Chapter 15

About a month after our return from Cornwall I began to suspect that I was pregnant again, and when the morning sickness began, I felt sure of it.  Confiding in Louisa over a comforting cup of tea she told me:  “Well it sounds as if your diagnosis is correct.  Of course you knew that when you stop breast-feeding you can quickly fall pregnant again.  You did know, didn’t you?”

I shook my head.

“So you didn’t take precautions?”

I stared at her blankly

“Really you are a goose, why didn’t you ask me?”

She explained that although the preventative measures were not always reliable, at least one should take some action – and she told me how.  I was wiser at the end.

“You do want another baby?” Louisa asked looking at me closely

“Yes, of course, but I would have hoped that Philippe would be a little older.”

“I will never have another one.” Louisa said, breaking into my thoughts.

“I couldn’t face lying up for six months again and I’ve not felt really well since Rochford was born”

She said it with such conviction that there seemed no more to be said, but since on her own admittance measures to prevent it were unreliable, how was this to be achieved?  It set me wondering.

Cowper was suffering from a bout of depression at the time of my chat with Louisa, so I decided to wait for the doctor’s confirmation before telling him.

Some weeks later, when the doctor examined me, Cowper was feeling more cheerful and welcomed the news.  However, a while later Mary surprised me by being quite agitated as she came to find me.

“I thought I ‘eard a very faint knock at the front door, so I opens it, and there’s a filthy urchin standin’ on’t doorstep.  I tries to shoo ‘im away ma’am, but he wudna go and ‘e says ‘e knows yer ma’am, an’ that Jennie from the Rawlings sent ‘im ‘ere.  What can I do ma’am?  ‘e says ‘e’s called summat lik OOW.”

I turned around so suddenly that I startled Mary:  “Huw, is it Huw?” I exclaimed, hurrying to the door with Mary in hot pursuit.  As I opened the door I had to concur with Mary: a very dirty boy stood there.  A weak smile crossed his face and he said: “You’re not knowing me, it it?  Huw ma’am.  I’m Huw!”

With that he swayed visibly and I hurried him through to the kitchen.

“No time for explanations!” I announced in response to Mary’s amazed expression.

‘Give this boy some thin soup and bread, nothing more or he’ll be sick because I guess he’s not eaten – a chance to have a wash, or better still a bath, then we’ll find him somewhere to sleep.”

To Huw I said: “When you’re clean, fed and rested you can bring Captain Rochford and I right up to date.”

When Mary accepted that I meant what I’d said, she set-to with a will.  I passed through the kitchen several times carrying Philippe, who had a cold and was whimpering fretfully.  I saw Huw tucking into the soup and bread whilst Mary poured hot water from the boiler into the tin bath.  When Huw was up to his neck in soapsuds I was amused to hear Mary’s many instructions: “See yer washes yersel’ proper now – give yersel’ a good scrub an’ don’t ‘e forget to wash be’ind yer ears”

I was still rocking the baby and watching Huw and Mary with a mixture of amusement and disbelief, when Louisa put her head around the front door. “Is everything alright Mitty?  When I awoke from my afternoon sleep, Jenny told me about the waif, said he’d asked for Charles then finding he wasn’t in, asked her if she knew where you were.  She said she directed him here.  Did she do the right thing?”

“Oh yes indeed she did.  Come in and see for yourself.”

Huw was sat on a low stool wrapped in a towel.  His fair hair, which in Wales looked as if it had been cut round a basin on his head, had now grown to his shoulders and proved to be curly.  It had been washed and Mary was attempting to brush out the tangles, indicating to me by scratching her own head that it was full of head lice.  His face was shining but his eyelids were very heavy and he was very thin.  Still small of stature, the long hair made him look younger than I thought him to be.  I laughed at Louisa’s expression:  “This is Huw – remember I told you about our Welsh Guide?”

“Welsh guide?” Exclaimed Louisa, “He’s just a little boy!”

“Not as young as you might think – and he was an excellent guide.”

When I looked at Huw again he was nearly asleep:  “He’s probably walked for miles and the warm bath has finished him – give up on the tangled hair for now Mary – you must get him to bed.  Can you put that straw mattress in the small loft?”

I produced an old, but clean, shirt of Cowper’s which was far to big but served the purpose and struggling with the straw mattress Mary half pushed and half dragged Huw up the ladder to the loft.  He slept for almost 24 hours.  During that time Mary had cleaned up his clothes with a disinfectant mix, muttering about fleas and lice, and had left them hanging in the sunshine. She had also managed to wash his ragged shirt.

When he appeared in the kitchen, for a hearty breakfast, he almost resembled the Huw we remembered as, refreshed and fed, he joined Cowper and me.  We were sat in our little back room overlooking the garden and I was settling Philippe down for his morning sleep.  We were, of course, anxious to know how he had passed the last few months.  We guessed it had not been easy but as he started explaining we began to realise how even more difficult it had been. The money I had given him had been used to buy food and some medicine for the little girl Mia, whom he called sister.  She could not be saved, as the illness had been too far progressed.  After her death, Huw had tried to find work in Fishguard.  Being a resourceful boy he had managed to find somewhere to lay his head at night but no work of any kind was available.  He decided to return to Milford Haven, where he thought he had a job of sorts and a hay-loft awaiting him.  He walked most of the way, begging occasional lifts on farm carts, only to find that disaster had struck at the Inn.  The Landlord had been severely kicked by one of the stabled horses. This had broken his hip and an infection developed from which he had died.  His wife, having no son to help her, found it difficult to manage the Inn, thus she had given up and moved away.  Some of the Ostlers remembered Huw and were kind to him, sharing their food and letting him sleep in the stables, but he knew he could not stay.

