Authors: Georgette Heyer
Jimmy the Bastard was cleaning boots, in a stone-paved room at the back of the house which commanded, through its chamfered windows, a view of the flagged yard, of a huddle of outhouses, and a glimpse, caught between the wing of the manor and the woodshed, of one of the paddocks where Raymond had some of his young stock out to grass. Beyond the paddock the ground rose towards the Moor, hidden from Jimmy’s indifferent gaze by a morning mist.
The room in which he worked was large, and dirty, and smelt of oil, boot-polish, and must. On a table against one wall a variety of lamps had been placed. Jimmy paid no attention to them. Theoretically, the cleaning and filling of the lamps was a part of his duty, but Jimmy disliked cleaning lamps, and never touched them. Later, one of the maids, driven to it by Reuben Lanner, would polish the glass chimneys, fill up the bowls with paraffin, and trim the wicks, grumbling all the time, not at Penhallow, the Master, who had never installed electric-light at Trevellin, but at Jimmy whom no one could force to perform his duties.
Under the windows, a wooden shelf accommodated the long row of boots and shoes awaiting Jimmy’s attention. Several tins of polish and blacking jostled a collection of brushes and rags. Jimmy dipped a brush into one of these tins, and, with something of the air of an epicure making his choice, picked up from the row one of Clara Hastings’s worn, single-barred, low-heeled black glace slippers. He began to spread on the blacking, without haste and without enthusiasm, but thoroughly, because he rather liked Mrs Hastings. When he came to them, he would clean Raymond’s gaiters and Bart’s topboots just as thoroughly, not from affection, but from the knowledge, born of experience, that neither of these sons of Penhallow would hesitate to lay their crops about his back if he cleaned brown boots with brushes used for black ones, or left a vestige of mud upon the soles.
Clara Hastings’s slippers were worn out of shape, the thin leather cut in places, and in others rubbed away. They were large, roomy slippers, and had never been any smarter than their owner, who went about Trevellin from year’s end to year’s end in ageless garments of no particular cut or style, with skirts uneven, and often muddied about the hems from Clara’s habit of wearing them at ankle-length, and trailing them over her gardenbeds, or through the untidy yards. Vivian Penhallow had said once that Aunt Clara’s name conjured up a vision of gaping plackets, frowsty flannel blouses, gold chains and brooches, and wisps of yellow-grey hair escaping from a multitude of pins. It was a fair description, and would in no way have perturbed Clara, had she heard it. At sixty three, a widow of many years’ standing, a pensioner under Penhallow’s roof, and with no apparent interest in anything beyond the stables and her fern-garden, Clara was as indifferent to the appearance she presented as she was indifferent to the jealousies and strifes which made Trevellin so horrible a prison to anyone not blessed with the strongest of nerves, and the most blunted of sensibilities.
Jimmy, uncritical of her deplorable shoes, did his best by them, and laid them aside. He was her nephew, by blood if not by law, but the relationship was unacknowledged by her, and unclaimed by him. Relations meant nothing to Jimmy, who was rather proud of being a bastard. Clara, accepting his presence at Trevellin without expostulation or repugnance, treated him as one of the servants, which indeed he was; and, beyond observing to Penhallow that if he took all his bastards under his roof there would be no end to it, never again referred to his parentage. The young Penhallows, with the robust brutality which still, after twenty years amongst them, made their stepmother wince and blush, did not attempt either to ignore or to conceal Jimmy’s relationship to their father. They called him Jimmy the Bastard. Excepting Ingram, Penhallow’s second son, who was married, and lived at the Dower House, and so did not come much into contact with him, they all disliked him, but in varying degrees. Eugene complained that he was insolent; Charmian knew he was dishonest; Aubrey was fastidiously disgusted by his slovenly appearance; the twins, Bartholomew and Conrad, objected to him on the score of his laziness; and Raymond, the eldest of Penhallow’s sons, hated him with an implacability that was none the less profound for being unexpressed. Jimmy returned his ill-will blatantly, but in silence. If he had dared, he would have left Raymond’s boots and gaiters uncleaned, but he did not dare. Penhallow might, in his peculiar fashion, be fond of his baseborn son, but Penhallow would only laugh if he heard of his being flogged. Penhallow had flogged and clouted all his legal offspring — not, indeed, into virtuous behaviour, but into some sort of an obedience to his imperious will — and although his great, bull-like frame was now rendered more or less quiescent by gout and dropsy, his lusty spirit had undergone no softening change. He had lived hard, intemperately, and violently, scornful of gentleness, brutal to weakness; his body had betrayed him, but his heart had learnt neither tolerance nor pity. He certainly showed a liking for Jimmy, but whether he encouraged him from affection, or from a malicious desire to enrage his legitimate children, no one, least of all Jimmy himself, knew.
There were eight pairs of shoes or boots laid out upon the shelf. Jimmy ran his eyes along the row, noting Eugene’s elegant patent-leather shoes, with their pointed toes and thin soles; the neat brogues, belonging to Vivian, his wife; Raymond’s stout boots and serviceable gaiters; Bart’s and Conrad’s riding-boots; a pair of cracked black shoes belonging to Reuben Lanner, who had lived and worked at Trevellin for as long as anyone, even Clara, could remember, and called himself Penhallow’s butler. Jimmy had no particular liking for Reuben, but he recognised the unique position he held in the house, and did not object to cleaning his shoes for him. But last on the row stood a cheap, jaunty pair of shoes, with high-heels and short toes, which instantly caught Jimmy’s eye, and brought a scowl to his dark face. He picked them up, and tossed them under the shelf on to the stone floor, with a gesture of ineffable contempt. He knew very well that they belonged to Loveday Trewithian, Mrs Penhallow’s personal maid, and he wasn’t going to clean that sly cat’s shoes for her, not he! She was a saucy piece, if ever there was one, he thought, slipping about the house so quiet and pretty-behaved, with her soft, ladyfied speech, and her eyes looking slantways under her long lashes. She was Reuben’s niece, and had started as kitchen-maid at Trevellin, of no more account than any other of the girls who performed ill-defined duties at the Manor. If it hadn’t been for Mrs Penhallow, who took a silly fancy to the girl, and had her out of the kitchen to wait upon herself, she wouldn’t have learnt to ape the manners of the gentry, nor yet have got ideas into her head which were above her station.
