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 Phillippe. 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.” Harriet sighed. “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. Although 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 Busacco, 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. And that time I slipped and almost fell over a 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 was staring at him in horror.
“You were that close to the fighting? You were in the fighting?” She turned angry eyes on Ross. “You always promised me that you were just there to observe, to stay back out of the way.”
“Oh, I could kill you!”
“That would rather undermine the purpose of my staying out of the fighting, don’t you think?”
“Yes, you can always come back with a clever answer,” she blazed at him. “But it don’t make it any better.” Abruptly she pushed back her chair and rose to her feet. “Excuse me,” she choked out, and turning away she stalked from the room.
The other ladies hesitated for a moment, glancing uncertainly from one to the other, then they too rose from the table and left the room.
Geoffrey Charles glanced across at Ross. “I’m sorry if I’ve got you into trouble, Uncle Ross.”
Ross smiled dryly, shaking his head. “It’s fortunate that 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 over their port and brandy 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 to have to apologise,” she said.
“Great heavens! It was more than twenty, twenty-five years ago. She’s being ridiculous.”
“She’s being Demelza. It wasn’t just what you did, it was that you lied about it, and then laughed, 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, particularly now that George was no longer around to complicate the issue. Most men of his station in life would have done so. And he was fairly sure that if he showed himself to be determined, he wouldn’t meet with a rebuff.
But he knew – 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. “Sometimes I feel so small and mean, Ross. 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.
“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 April the frost was still so severe that lambs were dying in the fields as soon as they were born.
But in the third week of 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 holyhocks, 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 smiled down at him fondly. “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. 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,” he 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 mess things up.”
“He messed nothing up.” 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? 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?”
“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.”
Knowing her so well, he had a handkerchief ready for the tears that welled up in her eyes.
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. “All that time you kept it a secret?”
“You see?” he retorted. “I’m not so senile after all.”
“Oh Ross! Oh I do love you so!” she whispered, and putting her hands on each side of his face she stretched up to kiss him.
Hand in hand they finished their walk to the altar, where the Reverend Profitt 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…”
The wisteria along the new west front of the house was at its finest, great swathes of fragrant mauve blossoms hanging from the thick branches that grew profusely almost up to the roof. It had been Demelza’s idea to plant it – she had seen one at Kew Park and had exercised all her charm to obtain a cutting from the head gardener.
When Ross had finally decided that they needed to extend the house, adding more bedrooms and a larger parlour to accommodate the increasing number of visitors they were entertaining, they had both been concerned that it should be in sympathy with the existing rambling farmhouse that they both loved.
So they had used the same killas and granite for the walls, and Delabole slate for the roof, and had had it left slightly rough-faced. The windows were large and well-proportioned, and the new front door wide and welcoming, but they had chosen just a simple stone porch only one story high, rather than the lofty Grecian-style pillars of many of the grander houses.
It had taken Ross and Demelza rather longer to get back from the church than many of their guests. There had been so many people to stop and speak to – it seemed as though half the county was there.
And now they were all drifting back along the path from Sawle in chattering groups, to find tables set up in the garden, laden with food – there were partridge pies and quails eggs and salmon tarts, and saffron cakes and seedy cakes and giant buttermilk cakes, and casks of brandy and ale and crates of Canary wine.
Demelza gazed around, wide-eyed. “Judas! When did you arrange all this?”
“I really did very little, after firing off the first suggestion,” Ross confessed. “Most of it was arranged between Rachel, Harriet and Amadora. The food was cooked at Trenwith and Fernmore, and brought over by the servants while we were in church.”
“But all the invitations! And where will all these people stay? There are people from London, and all over the place!”
“Ah – that was Clowance and Caroline’s job. Wellington himself would have been proud of their military operation. They’ve billeted people on every house in the district.”
“There must have been some persuasion required in that!”
“Persuasion was ever Caroline’s forte, and Clowance runs her very close. Now come and play the bride with all your guests.”
“Oh Ross, thank you so much.” She hugged his arm. “It was such a lovely surprise.”
“Then kiss me.”
“What? In front of everyone?” she protested.
He gave her no opportunity to argue, sliding his hands around her waist and drawing her against him, and kissing her with a lingering tenderness which made her forget why she had objected, even though there were upwards of a hundred people watching and applauding them on.
