Authors: Winston Graham
Tags: #Fiction, #Sagas
Early January was fine and still in Cornwall, with the ground soft and damp and no bite to the air. All the unrelenting savagery that the weather and the sea were capable of was withdrawn, held in abeyance, scarcely to be considered as a serious threat. No sun came through; the days passed under grey, mild, still skies. Compared with two weeks before, a little daylight seemed to have crept into the afternoons.
One day Stephen Carrington said to Clowance: 'This house. This Trenwith House that you say is near and belongs to your cousin - which way is it?'
'Just past Grambler. You know, the village. About four miles.'
'Could we walk there? They tell me it is more than two hundred years old, and I am interested in old buildings.'
Clowance hesitated. 'Well, officially it belongs to my cousin Geoffrey Charles Poldark, but his stepfather, Sir George Warleggan, actually takes care of it for him, and Sir George does not encourage visitors.'
'Does he live there?'
'Oh no. Just two gamekeepers who care for the place for him. But he is not friendly with our family, and my mother has forbidden me to go there again.'
Stephen thrust a hand through his thick hair. 'Well, I have the greatest respect and admiration for Mrs Poldark, and I should be the last to encourage you to disobey. She is a very beautiful woman.'
'Who? My mother? Yes, I suppose so
'Had you not noticed? Perhaps not, for you are very like her.'
'I think I am very un
like her - different colouring, bigger bones, different shaped face
'No, no you take me wrong. I mean that Mrs Poldark for a beautiful woman is the least conceited about it that ever I've met. Almost unaware - after all these years still a little surprised when a man's eyes light up with - with admiration. It is in that I mean you are like her. You are
'If that is intended as a compliment,' said
, 'then I'm obliged to you.'
'The more I struggle the deeper I flounder,' said Stephen. 'So let me say again, I should not wish to encourage you to disobey your mother, see. Shall I go ask her if we may go? You will not come to no hurt in my company.'
'I'll not come to no hurt on my own,' said
. 'But asking Mama wouldn't profit you. I'll take you to the gates if you like, and if they're open we can proceed to the bend in the drive so that the front of the house may be seen.'
By now it was eleven, and for the first time for several days the clouds were thinning to show the disc of the sun like a six-shilling piece lying on a dusty floor. They went by way of the cliffs, since Clowance knew if they went up the valley past the mine the bal girls would be sure to see them and start tongues wagging. This was a way much frequented by people in the old days before the Warleggan fences were put up, but even though in recent years the fences had fallen or been pulled down the route was not as much used as formerly. Much of it was overgrown with gorse, and part of the cliff had tumbled.
The sea was uninteresting today, flat as a pewter plate. Even the gulls were uncommunicative. Everything was silent, waiting.
said: 'My father told me once that there was a way into Trenwith no one but he knew. He used to play there with his cousin, who was killed in a mine.' 'Did he say where twas?'
'It was somewhere along this route - an old mine tunnel. It ran under the kitchens and came up by a wellhead in the courtyard. When George Warleggan lived there with his wife a dozen or more years ago he barred my father from entering the house, so Papa gave him one or two unpleasant surprises.'
'And then what happened?'
'I believe they came to blows more than once.'
'Was that how your father got his scar?'
'How did you know he had one?'
Stephen put his hand out to help her over a boulder. 'That drawing of Jeremy's.
Tis of your father, isn't it?'
Clowance disdained the hand and climbed quickly after him. 'Before he was married Papa fought in America. That was where that came from.'
'And Ben Carter has a similar one.'
Of a sort. Why do you say that?'
Stephen did not at once reply. His face was turned towards the sea, where a thin line of an unexpected wave was moving under the surface towards the cliffs.
'Ben Carter is crazy for you, isn't he.'
Clowance's eyes did not flicker. 'I think he has a taking.'
She half smiled. 'What d'you mean? And me?' 'I mean have you a similar taking for him?' 'If I had or if I had not, should I be obliged to confess it to you?'
I shouldn't've asked. No
They walked on and came to some rotting posts, which was all that was left of George's stout fencing.
'Whose sheep?' asked Stephen as they entered the first field. 'Does Warleggan farm here?'
'No, they'll be Will Nanfan's or Ned Bottrell's. They rent these fields from Sir George's factor.'
'They're forward - the ewes, I mean. They'll be dropping soon. I was brought up on a farm, y'know.' 'No, I didn't know.'
'Often used to help the farmer with his lambing.' 'Did you
'Yes A farm near Stroud.'
They walked on.
Clowance said: 'As soon as the Iambs come they'll have to be taken out of these fields.' 'Why?'
'The gulls would get them.' 'What, these gulls?'
'No, the big black-backed ones. They're big as geese themselves. Even near the village the lambs won't be safe
Now they could see the grey chimneys of Trenwith sheltering under the fall of the land.
'There,' Clowance said, stopping. 'That's your house.' 'But this is not the front way, this surely is the back.' 'Yes. I changed my mind.' They gazed a few seconds.
Stephen said: 'You ride that black horse splendid.' 'Nero? He's an old friend.'
'Every morning. On that beach. Like the wind. I wonder you don't fear to stumble in the pits.' 'He's sure-footed.'
'Well, I tell you, it's a splendid sight.' 'Papa calls it my constitutional.' 'What does that mean?'
