Authors: Winston Graham
Tags: #Fiction, #Sagas
Business took him to Manchester in September, and he was gone a month. He had only been north of Bath once before, when he visited Liverpool and some of the mill towns in 1808. These new mushroom towns of Lancashire excited him with their belching chimneys, their seething, smoky streets, the crowds of grey-faced cheerful workers tramping over the greasy cobbles into the mills and factories. Here was money being made, in new ways. Factories, new factories, were springing up everywhere, employing twenty workers in one place, a thousand in another, and with every variation in between. The vitality of a place like Manchester was attracting the most enterprising of the working orders, who came in from town and countryside hoping by hard work, intelligence and thrift to become one of the employers instead of one of the employed. A few succeeded - enough to inspire the others - and when they did so succeed climbed virtually from rags to riches in a half-dozen years. It was an inspiring sight, and George did not much notice, or at least was not affected by, the other side of the picture. The horrible conditions in which most of the millhands both lived and worked was a natural by-product of industry and progress; it literally was part of the machinery, the human element which drove and operated the looms, the bobbins, the spindles, the flying threads, the warp and woof of cotton manufacture which created riches where none had ever been before.
He knew, of course, that half the labour force was under eighteen years of age, that Irish parents sold their children to the mills, and that the workhouses of England disposed of their pauper children in the same way, that many children of ten years old and less had to work sixteen hours a day. Several of his more sentimental Whig colleagues, such as Whitbread, Sheridan and Brougham, had made speeches on the subject in Parliament and created a great fuss about it, so he could hardly be in ignorance of the statistics. But while he regretted them in principle he accepted them in practice and saw no way of altering a situation which industry had created out of its own dynamic.
However, on his second visit he saw more, could not fail to see more, of the poverty and distress which his colleagues talked about and which had led to protest meetings and riots in the new towns. And now it was not just the distress of the exploited, it was the distress of the manufacturers themselves, faced with over-production and the closure of the European markets by the new edict of Napoleon, which had almost put a stop even to the smuggling in of manufactured goods via Heligoland and the Mediterranean ports. Many of the mill-chimneys no longer smoked, and a worse hunger than ever before stalked the towns. Beggars and child prostitutes infested the streets.
George stayed with a man called John Outram, who represented a pocket borough in Wiltshire but who had property in the north. Outram was convinced that only peace with France would save the manufacturing interests from disaster. But this, it seemed, was as far away as ever. The obstinate, pedestrian group of Tories who ran the country, and who were supported not only by the King but by the sentiment of much of the country itself, would not negotiate yet again with the great Corsican. They persisted in the delusion that somehow, if they held on long enough like a battered old bulldog with its teeth locked, they could defeat him - or he would defeat himself - or he would die - or some other piece of good fortune would occur to get them out of the mess they were in. In the meantime a quarter of manufacturing England starved.
Outram said if only one could see peace in a year there were outstanding pickings to be had in Manchester at this time. A dozen big firms he knew personally were on the verge of bankruptcy. Five had already crashed - and that of course was not counting the plight and the fate of many of the small ones. A hundred thousand pounds laid out now would be worth a million next year - if there were only peace. But what chance
George licked his lips. 'If the King were to die
'Ah, Prinny would change it all, I know. He's committed to turning these nonentities out of office. We'd have a negotiated peace in six months. But there's little real chance of that. The King is seventy-three, but they say he's as vigorous and hearty as a man of fifty. Perhaps more vigorous, if the truth be told, than his eldest son!'
'It comes of living a better life,' said George coldly.
'I've no doubt,' said Outram, looking sidelong at his friend. 'I've no doubt. Though personally, over the years, I wouldn't have minded being in Prinny's shoes. You must admit he's had the pick of the crop in every field! Ha! Ha!'
While he was in the north George took time to examine some of the opportunities that existed. He hadn't the least intention of investing any of his money in this area while the future remained so unpredictable, but it gave him pleasure to see some of the businesses and properties which, if not already officially on the market, could be picked up cheap one way or another at this time. It interested his keen brain to see how mills and factories operated, how they balanced the price of their goods against their operating costs, how much of those costs went on the human factor of wages, how much on the machines they worked. It stimulated him to consider in what ways he could have improved on the organization; and sometimes the primitive book-keeping amused him. It would have shocked Cary.
Each time he thanked the anxious owners for their time and trouble and said he would consider the matter and write later. Of course he never wrote. But in the bow-window of his sunny, autumnal bedroom in Knutsford, he made careful notes of what he had seen, and filed away for future reference all the information he had been given. One never knew when such things would come in useful.
He returned to Truro on the evening that Ross Poldark met his cousin's son on the wooded hills behind the convent of Bussaco.
