Chapter 16

Much as I loved Castle Dursingham, I was delighted to be staying with Aunt Em again.  Although the Military Enquiry had been looming grimly for some time, Cowper said that Edward had reassured him that he was optimistic about the outcome.  He believed that the trial was a mere formality.  So I determined to enjoy London and leave military and legal matters to military and legal men.  Cowper had gone to Edward’s office to iron out the final details of the case and so Aunt Em and I spent the evening in her beautiful drawing room overlooking Pall Mall, recalling all the times we had shared and enjoyed together before my marriage.

She naturally wanted to hear all the family news and more details than I had already written about our little house and growing family.  She was delighted that we saw so much of Charles and Louisa and she was even interested to hear about Huw, although she advised caution.

“What about Christmas?’ she added eagerly “Fynes Hall will be opened up and it will be just like old times with the babies.  You’ll come and stay of course and Charles and family will move in; there is, after all, there is plenty of room.”

We really indulged in Aunt Em’s favourite subjects, the family and the theatre.  It was all so cosy and comfortable.

The morning of the Enquiry came rather more quickly than I had expected, and certainly before I had seriously considered its implications.  If I had allowed any of the old doubts to creep in, I reminded myself that the ever-cautious Edward was feeling optimistic. “Ah yes” I said quite happily when Cowper pointed out they were leaving and I added: “Aunt Em and I are going shopping – Louisa has given me a long list, and I need more material for the new baby.”

Cowper looked at me strangely. Then said, somewhat curtly, as he followed Edward to the door: “Well, I hope you enjoy yourself.”

 

Uncle John had followed the Royal Court to Brighton for two or three days, so on our return to the house, Aunt Em and I had been sorting out the shopping and packing up the items from Louisa’s list, to take back.  Thus absorbed we had not noticed how late it was getting.  Hearing a clock chime, followed by the Carriage Clock on the mantelpiece – Aunt Em said: “My goodness it is quite late, surely they should be back by now.  Do these enquiries go on into the evening?

Suddenly I felt guilty because I hadn’t really given Cowper’s day a thought.  Supposing something had gone wrong?

We both involuntarily moved towards the windows and gazed down at the street.  Why should they arrive now, just because we had become aware of the time? Noticing my suddenly anxious expression Aunt Em walked to the bell rope. “We may as well have our chocolate drink now, after all we cannot do anything but wait.”

It was more than half an hour later, when we felt the vibration of the front door shutting downstairs.

Cowper walked in first.  He greeted Aunt Em and myself but he was abstracted and kept moving about.  Edward followed.  He greeted us but remained standing, looking concerned.

“Won’t you both sit down, and can I order anything for you?” Aunt Em enquired.

“No thank you.” they replied in unison.

Cowper continued to pace about, but Edward, feeling he was being impolite, took a seat.

After a long, tense pause Edward said, “I’m afraid I have to report to you that this Enquiry did not go as we expected.  Not at all as we expected.”

The atmosphere, already made dramatic by the demeanor and expressions of Cowper and Edward, became even heavier.  My heart suddenly began to beat in my throat – why had I not anticipated this possibility?  Why had I secretly worried over this for months and then dismissed it at the time when it mattered most?

Aunt Em touched my hand: “It is already rather late for me – I hope you won’t feel offended if I retire to my bedroom.  Would you object Cowper?”

He stopped pacing briefly: “Not at all, we can discuss this in the morning.”

Edward rose to his feet: “The same applies to me.  It’s been a long day.  You too would be wise to turn-in I think.”  He looked directly at Cowper.

Aunt Em and Edward moved to leave the room. As he opened the door, Edward turned to say: “I’ll see you after breakfast Cowper and we shall, I hope, begin to see all this in a new light.  Goodnight Mitty.”

 

Cowper had already started pacing the floor before they left the room.

“Whatever has happened?”

“God knows”

“I don’t understand”

“You don’t understand!” Cowper turned on me, his face strained and drained of colour. “You don’t understand…”  he repeated throwing himself into the chair by the fire, his head in his hands.

I knelt down beside him.

“Please Cowper, we’ve always been able to talk”

“They’ve destroyed me.  I had no reason to believe it would turn out like this.  There was no warning that they would lay all the blame at my feet.”

“Surely, not for the executions.”

Searching in his pocket for some notes he said:  “I was interrogated for almost two hours.  Then, while we waited, they compiled the summing up. A copy of this…” he pulled out a paper and handed it to me “… will be despatched to India tomorrow. Read that” He said, pointing to an extract.

Dated 25th November, 1835, I skipped the legal jargon to read: “There is something seriously to be deplored in the conduct of Captain Rochford on this occasion.  He might, without at all overstepping the duty of a soldier, have so far yielded to the dictates of humanity as to have endeavoured to prevent a military execution on a scale, and under circumstances quite revolting and inconceivable with the feelings and usages of a civilised people.”  I looked up at Cowper.

 “Well, what do you think of that?  What is this thing we call justice Mitty?

I handed the paper back and he made no attempt to prevent all the papers falling and scattering on to the floor.

“But Cowper, why?  You told them you handed all the prisoners over to the Civil Authority.  It was nothing to do with you.  It doesn’t make any sense.  Didn’t you tell the Court this?”

