stars were appearing and disappearing behind drifting cloud or fog.
'I suppose the house is legally mine now.'
Well, it will be when you come home to claim it. I feel guilty in not taking more active steps to see to its condition; but so often in the past my intrusion on the property has led to bitter trouble between myself and George. While there were people to be considered, such as your Great-aunt Agatha, or your mother, or yourself - or Drake - I felt bound to interfere. But where a property only is concerned
'Much of the fencing that George put up has gone, either with the passage of time, or villagers have stolen it for firewood; but on the whole I gather very few of them venture on the property. They have a healthy respect for the two Harry bullies, and maybe a certain feeling that in due course it will be occupied by a Poldark again and so not treated too rough. B
ut the house is in bad repair. Cl
ance went over the other day.' ‘
Clowance? What for?'
'She's like that. I was home at the time and I scolded her for taking the risk of being caught trespassing. But I think I could as well have saved my breath. Of course she was upset that I was upset, and appreciated the reason. But she tends to be impulsive, to act by instinct rather than reason
'Like her mother?'
' - ah - yes, but not quite the same. At the back of
Demelza did - all the times she did apparently wayward things - and still does! - there's a good solid reason, even though in the old days it was not a reason or a reasoning I could agree with. Clowance is more wayward in that respect than Demelza ever was, because her behaviour seems to be on casual impulse. She had no
for going over to Trenwith, she just took it into her head to go and look at the house, and so did.'
'At least she was not caught.'
'That,' said Ross, 'unfortunately was Clowance's defence. "But, Papa, no one saw me." "But they might have," I said, "and it might have led to unpleasantness, to your being insulted." "But it didn't, Papa, did it?" How is one to argue with such a girl?'
Geoffrey Charles smiled in the darkness. 'I appreciate your concern, Uncle. If I am ever out of this war, or have a long enough leave, I'll get rid of those two Harrys and Clowance can wander about Trenwith to her heart's content
She said it was in bad condition?'
'You can't leave a house four years, especially in the Cornish climate, and not have deterioration. Of course
'What were you going to say?'
'Only that little if anything has been spent on Trenwith since your mother died. While your grandparents were alive George maintained the place with the minimum of upkeep; so in a sense it is ten years' neglect, not four.'
I was home.'
'In that sense, yes. But this is where you belong now. If we can with our small resources harness the Spanish and Portuguese efforts to resist, it ties down a disproportionate part of Napoleon's strength. And even his resources are not inexhaustible. It has been a desperately wearying trial of strength and endurance. D'you realize that Clowance can never remember a time when we were not at war with France? Except for that one brief truce. No wonder we are all weary of it.'
'Weary but not dispirited.'
It looked as if fog was thickening in the valley. Unless it dispersed before dawn it would be of great value to the attacking side.
'Look, Geoffrey Charles, meeting you in this unexpected way has brought home to me more acutely my neglect of your affairs - '
'Not rubbish at all. I am particularly culpable because, nearly thirty years ago, a similar state of affairs occurred in an opposite direction. I came back from the American war when I was twenty-three. My mother had been dead a dozen years or more but my father had only just died. But he had been sick for a while and the Paynters were his only servants, and you can imagine how ill they looked after him. Your grandfather, Charles Poldark, did not get on too well with his brother and seldom came to see him
would not want you - when you come back - to return to the sort of chaos and ruin I returned to.'
Geoffrey Charles said: 'Hold hard, there's Jenkins. I'll go and tell him your requirements. Let's see your rifle.' This was examined. 'A good weapon, Captain, that I'll wager you did not pick up in Oporto.'
'No, Captain, I did not.'
'What is it exactly?'
'A rifled carbine, with Henry Nock's enclosed and screwless lock. You see the ramrod is set lower in the stock
to make it easier to withdraw and replace when loading.'
Geoffrey Charles frowned at the mist. 'Some of the sharpshooter regiments have got the Baker rifle. Not us yet. We still handle the old land pattern musket. It serves.'
There was silence for a while.
Ross said: 'In the American war thirty years ago there was a man called Ferguson - Captain Ferguson of the 70th - he invented a breech-loading rifle. It would fire six shots a minute in any weather. It was a great success
But he was killed - killed just after I got there. I used one. Splendid gun. But after he was killed nobody followed it up. Nobody seemed interested.'
one comes to expect of the army’
said the young man. He bore the rifle away and soon came back with it. "That is attended to. Breakfast in ten minutes. Then I'll introduce you to my friends.'
