Usually so healthy, Demelza struggled to throw off the chill. Even by Christmas she was still coughing and inclined to tire easily. She wasn’t keen to see the doctor – had Dwight been there she wouldn’t have hesitated.
But Ross’s strong will overbore her protests, and she finally consented to him calling in Dr Liddicoat, who had recently opened a practice at St Ann’s. She let herself be examined, and even swallowed a few of his unpleasant nostrums.
It had become a tradition that the Poldarks of Nampara, the Poldarks of Trenwith and the Enyses of Killewarren would take it in turns to host their neighbours for Christmas. In recent years Harriet and Rachel had joined them from Fernmore, making for an even more jolly party.
In the year of 1836 this happy duty fell to the Poldarks of Trenwith.
The Enyses would be missed. But Amadora, Geoffrey Charles’ handsome Spanish wife, was a dedicated hostess and determined that her guests should enjoy themselves. She had been busy for weeks, mixing plum puddings, spicing wine and weaving festive decorations from holly and ivy and rosemary and mistletoe and lengths of scarlet ribbons.
Ross and Demelza rode over in the gig on Christmas Eve, early in the afternoon, while Harry and Rachel walked from the Gatehouse – Rachel insisted that the walk would be good for her, and Demelza supported her. She had walked vigorously all through her own pregnancies – and on one near-disastrous occasion had taken their rowing boat out on her own to catch fish.
It was a bright, cold day. Thin streaky clouds hung motionless in the pale blue sky, like the sweepings of a careless broom. They drove along the old cliff path with the sea beside them.
There was a heavy groundswell. Each long wave would roll slowly in, then its crest would begin to fluff up like the short feathers of an eider duck, growing more and more ruffled until finally it toppled over itself, and the wintry sun would cast a dozen rainbows from the mist flying up from its breaking.
As they rode through Grambler village a streak of smoke rose from the tall chimney of Grambler mine, dancing on the lively breeze blowing in from the sea.
It was a very different sight now from the derelict wasteland it had been before Geoffrey Charles had been able to reopen the mine, almost fifteen years ago. Then it had been a place of rusted metal and broken windows, of roofs half caved in and rough tangles of bindweed and willow-herb growing everywhere.
Grambler mine, on which generations of the Poldark family’s fortunes had rested, on which the welfare of the villages around had relied – until George Warleggan had forced its closure back in ‘88.
The money for its resurrection had come from an unexpected source - the old government bonds which Aunt Agatha had left him. Though she had often spoken of them, everyone - Geoffrey Charles included - had assumed that they were of little value. He hadn’t even considered them when he had first returned permanently to Cornwall after his discharge from the army.
They had sat in the bank until he had gone in to make an enquiry about a small loan to undertake some repairs to the tenants’ cottages in Grambler village. On reviewing his accounts the bonds had come to light, and the suggestion had arisen that he should discover how much they were now worth.
Having sat untouched for over a hundred years since Aunt Agatha’s father, Charles Vivian, had bequeathed them to her on his death, they had been quietly accruing compound interest at a rate of three percent per year. The total came to a considerable sum.
The money had enabled him to discreetly buy back the shares held by Warleggan's Bank, and to install a modern steam engine. That had allowed them to go deeper, fully exploring the taunting promise of the eighty-fathom level, striking again the rich lode of copper that had run down from the sixty-fathom – the lode which George had ignored, preferring to close it down rather than have it compete with his other mining interests.
For him, it had been a calculated business decision, increasing his profit margins. Less copper on the market had supported the price of ore, while closing the mine had enabled him to lower the wages of the miners elsewhere, who were desperate for any work available. For Geoffrey Charles’s father, and for the village of Grambler, it had been a disaster.
Now the mine was prospering, as was the village around it. The cottages looked to be in a good state of repair, and the people looked healthy, smiling and waving as the gig bowled past and turned inland towards the gates of Trenwith.
It always warmed Ross’s heart to see the old house once again a happy family home. Built more than three centuries ago by his own Trenwith ancestors, it had seen several reversals in his lifetime – the lean years when his cousin Francis’s fecklessness had brought it close to bankruptcy, the brittle gloss of the years when it had been in the hands of George Warleggan, the criminal neglect in the years after George had abandoned it to fall almost derelict before Geoffrey Charles had come home to claim it.
