Hubert Trencrom had been a strange man. Hugely stout, and with a lifelong tisick which had sounded like a small dog being strangled, he had surprised everyone – himself included – by living to the very good age of eighty-four.
In addition to his successful smuggling operation, which he had run for over sixty years with the knowledge – even the connivance – of the local magistrates, he had had investments in numerous legitimate business operations of small and medium size throughout the county.
And though these activities had made him very rich, he had always lived modestly, his house unpretentious, his style of dress never extravagant. He had never married, and when he died his only surviving relatives had been two great-nieces whom he had never seen.
But the strangest thing about him had been his Will. He, who had never been known to have a philanthropic bone in his body, had left every last penny to Ross Poldark, expressing the wish that he would use it to the benefit of the needy of the district.
At first Ross had been reluctant to take on the responsibility, but Demelza had persuaded him of how much good it could do, and that if Mr Trencrom had paid him the compliment of trusting him to do as he had wanted with the money, he really ought to honour that trust.
And indeed, over the past twelve years the money had done a great deal of good. Many of the investments he had left untouched, on the argument that they provided a regular dividend while securing employment and income for a lot of people.
Other funds, including from the sale of the swift cutter the One and All, he had applied to the opening of several alms houses for the care of the elderly and infirm, and had secured apprenticeships to good trades for a number of the boys and girls of the local villages.
It had seemed very appropriate to use some of the money to help further Caroline’s plans for Killewarren. Unfortunately not everyone was convinced of the idea – some protested loudly that they didn’t want a bunch of lunatics roaming the district at every full moon, murdering people in their beds.
So it came as some surprise to receive a note from Truro requesting him to meet with Miss Ursula Warleggan at Killewarren, at two o’clock on the following Tuesday.
When he showed it to Demelza she was equally surprised. “George’s daughter. I wonder what she wants?”
“I have no idea.”
“Well, you’ll find out next Tuesday.”
It was a pleasant afternoon to ride over to Killewarren. It was a road he had ridden many, many times down the years. Over the past two years, however, he had been over only occasionally. Already the absence of the family was evident.
It wasn’t so much neglect – Caroline had retained the gardener and the housekeeper to keep the place in order. But there was a kind of dullness, even in the pleasant July sunshine. The flowerbeds were cleaned of weeds, but the soil was bare in many places, with no flowers growing. And the windows had a blank look – many of them had curtains drawn across to keep out the sunlight.
At the porch he dismounted and looped Seymour’s reins over a post, and stood back to look up at the house. He had first seen it on an evening of misty rain in the middle of November back in ’92. It was a date etched on his memory as the day he had faced bankruptcy and debtors’ prison at the hands of George Warleggan - the father of the woman he was meeting with today.
Darkie, his old mare, had cast a shoe…
The door opened, and Audrey, the housekeeper, beamed at him in welcome. “Ah, Mr Ross, sir. How nice to see you.”
“Hello Audrey. How are you? And your father?”
“Both of us very well, sir. Father still keeps himself going – though he sadly misses the doctor.”
“As do we all, Audrey.” Audrey's father, Bone, had been with Dwight since before his marriage to Caroline.
“Will you take tea, sir?”
“I’m meeting with Miss Warleggan. You may serve tea when she arrives.”
She nodded. “In the upstairs parlour?”
“I’ll remove the covers.”
Ross glanced around the familiar hall, conscious of the echoing silence where once Caroline had laughed, where Sophia and Meliora had played as children, where Dwight had talked earnestly of some new discovery in medical science – which his listeners had frequently barely understood.
He drew in a long breath, and walked back to the front door to await Ursula Warleggan.
She was punctual to the dot, bowling up in a smart Tilbury with gleaming black wheels, drawn by a high-stepping black carriage horse. She was an indifferent rider, Ross recalled, but had the reputation of being a notable whip.
She drew to a halt at the foot of the steps, deftly looping her reins, as Martin Daniel – Audrey’s husband – hurried over to take charge of the horse. She had stepped down from the carriage before Ross could assist her, and stripped off her gloves as she walked up the steps, offering him her hand.
