Authors: Winston Graham
Tags: #Fiction, #Sagas
A Novel of Cornwall 1798-9
BOOK CLUB ASSOCIATES ■ LONDON
This edition published
by Book Club Associates by arrangement with
William Collins Sons & Co Ltd
© Winston Graham
Printed in Great Britain by Richard Clay (The Chaucer Press) Ltd, Bungay, Suffolk
It was windy. The pale afternoon sky was shredded with clouds, the road) grown dustier and more uneven in the last hour, was scattered with blown and rustling leaves.
There were five people in the coach; a thin clerkly man with a pinched face and a shiny suit, his thinner wife, their half-grown daughter, a
nd two other passengers: one
tall gaunt distinguished-looking man in his late thirties) the other a stoutly built clergyman a few years younger. The tall man wore a brown velvet jacket with brass buttons, mostly undone to show the clean shirt and the shabby yellow waistcoat beneath) tight buff trousers and riding boots. The clergyman, except for his collar, might have passed for a dandy, with his green silk patterned suit all to match, his silk cloak, his scarlet stockings and black buckle shoes.
The clerkly man and his wife, a little overawed by the company they were in, made only whispered asides to each other as the coach lurched and clattered over the potholes. Although silence obtained now, there
been conversation, and they were aware of the nature of the company they kept. The tall man was Captain Poldark, a man recently come to eminence in the county and a member of Parliament for the borough of Truro. The clergyman was the Reverend Osborne Whitworth, vicar of St Margaret's, Truro, and absentee Vicar of St Sawle-with-Grambler on the north coast.
been conversation but it had lapsed into a none too friendly silence; indeed, the interchange from the beginning had had an edge on it. Captain Poldark had joined the coach at St Blazey and Mr Whitworth shortly afterwards at St Austell and at once had said:
o, Poldark, so you're back; well
, well, I expect you'll be glad to be home again. How was Westminster? Pitt and Fox, and all that. My uncle tells me it's a regular gossip shop.'
'It's what you make it,' said Captain Poldark. 'Like so many other things,'
'Ha! Yes. So my cousin-in-law George said when he was up there. Bitter blow you struck him then, you know, depriving him of his seat.
Whetted his appetite, it had, those twelve months as a member. Very down in the mouth for a while, was George.'
Captain Poldark did not speak. The coach smcllcd of dust and stale breath.
Mr Whitworth eased his tight trousers inelegantly. 'Mind you, Mr Warleggan is no laggard in furthering his own affairs. I have no doubt you'll be hearing more of him before the year is much older.'
'I shall wait with interest,' said Poldark, looking down his strong nose.
'We need all the able men we can muster,' said Whitworth. 'Now more than ever, sir. Domestic discontent, Jacobin clubs, naval mutiny with red flags hoisted, bankruptcies everywhere, and now this Irish rebellion. Have you any news that it has been put down?'
'The disgraceful atrocities of the Catholics must be duly punished. The stories one hears match the worst excesses of the French revolt.'
'All atrocities are duly punished - or at least avenged. One never knows who begins them - only that they set off a train of consequences that never end.'
Mr Whitworth stared out of the window at the lurching greenery of the countryside. 'I know of course that your Mr Pitt favour
tholic emancipation. Happily there is little chance of its going through Parliament.'
'I think you're right. But whether it's something to be happy about I rather question. Do we not all worship the same God?
Mr Whitworth's nose was a different shape
from Captain Pol
dark's, but he had no difficulty in looking down it - at the presumption of a man prepared to question his judgment on his home ground - and there for a time the conversation lapsed. However, the young cleric was not one to be discouraged by small rebuffs, and after the coach had been stopped for five minutes while the coachman and some of the outside passengers moved a fallen bough, Whitworth said:
'I have been spending two nights with the Carlyons. Do you know them?' 'By name,'
grehan is a very comfortable and spacious residence. My father and mother knew the Carlyons and I have kept up the acquaintance. They have a very fine cook, a treasure indeed.'
Captain Poldark looked at Mr Whitworth's swelling stomach but made no comment.
