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Authors: Susan Howatch

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BOOK: Penmarric
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So I went out, but I did not walk east along the cliffs to Zennor. My feet took me up onto the moors toward Zillan until at last I was passing Chûn Castle and scrambling down the steep hillside to Roslyn Farm.

6

At the farm I discovered that Mrs. Roslyn had walked over to Zillan to lay more roses on her husband’s grave. It took me at least five minutes to wheedle the information from that hostile old crone Griselda, who had for some unknown reason taken a firm dislike to me.

“Thee’s awasting yurr time!” she screeched after me in her heavy Cornish accent as I walked away from the front door through the herb garden. “She don’t holden with boys yurr age!”

“That’s an extraordinarily insolent remark from a servant in your position!” I retorted, spinning around angrily to face her, but she only replied with a shrill “I ain’t no servant!” before retreating to the hall and banging the door behind her.

I wondered again about the exact nature of her relationship with Mrs. Roslyn.

When I was halfway to Zillan I saw her coming toward me across the moors. She saw me soon afterward; she hesitated slightly, then walked on along the path. It was five minutes before we were finally face to face.

“Good morning, Mr. Castallack,” she said politely.

“Good morning, Mrs. Roslyn.”

She still wore black since she was still in mourning. All through that summer I saw her wearing only black. I can remember how it accentuated the whiteness of her skin and the gold of her hair and the clearness of her eyes.

I offered to carry her basket. She accepted with a smile and I made some remark about the weather. After we had agreed that it had been unusually clement lately I suggested that as the weather was so encouraging she might wish to venture into Penzance one evening to have dinner with me.

“Thank you,” she said, “but I must refuse. I haven’t a suitable gown for such an occasion.”

“If you would prefer to lunch rather than dine—”

“Thank you, but no, I must ask you to excuse me. I apologize if I seem rude.”

Much against my better judgment I found myself compelled to interrogate her about her decision. Was it because she was still in mourning? Was it because I was too young? Was there some other man who—

“Please, Mr. Castallack,” she said, and her eyes were so cold that they were no longer blue but gray. “I think you must be forgetting yourself. I am grateful for your offer to take me to Penzance but I do not wish to accept because I do not wish to become associated with you in that particular way. I enjoy your society, and should you wish to call at the farm occasionally I trust you will always have a hospitable reception, but I see no purpose in furthering our association on a more intimate basis. There is no ‘other man’ in my life. If there were I would have told you about him long ago since I am not and never have been the sort of woman who enjoys a hole-in-the-corner intrigue. I’m a respectable woman, Mr. Castallack, and it’s because any more intimate association with you could not have a respectable end that I am obliged to refuse your attentions. Good day.”

She reached to take the basket from me, but when I held it away from her she quickened her pace and moved in front of me as if the basket were of no consequence. I caught up with her, my cheeks burning, my heart hammering in my lungs.

“I apologize,” I said rapidly. “Please forgive me, Mrs. Roslyn.”

She turned to face me again and held out her hand for the basket. “I think I would prefer to return home alone. Excuse me, if you please.”

“No, I insist—”

“If you please, Mr. Castallack.”

I gave her the basket “May I at least know,” I said unevenly, “if my apologies are accepted? I had no intention of implying by my attentions to you that I thought you to be other than a respectable woman—”

“Really, sir? Then what did you hope to achieve by such attentions?”

“I wished merely to show that I admired you by inviting you to dine with me—”

“And what would have been your next invitation?”

“Mrs. Roslyn, you do yourself an injustice by asking such a question—”

“Perhaps,” she said, “but that still shouldn’t prevent you from answering it.”

“I can only repeat that I have never doubted your respectability.”

“I’m glad to hear it. That’s not a conclusion I would have reached by judging the way you look at me sometimes.”

“I apologize if I’ve ever given you offense—”

“And besides,” she said, not allowing me to finish, “young gentlemen of your breeding and background usually pursue a woman of lower rank for one purpose and one purpose only. You may be very young, but you have that certain degree of arrogance which tells me you fully expect to get your own way. Well, you have miscalculated, Mr. Castallack. I’m not that kind of woman and even if I were I would hardly wish to commit myself to a boy scarce out of his teens.”