The scars of those years had faded now from the mellow golden stone, the mullioned windows. As had the scars on his memory from the times he had been unwelcome here, had had the door slammed in his face – had even, on one occasion, been evicted from the premises via the parlour window.
The wide oak door was thrown open as they approached, and Amadora and Geoffrey Charles came out to greet them, flanked by their three fine children – Juana, Carla and young Francis.
“Quick, come inside, in the warm,” Amadora urged, taking Demelza’s arm. “Dios mío – this cold wind. I can never get used to it.”
“The north coast is proud of its bleakness.” Harriet strolled from the parlour into the hall, elegant in a dark red riding habit. She kissed Demelza, then Ross. “But it has its charms,” she added, slanting him a flirtatious glance.
“And more charms in recent years,” he returned in kind.
Demelza laughed and rolled her eyes. These two had enjoyed each other’s company for years - each had a certain degree of arrogance which created a mutual attraction. But she knew that neither of them took it seriously - well, mostly she knew.
They all moved into the parlour, where a blazing fire was crackling in the large stone grate, and settled themselves on the chairs and sofas as a footman brought in a tea tray for the ladies, and Geoffrey Charles poured brandy for Ross and Harry.
“You rode over?” Demelza asked Harriet.
“Yes. Oh, I know I could have walked this short distance, but Pasha needed the exercise so I came the long way round. I may go out with the Carnbarrow after Christmas. If this weather holds we should get a good run.”
Rachel stretched her feet towards the fire – Amadora quickly indicated to her son to fetch a small stool for her to rest them on. “Ah – thank you,” she smiled. “That’s better.”
“Are Drake and Morwenna not coming over?” Demelza enquired of Geoffrey Charles.
He shook his head. “They’re spending Christmas with Loveday. The grandchildren come first!”
“I had a letter from Ursula yesterday,” Rachel remarked to her mother. “She sends her regards.”
“How jolly,” Harriet responded dryly. “I trust you to send mine in return.”
Rachel laughed. “Certainly, Mama.”
“I had one from Bella,” Demelza said. “She and Chris have arrived safely in New York. She’s opening at the Park Theatre at the end of January – she said they’ve already sold out three weeks of performances in advance.”
“She’s very well. She’s spending Christmas with Noelle – who will be presenting us with a great-grandchild come the summer!”
Amid the exclamations and congratulations, Geoffrey Charles moved quietly to Ross’s side. “Uncle Ross, would you come upstairs for a moment?” he said. “There’s something I need to show you.”
Ross slanted him a questioning glance, then nodded and accompanied him back out to the hall and up the grand staircase. On the first landing, Geoffrey Charles opened a door and Ross followed him into a room that had once been very familiar to him. His Uncle Charles’ study.
He had been in here often when he was a boy, he and his cousin Francis – to plead for a favour or to explain their latest piece of mischief. It wasn’t a large room – there by the window had been Uncle Charles’s desk, where he had dozed over his accounts, a decanter of port at his elbow, a snoring spaniel at his feet. An old worn armchair had stood before the fireplace, and one wall had been lined with books.
He had only once had occasion to enter it since his teens – when it had been polluted by George Warleggan’s malign presence. But all trace of that had gone now. He glanced around, smiling as he absorbed the return of some of the old familiar details.
“I see you have Uncle Charles’s desk again,” he said.
“Yes. We found it in the attic, among all the other stuff Stepfather George had banished up there. It needed no more than a good polish. The chairs are new, though.”
“So I see.” On the wall above the fireplace was portrait of a lady in a blue dress. He found himself drawn to it as if by a magnet.
“Harriet gave it to me after George died,” Geoffrey Charles said. “Rather good, isn’t it?”
“Yes. She was… very beautiful.”
Elizabeth – his first love, a love that had echoed so destructively down the years, even long after her death. He stood gazing up at that delicate, flawless face, at the slender white hands folded so demurely in her lap.
So many memories…
“Do you think it a good likeness?” Geoffrey Charles enquired, coming to stand beside him to gaze up at the portrait. There was almost a reverence in his voice - Geoffrey Charles had adored his mother. “It’s hard for me to remember – I was only fifteen when she died.”