'Their spring lamb - exceptional tender .
with., of course, asparagus and roasted calf's heart. It is the conjunction of dishes which makes the table. Upon my word, though. I don't know whether that was better than the boiled fillet of veal with some sweet sauce of their own devising, and a sage and rosemary stuffing. Constantly I tell my wife, it is not the ingredients., it is the way those ingredients are put together.'
'I hope your wife is well.' Here at least was common ground.
'She has a mopish temperament. Dr Behenna believes it now to be a disorder of the spleen. My son, I'm glad to say, is in fine fettle. Never have I seen a stronger two-year-old.
two-year-old yet. A handsome, beautiful boy
Mr Whitworth scratched himself. "Very different from the poor overlooked
nashed little creature the Enyse
s have produced. Thin and weakly of body, they say, with a head far too big, and it dribbles from its mouth all the day long
I'll swear this coach is full of fleas. I have a delicate skin, peculiarly susceptible of fleas, and come up the size of a guinea at the least bite.'
'You should try Dr Leach's Fumigatory Powder, sir.' said the clerk, greatly daring. 'It is used in the noblest houses.'
Whitworth stared the clerk down. 'I'm obliged to you, sir. I had heard of it.'
The coach lurched on.
Ross thought: my life seems to run in repetitive patterns. Long years ago - I forget how many - I came back from Bristol in just such a coach, a young man, limping and scarred from the American war, and had just such company. A clerkly sort of man and his wife,, but then they had a baby to hold, not a thin pockmarked girl. But I shared that c
oach too with a clergyman, Halse
- an old man now -whom I disliked almost as much as I do this one. And we sparred in talk and got out disgruntled with each other. The time of year was different, October then; yet today the leaves are lying about from yesterday's storm as if it were autumn already. And the only major difference perhaps is that then I was poor - and to be shocked when I reached home to discover how poor I really was - and now I am prosperous. And then I was about to receive the even greater shock of finding that the girl I loved was going to marry my cousin. And now I have a wife
Well, yes, I have a wife
But then I was young and full of astonishing vigour. Now 1 am thirty-eight, and no so young. And not perhaps so resilient.
And all my life seems to run down similar avenues - just as it is doing now. Twice in my rash impulsiveness I have
raided prisons a
nd taken prisoners out - once in England, for which I was bitterly attacked by my own class, once in France, for which I have received equally unmerited praise and admiration. Apart from the odd adventure here and there I have loved only two women in my life and they have both turned to other men. I have opened two mines. I have two children. The catalogue could go on and on.
Perhaps it is the natural outcome of getting older, he thought, this sense that life is repeating itself. Perhaps this sensation occurs to everyone if they live long enough. Indeed, if one
considers the routine and uneve
ntfulncss of most people's lives, it may be I ought to consider myself fortunate that my life has been one of such variety.
's not quite the point. You're blunting the point of your own argument -
Whitworth had asked him something. 'Oh, no, the House will not rise for six or seven weeks yet.' 'Then you're returning early?'
'Business affairs,' said Ross. 'I have been away long enough.'
'Ah, yes, business affairs.' This struck a responding chord in Osborne Whitworth's heart. 'By the by, now that you know Viscount Falmouth so well
He paused, but Ross did not acknowledge or deny the fact.
now that you
know Viscount Falmouth so well, as you sit m his pocket - or in his pocket borough anyway - perhaps you would care to use your good offices with him on my behalf, since I
seeking the living of Luxulyan, and, although the living is not in his gift, he is sure to be well in with the patron; and merely his name on a letter would carry weight.'
'I'm sorry to hear you are leaving Truro,' said Ross maliciously,
'Oh, but I'm not,' Ossie Whitworth assured him. 'The recently deceased vicar of Luxulyan seldom lived there. I wish to augment my sparse income, which barely, you'll understand, suffices for day to day living and providing subsistence for my wife and growing family. Ministers of the church have stipends quite out of keeping with the demands that are put upon them. It is really
- if unfortunately
essential for a man in holy orders to possess two or more livings in order to survive.'
'You already,' Ross pointed out, 'have two livings. That in my
own parish of Sawle
became yours two years ago.'