After a moment I said, “I see.”

I slowed my pace; she quickened hers, and we parted. I stood staring after her but presently I stepped aside and slumped down in the heather. A warm wind, slewing across my face, blew my hair into my eyes. I tried to think, to collect my wits, but the encounter had left me so numb that it was not for some minutes that I realized I was furiously angry.

“Bitch!” I said softly to the warm breeze from the hills. “Bitch!”

Her stepson Jared Roslyn had called her that. I could remember how shocked I had been to hear him address her in that fashion when I had first called at Roslyn Farm.

Tears pricked my eyes. I dashed them aside, stood up, shoved my fists into my pockets. Walking uphill, I went over the entire conversation word for word and decided what I should have said. She had had the upper hand from beginning to end. I should have taken a much firmer line, been less meek, less ready to stammer apologies. No wonder she had thought me too young to consider seriously! I had behaved like a schoolboy, allowed her to dictate to me and turn the conversation whichever way she chose. Very well, I thought fiercely, she was a respectable woman. But that did not mean she couldn’t be won. Just because I had tried to win her did not give her the right to adopt such haughty airs and behave in such an icily contemptuous manner. I tried to remember if I had ever given her serious cause to take offense and came to the conclusion that I had not. Finally I was driven to conclude that she was weary of my continual calls at the farm and had deliberately effected a quarrel with me to sever the tenuous relationship that existed between us.

Tears pricked my eyes again. My anger had ebbed and only the misery of rejection was left. I walked on blindly to the summit of the ridge, and at last on reaching Chûn I stumbled into the peaceful shelter of the castle walls.

“Bitch!” I said aloud for the third time and began to cry quietly to myself amidst the piles of stones.

My emotions seemed to run in a cycle. Presently I began to feel angry again, and soon I was so angry that I could no longer keep still. Leaving the castle, I passed Chûn Quoit on my way downhill into Morvah parish, and as I walked I could hear her say the offensive word “boy” again and her disdainful comment: “Young gentlemen of your breeding and background usually pursue a woman of lower rank for one purpose and one purpose only.” The comment incensed me for some reason. It was not until I was within quarter of a mile of my father’s house that I realized why. It incensed me because it was true and because she—a mere uneducated woman, a farmer’s widow—had used the truth in order to outwit me.

I seethed with rage.

When I reached Deveral Farm I shut myself in my room, wept again, fumed again and finally began to pace up and down in an agony of restlessness. In the end I could no longer contain myself. Seeking my father, I told him I intended to ride into St. Ives to spend a day or two with my former school friend Russell St. Enedoc, and although he was startled by my sudden decision he raised no objection to it. Afterward, without even waiting to have lunch, I set off east along the road to Zennor, and late in the afternoon I began my ride down from the hills into St. Ives.

FOUR

Henry consoled himself by taking as his mistress one Rosamund Clifford, the “Fair Rosamund” of later ballads and legends.

—Henry II,,

JOHN T. APPLEBY

Rosamund Clifford was a lady of good family.

—The Devil’s Brood,

ALFRED DUGGAN

I
HAD NO INTENTION
of riding at once to Menherion Castle, the home of the St. Enedocs, and asking for Russell. Instead I left my horse at an inn, reserved a room for the night and set off on foot to explore the town. At the back of my mind lurked the thought that if I searched hard enough I might encounter some acceptable working-class girl on her afternoon off, and presently I moved away from the twisted alleys around the harbor and wandered around the bay toward the beach and the better residential section of the town.

I had often heard it said that St. Ives was as unique as it was picturesque, and now I saw for myself that the reports had not been exaggerated. As I walked through its streets late on that August afternoon I thought it a strange foreign town with its medieval streets and cobbled alleys, its white walls dazzling beneath those warm southern skies. Here at least one could remember that not many centuries ago Cornwall had been another country instead of a remote appendage of England, but I soon realized that St. Ives, far from looking back yearningly toward the past, was beginning to look to the future; there were already signs that it might one day rival Penzance as a seaside resort, and since the coming of the railway the inhabitants of the town, I was told, had become accustomed to the idea that visitors would stay at the boarding houses during August and September while artists would linger in the town to savor the special quality of the light.