“I doubt that any mere painting could capture her adequately,” Ross said.
“I wish I had one of my father.” Now his voice was tinged with sadness. “I remember him even less than my mother.”
Ross made himself turn away from the portrait, and smiled at the younger man. “In some ways you’re very like him.”
“I see him in your eyes. And the colour of your hair – fairer than most Poldarks. And you have some of his mannerisms, his way of walking.”
Geoffrey Charles smiled in wry humour. “I hope I’m not as foolish as him.”
“I’ve seen the old estate records, you know. The money that went out – so quickly, in the few years after my grandfather Charles died. It could only have been gaming.”
“Yes,” Ross conceded reluctantly. “But never think that was all there was to him. He was clever – the cleverest of all of us at school. And witty, kind-hearted…”
“You must have missed him when he died.”
“We all missed him.” Ross drew in a long, slow breath. Suddenly the past seemed to be swirling around him – here in this house where so much of his own history lay… “It was such a waste.”
They both stood gazing up at the portrait again. “I’ve wondered… Sometimes I’ve wondered why she married George,” Geoffrey Charles mused. “Was it for the money?”
“Of course not!” He stopped, shaking his head. Geoffrey Charles was a grown man - he deserved a more considered answer. “No - not the money as such. At least, I don’t think she would have cared particularly for the great wealth that George possessed. But… she was in a very difficult position.”
He had made himself think this through a long time ago, to face the uncomfortable realities.
“You know of the debts – many of them held by George. And with Grambler closed she had little income. She had you, and Aunt Agatha, and your grandparents to think of, and this big house to run. It was a terrible burden for a young woman – one she had not been trained to. And she had no one to help her – no uncle, no cousin she could turn to. I tried, a little, but there was not much I could do.”
“But George? Why him?” Geoffrey Charles’ scorn was apparent – he had never liked his step-father, a hostility that had simmered since his childhood, and so far as Ross knew they hadn’t spoken to each other for years. “As you said, she was a very beautiful woman.”
“So she could have done better? Yes – if she had had the opportunity to go about, to meet suitable gentlemen. But how could she? Her mother was by then very sick, quite unable to accompany her. And besides, down here in Cornwall her choice was very limited. Indeed, I can think of no one who may have been eligible at that time who may have been persuaded to take on a young widow with so many debts and encumbrances, however beautiful.”
He glanced up at the portrait again.
“Maybe if she could have gone up to London… But with no money and no relatives to sponsor her into Society, that was even more impossible for her than Cornwall. So perhaps George would have seemed to her the only option she had. He would certainly have been someone who could take all her worries off her shoulders, manage everything for her. And of course he adored her.” His smile was grim. “And George could be very persuasive when he wanted something.”
He took a sip of his brandy. It all sounded so reasonable now. But that night, when he had first heard… The rage inside him had left no room for reasonableness. And the consequences… That was something he had had to live with ever since.
He cleared his throat, pushing the memories aside, and turned his back on the portrait. “But this wasn’t what you wanted to show me, was it?” he asked.
Geoffrey Charles walked back to the desk and picked up an official-looking piece of paper, and handed it to him. “They caught your highwayman.”
Ross glanced at him sharply. “Jason?”
Geoffrey Charles nodded. “The information came into the Home Office a couple of weeks ago - I had asked one of the clerks to notify me immediately if any news of him should surface. I thought it best not to say anything in front of the ladies - I know how badly it distressed Aunt Demelza.”
“Thank you. Where…?”
“Pershore, in Worcestershire. He was plying his trade on the road from Wadborough. Unfortunately for him the coach driver he stopped was an old soldier, a rifleman from the 95th, an excellent shot. He winged him. He got away, but then he seemed to wander in a circle, back almost to where he had started. Whether he became confused after being wounded, or was simply lost, we’ll never know. They came up with him at a farmstead not far from the site of the ambush, and put him under arrest.”
“He’s stood his trial?”
“And hanged. The twenty-seventh of October.”
Ross raised his eyebrows. “Hanged? He was unfortunate – there hasn’t been a highwayman hanged for… oh, more than twenty years, I would guess.”