Among the later acquisitions to George's personal coterie was a man called Hector Trembath, the notary who eleven years before had picked up the pieces of Mr Nathaniel Pearce's ruined practice and tried to put it together again. This had not been easy, for when there has been fraud and dishonesty in a firm, clients shy away even though the owner of the practice is quite new. George, seeing in the young man a useful ally and if necessary tool, had befriended him and helped to set him on his feet. As a result Trembath was altogether George's man. In appearance he was tall and slim, with a lisp and a mincing walk that made some people think he was not entitled to the wife and two children he claimed. Being of a good
education and gentlemanly appearance, he
could go into
company where such men as Garth and Tankard, George's
factors, would have been out of place. And he was never
reluctant to undertake errands of inquiry or negotiation. It was he who had reported on Lady Harriet Carter.
He waited on George on the morning following George's return and reported further. It appeared that Lady Harriet had returned home to Hatherleigh,
and there was going to be a sal
e of both stock and farm, including her husband's horses and her own. It was to take place the following week. When George expressed doubt as to the likelihood of this tale, Trembath produced the advertisement in the newspaper and the notice of sale.
George said: 'But this is taking place under a writ of
That means - well, of course you know what it means!'
'A forced sale, Sir George. On the direction of the sheriff. It means everything must go.'
George turned the money in his fob. The feel of gold coins between his fingers was always pleasurable. 'I can scarce believe that the Duke would permit such a thing! His own sister! It's monstrous.'
'It may be, Sir George, that she has refused help. That is what I gathered.'
'I chanced to get acquainted with her farm manager
Trembath looked up coyly, and George nodded his approval.
'. . . who says that Sir Toby Carter's debts were so horrific that nothing can be saved. The worst has only become known since the Leicestershire estate was sold. I think it is her Ladyship's wish to accept help from no one until the whole debt - or as much as possible — is liquidated.'
George was reading the sale notices. 'But some of her own possessions are listed here. At least, they must be hers
'I think she is' Trembath coughed 'liquidating the memories also, as you might say.'
George said: 'These horses. "Tobago, Centurion, Lombardy, the property of Sir Toby Carter. Dundee, Abbess, Carola, the property of Lady Harriet Carter. Dundee the prize-winning steeplechaser of sixteen hands, eight years old, in superb condition, one of the finest hunters ever bred in Devon
What is a steeplechase?'
'It's a form of obstacle race,' said Trembath. 'Over hedges, streams, gates, etcetera, always keeping the church steeple in view. I confess I should not have known myself if I had not asked. It is become fashionable in Devon and-'
'Yes, yes,' said George. He went to the window, hands behind back, and viewed the scene. Below, a handcart was being dragged over the cobbles by two gypsy women and followed by some mangy dogs. Two things George very much disliked were gypsies and dogs. He would gladly have whipped the former out of town and hung the latter in the nearest barn. He did not mind horses. In a detached way he was fond of them, since they provided the only means of transport on land, apart from one's own legs. He liked their powerful, muscular quarters, their warm animal smell, the readiness with which they allowed themselves to be utilized by man. He wondered idly if Harriet Carter were over-fond of dogs as well as of horses. It was a horribly common complaint among the landed gentry. Perhaps it was the commonest complaint of all English folk.
He was aware that young Trembath was still talking. He
was sometimes inclined to prattl
e. At thirty-eight he should have grown out of the habit. 'What's that you say?'
Trembath recoiled a little. 'Er - Walter, the farm manager, said Lady Harriet was very put about, whether to allow Dundee to go. She was much distressed, but in the end thought it the only thing to do. They say he'll fetch a pretty penny.'
Trembath looked starded. 'Sir?'
'How much would it cost? Have you any idea?'
'The horse, sir? I have no idea. It will be at auction, of course. The price will depend upon how many people bid for him.'
'That I do happen to know. But, let me see, when did I buy a horse last? That should give one some idea.'
'I think, Mr Warleggan, that this is likely to be a special price.'
'Well, let it be a special price. And do you - does your friend know what will happen, what Lady Harriet's intentions are once the property is sold?'
'No, Sir George. Would you like me to inquire?'
'Discreetly, yes. Tell me, when there is a sale of this sort - under a sheriff's writ - will the vendor be present at the sale?'
'Oh, I think that is a matter of personal choice, as you might say.
was at a sale in Tresillian last year, of this nature, sir, of this nature, and the vendor stood beside the auctioneer all day. But in the case of a lady of delicate sensibilities
'Well,' George said, 'we shall see.'
The sale took place on Tuesday the 2nd October. No reserves were placed on any of the items, and as a consequence many of them went very cheaply indeed. Not so, however, Dundee, who fetched one hundred and fifty guineas. A thin, effeminate, youngish man who gave his name as Smith, was the buyer. Lady Harriet Carter appeared briefly for the sale of the horses but was not visible during the rest of the day. Sir George Warleggan, of course, was not present.
Until the estate was finally settled, William Frederick Osborne had offered his sister a dower house near Helston called Polwendron, and had suggested that when Harriet chose to live in London, as he trusted she would now do most of the time, she should live at
Lower Grosvenor Street, which he shared with his mother. Harriet thanked him and moved to Polwendron. She had no particular fancy for the West Country, she wrote, the hunting was not good enough, but William should know she was none too taken with London life either, where the only grass to be seen grew among sooty cobbles and too many of the smells were man-made.
