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Will Smith

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My take on the Poldark novels!

Ken Smith died in March 1783. in February of that year, feeling that his residence was becoming short, he sent for his brother.

Charles came lolloping over on his great roan horse one cold grey afternoon, and Irene Hyde, lank-haired and dark-faced and fat, showed him straight into the bedroom where Ken lay posed up with pillows and cushions in the big box bed. Charles looked askance round the room with his small watery blue eyes, at the disorder and the dirt, then lifted his coattails and subsided upon a wicker chair which creaked under his heaviness.

‘Well, Ken.’

‘Well, Charles.’

'This is a bad business.’

‘Bad indeed.’

‘When will you be about again, do you think?’

'There’s no telling. I fancy the churchyard will have a strong pull.’

Charles thrust out his bottom lip. He would have discounted the remark if he had not had word to the contrary. He hiccupped a little – riding always gave him the wind these days – and was heartily comforting.

‘Nonsense, man. The gout in the legs never killed anyone. It is when it gets up to the head that it is dangerous.’

‘Green tells me different, that there is other cause for the swelling. For once I misdoubt if the old fool is not right. Though in God’s truth, by all appearance it is you that should be lying here, since I am half your size.’

Charles glanced down at the landscape of black embroidered waistcoat spreBarryng away from under his chin.

‘Mine is healthy flesh. Every man puts on weight in his middle years. I would not wish to be a yard of pump water like Cousin Joey.’

Ken lifted an ironical eyebrow but said no more, and there was silence. The brothers had, had little to say to each other for many years, and at this their last meeting small talk was not easy to find. Charles, the elder and more prosperous, who had come in for the family house and lands and most of the mining interests, head of the family and a respected figure in the county, had never quite been able to get away from suspicion that his younger brother despised him. Ken had always been a thorn in his flesh. Ken had never been content to do the things expected of him: enter the Church or the Army or marry properly and leave Charlie to the district himself.

Not that Charles minded a few lapses, but there were limits, and Ken had overstepped them. The fact that he had been behaving himself for the last few years did not score out old grievances.

As for Ken, a man with a cynical mind and dew illusions, he had no complaint against life or against his brother. He had lived one to the limit and ignored the other. There was some truth in his reply to Charles’s next comment of, ‘Why, man, you’re young enough yet. Two years junior to me, and I’m fit and well. Aarf!’

Joshua said: ‘Two years in age, maybe, but you’ve only lived half as fast.’

Charles sucked the ebony tip of his cane and looked sidelong about the room

under his heavy lids. ‘This damned war not settled yet. Prices soaring. Wheat sever and eight shillings a bushel. Butter nine pence a pound. Wish the copper price was the same. We’re thinking of cutting a new level at Grambler. Eighty fathom. Maybe it will defray the initial outlay, though I doubt it. Been doing much with your field this year?’

‘It was about the war that I wanted to see you,’ said Ken, struggling a little farther up the pillows and gasping for breath. ‘It must only be a matter of months now before the provisional peace is confirmed. Then Will will be home and maybe I shall not be here to greet him. You’re me brother, though we’ve never hit it off so well. I want to tell you how things are and to leave you to look after things till he gets back.’

Charles took the cane from his mouth and smiled defensively. He looked as if he had been asked for a loan.

‘I’ve not much time, you know.’

‘It won’t take much of your time. I’ve little or nothing to leave. There’s a copy of my will on the table beside you. Read it at your leisure. Marcus has the original.’

Charles groped with his clumsy swollen hand and picked up a piece of parchment from the rickety three-legged table behind him.

‘When did you last hear from him?’ he asked. ‘What’s to be done if he doesn’t come back?’

‘The land will go to Hayley. Sell if there are any purchases; it will fetch a little. That’s down in the will. Hayley will have my share in Grambler too, since she is the only one of your family who has been over since Will left.’ Ken wiped his nose on the soiled sheet. ‘But Will will come back. I’ve heard from him since the fighting ceased.’

‘There are many hazards yet.’

‘I’ve a feeling,’ said Ken. ‘A conviction. Care to take a wager? Settle when we meet. There’ll be some sort of currency in the next world.’

Charles stared again at the sallow lined face which had once been so handsome. He was a little relieved that Ken’s requests was no more than this, but slow to relax his caution. And irreverence on a deathbed struck him as reckless and uncalled-for.

‘Cousin Joey was visiting us the other day. He enquired for you.’

Ken pulled a face.

