CHAPTER 11

 

Suddenly, it seemed as if Cowper and I had known each other forever. In reality it had been a very short time.  I had met him in June and our wedding day was fixed for August the 4th.  Aunt, Charles and Louisa had been absolutely delighted at the news.  Aunt Em was also very pleased, and even uncle John wrote to say that since receiving letters from his mother and Charles, he realised that I had not approached this wedding without careful consideration – although he still disagreed with the undue haste.  There was one remark in his letter, which I found particularly amusing: My Mother writes in glowing terms of your Captain, she seems to be captivated with the man herself!

Edward Woollaston, the family’s legal advisor – with chambers in London, but living nearby – had been a frequent supper visitor at the Hall (Harriet liked him), and in the event of an Enquiry into Cowper’s alleged involvement in the Indian executions, Edward had spent some time advising him.  He also corresponded with my family’s lawyer, at my brother’s suggestion, and when my father’s Probate was granted I discovered that I had been left a small annual allowance.  He also advised Cowper, as my future husband, to make a Will.

A short time after returning from London, I had recognised an old friend in the congregation at Church – Anna van Bagen, an English girl married to a Dutchman who had lost his life in an accident. Tragically young to become a widow, she had moved to Ireland to be near her relatives. Re–establishing her passion as a watercolour artist, she had become a pupil of my father’s, and a regular visitor to Dridala.  Later, moving to Essex to live, she had not been a resident for more than a month or so when we met in Church.  It had been such a delightful surprise to find this old connection with Ireland so close at hand.  Until Cowper arrived we had met quite frequently, but she was wise enough to understand my sudden abandonment. It didn’t really matter because we had so much in common that, should we not meet for years, we would still be close friends.

Anna’s ebullient personality was her great asset.  She was rather small and was already showing signs of being plump, but she had lovely wide apart eyes and an all-embracing motherly smile. Louisa was of course, still unable to leave her couch and was happy that I had asked Anna to be my attendant at the wedding.  There was not enough time to have a special dress made up, so young Mary arranged for someone locally to alter my ivory satin; the theatre–going gown Aunt Em had given me.

The law required us to be married before 11 o’clock, and the morning proved to be dismal with persistent rain.    Both Anna and Mary, thrilled about the wedding, but tearful at the possibility of my going away, surrounded me with affection.  Stephan and his wife Moira had been unable to leave Dridala to attend, and so we planned our honeymoon in Ireland where Cowper could meet them, and we could of course stay at Dridala my beloved old home.

Uncle John was accompanying the King somewhere, Brussels I believe, and could not give me away, so Uncle Henry assumed that role, which pleased me, because I had become very fond of him.  As I walked up to the Church on his arm, beneath his large umbrella which protected us from the drizzling rain, he told me: “I am very proud to escort such a beautiful young bride, thank you for asking me,” then he added roguishly: “I’ve asked Cowper to lead you around the stone which says W.R.1798, when you walk out of the Church.  After all both of you are Rochfords and should show respect to your relative”

Anna followed wearing a peach coloured gown, which she had brought with her.   However, I was unprepared for the sight of Cowper.  Surprisingly, I had never seen my muscular 6’3″ Captain in uniform. In brilliant red with dress sword in scabbard and wearing regalia, he looked amazing.  Not only would I feel dwarfed, but almost insignificant, beside this dashing officer.  However, he turned to greet me when we approached – and his smile gave me all the reassurance I needed.  Only later did I recollect the warm, yet wistful smile which Charles gave me as he took his place at Cowper’s side.

The Rev. Rawlings, a distant cousin, muttered his way through the service, but his glance was kindly, and all in all the service went well. I was somewhat surprised to see moist eyes amongst my female relatives, but happy smiles all round as we walked together down the aisle.

The sun came out and warmed us as we left the ancient Church, making the raindrops sparkle as they trickled down the petals of the wild roses and summer flowers in the churchyard.

Aunt had planned to invite all her old friends from the County and ‘make a proper showing’ as she put it, but when we pointed out that Louisa would be unable to join us she agreed to a small reception in Charles’s Drawing room where Louisa, obeying instructions, reclined. Thankfully, it was very informal.  Uncle Henry made an affectionate speech, with a few carefully selected naval jokes. As he raised his glass for the toast he told us that he could take the credit for the event because it was he who had brought me from Ireland!  Charles, as Cowper’s Best Man, made some light hearted remarks about his unconventional friend, as Cowper gave him amused but warning glances.  He then toasted Anna, and Cowper toasted Louisa, aunt Harriet, aunt Em and uncle John.

 

 

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Our first view of Dridala was a revelation.  What a transformation!  The golden fields of corn and barley waiting to be harvested gave evidence of the husbandry employed by my brother.  The house itself looked no less impressive, not a single shutter hung by only one hinge, not a yard of guttering was seen to be toppling over the edge.  The paintwork glistened in the afternoon sun and pretty curtains blew out of open windows.  Inside, smells of appetising food invaded the entrance where bowls of flowers stood upon polished tables. There were no children to destroy the orderliness.  The only concession was to the three Welsh Collies – confined to the floor, but nevertheless monopolising the front of the fire, just as dogs always had done in this house. There was always a fire at Dridala, during summer as well as winter, as the sun never completely penetrated the stout walls. I could almost hear my father saying ‘Too much organisation is a disaster for the creative.’ But, of course, he was not there. I felt his absence keenly.

