Chapter 19

     It was nearly time to leave.  The house had been cleared and all the items which were surplus to our requirements had been sold or given away.  Then, and only then, did I feel the full impact of what was about to happen. I wandered into each room, each of which held so many memories.  I was about to leave the village where I had been so happy, this house where both my sons had been born and – this was really hard to bear – to leave my dearest cousins, ever our closest friends, Louisa and Charles and their little son Rochford.  I had no idea how long it might be before we would meet again.

The day of departure soon arrived and the carriage was at the door.  It was a Ransome carriage that Charles had recently purchased, and it was to take us to the Bull at Halstead.  Our luggage had been piled up at the back and we were ready to depart.  Huw was carrying Philippe and Mary was still holding Henri.  Louisa and I clung to each other sobbing and even Anna, normally more likely to say: “I thought you’d never go”, was standing there with tears in her eyes.  Charles and Cowper embraced each other too.  Then Charles hugged me, and, as my bonnet had been knocked back by all the affection, he gave the top of my head a very tender kiss.   Mary found the parting almost beyond endurance and after she passed Henri to me she put her apron up over her face and ran into the house.  Edward shook hands with us all, but looked most unusually sad.

“Please write as often as you can.” I said, addressing everyone.  “I will want to know everything, about you all and about the village.”

“Come along now” Cowper said, putting his arm around my shoulders.  “We had better get going if we are to catch the London mail.” He took Henri off me whilst I climbed up into the carriage, then placing him on my lap, he clambered in beside me.

We set off, waving goodbye to our very dear friends. As we drove away, Mary ran out of the house sobbing and waved until we could see her no more.  Also, local people we had learnt to know well, like Mrs White and the Vicar, some friends of Harriet’s, some friends of Aunt Em and Uncle John, plus Mrs James the midwife and the doctor, all appeared at different places, waving.  As we were finally out of sight of Castle Dursingham I hid my face in Cowper’s jacket and let the tears fall.  I did not look up again until we reached The Bull at Halstead.

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Huw was accepted at India House; this was a mere formality, as his passage had already been booked and paid for.  Thus Cowper and I would have help with the boys during the long journey.  Cowper was not going to return to India by means of steam, as he had hoped; it was to be some time before the East India Company encouraged this form of travel to India.

I had learnt, from listening to Cowper explaining to uncle John, that we would be sailing on an East Indiaman, a fleet which belonged to the East India Company.  As I sat down with them to listen, Cowper said:  “I am reluctant to admit it, but these  sailing packets are some of the finest merchant ships you can sail on.  They are run on very similar lines to the Royal Navy and are known as Lords of the East.  Some are built at Blackwall Yard on The Thames and they are considered to be top-class. Also because the EIC runs the China Tea trade, some are built out east, of teak wood.  They say teak is even better than English oak because worms cannot eat it.  As I say, due to my own circumstances, I hate to have to admit it, but the accommodation is of equal importance for passengers and crew, as is the care of the transported goods.”

Uncle John, who had once travelled on one, had said that he had to agree.  This knowledge gave me some comfort.

Leaving Pall Mall was almost as heart breaking as leaving our home. I had learned to love London during my stay there, and Aunt Em and I had spent some wonderfully happy times together, which we would remember all our lives.  Even Uncle John, an infrequent member of the household, had become dear to me. However, I was finding these farewells altogether too emotional, and I began to think:  If we have to go, let’s get on with it!

Thus we made our way to Gravesend.  When I first saw our ship, it was tied up alongside the quay so all the sails were reefed.  Yet I had to agree with Cowper’s prognosis, it looked very impressive.  Boarding was assisted by two crew members and we were soon up on the deck, with our luggage already stowed in the cabin.  We stayed there whilst the ship was being prepared for departure.  There was so much activity, on board and on land, and it was fascinating to watch.  We remained on deck, as many other passengers did.  But we kept to the side decks as the main decks were so busy with the crew members un-reefing the main sails, then hauling on the ropes to enable the sails to catch the wind.  Finally, the men who worked on the quays were untying all the ropes, and throwing them back on board.  Then slowly we slipped away, out of the Thames, into the Estuary and headed for the open sea.

I began to think of my brother Stephan and his wife Moira as we left Britain’s shores.  We had planned to pay them another visit (they had never seen the boys) – but lack of money and the short time allowed to get prepared for our departure had made the visit impossible.

Once we could no longer see the shores of England, we went to explore where we were to spend the next several months.  I had never sailed on a ship like this, and despite being assured that any passenger cabin in an East Indiaman was superior to most other ships, to me it seemed cramped.  I was therefore very surprised to see that a slender and delightfully small piano had been set into the wainscotting.  I gazed at Cowper, hoping my face was expressing my heartfelt gratitude, yet I half suspected he was disguising his own surprise.

Thinking that this must be my imagination, as he had a lot on his mind, I tried to work out the practicalities of how we would manage.  There were two bunks, one above the other, and a smaller bunk-cum banquette, which Philippe could sleep on in comfort; then there was just enough room for a large basket for Henri’s use.   Huw was initially put in the lower decks, and allotted a hammock.  But after a few days at sea I managed to persuade the Captain that as Huw was virtually part of our family that he should be allowed to sleep in the gunroom with the midshipman.  So he was permitted to fix his hammock in there each night. The midshipman rather looked down on him, thinking themselves far above drummer boys. However, in time his pleasant personality and helpful ways soon allowed him to become accepted.  I had been surprised to find midshipman on merchant ships, but Cowper had explained that many of them gained their experience this way, before being accepted into the Royal Navy.  Also, he told me, the merchant ships were armed, which was very necessary, against possible privateers and the possibility of intermittent conflicts between England and other countries.

Huw’s help was an enormous asset to me, as the cabin was far too small to keep the little ones in, except in the worst weather conditions.  Before breakfast, it was the habit of the crew to stack and secure all the hammocks on deck, but Huw managed to get permission to use three of them.  Making the sleeping parts hang horizontally, he would tie these up to various bits of super-structure on deck, so that Phillipe in particular, was free to play, but was not in danger of falling into the sea.  Also Henri’s basket was much safer enclosed in that manner.

I tried not to be fearful of the long journey which lay ahead.  The accommodation for passengers was very confined, and it would not be easy with a small boy and a baby. I reassured myself with the knowledge that I had the capable and practical Huw to help and I naturally assumed that Cowper would always be around to lend a hand.

It was thus we made our way to the infamous Bay of Biscay, very much aware and wary of its reputation for seasickness.

I resolved to look forward to a new life, with a husband who knew about the country we were heading for, plus two small boys who would rapidly grow and learn.

As I had always loved adventure and relished a challenge, I made up my mind to confront, and hopefully enjoy, whatever might lay ahead.

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