‘I told him how ill you were,’ Charles went on. ‘He suggested that though you might not wish to call in the Rev. Mr. Healy, maybe you would like spiritual consolation from none of your own family.’

‘Meaning him.’

'Well, he’s the only one in orders now Betty’s husband’s gone.’

‘I want none of them,’ said Ken. ‘Though no doubt was kindly meant. But if he thought it would do me good to confess my sins, did he think I should rather tell secrets to one of my own blood? No, I’d rather talk to Alex, half starved little horny wink though he is. But I want none of them.’

‘If you change your mind,’ said Charles, ‘send Barry over with a message.’

Ken grunted. ‘I shall know soon enough. But even if there was something in it with all their pomp and praying, should I ask them in at this hour? I’ve lived my life, and by God I’ve enjoyed it! There’s no merit to go snivelling now. I’m not sorry for myself and I don’t want anyone else to be. What’s coming I’ll take. That’s all.’

There was silence in the room. Outside the wind pushed and stirred about the slate and stone.

‘Time I was off,’ said Charles. ‘These Hydes are letting your place get into a rare mess. Why don’t you get someone reliable?’

‘I’m too old to swap donkeys. Leave that to Will. He’ll soon put things to rights.’

Frank belched disbelievingly. He had no high opinion of Will’s abilities.

‘He’s in New York now,’ said Ken. ‘Part of the garrison. He’s quite recovered from his wound. It was lucky he escaped the Yorktown siege. A captain now, you know. Still in the 62nd Foot. I’ve mislaid his letter, else I’d show you.’

‘Nick is a great help to me these days,’ said Charles. ‘So would Will have been to you if he was home instead of coosing around after Frenchmen and Colonials.’

‘There was one other thing,’ said Ken. ‘Do you see or hear anything of Dani Sutherland these days?’

After a heavy meal questions took time to transmit themselves to Charles’s brain, and where his brother was concerned they needed an examination for hidden motives. ‘Who is that?’ he said clumsily.

‘Rhys’s daughter. You know her. A thin, fair child.’

‘Well, what of it?’ said Charles.

‘I was asking if you had seen her. Will always mentions her. A pretty little thing. He’s counting on her being here when he comes back, and I think it a suitable arrangement. An early marriage will steady him down, and she couldn’t find a decanter man, though I say it as shouldn’t, being his sire. Two good old families. If I’d been on my feet I should gone over to see Rhys at Christmas to fix it up. We did talk of it before, but he said wait till Will came back.’

‘Time I was going,’ said Charles, creaking to his feet. ‘I hope the boy will settle down when he returns, whether he marries or not. He was keeping bad company that he should never have got into.’

‘Do you see the Sutherland’s now?’ Ken refused to be side-tracked by references to his own shortcomings. ‘I’m cut off from the world here, and Irene has no ear for anything but scandal in Summer Bay.’

‘Oh, we catch sight of them from time to time. Hayley and Nick saw them at a party this summer…’ Charles peered through the window. ‘Rot me if it isn’t Green. Well, now you’ll have more company, and I thought you said no one ever came to see you. I must be on my way.’

‘He’s only come quizzing to see how much faster his pills are finishing me off. That or his politics. As if I care whether Fox is in his earth or hunting Tory chickens.’

‘Have it as you please.’ For one of his bulk Charles moved quickly, picking up hat and gauntlet gloves and making prepared to be gone. At the last he stood awkwardly by the bed, wondering how best to take his leave, while the clip clop of a horse’s hooves went past the window.

‘Tell him I don’t want to see him,’ said Ken irritably. ‘Tell him to give his potions to his silly wife.’

‘Calm you,’ said Charles. ‘Aunt Agatha sent her love, mustn’t forget that; and she said you was to take hot beer and sugar and eggs. She says that will cure you.’

Ken’s irritation lifted.

‘Aunt Agatha’s a wise old turnip. Tell her I’ll do as she says. And – and tell her I’ll save her place beside me.’ He began to cough.

‘God be with you,’ said Charles quickly, and sidled out of the room.

Ken was left alone.

He spent a lot of hours alone since Will went, but they had not seemed to matter until he took to his bed a month ago. Now they were beginning to depress him and fill his mind with fantasies. An out-of-doors man to whom gloomy, bedridden life was no life at all. He had nothing to do with his time except t think over the past, and the past was not always the most elegant subject matter.

