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Authors: E.V Thompson

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BOOK: The Lost Years
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Henry Dunn’s house was one of many that clung to the side of a cliff overlooking the inner harbour. When they entered the house they found the injured fisherman seated in a wooden armchair, a plaster-of-Paris cast on his out-stretched leg.

He greeted them breathlessly, explaining that damage to his ribs had put painful pressure upon one of his lungs. Nevertheless, he thanked both Perys and Annie for the part they had played in his rescue, adding, ‘What more can I say? I owe my life to you both. If you hadn’t found me and pulled me out from under all that mud and taken me to the hospital I certainly wouldn’t be here now - ’

A fit of coughing caused him to break off. After fighting for breath for a few moments, he unexpectedly began weeping.

Perys was embarrassed by the emotion shown by the fisherman, although he knew it was caused by the low state of his health. He was relieved when the man’s wife motioned for them to follow her into the kitchen. Here she thanked Annie for the food she had brought for them.

‘Things are going to be hard with us for a while, until Henry’s on his feet again. Our Wesley’s gone out with the boats today, but he’ll get no more than a boy’s wages, and my cleaning job up at the vicarage is for only a couple of hours each morning. Still, I’m thankful that Henry’s alive - and at least I haven’t got our Eliza at home to be fed.’

Annie displayed a lack of interest that Perys found unsettling.

‘She’s up by Liskeard with my sister,’ continued the fisherman’s wife, seeming unaware of Annie’s indifference. ‘The one who’s married to a railway porter. She’s expecting her first any day now. Eliza’s gone up there to be with her. She doesn’t even know her father’s been involved in an accident. I’ll need to send her a postcard, I suppose, although I’d rather not. As soon as she knows, she’ll be home like a shot, and there’s nothing she can do here.’

Annie asked nothing about the Dunns’ absent daughter and Perys realised she disapproved of her for some reason.

‘Well, I hope Henry’s up and about soon,’ said Annie. ‘I’ll call in on you again, probably when Ma does some more baking.’

‘It was very kind of you to come to see Henry today,’ said the injured man’s wife, ‘and especially kind of you, sir. We’re all thankful for what you did. If you hadn’t come along and had the Heligan carriage take Henry into hospital, he wouldn’t be with us today. The doctor said as much.’

‘I’d like to call in on him again too, if I may,’ Perys said. ‘I hope that next time I’m here he’ll be a whole lot better.’

As Perys and Annie made their way back through Mevagissey, it seemed to the astounded Perys that they were walking through a different village. There were smiles for them where before there had been scowls, and many of the fishermen touched their caps to him in a gesture of respect.

When he mentioned the remarkable change of attitude to Annie, she smiled. ‘I told you what it would be like once they realised who you were. You’ll never be fully accepted here because they’re fishermen and you’re not, but you’ve helped one of them. As a result they’ll never do you a bad turn and you’ll not need to ask twice for their help if ever you have need of it. You needn’t worry too much about Henry Dunn, either. He’s a fisherman and Mevagissey fishermen take care of their own.’

‘Could I expect Eliza Dunn to offer me help if I were to need it?’ Perys asked, unexpectedly.

‘What do you know of Eliza?’ Annie asked, sharply.

‘Nothing at all,’ he replied, ‘but I was watching you when Mrs Dunn was talking about her. I formed the impression that you don’t like her very much. I was curious, that’s all.’

‘I don’t have anything to do with Eliza Dunn,’ Annie said, suddenly tight-lipped. ‘I prefer it that way. If you want to know anything about Eliza you’ll need to ask Martin - but don’t mention her name when Polly’s around. Mind you, I’ve no doubt your cousin Edward could tell you as much about her as anyone else, if you cared to ask him.’

Perys could not visualise a situation arising when he would question Edward Tremayne about Eliza. He decided he would drop the subject.

All too soon, it seemed, they came within sight of Tregassick Farm. He could see a couple of children running in and out of one of the farm buildings and Annie explained that they probably belonged to the wife of another farmer who was paying them a visit.

‘That doesn’t mean you can’t come in,’ she added quickly when she saw him hesitate. ‘Pa is anxious to meet you.’

‘I’ll make it some other time, if you don’t mind,’ Perys said, reluctantly. He felt it would cause a certain amount of embarrassment if the farmer were to receive an unexpected visit from a relative of his landlord when others were visiting the farm.

