Authors: Winston Graham
Tags: #Fiction, #Sagas
On the 10
th of November Demelza had just finished making her weekly saffron cakes and was wondering how long it would be before Ross was home to taste them. In all their years together he had so far only been absent from home once at Christmas. In
807 he had travelled with the Earl of Pembroke on a special mission to the Austrians. He had not in fact ever got to Vienna, having been sent flying home from Copenhagen to report that France was intent on forcing Denmark into war with England. But then, no sooner was he in London than he was despatched again to Portugal as part of a mission to try to encourage the Royal Family to leave Lisbon and seek safety in Brazil.
That Demelza had not minded so much. She had heard he was safe back in London and knew precisely what the second mission was - in any event it was an honour to be so chosen and the dangers did not appear too great. But this latest invitation had reached him in Cornwall, and although he did not go into details his attitude showed that it was of a more secret and risky nature, and of such a kind that he was a little dubious about taking it on. However he had gone, and apart from a letter telling her of his arrival in London, nothing since. She presumed he was still in Portugal. There had come news recently of a British victory there - but followed by a continued withdrawal from the country recently liberated. It was all very confusing. And disquieting.
Of course Ross was a noncombatant, a civilian, a visitor, someone whose business it was to observe, not fight. But in battle the dividing line tended to get blurred. In any event she knew too well that it was not in Ross's nature to steer clear of conflict if he happened to become accidentally - and patriotically - involved.
So what it amounted to was this: at
day, while she was in the still-room rearranging the jars, while she was decorating the raisin cake, while she was scolding Isabella-Rose for getting into a temper, while she was rubbing her teeth with a mallow root to clean them - at
of these moments Ross might be dying of wounds on some dusty hillside in Portugal, sick of a fever in a hospital and unable to hold a pen, just safely returned to London and writing to her now, or jogging on a coach between St Austell and Truro on the very last stage of his journey home.
It was necessary to continue to live every hour as it came, prosaically, steadily, concentrating on domestic things, life in the house, at the mine, in the villages, arranging and preparing meals, seeing that there was enough ale, ordering coal and wood against the coming winter - and, as the lady of the manor, so to speak - being available to listen to complaints, resolve little difficulties, help the needy, be a sort of nucleus for the Christmas preparations whether in the church or the surrounding countryside.
And, if a horse clattered unexpectedly over the cobbles, it was really rather stupid to let one's heart lurch in sudden expectation.
The ioth November was a quiet, heavy day, and Jeremy had gone fishing again with Paul Kellow and Ben Carter. In the winter, instead of staying out till supper-time, they usually returned at dusk, so Demelza decided she would take a stroll down to the cove in the hope of meeting them as they returned.
It was only a month now from the eleventh anniversary of Elizabeth's death, and to Demelza the time had flown. Indeed, stretching it a bit further, it seemed no time at all since, in the darkest period of their married poverty, she
had walked down to the cove and gone out fishing while heavily pregnant with Jeremy, and had nearly lost him and herself as well. Now
was out fishing, tall, slender, nineteen years old, elusive, artistic, not taking life seriously, a harder person altogether to understand than Clowance.
The first decade of the century had been a good one, her relationship with Ross back to the early days, warm and full of laughter, intermittently passionate, always friendly. Into that sort of companionship they had been able to draw their two eldest children so that, in spite of occasional disagreements, the accord in the house, the outspokenness, and the unstressed affection was notable. Only lately perhaps, over the last year or so, had an element of unsympathy grown up between Ross and Jeremy.
Ross too, she thought, had been thoroughly happy - or at least as near happiness as so uneasy a man could well achieve. After the tragedy following her first visit to London, and after Elizabeth's death, he had wanted to give up his seat in Parliament. He had felt himself compromised by his duel with, and killing of, Monk Adderley. He had told Lord Falmouth that in any case he felt himself useless at Westminster, a place that was just a talking shop, where words were more important than deeds. Lord Falmouth had not taken his complaints too seriously, and when he got home she had added her arguments for his staying on.