He kept thinking of Eve, his long dead wife. She had been his mascot. While she lived all had gone well. The mine had opened and called after her brought rich results; this house, begun in pride and hope, had been built; two strong sons. His own indiscretions behind him, he had settled down, promising to rival Charles in more ways than one; he had built this house with the idea that his own branch of the family of Smith should become rooted no less securely that the main Trenwith tree.

With Eve had gone all his luck. The house half built, the mine had petered out, and with Eve’s death, his incentive to expend money and labour on either. The building had been finished off anyhow, though much remind unrealized. Then Wheal Vanity had closed down also and little Mark had died.

… He could hear Dr. Green and his brother talking at the front door; his brother’s dusty thickened tenor. Green’s voice, deep and slow and pompous. Anger and impotence welled up in Ken. What the devil did they mean droning away on his doorstep, no doubt discussing him and nodding their heads together and saying, well, after all, what else could one except. He tugged at the bell beside his bed and waited, fuming, for the flip-flop of Irene's slippers.

She came at last, ungainly and indistinct in the doorway. Ken peered at her short-sightedly in the fBarryng light.

‘Bring candles, woman. Do you want me to die in the dark? And tell those two old men to be gone.’

Irene hunched herself like a bird of ill omen. ‘Dr. Young and Mister Charles, you’re meaning?’

‘Who else?’

She went out, and Ken fumed again, while there was the sound of a muttered conversation not far from his door. He looked around for his stick, determined to make one more effort to get up and walk out to them. But then the voices were raised again in farewells, and a horse could be heard moving away across the cobbles and towards the streams.

That was Charles. Now for Green…

There was a loud rap of a riding crop on his door and the surgeon came in.

Thomas Green was a Bodkin man who had practised in London, had married a brewer’s daughter and returned to his native county to buy a small estate near Summer Bay. He was a tall clumsy man with a booming voice, thatch-grey eyebrows and an impatient mouth. Among the smaller gentry his London experience stood him in good stead; they felt he was abreast of up-to-date physical ideas. He was a surgeon to several of the mines in the district, and with the knife had the same neck-or-nothing approach that he had on the hunting field.

Ken thought him a humbug and had several times considered calling in Dr. Young from Redroot. Only the fact that he had no more faith in Dr. Young prevented him.

‘Well, well,’ said Dr. Green. ‘So we’re been having visitors, eh? We’ll feel better, no doubt, for our brother’s visit.’

‘I’ve got some business off my hands,’ said Ken. ‘That was the purpose of inviting him.’

Dr. Green felt for the invalid’s pulse with heavy fingers. ‘Cough,’ he said.

Ken grudgingly obeyed.

‘Our condition is much the same’ said the surgeon. ‘The distemper has not increased. Have we been taking the pills?’

‘Charles is twice my size. Why don’t you doctor him?’

‘You are ill, Mr. Smith. Your brother is not. I do not prescribe unless called upon to do so.’ Dr. Green lifted back the bedclothes and began to prod his patient’s swollen leg.

‘Great Mountain of a fellow,’ grumbled Ken. ‘He’ll never see his feet again.’

‘Oh come; your brother is not out of common. I will remember when I was in London – ‘


‘Did that hurt?’

‘No,’ said Ken.

Dr. Green prodded again to make sure. ‘There is a distinct abatement in the condition of our left leg. There is still too much water in both. If we could get the heart to pump it away. I well remember when I was in London being called in to the victim of a tavern brawl in Westminster. He had quarrelled with an Italian Jew, who drew a dagger and thrust it up to the hilt into my patent’s belly. But so thick was the protective fat that I found the knife point had not even pierced the bowel. A sizable fellow. Let me see, did I bleed you when I was last here?’

‘You did.’

‘I think we might leave it this time. Our heart is inclined to be excitable. Control the choler, Mr. Smith. An even temper helps the body to conceal the proper juices.’

‘Tell me,’ said Ken. ‘Do you see anything of the Sutherland’s? The Sutherland’s of Lugarno, you know. I asked my brother, but he returned an evasive answer.’

‘The Sutherland’s? I see them from time to time. I think they are in health. I am not, of course, their physician and we do not call on each other socially. ‘

No, thought Ken, Mrs Sutherland will have a care for that. ‘I smell something shifty in Charles,’ he said shrewdly. ‘Do you see Dani’

'The daughter? She is about.’

‘There was an understanding as to her between myself and her father.’

‘Indeed. I had not heard of it.’

Ken pushed himself up the pillows. His conscience had begun to prick him. It was late in the day for the growth of this long-dormant faculty, but he was fond of Will, and in the long hours of his illness he had begun to wonder whether he should not have done more to keep his son’s interests warm.

