The Twisted Sword

By: Winston Graham

The eleventh Poldark novel

Book One

Chapter One

It had been raining without a stop for four days when Demelza Poldark saw a horseman riding down the valley. Curtains of fine rain had fallen across the land, pushed - though not driven - by a south-westerly wind, bringing the clouds down to the level of the land, masking the sulky sea, converting the narrow lanes into chasms of flatulent mud. Demelza liked the rain when it was this sort of rain, so soft for late January after the storms of December. It didn't matter much for the mines anyway, since most of the work was done underground and the surface workers were used to being wet; but it was bad for the farm. Small though the cultivated area was, its living centre was Nam para House. Since it was not possible to go out at all without getting wet, one lived in a condition of partial dampness even indoors and in spite of the roaring fires. The stain on the ceiling in the library - which was always going to be looked at but never was - spread some inches more; ill-fitting windows leaked, carpets were damp here and there; but it was not the minor building flaws that mattered so much as the constant procession and presence of human beings:

muddy boots standing by doors, dripping stockings hung up to dry, coats and cloaks smelling warmly of damp fur and damp cloth and damp people; you couldn't keep the weather out. You didn't have to worry or fret about the house looking shabby and unkempt. One day soon it would be fine again. And out of doors it was so mild that primroses were already showing dabs of yellow in the hedges. The rain had a saltiness as it fell on your cheeks stealthily like a moist caress. It was deceitful because you didn't realize you were getting soaked. You drew it into your lungs and it felt good, cleansing, salty and pure. Deprived of her eldest children - Jeremy being in Brussels with his new wife, still in the army but mercifully out of danger because all the wars had come to an end; and Clowance, married to Stephen Carrington whom she dearly loved -- though perhaps no one else loved him quite as much as she did - and living in Penryn - Demelza had spent much time with IsabellaRose, shortly to be thirteen, and Henry, only just two. Ross had always been at her to take things more easily - 'You're the mistress, let others do the hard work' - but she had found it difficult, partly because of her humble birth, which she still could not forget and which still stood in the way of her telling other people to do something she could do more quickly, and better, herself; and partly because of her abounding energy. But the abounding energy had been intermittent of late, so in some ways she was now obeying orders. This did not prevent her being constantly active, but in occupations of a relatively unarduous nature. Such as going to see Jud and Prudie Paynter twice a week. Such as going for long walks across the beach or over the cliffs with IsabellaRose, who chirruped and bubbled with pleasure at most things - of all the children she was the nearest to Demelza in natural ebullience, though sometimes there was a harshness about her that her mother had never shown. Such as walking up to the mine with Ross and meeting him on his way home. Such as picking about in her beloved garden where not much stirred yet but where the soil was too sandy ever to become sticky or to turn to mud. Such as supervising the thrashing and the winnowing of the oats. Such as dosing her black pony, Hollyhock, with an inflammation drench of her own making for a severe cough and cold. Such as visiting Caroline Enys -- who refused resolutely to go out of doors when it was raining and taking tea with her and discussing life in general. It was a good time with Ross newly home and throwing himself into affairs of the mines and the farm with renewed interest. It would have been a better time without one ugly fact and one momentous decision that hung over her, creating tension in her, especially when waking in the dark of the dawn, listening to the drip of the rain and to Ross's steady breathing beside her. Before he left London Ross had seen the Prime Minister and they had discussed the possibility of his being sent to Paris as a liaison officer at the British Embassy, with particular regard to the disposition and sentiment of the French armed forces. The matter had been left in abeyance, Lord Liverpool awaiting events before deciding to send him, Ross hesitating whether he was willing to be sent. It had been agreed between them that they should make contact again sometime in late February. Since then much had happened. America and England had made peace, and the Duke of Wellington would be likely to remain in Paris as British Ambassador, however unpopular he had made himself - or events had made him - in that city. The likelihood of Captain Poldark being persona grata with the Duke was fairly remote, for the Duke had objected to his sudden appearance as an observer in Portugal before the battle of Bussaco. The word 'spy' had not actually been mentioned, but the Duke had written to his brother the Foreign Secretary, complaining of the presence of 'a detached observer' who had been sent, he felt, by members of the Cabinet unfriendly to him. It was not known whether Wellington had ever read Poldark's admirable and admiring account of the Duke's dispositions when he returned to England, but Ross himself certainly had no intention of going on any mission where he would be greeted with suspicion rather than co-operation; so the prospect of a summons to London and then to Paris had receded as the new year broke. And so had receded the dawn apprehensions. But here was this strange man, formally dressed, clattering across the bridge. In a moment he would have dismounted and, dripping with rain, would be appearing at their front door. You didn't have to fret about the house looking shabby or unkempt in such weather provided the people who called to see you knew you and understood the circumstances of a small manor-house that was also a working farm. With strangers it was different. In the four minutes since she had spotted him Demelza had flown about, gathering up boots and stockings and coats and kerchiefs and scarves, shovelling them into convenient cupboards; had shaken hearthrugs and carpet mats and cleared the table in the parlour by converting the cloth which covered it into a handy holdall for everything unnecessary and untidy and stuffed it into yet another cupboard containing Ross's mining books. By this time the faithful Jane Gimlett had appeared at the door of the parlour.