It was the right decision, for soon afterwards opportunities for travel and unorthodox service to the Crown came along. It was not Lord Falmouth's doing but was the result of the impingement of his restless personality on his friends in Parliament. 'Why don't we send Poldark?' was a sentence that was heard more than once in Government circles over the next few years. To begin, he had been invited to take part in a mission to report on the conditions in which English troops lived in the West Indies. He was
away six months. The following year he had gone abroad again, though this time only to Norway. So further missions had developed, of which this last to Portugal was the fifth.
It suited him well. Though passionately attached to Cornwall, and wanting in principle only to live there, to run his mine, to love his wife, to watch his children grow, the restless adventurous streak would not be stilled. Since most of the missions in a time of war involved some danger, this suited him too. And he felt his usefulness in the world.
He had made little money. But over the years they had continued sufficiently affluent to live a comfortable life. As he said to Demelza, the most important thing was to strike a balance: poverty and riches each in their own way caused unhappiness. With money, the way to be happy was to continue to have almost enough.
When she reached the shore there was no sign of the boat. A spot of rain fell on her hand, and the gulls screamed and nagged at her. A lump of cloud like a sack of potatoes hung over the sea. Then she saw, far out, twin sails low down on the horizon.
It was funny, she thought, complete ease, complete satisfaction was never much to be found. There had been many changes around them in the last few years, changes in the neighbourhood. Sir John Trevaunance had died, and Unwin Trevaunance, in the money at last, had lost no time in selling Place House. It had been bought by a rich merchant called Pope, who had made money in America, a thin pompous man with an insufferably high collar and a voice like a creaking hinge. After one sight of the new owner Jeremy had re-christened Place House, the Vatican.
Mr Pope was fifty-odd, with an attractive young second wife called Selina and two daughters by his first wife, Letitia and Maud. Letitia was plain and eighteen, Maud a year younger and pretty. All three women were ruled with an iron rod.
Dr Choake had died, and Polly Choake had moved back to Truro, where there was more life, and especially more whist. She had not sold Fernmore but had let it to some cousins of hers called Kellow. Charlie Kellow, the father, was associated with coach-building and with two of the new enterprises that were just beginning to run stagecoaches about the county, and was as much away as at home. Enid Kellow was a dark cramped woman with eyes that didn't focus, so that one was never sure what she was looking at. There were three children: Violet, fair and pretty and ill; Paul, handsome and slight and too mature for his nineteen years; and Daisy, dark and vivacious and amusing.
So, Demelza tried to tell herself, how lucky they were, now Jeremy and Clowance were growing up, that people had come into the district with new and young company, to give variety to Ruth Treneglos's children and the children of the miners and village folk. She told herself this without a great deal of conviction because she didn't feel that any of the newcomers were quite up to the standard of her own family.
This, no doubt, was a strange feeling in one who had lived the first fourteen years of her life in the extremest squalor. But no doubt it was a common emotion among all parents. (No one is ever good enough for
children.) These newcomers . . . well, the Popes were, even Ross agreed, pretentious; quite unlike the Trevaunances, the Bodrugans, the Trenegloses, who, whatever their faults, were natural and down to earth.
never cared a damn about impressing anybody, being totally convinced that their own behaviour was right.
As for the Kellows, there was an unhealthy streak. An older daughter, it seemed, had died of the consumption, and Violet was in a fair way to do the same. Daisy was charming but
she seemed to want to live twice as fast as anyone else in case her life was half as long. And Paul was a little effeminate and greatly conceited with his own looks and opinions and he had too much influence over Jeremy.
They had only been in the house a year when Paul Kellow, then sixteen, had discovered an old mine shaft on the cliffs between Nampara and Trenwith which dropped sixty feet to a beach and a rocky inlet. (It was not far from the Seal Hole Cave of which Demelza still had wild dream memories.) Here, with the help of his father, he had built a ladder and nailed it to the side of the shaft so that there was access to the inlet at all tides. It was known already, and it would for ever more be known, as Kellow's Ladder, and here Paul kept his own boat - an old-style lugger that his father had picked up for him fifth hand from St -Ives, and which he used for less respectable ventures to Ireland or France.