The more modern section of St. Ives on the other side of the bay was hardly as quaint as the jumbled collection of fishermen’s cottages on the peninsula, but at least it was free from the reek of fish and the odor of medieval sanitation. Regretting that such scenery should be so picturesque from a distance yet so squalid when explored more carefully, I took the path that led down to the sandy beach and glanced around for some promise of a welcome feminine diversion among the bathing tents, the groups of preposterously garbed swimmers and the children playing with their buckets and spades.

I should have returned to my inn when it became clear to me that this was not the day when most working-class girls had their afternoon off. Or I should have walked up to Menherion Castle and called at once on the St. Enedocs. I should have done so many things instead of remaining on that beach, but of course everyone knows how easy it is to be wise after the event, and for me at that moment the event had not even begun.

Unaware of my foolishness, I lingered by the sea. I was still wandering aimlessly along the sands when a red beach ball bounced up to strike me on the thigh, and as I swung around in surprise a pugnacious infant elbowed his way past my knees and chased the ball to the water’s edge.

“James!” cried a girl’s light musical voice behind me on a note of great distress. “How naughty! Apologize to the gentleman at once!” And then as her charge ignored her she called, distraught, “I’m terribly sorry—he’s rather naughty today, I’m afraid. I do apologize!”

“Not at all,” I said courteously. “Please don’t worry.”

She looked about eighteen years old. I was amazed when I discovered later that she was a year older than I was. She had pretty fair hair which, being fine, had partially escaped from its fastenings and now fell in curling strands about her face and neck. She had blue eyes and a gentle mouth and an exquisite pink and white skin. If I had not had Janna’s memory nailed so forcibly to the forefront of my mind I might have considered this girl reasonably fetching, but as it was I merely thought her a pale reflection of a woman I wanted but could not have.

Of course I knew at once that she was hardly the kind of girl with whom could amuse myself in the manner I had had in mind, but before I was fully aware of what I was doing I found myself striking up a conversation with her. Her name, I learned, was Rose Parrish. With naïve pleasure I thought how well the name Rose suited her. Her employers, a Mr. and Mrs. Treen of St. Ives, had engaged her as a nursemaid three months previously after her father, a country doctor in Devon, had died penniless and obliged her to earn her own living.

“At first they said I should be a governess,” explained Rose, “but my head aches when I begin to think of sums and arithmetic and things like that. Papa tried to teach me, but I was never any good at lessons.”

“That’s as it should be,” I said firmly. “Women were never meant to spend their time doing sums.”

Encouraged by my approbation, she lost some of her shyness. “Yes … well, I decided I would much prefer to look after children rather than instruct them, so I was very pleased to obtain this post with the Treens. James is a good little boy really.” She saw my expression as I looked after the pugnacious infant. “Well, all children are a little willful sometimes, but—”

“Do you bring him down to the beach every afternoon, Miss Parrish?”

“If it’s fine, yes.”

“Will you be here tomorrow?”

“Oh, tomorrow is my afternoon off.”

“It is? How fortunate! Perhaps you would care to have tea with me tomorrow in St. Ives?”

“You’re—you’re
most
kind, but … well, I couldn’t possibly … Mrs. Treen wouldn’t approve at all. You see … well, it’s hard to explain, but she feels that she is in a way
responsible
for me, so I—well, I would love to, but—”

“I’ll call on her and introduce myself,” I said. “Perhaps if she were to meet me and learn that I’m in St. Ives to visit the St. Enedocs at Menherion Castle—”

“The St. Enedocs!” I might have been referring to a connection with royalty. “Oh, then I’m sure Mrs. Treen wouldn’t object! She often engages in charity work with Lady St. Enedoc, and occasionally she and Mr. Treen dine at the castle …”

And so it was settled. Nothing could have been easier.

BOOK: Penmarric
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