Authors: Susan Howatch
The Narrators and Their Standards
He was a young man of twenty, always travelling about on intolerable daily journeys which seemed twice the normal length. … He worked far into the night. Those about him ascribed his perpetual labours to fear of getting too fat.
English Society in the Early Middle Ages,
DORIS MARY STENTON
Of medium height and stocky build, with a tendency to corpulence, he gave the impression of a figure molded for strength. Essentially a man of action he was never idle. His restless energy is perhaps his most marked characteristic… he had the taste for literature of a well-educated man, and he enjoyed the society of wits and scholars.
—Oxford History of England:
From Domesday Book to Magna Carta,
A. L. POOLE
Despite the looseness of his personal morals he commanded affection and respect …
Matilda was difficult and quarrelsome … haughty and self-centred, disinclined to control the swift temper of her family …
—The Saxon and Norman Kings
Matilda’s throne had been usurped by her cousin Stephen of Blois. … For as long as young Henry, her son, could remember, civil war had been raging there between partisans of the rivals.
W. L. WARREN
WAS TEN YEARS
old when I first saw the Inheritance and twenty years old when I first saw Janna Roslyn, but my reaction to both was identical. I wanted them.
I wanted the Inheritance because the Gothic style of that architectural nightmare of a house captivated my child’s imagination, because my mother’s fight to secure the place for me seemed to my child’s eyes not shabby and degrading but shining with nobility and courage, because the estate had been denied me and there is nothing a child wants so much as something he cannot have. And I wanted Janna Roslyn because I was twenty years old and fancied women, particularly beautiful women, and particularly women who were beautiful yet had no place among the class into which I had been born.
We met by chance. I had no good reason for being in Zillan churchyard at two o’clock on that hot July afternoon in 1890; I had no good reason even for being in Zillan. I was a stranger in that part of Cornwall, for I had been born and bred near the Helford River, and the gentle mildness of South Cornwall with its trees and estuaries and rolling hills is a world away from the stark mining coast of the North with its windswept moors, precipitous cliffs and treacherous surf.
Zillan was a moorland parish of the North.
I had walked there that afternoon after quarreling with my father at his temporary residence in the nearby parish, and, being greatly upset at the time, I paid no attention to my surroundings until I found myself wandering up the village street toward the church. Zillan was a prettier village than the usual austere huddle of cottages that passes for a village in North Cornwall. The gardens of the graystone cottages were filled with flowers, the pub called The Tinners’ Luck had been freshly painted, and even the local stray dog looked well fed. Evidently the poverty that was following the steady decline of the Cornish mining industry had so far left this corner of the Duchy untouched. With a glance at the smoke belching from the cluster of mines on the horizon, I opened the lych-gate into the churchyard and strolled aimlessly beneath the shadow of the Norman tower toward the main door.
In the porch I paused, uncertain what to do next. I was trying not to think of my recent quarrel with my father, trying not to think of my interminable battles with my mother, trying not to think of the Inheritance which I had wanted so much for so long. I dimly realized that I was more alone than I had ever been in my life, but I was too lost and confused to be fully aware of the extent of my unhappiness. I simply remained in the porch of Zillan church as if I were taking sanctuary from some oppressive pursuing force, and as I stood there a breeze blew across the moors and the afternoon sun shone on that moorland parish from that cloudless summer sky. It was peaceful in the churchyard. I was aware of the tranquillity suddenly, of an overwhelming calmness. Everywhere was so still. The very landscape seemed poised as if it were mysteriously waiting, and as I remained motionless, mesmerized by that air of expectancy, I looked through the lych-gate to the end of the village street and saw the solitary figure of a woman walking slowly toward me across the moors.
She wore black and carried a spray of red roses.
I went on watching her from the shadow of the porch, and somewhere far above me in the church tower a bell began to toll the hour.
She passed the first cottage, on the outskirts of the village, and so smooth and effortless were her movements that she seemed to glide noiselessly down the narrow street. She looked neither to right nor to left. The light breeze from the moors lifted the veil of her hat for a second, and she raised a black-gloved hand to touch the veil back into place.
She reached the lych-gate. The flowers were only simple wild roses such as the ones that grew on the walls of the cottages nearby, and yet their very simplicity made the hothouse roses of London seem vulgar and ostentatious. She walked through the churchyard toward the porch, and I was on the point of moving out of the shadows into the light when she saw me.
She must have been surprised to see a stranger in that remote moorland village, but not even a nuance of her surprise showed itself in her face. She went on walking as if I did not exist, and I saw she intended to walk past the porch and down the path to the other side of the churchyard.
I moved involuntarily. I was hatless, but my hand moved upward before I remembered I was bareheaded.
“Good afternoon,” I said.
She allowed herself to look at me. Her eyes were blue, wide-set, black-lashed behind her veil. The next moment she had inclined her head slightly in acknowledgment of my greeting and walked past me without a word.
