Saturday, August 17, 2013

Demelza Takes a Chance (Part 2)

Continuing with my sharing of Verity's story from Winston Graham's Poldark novels, here's the second part of an excerpt from Demelza: A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790.

(For Part 1 and an explanation of the story so far, click here.)


"My name is Blamey, ma'am," he said in a hard clear voice. "Can I be of service to you?"

All Demelza's prepared openings were forgotten. She was overawed by his manner and his authority.

She moistened her lips and said: "My name is Poldark."

It was as if some key turned in the inner mechanism of this hard man, locking away before it could escape any show of surprise or sentiment.

He bowed slightly. "I haven't the honour of your acquaintance."

"No, sir," said Demelza. "No. You d'know my husband, Captain Ross Poldark."

There was something ship-like about his face, jutting and aggressive and square, weathered but unbeaten.

"A few years ago I had occasion to meet him."

She could not shape the next sentence. With her hand she felt the chair behind her, and sat in it.

"I've rid twenty miles to see you."

"I am honoured."

"Ross don't know I've come," she said. "Nobody knows I've come."

His unflinching eyes for a moment left her face and travelled over her dusty dress.

"I can offer you some refreshment?"

"No. . . . No. . . . I must leave again in a few minutes." Perhaps that was a mistake, for tea or anything would have given her ease and time.

There was a strained pause. Under the window the quarrel with the orange woman broke out afresh.

"Was that your servant at the door?"

"Yes."

"I thought I recognized him. I should have known."

His voice left no doubt of his feelings.

She tried once again. "I—mebbe I shouldn't ought to have come, but I felt I must. I wanted to see you."

"Well?"

"It's about Verity."

Just for a moment his expression grew embarrassed; that name could no longer be mentioned. Then he abruptly glanced at the clock. "I can spare you three minutes."

Something in the glance quenched the last of Demelza's hopes. "I've been wrong to come," she said. "I think there's nothing to say to you. I made a mistake, that's all."

"Well, what is it you made a mistake in? Since you are here you'd best say it."

"Nothing. Nothing will be any use saying to the likes of you."

He gave her a furious look. "I ask you, tell me."

She glanced at him again.

"It is about Verity. Ross married me last year. I knew nothing about Verity till then. An' she never told me a thing. I persuaded it out of Ross. About you, I mean. I love Verity. I'd give anything to see 'er happy. An' she isn't happy. She's never got over it. She's not the sort to get over it. Ross said it was dangerous to meddle. He said I must leave it alone. But I couldn't leave it alone till I'd seen you. I—I thought Verity was right an' they was wrong. I—I had to be sure they was right before I could let it drop."

Her voice seemed to go on and on, into an arid empty space. She said: "Are you married again?"

"No."

"I schemed today. Ross has gone to Bodmin. I borrowed the horses and came over with Jud. I'd best be getting back, for I've a young baby at home."

She got up and slowly made for the door.

He caught her arm as went past him.

"Is Verity ill?"

"No," Demelza said angrily. "Ailing but not ill. She looks ten years older than her age."

His eyes were suddenly fierce with pain.

"D'you not know the whole story? They cannot fail to have told you the whole story."

"Yes, about your first wife. But if I was Verity—"

"You're not Verity. How can you know what she feels?"

"I don't, but I—"

"She never once sent me any word. . . ."

"Nor you never sent her any word neither."

"Has she ever said anything?"

"No."

"Then it's pitiable. . . . This attempt on your part . . . this—this intrusion. . . ."

"I know," said Demelza, nearly crying. "I know now. I thought to help Verity, but I wisht now I'd never tried. You see, I don't understand. If folks in our way love one another it is more than enough to bring 'em together, drink or no. If the father's against it then that's some reason, but now the father's dead an' Verity's too proud to make any move. And you—and you . . . But I thought you were different. I thought—"

"You thought I was likely to sit moping my time away. No doubt the rest of your family has long since written me off as a failure and a drunkard, drooling in taprooms and lurching home of a night. No doubt Miss Verity has long since agreed with her weakling brother that it was better for all that Captain Blamey was sent about his business. What for—"

"How dare you say that of Verity!" Demelza cried out, standing up to him. "How dare you! An' to think I've rid myself sore to hear it! To think I've schemed and plotted and lied and borrowed the horses and one thing and the next. An' to say such of Verity when she's ill for pining of you! Judas God! Leave me get out of here!"

He barred her way. "Wait."

His epaulettes and gold braid no longer counted.

"Wait for what? For more insults? Let me past or I shall call Jud!"

He took her arm again. "It is no reflection on you, girl. I grant you did it all from the best of motives. I grant you your good will—"

She was trembling, but with great self-control did not try to wrench her arm free.