'By the way
'Regarding your stepfather. You said he had not married again.'
True. Has he?'
'No. But I received a letter from Demelza shortly before I left. In it she says that there is a rumour in the county that George is now - at last - taking an interest in another woman.'
Who is she?'
'Unfortunately I can't remember the name. It's no one I know. Harriet something. Lady Harriet something.'
'Ah,' said Geoffrey Char
y. 'That may explain a little.' He scuffed the ground with his boot. 'Well
I suppose I should wish him no ill. He was my mother's choice. Though they lived a somewhat uneasy life together — undulating between extremes -
believe she was fond of him in her way. So if he marries now at this late age - what is he? fifty-one? - if he marries again now I can only say I hope he is as lucky a second time.'
*He won't ever be that,' said Ross.
A few minutes later they were called to breakfast: a piece of salt beef each, a dozen crumbly biscuits - perhaps with weevils but one could not see - and a tot of rum. Ross met the other men who were Geoffrey Charles's friends. They were light-hearted, joking, laughing quietly, all eager and ready for the mutual slaughter that lay ahead. They greeted Ross with deference, and a friendliness that deepened when they learned he was not content to be a spectator of the battle.
While they were eating a spare, dour figure on a white horse, followed by a group of officers, rode through them. There was a clicking to attention, a casual, dry word here and there, and then the figure rode on. It was Viscount Wellington making his final tour of the front. He had nine miles of hillside to defend, and his troops were spread thin. But they had the confidence that only a good leader can impart to them.
Ten minutes after Wellington had passed, the drums and pipes of the French army began to roll more ominously, and, as the very first light glimmered through the drifting mists forty-five battalions of the finest seasoned veterans in Europe, with another twenty-two thousand men in reserve, began to move forward in black enormous masses up the escarpment towards the British positions.
The second courtship of George Warleggan was of a very different nature from the first. A cold young man to whom material possessions, material power and business acumen meant everything, he had coveted his beautiful first wife while she was still only affianced to Francis Poldark. He had known her to be unattainable on all accounts, not merely because of her marriage but because he knew he meant less than nothing in her eyes. Through the years he had striven to mean something to her - and had succeeded on a material level; then, less than a year after Francis's death, he had seized a sudden opportunity to put his fortunes to the test; and with a sense of incredulity he had heard her say yes.
Of course it was not as straightforward as that, and he knew it at the time. Long before Francis's death the Trenwith Poldarks had been poverty-stricken; but after his death everything had worsened, and Elizabeth had been left alone to try to keep a home together, with no money, little help, and four people, including her ailing parents, dependent on her. He did not pretend she had married him out of love: her love, however much she might protest to the contrary, had always been directed towards Francis's cousin, Ross. But it was
she had married and no other: she had become Mrs George Warleggan in name and in more than name, and the birth of a son to them had given him a new happiness, a new feeling of fulfilment, and a new stirring of deeper affection for her.
It was only later that the old hag, Agatha, had poisoned his happiness by suggesting that because Valentine was an eight-month child he was not his.
For a cold man, preoccupied with gain, interested only in business affairs and in acquiring more power and more property, he had found himself suffering far more than he had believed possible.
Although a marriage undertaken on one side to acquire a beautiful and patrician property, and on the other to obtain money and protection and a comfortable life, should certainly not have succeeded beyond the terms for which it was tacitly undertaken, it
successful. There had been an element of the businesslike in Elizabeth's nature, and a wish to get on on a material level, which had responded to his mercantile and political ambitions; and he, taken by that response and by much else that he had not expected in her, had found himself more emotionally engaged with each year that passed. That they had quarrelled so much at times was, he knew now, all his fault and had arisen over his unsleeping jealousy of Ross and his suspicions about Valentine's parentage. But then, just when all that was cleared up, when there had seemed an end at last to bitterness and recrimination, when, because of the premature birth also of their second child, his doubts about Elizabeth and about Valentine had been finally put to rest, just then when the future was really blossoming for them both, she had
It was a
blow. It was a blow from which he had never quite recovered. His knighthood, coming on top of his bereavement, instead of being the crowning point of his pride and ambition, became a sardonic and evil jest, the receiving of a garland which crumbled as he touched it.