Jimmy gave her shoes a little kick. He knew what he knew: he’d seen Loveday and Bart kissing and cuddling when they thought themselves safe from discovery. She wouldn’t dare complain of him, not even to Mrs Penhallow, for fear he should up and tell the Master what she’d been fool enough to boast of to him. Penhallow didn’t give a damn for Bart’s making love to the girl: he wasn’t above pawing her about himself, if he got the chance; but let him but get wind of a marriage planned between the pair of them, and then wouldn’t the fur fly! Jimmy hadn’t told him yet, but he would one day if she gave him any of her airs.
He gave Mrs Eugene Penhallow’s brogues a final rub, and set them down. He didn’t reckon much to Mrs Eugene; she was a foreigner; she didn’t understand Cornish ways, nor, seemingly, want to. She didn’t like living at Trevellin, either, and made no secret of it.
Picking up one of Eugene’s shoes, and spitting on its glossy surface, Jimmy grinned, and reflected that Mrs Eugene wouldn’t succeed in moving Eugene from quarters which he found comfortable, not if she tried till Doomsday. Jimmy was contemptuous of Eugene, a hypochondriac at thirty-five, always feeling the draughts, and talking about his weak chest. He was contemptuous of Mrs Eugene too, but more tolerantly. He couldn’t see what there was in Eugene to absorb her whole attention, or to make her so passionately devoted to him. She’d got spirit, too: she wasn’t a poor downtrodden thing, like Penhallow’s wife, who allowed herself to be bullied by the Penhallows as though she was nobody. She’d stand up to Penhallow, telling him off like a regular vixen, while he lay in his great bed, roaring with laughter at her, egging her on, saying things to make her lose her temper worse than ever, and telling her she was a grand little cat, even if she didn’t know a blood-mare from a stallion, and hadn’t had more sense than to marry a nincompoop like Eugene.
Jimmy turned his attention to Bart’s riding-boots, which bore every evidence of Bart’s having walked all about the farm in them, which he probably had. Bart, to whom the reading of a book was a penance, and the writing of a letter a Herculean labour, was going to be a farmer. No doubt, thought Jimmy, he planned to settle down at Trellick Farm with Loveday one of these fine days. Trellick was earmarked for Bart, but catch Penhallow handing it over to him if he married Loveday! He might whistle for it then: in Jimmy’s opinion he wouldn’t in any event make a go of it. He’d no head, not as much sense as Conrad, his twin, though from being the hardier and the more rollicking of the two it was he who always took the lead, and set an example for the other to follow. They were the youngest of Penhallow’s first family, and had reached the age of twenty-five without having achieved any other distinction than that of being two of the most bruising riders in the county, and of having placed their parent in the position of having to pay an incredible number of maintenance sums on their behalf at an age when most young gentlemen were innocently occupied at school. Not that Penhallow grudged the money. He himself, with a fine freedom from restraint which savoured of an earlier age, had done what lay in his power to perpetuate the distinctive Penhallow cast of countenance, and the sight of an unmistakable Penhallow amongst a knot of village brats seemed to afford him a degree of amusement which scandalised, and indeed alienated the more virtuous of his acquaintances.
The wonder was, thought Jimmy, turning it over in his curious mind, that Bart, whom anyone would have thought the spit and image of his father, should have taken it into his head to marry a girl like Loveday. She was a cunning one, sure enough, looking as though butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, and twisting Bart round her impudent finger.
Jimmy picked up Bart’s second boot. His dark glance fell on Conrad’s, standing next in the row, and the sight of them, setting up a train of thought, made him smile to himself with a kind of malign satisfaction. Conrad, the cleverer yet the weaker of the twins, had for his brother a jealous devotion which, though it was undisturbed by Bart’s many casual village affairs, would be likely to prove a thorny barrier in the way of his marriage to Loveday or any other young woman. Maybe Conrad already guessed what was in the wind: Jimmy didn’t know about that, but it wouldn’t surprise him if he found that Bart had taken his twin into his confidence. In Jimmy’s opinion he was fool enough for anything, too thickheaded to realise that Conrad, adoring him, vying with him, quarrelling with him, would be ready to play any dirty trick that would rid him of a rival to his possession of him.
He was turning over in his mind the possible results of telling Penhallow what was going on under his roof when a footfall sounded on the flagged passage, and Loveday Trewithian came into the room, carrying the lamp from her mistress’s bedroom.
Jimmy scowled at her, but said nothing. Loveday set the lamp down on the table beside the others, and turned, smiling, towards him. Her warm brown eyes flickered over the shelf; he knew her well enough to be sure that the absence of her own shoes from the row had not escaped her, but she gave no sign. She watched him, at work on Bart’s second boot, and said presently in her rich, soft voice: ‘You do polish them clean-off, Jimmy.’
He was as impervious to her flattery as to the seductive note in her voice. ‘I won’t lay hand or brush to yours,’ he said unamiably. ‘You can take ‘em away.’