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Authors: E.V Thompson

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BOOK: The Lost Years
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His grandparents became his guardians, but they were in the habit of spending a great deal of the year travelling in Europe. They had no wish to assume responsibility for their illegitimate grandson. He was sent away to boarding school, first to a small establishment in Sussex, run by a clergyman, then to a minor public school in Oxfordshire.

Perys quite enjoyed the clergyman’s school. He was quick to learn and the cleric’s wife was kind-hearted and motherly. The public school was far less pleasant. Somehow, details of his birth were discovered and the other boys referred to him as ‘the bastard’.

As a result of the bullying he received, Perys learned to fight, and fight well. He became a skilful and determined boxer and, in due course, the bullying and name-calling ceased. Unfortunately, by this time he had earned a reputation as ‘unruly’ and was classified as ‘unable to relate to his fellow pupils’. It meant he was punished far more often than any other boy in the school.

Only in his final year, when there was no one remaining who would dare take him on, did things improve and he was left to enjoy his studies.

It was then Perys showed that, despite all the problems he had suffered, his schooling had not been wasted. Albeit grudgingly, the headmaster conceded that Perys had finally ‘settled down and showed considerable promise as a scholar’. He recommended to Perys’s grandparents that he should be allowed to go on to university in order to develop the promise he was belatedly exhibiting.

Perys’s grandfather had other ideas. He and his ailing wife intended to take up permanent residence in Italy. Perys had become almost a stranger to them. They had no wish for his company between university terms. Further-more, they were determined to waste no more money on his education. It was time for him to make his own way in the world.

It was decided he should join the army.

Because Hugh Tremayne of Heligan, a distant relative of Perys, had close associations with the Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry, Cornwall seemed a good place from which Perys should embark upon a military career. They acted upon their decision right away.

‘You’ve come to Cornwall to join the army, I believe, Master Perys?’

The coachman put the question as Perys helped him to lift the heavy suitcase onto a rack above the luggage box at the rear of the coach. There was room for it inside the compartment, but the coachman would not risk crushing the carefully boxed ballgowns.

‘I think that’s what’s been planned for me,’ Perys agreed.

‘You should do well. Master Perys. You belong to a family with a proud military tradition. My grandfather was very fond of telling how he watched the brave charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava in the Crimean War. Arthur Tremayne, uncle of the present squire, was leading his men in the charge that day. Grandpa always thought it the most wonderful thing he’d ever seen. Said it made him proud to be British. He was even more proud to be able to say he was a near neighbour of Captain Arthur.’

Perys had studied details of the battle and was aware of the Tremayne involvement. A misunder-stood order had been responsible for an ill-conceived charge in which more than six hundred cavalrymen rode to almost certain death for no good reason. Almost three hundred of the men became casualties, together with as many good horses. The charge had been an act of crass stupidity.

He said nothing of his thoughts to the coachman.

‘. . . I had an uncle who fought in the Boer War with the Cornwall regiment too, sir.’ Suddenly less enthusiastic, Martin added, ‘He was killed at Paardeberg. My aunt never got over losing him.’

Perys murmured a few suitably sympathetic words and Martin returned his thoughts to the present. ‘We’d best be on our way, sir. There’s a nasty storm in the offing.’

Checking the luggage was secured, the coachman saw Perys safely seated inside the carriage. A few moments later the two-horse vehicle trundled up the steep slope from the station yard, heading for Heligan House, some six miles distant.

CHAPTER 2

Rain was already falling by the time the carriage reached the outskirts of the town of St Austell. Suddenly, the coachman brought the vehicle to an abrupt halt.

Climbing to the ground, he opened the carriage door and said, ‘We’ve just passed my sister Annie, Master Perys. She’s on her way back from market to my father’s farm. It’s at Tregassick, just up beside Heligan. I think this rain will become very heavy before long. Would you mind if I allowed her to ride with me on the outside of the carriage? It would get her home a lot quicker than if she walked.’

‘By all means let her ride with us,’ Perys said, ‘but not on the outside of the carriage. She’d be soaked by the time she arrived. She can come in here with me.’

