Read Jeremy Poldark Online

Authors: Winston Graham

Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Sagas, #Romance, #General

Jeremy Poldark

Table of Contents

WINSTON GRAHAM

Jeremy Poldark

A Novel
of
Cornwall
1790-1791

BOOK ONE
Chapter One

 

In August 1790 three men rode along the mule
track past Grambler Mine and made towards the straggling cottages at the end of
the village. It was evening and the sun had just set; clouds had been driven up
the sky by a westerly breeze and were beginning to flush with the afterglow.
Even the mine chimneys, from which no smoke had issued for best part of two
years, took on a matured mellow colour in the evening light. In a hole in the
taller of the two, pigeons were nesting, and their flapping wings beat against
the wider silence as the men passed. A half dozen ragged children were playing
with a homemade swing suspended between two of the sheds, and some women
standing at the doors of cottages, hands on elbows, watched the horsemen ride
by.

They were soberly
dressed, respectable riders in a clerkish black, and they sat their horses with
an air of importance; not many such were seen nowadays in this half-derelict,
half deserted village which had come into being and had existed solely to serve
the mine and which, now that the mine was dead, was itself perishing of a
slower decay. It seemed that the, men were going to pass right through - as
might have been expected but at the last one nodded his head and they reined in
their horses at a more dejected-looking shack than anything they, had yet seen.
It was a one-story cob but with an old iron pipe for a chimney and a roof
patched and repatched with sacking and driftwood; and at its open door on an
upturned box sat a bowlegged man sharpening a piece of wood. He was under the
average height, strongly built, but getting up in years. He wore old riding
boots bound with string, yellow pigskin breeches, a dirty grey flannel shirt
which had lost one 'sleeve' at the elbow, and a stiff black leather waistcoat,
whose pockets bulged with worthless odds and
ends. He was whistling almost soundlessly,
but when the men
got
down from,
their horses he unpursed his lips and looked at them with wary bloodshot eyes;
his knife hung over the stick
while he sized them up.

The
leader, a tall emaciated man with eyes so close together as to suggest a cast,
said

" Good day. Is your name Paynter?"

The knife slowly lowered itself. The bowlegged
man put up a - dirty thumbnail and scratched the shiniest spot on his bald
head.

Mebbe."

The other made a gesture of impatience.
"Come, man. You're either Paynter or you're not. It's not a subject on
which there can be two opinions."

" Well, I aren't so sure; 'bout that. Folk is
too free with other folk's names. Mebbe there can be two opinions. Mebbe there
can be three. It all depend what you d'want me for."

"It
is Paynter," said one of the men behind. "Where's your wife,
Paynter?"

"Gone Marasanvose.. Now if you bewanting
she..’

My name is Tankard," said the first man
sharply. " I'm an attorney acting for the Crown in the coming case of Rex
versus Poldark. We want to ask you a few questions, Paynter. This is Blencowe,
my clerk, and Garth, an interested party. Will you lead the way inside?"

Jud Paynter's wrinkled teak-coloured face took
on a look of injured innocence, but under this conventional defence there was a
glint of genuine alarm.

"What are ee coming troubling me for? I
said all .I had to say afore magistrates, an' that were nothing. 'Ere I am,
living a Christian-life like St. Peter himself, sitting before his own front
door interfering with no one. Leave me be." "The law must take its
course," said Tankard, and waited for Jud to Set up. °

After
a minute, glancing suspiciously from one face to the other, Jud led the way
inside. They seated themselves in the shadowy hut, Tankard staring
distastefully about and lifting his coattails to avoid the litter as he sat
down. None of the visitors had delicate noses, but Blencowe, a pasty, stooping
little man, looked back wistfully at the sweet evening outside.

Jud
said : " I don't know nothing about'n. You're barking up the wrong
door:"

"We have reason to believe," said
Tankard, " that your deposition before the examining justice was false in
every particular. If….