I stared after her. Presently I strolled to the churchyard wall and stole a glance at the graves behind the church. She was there. The red roses were laid beside a new tombstone and she was standing motionless beside it, her head bent forward, her hands clasped before her. She did not see me.
I decided to sit on the wall and survey the architecture of a nearby house which I assumed to be the rectory. I inspected it for some time. I was just deciding that it was a most unprepossessing building when I heard the click of the lych-gate and saw her walk away down the street. At the end of the village she took the path again across the moors and I went on watching her until she had vanished from sight.
As soon as she was gone my mind was made up; I was no longer so dejected that I knew not where to turn next. Soon afterward I was hurrying back to my father’s house to seek permission to stay longer with him in that part of Cornwall, and throughout the entire journey across the moors to Morvah I could think of nothing but red roses glowing in a quiet country churchyard and a black veil blowing in the wind.
Until that moment I suppose—reluctantly—that my mother had been the most important woman in my life. This may seem a very obvious statement since most mothers are expected to hold a special place in their sons’ affections, but my mother was not like other mothers and my affection for her was so distorted by dislike and resentment that our relationship could hardly be considered typical.
“The first thing you must understand,” said my mother when I renewed my acquaintance with her at the age of ten after a separation that had lasted six years, “is that in regard to Our Inheritance I consider it a matter of Honor that Justice should be done.”
My mother, I discovered, always spoke of honor and justice as if the initial letters were written in capitals.
“You see,” she added in explanation, “Penmarric should have been mine.” We were sitting in the large and dreary drawing room of that townhouse in London, I a small boy in a stiff black suit and stiffer collar, she very handsome in violet silk, black lace and an ugly string of pearls. “The entire estate and all the Penmar fortune would have been mine if my father—like the majority of men—had not possessed this ingrained prejudice against women. He was fond of me in his own way, but it was my brother Arthur who was the apple of his eye. It made no difference to him that Arthur was feckless, foolish and irresponsible while I was intelligent, able and devoted to every brick of Penmarric and every inch of the estate. As far as my father was concerned, Arthur was the boy, the son and heir, and I was a mere daughter, little better than a vegetable, someone who must be married off as well and as early as possible. … Even after Arthur was drowned in the sailing accident my father’s attitude toward me never wavered. For a time I did hope that he might change his views and realize I was deserving of all he might wish to bestow upon me, but then …” She paused. Her mouth narrowed into a hard line; her black eyes were colder than a midwinter sea. “Then,” said my mother, “Giles came.”
“Do not under any circumstances mention the name of Giles Penmar to your mother,” her devoted slave and first cousin Robert Yorke had begged me when we had met for the first time earlier that afternoon. He had been ordered by my mother to meet me at the station and escort me to the townhouse, and throughout the journey he had regaled me with so many worried warnings and anxious instructions that I had nearly run away in sheer fright. But he had not meant to frighten me, of course; he was merely eager that my confrontation with my mother should be as painless as possible. He was a small, mild, kindly man with an air that reminded me of my father’s cocker spaniel. The townhouse in Park Lane where my mother lived belonged to him; so subjugated was he by the force of her personality, so enthralled by a nature so different from his own, that he gave her whatever she wanted, did whatever he was told, expected—and received—nothing but a peremptory affection in return.
“Dear Robert,” said my mother to me later. “He would have married me if I had been free to become his wife, but fortunately my marital ties with your father have prevented him from making such a foolish mistake. Really, men are extraordinarily foolish sometimes! Even my father, who was exceptionally intelligent, made a complete fool of himself where Giles was concerned …”
“Do not speak to your mother of Giles,” Cousin Robert Yorke had begged me in the carriage on the way from the station. “Maud is very sensitive on the subject of Giles Penmar.”
“… of course his name wasn’t really Giles Penmar at all,” my mother was saying. I can see her now, pouring tea from a silver teapot, rings flashing on her fingers, arrogance coruscating from the straight line of her back, the carriage of her head and the tilt of her elbow. “It was Giles Baker. Baker was the family name, you know, before my grandfather won Penmarric from the Prince Regent in a game of dice and then proceeded to change his name to suit his change of fortune. Giles was a distant cousin. An adventurer, of course. All the Penmars were adventurers with an eye for making money. My father, for instance, more than doubled the family fortune when he was in India as a young man. … So it was not unnatural that Giles, the poor relation, should have had an eye for family fortunes. My brother Arthur’s death was his golden chance. He arrived at Penmarric, inveigled himself into my ailing father’s affections, changed his name to Penmar, even made himself agreeable to me—oh yes, he knew how to be charming! All successful adventurers do, no doubt, and Giles was certainly successful. By a combination of trickery, knavery and malign influence he arranged matters so that when my father finally died …”