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Authors: Winston Graham

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Demelza (6 page)

BOOK: Demelza
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Her husband, whose mind was not agile and, being set to see the funny side, had at first seen no further, now swallowed a guffaw.

'You impudent splatty old pig!' he said. 'D'you know who you're speaking to? Make an apology to Mrs Treneglos at once, or, damme, I'll have your coat off your back!'

Carne spat on the grass. 'If the truth do offend then it edn the truth that's at fault. Woman's place is to be clothed modest an' decent, not putting out, lures for men, shameless an' brazen. If she was my wife, by Jakes…'

Ross stepped sharply between them and caught Treneglos's arm. For a moment he stared into the flushed angry face of his neighbour.

'My dear John. A common brawl! With all these ladies present!'

'Look to your own business, Ross! The fellow is insufferable…'

'Leave him come,' said Carne. 'Tes two year since I was in the ring, but I've a mind to show 'im a trick or two. If the Lord…'

'Come away, Tom,' said Mrs Carne. 'Come away, Tom.'

'But it is my business, John,' said Ross, still staring at Treneglos. 'You are both my guests, never forget. And I couldn't permit you to strike my father-in-law.'

There was a moment's stunned silence, as if, although they knew the truth, the mere statement of it had shocked and quieted them all.

John tried to wrench his arm out of Ross's grip. He didn't succeed. His face got still pinker.

'Naturally,' said Ruth, 'Ross would wish to support one who has connived at all his schemes all along.'

'Naturally,' said Ross, releasing the arm, 'I would wish to be on agreeable terms with my neighbours, but not at the price of allowing a brawl before my front door. The ladies don't like torn shirts and bloody noses.' He looked at Ruth and at the little pink spots showing through her make-up. 'At least, some of 'em do not.'

Ruth said: 'It is quite strange, Ross, how you look upon things since you married. I don't think you were lacking in all courtesy before. I hesitate to think what influence can have been at work to turn you out so boorish.'

'I want an apology,' Treneglos shouted. 'My wife was grossly insulted by that man, father-in-law or no. Damme, if he was of my own status, I'd call him out for what he said! Would you swallow such impudence, Ross? Lord save us, you'd be the last! Rot an' perish me if I'll be content…'

'The truth's the truth!' Carne snapped. 'An' blasphemy don't aid unto be anything other…'

'Hold your tongue, man.' Ross turned on him. 'If we want your opinions we'll invite 'em at a proper time.'

While Carne was speechless, he turned back to Treneglos. 'Modes and manners vary with the breed, John; those with the same code can speak the same language. Will you allow me as host to apologize for such offence as this may have given you or your wife?'

Hesitating, a little mollified, John flexed his arm and grunted and glanced at the girl at his side.

'Well, Ross, you spit it out well enough. I have no wish to go against that. If Ruth feels…'

Outmanoevuvred, Ruth said: 'I confess I should have taken it better at an earlier stage. Naturally if Ross wishes to protect his new relative…Some allowance must be made for those who know no better by those who do.'

A sudden wail from nearby caused them all to turn. Aunt Agatha, neglected in the quarrel, had made fair speed across the grass, but just when she was nearing her quarry a mischievous gust had caught her. They saw a barely recognizable old lady crowned with a scum of grey hair, while a purple bonnet and a wig bowled along towards the stream. Francis and one or two of the others at once went in pursuit. Following them, floating down the wind, came a stream of curses from a Carolinian world none of the others had known. Even the Dowager Lady Bodrugan could not have done better.

An hour later Ross went upstairs to find Demelza lying in a sort of dry-eyed grief on the bed. All the guests had amiably gone, by foot or on horseback, clinging to hats; skirts and coattails flying in the wind.

Demelza had helped to see them off, smiling with fixed politeness until the last had turned his back. Then she had muttered an excuse and fled.

Ross said: 'Prudie is looking for you. We didn't know where you were. She wants to know what is to be done with some of the foodstuffs.'

She did not answer.


'Oh, Ross,' she said, 'I am in a sore state.'

He sat on the edge of the bed. 'Never worry about it, my dear.'

'It will be the talk of the district. Ruth Treneglos an' all the other Teagues will see to that.'

