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A Novel of Cornwall, 1790-1791
By WINSTON GRAHAM
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2015 Winston Graham
All rights reserved.
In August 1790 three men rode along the mule track past Grambler Mine and made toward the straggling cottages at the end of the village. It was evening and the sun had just set; clouds had been driven up the sky by a westerly breeze and were beginning to flush with the afterglow. Even the mine chimneys, from which no smoke had issued for the best part of two years, took on a matured mellow color in the evening light. In a hole in the taller of the two, pigeons were nesting, and their flapping wings beat against the wider silence as the men passed. A half dozen ragged children were playing with a homemade swing suspended between two of the sheds, and some women standing at the doors of cottages, hands on elbows, watched the horsemen ride by.
They were soberly dressed, respectable riders in a clerkish black, and they sat on their horses with an air of importance; not many such were seen nowadays in this half-derelict, half-deserted village that had come into being and had existed solely to serve the mine and that, with the mine dead, was itself perishing of a slower decay. It seemed that the men were going to pass right through — as might have been expected — but at the last, one nodded his head and they reined in their horses at a more dejected-looking shack than anything they had yet seen. It was a one-story cob hut with an old iron pipe for a chimney and a roof patched and repatched with sacking and driftwood, and at its open door on an upturned box sat a bowlegged man sharpening a piece of wood. He was under the average height, strongly built, but getting up in years. He wore old riding boots bound with string, yellow pigskin breeches, a dirty gray flannel shirt that had lost one sleeve at the elbow, and a stiff black leather waistcoat whose pockets bulged with worthless odds and ends. He was whistling almost soundlessly, but when the men got down from their horses, he unpursed his lips and looked at them with wary bloodshot eyes. His knife hung over the stick while he sized them up.
The leader, a tall emaciated man with eyes so close together as to suggest a cast, said, "Good day. Is your name Paynter?"
The knife slowly lowered itself. The bowlegged man put up a dirty thumbnail and scratched the shiniest spot on his bald head.
The other made a gesture of impatience. "Come, man. You're either Paynter or you're not. It's not a subject on which there can be two opinions."
"Well, I aren't so sure 'bout that. Folk is too free with other folk's names. Mebbe there can be two opinions. Mebbe there can be three. It all depend what you want me for."
"It is Paynter," said one of the men behind. "Where's your wife, Paynter?"
"Gone Marasanvose. Now if you be wanting she ..."
"My name is Tankard," the first man said sharply. "I'm an attorney acting for the Crown in the coming case of Rex versus Poldark. We want to ask you a few questions, Paynter. This is Blencowe, my clerk, and Garth, an interested party. Will you lead the way inside?"
Jud Paynter's wrinkled teak-colored face took on a look of injured innocence, but under this conventional defense there was a glint of genuine alarm.
"What are 'ee coming troubling me for? I said all I had to say afore magistrates, an' that were nothing. 'Ere I am, living a Christian life like St. Peter himself, sitting before his own front door interfering with no one. Leave me be."
"The law must take its course," Tankard said and waited for Jud to get up.
After a minute, glancing suspiciously from one face to the other, Jud led the way inside. They seated themselves in the shadowy hut, Tankard staring distastefully about and lifting his coattails to avoid the litter as he sat down. None of the visitors had delicate noses, but Blencowe, a pasty, stooping little man, looked back wistfully at the sweet evening outside.
Jud said, "I don't know nothing about'n. You're barking up the wrong door."
"We have reason to believe," said Tankard, "that your deposition before the examining justice was false in every particular. If —"
"You'll pardon me," Garth said in an undertone. "Perhaps you'd be letting me speak to Paynter for a minute or two, Mr. Tankard. You remember I said, afore we came in, that there's more ways ..."
Tankard folded his thin arms. "Oh, very well."
Jud turned his bulldog eyes upon his new adversary. He thought he had seen Garth before, riding through the village or some such. Snooping perhaps.
Garth said in a conversational, friendly tone, "I understand you were Captain Poldark's servant at one time, you and your wife, for a great many years and for his father afore him?"
"And after working faithful for him all those years, you were suddenly put off, turned from the house without a word of warning."
"Ais. 'Tweren't right or proper, I'll say that."
"It is said, mind you, this is but hearsay, y'understand, that he treated you shameful afore you left — for some fancied misdeed — used his horsewhip and near drowned you under the pump. Would that be so?"
Jud spat on the floor and showed his two great teeth.
"That's against the law," interposed Tankard, squinting down his long thin nose. "Offenses against the person: common assault and battery. You could have proceeded, Paynter."
"And it can't have been the first time, I'll wager," said Garth.
"No, nor it wasn't either," Jud said after a minute, sucking at his teeth.
"People who ill-treat faithful servants don't deserve them these days," said Garth. "There's a new spirit abroad. Every man is as good as his neighbor. Look what be happening in France."