For a moment he did not go on, but peered at her closely as if trying to see all that she had not said. His own anger was suddenly in ashes. He said:

"We've all moved on since those days, grown, changed. It's—you see, it's all forgotten, behind us—but has left us bitter. There were times when I ranted and railed—if you understood—if you'd known it all you'd see that. When you stir up old things best forgotten you're bound to stir up some of the mud that's settled 'round 'em."

"Leave go my arm," she said.

He made a brief awkward gesture and turned away. She went stiffly to the door and grasped the handle.

She glanced back. He was staring out towards the harbour. She hesitated a second longer and there came a knock at the door.

No one answered it. Demelza stepped aside as the handle turned. It was the woman who looked after him.

"Beg pardon. Did you want something, sir?"

"No," said Blamey.

"Your dinner's ready."

Blamey turned and glanced at Demelza.

"Will you stay and take a meal with me, ma'am?"

"No," said Demelza. "Thank you. I'd best be getting back."

"Then perhaps you will first show Mistress Poldark to the door."

The woman bobbed. "Yes, surely, sir."

Conversationally she led Demelza downstairs again. She warned her to mind the step for the light was none too good, the curtain being drawn to keep the carpet from fading as this window looked due south. She said the day was warm and there might be thunder, it being a bad sign that St. Anthony's Head was so clear. Still talking, she opened the front door and wished her visitor good day.

Outside in the street Jud was sitting blinking on a stone wall beside her pony. He was sucking an orange he had filched from the orange woman's cart.

"Finished already, Mrs.?" he said. "Reckoned 'e'd soon do for ee. Well, all's for the best I reckon, as leaves well alone."

Demelza did not reply. Captain Blamey was still watching her from the upper room.

– Excerpted from Demelza: A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790 (1953)
by Winston Graham



It all seems rather hopeless, doesn't it? But the chance Demelza took in visiting Captain Andrew Blamey in Falmouth turns out, after all, not to be in vain. For back home on the north coast of Cornwall several weeks later, Demelza receives an unexpected visitor . . .


Demelza had been expecting Ross since five. At six she prepared supper, making it lighter than usual, for she knew he came back from these ticketings satiated with food and drink and grumbling at the waste of time.

Toward seven she had her supper and thought she would walk up the valley to see if she could meet Ross. Julia was fed; her garden was not crying for attention; she had practiced on the spinet just before dinner; her mind was at ease. Very nice. She would walk.

The joys of leisure, rarely indulged, had not yet lost a grain of their newness. This of all things was what made her happiest in the life of a lady. In her childhood she had always worked until there was nothing but a sleep of exhaustion left, and slept until a boot or a shout roused her. As a servant at Nampara she had had her quieter times, but the best of these had been stolen, furtive; nervous alertness woven in with her pleasure. Now if she chose, if she felt like it, she could idle with all the world to see. The very energy of her ordinary ways made these times all the sweeter. She was a lady, wife of Ross Poldark, whose ancestry in these parts went back hundreds of years. The children of her body, Julia first, would be called Poldark, with a good home, money enough, a root, upbringing, a legacy of culture. Sometimes her heart swelled at the thought.

She walked up the valley listening to the first crickets making themselves heard in the undergrowth, and stopping now and then to watch the young birds squabbling in the branches of the elms or an occasional frog hop and slither by the edge of the stream. At the top, by the ruins of [the mine] Wheal Maiden, she sat down on a block of stone and hummed a little tune and screwed up her eyes for the sight of a familiar figure. Beyond the smoke of Grambler you could see the tower of Sawle Church. From here it looked to be leaning towards the southwest, as a man will in a gale. All the trees leaned the other way.

"Mistress Poldark," said a voice behind her.

She leapt up.

Andrew Blamey had called.




For previous Poldark-related posts, see:
Demelza Takes a Chance (Part 1)
Passion, Time and Tide
A "Useful Marriage" for Morwenna
A Sea Dragon of an Emotion . . . "Causing Half the Trouble of the World, and Half the Joy"
"Hers Would Be the Perpetual Ache of Loss and Loneliness"
Into the Greenwood

Recommended Off-site Links:
Winston Graham's Demelza: A Novel of Cornwall – Kate Sherrod (Kate of Mind, May 3, 2013).
Winston Graham’s Demelza: Mistress Poldark, Herstory – Ellen Moody (Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two, July 18, 2010).
Winston Graham’s Demelza: A Young Woman’s Entrance Into the World – Ellen Moody (Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two, May 7, 2011).
The Official Winston Graham and Poldark Website

Image: Angharad Rees as Demelza in the BBC television series Poldark (1975-1977).


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