“More like thirty. But apparently a shot was fired into the coach. His victim, a burgess of the town and a magistrate, insisted that it was attempted murder. He demanded the ultimate penalty.”
Ross shook his head reflectively. “What a sad end. I had quite a liking for the boy. But perhaps it’s not so surprising - I always feared his father was born to hang. I confess it was something of a relief when it was only a stupid riding accident that killed him.”
“I never met him,” Geoffrey Charles said. “The one time I visited Clowance at Penryn, just before our little adventure in Belgium, he was at sea.”
“He was… a character,” Ross mused. “I suppose you might call him charismatic. A great deal of charm, when he chose, but one always felt it was superficial. And dangerous. Not just to Clowance, but to Jeremy too – and even to young Andrew Blamey. I was always anxious of what he may lure them into.”
Geoffrey Charles was silent for a moment. Long ago, Jeremy had told him a secret - of how he and two friends had robbed the strongbox of a stagecoach and stolen a large sum of money. Coincidentally - or maybe not - from his own stepfather, George Warleggan.
He had scarce been able to believe the story – that a decent, well-brought-up lad like Jeremy, with a good home and loving parents, could have let himself become involved in such a thing. But under the influence of a charismatic young man such as Ross described…?
Jeremy hadn’t told him who the other two had been, but it seemed more than probable that one was the man who had later become Clowance’s first husband.
By some fortunate miracle they had never been found out – if they had, the three of them would certainly have been hanged. How very much worse that would have been for Ross and Demelza, to lose their son like that, rather than at Waterloo, where he had died a war hero - a young man who had already been noted for promotion by Wellington himself.
He glanced across at the tall, gaunt, silver-haired man whom he had always called Uncle, though in fact he was a second cousin. He had held Jeremy’s secret for over twenty years. Now was not the time to tell…
As always, Amadora had laid on a wonderful spread for dinner. They started with her delicious Spanish soup, rich and meaty, with pasta shells. Demelza had eaten pasta in Madrid and in Italy, and had developed quite a taste for it, though she had never ventured to make it herself.
It was followed by peeled shrimps in a salad of oranges and avocados specially sent for Amadora by some cousins in Spain. After that, they enjoyed several traditional English dishes – a tender roast goose, several plump pigeons and a chine of mutton, served with a mix of vegetables. This was followed by mince pies with cream, and a rich plum pudding which Amadora made from her own special recipe, mixed so generously with brandy that you could get light-headed just from tasting it.
Over dinner they were all too intent on doing justice to the food to indulge in little more than some desultory conversation – Harriet had them laughing with her update on the health of Constance Lady Bodrugan, who at the age of seventy-eight had come to grief over a real stitcher she had insisted on jumping while out with the Carnbarrow, and had been confined to bed for several weeks, predictably swearing like a trooper and bullying the entire household.
As the meal ended, conversation drifted to the situation in France. “It’s looking a lot calmer now,” said Geoffrey Charles. “The people like Louis Philippe. He’s a lot wiser than his predecessors, more willing to make concessions to the Republicans.”
“Oh, I grant you there’s much less of the arrogance and lavish spending of old King Charles,” Ross said. “But there’s still the potential for trouble. You have on the one hand the ultra-royalists, who would still like to see the Comte de Chambord back on the throne, while on the other the people are growing restless. The regime is seen as growing increasingly monarchical, and the conditions of the workers are deteriorating as the rich get richer.”
“Oh dear,” said Harriet with a sigh. “I do hope we aren’t going to be back where we were twenty years ago.”
Ross shook his head. “We don’t have a Napoleon waiting in the wings this time. Any trouble is likely to be confined to France.”
“I sincerely hope so,” said Geoffrey Charles. “I spent too many years fighting him. I’ve no wish to start all over again.”
His wife laughed fondly. “But whatever you say, I do believe you loved soldiering.”
Geoffrey Charles conceded a smile. “I did, in a way. Of course it’s horrible when so many die – especially your own particular friends. But in a way it’s being so close to death that makes you feel more alive. Remember that day at Bussaco, Uncle Ross? Dang me, I swear you was as lively as my youngest ensign, in your red jacket all split at the shoulders. Leaping down that slope like a buck rabbit, biting your cartridges and stabbing with your bayonet.