"Ais, I know all about that," Jud said and then stopped. It wouldn't do to let these prying busybodies into the secret of his visits to Roscoff. All the time this Poldark stuff might be a blind to trap him into other admissions.
"Blencowe," said Tankard. "Have you the brandy? We could all do with a tot, and no doubt Paynter will join us."
The afterglow faded, and the shadows in the littered hut grew darker.
"Take it from me," said Garth. "The aristocracy is finished. Their day is over. Common men will be coming into their rights. And one of their rights is not to be treated worse than dogs, not to be used as slaves. D'you understand the law, Mr. Paynter?"
"The Englishman's house is his castle," said Jud. "And habeas corpse, and thou shalt not move thy neighbor's landmark."
"When there's trouble at law," said Garth, "like what there was here in January, it's often hard for the law to act like it should. So it acts as best it may. And when there's riot and wrecking and robbery and suchlike, it says nothing about those who follow if so be as it can lay hold on those who lead is plain to be seen."
"No mebbe about it. But reliable evidence is hard to come by. Evidence of responsible men like yourself ... And, mind you, if the law sees it cannot prove a case against the ringleader, then it will look further and smoke out the lesser men. That's the truth of it, Mr. Paynter, as sure as I'm sitting here. So it's best for all that the right man should stand in the assizes."
Jud picked up his glass and set it down again; it being empty, Blencowe hastily proffered the brandy bottle. There was a comfortable bobbling sound as Jud upended it.
"I don't see why you come to me, when I wasn't there at all," he said, caution still uppermost. "A man can't see farther'n he can blaw."
"Listen, Paynter," said Tankard, ignoring Garth's warning sign. "We know a great deal more than you think. These inquiries have been in train for near on seven months. It would be better for you if you made a clean breast of it all."
"Clean breast indeed —"
"We know that you actively cooperated with Poldark on the morning of the wreck. We know you were on the beach all through the rioting of that day and the following night. We know you played a leading part in resisting the officers of the Crown when one was seriously injured, and in many ways you are as culpable as your master —"
"I never 'eard sich loitch in all me life! Me? I was never nearer the wreck nor what I am now —"
"But as Garth explained, we're willing to overlook this if you will turn the king's evidence. We've a weight of testimony against this man Poldark but wish to make it stronger. It's plain you owe him no loyalty. Why, on your own showing he's treated you shamefully! Come, man, it's common sense to tell us the truth, as well as your common duty."
With some dignity Jud got to his feet.
"Also," said Garth, "we'd make it worth your while."
Jud pivoted thoughtfully on his heel and slowly sat down again. "Eh?"
"Not official, of course. It wouldn't do to come official. But there's other ways."
Jud stretched his head to peer out through the door. There was no sign of Prudie. It was always the same when she went to see her cousin. He looked sidelong at each of the men in the hut, as if he might weigh up their intentions unnoticed.
"What other ways?"
Garth took out his pouch and rattled it. "The Crown's out for a conviction. The Crown's to pay for the right information, like. Strictly on the quiet, of course. Strictly between friends. Like offering a reward for an arrest, as you might say. Isn't it, Mr. Tankard? Nothing different from that."
Tankard did not speak. Jud got his glass and sucked up the rest of the brandy.
Almost under his breath he said, "First threatenings an' now bribery. Bribery as I'm alive! Money for Judas, I reckon they'm thinking. Stand up in a court o' law agin an old friend. Worse'n Judas, for he did it on the quiet, like. An' for what? Thirty bits o' silver. An' I'm reckoning they wouldn't offer me that much. They'd want for me to do un for twenty or ten. Tedn reasonable, tedn proper, tedn Christian, tedn right."
There was a short pause.
"Ten guineas down and ten guineas after the trial," said Garth.
"Ha!" said Jud. "Just what I thought."
"It's possible it could be raised to fifteen."
Jud got up, but slowly this time, sucked his teeth, and tried to whistle, but his lips were dry. He hitched up his breeches and two fingers went into a waistcoat pocket for a pinch of snuff.
"Tesn't fair to come on a man like this," he grumbled. "Me head's goin' around like a trool. Come again in a month."
"The assizes are fixed for early September."
Tankard also got up. "We shouldn't require a long deposition," he said. "Just a few sentences covering the main facts as you know them — and an undertaking to repeat them at the appropriate time."
"An' what would I say?" asked Jud.
"The truth, of course, as you can swear to it."
Garth interrupted hastily. "The truth, of course, but maybe we could guide you as to what we most want, like. It is the assault upon the soldiers that we're wishing to have witness of. That was on the night of the seventh-eighth of January. You were on the beach at the time, weren't you, Mr. Paynter? No doubt you saw the whole incident."
Jud looked old and wary. "Naw ... Don't remember nothing 'bout that, now."
"It might be worth twenty guineas if so be as your memory came around to it."