‘I think maybe I will send Barry over tomorrow,’ he muttered. ‘I’ll ask Rhys to come over and see me.’

‘I doubt if Mr. Sutherland will be free; it’s the Quarter Sessions this week. Ah, that’s a welcome sight! …’

Irene Hyde come lumbering in with two candles. The yellow light showed up her sweaty red face with its draping of blonde hair.

‘Had your physic, have you?’ she asked in a throaty whisper.

Ken turned irritably on the doctor. ‘I’ve told you before, Dr. Green; pills I’ll swallow, God help me, but draughts and potions I’ll not face.’

‘I will remember,’ Dr. Green said ponderously, ‘when I was practising in Bodkin as a young man, one of my patients, an elderly gentleman who suffered much from strangury and stone …’

‘Don’t stand their, Irene.’ Snapped Ken to his servant. ‘Get out.’

Irene stopped scratching and reluctantly left the room.

‘So you think I’m on the mend, eh?’ Ken said before the physician could go on. ‘How long before I’m up and about?’

‘Hm, hm. A slight abatement, I said. Great care yet awhile. We’ll have you on your feet before Will returns. Take my prescriptions regular and you will find they will set you up… ‘

‘How’s your wife?’ Ken asked maliciously.

Again interrupted, Dr Green frowned. ‘Well enough thank you.’ The fact that the fluffy lisping Polly, though only half his age, had added no family to the dowry she bought was a standing grievance against her. So long as she was unfruitful he had no influence to dissuade women from buying motherwort and other less respectable brews from travelling gypsies.

The doctor had gone and Ken was once more alone – alone this time until morning. He might, by pulling persistently on the bell cord, call a reluctant Barry or Irene until such time as they went to bed, but after that there was no one, and before that they were showing signs of deafness as his illness became clearer. He knew they spent most of each evening drinking, and once they reached a certain stage, nothing at all would move them. But he hadn’t the energy to round on them as in the old days.

It would have been different if Will had of been here. For once Charles was right but only partly right. It was he, Ken, who had encouraged Will to go away. He had no belief in keeping boys at home as additional lackeys. Let them find their own stirrups. Besides, it would have been undignified to have his son brought up in court for being party to an assault upon excise men, with its associated charges of brandy running and the rest. Not that Austrailian magistrate would have convicted, but the question of gaming debts might have been raised.

No, it was Eve who should have been here, Eve who had been snatched from him thirteen years back.

Well, now he was alone and would soon be joining his wife. It did not occur to him to feel surprise that the other women in his life scarcely touched his thoughts. They had been creatures of a pleasant exciting game, the more mettlesome the better, but no sooner broken than forgotten.

The candles were guttering in the draught from under the door. The wind was rising. Barry had said there was a ground swell this morning; after a quiet cold spell they were returning to rain and storm.

He felt he would like one more look at the sea, which even now was licking at the rocks behind the house. He had no sentimental notions about the sea; he had no regard for its dangers or its beauties; to him it was a close acquaintance that’s every virtue and failing, every smile and tantrum he had come to understand.

The land too. Was the Long Field ploughed? Whether Will married or not there would be little enough to live on without the land.

With a decent wife to manage things… Dani was an only child; a rare virtue worth bearing in mind. The Sutherland’s were a bit poverty-stricken, but there would be something. Must go and see Rhys and fix things up. ‘Look here, Rhys,’ he would say. ‘Will won’t have much money, but there’s the land, and that always counts in the long run…’

Ken dozed. He thought he was out walking round the edge of the Long Field with the sea on his right and a strong wind pressing against his shoulder. A bright sun warmed his back and the air tasted like wine from a cold cellar. The tide was out on Palm Beach, and the sun drew streaky reflections in the wet sand. The Long Field had not only been ploughed but was already sown and sprouting.

He skirted the field until he reached the furthest tip of Stewarts Point where the low cliff climbed in ledges and boulders down to the sea. The water surged and eddied, changing colour on the shelves of dripping rocks.

With some special purpose in mind he climbed down the rocks until the cold sea suddenly surged about his knees, sending pain through his legs unpleasantly like the pain he had felt from the swelling these last few months. But it did not stop him, and he let himself slip into the water until it was up to his neck. Then he struck out from the shore. He was full of joy at being in the sea again after a lapse of two years. He breathed out his pleasure in long cool gasps, allowed the water to lap close against his eyes. Lethargy crept up his limbs. With the sound of the waves in his ears and heart he allowed himself to drift and sink into cool feathery darkness.