So in the early years that followed he had become very morose. He lived mainly at Cardew with his parents, and when his father died he stayed on with his mother, visiting Truro and his Uncle Gary daily to supervise his business interests and, almost incidentally, to acquire more wealth. But his heart was not in it. Still less was it in the social side of his parliamentary career. To enter a room with Elizabeth on his arm was always a matter of pride, to go through the repetitive routine of soirees and supper-parties, to perform alone a social routine he had planned for them both, was something he hadn't the heart to face. Nor any longer quite the same ambition. Unlike his rival and enemy Ross Poldark, his entry into Parliament had never been concerned with what he could do for other people but with what he could do for himself. So now why bother?
Several time he thought of resigning his seat in the House and being content to manipulate the two members sitting for his borough of St Michael; but after the first few bad years were over he was glad he had not. His own membership brought him various commercial rewards, and he found his presence in London enabled him to keep in closer touch with the movement of events than any proxy alternative he could devise.
Both his father and mother pressed him to remarry. Elizabeth, in spite of her high breeding, had never been their choice. They had always found her personally gracious and had got on well enough with her on a day to day basis; but to them she had the disadvantage of being too highly bred without the compensating advantages of powerful connections. Anyway, it was terribly sad she had gone off so sudden that way, but it was a thing that happened to women all the time. Being a woman and a child-bearer was a chancy business at the best of times. Every churchyard was full of them, and every evening party or ball contained one or another eager young widower eyeing the young, juicy unmarried girls and considering which of them might pleasure him best or advantage him most to take to second wife.
Therefore how much more so George!
esteemed in the county - or where not esteemed at least respected -or where not respected at least feared - a borough monger, a banker, a smelter, and now a knight! And only just turned forty! The catch of the county!
of the catches of the country! He could take his pick! Some of the noble families might not perhaps yet quite see it in that light, but they were few, and, as he progressed, becoming fewer. To grieve for a year was the maximum that decorum would dictate. To go on year after year, getting older and steadily more influential, and yet growing each year a little more like his Uncle Cary whose
interest in life was his ledgers and his rates of interest
It was too much. Nicholas, who had started all this from nothing, who had laid the foundations on which George had built his empire, who had seen all that he worked and planned for come to fruition and to prosper, had died the month after Pitt, and, as he lay in bed with his heart fluttering at a hundred and sixty to the minute, it had come to his mind to wonder why some sense of achievement, of satisfaction, was lacking. And he could only think that the circumstance disturbing his dying thoughts was his son's failure to react normally to a normal hazard of married life.
When Nicholas was gone Mary Warleggan continued to prod George about it, but with growing infrequency. What elderly widowed woman can really object to having her only son living at home, or at least be too complaining about it? After all, George had two children, and even if Valentine was growing into a rather peculiar boy, this would no doubt right itself as he became an adult; and she did see a lot of her grandchildren. Valentine spent most of his holidays at home, and little Ursula, the apple of her eye, was at Cardew all the time.
The situation also suited Cary. He had always disliked Elizabeth and she had disliked him, each thinking the other an undesirable influence on George. Now she was gone uncle and nephew had come even closer. Indeed in the first year of widowerhood Cary had twice saved George from making unwise speculative investments; George's grasp of the helm was as firm as ever, but the bereavement had temporarily deprived him of his instinct for navigation.
That time was now long past. Lately George had even recovered some of his taste for London life and for the larger scale of operations he had been beginning in 1799. He had found a friend in Lord Grenville, one-time prime minister and now the leader of the Whigs, and visited him sometimes at his house in Cornwall. In the endless manipulation of parties and loyalties and seats which had followed the death first of Pitt and then of Fox, George had gradually aligned himself with the Opposition in Parliament. Although he owed his knighthood to Pitt, he had never become a 'Pittite', that nucleus of admirers of the dead man notably centring round George Canning. He was convinced that the weak and fumbling Tory administration was bound to come down very soon, and his own interests would be better furthered by becoming a friend of the new men than of the old.
True, some of them had crack-brained schemes about reform and liberty, fellows like Whitbread and Sheridan and Wilberforce; but he swallowed these and was silent when they were aired, feeling sure that when the reformers came to power they would be forced to forget their high ideals in the pressures and exigencies of cabinet office. When the time came he might well be offered some junior post himself.
