Penmarric

Penmarric by Susan Howatch Read Free Book Online

Book: Penmarric by Susan Howatch Read Free Book Online
Authors: Susan Howatch
could have chosen to live in such a place, rapped on the panels.
    I was admitted by a gray-haired Cornish woman, humbly dressed but respectable, who showed me into the “parlor,” a dingy room that possessed plain furniture and an air of being permanently unused. I began to wonder if my father had taken leave of his senses. I thought of Gweekellis Manor, aged and beautiful, its mellow façade, its splendidly vaulted hall, its sunken garden still recognizable as a medieval moat; I thought of the woods which stretched from the lawns to the estuary, the peace and tranquillity of the South Cornish countryside. My father had belonged there so absolutely that I could not imagine him living anywhere else, least of all amidst this savage landscape of the Cornish Tin Coast in a humble working-class farmhouse. I was just wondering if I should be bold enough to inquire directly into his motives when the door opened and he came into the room.
    “Mark!” he exclaimed. “What a pleasant surprise! How are you?” And he took me in his arms and embraced me. He must have been surprised when he tried to disentangle himself and found me still clinging to him, but he smiled and patted my shoulder and said kindly, “Come into my study and I’ll ask my housekeeper Mrs. Mannack, to bring us some tea.”
    I looked at him, at his familiar face that I knew and loved so well, and suddenly I saw him as if through the eyes of a stranger, saw his candid blue eyes and his sensitive mouth and the fine bone structure of his face, saw his thin, immensely tall frame and his gray-brown receding hair and his long-fingered scholar’s hands. I thought of my mother’s rapid, uneven words in that park in London but even as grief gripped me like a vise my voice said clear and untroubled, “It seems strange to see you in such humble surroundings, sir! I hadn’t realized your property here was so modest. Surely by this time you must be missing Gweekellis Manor and feeling anxious to return?”
    “I can understand your surprise …” He led the way into his study. As I followed him inside I recognized his favorite books, his inkstand, even his favorite pipe; a copy of The Times lay tossed upon the window seat, and beyond the window was a spectacular view of Carn Kenidjack and the sea. “The change of scenery has helped my writing,” he was saying apologetically, as if he knew his decision to spend time at the farm was eccentric, but the next moment the note of apology was replaced by enthusiasm. “And what scenery it is! I’ve become fascinated by the views across the moors to the sea on the one hand and across the moors to the ridge on the other—the stark ugliness of the mines somehow only emphasizes the austere beauty of the parishes … Yes, Mrs. Mannack, we will have tea, if you please, and some of those excellent wine biscuits, if you have any left … Sit down, Mark. Where was I? Ah yes, the parishes. Historically this is a most interesting area. There’s an ancient hill fort on the summit of the ridge behind the house—at least two thousand years old, I should think—Chûn Castle, it’s called, Chûn after the Cornish ‘Chy-An-Woon,’ meaning ‘House on the Down,’ and nearby is a quoit of the same name…”
    It was not until the housekeeper had brought tea to us that he remembered to ask me why I should be in Cornwall when I was supposed to be relaxing in London after my hard work at Oxford.
    “I was visiting Penmarric with my mother,” I said.
    “I see.” He looked away. “Let me show you the postcard I received from Nigel this morning from Florence—”
    “Papa …”
    “Yes?”
    “I went to Penmarric because Giles Penmar asked to see me. Now that his only son is dead he has decided to make me his heir. Penmarric will be mine when he dies.”
    There was a silence. He did not answer but I saw his hand tremble as he pushed the tobacco into his pipe. I said unsteadily, “I’ll refuse it, if you prefer. Your wishes mean more

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