Spring had melded gently into a lovely summer. Demelza had been a little sad to leave her garden when it most needed her attention, but she had left detailed directions with Betsy Martin for what needed to be done. And she was looking forward to spending some time with Caroline, going shopping, going to the theatre.
And travelling by private coach instead of the public stage was certainly a pleasant luxury. Clowance and Edward had sent their travelling carriage down to fetch them, and they had taken the journey in easy stages, sleeping overnight at Crediton and spending two nights in Bath and another two in Reading, so that by the time they had arrived outside the tall, narrow town-house in Hatton Garden which Caroline had inherited from her Aunt Sarah they were both tired but not dragged.
Caroline was at the door to greet them, kissing them both on the cheek. “Oh my dears, come in. Are you eager to change out of your travelling things, or would you prefer to take some tea and sit for a while first?”
“Oh, tea, if you please.” Demelza sighed with heartfelt yearning. “If you don’t mind our dust.”
“Not in the least. Gresham, you may serve tea in the parlour. Ross, can I hazard that you would prefer brandy?”
“I would indeed.”
“It’s such a relief to be out of the coach at last.” Demelza handed her travelling cloak to the young maid who stood by the door to receive it, and following Caroline up the stairs. “Not that it wasn’t wonderfully comfortable – so well sprung you could barely feel the road at all!”
A small pug – Horace the fifth, or possibly the sixth, Demelza had long ago lost count – came careering down the stairs to meet them, then seeing they were going up turned tail and raced them back up to the parlour.
This had always tended to be a cool, rather bare room, but Caroline's touch had brought out the best in it. She had kept her older relative’s elegant walnut writing desk and oval cupboards, but had replaced the rather thinly-upholstered sofas and armchairs with a set of Italian design, which were much more comfortable.
The creamy-yellow paduasoy curtains at the tall windows overlooking the street let in more light than the old draped velvet Demelza remembered, and the thick carpet added a discreet touch of opulence.
Demelza settled herself in an armchair, stretching her long legs out in front of her and smothering a yawn.
“I was sure you wouldn’t want to go out tonight, so I’ve arranged a quiet dinner at home, just the three of us,” said Caroline. “There’ll be time enough for gadding about while you’re here.”
“That will suit us very well.” Demelza smiled comfortably. She glanced slightly anxiously at Ross, who had leaned back and closed his eyes. He was looking a little pale, his face – always rather gaunt – showing the strain of the journey. “I don’t think I could gad at all tonight.”
A light tap on the door heralded the butler with a tray containing a silver tea-pot and milk jug, two tea cups and a plate of almond cakes. He was followed by a footman with a decanter of brandy and a glass for Ross.
Caroline nodded to him. “Thank you, Gresham - that will be all. I will pour.”
The butler set the tray down on a low table beside her, and with a small bow he withdrew.
Demelza accepted the cup that Caroline handed to her, and took a sip, sighing with pleasure. “Aaah! That’s better. It always seems to me that no matter how fine the food you may be served, I’ve never known an inn that can make you a really good cup of tea.”
“Have you heard from Harry and Rachel?” Caroline asked.
“Rachel wrote to me last week. Harry hasn’t, of course!” Demelza laughed lightly. “I wouldn’t expect it of him. I think we had but two letters from him the whole time he was at Oxford.”
“And both times were asking for money,” Ross added, sitting up and pouring himself a glass of brandy.
“She says they went to Florence, where she managed to coax Harry to look at some paintings – a small miracle in itself. Then they went on to Rome, but stayed only a few days because of the heat. But they saw the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps, and she was most impressed. They’ve moved on now to a place called Sirrenti – no, Sorrento - which is on the coast some miles south of Naples. She said it’s the most beautiful place, with white cliffs and the sea so blue.”
“When are you expecting them home?”
“A few weeks more. I shall be glad to have them safely back.”
“Demelza still firmly believes that all foreign parts are inherently dangerous,” Ross remarked with a smile.
“I do not!” she protested, laughing. “I didn’t mind going back to Paris, once we could be sure it was safe again. We had a splendid time, didn’t we Caroline? And I loved Madrid and Vienna, even though you were so busy with your Metals Commission. And Rome was just wonderful – I’d have stayed twice as long. But you know there’s always a risk of cholera there at this time of year.”
