"Daphne du Maurier is a magician, a virtuoso. She can conjure up tragedy, tension, suspense, the ridiculous, the vain, the romantic." --Good Housekeeping
Honor Harris is only eighteen when she first meets Richard Grenvile, proud, reckless - and utterly captivating. But following a riding accident, Honor must reconcile herself to a life alone. As the English Civil war is waged across the country, Richard rises through the ranks of the army, marries and makes enemies, and Honor remains true to him.
Decades later, an undaunted Sir Richard, now a general serving King Charles I, finds her. Finally they can share their passion in the ruins of her family's great estate on the storm-tossed Cornish coast-one last time before being torn apart, never to embrace again.
Release date: December 17, 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Print pages: 384
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
The King's General
Daphne du Maurier
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 is 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 that 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 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 learned 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 parlor. 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. My poor Robin, with his graying 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. Looking back, there can be very few among our friends who have not suffered. So many gone, so many penniless. I do not 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 charged 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 inflexion 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 overwhelming. 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. Rumor has it that she can still find lovers, and her latest conquest is one of the Careys, who has come to live near her at Bideford. I can well believe it. No neighbor 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 color into a gray 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 straightway to jail. The Presbyterians hold the reins in their grasping hands, and the only men to benefit are upstarts like Frank 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 neighbor. Oh, 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 spilled 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 is your enemy now. 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 putting the final words to the defense 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 councilors, 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 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 and 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 splendor opening before them.
The civil war would be forgotten, and forgotten too the generation that had preceded them, that had fallen in the cause, or 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, inquiring in his gruff, tender way if I was 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 a pretense of listening, aware with a queer sense of pity how the trifling everyday events were now his one concern. I thought how once he and his companions had won immortality for their gallant and so useless defense 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. Perhaps I was no cynic after all, but rotten with sentiment. It was then that the idea came first to me, that, by writing down the events of those few years, I would rid myself of a burden. The war, and how it changed our lives; how we were all caught up in it, and broken by it, and our lives hopelessly intermingled one with another. Gartred and Robin, Richard and I, the whole Rashleigh family, pent up together in that house of secrets—small wonder that we came to be defeated. Even today Robin goes every Sunday to dine at Menabilly, but not I. My health pleads its own excuse. Knowing what I know, I could not return. Menabilly, where the drama of our lives was played, is vivid enough to me three miles distant here in Tywardreath. The house stands as bare and desolate as it did when I saw it last in ’48. Jonathan has neither the heart nor the money to restore it to its former condition. He and Mary and the grandchildren live in one wing only. I pray God they will always remain in ignorance of that final tragedy. Two people will carry the secret to the grave. Richard and I. He sits in Holland, many hundred miles away, and I lie upon my couch in Tywardreath, and the shadow of the buttress is upon us both. When Robin rides each Sunday to Menabilly I go with him, in imagination, across the park, and come to the high walls surrounding the house. The courtyard lies open, the west front stares down at me. The last rays of the sun shine into my old room above the gatehouse, for the lattice is open, but the windows of the room beside it are closed. Ivy tendrils creep across it. The smooth stone of the buttress outside the window is encrusted with lichen. The sun vanishes, and the west front takes once more to the shadows. The Rashleighs eat and sleep within, and go by candlelight to bed, and to dream; but I, down here three miles away in Tywardreath, wake in the night to the sound of a boy’s voice calling my name in terror, to a boy’s hand beating against the walls, and there in the pitch-black night before me, vivid, terrible, and accusing, is the ghost of Richard’s son. I sit up in bed, sweating with horror, and faithful Matty, hearing me stir, comes to me and lights the candle.