But George still had no thought of another marriage. Such sexual drive as remained to him seemed permanently to have sublimated itself in business and political affairs. Of course over the years he had not lacked the opportunity to taste the favours of this or that desirable lady who had set her cap at him, either with a view to marriage or because her husband was off somewhere and she wanted to add another scalp to her belt. But always he had hesitated and drawn back out of embarrassment or caution. The opportunity to sample the goods before buying never seemed to him to exist without the risk of later being pressed to purchase; and as to the second sort, he had no fancy to have some woman boasting behind her fan of having had him in her bed and perhaps cynically criticizing his prowess or his expertness.
There was one day he seldom missed visiting Trenwith, and that was on the anniversary of his marriage to Elizabeth. Though the wedding had in fact taken place on the other side of the county, he felt it suitable to spend a few hours in her old home, where he had first met her, where he had largely courted her, where they had spent most summers of their married life, and where she had died —even though it was a house that had always been inimical to him, the Poldark family home which had never yielded up its identity to the intruder.
He rode over with a single groom on the morning of June 20,1810, and was at the church before noon. It was a glittering, sunny day but a sharp draught blew off the land and made the shadows chill. Chill too and dank among the gravestones, the new grass thrusting a foot high through the tangle of last year's weeds; a giant bramble had grown across Elizabeth's grave, as thick as a ship's rope. He kicked at it with his foot but could not break it. 'Sacred to the memory of Elizabeth Warleggan, who departed this life on the 9th of December, 1799, beloved wife of Sir George Warlegg
an of Cardew. She died, aged 35
, in giving birth to her only daughter.'
He had brought no flowers. He never did; it would have seemed to him a pandering to some theatricality, an emotional gesture out of keeping with his dignity. One could remember without employing symbols. Besides, they were a waste of money; nobody saw them, and in no time they would be withered and dead.
He had taken care that she should be buried far from any of the Poldarks, particularly from that festering bitch Agatha who had ill-wished them all. He stood for perhaps five minutes saying nothing, just staring at the tall granite cross, which was already showing signs of the weather.
The letters were blurring, in a few more years would become indistinct. That would never do. They would have to be cleaned, re-cut, cut more deeply. The whole churchyard was in a disgraceful state. One would have thought the Poldarks themselves would have spent a little money on it - though certainly their own patch was not as bad as the rest. The Reverend Clarence Odgers was a doddering old man now, so absent-minded that on Sundays his wife or his son had to stand beside him to remind him where he had got to in the service.
Nankivell, the groom, was waiting with the horses at the lychgate. George climbed the mounting stone, took the reins, and without speaking led the way to the gates of Trenwith.
The drive was nearly as overgrown as the churchyard and George resolved to berate the Harry brothers. It was a big place for two men to keep in condition, but he suspected they spent half the time drinking themselves insensible. He would have discharged them both long ago if he had not known how much they were feared and hated in the district.
Of course they were waiting for him at the house, along with the one Mrs Harry, whom rumour said they shared between them; all smiles today; this was his one
visit of the year so they had made an effort to get the place clean and tidy. For an hour he went around with them, sometimes snapping at their explanations and complaints and apologies, but more often quite silent, walking with his memories, recollecting the old scenes. He dined alone in the summer parlour; they had prepared him a fair meal, and Lisa Harry served it. She smelt of camphor balls and mice. The whole house stank of decay.
So what did it matter? It was not his, but belonged to the thin, arrogant, inimical Geoffrey Charles Poldark now fighting with that blundering unsuccessful sepoy general somewhere in Portugal. If, of course, Geoffrey Charles stopped a bullet before the British decided to cut their
losses and effect another panic evacuation like Sir John Moore's, then of course the house
come to him; but even so, did it matter what condition it was in? He had no further interest in living here. All he was sure was that he would never sell it to the other Poldarks.
When the meal was finished he dismissed the Harrys and went over the house room by room, almost every one of which had some special memory for him. Some he thought of with affection, one at least with concentrated hate. When he was done he returned to the great hall and sat before the fire Mrs Harry had prudently lighted. The sunshine had not yet soaked through the thick walls of the old Tudor house. He had not decided whether to stay the night. It was his custom to lie here and return on the morrow. But the bedroom upstairs - his bedroom, next to Elizabeth's old bedroom - had looked uninviting, and not even the two warming-pans in the bed were likely to guarantee it against damp. The year before last he thought he had caught a chill.