'What is there to fret about? Tittle tattle. If they have nothing better to do than prate…'

'I am that grieved. I thought I would show 'em that I was a fit wife for you, that I could wear fine clothes and behave genteel an' not disgrace you. An' instead they will all ride home snickering behind their hands. "Have you not heard about Cap'n Poldark's wife, the kitchen wench''…Oh, I could die!'

'Which would displease us all much more than a brush with John Treneglos.' He put his hand on her ankle. 'This is but the first fence, child. We have had a check. Well, we can try again. Only a faint heart would give up the race so soon.'

'So you think I am a faint heart.' Demelza withdrew her foot, feeling irrationally irritated with him. She knew that, of all the people this afternoon, Ross had come out best. She faintly resented it because she felt that no one who cared could have been so unruffled; and because of this she faintly resented his manner now, seeing in it more patronage than sympathy, disliking for the first time his use of the word 'child', as if it spoke more of condescension than love.

And at the back of everything was Elizabeth. Elizabeth had scored today. She had looked so beautiful, so poised and graceful, standing in the background, taking no part in the squabble. She had been content to be there. Her existence was enough, just her as a contrast, as an example of all Ross's wife was not. All the time he was sitting here, patting her foot and idly consoling her, he would be thinking of Elizabeth.

'The old man's Methodism,' said Ross, 'was grafted on a well-established tree. Moderation is not in him. I wonder what Wesley would say.'

'Jud was at fault for ever telling 'em there was to be two parties,' Demelza cried. 'I could kill 'im for that!'

'My dear, in a week it will all be forgot and no one the worse. And tomorrow we have the Martins and the Daniels and Joe and Betsy Triggs and Will Nanfan and all the others. They will need no prompting to enjoy themselves and will jig on the lawns; and do not forget the travelling players are coming to give a play.'

Demelza turned over on her face.

'I cannot go on, Ross,' she said, her voice remote and muffled. 'Send 'em all back word. I have done my most, and that is not enough. Maybe it's my own fault for takin' pride in pretending to be what I never can

be. Well, it's over now. I cannot face any more. I ha'n't the heart."




THREE DAYS BEFORE the christening there had been a stormy meeting of the Wheal Leisure venturers at which Ross and Dr Choake had again got at loggerheads, Ross being all for development - Choake called it gambling - and Choake for consolidation - Ross called it obstruction - and the argument had ended by Ross's offering to purchase Choake's share of the mine for three times what he had put in. With great dignity Choake had accepted, so the morning after the christening Ross rode in to Truro to see his banker about raising the money.

Harris Pascoe, a little ageless man with steel spectacles and a slammer, confirmed the view that the mortgage on Nampara could be raised to cover it, but thought the purchase fantastically unbusinesslike at the price. Copper was at seventy-one now, and no one knew where it would end. There was a good deal of bitterness felt for the smelting companies, but what could you expect when often the metal had to lie idle for months before a buyer could be found? Ross liked Harris Pascoe and saw no point in arguing his own side of the case. On his way out of the house he passed a young man whose face was known to him. He raised his hat and would have passed on, but the man stopped.

'How d'you do, Captain Poldark. It was kind of you to have me yesterday. I'm a stranger in these parts and appreciated your welcome.'

Dwight Enys, whom Joan Pascoe had brought to the party. He had a good head and face; a look of courage strengthened the boyish turn of his cheek and jaw. Ross had never quite passed through this stage. He had gone to America a lanky youth and come back a war veteran.

'Your name suggests a local connection.'

'I have second cousins here, sir, but one does not always wish to presume on relationship. My father came from Penzance, and I have been in London studying medicine.'

'Is it your intention to go in for the profession?'

'I graduated as a physician early this year. But living in London is expensive. I thought to settle in this neighbourhood for a time to go on with my studies and to keep myself by taking a few patients.'

'If your interest is in undernourishment or miners' complaints you will have subjects for your study.'

Enys looked surprised. 'Has someone told you?'

'No one has told me anything.'

'It is the lungs really. It seemed to me that if one was to practise at the same time the proper place was among a mining community where consumption of the lungs is widespread.'