For a moment it seemed Martin might put up an argument against Perys’s suggestion, but it was raining harder now and he wanted to don the waterproof coat kept in the box beneath the coachman’s seat. Besides, as Annie would be dropped off before they reached Heligan, he was unlikely to be in trouble from those at the great house.

‘Annie, young Master Tremayne says you can ride in the coach with him. Quickly now, get in before the inside gets wet. It’s tipping with rain already . . . No, not with the basket. I’ll tie that on the back.’

Moments later, a young woman scrambled inside the carriage. She had been sheltering beneath a tree so was not too wet, but the carriage had come along just in time. As the door closed behind her, rain began beating a noisy tattoo on the roof of the vehicle.

The girl was hatless, but a shake of her head was sufficient to bring a semblance of order to her windswept hair.

Looking at Perys with a directness that belied the servility of her words, she said, ‘It’s very kind of you to allow me to ride in your carriage. Thank you, sir.’

At that moment Martin whipped the horses into motion and Perys moved quickly to catch Annie as she was flung from her seat by the sudden and violent movement.

He caught her in a full embrace and when she recovered and sat back in her seat she was decidedly flustered. ‘I’m sorry . . . that took me by surprise.’

‘I’m not complaining,’ Perys said, astonishing himself with his boldness. ‘It’s a good job I was here to catch you.’

‘Yes . . . thank you.’ Reaching inside a patch pocket sewn on the front of her dress, she pulled out a small bag. ‘I bought some sweets in town. Would you like one?’

He took a boiled sweet from her and for a while they sat facing each other, enjoying the sharp taste and saying nothing.

It was Annie who broke the silence. ‘Martin called you Master Tremayne, but I don’t think I’ve seen you before. I thought I’d met everyone from the big house, our farm being so close.’

‘Then you’ll know more about the Tremaynes than I do. I’m a distant relative. So distant I’ve never before been to Heligan and have met none of the family who live there. To tell you the truth, I’m more than a little nervous about the whole business.’

‘Then why are you going there now . . . sir?’

It was an impertinent question and for a few moments Annie held her breath, in anticipation of a sharp response, but Perys did not seem to have taken offence.

‘I suppose it’s because I don’t have anywhere else to go . . .’

She thought he sounded almost apologetic, but he had not finished talking.

‘. . . Both my parents died many years ago. My grandparents became my guardians, but they’ve spent much of their lives abroad. Now my grandmother isn’t too well and they are going to live abroad permanently. My grandfather has decided I should join the army. Hugh Tremayne is my great-uncle, albeit twice removed - or something similar - and it seems he has some influence with the regiment base here in Cornwall. He has agreed to arrange an interview for me. If I am accepted I will become an officer in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry.’

Perys stated the facts without any display of enthusiasm and Annie felt a moment’s sympathy for her travelling companion. At the same time she wondered why his grandparents had apparently not wanted him to spend at least some time abroad with them.

She did not voice the question, but was aware there must be a great deal this young man had not told her. On the other hand, there was no reason why he should have told her anything . . . but he was speaking again.

‘Do you mind not calling me ‘sir’, Annie? My name is Perys.’

She was uncertain how to reply to this request, so she said, ‘It’s a very unusual name.’

‘It’s an old Tremayne name,’ Perys explained. ‘I believe the first recorded member of the family, some hundreds of years ago, was named Perys.’

The carriage had reached an exposed expanse of road now, and rain, driven by a strong wind, rattled the glass in the doors.

‘Your brother will be getting very wet,’ commented Perys, sympathetically.

‘He’s wearing a stout waterproof coat,’ declared Annie. ‘He’s better off than he’d be if he was at work on the farm.’

‘Is your father the owner of the farm?’ Perys queried.

‘No, he’s a tenant farmer. The farm belongs to one of the Tremaynes, although it’s administered by the Heligan Estate. Almost all the land around Heligan belongs to one or other of the Tremaynes. They sometimes think they own the people, too.’

It was an unguarded remark, Annie had momentarily forgotten to whom she was talking. With some dismay, she attempted to make amends.

‘Mind you, Squire Tremayne never bothers us, although he takes an interest in whatever Pa is doing on the farm.’

Her initial comment had not passed unnoticed. To her embarrassment, Perys pursued the matter. ‘Then who in the family does bother you?’

