Authors: Winston Graham
Tags: #Fiction, #Sagas
Demelza went towards the boat disliking what she might see, though common sense told her that if the bodies had been too bloated the boys would not have picked them up.
Benjy Carter was back in the gig by now and, with Paul Kellow, was bending over the bodies which were lying in the stern. She could see the legs, both in tattered blue trousers, the bare feet. She kicked off her own shoes, pulled down her stockings and threw them out of the sea's reach, scrambled aboard, skirt dripping. One man was dark, swarthy, and cut about the head; he seemed also to have bitten his tongue
The other looked younger, with a mass of tawny hair; the rags of a shirt only partly hid a strong white chest.
Paul Kellow straightened up and pushed the hair out of his eyes.
'Well, Mrs Poldark,' he s
aid, pointing to the fair man. ‘I
believe this one is still alive!'
George Warleggan waited two weeks for a reply to his last letter to Lady Harriet; none came, so he felt he could delay no longer in putting himself at the centre of events during this constitutional crisis. He posted to London and reached there in the third week of November.
He found political London seething. Five years or more ago, following his new policy of edging himself into the favour of the future ruling party of England, he had resigned from White's Club and joined Brooks's, that traditional home of the Whigs. It contrived now to be a hot-bed of rumour and speculation. On the one hand he saw serious discussion and negotiation in progress, a lobbying for position, a hard bargaining for posts in the possible - indeed probable - new government. Those, however, who had no special axe to grind regarded the crisis as splendid entertainment and a sort of daily lottery. Fresh news of the King's health was awaited each morning and heavy sums were wagered as to the number of days it would be before he had to be restrained in a tranquillizer. Club wits when playing cards and laying down the king took to saying:
play the lunatic!' One older member when in his cups even imitated the Prince of Wales imitating the King at his most imbecile twenty-odd years ago.
The Lords Grey and Grenville, George knew, had been prised respectively from their northern and western estates and were in Town. Sheridan and Moira and Adam were in constant attendance on the Prince of Wales - who this time was being notably more circumspect. Spencer Perceval and his Tory ministers continued to hold the portfolios of office in their incompetent but tenacious hands and to hope that something would turn up.
good news in the last few weeks was that the French under Marshal Massena had suffered a severe setback at a place no one had ever heard of called Bussaco. The British had repelled a force of double their strength and beaten them into a headlong retreat with six or seven thousand casualties. (The Whigs were trying to minimize this news, and later information, that Wellington was once again retreating, gave them the satisfaction of arguing that the victory had been greatly exaggerated.)
All this was interesting to George; and if Wellington were being unsuccessful it was specially pleasing to him personally, for he had gone out of his way to accommodate that gentleman when he was seeking a place in Parliament three years ago; Wellington had sat for St Michael for a few months and had then casually left it. George had been very unfavourably impressed by his obvious lack of any desire to be made a friend of.
But the constitutional crisis and the opportunity for some parliamentary advantage if or when Grey and Grenville came to power - perhaps with luck even a baronetcy which could be passed on to Valentine - had not been the total or even the main reason for his postponing his courtship of Harriet Carter. Central to his decision was the lure of the factories in Manchester.
The three physicians, George learned, who were attending on the King were Sir Henry Holford, Dr Baillie and Dr Heberden. A fourth, who came twice a week and on whom the Queen relied for advice, was Mr David Dundas, the Windsor apothecary. This for the time was all, for when he recovered his sanity in 1788 George III had made his family swear they would never again call in 'the mad doctors', as he called them, for they had treated him so ill and put him into a strait-jacket. Chief among these tormentors was Dr Francis Willis, who ran his own private asylum in Lincolnshire. The King in fact no longer had any reason to fear this particular gentleman, as he had been gathered up by time; but there were, unfortunately for His Majesty, two sons, John and Robert Willis, who carried on their father's fell trade. The Queen had been resisting government pressure for several weeks but at last was giving way.