In mid-October a groom arrived at Polwendron leading a black horse and delivered it to the house, with a note.
The note ran:
Dear Lady Harriet,
It came to my Notice through a mutual acquaintance that in painful Circumstances to which we need not refer again you were yourself recently parted from a Friend. This, I am sure, caused distress on both sides, and in recollection and in commemoration of our several delightful Meetings,
am endeavouring to repair that distress by returning your Friend to you. I think you will find he has been well cared for and is in good health. I have not rid him myself for fear of finding myself unwittingly involved in a Steeplechase, which is an occupation on which I as yet lack instruction.
I have the honour to be, dear Lady Harriet, Your most humble and obedient servant, George Warleggan.
It was a letter on which George had spent the best part of a day, destroying one draft after another. In the end he flattered himself it was exactly right. Only at the very last moment had a stirring of humour induced him to add the last sentence. Now he felt the letter would not have been half as effective without it.
The groom came back empty-handed. Lady Harriet was not at home. But the following afternoon a ragged young person without livery of any sort brought a reply.
Dear Sir George,
When I returned home yesterday eve Dundee was cropping the grass on my front lawn. Having read your letter, I do not know whether to be more overcome by your splendid Generosity or by your quite improper Presumption. Regarding the former, I must confess that my reunion with my hunter was of a touching nature which could not have left a dry eye, had there been an eye to see. Regarding the latter, my over-impulsive decision to sell Dundee was largely inspired by a wish to put behind me certain unpleasant Memories which this horse will always invoke - more so, certainly, than by any conscientious or earnest wish to see my husband's Creditors utterly satisfied.
However, since your act can only have been inspired by kindness of heart, and since I regretted the sale as soon as it had gone through, I am indebted to you, Sir George, for enabling me to recover my best Hunter in such an agreeable and untedious way. My indebtedness, naturally, can only be Moral, and not Financial, and I am accordingly enclosing my Draft on Messrs Coode's Bank of Penzance for one hundred and fifty guineas. Should you have had to pay more than this from the anaemic, prating fellow who bought it at the auction, pray tell me the amount and I will reimburse you further.
Again thanking you, I am, Sir George, Yours
George read the letter almost as often as he had drafted his original note. After leaving it a day he wrote back.
Dear Lady Harriet,
I am happy to have your letter of the 19th and to learn from it that, even though I may have been presumptuous in returning your horse without your prior permission and consent, yet that I did not err in supposing this reunion to be something you desired in your Heart. Indeed it is a compliment to me to know that I estimated your feelings rightly.
But, since this was intended as a Gift - a light Gift and to be treated lightly but not to be rejected - I am distressed that you should deplete my pleasure by more than the half in introducing the question of
If it is more blessed to give than to receive, then I do not think you should take away from me the greater part of the beatitude. I venture to return your Draft, and have the honour to subscribe myself, madam.
Your humble and obedient servant,
There was a week's delay, then a note came back.
Dear Sir George,
Did I not in my first letter speak of your improper presumption? - the cause of the offence lying in the greatness of the Gift: from a gentleman to a lady of the briefest Acquaintance. How much more improper, therefore, would it be for the lady to connive at such presumption. I am therefore returning the Draft to you again, and beg of you, if you value that little friendship we have so far achieved, not to return it a second time.
Riding Dundee yesterday, it seemed to me that the change of Ownership, brief though it had been, and his sudden and unexpected return to me, had in part at least purged out association of its ugly memories, and that my obligation to you was therefore the More. So let it be. The thought is all.
I am, sir, yours
George waited a few days. He made no attempt to pay in the draft, and had no intention of doing so - at present. But it did cross his mind that this way he might hedge his bets and, as it were, get the best of both worlds.
Eventually he wrote again:
Dear Lady Harriet,
So let it be. The thought is all. But since the
of my presumption lies in the smallness of our Acquaintanceship, might not the error be atoned for in some part by a resumption of that Acquaintance, thereby reducing by each meeting some of my offence? In such a way Acquaintanceship may become Friendship, and, as we are now neighbours - or would be in a county of larger estates - this is surely no more than a natural progression? Would you permit me to call?
I am, dear Lady Harriet,
Your humble servant and admirer, George Warleggan.
George read this through many times before he sent it. He thought: what phrasing; how I have progressed! Twenty years ago I would not have
Ten years ago, with all the culture that Elizabeth brought, I could not have done it. But there it is; evidence of maturity, a growing elegance of thought; a blacksmith's grandson has become a courtier! Even Lady Harriet's friends could not have done better than that.
At length he sent it off, reluctant to part with it to the last. As the groom clattered away on his fifteen-mile ride, Gary Warleggan came into the parlour with news just received from London that the King had gone mad.