"You'll pardon me," said Garth in an
undertone. "Perhaps you'd be letting ; me speak to Paynter for a minute
or two, Mr. Tankard. You remember I said, afore we came in, that there's more
ways ....

Tankard folded his thin arms. " Oh, very
well."

Jud turned his bulldog eyes upon his new
adversary. He thought he had seen Garth before, riding through the village or
some such. Snooping perhaps.

Garth said in a conversational, friendly tone:
" I understand you were Captain Poldark's servant at one time, you and
your wife, for a great many years and for his father, afore him?"

“Mebbe."

And after working faithful for him all those
years you were suddenly put off, turned from the house without a word of warning."

"Ais. Tweren't right or proper, I'll say
that."

"It is said, mind you, this is but hearsay,
y'understand, that he treated you shameful afore you left for some fancied
misdeed-used his horsewhip and near drowned you under the pump. Would that be
so?"

Jud spat on the floor and showed his two great
teeth.

That's against the law, interposed Tankard,
squinting down his long thin nose. "Offences against the person: common
assault and battery. You could have proceeded, Paynter."

"And it can't have been the first time,
I'll wager, said Garth.

"No, nor it wasn't either," Jud said
after a minute, sucking at his teeth.

People who ill-treat faithful servants don't
deserve them these days," said Garth. " There's a new spirit abroad.
Every man is as good as his neighbour. Look-what be happening in France."

" Ais, I d'know all. about that," said
Jud, and then stopped. It wouldn't do to let these prying busybodies into the
secret of his visits to Roscoff. All the time this Poldark stuff might be a
blind to trap him into other admissions.

" Blencowe," said Tankard. " Have
you the brandy? We could all do with a tot, and no doubt Paynter will join us..

The afterglow faded, and the shadows in the
littered hut grew darker.

"Take it from me," said Garth,
"the aristocracy is finished . Their day is over. Common men will be coming
into their rights. And one of their rights is not to be treated worse than
dogs, not to be used like slaves. D'you understand the law, Mr. Paynter?"

"The Englishman's house is his
castle," said Jud. "And habeas corpse, and thou shalt not move thy
neighbour's landmark."

"When there's trouble at law," said
Garth, " like ' what there was here in January, it's often hard for the
law to act like it should. So it acts as best it may. And when there's riot and
wrecking and robbery and suchlike, it says nothing about those who follow if so
be as it can lay hold on those who lead. Now in this case the ringleader is
plain to be seen.

Mebbe"

No mebbe about it. But reliable evidence is hard
to come by. Evidence of responsible men like yourself. ‘And, mind, you, if the
law sees it cannot prove a case against the ringleader, then it will look
further and smoke out the lesser men. That's the truth of it, Mr. Paynter,
assure as I'm sitting here; so it's best for all that the right man should
stand in the assizes."

Jud picked up his glass and set it down again,
it being empty; Blencowe hastily proffered the brandy bottle. There was 'a
comfortable bobbling sound as Jud upended it.

" I don't see why for you d'come to me, :
when I wasn't there at all," he said, caution still uppermost. "A man
can't see farther'n he can blaw."

" Listen, Paynter," said Tankard,
ignoring Garth's warning sign. "We know a great deal more than you think.
These inquiries have been in train for near on seven months. It would be better
for you if you made a clean breast of it all."

Clean breast indeed.?'

" We know that you actively co-operated
with Poldark on the morning of the wreck. - We know you were on the beach all
through the rioting of that day and the following night. We know you played a
leading part in resisting the officers of the Crown when one was seriously
injured, and in many ways you are as culpable as your master-"

I never heard sich loitch in all me life ! Me? I
was never nearer the wreck nor what I am now

" But as Garth explained, we're willing to
overlook this if you will turn King's evidence. We've a weight of testimony
against this man Poldark, but wish to make it stronger. It's plain you owe him
no loyalty. Why, on your own showing he's treated you shamefully! Come, man,
it's common sense to tell us the truth, as well as your common duty."