“If there was any cause for concern, you may be sure Harry would bring Rachel away at once. He won’t take any risks.”
“Ross is right,” Caroline agreed. “Remarkable as it may seem, you bred a very level-headed son between the two of you. And how is Verity?”
A shadow passed across Demelza’s eyes. “Not well. She was looking very tired at the wedding, and Tamsin says her feet are swollen bad - she can’t even climb the stairs. Andrew was wont to carry her up and down, but when he’s from home she would be trapped in her room – she’s afeared to make the servants risk it. So they’ve made over the morning room into a bedroom and small parlour for her, and she can look out at the garden and the sea.”
“That’s kind of them.”
“Yes it is. Verity was saying at the wedding what a comfort he is to her. When I think what a worry he was when he was younger, with his drinking and his gambling.”
“He got in with Valentine Warleggan’s set.” Caroline shook her head. “That wasn’t healthy for any young man.”
Demelza’s hand shook slightly as she put her tea-cup down. Valentine… There were secrets there which even Caroline didn’t know. Fortunately her friend was bending to feed half a biscuit to Horace, who was begging politely with one paw.
They went on chatting for a while, about mutual acquaintances, the latest scandal about Lord Melbourne and his close friend Caroline Norton, and how soon the railway from London to Bath might be built.
“It would certainly make the journey easier,” said Ross.
“So long as the engine doesn’t blow up!”
Demelza said nothing – she was never quite able to think of anything to do with steam engines without thinking of her eldest son, Jeremy, who had had such an enthusiasm for them. If he had survived Waterloo, would he now be one of the great engineers, spreading their railway tracks across the country?
“I have no objection to steam engines.” Ross sipped his brandy. “They’ve meant we could dig so much deeper, enabling us to keep the mines open so much longer. Though I won’t go beyond the hundred fathom level – I doubt there’s enough copper down there to make the risk worthwhile, and that’s about the limit for the miners’ cages to be safe.”
“But a lot better than the old ladders,” Demelza put in. “How they managed to swarm up and down those, especially after a long core, I don’t know.”
“It’s odd to think,” Ross mused, “of all those years of debt and near-bankruptcy, struggling to drag a few tons of copper out of the ground, and all the time we were sitting on a fine fortune in china-clay beneath that rough patch of scrub over by the back field.”
Demelza smiled to herself. She knew that, in spite of the wealth the china-clay had brought, Ross’s heart would always be in the copper mines – the anticipation and frustration of chasing an elusive lode underground. It was in his blood.
“Here’s to china-clay.” Caroline raised her tea-cup in a toast.
“It’s good to know that Harry will have a substantial income of his own.” Demelza finished her tea and put down her cup. “Oh, I know how with Rachel’s money he will be a wealthy man, but…”
Caroline arched one fine eyebrow. “It’s better for a man to have his own money, rather than be seen to be relying on his wife?”
“…Oh… I didn’t mean…”
Caroline laughed, shaking her head. “I’ve known you these many years, Demelza – I know what you didn’t mean. And in general I quite agree with you. Our situation – Dwight and I…” Her voice cracked slightly as she said his name. “Well, it was different. I always knew he would have been a great deal happier if I had given away the better part of my fortune, but that always seemed singularly stupid to me. Besides, I’d far leifer give it away to my own children, which he couldn’t help but approve. Though as it happens they are unlikely to need it, having each had the good sense to marry well.”
“And happily,” Demelza added.
“That too, so far as I can tell.”
“Caroline is looking a little better,” Demelza remarked later, as she and Ross made ready for bed. “Last year she was so thin.”
“She’s recovering her spirits at last. It’s always been a tendency of hers to wilt like a flower out of water when her spirits are low.”
“I wonder if she’ll ever come home?”
“To Cornwall? Unlikely, I think. It was never quite home to her, in the way it is for us. She lived there for Dwight. London is probably better for her now – there are more distractions. I gather she's becoming quite the political hostess."
"Like her Aunt Sarah. And of course, both her girls live here.”
He came up behind her and rested his hands on her shoulders as she sat at the dressing table tugging a brush through her curly hair.
"You sounded worried about Verity."
Demelza nodded slowly. “I’m thinking we might go over for a visit when we get home.”