'Yes, but it's a miserable poor one. The expenses incurred in maintaining it almost eat up the increment. Luxulyan is richer, and the landowners and gentlemen far more generous. The south coast, you know, is always better found than the north.'
There were some cries of protest from the outside passengers as the coach passed under low-hanging trees. One branch scraped the near-side window. The clerk and his wife had exchanged glances at the turn of the conversation, which Mr Whitworth had had no hesitation in introducing before them, as if they did not exist. But Captain Poldark, apparently, was saying no more on the subject. The clerk could not help but feel that the Rev. Mr Whitworth might have couched his request in more tactful terms.
Ossie peered out of the window. 'Well, I am nearly home, thanks be to God. All this lurching and ducking is enough to turn a man's bile. I swear I was at sea only once but it was no worse than this. That rascal Harry had better be waiting to take my b
ag. Ah, yes, there he is.' Ossie
raised his stick and gave three loud knocks on the roof of the carriage.
They came to a stop, the wheels crunching on the soft ground, every iron bar and leather trace protesting as the motion ceased. The coachman jumped down and opened the door, taking his hat off as he did so, hoping for a tip.
Ossie was in no great haste to descend. He scratched again and began to button his coat. 'Mind you, I might at some time be able to do you a favour, Poldark. You may not know that my uncle, Conan Godolphin, is a close personal friend of the Prince of Wales; and sometimes a friend at court - literally at court - can be of signal advantage to a man in the Commons. Especially a distant country member without title or social connections, such as yourself. Uncle Conan knows all the great Whig families and many influential noblemen, so there could be such a thing as a
quid pro quo
in all this.'
'Indeed,' said Ross after a minute. 'A
quid pro quo,
'Yes. That's what I would suggest.'
'm not sure what it is you do suggest.'
'Oh, come, Poldark. I think I have made my meaning clear.'
Ross said: 'You have a curate-in-charge at Sawle. Odgers is a hard-working little man. When you were appointed to the living you increased his stipend from £40 a year to £45 a year.'
'Yes, that's so. It was a generous gesture and in keeping with the times. Though, living as he docs off the land, almost, and with scarcely any expenses, I conceit it difficult to imagine what he docs with the money.'
'Well, I can assure you he does not live well. He grows vegetables to sell in the local market. His wife scrimps and saves and patches, and cuts down garments from older children to younger, and the children themselves lack any refinements of dress or education such as a clerk of the church would reasonable hope they might have. You have told mc it is hard for a clergyman to subsist. Well, on
a year he lives scarcely better than a farrier or a smith.'
'Then I can only say he must mismanage his affairs disgracefully!
have long thought him an incompetent little man.'
Ross eyed the speaker without favour. 'The
quid pro quo
I might envisage, Whitworth, would occur if you were to increase Mr Odger's stipend to £100 a year. I should not require your uncle's good offices, but would be quite willing on those terms to ask Lord Falmouth to intercede on your behalf,'
'A hundred pounds a year!' Mr Whitworth began to swell, an ability he had when angry. It was more often a characteristic of cert
ain animals and birds, but Ossie
was peculiarly capab
le of it. 'D'you realize that th
stipend from Sawle is £200? How could you expect mc to remain vicar if I paid half of it to an uneducated curate!'
'Well,' Ross pointed out, 'he does all the work.'
Whitworth picked up his hat. His manservant, Harry, had now taken down the valise and was waiting beside the coachman with a foolish grin of welcome. 'That is what an uninformed person would suppose.'
'It is what I suppose, since I am a close neighbour of your church.'
'God's my life, I'll wish you good afternoon, Captain Poldark.'
Ossie climbed out of the coach, brushing the lapels of his coat with his free hand, as if dismissing not merely the material fleas that plagued him but the unjustifiable suggestion advanced. He did not glance back into the coach, nor did he tip the coachman, but walked off down the narrow lane towards St Margaret's vicarage and the arms of his unwelcoming wife. Harry brought up the rear, tall and bowlegged behind the stocky stride of his master. A glint of river showed between the stooping trees.