The young man was losing his shyness.

'In the matter of fever too. There is so very much to be learned and experimented on... But no doubt I bore you, sir. I am inclined to run on.'

Ross said: 'The surgeons I know are much more prone to talk of their successes in the hunting field. We must speak of it again.'

After going a few paces he stopped and called Enys back. 'Where do you intend to live?'

'I am staying with the Pascoes for a month. I shall try to take a small house somewhere between here and Chacewater. There is no other medical man in that vicinity.'

Ross said: 'You know, perhaps, that I am interested in a mine which you may have seen from my house yesterday?'

'I did notice something. But no, I hadn't heard…'

'The post of mine surgeon is at present vacant. I think I could get it for you if you were interested. It is very small of course; about eighty men at present, but it would bring you in some fourteen shillings a week and you would gain the experience.'

Dwight Enys's face flushed with pleasure and embarrassment. 'I hope you did not think…'

'If I thought that, I should not have suggested it.'

'It would be a great help to me. That kind of work is what I wish. But... the distance would be considerable.'

'I take it you have not settled on a house. There is scope in our neighbourhood.'

'Is there not a surgeon of some repute?'

'Choake? Oh, there's room enough. He has private means and doesn't overwork. But think of it and let me know what you decide.'

'Thank you, sir. You're very kind.'

And if he's any good, Ross thought as he turned out into the street, I'll see if he can do something for Jim when he comes out, for Choake could not have done less. Carter had been in prison over a year now, and since he had somehow survived in spite of his morbid lung there seemed a hope that he would live through the next ten months and be restored to Jinny and his family. Ross had seen him in January and found him thin and weak; but, for prison life, conditions in Bodmin were supportable. Jinny and her father, Zacky Martin, had seen him twice, walking in one day and back the next; but twenty-six miles each way was too much for a girl who was still nursing her baby. He thought he would take her in himself sometime.

The quarrel with Choake would leave him irritatingly short of money just when he had begun to see his way clear to spend more on the luxuries of life. The necessities too, for he badly needed another horse. And the birth of Julia had involved him in fresh expense which he could not avoid and did not want to avoid.

He was annoyed with himself for having been so reckless. He turned in at the Red Lion Inn, which was crowded, and chose a seat in the recess by the door. But his entry had not been unnoticed and after the potboy had been with his order a discreet footstep sounded near by.

'Captain Poldark? Good day to you. We do not often see you in town.'

Ross looked up, a not very welcoming expression in his eyes. It was a man called Blewett, manager and part shareholder in Wheal Maid, one of the copper mines of the Idless Valley.

'No, I have no time to spare except for business visits.'

'May I sit with you? The wool merchants in the parlour have no interest for me. Thank you. I see the price of copper has fallen again.'

'So I have just learned.'

'It must stop soon or we shall all be in bankruptcy.'

'No one deplores that more than I,' said Ross, reluctantly finding common cause with this man whom he disliked only for breaking into his private thoughts.

'One hopes for almost anything to stop the downward trend,' Blewett said, setting down his glass and moving restlessly. 'We have lost eight hundred pounds in trading this year. It is a big sum for people like ourselves.'

Ross glanced up again. He saw that Blewett was really worried; there were dark pouches under his eyes, and his mouth sagged. Before him - and not far away - was the debtors' prison and starvation for his family. It was that which had made him risk the rebuff of a man who had a reputation for being unapproachable. Perhaps he had just come from a meeting with his fellow venturers and felt he must talk or suffocate.

'I don't think conditions can remain long as they are,' Ross said. 'There is an increasing use of copper in engines of all kinds. As the towns use more the price will recover.'

'On a long view you may be right, but unhappily we are all committed to a short-term payment of loan interest. We have to sell the ore at the cheap to exist at all. If the copper and smelting companies were honestly run we might eke out this bad period. But what chance have we today?'

'I don't think it can be to the interest of the smelters to keep the prices down,' Ross said.

'Not the market price, no, sir, but the price they pay us. It's all a ring, Captain Poldark, and we know it,' Blewett said. 'What chance have we of getting fair returns where the companies do not bid one against another!'

BOOK: Demelza
10.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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