Ross laughed. “And you slipped in some blood and almost fell over that Frenchie.”
“And he tried to stab at me, and you smashed your rifle butt into his face…”
His voice faded as he realised that Demelza’s eyes were glittering with anger.
“You see? You did enjoy it!” she threw at Ross. “All those fine speeches you gave me about comradeship and trans… transcending your better self. It was all just fun to you, to be slipping around in blood, and nearly getting stabbed.”
“You were supposed to be there just to observe, to stay back out of the way. But no - not you. If there was something exciting, something dangerous, you just had to put yourself in the middle of it. Oh, I could kill you!”
“Then I may as well have got involved in the fighting, where my death might at least have been of some worth, don’t you think?”
“Yes, you can always come back with a clever answer. But it don’t make it any better.” She pushed back her chair abruptly and rose to her feet. The other ladies took their cue from her, retiring from the room to leave the men to their port and brandy.
Geoffrey Charles glanced across at Ross. “I’m sorry if I’ve got you into trouble, Uncle.”
Ross smiled dryly, shaking his head. “It’s fortunate we’re staying here for Christmas. If we were at home, I could find myself sleeping in the stables.”
As it was an informal family party, the gentlemen did not linger long before going to join the ladies. As Ross crossed the hall, Harriet was coming down the stairs. He smiled at her, but received a scolding frown in return.
“You’re going to have to apologise,” she said.
“Great heavens! It was more than twenty years ago – more than twenty-five years ago. She’s being ridiculous.”
“She’s being Demelza. It wasn’t just what you did, it was that you laughed about it, dismissing her feelings.”
Ross sighed, shaking his head. “Oh, very well – if you think I must.”
He put his hand on her shoulder and leaned down to kiss her on the forehead, then her mouth. She accepted this for a moment, then drew back, and tapped his cheek with two fingers.
He stood for a moment watching as she walked ahead of him into the parlour. She was an elegant woman, now in her middle fifties but still to be considered in her prime, her hair as glossily dark as ever, her eyes as brilliant.
And there was still that spark of sexual attraction between them.
He had often wondered over the years why he had never chosen to pursue it - most men of his station in life would have done so. And he was fairly sure that if he had shown himself to be determined, he wouldn’t have met with a rebuff.
But he had always known that he never would. And as he followed her into the parlour and saw Demelza sitting there, he knew why.
He walked over to her and sat down beside her. She made a sharp movement to stand, but he put a hand on her wrist and held her back. He noticed that the others had discreetly drifted to the other side of the room to leave them to heal their quarrel in private.
“I’m sorry, my love.”
She was silent for a moment, then said very quietly, “So am I. It was just… sometimes you seemed to put yourself in danger so recklessly. It was as if you didn’t care about me, about our home, our children.”
“I confess, I may at times have been reckless – but it was never lightly done. And on that particular occasion… I know it would be arrogant of me to imply that I and my one rifle were anything more than the smallest splinter in the whole. But many of the men fighting that day had wives and families – do you suppose they loved them any the less? Indeed, Geoffrey Charles went on soldiering after he married Amadora, and even returned to his regiment to fight at Waterloo. Do you think he loved her any the less?”
She turned her hand over and twined her fingers with his. “Perhaps it was selfish of me to care only that you should come home safe, when so many did not. It was a horrible time, and I know you would have felt you had to do your part. I’m just glad it’s all over, and we’ve had such a long time of peace.”
He nodded, and lifted her hand and kissed her fingers, then lightly bit the knuckle of her thumb. They both knew, without having to say it, what really lay behind her emotional outburst; the memory that their own son, Jeremy, had been one of those who had not come home safe.
“Come, it’s Christmas,” he said. “Let us enjoy ourselves.”
It was a bitterly cold winter. There were heavy snowstorms in January, and February was worse, with blizzards all over the country. Transport was disrupted, crops were destroyed, deer and cattle were dying for lack of fodder, and even in March the frost was still so severe that lambs were dying in the fields as soon as they were born.
But as April turned to May , life – as it always will - reasserted itself. Spring rushed in to catch up with all its neglected tasks. The sun shone day after day in a clear blue sky, the apple blossom smothered the trees in white, the meadows sprang bright with celandines and corydalis and a million butterflies, while larks flirted melodiously high in the air.
