An excerpt from Chapter Five:
A LOW-BORN CHURL
by this success and the first
significant earnings from his burgeoning career, Tom and Emma agreed
occasion was ripe for the couple to present themselves before her
lived at Kirland House near Bodmin.
travelled down together
from St. Juliot, full of optimism. Emma had arranged for them to stay
old family friend, Sir William Serjeant at St Benet’s, before calling
parents the following morning. She had told Thomas little of the host
other than that she had once stayed there whilst convalescing after
sister. The family, she assured him, had good intentions and would
in their venture, though contradictorily, this only served to fill
unease. Nevertheless, their evening was joyously expectant, and the
conversations with their hosts so reassuring that when they set off the
morning, it was with an inflated confidence which would only serve to
exacerbate all that was to follow.
visit proved to be a
galling experience. After a few moments of pleasantries that seemed
despite Emma’s mother doing little more than nodding at the couple,
the request to speak to Emma’s father, Charles Gifford, ‘in private’.
duly ushered into his host’s study and was but a little way into
credentials, when the older man launched a bitter attack at him.
would beseech you to stop
there, Mr Hardy. This purpose of this visit was not unexpected, for I
known of your existence, and it was never welcome. You have been
coming here thinking that you could marry into my family - a family of
considerable standing, a professional family, a family with connections
church and law. Even if you wrote books that were not unsavoury, which
is the case, you are little more than a tradesman, a hack, a low-born
is unworthy to presume you have the right to ask for my daughter’s
was no space for
rebuttal, no hint that Thomas would be allowed to speak at all. When he
at one point to interject into the stream of invective, he was talked
the older man sallied onwards, his words bruising and contemptuous. The
ferocity of the attack, its unexpectedness and sheer persistence, gave
little option other than to take his leave, with the tail ends of her
words, and finally Emma, flushed and horrified by the exchange,
trailing in his
do not need his
permission, Thomas, we do not!’ she cried, half-stumbling, as she
keep up with his striding pace down the pathway. ‘He is wrong in this
will prove him so.’
said nothing until he
had slammed the gate to the house behind him, when, at last, he turned
his face ashen.
that as it may, but for
families not to sanctify a union bodes ill for any man.’
say that, Thomas,
don’t,’ she urged.
turned on her, grasping
her firmly by the shoulders, fixing his eyes with hers.
tell me Em, what am I
to make of it? The man was more than unreasonable. He seemed
relaxed his grip and let his arms fall limply to his side.
fear he was under the
influence too, Em, for he stank of it.’
lowered her head.
must tell me, Emma, what
I should already have known of your family. For this is not what I
not in the least.’
turned away for several
seconds, as if gathering the resolve to answer his question, before
and looking straight at him.
will tell you all I know
Tom, for of course you must, although it is not much. One hope’s that
intemperance is peculiar to the person afflicted, but it is in my
confess. There. It is of no great matter, but I should have told you,
stared at her, not
sure what to make of the ambiguity in her answer. Her eyes began to
tears welled, and he could feel himself soften.
there, Em, it is of
no matter. It is you and I that plan to marry, not our families,’ he
her. ‘They are of no consequence.’
that, he took her hand
and led her down the path, away from the house. She could see Thomas
and while the hurt was his own, she felt equally diminished by her
They wended their way back to Lavinlet along the Saints’ Way, arm in
words passed between them, only the spirits of both, crucified by the
that her father had passed upon the couple.
Chapter Seventeen: VERY AFFECTIONATELY YOURS
he returned to Max Gate in late
July, there was little communion between them. Lillian had been staying
some short time, although she had moved out when she heard the master
returning. Occasionally he and Emma rode in the vicinity of the
cottage, she on
‘Grasshopper’, her sky blue bicycle which occasionally she had trouble
controlling whenever the paths were ridged or rutted, he on his Rover
Yet in August, when Thomas went with
Henry on a cycling tour of Lincoln, Ely, Cambridge and
Canterbury to study the cathedrals, Emma was left behind.
protest, she rode about Dorset, ignoring an unseasonable heat wave that
driven everyone else inside, painting local scenes of Bulbarrow and
Door, knowing as she did so, that they would only be hung, if anywhere
in her own secluded part of the house.
a very capable artist and
had once sold paintings to aid the restoration of the church at St.
while Thomas had praised her then, he had given little encouragement
thereafter. She often wished that Thomas would speak of her talent, but
learnt that Thomas would never notice, let alone encourage any other
apart from occasionally, the scribbles of his latest paramour, and even
only until he tired of them, for he was too consumed by his own genius
bother with the incipient gifts of another.