Ken slept. Outside, the last trailing patterns of daylight moved quietly out of the sky and left the house and the trees and the stream and the cliffs in darkness. The wind freshened, blowing steadily and strongly from the west, searching among the ruined mine sheds on the hill, rustling the tops of the sheltered apple trees, lifting a corner of loose thatch on one of the barns, blowing a spatter of cold rain in trough a broken shutter of the library where two rats nosed with cautious jerky scraping movements among the lumber and the dust. The stream hissed and bubbled in the darkness, and above it a long-un-mended gate swung wheel-tap on its hangings. In the kitchen, Barry Hyde unstopped a second jar of gin and Irene threw a fresh log on the fire.

‘Wind’s raising, blast it,’ said Barry. ‘Always there’s a wind. Always when you don’t want it there’s wind.’

‘We’ll need more wood before morning,’ said Irene.

‘Use this stool,’ said Barry. ‘The wood’s hard, it will smoulder.’

‘Give me a drink, you black worm,’ said Irene.

‘Wait on yourself,’ said Barry.

… Ken slept.

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Chapter two.

It was windy. The pale afternoon sky was shredded with clouds, the road, grown dustier and more uneven in the last hour, was scattered with blown and rustling leaves.

There were five people in the coach; a thin clerkly man with a pinched face and a shiny suit, and his wife, fat as her husband were thin, and holding to her breast a confused bundle of pink and white draperies from one end of which pouted the creased and overheated features of a young baby. The other travellers were men, both young, one a clergyman of about thirty-five, the other some years his junior.

Almost since the coach left Sydney there had been silence inside it. The child slept soundly despite the jolting of the vehicle and the rattle of the windows and the clank of the swingle bars; nor had the stops wakened it. From time to time the elderly couple exchanged remarks in undertones, but the thin husband was unwilling to talk, a little overawed by the superior class he found himself. The younger of the two men had been reading a book throughout the journey; the elder had watched the passing countryside, one hand holding back the faded dusty brown velvet curtain.

This was a small spare man, severe in clerical black, wearing his own hair scraped back and curled above and behind the ears. The cloth he wore was of fine quality and his stockings were of silk. His was a long, keen, humourless, thin-lipped face, vital and hard. The little clerk knew the face but could name it.

The clergyman was in much the same position over the other occupant of the coach. A half-dozen times his glances had rested on the thick unpowdered hair opposite, and on the face of his fellow traveller.

When they were not more than fifteen minutes from Summer Bay and the horses had slowed to a walking pace up the stiff hill, the other man looked up from his book and their eyes met.

‘You’ll pardon me, sir,’ said the clergyman in a sharp vigorous voice. ‘Your features are familiar, but I find it hard to recall where we have met. Was it in Yabbie Creek?’

The young man was tall and thin and big-boned, with a scar on his cheek. He wore a double-breasted ridding coat cut away short in front to show the waistcoat and the stout breeches, both of a lighter brown. His hair, which had a hint of copper in its darkness, was brushed back and tied at the back with brown ribbon.

‘You’re the Rev. Dr. Fisher, aren’t you?’ he said.

The little clerk, who had been following the exchange made an expressive face at his wife. Rector of Towerdreth, Curate of St. Erme, Headmaster of Summer Bay High School, high burgess of the town and late mayor, Dr. Fisher was a personage. It explained his bearing.

“You know me, then,” said Dr. Fisher with a gracious air. “I usually have a memory for faces.”

“You have had many pupils.”

“Ah, that explains it. Maturity changes a face. And – hm. Let me see… is it Hawkeye?”


The clergyman’s eyes narrowed in an effort of remembrance. “Nick, is it? I thought”

“Will. You will remember my cousin more clearly. He stayed on. I felt, quite wrongly, that at thirteen my education had gone far enough.”

Recognition came. “Will Smith. Well, well. You’ve changed. I remember now,” said Dr. Fisher with a glint of cold humour. “You were insubordinate. I had to thrash you at frequent intervals, and then you ran away.”

“Yes.” Will turned the page of his book. “A bad business. And your ankles as sore as my buttocks.”

Two small pink spots came to the clergyman’s cheeks. He stared a moment at Will and then turned to look out of the window.