“Are you having one of your instincts?”
“I hope not.” A shadow crossed her face. “But she’s getting no younger.”
“Nor are we all.” He moved over to sit on the edge of the bed. “Though some manage not to show it.”
She laughed softly. “Is that to mean Caroline?”
He laughed too, shaking his head. “Silly, as always. You know who I mean.”
“With my hair gone all grey?”
“It’s pure silver. And you are pure gold.” He held out his hand. “Come to bed.”
“Really, Ross!” she protested, teasing.
“Really, Ross,” he mimicked. “I may be getting no younger, but I still remember the reason I have a wife.”
“And is that the only reason?”
“Also to plague me with her jealousies, and spend my money on her fripperies.”
“Pooh! I much prefer to have a husband that other women covet than one they wouldn’t touch with a long stick. And as for spending your money, you’ve grown to be a very warm man. But you know I loved you just as well when you were poor.”
“So you did,” he said, drawing her down onto the bed and kissing her. “So you did.”
The following evening they all went to the Adelphi theatre to see Bella in her latest play. It still amazed Demelza to think that her little Isabella-Rose, who used to race around Nampara singing at the top of her voice, was now a famous actress with audiences queueing up to see her.
The theatre was in the Strand. The vast auditorium held almost a thousand people, mostly crammed into the stalls, but Bella had booked them a box next to the stage. They didn’t see her before the show – billed as a comic opera – but Christopher, her husband, came to join them.
“It’s by a Frenchman called Daniel Auber,” he told them. “It’s only just been translated into English, specially for Bella.”
There was a palpable air of excitement as the heavy velvet stage curtain twitched and was swept aside to reveal a brightly-painted scene of a market square in some fictional Italian town.
And then there was Bella, highlighted in the centre of the stage.
The show was very enjoyable – a light romantic comedy in three Acts. Bella was playing the lead, Zerline, and the audience listened spellbound as she sang, her pure, rich voice filling the whole theatre. They booed when the wicked bandit, Fra Diavolo, stole her dowry so that it seemed she wouldn’t be able to marry the man she loved, and laughed raucously at the antics of Beppo and Giacomo, Diavolo’s two bumbling henchmen.
After the curtain-calls, when the thunderous applause had died down, Chris escorted them back into the depths of the theatre, to Bella’s dressing room. It was filled with flowers – roses and lilies and peonies and freesias – their fragrance filling the room.
Bella was at her dressing table, swathed in a very fetching peignoir of pink lace, but she bounced up as her parents came into the room. “Mama – Papa! And Aunt Caroline. I’m so glad you came.”
“We wouldn’t have missed it.” Ross dropped his arm around his daughter’s shoulder and kissed her cheek. “You were brilliant.”
“You always used to say I shouted instead of singing,” Bella teased him saucily.
Ross held his hands up in surrender. “It’s many years since I’ve said that.”
Demelza gazed in pleasure at her younger daughter – it was hard to believe that this beautiful and talented girl was her own. And she seemed never to age – she looked now little older than she had at thirteen, when she had first met the dashing young lieutenant who was to become her husband, in Paris. Though to be fair, she had looked considerably older than thirteen back then.
“Now Mama, Papa, there’s someone I want you to meet.”
She drew them across the room to where several gentlemen were talking to a tall, rather thin woman of about sixty. She was very fashionably dressed in a gown of teal blue sarsenet, the low neckline discreetly draped with a froth of pale gold lace, and the matching turban on her head was trimmed with a jaunty gold feather. Her smile was bright, but to Demelza’s eye she didn’t look quite well.
“This is Mrs.Middleton – Jane Scott, as was. She and her father opened this theatre thirty years ago, and Miss Scott was the manager and wrote many of the plays, as well as starring in them.”
“I’m very pleased to meet you, Ma’am,” said Demelza. Suddenly her acute senses were buzzing – there was something in the air.
“Ah, Lady Poldark – I have heard so much about you from dear Bella. And this handsome man must be Bella’s father.” Clearly an incorrigible flirt, in spite of her age, she beamed with delight as Ross bent and kissed her cheek. “I can see where Bella got her looks.”
“But not her voice,” Ross returned with a smile.