And into this joyful reawakening Rachel’s baby was born – a healthy boy, with a shock of dark hair and a very assertive cry.
His arrival was a like a tonic to Demelza, who hadn’t been quite well since before Christmas, still not quite able to shake off a persistent cough. But as May turned to June she was out in her garden every day, eager to repair the ravages of winter – cutting out the frost-damaged branches from her rose bushes, tying up the hollyhocks, checking over her pinks and pelargoniums for snails.
In the afternoons Rachel would often walk over with the baby, and they would sit in the shelter of the lilac tree, with the baby in a basket between them, his small hand curled over the edge of the blanket, gripping onto it tightly lest anyone should try to contest his claim on it.
“Those tiny little fingers,” Demelza said with a fond smile. “I always love babies’ fingers, with their perfect little nails. Have you decided on his name yet?”
“…Yes – well, we were thinking… We weren’t sure.” The younger woman hesitated. “We thought of Jeremy Joshua. But if you’d rather…”
“Oh yes!” Tears sprang to Demelza’s eyes, but they were tears of happiness. “That would be perfect. His uncle and his great-grandfather.”
“Do you think Ross will agree?”
“I’m sure of it,” Demelza asserted. “But could you put Vennor in for a third – if you don’t think it too much?”
So the christening of Jeremy Joshua Vennor Poldark was arranged for the end of June. In an unexpected break from custom, Harry and Rachel decided it should be held on the Saturday, rather than the Sunday.
“Oh, it’s a tradition in our family,” Rachel explained breezily when Demelza queried this. “All the Godolphins are christened on Saturdays. Ask Mama.”
“I wish she’d let me do more to help,” Demelza complained to Ross as they sat down to supper a week before the big day. “I feel like I’m being shut out.”
“Stop trying to be an interfering mama-in-law,” Ross advised her with a teasing smile. “It’s her day.”
“Yes, but… It’s only been a little over a month since little JayJay was born. I’m worried that she’s doing too much.”
“She’s young, and full of energy.” He smiled as he buttered a roll. “Like you were at the same age.”
“Well, at least it won’t be like Julia’s christening,” she mused. “When my father arrived in the middle of it all to ruin everything.”
“He ruined nothing.” He chuckled with laughter. “Though it would have been quite an entertainment to see John Treneglos try to best him in a wrestling bout.”
“Ross!” But she too laughed.
“Well, it would.” He took a sip of his soup. “I’d have laid twenty guineas on your father.”
The distraction worked, and she was soon laughing as she recalled how Aunt Agatha’s wig and purple bonnet had blown off and almost landed in the stream. “And how she cursed! I swear I’d never heard such words before. She was a ripe one, old Aunt Agatha!”
The glorious weather held – everyone said they couldn’t remember a finer June, though that was perhaps exaggerated by the contrast with the long and bitter winter. The twenty-fourth of the month was perfect – the sun sailed high in a flawless blue sky, and the sea was a tranquil turquoise blue, the lazy waves edged with dancing frills of white lace as they rippled across the golden sands of Hendrawna Beach.
For some reason Ross had insisted that Demelza should wear the ivory sarsenet dress she had bought last year in London.
“Oh no, Ross,” she had protested. “It’s far too grand for a country christening.”
“It’s the christening of your first grandson, the future Viscount Jeremy Joshua Vennor Poldark. Of course you must wear your finest gown.”
It soon became clear that there was no point arguing with him. In truth, he had been acting a little oddly these past few weeks, secretive about the post instead of opening it at the table and sharing it with her as he usually did, spending time in the kitchen chatting aimlessly with Betsy Martin.
And he had decided that he would wear his best coat, and one of the new lawn shirts he had bought in London.
“Demelza, have you seen my gold cufflinks?” he called from the bedroom.
“They were on the chest.” She glanced anxiously at the clock. “Do hurry, we’ll be late. Bella and Clowance left ten minutes ago.”
“They’re not there now,” he responded vaguely. “And there’s plenty of time – it will take them longer than us to get there walking when we’re in the gig.”
