Saturday, September 14, 2013

Rendezvous in Truro

I may have finished my re-reading of all twelve Poldark novels, Winston Graham's acclaimed series of historical fiction set in Cornwall at the turn-of-the-eighteenth-century, but I've decided to continue highlighting these engaging books at The Wild Reed by periodically sharing my thoughts on them and, more importantly, excerpts from them.

Regular followers of this blog may recall that I've previously shared a number of posts featuring excerpts that highlight Verity's story from the Poldark novels. This particular series of Poldark-related posts starts here. (For a more general introduction to the Poldark novels and my interest in them, click here.)

Today's post continues Verity's story. But first, a brief recap: Verity Poldark, cousin of Ross Poldark, the main character in the saga, has had her romance with Captain James Blamey quashed by her overbearing father and brother. Captain Blamey has returned to his lonely seafaring life and Verity has resigned herself to a life of loss and loneliness. Two years have passed, and Ross' young wife, Demelza, who has become good friends with Verity, decides to intervene, secretly journeying to Falmouth to see Captain Blamey. Their meeting does not go well. Several weeks later, however, when out walking near her home, Demelza is startled by the appearance of Captain Blamey. She agrees to arrange a seemingly random meeting between him and Verity in Truro. She later writes to him with details, informing him that on Thursday, October 20, "in the forenoon," she and Verity will be at Mistress Trelask's silk mercer shop in Kenwen Street.

The following excerpt from Winston Graham's Demelza: A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790 continues the story.

The twentieth of October was a windy day with dust and dead leaves blowing and the promise of rain. Demelza was on edge, as if she had a long-distance coach to catch; and Verity was amused by her wish to get to Truro by eleven at the latest. Demelza said that it wasn't nervousness for herself but that Julia had been restless in the night and she suspected she was feverish.

At that Verity suggested they might postpone the visit: they could very easily ride in another day when it was more convenient. It would have suited her, for the date had come round for the quarterly meeting of the Grambler shareholders. But Demelza now seemed more than ever keen to go.

This time they had Bartle for company, for Jud was growing ever more wayward.

Halfway there it began to rain, a thin damp drizzle moving across the country like a mesh of fine silk, slower than the low bags of cloud which spun it. About three miles from Truro they saw a crowd of people stretching across the road. It was so unusual to see many people about in the middle of the day that they reined in.

"I think tis a pile o' miners, ma'am," said Bartle. "Mebbe tis a feast day we've forgot."

Verity went forward a little doubtfully. These people did not look as if they were celebrating.

A man was standing on a cart talking to a compact group gathered around him. He was some distance away, but it was clear that he was giving expression to a grievance. Other groups of people sat on the ground or talked among themselves. There were as many women as men among them, all poorly dressed and some with young children. They looked angry and cold and desperate. A good many were actually in the lane, which here ran between clearly defined hedges, and hostile looks met the two well-dressed women on horseback with their well-fed groom.

Verity put a bold front on it and led the way slowly through: and silently they were watched and sullenly.

Presently the last were left behind.

"Phhh!" said Demelza. "Who were they, Bartle?"

"Miners from Idless an' Chacewater, I bla' These are poor times, ma'am."

Demelza edged her horse up to Verity's. "Were you scairt?"

"A little. I thought they might upset us."

Demelza was silent for some moments. "I mind once when we were short of corn in Illugan. We had potatoes an' water for a week—and mortal few potatoes."

For the moment her attention had been diverted from the plot on hand, but as they reached Truro she forgot the miners and only thought of Andrew Blamey and what she had engineered.


Truro wore its usual Thursday morning appearance, a little untidier than most days because of the cattle market of the afternoon before. They left Bartle in the centre of the town and made their way on foot, picking a fastidious path over the cobbles and through the mud and refuse.

There was no sign of a stocky figure in a blue-laced coat, and they went into the little dress shop. Demelza was unusually fussy this morning; but at length Verity persuaded her to pick a dark bottle-green cloth which would not clash with any of the clothes she already had and which greatly suited the colour of her skin.

When it was all over Demelza asked the time. The seamstress went to see, and it was just noon. Well . . . she'd done her part. She could do no more. Do doubt the date was wrong and he was still at sea.

The little bell in the shop pinged noisily and her heart leapt, but it was only a Negro page boy to ask whether the Hon. Maria Agar's bonnet was finished.

Demelza lingered over some silk ribbons, but Verity was anxious to get her own shopping done. They had arranged to take a meal at Joan Pascoe's, an ordeal Demelza was not looking forward to, and there would be little time for shopping after that.

There were more people in the narrow street when they left the shop. A cart drawn by oxen was delivering ale at a nearby gin shop. Ten or twelve urchins, undersized, barefoot and scabby, and wearing men's discarded coats cut down and tied with string, were rioting among a pile of garbage. At the end of the street by the West Bridge a sober merchant had come to grief in the slippery mud and was being helped to his feet by two beggers. A dozen shopping women were out, most of them in clogs and with loops to their wrists to keep their skirts out of the dirt.

"Miss Verity," said a voice behind them.

Oh, God, thought Demelza, it has come at last.

For the previous installments in this series, see:
"Hers Would Be the Perpetual Ache of Loss and Loneliness"
Demelza Takes a Chance (Part 1)
Demelza Takes a Chance (Part 2)
Captain Blamey Comes A-Calling

For other previous Poldark-related posts, see:
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"
Into the Greenwood
"I Want You to Become a Part of Me – Each to Become a Part of the Other"

Opening image: "Old Kensington," believed to be one of the earliest paintings known of Truro, Cornwall.

Notes the website This is Cornwall:

Once thought to show part of London, at first glance viewers might struggle to locate this scene among the pavements and shops of the modern city. However, standing directly in front of the cathedral with the post office on the left, as the unknown artist did, it quickly becomes apparent that the unsigned work depicts High Cross, Truro, around the year 1800.

The church is the old St Mary's, with its spire and clock face. The later cathedral was built farther forward, filling most of the empty space visible in the painting and resulting in the demolition of various other buildings.

One surviving building which looks much the same as in the painting is the Assembly Rooms, built in 1787. Another fascinating aspect of the painting is the leat running through a channel, which is still there today.

The painting, in oils on canvas, is thought to be the work of an artist who was travelling from town to town at the end of the 18th century. During the 19th century it was sold as a view of old Kensington in London and went to a collection in Berkshire. By chance, a Cornishman happened to see it and recognised it as High Cross. This incident was reported in the Royal Cornwall Gazette on Boxing Day 1884. The painting has now been brought back to Cornwall and is for sale at the Lander Gallery in Lemon Street Market.

The gallery's Viv Hendra said: "There's a painting of another part of Truro at Trewithen House in Grampound, and my theory is that the same artist did it. They're exceptionally rare and must be the earliest paintings of the town. Part of the interest for us here is that the house to the left of the Assembly Rooms was home to our great-grandfather about a century after the picture was done."

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

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