'I'm not sure. Some word he has picked up in London.' There was silence.
Stephen said: 'No chimneys smoking.' 'I told you. The Harrys — that's the caretakers - live in the lodge.'
He said: 'Can I ask a favour of you?' 'It depends.'
'I'd like to see the house. Will you stay here, wait for me ten minutes while I look around?'
She was quite decided. 'No. But if you want I'll come with you.' ' 'What will Mrs Poldark say?'
'Perhaps she need not know.'
They went into Trenwith House. There was no lock or bolt on the door. The air inside was sour with damp. In the great hall wood ash from an uncleared fire had blown across the stone flags and lay thick on the table. Stephen admired the huge window with its hundreds of separate panes of glass. They moved into the winter parlour, which was also furnished. There were fewer cobwebs here, as if the Harrys had made an effort to keep one room clean.
He said: 'Where is your cousin?'
'With the army in Portugal.'
'And when it is over - if he survives - this is his inheritance
Some people have the luck, by God!'
She had slipped off her cloak. Under it she was wearing a primrose frock, only a shade different from the colour of her hair. She sat in one of the armchairs and picked at a thorn which had got into her sandal. 'Do you - did you have no inheritance?'
Nothing. Miss Clowance
'You know maybe
maybe you can guess why I took the liberty of inquiring for your feelings for Ben Carter.' 'Do I?'
'I hoped you did. It's because I have a great fondness for you meself.'
She stared at the lattice of winter sunlight falling on the worn carpet. There were still two pictures on the walls.
?' he asked.
Yes, I heard.'
He said: ‘
I have been telling a
lie to yo
ur mother.' 'In what way?'
'If I tell you me feelings for you, then I cannot do it under the shadow of a lie. I must tell you the truth. I told Mrs Poldark that I was in some way of business in Bristol, that my ship -
ship, note - was struck by a storm, that it went down and that the mate and me and Budi Halim, took to the raft and were as you found us when Jeremy picked us up. That's not true.'
'No. It was not my ship. I'd no interest in her. I come from Bristol, sure enough, but as a seaman, see, just with an education better than most, thanks to the Elwyns, who adopted me. The
was not carrying a cargo to Ireland and struck by a storm. There was no storm. She were a privateer, fitted out in Bristol by a half-dozen merchants, and I was a gunner aboard her. We sailed to the French coast looking for plunder. We found some but before we could turn with it we ran foul of two French naval ships - like sloops only smaller
We have the heels of most men-of-war.
Not of those. They gave chase and sunk us off the Scillies. No mercy given. We were destroyed.'
She re-fastened the buckle of her shoe.
'Why did you tell my mother different?'
He shrugged. 'I was none too proud of me trade. I sought for something more, giving the impression of being something more. That's not a thing to be proud of neither, is it? But that's the way I thought, on impulse so to say, on the spur of the first meeting. And then of course
had to keep up the story
He looked at her. 'I'm sorry, Clowance. I could not lie to you.'
She stood up, trying her weight on the shoe, went to the window, frowned out at the rank weeds in the courtyard. 'I'm glad,' she said.
He came up behind her, put a hand on her arm. Her hair was hanging across her face, and he kissed her hair where it lay on her cheek. Then he turned her towards him and kissed her on the mouth. They stood together and then she quietly released herself.
'That was nice,' he said.
'Yes,' she agreed simply.
He laughed and caught her to him again, smiling as they kissed but soon losing his smile. His hands began to move up and down her frock, lightly but informingly, touching her thighs, her waist, her arms, her breasts, like someone exploring with quiet anticipation a fine and beautiful land shortly to be conquered.
She freed her mouth and said: 'I think it's time we went home.'
'Dinner will be two hours yet.'
'It was not dinner
was thinking of.'
No. Nor I
Her frock had a wide neckline, and with two light fingers he slid it off one shoulder, began to kiss that shoulder and the soft part between shoulder and neck. He felt her give a deep sigh. Slipping the frock an inch further exposed the top part of her breast, that part that had suddenly lifted and filled with her breath. He began to kiss it.
Just before his hands reached up to the frock again she put her own fingers on his face, smoothed it lightly and then pushed it away.
Satisfied with his success, aware of the dangers of going too fast and too far, he released her.
'Sorry if I've offended.'
'You have not offended.'
'Then glad I am not to have to be sorry.'
She shivered as she pulled up the shoulder of her frock, as if the chill of the house had suddenly affected her. She took up her cloak and he helped her on with it, putting his face close to hers as he did so. Then he kissed her neck again.
She moved away. 'What was that?'
They listened. 'Maybe a rat,' he said. 'In no time they'll make such a house as this their own.'
'I should not wish to meet the Harrys. They would not dare touch me but they could be rough with a stranger.'
'Let 'em try
'Can we come here again?'
'It depends.' They moved back into the hall.
He opened the outer door and peered out. 'On what?'
'All sorts of things.'
They went out. The heavy latch clicked as he closed the door behind them.
'When Mrs Poldark tires of me,' he said, 'which must be soon, I have thoughts to stay on a while in the village -
perhaps try to find work. There's naught taking me home. Me mother cares nothing. Me father I never knew, though surprising as
tis, they were proper wed. He died at sea. I am just happy to be here - on solid ground for a change, and among such - such delicious people.' He moved his tongue across his lips.