"Twenty now and twenty after?"
"Tes worth all o' that for such a big story."
"It's the truth we want, man," Tankard said impatiently. "Were you or were you not a witness of the assault?"
Garth put his pouch upon a rickety old three-legged table that had once belonged to Joshua Poldark. He began to count out twenty gold coins.
"What," said Jud, staring at the money, "when that there soldier got his head cleaved open, an' all the rest of 'em was pushed off of Hendrawna Beach fasterer than what they came on. I laffed at that. Didn' I laff! Was that what you was meaning?"
"Of course. And Captain Poldark's part in it." Shadows were filling the hut with the approach of night. The clink of coins had a liquid sound, and it seemed for a moment as if all the light that was left lingered over the dull gold island of the guineas.
"Why," said Jud, swallowing, "I reckon I mind that well enough. Though I took no part in it myself, see. I was thereabouts all the time." He hesitated and spat. "Why didn't you tell me you was meaning that all along?"
* * *
The following day a young woman on a horse went through Grambler in the other direction, passed Sawle Church, skirted Trenwith, and presently began to go down the steep track into Trevaunance Cove. She was a dark young woman, a little above average in height, dressed in a close-fitting blue riding habit, a pale blue bodice, and a small tricorn hat. Connoisseurs would have disagreed as to whether she was beautiful, but few men would have passed her without a second glance.
Leaving the smelting works, whose ocherous fumes had blighted the vegetation of the cove, she rode up the other side to where Place House, squat and solid against wind and storm, brooded over the sea. As she got down it was plain that the young woman was nervous. Her gloved fingers fumbled with the bridle of her horse, and when a groom came out to hold him, she stumbled over what she had to say.
"Sir John Trevaunance, ma'am? I'll ask if he be in. What name shall I say?"
"Mistress Poldark. Er ... yes, ma'am." Did she imagine the slight glance of added interest? "Will you come this way, please."
She was shown into a warm little morning room from which a conservatory led off, and after sitting there and pulling at the fingers of her gloves for a few minutes, she heard footsteps returning, and a manservant came to say Sir John was in and would see her.
He was in a long room like a study, overlooking the sea. She was relieved to find him alone except for a great boar hound that crouched at his feet. She found him too less imposing than she'd feared, being of a figure not much taller than herself, and ruddy-complexioned and rather jovial about the eyes and jowl.
He said, "Your servant, ma'am. Will you take a seat."
He waited until she had chosen the edge of a chair and then sat at his desk again. For a minute she kept her eyes down, knowing he was looking her over and accepting the scrutiny as part of the necessary ordeal.
He said warily, "I haven't had the pleasure before."
"No ... You know my husband well ..."
"Of course. We've been associated in business until ... recently."
"Ross was very grieved to give up the association. He was always that proud of it."
"Hrm! Circumstances were too much for us, ma'am. Nobody's fault. We all lost money in the transaction."
She looked up and saw that his scrutiny had gratified him. It was one of the few comforting factors in Demelza's excursions into society, this faculty she had of pleasing men. She did not see it yet as power, only as a buttress to faltering courage. She knew that her visit here was irregular by any standards of etiquette — and he must know it as well.
From where they were sitting they could both see the smoke across the bay from the smelting works, and after a moment, he said rather stiffly, "As you ... hrm ... no doubt know, the company has been re-formed, under new management. It was a blow for us all when the concern failed, but y'understand how I was placed. The buildings were on my land — indeed, under my very nose; I'd sunk more capital than anyone in the concern, and it would've been crazy to let 'em rot away in idleness. The opportunity came to obtain fresh capital and it was only common sense to take it. I trust Captain Poldark understands how it was."
"I'm sure he does," said Demelza. "I'm sure he'd only wish you well with any new venture — even if he wasn't able to partake in it himself."
Sir John's eyes flickered. "Kind of you to say so. As yet we barely meet expenses, but I think that will improve. Can I offer you some refreshments? A glass of canary, perhaps?"
"No, thank you ..." She hesitated. "But p'raps I should like a glass of port if 'twouldn't be putting you out."
With an ironic eyebrow Sir John rose and pulled the bell. Wine was brought and polite conversation made while it was drunk. They talked of mines and cows and carriages and the broken summer. Demelza grew easier in manner and Sir John less wary.
"To tell the truth," said Demelza, "I think it is the caudly weather that's making trouble with all the animals. We have a fine cow called Emma. Two weeks ago she was yielding rich, but now the milk's gone into her horn. Same with another, though that was not so surprising —"
"I've a fine Hereford, worth a mint of money," Sir John said. "Calved only for the second time two days ago and now sick and ill with a paraplegia. Had the cow doctor, Phillips, over five times. It will break my heart if I have to lose her."
Excerpted from Jeremy Poldark by WINSTON GRAHAM. Copyright © 2015 Winston Graham. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
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