With some dignity Jud got to, his feet.

" Also," said Garth, " we'd make
it worth your while."

Jud pivoted thoughtfully on his heel and slowly
sat down again. "Eh?"

"Not official, of course. It wouldn't do to
come official.

But there's other ways."

Jud stretched his head to peer out through the
door. There was no sign of Prudie. It was always the same when she went to see
her cousin. He looked sidelong at each of the men in the hut, as if he might
weigh up their intentions unnoticed.

"What other ways?"

Garth took out his pouch and rattled it. "The
Crown's out for a conviction The Crown's willing to pay for the right information,
like. Strictly: on the quiet, of course. Strictly between friends. Like
offering a reward for an arrest; as you might say. Isn't it, Mr. Tankard?'
Nothing different from that."

Tankard did not speak. Jud got his glass and
sucked up the rest of the brandy.

Almost under his breath he said: ' " First
threatenings an' now bribery. Bribery as I'm' alive! Money forJudas, I reckon
they'm thinking. Stand up in a court o' law agin an old friend. Worsen Judas,
for he did it on the quiet like. An' for what? Thirty bits o' silver. An' I'm
reckoning they wouldn't offer me that much. They'd want for me to do un for
twenty or ten. Tedn reasonable, tedn proper, tedn Christian, tedn right."

There was a short pause.

Ten guineas down and ten guineas after the
trial," said Garth.

"Ha " said Jud'. "Just what I thought
"

It's possible it could be raised to
fifteen."

Jud got up, but slowly this time, sucked his
teeth and tried to whistle, but his lips were dry. He hitched up his breeches
and two fingers went into a waistcoat pocket for a pinch of snuff.

" Tesn't fair to come on a man like
this," he grumbled. "' Me head's goin' round like a trool? Come
again' in a month."

"The assizes are fixed for early September.

Tankard. also got up. " We shouldn't
require a long deposition," he said. "Just a few sentences covering
the main facts as you know them-and an undertaking to repeat them at the
appropriate time."

" An' what would I say?" asked Jud.

The truth, of course, as you can swear to it."

Garth interrupted hastily: " The truth, of
course, but maybe we could guide you as to what we most want, like. It is the
assault upon the soldiers that we're wishing to have witness of.-' That was on
the night of the seventh-eighth of January. You were on the beach at the time,
weren't, you, Mr. Paynter? No doubt you saw the whole incident."

Jud looked old and wary. " Na... Don't
remember nothing 'bout that, now."

It might be worth twenty guineas , if so be as
your memory came round to it."

“Twenty now and twenty after?"

“Yes."

"Tes worth all o' that for such a stramming
big story."

"It's the truth we want, man," said
Tankard impatiently. "Were you or were you not a witness of the
assault?"

Garth put his pouch upon a rickety old
three-legged table which had once belonged to Joshua Poldark. He began to count
out twenty, gold coins.

" What," said jud, staring at the
money, " when that there soldier got his head cleaved open, an' all the
rest of 'em was pushed off of Hendrawna Beach fasterer than what they came on.
I laffed at that. Didn' I laff I Was that what you was meaning?"

"Of course, And Captain Poldark's part in
it"

Shadows were filling the hut with the approach
off night. The clink of coins had a liquid sound, and it seemed for a moment as
if all the light that was left lingered over the dull gold island of the
guineas.

Why," said Jud, swallowing, I reckon I mind
that well enough. Though I took no part in it myself, see. I was thereabouts
all the time." He hesitated and spat. "Why didn't you tell me you was
meaning that all along?

 

The following day a young woman on a horse went
through. Grambler in the other direction, passed Sawle Church, skirted Trenwith
and presently began to go down the steep track into Trevaunance Cove. She was a
dark young woman, a little above average in height, dressed in a close-fitting
blue riding habit, a pale blue bodice and a small tricorn hat Connoisseurs
would have disagreed as to whether she was beautiful, but few men would have
passed her without a second glance.

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