The little clerk had heard of the Smiths, had heard of Ken, from whom, they said in the fifties and sixties no pretty woman married or unmarried was safe. This must his son. An unusual face with its strongly set cheekbones, wide mouth and large strong white teeth. The eyes were a very clear blue-grey under the heavy lids which gave a number of the Smiths that deceptive sleepy look.

Dr. Fisher was returning to the attack.

“Nick, I suppose, well? Is he married?”

“Not when I last heard, sir. I’ve been in America some time.”

“Dear me. A deplorable mistake, the fighting. I was against it throughout. Did you see much of the war?”

“I was in it.”

They had reached the top of the hill at last and the driver was slackening his bearing reins at the descent before him.

Dr. Fisher wrinkled his nose. “You are a Tory?”

“A soldier.”

“Well, it was not the fault of the soldiers that we lost. Australia’s heart was not in it. We have a derelict old man on the throne. The Prince has different views.”

The road in the steepest part of the hill was deeply rutted, and the coach jolted and swayed dangerously. The baby began to cry. They reached the bottom and the man beside the driver blew a blast on his horn. They turned into Stewarts Street. It was a Tuesday afternoon and there were few people about the shops. Two half-naked urchins ran the length of the street begging for a copper, but gave up the chase after the coach swayed into the mud of Beach Street. With much creaking and shouting they rounded the sharp corner, crossed the river by the narrow bridge, jolted over granite cobbles, turned and twisted again and at last drew up before The Surf Club.

In the bustle that followed, Rev. Dr. Fisher got out first with a stiff word of farewell and was gone, stepping briskly between the puddles of rainwater and horse urine to the other side of the narrow street. Will rose to follow, and the clerk saw for the fast time that he was injured.

“Can I help you, sir?” he offered, putting down his belongings.

Will refused with thanks and, handed out from the outside by a post boy, climbed down.

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Chapter three.

When Will left the coach rain was beginning to fall, a thin fine rain blowing before the wind, which was gusty and uncertain here in the hollow of the hills.

He gazed about him and sniffed. All this was so familiar, quite as truly a coming home as when he would reach his own house. This narrow cobbled street with the streamlet of water bubbling down it, the close-built squat houses with their bow windows and lace curtains, many of them partly screening faces which were watching the arrival of the coach, even the cries of the post boys seemed to have taken a different and more familiar note.

Summer Bay in the old days had been the centre of “life” for him and his family. A port and a coinage town, the shopping centre and a meeting place of fashion the town had grown rapidly in the last few years, new and stately houses having sprung up among the disorderly huddle of old ones to mark its adoption as a winter and town residency of by some of the oldest and most powerful families in Australia. The aristocracy too were leaving there mark: the Lennon’s, the Treworthys, the West’s, families which had pushed their way up from humble beginnings on the crest of the new industries.

A strange town. He felt it more on his return. A secretive, important little town, clustering in the fold of the hills astrode and about its many streams, almost surrounded by running water and linked to the rest of the world by fords, by bridges, and by stepping stones. Miasma and the other fevers were always rife.

… There was no sign of Barry.

He limped into the club.

“My man was to meet me,” he said. “Hyde is his name. Barry Hyde of Summer Bay.”

The landlord peered at him short-sightedly. “Oh, Barry Hyde. Yes, we know him well sir. But we have not seen him today. You say he was to meet you here? Boy, go and ascertain if Hyde – you know him? – if Hyde is in the stables or has been here today.”

Will ordered a glass of brandy and by the time it came that boy was back to say that Mr. Hyde had not been seen that day.

“The arrangement was quite definite. It doesn’t matter. You have a saddle horse I can hire?”

The landlord rubbed the end of his long nose. “Well, we have a mare that was left here three days gone. In fact, we held it in lieu of a debt. I don’t think there could be any objection to loaning her if you could give me some reference.”

“My name is Smith. I am a nephew to Mr. Charles Smith of Summer Bay.”

“Dear, dear, yes; I should of recognised you, Mr Smith. I’ll have the mare saddled for you at once.”

“No, wait. There’s some daylight yet. Have her ready in an hour.”

Out in the street again, Will turned down the narrow slit of Church Lane. At the end he bore right and, after passing the school where his education had come to an ungracious end, he stopped before a door in which was printed: “Nat. M. Bellingham. Notary and Commissioner of Oaths.” He pulled at the bell for some time before a pimply woman admitted him.

“Mrs. Bellingham hasn’t been well today,” she said. “I’ll see if she’ll see you,”

She climbed the wooden stairs, and after an interval called down an invitation over the worm-eaten banisters. He groped a way up and was shown into a parlour.