A swift instinct warned him that she was not expecting him to kiss it. Instead he took it, aware of the firm strength of her handshake. “Good afternoon, Miss Warleggan.”
“Ursula, please.” Her manner was very forthright. “We are related by marriage, after all. May I call you Ross?”
“Good." She glanced up at the building. "I see the house has been kept in a good state of repair since Caroline left. So, show me what you have in mind.”
He nodded. “Shall we view the outside first?”
“As you please.”
They walked round to the back of the house. There was nothing elegant about her figure or the way she moved, though the dark blue velvet riding habit she was wearing did suit her rather better than the dress she had worn to the party at Nampara.
She had never been a beauty. Her fair hair was fine and straight – she had wisely drawn it back into a coil at the nape of her neck rather than try to curl it fashionably around her square, plain face. Her best feature by far were her eyes – grey and very sharp, seeing everything.
“It’s all based very much on Dwight’s – Dr Enys’s – ideas,” Ross explained. “He envisioned a kind of retreat, a quiet place where people with various disorders of the brain could live with minimal restraint.”
“I gather he’s been pressing for this for a long time. People don’t welcome the idea.”
“No. But the sort of conditions he had in mind were not in any way dangerous. Those who might suffer seizures, or had an injury to the head, perhaps in an accident. Even some old soldiers whose minds have been damaged by particularly bad experiences in battle.”
“Like Philip Prideaux.”
“Well, yes. His ideas were based on those of a French doctor, Pinel, whom he met in Paris when we were there after the Treaty of Amiens. He advocated giving inmates as much freedom as possible, with good food, healthy outdoor exercise and the opportunity for productive work. So as you see here, the stable yard could be converted into workshops for carpentry, ironworking, that sort of thing. They could look after the garden, and grow their own vegetables, care for the livestock on the home farm."
“I see.” She strolled around, assessing the size and state of repair of the stables, casting her eye over the kitchen garden, turning over a clump of earth with one well-shod foot.
Was she planning to make an offer to buy the place? Whatever figure she offered he would have to discuss it with Caroline, of course, but he doubted she would agree. Apart from the difficulty of finding somewhere else suitable, she wanted the clinic to be Dwight’s memorial.
They walked back to the front door, stepping inside to wander along narrow passages and into empty rooms as Ross explained some of the plans for the conversion of the building. They ended up back in the large parlour above the stables.
Audrey had drawn back the curtains, letting the July sunshine stream in. There was still some furniture in here, though the lack of pictures and ornaments made it look bare. Audrey brought in the tea tray and poured a cup for each of them.
“So,” Ursula began without preamble, “how much do you think it will cost to convert the house and maintain it - taking into account the salaries of the doctors and the staff to attend to the patients, the wages of the domestic and ground workers?”
She clearly wasn’t one to beat about the bush, so he responded in kind, giving her the figures.
“And you propose to fund this with the money from Mr Trencrom’s legacy?”
“That’s right. And I also hope to raise subscriptions from those who can be persuaded that I’m not proposing to put their lives at risk.”
“I wish you luck of that. How much do you think the trust can provide?”
“At least two-thirds.”
“But that would take away from the other work you do – providing the apprenticeships, for instance.”
“You’re very well-informed.” He wasn’t sure whether to be annoyed with her or not. If she was intending to negotiate down the price she was wasting her time and his.
“Of course.” She nodded briskly. “This is what I propose. That we set up a trust between us – I shall provide two-thirds, your trust one-third – to cover both the initial outlay and the on-going costs. If others can be persuaded to join us, their contributions can pay for additional resources.”
Ross sat back in his chair, surprise leaving him briefly silent. “May I ask… Why would you do that?”
She looked at him for a moment, seeming to consider what she was going to say. “I liked Dwight Enys.” There was an odd little waver in her voice. “He brought me into the world. And my father was forced to call him in once when I was small - I had the measles, if I recall correctly. I liked him far better than Dr Behenna, whom my father always insisted on consulting. When I was old enough to insist on my own views I chose to employ Dwight – though fortunately my physical health has always been good.” She glanced towards the window, where the dust motes danced in the warm beam of the sun. “And there is another reason.”
Ross waited patiently.