“It seems silly to get the gig out just for that little distance,” she grumbled, not for the first time. “We could have walked.”
“You’d have got your dress muddy.”
“Which was another reason not to wear this one.”
“But you look so beautiful in it.” He strolled into the room, and laid his hand along her cheek, dropping a kiss on her forehead. “Anyway, I’ve found them now – they were in my pocket. Here – give me a hand to put them on.”
“…Oh, you! You always used to say you’d never bother with cufflinks. You were quite satisfied with buttons.”
“They’re the fashion. Just because I’m in my dotage doesn’t mean I have to dress as if it were still the eighteenth century.”
“When have you ever been interested in fashion?” she protested. “I think you’re going a bit senile. There, now you can go and play the dandy!”
He laughed, slipping his arm around her waist as they walked to the door. “We look a grand pair, as befits My Lord and Lady Poldark.”
“Judas, you really are going senile!”
As Ross had said, it took but a few minutes to drive to Sawle Church. He had had the rough track levelled when the work was being done on the house, covering the ruts and potholes with a thick layer of waste sand and gravel from Wheal Grace. It meant that even in the heavy rains of winter it remained passable for wheeled vehicles, and he had bought the gig at the same time.
They passed the yew hedge that fringed the churchyard, and Demelza gasped in surprise. “So many people! Half the district have come out!”
The churchyard was full of the local miners and their families from all the villages around – Sawle, Mellin, Grambler.
“Why don’t they go inside?” she protested as Ross brought the horse to a stop and jumped down from the gig, handing over the reins to one of the Daniel boys who was standing nearby.
“I expect they’re enjoying the sunshine,” Ross responded blandly.
She slanted him a sharp look. Maybe she ought to get Dr Liddicoat to take a look at him.
But as he handed her down from the gig she was even more astonished when everyone in the crowd started to clap and cheer. Ross smiled down at her, and drew her hand into the crook of his arm.
“Surely you haven’t forgotten what today is?” he teased her.
“Of course not,” she countered, a little cross. “It’s JayJay’s christening.”
They stepped into the cool shadow of the church porch, and she stopped dead in her tracks. Every pew was packed – and not just with the family and friends from around the county whom she knew would have been invited to the christening.
He laughed softly in her ear. “Fifty years ago to this very day I brought you here to marry you, with only old Jud and Prudie to witness. Well, today I want everyone here to witness how very much I love you, and how proud I am that you’re my wife.”
“Oh Ross… You did remember! And you never said.”
“Nor did you.” Knowing her so well, he had a handkerchief ready for the tears that welled up in her eyes.
“I didn’t like – what with the christening and all. It didn’t seem… But to have arranged something like this, and all in secret…”
“You see?” he teased. “I’m not so senile after all.”
The music from the organ Ben Carter had built swelled into the lofty ceiling, and they walked down the aisle together, their progress considerably slowed by all the people they needed to greet.
Fitzroy Somerset was there with his wife Emily, who had become quite a warm friend of Demelza’s since that near-disastrous visit to Paris back in ‘15. There was Lord Lyndhurst with Georgiana Goldsmith, whom he was to marry in a few weeks, and Henry Brougham, and many others who had been Ross’s colleagues in his days as an MP and later as a member of the House of Lords.
All these fine people mingled in the pews with the merchants and mine owners of the county, and some of Demelza’s younger brothers and their families, several of whom still earned their living in the dark depths of the tin and copper mines.
And there at the front, with Harriet Warleggan… “Caroline!” She had to leave go of Ross’s arm to throw her arms around the neck of her oldest friend. The tears, which had begun to subside a little, flowed afresh. “You came… You said you’d never come to Cornwall again.”
“You don’t think I would have missed this, do you? In fact I was the first to know of it – Ross mentioned it to me last year when you came up to London.”
“All that time?” She stared up at her smiling husband. “Oh Ross! Oh I do love you so!” she whispered, putting her hands on each side of his face and stretching up to kiss him.
Hand in hand they finished their walk to the altar, where the Reverend Proffit was waiting.
“Dearly beloved.” He peered at the congregation down his stork-like nose. “We are gathered here today in the sight of God and this congregation, to bless the union of Ross and Demelza, who fifty years ago today came to this very church to plight their troth together…”