“And tonight,” he murmured just before letting her go, “you can play the bride again and thank me properly.”
He loved that he could still make her blush.
It was a wonderful afternoon. The sun shone brilliantly from a clear blue sky, and the garden was bright with flowers – Demelza had learned to improve the thin sandy soil with pilchard scraps from Sawle, which although they smelled appallingly for the first few days certainly made a difference once they had been dug in. And the wall she had had built around it sheltered it from the worst of the gales blowing in from the sea, which used to regularly ruin her beloved hollyhocks.
High in the upper air a lark was trilling his musical song, a counterpoint to the excited squealing of the children who were playing a game of hopscotch drawn in the sands of Hendrawna Beach – Clowance’s younger daughter, the niece of a Marquis, happily romping with the children of the local miners.
Among the older guests, though there was a natural tendency for the social levels to flock with their own kind, there was no tension in it and they mingled happily enough around the food and drink. Indeed, the only person to remark on it was Ruth Treneglos.
“My dear, what a wonderful occasion,” she remarked, sailing up to Demelza like a ship of the line, her substantial bosom encased in satin of a startling shade of cerise which was cut – as always – low enough to display an acreage of leathered flesh. “Fifty years – who would have thought it possible?”
“Indeed,” Demelza responded with a bland smile. “It do seem to have gone by that fast.”
Her slight lapse into a richer Cornish burr than could usually be detected in her voice was quite deliberate. She was well aware that Ruth was not referring to the passing of the years, but of the strangeness of the match in the first place – a Poldark, marrying his kitchen maid! And particularly when Ruth herself had set her cap at him.
“This reminds me a little of that first party you gave. You remember, for your first child’s Christening. I don’t recall its name…”
“Julia.” Demelza’s lips thinned.
“Ah – of course. Though I’m pleased to see that… those people are keeping more to themselves. Did you advise them? I recall that on that occasion there was one… person who intruded somewhat rudely where he wasn’t welcome.”
“Ah yes, that was my father.” The sweetness in Demelza’s voice would have fooled no-one of its sincerity. “He did have rather over-particular views on ladies’ fashions. But sometimes I think perhaps he was right.”
Since the subject of that long-ago argument had been Ruth’s generous display of bosom, she didn’t miss Demelza’s subtle barb. With a brief show of somewhat yellowed teeth she dipped her head, and sailed away.
“What was the formidable dowager of Mingoose talking of?” Caroline stepped up to her shoulder, her eyes dancing.
“Oh, just trying to be spiteful, as usual. I feel sorry for poor Horrie’s wife, being saddled with such a mother-in-law about the place, and no sign of her ever moving to the Dower House.”
“And taking up so much space, too!”
Demelza laughed. “Oh, but Caroline, I’m so happy you came. I can hardly believe you’re really here. Where are you staying, and for how long?”
“I’m staying with you, my dear. If you’ll have me.”
“Of course – for as long as you will stay. But surely you didn’t arrive just today?”
Caroline shook her head. “I got here on Thursday. I came down with the Somersets, and we all slept at Trenwith. We were very crowded, but it was all rather fun. Amadora was in her element, the dear. Do you remember when Geoffrey Charles first brought her home, what a shy little thing she was?”
“She’s certainly blossomed as the years have passed.” Demelza glanced across to where her Spanish cousin-in-law was chatting animatedly to Richard, Marquess Wellesley, with whom Ross had become friends during the last years of the campaign for Catholic emancipation.
“But I have a confession to make.” Caroline took her arm and steered her to stroll around the garden. “I haven’t only made this journey for your party – though that was very much the main reason. I have come to make the final arrangements for disposing of Killewarren.”
“Oh?” Demelza studied her friend’s pale, fine-boned face.
“I’m gifting it to the Cornwall Infirmary, to be used for people suffering from disorders of the mind. The girls have both married well, so they don’t need it. And the place for mental patients was something that… Dwight always wanted.” Her voice still broke slightly when she said her late husband’s name. “It will need quite a lot of work to make it suitable, but Ross has decided to allocate some of the money from the Trust he set up with old Hubert Trencrom’s legacy. It should be opened sometime next year.”
“That’s a wonderful idea.” Demelza squeezed her friend’s hand. “Dwight would be so proud.”
