The Loving Cup

By: Winston Graham

Book One





Chapter One



I



On an evening in late June 1813, His Majesty's Packet Ship Queen Charlotte, Captain Kirkness, master, slid into Falmouth harbour, the long hull scarcely disturbing the water, the evening sun making angular haloes about her lower topsails as they were lifted and furled. She did not immediately make for her anchorage in St Just Pool but stood off at the entrance to Penryn Creek and lowered her jolly boat to transmit passengers and mail ashore at the nearest point to the land. As she came in she had passed and exchanged greetings with one of her sister ships, Queen Adelaide, which was leaving as usual on the Friday evening tide on passage to Lisbon. Charlotte reported an eventless voyage and wished the same to Adelaide. In these days when Biscay was infested with French and American privateers, it was not just a conventional interchange.

Of the six passengers, two climbed down into a smaller boat, which would take them direct to Flushing across the creek. Captain Kirkness, who also lived in Flushing, like many of the other Packet captains, sent word with the travellers to tell his wife he would be home in a couple of hours.

The last of their luggage was settled into the stern, and the sailor began to row them towards the sheltered brick and slate-hung village which unlike Falmouth faced the declining sun. As the boat was rowed over the glassy water it left little spreading goose feathers of motion in its wake. The passengers were a man and a woman. The man, tall and thin and quite young, was wearing the uniform of an officer of the line: it was anything but a parade uniform, being stained and worn, with faded lapels and a repaired sleeve. His blue eyes showed up vividly against his sunburnt face; a thin moustache above a tight mouth, a dent in his lower jaw; as he helped his companion down into the boat it seemed he could not open his right hand to its fullest extent.

The woman was small both in build and in stature, though it was his height which emphasized this. She was wearing a grey travelling cloak of which the hood had fallen back; she had no need of the hood for warmth, and the breeze blew her black hair about her face in graceful wisps. She was good-looking rather than pretty with a rather long, pear-pointed face and brilliant young eyes which took in. I everything about them. As they were -rowed ashore the officer was pointing out one landmark after another. He spoke in broken Spanish.

The tide was slip-slopping gently against the quay as the | sailor came in and loosed and re-looped another rowing boat so that they could run in alongside the weedy steps. The young officer pointed out to the girl that as the tide was falling the lowest two out of the water would be slippery. She nodded. He added something else, also in Spanish. She laughed and replied in English: 'I remember.'

Presently they were both on the quay with their luggage, and she was standing looking about, one hand to her hair; he ripped the sailor. There were lobster pots on the quay, a few coiled ropes, a seagull padding in their direction hoping for fish, an upturned cart, two boys of about twelve staring. I 'Byertiful,' said the girl.

'Beautiful,' said the young man smiling at her.

'Ber-youtiful,' said the girl, smiling back.

'Stay here with the cases, my little, just two minutes while I ... But perhaps these lads ... Hey, my son, which is Captain Blamey's house? Know you that?'

The boys stood staring, overcome by the responsibility of speaking to strangers; but just then a small man in a blue jersey and tattered serge trousers insinuated himself from behind a drapery of nets.

'Cap'n Blamey, sur? Yes, sur. Fifth 'ouse on left, 'e be, sur. You be goin' thur? I doubt 'e's 'ome. But Mrs is. I see Mrs go in scarce 'alf an hour gone. Carry your bags, shall I?'

A dozen people were in the street they turned into; horses clattered over cobbles; a girl was selling fish; two puppies rolled in the gutter. The packet had not of course come in unobserved; she had been spotted from Falmouth when miles out at sea, watched all the way in. The only surprise to the watchers was that two of her passengers should choose to land at Flushing instead of at Falmouth. They must have been cleared through Customs and Quarantine while still on board.

A green front door almost as square as tall, with a brass knocker and a glass fanlight; a climbing rose, hipped after its flowering season. Then a fluffy-haired girl in a pink lace cap and apron.

'Mrs Blamey? Yes, sur, who sh'll I say 'ave called?'

'Captain and Mrs Poldark,' said the young man. 'Captain and Mrs Poldark junior.'

As they were ushered into the low hall a white-haired fresh-complexioned woman was coming down the pitch-pine staircase. She stopped and stared and gave a whoop of joy.

'Geoffrey Charles! I - never expected! Tell me I'm not dreaming!’

He was up three steps to embrace her. 'Aunt Verity! I believe this is part of a special dream we have all had ... You look well!’

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