Daphne du Maurier

Hungry Hill


Copper John, 1820–1828

On the third of march, 1820, John Brodrick set out from Andriff to Doonhaven, intending to cover the fifteen miles of his journey before nightfall. It was typical south-westerly weather, the clouds travelling low, and the soft, blustering wind bringing scattered showers that fell heavy for five minutes and then passed, leaving a space of blue no larger than a man's fist in the sky, with a glimpse of a sun that promised nothing.

The road in those days was rough and uneven, and John Brodrick, swinging from side to side in the chaise, called to the post-boy to have a care, unless he wished to break the bones of the pair of them and land in the ditch for the night, with no supper into the bargain.

There was constant talk of a new road being built, but there the matter ended, like everything else in the country, and never a penny would come from the Government for the improvement of the roads. The expense in the long run would fall upon himself and the other landlords. The trouble was that none of the others had energy enough to put their hands in their pockets, and if they were prevailed upon to do so would oblige with so ill a grace, and with such a pother of words about the hardness of the times, the arrears of rent, and the slackness of their tenants, that it would save time and temper to leave the matter alone, and let the road become little better than the bogs around Kileen.

However, the elections were pending soon in Slane, and if Hare wished to hold his seat, which no doubt he did, John Brodrick would put it to him pretty forcibly that votes were not given for nothing, and certainly not for Ministers to sit in London twiddling their thumbs and neglecting their own country.

How few men of enterprise there were, when all was said and done. It was not a question of conceit, but he could think of no other man but himself who would have achieved what had just been done that day in Andriff, and who would have had the vision in the first place to know that such an undertaking was possible.

Too risky, old Robert Lumley had said in the beginning, shaking his head and bringing up objection after objection-how they would never get a return for their money, and would all be beggared, and be forced to sell their land.

'Risk?' John Brodrick had answered him.

'Why, no doubt there is a risk, just as every day in every man's life he risks breaking his neck when he steps outside his door. I grant you the expense in sinking the mine will not be trifling, machinery will be necessary, much labour will be required, and I admit freely that the land here is a different proposition from that of Cornwall, where they shovel and wheel out ore as fast as they can put it in a barrow, whereas we shall not be able to break an ounce without gunpowder. But the copper is there, ours for the taking. One of the most experienced directors of mines in Cornwall, a Mr. Taylor, has been over the ground with me this past week, and his opinion of the place is the same as my own. There is a fortune awaiting us, on my property, Mr. Lumley, and on yours. If you are agreeable to forming a private company under my direction- and mark you, according to the conditions I have just shown you, which my agent has drawn up, you can see well for yourself I shall be risking more than you-then I can promise you that within a few years your royalty will be more than a thousand pounds a year. If you would rather not be a party to the agreement, then there is no more to be said.'

And he had risen from his seat, gathered his papers together, and made a signal to his agent that there was nothing further to discuss. He had got half-way across the room before Robert Lumley called him back.

'My dear Brodrick, there is no need to be hasty. There are naturally one or two points that require clarifying before I make my final decision.'

And then they had sat down once again, and patiently gone over everything that had been gone into twenty times before, with old Lumley quibbling at his already gross percentage. At last the agreement had been signed, the papers sealed, hands shaken, and some refreshment taken in the old library at Castle Andriff, with John Brodrick impatient to be gone now that his object had been achieved, but forced to stay and exchange a few words with his host for common courtesy's sake.

'I shall hope,' he said, 'to see you at Clonmere whenever business brings you to Doonhaven.

My daughters will be delighted to welcome you, and my sons to give you some sport with your gun,' and old Lumley, civil enough now he had won his point about his twenty per cent share in the future mine, replied with an invitation to the young Brodricks to shoot the hares and the pheasants at Duncroom whenever they had the wish.

And so John Brodrick called to the post-boy and climbed into the chaise, just as Lumley's son-in-law, Simon Flower, returned from hunting, his face and his boots bespattered with mud, his arm round the waist of his twelve- year-old daughter.

'Well,' he asked, smiling all over his handsome, florid face, 'and did you get the old gentleman to put his name to your piece of paper?'

'We have formed a company to work the copper mines at Hungry Hill, if that's what you mean,' said John Brodrick drily.

'Did you now, and all in the space of a few hours?' returned the other. 'And here have I been working away these fifteen years trying to get him to put a few slates on the roof of the castle, for I swear to you the rain blows in on my face as I lie in bed, but he won't allow me enough to get even the mortar mixed.'

'There'll be money to spare in a year or two that will give you a new roof and an additional wing to your house if you want it,' said Brodrick.

Simon Flower raised his eyes to heaven in mock humility.

'It's my conscience that will go against me,' he declared, 'and I tell you in solemn truth, my dear Brodrick, that if I think the copper is going to come out of the mountains by the sweated labour of young men and of children, why, I won't touch a penny of my father-in-law's money; I would rather the roof of my house fell in upon me.'

John Brodrick looked out at the pair of them from his chaise: the smiling, careless Simon Flower, his contemporary, who had never done a stroke of honest work in his life and lived contentedly upon his wife's money; and the pretty, flushed child, with her slanting eyes, laughing in agreement with her father.

'You had better become a director of the company, Flower,' he said. 'It will mean long hours, you know, supervision of the work at the mines, keeping the fellows in order, taking ship to Bronsea every six months to the smelting works, keeping a check on accounts, and a dozen other things beside.'

Simon Flower shook his head, and sighed.

'It's a pity,' he said, 'that the mines should be started at all. We are peaceful enough as we are.

Why do you want to have us all troubled and excited, and the people sweating, and the poor old hill broken into with explosives?'

John Brodrick settled himself in the chaise.

'I believe in progress, and giving employment to all the poor devils who find living next to impossible in this country, and making money to provide for my children, and my children's children, when I die,' he said.

'Ah,' said Simon Flower, 'they won't thank you for it. All right, Brodrick, go and start your mines and make your fortune, and I'll sit back and reap some of the benefit.' He smiled, and kissed his daughter on the top of her head. 'Think of all the weary miners digging for our comfort,' he laughed, and lifting his hat, he waved it gaily in farewell.

Typical, thought John Brodrick as he looked out across Mundy Bay comtypical of nearly every man in the country. Irresponsible, indifferent, their heads full of nothing but dogs and horses; half the year spent on the Continent chasing the sun, and the rest in yawning on their own doorstep.

Despised by their tenants, their land a disgrace, and, to crown all, more than a trifle drunk at two o'clock in the afternoon.

He dismissed Simon Flower from his mind with little trouble, having a great contempt for people he did not understand, and, watching the long Atlantic rollers sweeping into Mundy Bay, he began to think about the ships that would presently bear the ore from the harbour at Doonhaven, round the coast and across the channel to Bronsea.

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