“It’s going to be called the Dwight Enys Clinic.” She closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them and took a sip of her wine. Then she smiled. “Come on then, I know you’re dying to introduce me to the new generations of Poldarks, though you know I was never one to coo over babies. But the next-but-one Viscount Poldark, and your first great-grandaughter – that’s not to be missed!”
The two babies were very much the centre of attention. They had been christened together after the marriage blessing – little Charlotte, now six weeks old, had slept peacefully through the whole thing, but JayJay had screamed in protest when the Reverend Profitt had held him over the font, and wriggled so hard that Demelza had feared the vicar would drop him.
He was pacified now. Harry was playing the proud father with the baby laid against his shoulder, bouncing him gently and chuckling to him. One small pink fist was clutching resolutely at his cravat, but Harry didn’t seem to mind at all that his carefully tied Osbaldeston was being destroyed.
“Here’s your grandmama,” he informed the infant, who was gazing around at the company with wide, slightly puzzled blue-grey eyes. “And your great-aunt Caroline.”
“I’d rather you left the ‘great’ out of that,” Caroline protested. “It makes me sound as if I should take to a Bath chair and an ear-trumpet!”
Harry laughed. “Ah, you’re well short of that, dear Aunt Caroline.” He leaned over and kissed her cheek. “So what do you think of my boy? Almost as handsome as his Papa, isn’t he?”
“And just as much trouble,” said Rachel, coming up with her mother. “Honestly, the way he goes on, you’d think he was the only man who had ever become a father.”
The two of them exchanged a look that struck a note of recognition in Demelza – it was a look she had often exchanged with Ross. A look of trusting affection, of a sharing of thoughts. It was something she had known she was lucky to have, and now her son and daughter-in-law had it too.
“And here’s my little Charlotte.”
The tiny pink bundle had woken and was making her disapproval of the situation known at the top of her voice.
“Well, she certainly has a healthy pair of lungs,” said Harriet, laughing.
“Oh dear – I’m so sorry,” Noelle apologised anxiously. “She’s been fretful ever since we got back from church.”
“Don’t worry.” Demelza smiled reassuringly. “I’ll tell you what, let’s take her indoors. It’s cooler in there, and quieter. Here, give her to me for a minute.”
As soon as the baby was in Demelza’s arms she quieted. Noelle’s eyes widened in surprise, tinged with a little hurt.
“How do you do that?”
“Long practice,” said Demelza. “I’ve had five of my own, and four grandchildren, as well as dozens of neighbours in the villages around here.”
They went in through the side door of the house and into the old parlour – most of the guests would be keeping to the newer wing if they came inside at all. Sunlight streamed in through the window, showing up the slightly shabby but much-loved furniture.
Demelza sat down in her rocking chair with the baby on her lap – if she was absolutely honest, she was glad to have a moment’s rest, though she would never admit it.
Noelle sat opposite her. “I love this room,” she said. “I loved to play in here when I was little. And we used to paddle and swim down on the beach, then come in here to dry ourselves in front of the fire.”
Noelle glanced out of the window at the guests strolling about the garden. “It’s a wonderful party. So many people.”
Demelza laughed. “And everyone knew about it except me. What an idiot I must appear.”
“Oh no, grandmama. I’m so glad it was such a surprise for you.”
“And there I was thinking it was just a christening.” She hesitated. “How did you feel about Harry and Rachel calling their baby after your Papa?”
The young girl smiled, a smile so like Jeremy’s that it tugged at Demelza’s heart-strings. “I was so pleased. It will be like keeping his memory alive. Though I have no memory of him, of course.”
“No…” Demelza glanced at the old stool beside the fireplace, where once Jeremy’s widow had sat, four months forward with the child who was now a woman with a child of her own, and wept her heart out.
“And… your mother?” she asked carefully.
Noelle shook her head. “It’s always difficult to know what Mama is thinking. But I think… I’m sure she liked it. When she read your note, she was smiling. And she’s kept it in her box.”
“Yes – you know, that inlaid wooden box she has. It once belonged to Papa, when he was in the army. I don’t know what’s in it – she always keeps it locked.”
Demelza nodded in understanding. “Memories,” she said. “It’s her box of memories.”