Jeremy Poldark

By: Winston Graham



In August 1790 three men rode along the mule track past Grambler Mine and made towards the straggling cottages at the end of the village. It was evening and the sun had just set; clouds had been driven up the sky by a westerly breeze and were beginning to flush with the afterglow. Even the mine chimneys, from which no smoke had issued for best part of two years, took on a matured mellow colour in the evening light. In a hole in the taller of the two, pigeons were nesting, and their flapping wings beat against the wider silence as the men passed. A half dozen ragged children were playing with a homemade swing suspended between two of the sheds, and some women standing at the doors of cottages, hands on elbows, watched the horsemen ride by.

They were soberly dressed, respectable riders in a clerkish black, and they sat their horses with an air of importance; not many such were seen nowadays in this half-derelict, half-deserted village which had come into being and had existed solely to serve the mine and which, now that the mine was dead, was itself perishing of a slower decay. It seemed that the men were going to pass right through—as might have been expected—but at the last, one nodded his head and they reined in their horses at a more dejected-looking shack than anything they had yet seen. It was a one-story cob hut with an old iron pipe for a chimney and a roof patched and re-patched with sacking and driftwood; and at its open door on an upturned box sat a bowlegged man sharpening a piece of wood. He was under the average height, strongly built, but getting up in years. He wore old riding boots bound with string, yellow pigskin breeches, a dirty grey flannel shirt which had lost one sleeve at the elbow, and a stiff black leather waistcoat, whose pockets bulged with worthless odds and ends. He was whistling almost soundlessly, but when the men got down from their horses he unpursed his lips and looked at them with wary bloodshot eyes; his knife hung over the stick while he sized them up.

The leader, a tall emaciated man with eyes so close together as to suggest a cast, said:

“Good day. Is your name Paynter?”

The knife slowly lowered itself. The bowlegged man put up a dirty thumbnail and scratched the shiniest spot on his bald head.


The other made a gesture of impatience. “Come, man. You’re either Paynter or you’re not. It’s not a subject on which there can be two opinions.”

“Well, I aren’t so sure ’bout that. Folk is too free with other folk’s names. Mebbe there can be two opinions. Mebbe there can be three. It all depend what you d’want me for.”

“It is Paynter,” said one of the men behind. “Where’s your wife, Paynter?”

“Gone Marasanvose. Now if you be wanting she…”

“My name is Tankard,” said the first man sharply. “I’m an attorney acting for the Crown in the coming case of Rex versus Poldark. We want to ask you a few questions, Paynter. This is Blencowe, my clerk and Garth, an interested party. Will you lead the way inside?”

Jud Paynter’s wrinkled teak-coloured face took on a look of injured innocence, but under this conventional defence there was a glint of genuine alarm.

“What are ee coming troubling me for? I said all I had to say afore magistrates, an’ that were nothing. ’Ere I am, living a Christian life like St. Peter himself, sitting before his own front door interfering with no one. Leave me be.”

“The law must take its course,” said Tankard, and waited for Jud to get up.

After a minute, glancing suspiciously from one face to the other, Jud led the way inside. They seated themselves in the shadowy hut, Tankard staring distastefully about and lifting his coattails to avoid the litter as he sat down. None of the visitors had delicate noses, but Blencowe, a pasty, stooping little man, looked back wistfully at the sweet evening outside.

Jud said: “I don’t know nothing about’n. You’re barking up the wrong door.”

“We have reason to believe,” said Tankard, “that your deposition before the examining justice was false in every particular. If—”

“You’ll pardon me,” said Garth in an undertone. “Perhaps you’d be letting me speak to Paynter for a minute or two, Mr. Tankard. You remember I said, afore we came in, that there’s more ways…”

Tankard folded his thin arms. “Oh, very well.”

Jud turned his bulldog eyes upon his new adversary. He thought he had seen Garth before, riding through the village or some such. Snooping perhaps.

Garth said in a conversational, friendly tone: “I understand you were Captain Poldark’s servant at one time, you and your wife, for a great many years and for his father afore him?”