WarlegganBy: Winston Graham
In that coastal triangle of Cornwall lying between Truro, St. Ann's, and St. Michael, social life did not extend far in the 1790s. There were six big houses - or six inhabited by gentlefolk - but circumstances did not encourage intercourse between them.
Into one of these, 'Mingoose House,' the oldest and most easterly, Ruth Treneglos, ne Teague, - had done her utmost to bring a new social zest; but childbearing had cramped her style of late, her rough-booted husband John was interested only in hunting, and her father-in-law was too deaf and scholarly to care who came and went in his front rooms. In Werry House, the largest and most disreputable, Sir Hugh Bodrugan sprawled and belched like a lecherous volcano while Constance, Lady Bodrugan, his stepmother, who was young enough to be his daughter, bred dogs and fed dogs and talked dogs most of her waking hours.
On the other and western side of the triangle Place House, an unbecoming Palladian residence put up in the early years of the, century, was occupied by Sir John Trevaunance, a widowed and childless baronet; and Killewarren, which was not much more than a glorified farmhouse, by Mr. Ray Penvenen, who was richer and even more cautious than his neighbour, To the two houses in between, one actually on the coast, the other near it, it would have come natural to look for more enterprise, not only because they were where they were but because each was occupied by a young married couple of whom social occasions might have been expected. Unfortunately, neither household had any money,
Between Sawle and St. Ann's, on high ground but protected by trees, Trenwith House, Elizabethan and mellow and beautiful, was occupied by Francis Poldark and his wife Elizabeth and their son, who was nearly eight years old, and Francis's, great-aunt, Agatha, who was so old, that everyone had forgot ten to count. Three miles to the east was the, sixth and smallest of the houses, Nampara, Georgian and utilitarian and never properly completed but not without a certain iny dividluality and charm, which was characteristic too perhaps of its owners. Ross Poldark lived here and his wife Demelza; and their son Jeremy had just passed his first birthday.
So of the six houses, the first two were preoccupied with dogs and babies; the second two had the means to entertain but not the will; the last two the will only. Therefore some surprise and speculation were caused when, in May 1702, five of the households received an invitation from the owner of the sixthh to a supper party on the twenty-fourth of the month Sir John Trevaunance wrote that he was taking the opportunity while his sister was staying with him and while his brother Unwin, a Member of Parliament for for Bodmin, also was down.
This seemed such a poor reason for breaking with the habit of years that everyone cast about for a stronger motive. Demelza Poldark at least had no difficulty in finding one, When the letter was delivered, Ross was up at the mine; the new mine where he spent nearly all his time nowadays, and Demelza waited impatiently for his retana.
As she laid things for the light meal they would have, supper was not until eight - Demelzu. wondered what the outcome would be of this latest and probably last gamble. Wheal Leisure, the mine on the cliff, which Ross had started in company with six other venturers inn '87, continued toprosper; but last year he had sold half his holding inn, it and had, sunk the money in this much more speculative enterprise.
The result so far had been failure. The fine new pumping engine, designed by two young engineers from Redruth, had been set up and all the claims made out for it had been confirmed. But the thirty-fathom level, which was as deep as the old men. had gone, offered nothing but worked-out gunnies; and the new forty and fifty-fathom levels they were driving to strike the lodes again had been most unproductive, yielding poor stuff where there was any yield at all. The engine might work with the greatest possible efficiency; it still used coal; and while things stayed as they were, every day brought nearer the day when silence would fall on the valley and the engine begin to rust.
As she glanced up through the windows she saw Ross coming across the garden in company with his cousin and partner Francis. They were talking attentively, but Dernelza could see that it was over no sudden discovery. Often she watched Ross's face as he came in.
She picked, up Jeremy, who in his efforts to walk was threatening to pull the cloth off the table, and with him in her arms went to the front door to meet them. The wind billowed the skirt of her green-striped dimity frock.
When they were near enough, Francis said
`Demelza, you never grow up; you look seventeen. I hadn't intended to
come today, but damn it, I feel revived for the air; I think tea with you might complete the cure.'
She said: `Is this your first time out of doors? I hope you haven't been down the mine.'