“We have been thinking,” Chris put in, “that Bella may emulate Miss Scott.”
“Open your own theatre?” Demelza looked from him to Bella in surprise.
“Yes, Mama.” Bella’s eyes were bright with excitement. “I’ve had a wonderful career on the stage, but I can’t go on playing the ingénue for ever.”
Demelza laughed. “You speak as if you’re ancient! You’re barely past thirty!”
“I’m thirty four. And for some reason none of the men who write plays seem to want to write good roles for more mature actresses – I can’t think why! So I’m going to write my own.”
“Write a play?” Ross questioned in surprise.
“She’s already written one.” Chris was beaming with pride. “And although I may confess to some bias, I think it’s very good.”
“It is indeed.” Mrs.Middleton patted Bella’s hand. “I have been retired for some years now, but I still take a great interest in the modern theatre, as you may imagine. I have followed dear Bella’s career from the beginning, and it struck me then that I have rarely seen a young actress of such presence, such versatility. And she has more than sustained that promise. You must be very proud of her.”
“We are indeed,” Demelza agreed, a little dazed.
“And now this new play… I am confident that it will be a great success.”
“I’m not going to publish it as Bella Poldark – the public know me too well as an actress by that name. I shall be I.R.Havergal – which has the advantage of being my real name. And if people choose to believe it’s a man who has written it, I shan’t disabuse them.”
“And we’ll stage it in our own theatre,” Chris added. “We’re looking for a suitable site in the Drury Lane or Covent Garden area. We have a group of shareholders to back us, and hope to be ready to open early next year.”
Demelza laughed, shaking her head. “You never said a word of this when you came down for the wedding!”
“It was still something of a pipe-dream then. But things have moved very quickly this past month – Miss Scott here has taken an interest, and several important people have commented very favourably on my play. Now… it’s really going to happen!”
“Well! What do you think about that?” Demelza remarked as they settled into the carriage for the ride back to Hatton Garden.
“It’s certainly unexpected,” Ross conceded. “But I have to admit she and Chris really seem to know what they’re doing.”
“That Miss Scott – Mrs.Middleton as she is now – has been very well-known in theatre circles for many years,” Caroline put in. “If she thinks it’s a worthwhile venture, you can be assured that it is.”
“And she’s investing some of her own money in it.”
Demelza sighed. “It’s all very exciting for Bella. I just worry that she still doesn’t seem to be planning to take the time out to have children.”
“Perhaps she doesn’t want them,” Caroline said. “Not every woman does. I didn’t – until I had them, of course. Harriet didn’t care much for them either, as I recall.”
Demelza’s eyes danced. “And when the twins were born, Ross said she’d call them Castor and Pollux, after those two great hounds she had!”
That set them all laughing.
“Well, I shall just have to hope that Harry and Rachel will produce a brood,” Demelza concluded. “We have but three grandchildren, and all girls.”
Ross sat back in the shadows, his lidded eyes almost closed. Three? Perhaps that was not quite accurate. But time had drawn a veil over the hurts of the past - what was almost forgotten could stay forgotten. For Demelza’s sake, and for the memory of the woman who had lain for many years now in the quiet of Sawle churchyard. It was better that way.
The next evening they attended a political dinner at Lord Lyndhurst’s fine house in Hanover Square. They had dined there several times over the past few years, since Ross’s elevation to the House of Lords.
The first time Demelza had dreaded it, but she had found Sir John to be lively company. A handsome man in his sixties, with a long thin nose, he was very clever and fond of the arts, as well as being one of the finest legal minds the country had ever produced.
Caroline had been included in the invitation, of course. Glancing at her down the long dining table, Demelza reflected on how her friend seemed so at home in this environment - she couldn’t help but remember that she had once been expected to marry Unwin Trevaunance, at that time the MP for Bodmin. She would have made him an excellent wife.
But in her capricious manner she had turned her back on that life, and chosen instead to be the wife of an impoverished country doctor. Demelza doubted that she had regretted that choice for a single moment.
The food was delicious - asparagus soup followed by tender veal cutlets and slices of beef and mutton, oyster pâté and salmon pie, and plover’s eggs in aspic jelly. The conversation was similarly varied.
“Chesney says the canal is quite feasible. He’s established that there’s no appreciable difference in sea levels between the eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf.”