So these six gentlemen were now the six most important men in the kingdom. On their reports and prognostications the gravest and most far-reaching decisions had to be taken. With the King incapable of signing Orders in Council, the government of the nation simply could not function. Even Parliament itself could not be prorogued and could envisage the horrid prospect of having to go on sitting indefinitely. But if a regency
created and power vested in the Prince of Wales, and
the King recovered, the regency would at once become invalid and the King, who had hated his eldest son with an all-consuming hatred since the boy was seven, would be furious and perhaps sent into a new decline. Also the old King was very popular in the country, partly because he was old, partly because his old-fashioned bulldog opinions reflected the popular sentiment of the day, partly because he lived a good life, cared for his wife, and stood for a morality which people admired even when they didn't observe it themselves. Whereas the Prince of Wales was widely unpopular and despised; so that no political party which tried to rush events or appeared to be setting the legitimate king on one side without good reason could expect a smooth ride at the hustings.
The official reports of the doctors were all hopeful of an early recovery. Spencer Perceval said they were, and as Prime Minister it was his duty to acquaint Parliament with the news. After all, people said, why shouldn't it happen again as it had happened before? Twenty-two years ago a Regency Bill had been in active preparation, with Pitt making discreet arrangements to retire into private life, and the King had suddenly come round. It was bound to happen again. Or was it? Nearly a quarter of a century later? A man well into his eighth decade?
The other and lesser George was irritated by these official reports. It was quite clear to him that, since Perceval and his colleagues would be turned out of office when the King was officially superseded, they would set the best face on all and every medical report they received in order to put off the evil day. What of the unofficial reports? Prinny was a member of Brooks's, but had kept clear of it since his father's illness became known. Rumour in the club said that he had himself visited his father once and that the old man had not recognized him. It was said that the King hugged his pillow and called it Princess Octavius, that he denounced his wife as an impostor and claimed Lady Pembroke as the Queen.
How to be sure? Or if not sure, how to be surer than most people, sure enough to invest large sums of money on the outcome? Once it became certain that a Regency would be established the value of the Manchester properties would be quadrupled overnight.
By the time Christmas came Stephen Carrington had established himself as a personality in the community of Nampara, Mellin and Sawle.
Seeing them carried up the stream-bordered track to the house that day, the one man so obviously dead, the other so near it as to make the difference barely perceptible, Demelza had thought him too far gone for recall. She had hurried ahead to the house and sent Gabby Martin flying to bring Dr Enys. By luck Dwight was nearby and was able to superintend the first aid. The sailor was carried upstairs, stripped and covered with warm blankets; warming-pans were put at his feet, and his hands rubbed with spirit, while a drop or two of brandy was tried upon his lips. Dwight said the man was faintly breathing, and he stayed with him until that breathing became perceptible to all. Then he went down and sipped a little port with Demelza and patted her hand and said he would come again as soon as he had broken his fast in the morning.
But by morning the rescued man was conscious and able to speak. By afternoon he was eating light food and sipping a cordial. By the following day he was out of bed.
Stephen Carrington, gentleman. From Gloucestershire, where he had some interest in shipping and trade with Ireland. He had left Bristol in a barque bound for Cork. They had been dismasted in a great storm; the ship had begun to sink; one of the boats had capsized and he had taken to a life-raft with the mate and a lascar sailor. They had drifted for days - or so it seemed. The mate had died.
The lascar sailor had lasted almost as long as Carrington but not quite.
Youngish. Demelza would not have put him beyond thirty. A West Country accent but different from Cornish. He was clearly a very strong man, for Dwight found he had two broken ribs, yet he was soon moving about the house and farm as if nothing had happened. He had a broad face, particularly across the brows, and his leonine hair and bright blue eyes made him handsome. All the younger maids clearly thought so. As did Clowance. Wearing one of Ross's old suits, for Jeremy's were not broad enough, he made himself useful in any way that came along, friendly, cheerful, liked by everyone.