‘Just as you wish,’ Annie shrugged, successfully hiding her disappointment. ‘We’ll no doubt meet up again before you leave Heligan.’

‘I sincerely hope so, Annie . . .’ He paused for a moment before saying, ‘Do you think your parents would mind if I called in at the farm occasionally?’

Annie wanted to say it would pose no problem, but common sense told her that regular visits would be frowned upon - by both families.

‘There’s nothing to prevent you dropping by occasionally,’ she said, eventually, ‘but what would Squire Tremayne say about you becoming friendly with us? After all, you’re one of his family and Martin is a servant at Heligan.’

‘I doubt very much whether Great-Uncle Hugh will return to Heligan before I join the army,’ Perys said. ‘Besides, I’m not so close to him that he would care very much who I choose for my friends. And there’s no one else to whom it would matter.’

Even as he was saying the words, Perys wondered what Maude Tremayne and her daughters would think if he became unduly friendly with the daughter of the Bray family of Tregassick Farm, the sister of Heligan’s young coachman.

CHAPTER 7

‘Did you enjoy the ball at Lanhydrock?’

Perys put the question to Maude and her daughters at breakfast next morning.

‘No!’ Arabella spoke with considerable feeling. ‘All anyone could talk about was this stupid old war they think is about to happen.’

Perys glanced at Maude, but a slight movement of her head suggested she had no wish to talk about the matter in front of the girls.

‘Where were you last evening, Perys? I wanted to introduce you to my friend. I had told her all about you and she was looking forward to meeting you.’ Arabella was inclined to pout when something disappointed her. She was pouting now.

It was also apparent to Perys that although Arabella had voiced the question, Morwenna was equally interested.

‘I went to Mevagissey, to visit Henry Dunn, the man Martin and I helped to rescue from the landslide,’ he replied, easily. ‘When I had to leave the horse at Tregassick Farm they told me Mr Dunn had been released from hospital. He’s actually in rather a bad way. He has a broken leg and ribs and there seems to be some pressure on one of his lungs. I will probably visit him again to see if he is improving.’

‘The poor man,’ Maude said, vaguely sympathetic.

‘I hope he was duly grateful to you,’ Morwenna said. ‘It sounds as though he is lucky to be alive.’

‘He was embarrassingly grateful,’ Perys replied. ‘In fact he broke down while he was speaking. I feel he should still be in hospital, but I suppose that would cost money and he’s not a wealthy man.’

‘I am surprised you were able to find his house,’ Morwenna commented. ‘Mevagissey is such a warren of houses.’

The remark was made in apparent innocence, but Perys had an uncomfortable feeling that there was more to it than that.

‘It certainly wasn’t the easiest house to find,’ he agreed, hoping Morwenna would not probe further.

His hopes were dashed immediately, but her questioning did not take the direction he feared.

‘Does the fisherman have a daughter named Eliza?’ she asked.

Perys was aware from Maude’s expression of disapproval that once again there was more to Morwenna’s question than was apparent.

‘I think Mrs Dunn did mention a daughter named Eliza. She’s at Liskeard, taking care of a relative who is expecting a baby. Why, do you know her?’

Morwenna and her mother exchanged glances, and it was Maude who replied, ‘The girl was found in the grounds of Heligan and brought to me. It seems she is greatly smitten with Martin, the coachman, and was hoping to waylay him. I warned her to stay away from Heligan and sent her home.’

‘But . . . isn’t Martin engaged to Polly?’

‘He is, and after speaking to him I am quite satisfied he has given her no encouragement whatsoever.’

‘You are far too gullible, Mother,’ declared Morwenna. ‘Eliza was not here looking for Martin. She has ideas well above her station in life.’

‘Morwenna! I will not have you repeating servants’ gossip in front of Arabella.’

‘What gossip, Mother?’ asked Arabella. ‘Do you mean that linking her with Edward? I saw him speaking to a girl once, in the garden. She was not one of the servants and they seemed very friendly. It was probably Eliza Dunn, and I know all about her reputation . . .’

‘That is quite enough, Arabella - you too, Morwenna.’ Maude spoke in a tone that brooked no argument. ‘I forbid you to mention the subject again.’

