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Authors: Winston Graham

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Demelza (9 page)

BOOK: Demelza
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'When was it you was thinking to ride in an' see Jim?' she asked.

'Jim?' he said, coming down from thoughts of copper companies and their misdeeds.

'Jim Carter. You said you was minded to take Jinny in with you next time.'

'So I am. I thought next week. That's if you can spare her and have no objections.'

Demelza glanced at him.

'It is all one to me,' she said awkwardly. 'Shall you be one night away?'

'The gossips have minds like a jericho, and there are some who will whisper over my riding off in the company of a serving maid. Er…' He paused.

'Of another serving maid?'

'Well, if you put it so. Jinny is not uncomely and they will have no regard for my good name.'

Demelza put up two fingers to push away a curl. 'What's your own mind, Ross?'

He smiled slightly. 'They may whisper till their tongues swell, and have done before today.'

'Then go,' she said. 'I'm not afeared of Jinny Carter, or the old women.'

Once the day had been fixed, the next thing was to get a message over to Verity. On the Monday morning, Ross being busy at the mine, she walked the three miles to Trenwith House.

She had only been to the house of her superior cousins-by-marriage once before; and when she came in sight of its mullioned windows and mellow Elizabethan stone she modestly made a circuit to come upon it again from the rear.

She found Verity in the still-room.

Demelza said: 'No, thank ee. We're brave an' well. I came to ask you for the loan of a horse, Verity dear. It is rather a secret, I didn't wish for Ross to know; he's going, next Thursday to Bodmin to see Jim Carter that's in prison an' takin' Jinny Carter with him, so that there's no horse for me to go to Truro, as I wanted to go while Ross is away.'

Their eyes met. Demelza, though slightly breathless, looked empty of guile.

'I'll lend you Random if you wish. Is this to be a secret from me also?'

'No, indeed,' Demelza said. 'For I couldn't borrow a horse if it was a secret from you, could I?'

Verity smiled. 'Very well, my dear, I'll not press you. But you cannot go to Truro alone. We have a pony we can loan you for Jud.'

'There's no tellin' what time Ross'll be gone on Thursday, so we'll walk over for the horses if it is all the same to you, Verity. Maybe you'll leave us come in this way, then Francis and - and Elizabeth wouldn't know.'

'It is all very mysterious, I assure you. I trust I'm not conniving at some misadventure.'

'No, no, indeed. It is just…something I have had a mind to do for a long time.'

'Very well, my dear.'

Verity smoothed down the front of her blue dimity frock. She looked plain and prim this morning. One of her old-maidish days. Demelza's heart almost failed her at the enormity of her intention.

 

Ross looked about him with an appreciative eye as he rode up the valley early on Thursday morning with Jinny Carter silent beside him on old near-blind Ramoth. This land of shallow soil soon exhausted itself, and one had to give the ground ample time to recover from a cereal crop; but the fields he had chosen for this year were bearing well. They were all colours from pea green to a biscuit brown. A good harvest would be some compensation for the storm damage in the spring.

As he disappeared over the hill Demelza turned and went indoors. All the day was before her now, all today and part of tomorrow if necessary; but Julia put a shorter time limit on her actions. If she was fed at seven she would do well enough with some sugar and water at noon, which Prudie could give her, and then she would last out till five.

Ten hours. There was much to do in the time. 'Jud!'

'Ais?'

'Are you ready?'

'Well, pick me liver, I only seen Mr Ross out of the 'ouse two minutes.'

'We've precious little time to waste. If I ain't - if I'm not back before five little Julia'll be cryin' out, and me perhaps miles away.'

'A danged misthought notion from last to first,' said Jud, putting his bald fringed head round the door. 'There's them as'd say I'd no leave to lend meself to such fancy skims. Tedn sensible. Tedn right. Tedn' uman...'

'Tedn for you to argue all morning,' said Prudie, appearing behind him. 'Ef she say go, go and begone. Ef there's a dido with Mr Ross that's for she to suffer.'

'I aren't so sartin,' said Jud. 'I don't know, not I. There's no saying wi' womenfolk 'ow they'll jump when the screw's on 'em. Cuzzle as a cartload o' monkeys. Well, I'm warning ye. If I take the fault for this, may I be 'anged for a fool.' He went off grumbling to get his best coat.