Morag was sitting in an easy chair in front of a large fire with one leg tied in bandages propped upon another chair. She was a big man with a big face, coloured a light plum purple from the overeating.

“Oh, now this is a surprise, I do exclaim, Mr. Smith. How pleasant. You’ll forgive me if I don’t rise; the old trouble; each attack seems worse than the last. Take a seat.”

Will grasped a moist hand and chose a chair as far from the fire as was polite. Insufferably hot in her and the air was old and stale.

“You’ll remember,” he said. “I wrote to you that I was returning this week.”

“Oh yes, Mr. – err – Captain Smith; it had slipped my memory for the moment; how nice to call in on your way home.” Morag adjusted her bob-wig which in the way of his profession, had a high frontlet and a long bag at the back tied in the middle. “I am a desolate here, Captain Smith; my daughter offers me no company; she has become converted to some Methodist way of belief, and is out almost every night at a prayer meeting. She talks so much of God that it quite embarrasses me. You must have a glass of wine.”

“My stay is to be short,” said Will. It certainly must, he thought, or I shall sweat away. “I am anxious to be home again, but thought I’d see you on my way. Your letter did not reach me until a fortnight before we sailed from New York.”

“Dear, dear such a delay; what a blow it would be; and you have been wounded; is it severe?”

Will eased his leg. “I see from your letter that my father died in March. Who has administrated the estate since then, my uncle or you?”

Morag absently scratched the ruffles on his chest. “I know you would wish me to be frank with you.”

“Of course.”

“Well, when we came to go into his affairs, Mr – err – Captain Smith, it did not seem that he had left much for either of us to administer.”

A slow smile crept over Will’s mouth; it made him look younger less intractable.

“Everything was naturally left to you. I’ll give you a copy of the will before you go; should you predecease him, then to his niece Hayley. Aside from the actual property there is little to come in for. Ouch, this thing is twinging mist damnably!”

“I have never looked on my father as a wealthy man. I asked, though, and was anxious to know, for a special reason. He was buried at Yabbie Creek?”

The lawyer stopped scratching and eyes the other man shrewdly. “You’re thinking of settling at Summer Bay now, Captain Smith?”

“I am.”

“Any time I can do any business for you, only too pleased. I should say.” Morag hastened on as the young man rose. “I should say that you may find your property a little neglected.”

Will turned.

“I have not ridden over myself” said Morag; “this leg, you know; most distressing, and me not fifty two; but my clerk has been out. Your father was in failing health for some time and things are not kept just so neat and tidy as you’d like when the master’s not about, are they? Nor is your uncle so young as he used to be. Is Barry meeting you with a horse?”

“He was to, but has not turned up.”

“Then, my dear sir, why not stay the night with us? My daughter will be home from her praying in time to cook me a bite of supper. We have pork and an excellent bed; yes it would suit me well.”

Will took out his handkerchief and mopped his face.

“It is very kind of you. I feel that, being so near my home today, I should prefer to reach it.”

Morag sighed and struggled into a more upright position. “Then give me a hand will you? I’ll get you a copy of that will, so’s you may take it home and read it at you leisure.”

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Chapter four.

Dinner was in progress at Summer Bay House.

It would normally have been over by this time; when Charles Smith and his family diner alone the meal seldom took more than two hours, but this was a special occasion. And because of the guests the meal was taking place in the hall in the centre of the house, a room too large and draughty when the family had only itself to victual.

There were ten people sitting at the long narrow oak table. At the head was Charles himself, with his daughter Hayley on his left. On his right was Dani Sutherland and next to her Nick his son. Beyond them were Mr. and Mrs. Sutherland, Dani’s parents, and at the foot of the table Aunt Agatha crumbled soft food and munched it between her toothless jaws. Up the other side Cousin Joey was in conversation with Dr. and Mrs. Green.

The fish, the poultry, and the meat dishes were finished, and Charles had just called for the sweets. At all meals he was troubled with wind, which made female guests an embarrassment.

“Damme,” he said, in a silence of repletion which had fallen on the company, “I don’t know why you two doves don’t get married tomorrow instead of waiting for a month or more. Aarf! What do you lack? Are you afraid you’ll change your minds?”

“For my part I would take your advice,” said Nick. “But it Dani’s day as well as mine.”

