Chapter 13

       Louisa sat in bed looking radiant with her little son in a cot beside her, and was overjoyed to hear my news.    We chatted and laughed and I realised how long it had been since I had enjoyed female companionship.  In Charles’s study, he and Cowper were deep in conversation. That evening, as we gathered around the maternal bed it was decided that we should rent a house in the village – there to await the beginnings of our own family.

I had been warned that Harriet had taken to her bed and the next day I travelled to Fynes Hall. The grand old lady I had last seen at my wedding looked small and rather fragile.  She seemed to be sleeping and I was trying to accept her changed appearance when I suddenly became aware that she was looking at me through one eye.

“Mitty?  Don’t look so worried. I’m preparing for a new journey and I can’t say I’m sorry.  Its dull and…” she smiled weakly, “rather boring at Fynes now.”

She had lived to see her grandson Charles and his Louisa have a son, which obviously delighted her: “Of course you will know that they’ve decided to call him Rochford!”

I nodded but made no comment.

She wished to hear something of our travels.  She wasn’t in the least interested in Wales, wanting only to hear about Ireland, in particular how Dridala was looking.  When I told her of its well-organised state, she remarked with a slightly smug smile: “So your brother doesn’t take after his father – he sounds more like his grandfather… my dear William.” She sighed deeply and closed her eyes.

Did she say ‘my dear William”? That was my grandfather. What was the inference here?  Would I ever know?   It seemed as if she wanted to sleep, so my curiousity was not rewarded with any revelation.

Harriet lived to enjoy a hearty Christmas dinner, albeit in her bedroom, where Charles, Cowper and I joined her later. She wished to make provision for the advent of our child, about which she said to Cowper:  “Pleased to know you’re taking the upper hand with Mitty, the wild thing.  Being a mother might settle her down.”

“It is the wish of Louisa and Charles that we should be Rochford’s God Parents.” I told her.

“Why otherwise would they give him such a name?” Aunt asked, smiling at Charles.

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The Christening was a very joyous occasion in celebration of the long awaited heir.  The family gathered, also many friends, and so delighted were my Aunt and Uncle that, exceptionally for a Christening, they organised a special party for the evening, to which many denizens of the County were invited.  Louisa danced herself into a state of exhaustion. Exhilarated by being on her feet again, her excitement nearly drove her back to bed!

My own pregnancy had passed the ‘mystical three months’. If you are one of the lucky ones, the sickness stops and you begin to feel fine.  Dancing every dance, I was also having a splendid time, the comment of a local farmer casting the only shadow: “Your leave must soon be coming to an end Captain – when do you return to India?”

Cowper replied “The Army, particularly the Indian Army, moves mysteriously,” then with a shrug as he walked away: “so how the hell would I know?”

How quickly he’s annoyed by such apparently innocent questions, I thought.

Rochford’s Christening had been arranged to coincide with the Christmas Festivities.  The overjoyed grandparents were naturally present at both events and Aunt Em met Cowper again, after so many years. They seemed to get on well and if Uncle John still had any reservations about Cowper, I was sure Aunt Em tried to dispel them.

Our news had also pleased her: “Such perfect timing. Now Rochford will have a little cousin.”

Even though they would be third cousins the older generation still called all such relations cousins.

We very fortunately managed to rent a charming little house in the High Street, next door-but-one to Louise and Charles. This  street, which I had so admired at first sight, climbed gently uphill until it reached the 12th Century  Castle,  after which the village was named, and in which friends of Aunt and Uncle dwelt. It was reputed to have the finest Norman Keep in Western Europe.   The houses in the street were like an architectural medley of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, even a few of the present century.  They seemed to have grown out of the ground during these diverse periods and without apparent plan or design, yet now they blended so beautifully it was difficult to believe that it must have been a haphazard development.  Forming a small terrace, between some half–timbered buildings, were three houses which belonged to the Fynes Estate.  Two were relatively modern, from the late 18th century. One, borrowing an East Anglian colour, had deep-pink outer walls which were pierced by seven windows, four on the first floor, and at ground the other three, plus the front door.  This belonged to Charles and Louisa.  Next door in a greenish–grey colourwash was a double fronted house and adjacent to that was an older and smaller house with a bay window, to the side of which stood the front door, with two small sash windows upstairs.  This charming little house was ours.