“You knew my father well.”
“I knew him for many years.”
“He didn’t like you.” She was certainly blunt. “In fact I would go so far as to say he hated you.”
“Do you know why? I mean apart from my mother? He hated you because he couldn’t control you. The only other person he couldn’t control was my brother Valentine, and he hated him too. And my stepmother, of course – he could never control her, but that was different.”
She took a sip of her tea and put her cup down carefully on the small table beside her chair.
“Can you imagine what it was like growing up in a household like that? Oh he rarely lost his temper – he didn’t have to. Everyone had to tiptoe around him, never quite knowing what would incur his displeasure. Frequently, I have to say, it was about you.”
“I’m sorry about that.”
“It wasn’t your fault. You remember when you were made a baronet? It was a few months before I went away to school. He read about it in the Times, and for weeks he was like a simmering steam engine, set to blow up at any moment. He even cancelled the Times for a while – which even at fifteen I thought extremely childish. Then there were the quarrels with Valentine. Oh, those were as often as not of Valentine’s making – they were like two bears in a pit. It all had an effect on me.”
“I always thought you were the apple of his eye.”
“Oh I was. Not that it helped. I could have anything I wanted, but he really had no idea how to show affection. And of course I was always aware that I had failed in the one essential.”
“I wasn’t a boy. It was something I was particularly conscious of after he fell out with Valentine over his marriage to Selina. But even then, I might have redeemed myself by accepting a suitable husband. Unfortunately I had already realised that a woman may score in the marriage market by being in possession of either money or beauty – preferably both. Since I had a great deal of the one and none at all of the other I preferred not to accept any of the gallant offers that were made to me. The fact that my suitors could be seen to grit their teeth in order to spit out their proposals really didn’t help.”
She tilted up her chin with a kind of defiant dignity. “I have never found reason to regret my decision,” she insisted. “But perhaps you can understand from this that there have been times when the stress of being around my father, and growing up without a mother, have caused me to feel… I can only describe it as a deep melancholy.”
A shadow crossed her eyes. “Dwight understood. He made me feel that I wasn’t being foolish or self-obsessed. He encouraged me to take a while away when those moods came upon me. I have a cottage at St Ives. It’s small, but very pretty, with a beach as fine as yours at Hendrawna. I think I would go so far as to say that Dwight saved my life. He certainly helped me find a way to make it worth living. So it is to honour his memory that I want to see his dearest wish come to fruition.”
Ross was silent for a moment. Ursula had taken a handkerchief from her pocket, and was dabbing at her eyes. He felt as if he might need to dab at his own.
“So.” Abruptly she was her usual brisk self again. “I will have my lawyers draw up an agreement for us to set up our trust, and send it over to your lawyers for review.” She stood up and held out her hand again. “Good day to you, Ross.”
When she was gone, he stayed where he was for a while. It had certainly been an unexpected meeting – with a very unusual woman. The contact he’d had with her over the years had been minimal, but he had heard that her awkwardness at social gatherings was very much at odds with the shrewd businesswoman who still ran Warleggan's Bank and many of the enterprises in which George had had investments.
He found, a little to his surprise, that he liked her. He had never given much thought to what it must have been like for her, growing up under the thunderous cloud of George’s erratic personality. She had had her grandmother, who had doted on her, but she had died… oh, a few months before Harry was born. She would have been just twelve then, and left to deal with it all alone.
Until Dwight. His friend – his oldest and closest, maybe his only real male friend. But friend to so many - so many lives he had touched and healed, from the poorest miner choking out his lungs with phthisis to the highest in the land.
Slowly he rose to his feet and walked downstairs, and out again into the summer sunshine. As he mounted Seymour he took a moment to look back at the house.
It wasn’t grand; a long, low, rambling building, little better than an extensive farmhouse. Did houses have a feeling for the people who lived in them? It had been a family home for many years – for the Enyses, and before that the Penvenens. Now it was to begin a new phase.
Dismissing the thought as fanciful, he raised one hand in a kind of salute and farewell, and turning Seymour’s head, rode away down the long drive.