They left soon after seven and picked up the horse and pony at Trenwith House. Demelza had dressed herself carefully today in her new close-fitting blue riding habit cut after a masculine style, with a pale blue bodice to give it a touch of something different and a three-cornered small brimmed hat. She kissed Verity and thanked her very affectionately, as if she thought the warmth of her hug would make up for all the deceit.

Jud's presence was useful, for he knew the way to Falmouth across country by narrow lane and mule track, and they touched no town or village where they might be recognized.

Nothing in these hamlets passed unnoticed or unremarked. Every tinner and farm worker stopped in his work, hand on hips, to look over the ill-assorted couple, Jud ugly and whistling on his little shaggy pony, she young and handsome on her tall grey horse. Every cottage had its peering face.

They had no watch between them, but two or three hours before midday they caught a gleam of blue and silver water, and she knew she must be near.

They lost the river among the trees and began sharply to pick their way down a dusty hill with cart ruts, and found themselves among cottages. Beyond the cottages was a great landlocked harbour and the masts of ships. Now her heart began to beat. The hazard of the day began. All her private imaginings in the quiet of the night were to come up against the hard and difficult truth. Her own view of Verity's lover, a soft-spoken, handsome middle-aged sailor, and the picture that Ross had raised by his description of the scene in Truro; these had to be reconciled and confronted with the truth before anything else was begun.

After a few minutes they reached a cobbled square, and the water glittered like a silver plate between some houses of larger size. There were plenty of people in the streets who seemed in no hurry to move aside for a couple of riders. Jud pushed his way through shouting and swearing.

At the other side they looked upon a quay pyramided with merchandise which was being unloaded from a longboat. Demelza stared about her, faintly mesmerized. A group of blue-coated sailors with pigtails stared up at the girl on the horse. A big Negress went by; and two dogs were quarrelling over a crust. Someone leaned out from an upper window and threw more refuse in the road.

'Wot now?' said Jud, taking off his hat and scratching his head.

'Ask someone,' she said. 'That's the proper way.'

'Thur's no one task,' said Jud, staring round at the crowded square. Three important-looking sailors with gold braid on their uniforms were past before Demelza could decide. Jud sucked his two great teeth. She edged her horse past some urchins playing in the gutter and closed up to four men who were talking together on the steps of one of the large houses. Prosperous merchants, fat-stomached and bewigged.

She knew that Jud should have done the asking but could not trust his manners. At that moment Random chose to side-step, and the clatter of his hooves on the cobbles took their attention.

'I beg your pardon for the interference,' Demelza said in her best voice, 'But could you please to direct me to the house of Captain Andrew Blamey.'

They all pulled off their hats. Nothing quite like that had ever happened to Demelza before. They took her for a lady and it made her blush.

One said: 'Pardon me, ma'am, I didn't catch the name.'

'Captain Andrew Blamey of the Lisbon packets.' She caught an exchanged glance.

'He lives at the end of the town, ma'am. Down this street, ma'am. Perhaps one third of a mile. But the packet agent would direct you, if you called on him. He could also inform you if Captain Blamey is home or at sea.'

'He's home,' said another. 'The Caroline's due to sail on Saturday forenoon.'

'I'm greatly obliged to ye,' said Demelza. 'Down this street, you said? Thank you. Good day.'

They bowed again; she touched her horse and went off. Jud, who had been listening with his mouth open, followed slowly, muttering about fine feathers.

They trekked up a long narrow lane, mainly squalid huts and courtyards with here and there a house or a tiny shop, the land climbing steeply away among trees and scrub to the right. The harbour held two or three dozen ships in an almost closed hand: she had seen nothing like it in her life, accustomed as she was to the sight of an occasional brig or cutter beating away from the land on the dangerous north coast.

They were directed to one of the better houses with a room built out over the front door to form a pillared porch. This was more imposing than she had expected.

She got down stiffly and told Jud to hold her horse. Her habit was thick with dust, but she knew of no place to go and tidy herself.

'I'll not be long,' she said. 'Don't go away an' don't get drunk or I'll ride home wi'out you.'