“That’s as maybe,” someone else responded. “But a canal could be open to anyone – any nation. The East India Company prefers an overland route.”
“The main sticking block is the Pasha. We must have the friendly agreement of Egypt.”
“Well, a decision must be made soon. The French are showing an interest too.”
The first and second courses were removed, and desert brought in; peach fritters and syllabub, and ices with summer fruits and pineapple cream.
“It’s not very likely that the poor Queen will get pregnant again,” someone remarked. “She’s all of forty-four now – really a little too old for another try.”
“So that leaves it with Princess Victoria. It’s unfortunate that the Duchess is being so difficult.”
“And it’s unfortunate that the King dislikes her so much. He’s said that he’s hoping that he lives until Victoria is eighteen, so the Duchess doesn’t have the chance to become Regent.”
“You dislike the discussion, Lady Poldark?”
Demelza turned to the gentleman man on her right, who had earlier introduced himself as Richard Oastler. “I think it unfortunate – unkind – the way people talk of the poor queen. She’s had so many tragedies, yet it’s as if everyone is treating her like a prize sow, expected to produce a litter of piglets.”
There was a moment’s awkward silence. At one time she might have felt embarrassed to have expressed a controversial thought in such a forthright way, especially in such a gathering, but now she was a Viscountess, and accustomed to moving in such exalted circles.
Along the table Ross caught her eye and smiled in support of her comment. Lord Lyndhurst laughed. “Egad, your wife is right, Poldark,” he declared. “Let’s wish the poor lady well, and have done with it.”
Shortly afterwards the meal came to an end, and the ladies exchanged glances then rose to withdraw, leaving the men to their brandy and cigars. Some of them moved down to fill the empty places as the discussion turned to politics.
“You must acknowledge, Bentham had a point.” The speaker rolled his cigar thoughtfully between his fingers. “Too many of the poor would prefer to claim relief rather than work. The only way to ensure that the cost of the system doesn’t become prohibitive is to make the provision for those refusing to work as meagre as is compatible with the barest existence.”
“That presupposes that there is adequate work for them,” Richard Oastler argued. “With wages sufficient to provide for their families. And which don’t undermine their health.”
“Surely wages will always vary with the supply of labour. If there are more workers, wages will automatically fall. The population will then decrease, and correct the problem.”
“By population decrease…” Ross contemplated the way the light of the candles on the table glowed in the rich red-brown of the brandy in his glass. “I take it you mean that people will die?”
“Well… Yes. That’s inevitable, of course.”
“Perhaps. But I find it interesting that it only seems to be accepted as inevitable when it’s applied to the lower orders.” He lifted his hooded eyes slowly to fix the speaker with a hard look. “Never to the politicians who condemn others to starvation.”
“You make an excellent point, Poldark, as usual.” Lord Lyndhurst smiled over his brandy. “And of course some also regard it as inevitable that workers will unite together to fight the fall in wages, as we have already seen. Whether that will be a good thing, or whether it will even be effective, only time will tell.”
“Poldark, you were in the American war.” Another topic was raised to divert the conversation. “What do you think of the progress the States are making?”
Upstairs, the ladies had a chance to tidy their hair and ease their lacings for a little while, and to visit the noisome water closet at the end of the corridor.
“I meant to say earlier.” Caroline remarked as she helped Demelza tuck up a few wayward strands of silver hair, “that’s a very pretty necklace. Is it one of those Jodie left you?”
“I had it made up from them. Remember, I asked you if it was quite the thing to break the necklaces up? They were so heavy, but the diamonds were really very fine.”
“Oh yes, of course it was right for you to do it. Jewellery is often remodelled with each generation.”
“That was what Ross said, too. So I had two of them made over into this one, and one each for Clowance and Isabella.” She chuckled with laughter. “One of them was the one that was supposed to have been given to her by Marshall Ney. I feel it’s a sort of recompense – is that the word? – for the three months they deprived me of Ross after that beast came back.” She patted the diamonds at her throat. “I think I may have one of the others split for Rachel and Cuby.”
The other ladies had started to drift away, and they followed them down the stairs.