After the initial sickness, I was otherwise fighting fit and felt quite apologetic after Louisa’s difficult pregnancy.  I went walking until the end, and riding until the last two months.  The riding shocked a of the  few villagers who thought I should assume a pale and interesting demeanour (more fittin’ for a liddy).  Once Cowper realised I was so strong he enjoyed this unconventional behaviour, pleased to have a riding companion for longer than he had dared hope.

I looked in every day on Louisa and loved helping with baby Rochford, yet I found it impossible to relate the growing lump where my flat stomach ought to be, to a baby.  The two were somehow incompatible, or perhaps I dared not believe it in case it did not happen.  Even when the kicking began; a very thrilling and comforting experience – as much of a pleasure to Cowper as myself – I still found it hard to accept: “Is it really a baby kicking?” I asked myself, “or is it some form of indigestion?”

Some of Rochford’s clothes would of course be passed down but I was anxious to make my own – it was all such a novelty!  Anna van Bagen was an unusual combination of artistry and practicality.  Being an excellent needlewoman, we spent many happy hours together as she showed me how to make the tiny, tiny little clothes.  These intrigued and delighted me.  Louisa would come round and join us during these afternoon sewing sessions. She would bring her embroidery or just join in our conversations.  Often she would need to put her feet up and close her eyes – she still had not fully regained her strength.  I’m not sure if she ever did, and now, I’m not even sure that she wanted to.  But she was always a gentle companion.  Anna was made of very different stuff.  She had a dry sense of humour and a droll wit, sometimes her comments could be very cryptic, touching on the mildly offensive; but Louisa and I knew that she would come at any time to help us when requested.  In addition, her capabilities were legion.  She managed most of her own business finances and because her father had been a lawyer, had a keen grasp on certain legal matters.  This was why after talking it over with Edward, Cowper asked her to be his other Executor.

We also helped with the village baby boxes which the Rev. White’s wife kept at the Vicarage.  Every new ‘village mother’ was presented with a box which formed the baby’s layette. It contained everything she needed.   When the baby had grown out of the little clothes the box was returned.  Sometimes it came back in a better state than received, sometimes not.  On those occasions all the clothes had to be washed, mended and ironed ready for the next village baby to use.  Mrs White would undertake to do this but was always glad of some help and if a box was returned in a bad state, older women with more time would form an afternoon work circle.  The original plan had been for one box but as demand had grown this had become two, with some spare clothes contributed by the better-off. Farm labourers were very poorly paid. They could grow vegetables and some farmers gave them a small share of crops, yet they had no money to spend on clothes or shoes, and these boxes were much appreciated.

We stitched during the afternoon because the light was better; also because Cowper disliked any distractions of that sort in the evenings.  He liked us to talk, read or play music together. Sometimes we would play card games or spillikins.  He also taught me to play chess, but if Charles came in, he’d cheekily snort: “now we’ll have a real game!”

It was a perfect July – and despite heaving around that being which was now a part of me, I nevertheless managed quite long walks.

Returning one afternoon, I found Anna taking tea with Louisa: “Can’t you talk to her Luisa?  She will not listen to me.  Why, oh why Mitty are you determined to take such ridiculous risks?  At the very least you could ask someone to walk with you.”

Louisa waved her hands in amusement at the possibility of my listening to Anna, or to anyone.  Putting an arm around my shoulders she said gently: “But do please take care, my dear.”

Of course I knew better.  I felt very fit, I was strong and in any case, I still found the idea of producing an actual living, breathing baby hard to accept.