That summer of 1837 remained fine through July and August; long, quiet, sunny days with just occasional flurries of rain, mostly late in the evening. The meadows blossomed with scabious and moon-daisies, chervil and buttercups, and the bumblebees explored sleepily amid the yellow gorse. Even the sea was indolent, the waves rolling in long and lazy, making little fuss as they tipped over the golden sands of Hendrawna Beach in sparkling frills of white lace.
Cornwall was little troubled by the violent gale of early August which caused havoc in Sussex and Kent, and little troubled by the general election, which returned Lord Melbourne and his Whigs to government, albeit with a slightly reduced majority.
Even the news of the long-expected death of the old King, which had reached them the day after the party at Nampara, had had little impact. The young Princess Victoria, who had now ascended the throne, may be the first Queen Regnant of England for over a hundred years, but Cornwall was a long way from the interests and intrigues of London, and that was the way they liked it.
Ross was particularly glad of it. After many years of service to the Palace of Westminster he felt he had earned his retirement. The farm needed his attention; after the long cold damp winter, the crops were at last catching up, but after discussing it with Harry he had decided to delay the harvest for two weeks; the weather seemed settled so it was worth the risk.
Bella and Chris had returned to London, and from there would be touring with the theatre company until October. Towards the end of August Clowance and her family returned to stay for a couple of weeks. They were returning via Falmouth from a trip to France, where they had stayed with an old school-friend of Edward’s - the son of emigrés who had been fortunate enough to regain their family’s chateau and estates with the restoration of the monarchy.
It was a slightly melancholy connection for Ross, who had never forgotten his brief friendship with another emigré, Charles de Sombreuil, whose story had had a much sadder ending.
The day after the family left, as Betsy Martin was clearing away the breakfast things, Harry came in with a copy of the Mercury and a handful of letters, which he tossed onto the table.
“I saw the Sherbourne man outside, so I brought the post in,” he said. “Mmm – fresh rolls.” He plucked one off the plate as Betsy picked it up to take it away.
“Sit down if you haven’t had breakfast,” Demelza scolded. “You were never taught to eat standing up.”
“Would ‘ee like some butter with that, Master Harry?” Betsy enquired.
“Don’t spoil him. Is there anything interesting in the post, Ross?”
“One for you, from Caroline, to judge from the writing.” He passed it over to her, and shuffled through the rest, scanning a few and laying them aside for later. One he frowned over, then passed it to Harry.
“What is it?” Demelza asked, glancing up from her own letter.
“From Drake,” said Harry. “He mentioned to me at the party that he’s been having a problem with pilfering at the boatyard these past few months. Just a little at first – equipment, stock. But it seems it’s getting worse.”
Demelza took the letter, and read it through. “He sounds worried.”
Ross picked up his pipe and checked the bowl. “I’d best ride over and see for myself.”
Demelza looked at him with a frown. “It’s a long ride. Why not take the gig?”
He shook his head. “I think I can manage to ride that far. But I need to stop in Truro on the way, and I don’t want to drop in on Drake and Morwenna late in the evening, so I’ll have dinner and sleep over at St Austell.”
“I’ll come with you," said Harry eagerly. “It’s years since I’ve been to Looe.”
Ross glanced up at him and nodded. “Good idea. You need to be familiar with the boatyard. Can you be ready to leave in an hour?”
“I’ll go and tell Rachel.”
Jem Carter had saddled Seymour and brought him round to the side door. Demelza walked out with Ross, waiting while he strapped on his saddlebag. When he had mounted, she handed up his water bottle and a couple of pasties she had wrapped for him.
“Be careful how you go,” she said as he leaned down to kiss her goodbye.
“Of course. Don’t look for me to be home before Saturday – it could take some days to figure out what’s going on.”
“Of course.” But she gripped his hand for a moment as Harry clattered into the yard on his own handsome roan, Rufus. “Both of you be careful,” she repeated as they waved briefly and rode out of the yard.
Harry grinned as they turned onto the path towards Sawle. “Mama does worry, doesn’t she?”
“Always. I think she has a superstition that if she doesn’t remind me to be careful I’ll forget, and some awful fate will befall me.”