She brews me a warm drink, rubs my aching back, and puts a shawl about my shoulders. Robin, in the room adjoining, sleeps on undisturbed. I try to read a while, but my thoughts are too violent to allow repose. Matty brings me paper and pen, and I begin to write. There is so much to say, and so little time in which to say it. For I do not fool myself about the future. My own instinct, quite apart from Robin’s face, warns me that this autumn will be the last. So while my Richard’s defense is discussed by the world and placed on record for all time among the archives of this seventeenth century, my apologia will go with me to the grave, and by rotting there with me, unread, will serve its purpose.
I will say for Richard what he never said for himself, and I will show how, despite his bitter faults and failings, it was possible for a woman to love him with all her heart, and mind, and body and I that woman. I write at midnight, then, by candlelight, while the church clock at Tywardreath chimes the small hours, and the only sound I hear is the sigh of the wind beneath my window and the murmur of the sea as the tide comes sweeping across the sands to the marshes below St. Blazey bridge.
The first time I saw Gartred was when my eldest brother Kit brought her home to Lanrest as his bride. She was twenty-two, and I, the baby of the family except for Percy, a child of ten. We were a happy, sprawling family, very intimate and free, and my father, John Harris, cared nothing for the affairs of the world, but lived for his horses, his dogs, and the peaceful concerns of his small estate. Lanrest was not a large property, but it lay high amidst a sheltering ring of trees, looking down upon the Looe Valley, and was one of those placid, kindly houses that seem to slumber through the years, and we loved it well. Even now, thirty years after, I have only to close my eyes and think of home, and there comes to my nostrils the well-remembered scent of hay, hot with the sun, blown by a lazy wind; and I see the great wheel thrashing the water down at the mills at Lametton, and I smell the fusty, dusty golden grain. The sky was always white with pigeons. They circled and flew above our heads, and were so tame that they would take grain from our hands. Strutting and cooing, puffed and proud, they created an atmosphere of comfort. Their gentle chattering among themselves through a long summer’s afternoon brought much peace to me in the later years, when the others would go hawking, and ride away laughing and talking, and I could no longer follow them. But that is another chapter. I was talking of Gartred as I saw her first. The wedding had taken place at Stowe, her home, and Percy and I, because of some childish ailment or other, had not been present at it. This, very foolishly, created a resentment in me from the first. I was undoubtedly spoiled, being so much younger than my brothers and sisters, who made a great pet of me, as did my parents too, but I had it firmly in my mind that my brother’s bride did not wish to be bothered with children at her wedding, and that she feared we might have some infection.
I can remember sitting upright in bed, my eyes bright with fever, remonstrating with my mother. “When Cecilia was married, Percy and I carried the train,” I said (Cecilia was my eldest sister), “and we all of us went to Mothercombe, and the Pollexefens welcomed us, although Percy and I both made ourselves sick with overeating.” All my mother could say in reply was that this time it was different, and Stowe was quite another place to Mothercombe, and the Grenviles were not the Pollexefens—which seemed to me the most feeble of arguments—and she would never forgive herself if we took the fever to Gartred. Everything was Gartred. Nobody else mattered. There was a great fuss and commotion too about preparing the spare chamber for when the bride and bridegroom should come to stay. New hangings were brought, and rugs, and tapestries, and it was all because Gartred must not be made to feel Lanrest was shabby or in poor repair. The servants were made to sweep and dust, the place was put into a bustle, and everyone made uncomfortable in the process.
If it had been because of Kit, my dear easygoing brother, I should never have grudged it for a moment. But Kit himself might not have existed. It was for Gartred. And like all children I listened to the gossip of the servants. “It’s on account of his being heir to Sir Christopher at Radford that she’s marrying our young master,” was the sentence I heard, amidst the clatter in the kitchens. I seized upon this piece of information and brooded on it, together with the reply from my father’s steward: “It’s not like a Grenvile to match with a plain Harris of Lanrest.”
