Read an Excerpt
From Chapter One
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 glacé 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 top-boots 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 garden-beds, 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. Eugène 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 Eugène'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 kitchenmaid 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.