He was not penniless - there had been money in a belt about his waist - and he offered Demelza two guineas to pay for his keep. She refused. So he spent some of it up at the kiddleys getting on good terms with the miners.
ing lived in the company of gentl
efolk for twenty-five years but never been precisely one of them herself (though she enjoyed their company - occasionally - and admired some of their attitudes and came to adopt what she liked of their behaviour as her own), Demelza had razor-sharp perceptions about them. Far more so than Ross, who hardly bothered to notice. And she was not quite sure what to make of Stephen Carrington.
Two days before Christmas he asked if he might stay till the end of the year.
'Dr Enys tells me that me ribs are not yet healed, and it would be a great favour t'have a few more days in such pleasant company.'
'We shall be quiet for Christmas with my husband away, but you'd be more than welcome to be with us.'
He scratched his head. 'To tell the truth, Mrs Poldark, though me body's almost healed, the shipwreck's given me mind such a shaking up - being so near death, as t'were -that I'd be glad to have a little time more to rest and refit. I'm everlasting grateful.'
So Christmas came. There was a party at the Trenegloses and another one at the Popes, and a third, though restricted as to size, at the Kellows. To all these Stephen Carrington went. Demelza had given a party last year, so she made the excuse that Ross wasn't home. Caroline Enys, impulsive as ever, having decided against doing anything, suddenly made up a party to see out the old year. 'My two little brats are really too young to appreciate anything but sweetmeats and jellies, so let 'em go to bed and we'll celebrate Saturnalia. Or eat oaten cake if you prefer it.'
In fact they did a little of both. Although Killewarren had no very large room, the company dispersed itself about four or five. In one they played dice, in another they jigged to Myner's violin, in a third they helped themselves to goose and capon and pheasant, or syllabubs and chocolate cake, in the fourth they sprawled around a big fire and told stories. When midnight came a groom tolled the stable bell and the candles were blown out and everyone foregathered and, with appropriate grunts or squeals, dug for raisins in the great flat bowl of lighted brandy.
When the fun was over and she had kissed Dwight and Demelza, Caroline said: 'Why
that man still go a-hunting? I love him dearly but he does try us hard.'
'Tis in the blood,' Demelza said. 'I can't imagine why, for the other Poldarks s'far as I know have stayed quietly at home most of their lives. But it seems he tasted adventure too early and can't rid himself of the flavour.'
'As a civilian,' Dwight said, 'he's not likely to be at much risk; he may be home any day.'
'That's what I tell myself,' Demelza said, a little tremulously, moved by the occasion, the brandy, the warmth of the fire, and more particularly by the warmth of her two dearest friends.
'And where is Verity this year?' Caroline asked, perceiving the emotion she had stirred and trying to allay it.
'At home. Her stepdaughter Esther is coming to stay.' 'Will Andrew be there?'
'Senior? Oh, yes. He has been retired four years, greatly to Verity's relief.'
Caroline picked a hair off Dwight's coat. 'And this young man Jeremy fished out of the sea. Did he do it with a hook and line? Mr Carrington is, I agree, more than a little handsome. Better dressed and with a fashionable haircut he would not look at all out of place in a London ballroom.'
'They're Ross's clothes he's wearing.'
'Ah well, Ross has the sort of distinction that allows him to be shabby if he chooses. So does Dwight, but I won't let him choose.'
'You should try influencing Ross.'
'That I wouldn't dare! How long is he staying?'
'Stephen? I'm not sure.'
'We may be off to London next week, Demelza.'
of you? But you only came back in October! All this
I better prefer to stay in one place.'
'It's a small matter sudden,' Caroline said. 'Dwight has just received a medical invitation and he has thoughts of accepting it.'
Demelza looked at Dwight and Dwight looked back at her and smiled.
'Ross will be back by then,' he said.
'He'd better be. Otherwise I'll think all my - friends have deserted me.'
