Read The King's General Online

Authors: Daphne Du Maurier

The King's General

 

 

The King's General

 

 

 

Daphne Du Maurier

 

 

 

To My Husband.

Also a General, but, I trust, a more discreet one.

Menabilly,

May 5-July 19, 1945

 

1

 

 

September 1653.

 

The last of summer. The first chill winds of autumn. The sun no longer strikes my eastern window as I wake, but, turning laggard, does not top the hill before eight o'clock. A white mist hides the bay sometimes until noon and hangs about the marshes, too, leaving, when it lifts, a breath of cold air behind it. Because of this the long grass in the meadow never dries, but long past midday shimmers and glistens in the sun, the great drops of moisture hanging motionless upon the stems. I notice the tides more than I did once. They seem to make a pattern to the day. When the water drains from the marshes and little by little the yellow sands appear, rippling and hard and firm, it seems to my foolish fancy lying here that I, too, go seaward with the tide, and my old hidden dreams that I thought buried for all time lie bare and naked to the day, just as the shells and the stones do on the sands.

It is a strange, joyous feeling, this streak back to the past. Nothing is regretted, and I am happy and proud. The mist and cloud have gone, and the sun, high now and full of warmth, holds revel with my ebb tide. How blue and hard the sea as it curls westward from the bay, and the Blackhead, darkly purple, leans to the deep water like a sloping shoulder. Once again--and this I know is fancy--it seems to me the tide ebbs always in the middle of the day, when hope is highest and my mood is still.

Then, half consciously, I become aware of a shadow, of a sudden droop of the spirit.

The first clouds of evening are gathering beyond the Dodman. They cast long fingers on the sea. And the surge of the sea, once far off and faint, comes louder now, creeping towards the sands. The tide has turned. Gone are the white stones and the cowrie shells. The sands are covered. My dreams are buried. And as the darkness falls the flood tide sweeps over the marshes and the land is covered.... Then Matty will come in to light the candles and to stir the fire, making a bustle with her presence, and if I am short with her or do not answer, she looks at me with a shake of her head and reminds me that the fall of the year was always my bad time. My autumn melancholy. Even in the distant days, when I was young, the menace of it became an institution, and Matty, like a fierce clucking hen, would chase away the casual visitor. "Miss Honor can see nobody today."

My family soon learnt to understand and left me in peace. Though "peace" is an ill word to describe the moods of black despair that used to grip me. Ah well... they're over now. Those moods at least. Rebellion of the spirit against the chafing flesh, and the moments of real pain when I could not rest. Those were the battles of youth. And I am a rebel no longer. The middle years have me in thrall, and there is much to be said for them. Resignation brings its own reward.

The trouble is that I cannot read now as I used to do. At twenty-five, at thirty, books were my great consolation. Like a true scholar, I worked away at my Latin and Greek so that learning was part of my existence. Now it seems profitless. A cynic when I was young, I am in danger of becoming a worse one now I am old. So Robin says.

Poor Robin. God knows I must often make a poor companion. The years have not spared him either. He has aged much this year. Possibly his anxiety over me. I know they discuss the future, he and Matty, when they think I sleep. I can hear their voices droning in the parlour. But when he is with me he feigns his little air of cheerfulness, and my heart bleeds for him. My brother... Looking at him as he sits beside me, coldly critical as I always am towards the people I love, I note the pouches beneath his eyes and the way his hands tremble when he lights his pipe. Can it be that he was ever light of heart and passionate of mind? Did he really ride into battle with a hawk on his wrist, and was it only ten years ago that he led his men to Braddock Down, side by side with Bevil Grenvile, flaunting that scarlet standard with the three gold rests in the eyes of the enemy? Was this the man I saw once, in the moonlight, fighting his rival for a faithless woman?

Looking at him now, it seems a mockery. Poor Robin, with his greying locks shaggy on his shoulders. Yes, the agony of the war has left its mark on both of us. The war--and the Grenviles. Maybe Robin is bound to Gartred still, even as I am to Richard. We never speak of these things. Ours is the dull, drab life of day by day.

 

2

 

 

 

Looking back, there can be very few amongst our friends who have not suffered.

So many gone, so many penniless. I don't forget that Robin and I both live on charity.

If Jonathan Rashleigh had not given us this house we should have had no home, with Lanrest gone and Radford occupied. Jonathan looks very old and tired. It was that last grim year of imprisonment in St. Mawes that broke him, that and John's death. Mary looks much the same. It would take more than a civil war to break her quiet composure and her faith in God. Alice is still with them, and her children, but the feckless Peter never visits her.

I think of the time when we were all assembled in the long gallery, and Alice and Peter sang, and John and Joan held hands before the fire--they were all so young, such children. Even Gartred with her calculated malevolence could not have changed the atmosphere that evening. Then Richard, my Richard, broke the spell deliberately with one of his devastating cruel remarks, smiling as he did so, and the gaiety went, and the careless joy vanished from the evening. I hated him for doing it, yet understood the mood that prompted him.

Oh, God confound and damn these Grenviles, I thought afterwards, for harming everything they touch, for twisting happiness into pain with a mere inflection of the voice. Why were they made thus, he and Gartred, so that cruelty for its own sake was almost a vice to be indulged in, affording a sensuous delight? What evil genius presided at their cradle? Bevil had been so different. The flower of the flock, with his grave courtesy, his thoughtfulness, his rigid code of morality, his tenderness to his own and to other people's children. And his boys take after him. There is no vice in Jack or Bunny that I have ever seen. But Gartred... Those serpent's eyes beneath the red-gold hair; that hard, voluptuous mouth; how incredible it seemed to me, even in the early days when she was married to my brother Kit, that anyone could be deceived by her. Her power to charm was devastating. My father and my mother were jelly in her hands, and as for poor Kit, he was lost from the beginning, like Robin later. But I was never won, not for a moment.