The words angered me, and confused me too. The word “plain” seemed a reflection on my brother’s looks, whom I considered handsome, and why should a Harris of Lanrest be a poor bargain for a Grenvile? It was true that Kit was heir to our uncle Christopher at Radford—a great barracks of a place the other side of Plymouth—but I had never thought much of the fact until now. For the first time I realized, with something of a shock, that marriage was not the romantic fairy legend I had imagined it to be, but a great institution, a bargain between important families, with the tying-up of property. When Cecilia married John Pollexefen, whom she had known since childhood, it had not struck me in this way, but now, with my father riding over to Stowe continually and holding long conferences with lawyers, and wearing a worried frown between his brows, Kit’s marriage was becoming like some frightening affair of State, which, if worded wrong, would throw the country into chaos.
Eavesdropping again, I heard the lawyer say: “It is not Sir Bernard Grenvile who is holding out about the settlement. But the daughter herself. She has her father wound round her finger.”
I pondered over this awhile, and then repeated it to my sister Mary. “Is it usual,” I asked, with no doubt irritating precocity, “for a bride to argue thus about her portion?”
Mary did not answer for a moment. Although she was twenty, life had barely brushed her as yet, and I doubt if she knew more than I did. But I could see that she was shocked. “Gartred is the only daughter,” she said, after a moment. “It is perhaps necessary for her to discuss the settlements.”
“I wonder if Kit knows of it,” I said. “I somehow do not think he would like it.”
Mary then bade me hold my tongue, and warned me that I was fast becoming a shrew, and no one would admire me for it. I was not to be discouraged, though, and while I refrained from mentioning the marriage settlement to my brothers, I went to plague Robin—my favorite even in those days—to tell me something of the Grenviles. He had just ridden in from hawking, and stood in the stable yard, his dear handsome face flushed and happy, the falcon on his wrist, and I remember drawing back, scared always by the bird’s deep, venomous eyes and the blood on her beak. She would permit no one to touch her but Robin, and he was stroking her feathers. There was a clatter in the stable yard, with the men rubbing down the horses, and in one corner by the well the dogs were feeding.
“I am pleased it is Kit and not you that has gone away to find a bride for himself,” I said, while the bird watched me from beneath great hooded lids, and Robin smiled, and reached out his other hand to touch my curls, while the falcon ruffled in anger.
“If I had been the eldest son,” said Robin gently, “I would have been the bridegroom at this wedding.” I stole a glance at him, and saw that his smile had gone, and in its place a look of sadness. “Why, did she like you best?” I asked. He turned away then, and placing the hood over his bird, gave her to the keeper. When he picked me up in his arms he was smiling again. “Come and pick cherries,” he said, “and never mind my brother’s bride.”
“But the Grenviles?” I persisted as he bore me on his shoulders to the orchard. “Why must we be so mighty proud about them?”
“Bevil Grenvile is the best fellow in the world,” said Robin. “Kit, and Jo, and I were at Oxford with him. And his sister is very beautiful.” More than that I could not drag from him. But my brother Jo, to whose rather sarcastic, penetrating mind I put the same question later in the day, expressed surprise at my ignorance. “Have you reached the ripe age of ten, Honor,” he inquired, “without knowing that in Cornwall there are only two families who count for anything—the Grenviles and the Arundells? Naturally, we humble Harris brood are overwhelmed that our dear brother Kit has been honored by the august hand of the so ravishing Gartred.” Then he buried his nose in a book and there was an end of the matter. The next week they were all gone to Stowe for the wedding. I had to hug my soul in patience until their return, and then, as I feared, my mother pleaded fatigue, as did the rest of them, and everyone seemed a little jaded and out of sorts with so much feasting and rejoicing, and only my third sister Bridget unbent to me at all. She was in raptures over the magnificence of Stowe and the hospitality of the Grenviles. “This place is like a steward’s lodge compared to Stowe,” she told me. “You could put Lanrest in one pocket of the grounds there, and it would not be noticed. Two servants waited behind my chair at supper, and all the while musicians played to us from the gallery.”
“But Gartred, what of Gartred?” I said with impatience.