The coachman climbed back on to his
scat, clucked to his horses, fl
icked the whip, and the coach creaked and lumbered forward on the last mile of its journey to Truro.
lza Poldark had been entertaining Rosina Hoblyn to tea. Rosina, who only limped a little since Dr Enys had cured her lipsy leg, was still unmarried after the tragedy of
her near marriage to Charlie Ke
pthorne, though now twenty-five
and charming in a sweet and gentle
way. Her younger sister, Parthe
sia, was wed to a farm hand and a mother already. Rosina had always been the quiet one of the family; perhaps it was an attitude of mind impose
d on her early by her lameness
; and she still lived at home with her mother and father and made something for herself out of millinery work.
lza had discovered her only a few months ago, and with her usual zest for friendship now put all the work she could in her way. She found the girl companionable as well as industrious. So Rosina had been making sun bonnets and caps for the children and had walked
over from Sawle with them to see
if they suited. While she was
there they had taken tea and De
melza had ordered a straw hat for herself. Then she had walked a little way back with Rosina in the glimmering evening light, noting everywhere the ravages of yesterday's storm.
At Wheal Maiden she stopped and said goodbye but did not at once return; instead stood watching the girl's retreating figure as she plodded off across the bleak moor in the direction of Sawle Church. A waste of a nice woman, she thought, pretty, industrious, with surprising taste and manner considering who had fathered her - the glowering Jacka. Heaven knew, she
to have a fellow feeling, considering that her own father would have made Jacka seem by comparison a gentle, reasonable man. They had th
at much in common, she and Rosi
na, they were 'sports', untypical of their parents, somehow 'better', if better meant having ideas and tastes above their station.
Though, again, Heaven knew how much of this would ever have surfaced in herself - or had an opportunity to surface - if it had not been for a chance meeting with Ross at Redruth Fair so many years ago. But for that encounter, what possible hope would she have had? - a drudge, terrorized by a drunken father and smothered by a clutch of younger brothers, for all of whom she had had to act the mother at fourteen. Perhaps her father's conversion to Methodism would have taken place anyhow, perhaps she would have been able to make some niche for herself in the poverty-ridden, grindingly hard world of the miners. But nothing, nothing compared to what she had - even if the most important part of what she now had she was no longer sure she wholly retained.
At least the material part was who
lly there, was here to be seen a
nd appreciated all around her. A farm (estate if you liked to call it that) which provided many of the necessities of life; a mine which provided all the rest and the luxuries besides; a farm house (or manor house if you liked to c
all it that) of which one 'wing’
(it only had one) had recently been extended and rebuilt; four indoor servants to do her bidding, with all of whom she had instinctively established a nice relationship of half-friendship, half-respect; two unique and beautiful children; a superb position to live, at the foot of a valley and, as it were, pe
ering over a low wall into the s
ea. And her twenty-eighth birthday just gone - not too old yet, not fat, not skinny, not lined, no birth creases across her belly, all except two of her teeth and those back ones, and the front kept white by rubbing them every morning with a marshmallow root. She mixed now with the highest people in Cornwall, not merely the gentry but the nobility, and they accepted her - or appeared to accept her - as one of themselves. She also
mixed with the miners and the f
isherfolk, and they accepted her too.
And Ross. She had Ross. Or thought she had. But he was far away. And for too long had been far away. And here was the worm in the bud, the rot in the deeps of the heart.
To try to take her mind off it she sat on a granite stone - a part of the old Wheal Maiden house that had not been utilized by the Methodists - and stared again after the retreating figure of Rosina, so distant now as to be almost out of sight. The sky was brilliantly clear after the inflamed temper of yesterday; even the few dark clouds to the south over Sawle Church's leaning spire were retreating with the advent of dusk. It was understandable that folk should suppose some similarity between themselves and the climate and imbue the wind and the storm with human characteristics. Yesterday the weather had been in a vile rage; it had cursed and sworn and quarrelled with everyone and thrown the crockery; now it had blown itself out, the temper was over and in the reaction it seemed tranquil in its exhaustion. You couldn't believe it was the same person.