“Of course, but their lawyers twisted my words and made it sound like something which was not the case at all.  I cannot understand why the praiseworthy comments that Lord Bentinnick, the Governor General, sent to the Enquiry in India, were never once quoted.  He said if you recollect…” Cowper retrieved the papers from the floor, then finding the pertinent reference he read: “…t is but justice to this officer to observe that his gallantry was conspicuous throughout the operations.”

I sighed deeply, but what could I say?

Cowper continued: “Edward and I went to his Club afterwards.  We were there for quite some time, I think. We had to talk and we needed something to sustain us.  Edward was devastated.  Although he has had little experience in military law, he had examined all the notes with meticulous care – you know what he’s like.  As we talked it through, he began to wonder if this can be linked to the trouble the East India Company have been having with investors in this Country. He was telling me that speculators have been forming partnerships, then withdrawing their investment and causing deplorable bankruptcies.  I’m afraid there are other important factors; such as sudden resignations of powerful individuals, no doubt due to the same cause.  We came to think it possible that the Company wanted to avoid further bad publicity, so they decided, damn them, that I should be the scapegoat.”

“Can they really get away with that?”

Suddenly Cowper’s attitude changed from reasonable to extremely hopeless. “Oh Mitty, if you only knew!”

“But is the Army capable of that?”

Remember thqt I signed with the Indian Army, not the British Army in India.”

“Does it make a difference?”

“Of course.  The Indian Army is controlled, owned if you like, by the East India Company.”

“But to put the blame on to you is unbelievably corrupt.”

“I am caught up in this major financial issue.  I am just a pawn, a mere nothing.”

“So will they get away with it?”

Edward thinks the Civil Courts will be drawing up legislation to prevent speculators juggling in financial malpractice.  But that will take forever and where does it leave me?”

“Are you still an officer in the Indian Army?” I almost whispered.

“Oh yes,” he said bitterly, “the EIC don’t want a Court Martial, that might become public.  You can be sure this will be kept quiet.  I’d be very surprised if it is reported, even in The Times.”

“Do you think we will we be going to India?”

“I don’t know.” He jumped up and began pacing the room again. “That’s the very devil of it.  They have told me nothing, which indicates I will have to remain on half-pay.  How can we manage Mitty, and with another baby coming?”

“We will manage somehow.  If we run into a crisis I could write to my brother Stephan. I think he would be more than willing to help.”

“No, if it comes to dire necessity I will write to my brother in Upper Canada, he’s growing quite rich out there.” Then he got angry again:  “But why the hell should it happen?  I am unable to leave the Army and I cannot seek another profession whilst I am in it.  I have no idea whether I will ever be allowed to return to India and I am still to be on half-pay.  It’s an impossible situation.  Absolutely impossible.”

 

I sighed again deeply, I just did not know what to say or how to reassure him. “There must be something we can do – but we can do nothing tonight. Won’t you come to bed?”

“Bed?  No, no, no I would never sleep, but Mitty would you please go to bed.  Please, I must think.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, yes I am sure, please.”

I had remained sitting on the floor so I reluctantly got to my feet and left the room

 

I tried to sleep, perhaps I dozed, but whether I had slept or not, I knew it was some time since I had come to bed, and Cowper had not joined me.  I tiptoed down the stairs.  Only a few candles were still burning.  Cowper was slumped in a chair by the dying embers of the fire.  I stood there hesitating.  What should I do?  What could I do?  Without being fully aware of it I made my way towards the piano, my own particular solace.  I sat there for some time, gazing first at the moon which I could see through the windows and which was casting its glow on to the carpet, like a shimmering pool.  Then I looked at Cowper again.  Was he asleep?  He had made no movement when I came in.  Normally Cowper loved me to play.  Was music the answer now?  If so… what?  He loved Beethoven and perhaps The Appassionata would be appropriate. Another of his favourites was the more calming first movement of The Sonata No.14 In C-Sharp Minor, oddly enough, in this moonlit room, known as The Moonlight Sonata.  Would that annoy him?  Would it seem superficial?

Without making a decision I found that I was playing it regardless, very softly.  I still did not know whether Cowper was asleep or not; there was no movement.  The last candle had just spluttered out and I was bathed in this ethereal light; and the almost mystical music was at least soothing me.  After a while I felt, more than saw, Cowper’s presence, the next moment he was on his knees with his head on my lap and his arms around my waist.  I played on, still very softly – I did not hear, but I sensed that he might be crying.  After a few moments I could feel his shoulders moving and almost undetectable clutching sensations coming from his chest – I stopped playing and slid to the floor beside him.

“I had… absolutely… nothing to do with those executions Mitty – for God’s sake tell me you believe that?”

“Of course my dear, of course I’ll always believe you.”

“What will happen to us?’ He asked, his voice muffled as his face was buried in my shoulder.

“I think…. in time, you will be recalled to India.  I don’t see what else they can do.”

 

We sat there as I cradled Cowper’s head in my lap, my back supported by the legs of the piano. The moonlight had moved away from the window and the room was much darker.  I do not know how long we stayed there but finally, leaning on one another, we made our way to bed.

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