‘No one. I’m sorry, I spoke out of turn.’

‘Look, Annie, I know no one in the family here in Cornwall. To be perfectly honest with you, I would be grateful for anything you are able to tell me about Heligan and the people who live there. I don’t even know how many Tremaynes are there at the moment - but I am sure you do.’

Once again Annie’s sympathy went out to Perys. If all he said was true, then, despite his family connections, he was virtually alone in the world. Yet she decided to be cautious in what she said to him.

‘Well, although the house is owned by the squire, Hugh Tremayne, he spends a lot of time abroad and he’s not at the house right now . . .’

She went on to describe those members of the family who were currently staying at the house. It seemed there was one of Hugh Tremayne’s nephews, a couple of years older than Perys, and another relative with her two daughters, for whom Martin had collected the dresses.

Perys formed the opinion that Annie did not particularly like the nephew. He tried to question her about him in more detail, but apart from saying his name was Edward she would not be drawn further.

He would have pressed the matter, but there was a sudden shout from Martin. Heaving on the reins, he applied the brakes of the carriage at the same time, with such force that the coach slewed across the narrow country road. This time it was Perys’s turn to be thrown from his seat, to Annie’s side of the vehicle.

‘What the . . . ?’ As the carriage came to a standstill, Perys regained his balance and looked out of one of the windows.

He was startled to see a thoroughly soaked and bedraggled young boy standing in the roadway, his clothes plastered with mud. He was gesticulating wildly to Martin and shouting, the words lost amidst the din of wind and rain.

Beyond him, on the far side of a very sharp bend, the road appeared to be blocked by a landslide that had undoubtedly been caused by the exceptionally heavy rain.

‘What is it?’ Annie asked Perys. ‘What’s the matter?’

‘The road’s blocked. There’s a boy out there. He seems very excited about something. Stay where you are, I’ll try to find out what’s happening.’

The door opened suddenly and a very wet Martin leaned inside the carriage. ‘There’s been a landslip, Master Perys. Young Wesley Dunn and his father, Henry, were on their way from Mevagissey to Saint Austell with a handcart loaded with fish to put on the London train. The landslip caught them and it’s carried the cart and Henry off the road and down the slope towards the river. He’s down there somewhere, buried with cart and fish beneath tons of earth.’

Behind him, the tearful boy called, ‘Please! Do something. Pa’s down there . . .’

When Perys jumped to the ground from the carriage he was able to see more clearly the trail of devastation left by the landslide. It had swept from the wooded ground rising high above one side of the road, and down a steep incline on the other, carrying trees, rocks and earth with it. Dangerously close to the river at the bottom of the slope the wheel of a cart protruded at an angle from a great heap of mud and debris.

‘Let’s get down there,’ Perys said to Martin. Without waiting for a reply he began scrambling and sliding down the landslide into the field.

It was impossible to maintain a footing on the rain-sodden earth, and Perys came dangerously close to careering on, into the river. He stopped himself only by grabbing at the exposed portion of the wheel. Of Henry Dunn there was no sign.

‘Help me dig away the earth around the cart,’ Perys said, when Martin joined him, somewhat more cautiously, ‘but be careful, there are some large boulders here and the whole lot seems very unstable.’

He and Martin began digging away with their bare hands, joined a few moments later by Annie and the boy.

Perys suggested Annie should return to the carriage, but she declared she had no intention of sitting doing nothing while they dug for the missing fisherman. He did not argue with her.

Soon the rescue party was joined by a couple of men who had been walking on the road. The rain had eased considerably now, but everyone involved was soaked through and plastered in sticky, cloying earth.

Suddenly, Annie shouted to the others. Digging at the front of the cart she had uncovered an arm - and it moved!

The handcart had landed on one of the large rocks when it came to rest, trapping the upper part of the man’s body in the space between cart and ground, his legs pinned down by earth and smaller rocks.

Within fifteen minutes of her discovery they were pulling the fisherman clear. He appeared to have a badly broken leg and was in great pain - but he was alive. His young son, Wesley, was weeping, relief mixed with anguish. He had been convinced his father must have died in the landslide.

BOOK: The Lost Years
12.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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