It was pleasant riding along the coast road, with the sea beside them sparkling in the warm September sun. Their cows and a couple of goats were peacefully cropping the grass of the fallow field, and overhead a kestrel was circling on her graceful wings, seeking out an unwary field-mouse or vole.
“So what do you think is happening at the boatyard?” Harry asked.
“It’s hard to say. Drake is certain it isn’t one of his employees – most of them have worked for him for years. That’s one reason I felt I should go – a more detached eye on the evidence.”
Harry nodded. “I see you’ve brought your pistols.”
“Your mother wouldn’t let me travel without them.”
“Is that the only reason?”
“Be prepared for any eventuality.”
“An old soldier’s motto?”
“No.” Ross grinned. “Just plain common sense.”
They reached Truro a little before midday. Ross needed to call in at the bank to sign some papers which would release funds from the Trencrom Trust to pay for the on-going work at Killewarren. Then they dropped in to the Red Lion for a jug of ale and a bite to eat before continuing their journey to St Austell.
Sometimes they rode in silence, the only sound the creaking of saddle leather and the steady clop of their horses’ hooves. At other times they talked – of the prospects for the china clay industry which was now producing such good results for them, of the new copper mine at Caradon which Ross had invested in, of the outlook for the country with a young queen on the throne.
By the time they reached the town Ross was privately glad that he had decided to break the journey there. Much as he fought against it, he was forced to acknowledge that sometimes he felt his advancing years.
They stayed at his regular inn – it was almost three years since he had last been this way, but they remembered him. They ate their supper in a private parlour, dining well on a tender cut of beef, some capons and a very good apple pie.
Later, he enjoyed a reasonable night’s sleep – though he never slept as well away from home as he did in his own bed, with Demelza beside him. It was rare now that he spent a night without her, and he missed the soft sound of her breathing, the way her hand would sometimes rest on his arm as she slept.
He woke early to find Harry already up and shaving. “Ha! Hello there, sleepyhead.”
Ross grunted as he sat up. “Have a little more respect for your father, please. What time is it?”
“Not quite seven. I’ve spoken for breakfast.”
“Good.” He swung himself out of bed, pleased to find that there were no lingering aches or twinges from yesterday’s ride.
They set out again shortly after breakfast, crossing the Fowey by the Bodinnick ferry and reaching Looe at around midday. Ross had always thought it a pretty little town. The river here was quite wide, flowing between steep-sided banks of rolling green hills.
The town had been in something of a decline since the end of the war, but a canal had recently been built to carry sea-sand and lime for agricultural needs inland to Launceston. If the copper lode at Caradon fulfilled its promise, it would bring the mineral ore in the other direction, to be loaded onto ships in Looe harbour.
The boatyard was on the east bank, but Drake and Morwenna lived on the quieter west bank, in the pretty white-walled cottage they had lived in since they had first come to Looe. Fifteen years ago, when Ross had made Drake a partner in the boatyard, he had bought it from the family from whom he had been renting it, and shortly afterwards had bought the one next door, and had knocked the two together to make a more spacious yet equally charming home.
They had barely dismounted when a long, skinny ten-year-old with a curly mop of ginger hair came bouncing down to meet them. “Uncle Ross! Uncle Harry! Grandpa said you would be coming.”
Harry caught him and swung him high in the air. “Hello there, Turnip!”
“Don’t call me Turnip,” the child protested with all the dignity of his scant years. “I’m called Tom.”
“Turnip.” Harry dropped him back on his feet and tickled him, causing squeals of laughter which brought his grandmother to the door.
“Ross! We hoped you would come, but we didn’t expect you so soon.”
“Drake’s letter sounded urgent. I hope we won’t be putting you to any inconvenience?”
“Not at all. Do come in. Drake is over at the yard, but I can send Tommy to fetch him. Would you care for some tea?”
Ross would have preferred something stronger, but though Drake had never been so devoutly Methodist as his older brother Sam, he had never been one for strong drink and never kept it in the house. Tea would have to do.
The cottage was as charming inside as out - light and bright, with colourful chintz curtains at the windows, and a woven carpet on the floor. Drake had made all the furniture himself – as a young man he had shown great skill as a carpenter, and Ross had been happy to employ him when they had been renovating the old library at Nampara. He clearly still kept his hand in – the gleaming mahogany sideboards on each side of the fireplace were new.