The gig was coming in swiftly now. It was clinker-built and sturdy, ideal for use from a tidal beach. Ross had had it constructed in his boat-building yard in Looe five years ago, and he and Jeremy and Drake had sailed it round on two lovely summer days in June when the sea had been as calm as Dozmare Pool and light had danced off the rippling bow wave, and the ugliness of war had seemed a universe away. Since then Ross had used it scarcely more than twice, but Jeremy was always in it.
strange, Demelza thought, the number of days they spent fishing. Yet it was a harmless occupation. Jeremy had done well enough at Truro Grammar School -better than his father - but he hadn't wanted to go on to Oxford or Cambridge. Nor had he wanted to go into the Army or Navy, though he turned out for training with the Volunteers twice a month, of course, and certainly would fight with the best to fend off an invasion. But so far he seemed to lack enterprise and direction.
Perhaps, Demelza thought, he had grown up under the shadow of a very positive, active, dominant father. Though Ross had been the very reverse of harsh or demanding, indeed, had been far more indulgent than she was, you cannot change a personality, and if it is a very strong one its mere presence affects those around it.
She decided not to appear to be standing and waiting like an anxious mother, so climbed the rough path which would take her to the gorse-grown headland leading back to the Long Field. Half way up she apparently saw
for the first time, waved, and they all waved back. She stopped as they came slowly into the cove, dropping the lug sail and then the main sail, drifting gently, oar-steered towards that part of the beach where there was more sand than pebbles. Then she walked slowly back to meet them.
As they came in Ben Carter jumped into the water and pulled the boat a few feet up the sand. Jeremy followed and began to trot towards her. Ben Carter was that Benjy Ross Carter whose face had been scarred in a manner not dissimilar from his namesake's by the mentally deranged Reuben Clemmow that gale-ridden March night a quarter of a century ago. He was the second of the local boys who was devoted to Clowance, and it had to be admitted that Clowance took him a little more seriously than she did Matthew Martin. With his rangy figure and tight, intensely dark-browed, mobile face, with its short unfashionable beard, there were plenty of village girls ready and willing to take him very seriously indeed, but so far, with his twenty-sixth birthday not far distant, he had not been caught.
'Mother,' Jeremy said as he came up,
rather think we would better prefer not to see you just at this very moment, if you don't mind, for we have a cargo, an unexpected cargo aboard that will not pleasure you. Do you think you could be a good girl and walk away while we unload it?'
Demelza instinctively glanced past him towards the boat. In spite of the lightness of his words, Jeremy looked a little pale, and moved to block her view.
'What is it?'
'A little something we have picked up in the sea. A triviality, no more.' 'Tell me.'
He shrugged. 'Two dead men.'
Where were they?
'No. On a raft. Drifting slowly inshore. Near Trevaunance.'
She said: 'I have seen dead men before.'
'I suppose. I thought to save you the pretty sight.'
She walked past him and down to the boat. The great beach of Hendrawna, just on the other side of Damsel Point, was of course a place of constant reception for the flotsam of the sea. Throughout the centuries this iron coast had been a graveyard for ships, and even when the wrecks occurred twenty miles away the currents would often carry some of the booty onto one of the largest and flattest beaches in the country. So constant watch was kept by the villagers for any sign of treasure trove, and beachcombers tramped the high-tide mark twice daily, picking through the leavings of the sea. There had been nothing since like the great tragic wrecks of 1790, and, apart from a coal ship in '97 which had been a great boon to the villagers, pickings in recent years had been scanty. There had been little noticeable difference brought by the long war except an increase in the supply of corpses - an increment everyone except the most hardy could well have done without. Sometimes these, when new and recognizable, were given a decent burial in the churchyard, but more often than not they were shovelled in in the sandhills just too deep for the gulls to get at them.