'Why don't you come with us to London?'
'What, and maybe cross coaches? - him going one way and me the other? No, thank you. But thank you all the same.'
The guests were dispersing to their various rooms again. Stephen Carrington as he left the room was linking little fingers with Clowance. Jeremy had Maud Pope in tow. The fair young Mrs Pope was standing reluctantly beside her elderly husband, politeness masking discontent.
'Tell me,' Caroline said, two gloved fingers on Demelza's wrist. 'Tell me, woman, what are you going to do about Clowance?'
Demelza looked startled. 'About her? What's wrong with her?'
'Only the complaint that attacks us all at that age. She's growing up.
getting prettier. It's a not uncommon phenomenon.'
'What should I do? Send for the Fencibles?'
Seriously, it is a problem that will one day concern me but not yet for almost a decade. I bred late. And for me it will not be so difficult. I'll take my two little drabs to London and dress them in fine silks and see if there is any quality dancing attendance. And by quality
do not mean the length of a gentleman's pedigree or the whiteness of his ruff.'
'I'm glad,' said Demelza. 'Oh
as for Clowance
what can I wish her? A life one half so happy as mine has been? With the man of her choice. Let her choose, Caroline. She must do that for herself.'
'So, I hope, will Sophie and Meliora when the time comes. Dwight would insist on it if I did not. But it is the
of the choice that matters. I want my children to have had a passably close look at fifty men before they drop their anchors. What concerns me a little, my dear, is that Clowance's choice, unless we take steps to amend the situation, will be limited to a half-dozen, if that. You say she does not care for the receptions and balls given in Truro?'
'Those two or three she has been to, no. She better prefers galloping across the beach on Nero . . . But Caroline, if she is suffering at all it is from the indecision of her parents. Ross does not care for these occasions - and often is away when he should be home. And I
well, I can never
myself in the situation of an anxious mother launching her daughter into a succession of soirees, parties, balls. Even though I have been Mrs Ross Poldark
so long I do not think I have the - the confidence or authority
Certainly not without Ross.' She stopped and frowned into the fire. 'But even if I
to? Surely not. My daughter is not a - a cow at a country fair with a bow of pink ribbon round its neck waiting for inspection from those who are interested in putting in a bid. She deserves something different from that!'
Dwight laughed. 'So you see, Caroline.'
His wife said: 'I see nothing but an obstinate misunderstanding of my meaning. Of course Poldarks are unique and to themselves, apart. No, no, I intend no irony. No one could see you or Ross pursuing the conventional
as it were. It would be a perversion of all you stand for in the county. Nevertheless, daughters - and sons for that matter - should be given the opportunity of seeing a fair sample of the opposite sex before they choose. And, since I see you are both against me, I can only add that it was my wide acquaintanceship with the landed youth of Oxfordshire that made me all the more instantly aware of the sterling qualities of Dr Enys.'
'Landless and penniless as I was,' said Dwight. 'I don't really believe calculation or deep perception entered into it with either of us, Caroline. We saw each other. And when we'd done that we'd eyes for no one else.'
'There you put your finger on it all,' said Demelza, helping herself to port and trying to convince herself. 'Of
it is better that every daughter and every son should meet as many as possible of their own age. But who's to say the twenty-third man you meet has anything to commend him over the third? If with the third the fire has been lighted, no extra numbers can put it out. And if in all you only have six to choose from . . . will the choice be any worse? I don't know. I saw only one. But then I was different. I was beyond measure lucky.'
'Consider Ross,' said Caroline. 'The luck didn't run just one way.'
Demelza patted her hand. 'We can argue about that.'
'Well,' said Caroline, 'it is good for old friends to have something to argue about at twenty minutes before one o'clock on the first of January, eighteen hundred and eleven. I'm tired of toasting "Death to the French", for I've been doing it for nearly two decades. So let us toast to ourselves - and absent friends.'