The years had been kind to Morwenna. She had never been a beauty, but she had always had a quiet elegance which made up for it. Her fine dark eyes were troubled now behind her spectacles.
She rang for the housekeeper to bring in their tea, then sat down, her long slender hands twisting in her lap. “We really don’t know what’s going on, Ross. Drake is so upset – the thought that it could be one of our own people… We’ve known them all so long.”
“I’m sure we’ll be able to sort it out,” Ross assured her.
“He thought at first he’d made some mistake himself, but he checked the books through three or four times, and things were still missing – more and more each time.” She looked as if she was ready to cry. “He’s asked questions around town, but no one knows anything – or they won’t say if they do know. He’s been so worried, and so have I. It isn’t his fault, Ross – I know he’s the manager so he’s responsible for everything that happens, but it isn’t his fault.”
“No, of course it isn’t. Don’t worry, Morwenna, I certainly don’t blame Drake for this.”
They all glanced round as the sound of the front door opening announced the arrival of Drake himself. Ross had always been struck by his similarity to his sister – he had Demelza’s speaking dark eyes and her wide, beguiling smile.
But he wasn’t smiling now. He looked tired and anxious. “Ross! Thank you for coming so soon – thank you. I don’t know what else I can do.” Agitated, he paced across the room and back. “I’ve spoken to all the men at the yard, and none of them know anything about it.”
“Drake, sit down and have some tea. One thing I want to say first - you have my absolute trust. I’ve known you how many years now? You’ve been my brother-in-law, my comrade in arms, and my friend. As for this business, we’ll sort it out together – don’t worry.”
Drake nodded and sat down on the settee as his wife poured him a cup of tea.
“Firstly,” said Ross, “I need a list of everything that’s gone missing, and when you noticed it was gone. Then I want a list of all your men, and when they’ve worked.”
“Of course, I have it all in the office.”
“Good. Then I want to interview each of your workers. I know you’ve done that already.” He held up his hand. “But as an outsider, I may get something different from them.”
Drake nodded. “I’ll arrange it. When do you want to start?”
“As soon as possible. We’ll begin with the paperwork, and then tomorrow morning we’ll come down to the yard and speak to the men. Morwenna, are you able to put us up for a few nights? We can just as easily put up at the Swan or the Ship.”
“That you will not!” she declared at once. “Of course I can accommodate you. I’ll tell Ellie to make up your beds.”
Ross and Harry spent the afternoon going through the paperwork with a toothcomb. After several hours Ross sat back, rolling his shoulders to ease his muscles, and removing the glasses he sometimes used for reading.
“Nothing. There’s nothing here that helps us at all.”
“What were you hoping to find, Papa?”
“Anyone who was around every time stock went missing, or anyone who was never around. But there’s no pattern to it.”
“So we’re going to have to interview all the workers?”
Ross nodded grimly. “I don’t like to do it – it casts a cloud of suspicion over everyone. But there’s no help for it, it has to be done.”
Harry picked up the list of missing items. “This last lot – three rolls of sailcloth, one hundred ells of jute rope… Those are heavy, bulky - you couldn’t smuggle them out under your coat.”
“No.” Ross took a pause to light his pipe. “It would have to have been done at night.”
“Which suggests something more than petty pilfering.”
Ross nodded. “He – or they - would have had to break into the yard somehow. So far as I know, only Drake and Robert Kittow, and Mably the workshop supervisor, have keys, beside the set that’s kept in the office for emergencies. We need to check that those aren’t missing.”
“And more than that, they would have needed mules or a packhorse to get the stuff away,” suggested Harry.
“More likely a horse,” said Ross. “Mules are likely to be noisy.”
“So that’s something else we need to check out. I could do that tomorrow, unless you want me to sit in on the interviews with the men.”
“No – it would be more useful for you to spend your time making enquiries around the town. But be discreet – and be careful.”
“You sound like Mama.”
“I wish your mother was here now - she has a very perceptive eye. I have a feeling she’d get to the bottom of this in half the time it would take you and me together.”