Perys had listened to the conversation with increasing interest. If the gossip were true, so many things fell into place. If Edward was having an affair with Eliza Dunn and her name had been linked with Martin, it went a long way towards explaining why he had been so unreasonably angry with the coachman on the day of Perys’s arrival. It would also explain Annie’s hint that Edward could tell him all he needed to know about Eliza.

‘Now, what plans do we all have for the day?’ Maude was determined to change the subject.

‘We’ve been at Heligan for more than two weeks and I still haven’t been to Mevagissey,’ complained Arabella. ‘Will you take me there, Perys? Please?’

Perys glanced at Maude, who, in turn, looked questioningly at Morwenna. The older of the two daughters shrugged. ‘I am quite happy to go there with Perys and Arabella, but I don’t want to remain there for too long. The smell of fish becomes quite overwhelming after a while.’

Apparently satisfied, Maude said to Perys, ‘Would you mind accompanying the girls to the village if you are doing nothing else, Perys? I know Arabella has been dying to have a look around. I would not have been happy for her to go with Edward. I feel you are rather more responsible.’

Having been paid such an unexpected compliment, Perys felt he could not refuse. ‘I’ll be delighted to escort both girls to the village. Shall we say, in an hour’s time?’

‘Can’t we go right away?’ asked a delighted Arabella.

‘I want to go to the stables first, to check on the horse I took out yesterday,’ Perys replied.

‘We won’t need a horse today,’ said Morwenna. ‘It’s only a short walk.’

‘I know,’ Perys agreed, ‘but the mare went lame when I was riding her. I’m concerned about her.’

This was quite true, but Perys was also hoping he might meet with Martin at the stables. He wondered whether Annie might have said anything to him about their visit to Mevagissey.

‘You should be grateful that Perys has agreed to take you.’ Maude said.

‘I am.’ Arabella declared, 'very grateful. Thank you, Perys. I am glad you have come to stay at Heligan. You are so much nicer than Edward.’

Morwenna looked mildly amused, but Maude did not. She had realised from the day of Perys’s arrival at Heligan that Arabella was smitten with him. It was no more than a schoolgirl’s infatuation, of course, but Maude felt it was time Arabella put such preoccupations behind her. She was approaching an age when she should be looking forward to meeting prospective husbands. Perys did not come into such a category.

However, if world events were moving in the direction predicted by most of the men who had attended the Lanhydrock ball, it was doubtful whether she needed to be too concerned about Arabella’s infatuation with Perys. Most of those in contact with the government in London were of the opinion that orders had already gone out to the service chiefs to prepare for war. It was firmly believed that any conflict was unlikely to last longer than a few months. Nevertheless, the army and navy would need to be brought up to strength very quickly - and Perys was destined for the army.

Maude had no wish to see him exposed to the dangers of battle, but she was aware he would need to undertake army training, possibly followed by flying instruction, all of which would take time. By then, she told herself, the worst of the fighting might be over. In any case, she and her two daughters were unlikely to meet up with Perys in the future.

CHAPTER 8

When he visited the stables, Perys was disappointed to learn that Martin had gone to St Austell on an errand for Maude. However, he was delighted to learn that the dappled mare was now hardly limping at all. He set off for Mevagissey with the girls feeling much relieved. The day had started well.

By the time it was over world events would have taken a course that would touch the lives of every man, woman and child on the Heligan estates, with repercussions that extended far, far beyond the Cornish borders.

But a drama of a much more local nature swiftly unfolded as Perys, Morwenna and Arabella neared Mevagissey. As they walked together, a rocket, fired into the air from the harbour area, rose into the sky, emitting a loud and shrill noise that startled the three walkers.

‘I wonder if that’s a signal to launch the lifeboat?’ Perys cried. ‘If it is, something must be happening off the coast. Let’s hurry and find out what’s going on.’

His surmise was correct. By the time the trio reached the harbour the lifeboat had already been launched. They were in time to see it clear the outer harbour and begin battling against a choppy sea. While most of the lifeboatmen continued pulling lustily on the oars, others raised the sails in order to take advantage of the stiff breeze.

Many of the villagers had turned out to follow the progress of the lifeboat, and they lined the wall of the outer harbour. Perys and the two girls were able to find a place among them.

It was unnecessary for the three new arrivals to ask why the lifeboat had been launched. Not far offshore a large sailing barque was wallowing in the swell with sails flapping. Flames, fanned by the wind, jumped ever higher from one of the holds.

BOOK: The Lost Years
5.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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