I had been on a reasonably long walk, unaccompanied, when it all started.  Discussing this later, I found that I’d had very few contractions before the waters had broken.  By the time I got back to the village I was really having difficulty in walking.   Fortunately, Mrs James, the woman who acted as village midwife, lived in a lane close by and happened to be in the High Street.  Immediately recognising the signs, she rushed me inside and Philippe was born – just twenty minutes later!  Thinking about it afterwards, I felt sure I had seen the tail end of Mr. Ransome’s cows disappearing through the farm gate.  Twice a day they entirely blocked the street, and there might have been problems if I had been unable to get across the road.

When Mrs James put him into my arms, he was making little gurgling noises, tiny bubbles were coming out of his mouth and he was opening and closing his little hands.  I still found it hard to believe that I had actually achieved this small marvel.  Cowper was as enchanted by his little boy as I was and smiled appreciatively  when I whispered: “We’ve done this, you and I, we’ve given life to this perfect little boy. We really must be incredibly clever.”

“I suppose everyone feels the same way about their first child – but it is not until you experience it that you can possibly understand.” Cowper said, gazing at his little son whose wet hair was forming little flat round curls all over his forehead.

“Look at his little fingers and perfect little finger nails.”

How many times has that been said? But it is something of a miracle when a perfectly formed baby is born – and one which should not be taken for granted.  We were so thankful that we couldn’t stop looking at him, telling each other what a splendid, clever, talented and successful man he was going to be.

After presenting gifts or congratulations, every visitor gave me a mild lecture.

“You must take more care in future.” Was the remark which, rather tediously, was on all lips.  However, I did listen, because I was appalled to realise that I may have endangered the life of the precious little creature who lay in my arms. The euphoria lasted for several weeks.

Whilst I was still confined to bed after the birth, Harriet slipped quietly away, in her sleep.  With aunt being so well known in the district, the funeral was a very fine one.  Charles had been kept busy organising everything, and as so many people wished to attend, there was a large ‘wake’ held at Fynes.  Although I felt well enough to attend, I was told it would be considered unwise.

Despite our differences, Harriet and I had come to understand each other a little better, and I would like to have been present to say my own personal goodbye to the aunt who had provided a home for me.

On a visit some weeks later to see baby and me, Mary, my helpful maid from Fynes, told me that ‘her Will’, who worked at one of the farms near Castle Dursingham, was due to get a cottage, but not yet.  Since Harriet’s death, the Hall had been more or less closed, and although uncle was happy to retain her and continue to pay her, Mary was bored – thus it was that she moved in to assist me with baby Philippe.  A great help for myself, and very convenient for Mary and Will, as he could walk round to see her most evenings – which of course had not been far from Mary’s mind!

We called him Philippe Sean; Philippe because of his French relations, and Sean because he was probably conceived in my birthplace, Ireland.  Louisa and Charles were to be Godparents, and the Christening, unlike Rochford’s, was a low-key affair.

The weather was lovely that summer and Louisa and I were constantly in each other’s houses and gardens sharing the joy of bringing up our baby boys.  Although many people at that time thought bathing to be very dangerous and to immerse small babies in water to be horrifying, I did not.  Fortunately Lousa, usually more cautious than me, agreed.  So bath time became noisy and delightful. We borrowed a large aluminium tub from the laundry, and with my sleeves rolled up above the elbows, I did the bathing, sometimes with Anna’s help – there was no way that we would allow that pleasure to be enjoyed by anyone else.  Louisa loved it too, but preferred to watch, although she loved to wrap her son in his warm towel at the end.  Young Rochford was full of mischief and chortling away he would kick water all over us.  On hearing the noise, Charles and Cowper would come in to enjoy the fun – and dodge the splashes!  Then rolling my sweet smelling babe in blankets, I would run home. The villagers thought me quite mad, but smiled relatively indulgently.

I had further broken with tradition by feeding Philippe myself.  Cowper was somewhat irritated by this, as he was determined for us to be off travelling again.

 

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