'Drunk,' said Jud, wiping his head. 'No one 'as the call to leave that at my door. Many's the week as passes an' never a drop of liquor. Many's the time I ain't gotten the spittle for a fair good spit. That dry. An' you says drunk. You says drunk. Why, I mind the time when you was tiddley on account of findin' a bottle o' grog, an' twas…'

'Stay here,' said Demelza, turning her back. 'I'll not be gone long.'

She pulled at the bell. Jud was a spectre of old times. Forget him. Face this. What would Ross say if he could see her now? And Verity. Base treason. She wished she had never come. She wished…

The door opened and Jud's grumblings died away. 'I wish to see Captain Blamey, please.'

'He bain't in, ma'am. He did say he'd be back afore noon. Would ye wait?'

'Yes,' said Demelza, swallowing and going in.

She was shown conversationally into a pleasant square room on the first floor. It was panelled with cream-painted wood and there was a model ship among the littered papers on the desk.

'What name sh'll I tell him?' asked the old woman, coming to the end of her chatter.

At the last moment Demelza withheld the vital word. 'I'd better prefer to tell him that myself. Just say a - er – someone…'

'Very well, ma' am.'

The door closed. Demelza's heart was thumping in her breast. She listened to the woman's self-important footsteps receding down the stairs. The documents on the desk took her curiosity, but she was afraid to go over and peer at them and her reading was still so slow.

A miniature by the window. Not Verity. His first wife whom he had knocked down to die? Little framed silhouettes of two children. She had forgotten his children. A painting of another ship, it looked like a man-of-war. From here she found she could see the lane outside.

She edged nearer the window. Jud's shiny head. A woman selling oranges. He was swearing at her. Now she was swearing back. Jud seemed scandalized that anyone could match his own bad words. 'Captain Blamey,' she would say, 'I have come to see ee - to see you about my cousin.' No, first she'd best make sure he was not married again to someone else. 'Captain Blamey,' she would begin. 'Are you married again?' Well, she couldn't say that. What did she hope to do? 'Leave it alone,' Ross had warned. 'It's dangerous to tamper with other people's lives.' That was what she was doing, against all orders, all advice.

There was a map on the desk. Lines were traced across it in red ink. She was about to go and look when another noise in the street drew her notice again.

Under a tree a hundred yards back were a group of seamen. A rough lot, bearded and pig tailed and ragged, but in the middle of them was a man in a cocked hat talking to them in some annoyance. They pressed around him, angry and gesticulating, and for a moment he seemed to disappear among them. Then his hat showed again. The men stepped back to let him through, but several still shouted and shook their fists. The group closed up behind and they stood together staring after him. One picked up a stone but another grasped his arm and stopped him from throwing it. The man in the cocked hat walked on without glancing behind.

As he came nearer the house Demelza felt as if the lining of her stomach was giving way. She knew by instinct that this was the person she had plotted and schemed and ridden twenty miles to see.

But for all Ross's warnings she had not imagined he would be like this. Did he never do anything but quarrel with people, and was this the man for loss of whom Verity was sere and yellow before her time? In a flash Demelza saw the other side of the picture, which up till now had evaded her, that Francis and Old Charles and Ross might be right and Verity's instinct at fault, not theirs.

In panic she looked at the door to gauge her chance of escape; but the outer door slammed and she knew it was too late. There was no drawing back now.

She stood rigidly by the windows and listened to the voices below in the hall. Then she heard a tread on the stairs.

He came in, his face still set in hard lines from his quarrel with the seamen. Her first thought was that he was old. He had taken off his cocked hat and wore his own hair: it was grey at the temples and specked with grey on the crown. He must be over forty. His eyes were blue and fierce and the skin was drawn up around them from peering into the sun. They were the eyes of a man who might have been holding himself always ready for the first leap forward of a race.

He came across to the desk and put his hat on it, looked directly at his visitor.

'My name is Blamey, ma'am,' he said in a hard clear voice. 'Can I be of service to you?'

All Demelza's prepared openings were forgotten. She was overawed by his manner and his authority.

She moistened her lips and said: 'My name is Poldark.'

BOOK: Demelza
8.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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