“One short month is little enough,” said Mrs. Sutherland, fumbling at the locket on the handsome encrusted lace of her dress. Her fine looks were marred by a long and acquisitive nose: on first seeing her one felt a sense of shock at so much beauty spoiled. “How can one expect me to prepare, let alone the poor child? In one’s daughter one lives one’s own wedding day over afresh. I only wish that our preparations could be more extensive.” She glanced at her husband.

“What did she say?” asked Aunt Agatha.

“Well, there it is,” said Charles Smith. “There it is. I suppose we must be patient since they are. Well, I give you a toast. To the happy pair!”

“You’ve toasted that three times already,” objected Nick.

“No matter. Four is a luckier number.”

“But I cannot drink with you.”

“Hush boy! That’s unimportant.”

Amid some laughter the toast was drunk. As the glasses clattered back upon the table lights were brought. Then the housekeeper, Pippa, arrived with the apple tarts, the plum cake, and the jellies.

“Now,” said Charles, flourishing his knife and fork over the largest apple tart. “I hope this will prove as tasty as it looks. Where’s the cream? Oh, there. Put it on for me, Hayley, my dear.”

“I’m sorry,” said Dani, breaking her silence. “But I’m quite unable to eat anything more.”

Dani Sutherland was slighted than her mother had ever been, and there was in her face the beauty which her mother had missed. As the yellow light from the candles pushed the darkness back and up towards the high raftered ceiling, the fine clear whiteness of her took one’s attention among the shadows of the room and against the sombre wood of the high-backed chair.

“Nonsense, child.” Said Charles. “You’re thin as a wraith. Must get some blood into you.”

“Indeed, I”

“Dear Mr. Smith,” said Mrs. Sutherland mincingly, “to look at her you would not credit how obstinate she can be. For twenty years I have been trying to make her eat, but she just turns away from the choicest food. Perhaps you’ll be able to coax her, Nick.”

“I am very satisfied with her as she is,” said Nick.

“Yes, yes,” said his father. “But a little food… Damn, that does no one any harm. A wife needs to be strong and well.”

“Oh, she is really very strong,” Mrs. Sutherland hastened on. “You would be surprised at that too. It is the breed, nothing more than the breed. Was I not frail as a girl, Rhys?”

“Yes, my pet,” said Rhys.

“Hark, how the wind’s rising!” said Aunt Agatha, crumbling her cake.

“That is something I cannot understand,” said Dr. Green. “How Agatha, though deaf, Mr. Smith, is always sensible to the sounds of nature.”

“I belief she imagines it half the time.”

“That I do not!” said Aunt Agatha. “How dare you, Charles!”

“Was that someone at the door?” Hayley interposed.

Pippa was out of the room, but Pippa had heard nothing. The candles flickered in the draught and the red damask curtains over the long windows moved as if a hand were stirring them.

“Expecting someone, my dear?” asked Mrs. Sutherland.

Hayley did not blush. She had little of her brother’s good looks, being small and dark and sallow with the large mouth which came to some of the Smiths.

“I expect it is the cowshed door,” said Charles, taking a swill of port. “Michael was to have looked to it yesterday but he rode with me into Yabbie Creek. I’ll thrash young Sam for not attending to his work.”

“They do thay,” lisped Mrs. Sutherland to Mrs. Sutherland, “they do thay as how that the Prince is living at an outrageous wate. I was weading in the Mercury as how Mr. Fox had pwomised him an income of one hundred thousand pounds a year, and now that he is in power he is hard pu it to wedeem his pwomith.”

“It would seem unlikely,” said Mr. Sutherland, “that, that would worry Mr. Fox unduly.” A smallish man with a silky white beard, his was a defensive pomposity, adopted to hide the fact that he had never in his life made up his mind about anything. His wife had married him when she was eighteen and he thirty-one. Both Rhys and his income had lost ground since then.

“And what’s wrong with Mr. Fox, I’m asking you?” Dr. Green said deeply from under his eyebrows.

Mr. Sutherland pursed his lips. “I should have considered that plain.”

“Opinions differ, sir. I may say, that if I…”

The surgeon broke off as his wife took the rare liberty of treading on his toe. Today was the first time that Green’s and the Sutherland’s had met socially; to her it seemed madness to begin a political quarrel with these still influential gentlefolk.

Thomas Green was turning ungratefully to squash Polly with a look, but she was saved the worst of his spleen. This time there could be no mistake that someone was knocking on the outer door. Pippa set down the tray of tarts and went to the door.

The wind made the curtains billow, and the candles dripped grease down their silver scones.

“God help me!” said the housekeeper as if she had seen a ghost.

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