The house was quite an unusual design. It had been built by a wealthy and apparently eccentric Italian. In the centre was a spacious room, with skylights in the ceiling, and here were hung Lord Lyndhurst’s collection of paintings, many of them by his father who had been quite a famous artist.
“I like that one.” Demelza paused before a very life-like portrait of a boy of about sixteen. “Do you suppose it’s of John?”
“I don’t know…”
“No, that one is of his half-brother Henry.” An elegant dark-haired young woman had approached them. “Lady Poldark, Mrs.Enys – how do you do? I’m Georgiana Goldsmith. My father is a friend of John’s. Would you care for coffee, or perhaps a glass of wine?”
“Thank you, coffee would be lovely.” Demelza smiled graciously. Though she had been Lady Poldark for more than twenty years now, since the Prince Regent had conferred a Baronetcy on Ross before their eventful trip to Paris back in 1815, she had never quite grown accustomed to it. “Who’s that?” she whispered to Caroline as they followed the young woman into the drawing room.
“She’s the daughter of Lewis Goldsmith, the writer. He’s a bit of a character – half French, and crazy for Napoleon in the early days, but then he turned just as fiercely against him. It’s said she’s going to be the next Lady Lyndhurst.”
The coffee was served in delicate porcelain cups. Demelza had developed a taste for the drink during that stay in Paris. Many of the memories of that time she preferred not to revisit, but somehow the love of coffee had stayed with her – though not quite replacing her love of port.
But she had already had several glasses of Canary with her dinner, and she was finding as she grew older that if she indulged too heavily she was inclined to wake the next morning with a megrim.
“So Harriet managed to get her house finished before the wedding?” Caroline remarked as they settled on a sofa and sipped their drinks.
“Yes. She’s really made a fine job of it. I must admit, I thought she was mad when she first bought it. It was always such a gloomy old place. I remember when I used to visit poor Daisy there, how stuffy and airless it seemed. I’m not surprised people said it was haunted.”
“Oh, you know Harriet. She wouldn’t be put off by any of those old tales. And if the place had been haunted, I suspect the ghosts would have fled in fear of her!”
They both laughed.
“I think she wanted a project,” Demelza mused. “Something to keep her occupied.”
Caroline raised one finely-drawn eyebrow. “You don’t think she really misses Old George?”
Demelza shook her head thoughtfully. “Not in the way that you miss Dwight. It was a very precious kind of love that you two had.”
“Most of the time,” Caroline acknowledged.
“That’s the best kind,” Demelza agreed warmly, memories of her own sometimes turbulent times with Ross swirling through her brain. “Harriet would never claim that she loved George – she always says that she married him for his money. But I’ve always believed it to be somewhere between the two. Ross once said that she’d been attracted to him as she would have been to a difficult horse.”
“Ah, the perils of sexual attraction.” Caroline chuckled wickedly. “You and I, my dear, were most fortunate in that our fancy fell on men who were worthy of being liked, as well as loved. It’s a rare thing.”
“It is indeed. I hope that Rachel will feel that for Harry.”
“Harry is a very personable young man, and a credit to you both. You didn’t mind him matching with the daughter of George Warleggan?”
“Not in the least. She’s far more like her mother than Old George. And from the minute Harry got back from Oxford I knew he had his eye on her. Though I think both Ross and Harriet were right to insist they waited – she was just seventeen, and Harry not much past twenty.”
“You were seventeen when you married Ross.”
“Yes, but… girls grew up so much more quickly in those days.”
“You speak of it as if it was centuries ago!”
“Well, it was all but half a century. Just think of that! Where have the all years gone?”
“They slip through our fingers like sand. But they’ve been good years. Ross has managed to keep his mines thriving when so many have closed down, and now he’s a Peer of the Realm, and you a grand lady.”
“Not so grand when I’m on my knees in my garden, pulling weeds. And Ross hates his title. He only took it so he could vote in the House of Lords when they were pushing for the Reform Act, and he refuses to use it when we’re at home. He’s been up barely half-a-dozen times since. And I think - I hope - this will be the last time they’ll call on him.”
“You won’t come up to London again?”
“I don’t think so. It’s so far, and it’s getting so noisy and crowded." She sighed. “Oh, but I shall miss you.”
“And I you. But let’s not talk of it. You’re here for a few more days yet. Let’s make the most of them.”