Moira was frail and, I learned, would never bear children.  Stephan did not seem to mind, he had his farm, his dogs and his music.  Irish folk–music was his delight and was the only characteristic he seemed to inherit from father.  Every week, and sometimes more often, if the occasion arose, Dridala would be taken over by fiddlers, whistle players, harpists, drummers and others who formed the ‘jig band’ in the village – just as it had been in my father’s time and then as now, they brought with them all the joy and gaiety that was at the heart of Irish culture. I was delighted to find that my old piano was still in the house.  It had been father’s pride and joy. He had bought it for me from the funds of a newly published novel, but it was in desperate need of tuning. One of the harpists tuned it by rule of thumb and ear, and it worked tolerably well after that.  Cowper had his ‘whistle thing’, as I called it and with Stephan on his fiddle, which he played in typically Irish fashion, we made merry music – some of us stopping playing and breaking into a jig from time to time, out of sheer exuberance.  The creamy, black Irish stout helped.

Stephan bred horses and so the misty mornings saw the three of us out on the hills and above the lake, exercising the animals.  When Cowper and I were left to our own devices we chose to walk, talk and explore.  We both loved walking and during this time we never tired of talking to each other.  There was so much to discover from what seemed like whole lifetimes, before we had met.  Every little new discovery was a delight, every coincidence of shared interests, we felt, in our newly found love, seemed miraculous.

We could not delve deeply enough in our explorations of each other’s minds.  At night we explored each other’s bodies with the same insatiable curiosity and I found my impulsive, unpredictable Cowper a very gentle lover.  It was all that a honeymoon should be. Throughout our married life, with its drama and excitement, we often tried to draw on the joy of our honeymoon, even though we mostly failed.

Cowper and Stephan, although so different, got on well. They had met previously because Cowper’s summer holiday visit had coincided with Stephan’s school holidays and, being older than me, my brother could remember it more clearly.  Stephan had no personal desire to travel but liked to hear about other countries, and was interested in Cowper’s description of India.

“And you Mitty, you’ll be going to India?  For sure, you were always the one for the bit of adventure.”

Cowper then found it necessary to explain about the pending Court Enquiry, a date for which had still not been set.  To watch Cowper having to go over it all again and to talk about the events at Honelly, which was obviously agony to him, meant that I suffered with him.  He felt he had to warn my brother that the news of the result might get reported in the papers, that in fact he may not be recalled to India, and I began to understand how it could significantly affect our future.

But most of the time it was wonderful to be back in Ireland. To leap on to the bare back of a horse, with a complete sense of freedom, and visit friends I had not seen for nearly two years.  Also word had got around about Cowper – it was hard to miss him after all, being so tall, but he did draw attention to himself.  Like the day he had suggested we bathe in the lake, without our clothes.  I had done this as a child of course, but felt a sense of propriety was called for in a married woman.  Cowper felt differently and picking me up kicking and screaming, threatened to throw me in the lake fully clothed, unless I agreed.

“Wouldn’t you know it”, I was later to tell my friends:  “Just at the very moment when we were jumping in, two riders came into view on the hilltop and not satisfied with that they came down the hill to take a closer look, and we had to remain submerged until they rode away!”

Cowper would initiate a ride, which took us out for the entire day, or suddenly whisk me off at a moment’s notice, to catch a coach and go in search of new sights to see, and towns to visit.

Time had passed quickly: we had been married for two months.  Still at Dridala, I had gone for a walk with the dogs and was sitting on the grass, overlooking the lake.  As was my nature, I questioned whether I was glad that I had married.   Cowper, so uproarious and unbelievable, could also be so very gentle.  I would never forget our first night, he was so loving and so patient and I needed that.  I may be a wild Irish girl but I had never been to bed with a man before – Cowper was wise enough to understand that our future marital relations depended on my first experiences being satisfactory and happy ones.  He was a jovial companion both to me and to everyone he met – except when depression took hold of him.  I could not know whether he had been like this before Honelly, and I determined to mention it to Charles when next I saw him.

We had received mail from England.  Louisa was still carrying the baby and all was well.  Everything seemed much as before.

Our time in Ireland was coming to its end – we could not stay forever.  My relatives were not natural hosts, and although they had been very good to us, Cowper was getting restless. Sitting by the fire one evening, Stephan pulled at his old pipe and knowing it would not be long before we were on our way he began to talk quite seriously: “You know Mitty that Moira cannot have children – if anything happened to her, God forbid, I would never marry again.  I’ve thought it all out and I’ve made over all of this…” he swept his arm outwards, embracing the house and the land, “legally to you – there’ll be a bit for some folk in the village and some of the workers – but this will be yours.  However, now that you are married I shall make it over to you both. But I ask you Cowper, to see that you leave it to Mitty in your own Will.”

Cowper smiled: “You’re a bit young to be thinking about that Stephan – although I have to admit I’ve discussed making a Will with a legal friend of the family. I’ve not got much to leave, but now you’ve said this, well I’d better see to it.  Edward is drafting it up, so when we return … also I have to include my brother William who lives in Upper Canada. I did write up a short thing and sign it, just in case anything happened whilst we were away, you know.  But that’s quite enough of this morbid conversation, let’s play some music together.”

I was sad to say goodbye a few days later  – It had been lovely to visit my dear old Ireland, although I could see Moira was relieved that we were finally going. Before we got the coach to Dublin we met a member of the jig band near the inn: “Sure, and you must come back to Ireland, tis your own beautiful country, sure it is, and we like the beautiful people like yourselves – so don’t you be leaving it too long… come back soon!”

He summed it up for both of us, and as the coach drove away, we both believed that we would return there together.

 

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