Well, her beauty is marred now, and I suppose forever. She will carry that scar to the grave. A thin scarlet line from eye to mouth where the blade slashed her.

Rumour has it that she can still find lovers, and one of the Careys is her latest conquest, having come to live near by her at Bideford. I can well believe it. No neighbour would be safe from her if he had a charm of manner, and the Careys were always presentable.... I can even find it in my heart to forgive her, now that everything is over. The idea of her dallying with George Carey--she must be at least twenty years the elder--brings a flash of colour into a grey world. And what a world!

Long faces and worsted garments, bad harvests and sinking trade, everywhere men poorer than they were before, and the people miserable. The happy aftermath of war.

Spies of the Lord Protector (God, what an ironic designation!) in every town and village, and if a breath of protest against the state is heard the murmurer is borne straight away to jail. The Presbyterians hold the reins in their grasping hands, and the only men to benefit are upstarts like Dick Buller and Robert Bennett and our old enemy John Robartes, all of them out for what they can get and damn the common man. Manners are rough, courtesy a forgotten quality; we are each one of us suspicious of our neighbour. O brave new world!

The docile English may endure it for a while, but not we Cornish. They cannot take our independence from us, and in a year or so, when we have licked our wounds, we'll have another rising, and there'll be more blood spilt and more hearts broken.

But we shall still lack our leader.... Ah, Richard--my Richard--what evil spirit in you urged you to quarrel with all men, so that even the King now is your enemy? My heart aches for you in this last disgrace. I picture you sitting lonely and bitter at your window, gazing out across the dull, flat lands of Holland, and you put the final words to the Defence that you are writing and of which Bunny brought me a rough draft when he came to see me last.

"Oh, put not your trust in princes, nor in any child of man, for there is no help in them."

Bitter, hopeless words that will do no good and only breed further mischief.

Sir Richard Grenvile for his presuming loyalty must be by a public declaration defamed as a Banditto and his very loyalty understood a crime. However, seeing it must be so, let God be prayed to bless the King with faithful Councillors, and that none may be prevalent to be any way hurtful to him or to any of his relations. As for Sir Richard Grenvile, let him go with the reward of an old soldier of the King's. There is no present use for him.

When there shall be the Council will think on it, if not too late.

Vale. Resentful, proud, and bitter to the end. For this is the end. I know it and you know it too. There will be no recovery for you now; you have destroyed yourself forever.

Feared and hated by friend and foe.

The King's General in the West. The only man I love...

It was after the Scillies fell to the Parliament, and both Jack and Bunny were home for a while, having visited Holland and France, that they rode over from Stowe to see the Rashleighs at Menabilly and came down to Tywardreath to pay their respects to me. We talked of Richard, and almost immediately Jack said, "My uncle is greatly altered; you would hardly know him. He sits for hours in silence, looking out of the window of his dismal lodging watching the eternal rain--God, how it rains in Holland--and he has no wish for company. You remember how he used to quip and jest with us and with all youngsters? Now if he does speak it is to find fault, like a testy old man, and crab his visitor."

"The King will never make use of him again, and he knows it," said Bunny. "The quarrel with the Court has turned him sour. It was madness to fan the flame of his old enmity with Hyde."

Then Jack, with more perception, seeing my eyes, said quickly, "Uncle was always his own worst enemy; Honor knows that. He is damnably lonely, that's the truth of it. And the years ahead are blank."

We were all silent for a moment. My heart was aching for Richard, and the boys perceived it.

Presently Bunny said in a low tone, "My uncle never speaks of Dick. I suppose we shall never know now what wretched misfortune overtook him."

I felt myself grow cold and the old sick horror grip me. I turned my head so that the boys should not see my eyes.

"No," I said slowly. "No, we shall never know."

Bunny drummed with his fingers on the table, and Jack played idly with the pages of a book. I was watching the calm waters of the bay and the little fishing boats creeping round the Blackhead from Gorran Haven. Their sails were amber in the setting sun.

"If," pursued Bunny, as though arguing with himself, "he had fallen into the hands of the enemy, why was the fact concealed? That is what always puzzles me. The son of Richard Grenvile was a prize indeed."

I did not answer. I felt Jack move restlessly beside me. Perhaps marriage had given him perception--he was a bridegroom of a few months' standing at that time--or maybe he was always more intuitive than Bunny, but I knew he was aware of my distress.

"There is little use," he said, "in going over the past. We are making Honor tired."

Soon after they kissed my hands and left, promising to come to see me again before they returned to France. I watched them gallop away, young and free and untouched by the years that had gone. The future was theirs to seize. One day the King would come back to his waiting country, and Jack and Bunny, who had fought so valiantly for him, would be rewarded. I could picture them at Stowe, and up in London at Whitehall, growing sleek and prosperous, with a whole new age of splendour opening before them.

The civil war would be forgotten, and forgotten, too, the generation which had preceded them, which had fallen in the cause, or which had failed. My generation, which would enter into no inheritance.

I lay there in my chair, watching the deepening shadows, and presently Robin came in and sat beside me, enquiring, in his gruff, tender way, if I were tired, regretting that he had missed the Grenvile brothers, and going on to tell me of some small pother in the courthouse at Tywardreath. I made pretence of listening, aware with a queer sense of pity how the trifling events of day by day were now his one concern. I thought how once he and his companions had won immortality for their gallant and so useless defence of Pendennis Castle in those tragic summer months in '46--how proud we were of them, how full our hearts--and here he was rambling on about five fowls that had been stolen from a widow in St. Blazey.

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