“Wait while I tell you,” she said. “There were more than two hundred people staying there, and Mary and I slept together in a chamber bigger far than any we possess here. There was a woman to tend us, and dress our hair. And the bedding was changed every day, and perfumed.”
“What else, then?” I asked, consumed with jealousy.
“I think Father was a little lost,” she whispered. “I saw him from time to time with the other people, endeavoring to talk, but he looked stifled, as though he could not breathe. And all the men were so richly attired, somehow he seemed drab beside them. Sir Bernard is a very fine-looking man. He wore a blue velvet doublet slashed with silver, the day of the wedding, and Father was in his green that fits him a little too well. He overtops him too—Sir Bernard, I mean—and they looked odd standing together.”
“Never mind my father,” I said. “I want to hear of Gartred.”
My sister Bridget smiled, superior with her knowledge.
“I liked Bevil the best,” she said; “and so does everyone. He was in the midst of it all, seeing that no one lacked for anything. I thought Lady Grenvile a little stiff, but Bevil was the soul of courtesy, gracious in all he did.” She paused a moment. “They are all auburn haired, you know,” she said with some inconsequence. “If we saw anyone with auburn hair it was sure to be a Grenvile. I did not care for the one they called Richard,” she added with a frown.
“Why not? Was he so ugly?” I asked.
“No,” she answered, puzzled. “He was more handsome than Bevil. But he looked at us all in a mocking, contemptuous way, and when he trod on my gown in the crush he made no apology. ‘You are to blame,’ he had the impudence to tell me, ‘for letting it trail thus in the dust.’ They told me at Stowe he was a soldier.”
“But there is still Gartred,” I said. “You have not described her.” And then, to my mortification, Bridget yawned, and rose to her feet. “Oh, I am too weary to tell you any more,” she said. “Wait until the morning. But Mary, and Cecilia, and I are all agreed upon one thing, that we would sooner resemble Gartred than any other woman.” So in the end I had to form my own judgment with my own eyes. We were all gathered in the hall to receive them—they had gone first from Stowe to my uncle’s estate at Radford—and the dogs ran out into the courtyard as they heard the horses.
We were a large party, because the Pollexefens were with us too, Cecilia had her baby Joan in her arms, my first godchild—and I was proud of the honor—and we were all happy and laughing and talking because we were one family and knew one another so well. Kit swung himself down from the saddle—he looked very debonair and gay—and I saw Gartred. She murmured something to Kit, who laughed and colored, and held his arms to help her dismount, and in a flash of intuition I knew she had said something to him which was part of their life together, and had naught to do with us, his family. Kit was not ours any more, but belonged to her.
I hung back, reluctant to be introduced, and suddenly she was beside me, her cool hand under my chin. “So you are Honor?” she said. The inflexion in her voice suggested that I was small for my age, or ill looking, or disappointing in some special way, and she passed on through to the big parlor, taking precedence of my mother with a confident smile, while the remainder of the family followed like fascinated moths. Percy, being a boy and goggle-eyed at beauty, went to her at once, and she put a sweetmeat in his mouth. She has them ready, I thought, to bribe us children, as one bribes strange dogs. “Would Honor like one too?” she said, and there was a note of mockery in her voice, as though she knew instinctively that this treating of me as a baby was what I hated most. I could not take my eyes from her face. She reminded me of something, and suddenly I knew. I was a tiny child again at Radford, my uncle’s home, and he was walking me through the glasshouses in the gardens. There was one flower, an orchid, that grew alone; it was the color of pale ivory, with one little vein of crimson running through the petals. The scent filled the house, honeyed, and sickly sweet. It was the loveliest flower I had ever seen. I stretched out my hand to stroke the soft velvet sheen, and swiftly my uncle pulled me by the shoulder. “Don’t touch it, child. The stem is poisonous.”
I drew back, frightened. Sure enough, I could see the myriad hairs bristling,
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...