“Bein’ back there I was seeing coaches and English folk, isn’t it?  Well I thought of you, see. You said to come Miss – gave me the address, which kind folk read out for me.  You had even given me a sovereign. Bein’ as you were so kind see, I thought I’d come.”

So that is how it was, Huw moved in with us.

“For the time being.” Cowper said.

“Until he gets stronger.” I had added.

He recovered fairly quickly and in no time he made himself very useful in both houses. Helping Mary who found, to her surprise, that he very soon learned to help with the cooking; tidying up the garden; helping to groom Charles’s horses when the grooms were busy; even helping to look after baby Philippe.

Throughout the weeks which followed, Cowper watched him with interest, noting his manner, his bearing, his ability to learn quickly and one day he said:  “That boy has it in him to be more that a pot boy, or stable lad.  If he’s agreeable we could teach him to read and write.  I may even be able to enrol him as a youngster in the army, maybe a drummer boy, then he could come out to India with us perhaps.”

I was doubly surprised, not only that Cowper had this sudden confidence in Huw, but also that he still believed he would be recalled to serve in India again.  I had to admit that by now I had hoped we would settle in Essex, manage on his half pay until he found other employment.  It was as if he had a premonition, because soon afterwards a Notice arrived, stating that a Military Enquiry was to be held, but no date was given.

One very rainy afternoon I heard Anna’s voice in the hall.  She sounded very irritated:  “Why did I rent that wretched cottage?”

There was a cluster of cottages near the Church, which was on the edge of Great Maplethorpe, and after moving from Ireland, Anna had rather impulsively rented one.

I joined her as she was shaking her soaking-wet cape, which I took from her and gave to Mary to hang near the stove in the kitchen.

“What’s the matter with it?” I asked.

“It’s so darned isolated.”

“Well let us go into the snug, it is warm in there because of this morning’s sun.”

“That’s just it.  It was such a lovely sunny morning I decided to walk over to see you, then down came the rain.”

As we sat down to drink some tea which Mary had thoughtfully produced – accompanied by a madeira cake which Anna particularly enjoyed. Anna said, rather curtly:  ‘Who was that boy who opened the door to me?”

“Oh, that was Huw.”

“Who is he?”

“You remember me telling you about our helpful Welsh guide, well that was Huw.”

“He’s just a boy, not a proper guide, and what is he doing here?”

“That is a long story.”

“Yes…  I’m listening”

“Hard to know where to begin.  When we got to Fishguard he discovered that the poor family which had kindly brought him up, when he’d been abandoned, had all contracted cholera and died; with the exception of one little girl.  The outcome was that I left him outside the Charity hospital, where the little girl had been taken.  He looked so desolate, on impulse, I gave him Charles Rawlings’ address, as I did not know where we would be.”

“Bless you, haven’t you learned to curb impulses yet?  Well how did he get here?”

“He managed one way and another, picking up short-term little jobs, to get to Milford Haven, where he had previously had a job as pot boy, only to find the innkeeper was dead, his wife had left, and the new people didn’t want to know him.”

“Yes, well go on.  Milford Haven is a long way away.”

“Some of the ostlers remembered him and helped a bit, but could not do much.  He was trying to help them out when the mail coach arrived and he recognised the Guard, who was a kindly man, and had been friendly in the past.  When he heard Huw’s story he read my note with the Rawlings address on it to Huw, who is illiterate. He then said, as Huw was small, he could get him to London.  He would have to crouch by the Guard’s feet, near the mail box, but as it was strictly against the rules, Huw would have to jump down out of sight, every time they stopped and quickly get up, as the coach started off. So he got to London, but then he was on his own.  He made it here, either by walking, or getting lifts on farm carts, where he could be of some small service.”

“So he’s very resourceful – and now what?”

“We don’t really know, but he makes himself so helpful and he is very bright.  Cowper has quite taken to him and is teaching him to write, and I’ve been teaching him to read.”

“Bless my soul – another mouth to feed and Cowper on half-pay, and you’ll be increasing your family before long, I’ll be bound.”

“I think we are about to.”

“Oh really.  Has Cowper given all this any thought?”

“Yes, the other day he surprised me by saying that, when we know we’re to return to India, it might be possible to enrol Huw as a drummer boy.”

At this point Charles appeared, looking for Cowper:  “Hallo Anna, nice to see you, but rather a bad time to come over, it is still pouring with rain.”

“It was sunny when I left, Charles.”

“I take it you walked, but this rain has set in for the night.  You must not think of returning and as they have no spare room here, why don’t you stop over with us?  Louisa is always pleased to see you.”

So it was settled, and it turned out that Anna was resolved to move, and asked Charles to help her find a cottage nearby.”

However, despite Cowper’s uncharacteristic optimism that week, we heard no more of India and were all enjoying being outside on a warm, November afternoon when Louisa came looking for me.  She wanted to use some of my labels for the Rhubarb and Ginger preserve her cook was making.

“Of course you may have some, but come and look at this first.”

Mary was lifting Philippe into the new baby carriage which Cowper and Huw, with the help of a local carpenter, had managed to construct.  Huw had been leafing through a book on Chatsworth House.  He still could not read properly, but he was learning to love books, and he had come across the design.  He had taken great pride in drawing it up so that it could be built.  The baby carriage was first made for the Duke of Devonshire’s son in 1750.  It was shaped like a shell with wheels, the rims of which came higher than the sides (small guards were fixed to protect the baby).  It then had a sort of shaft attached to the front but this was not attached to a horse, like a carriage, but was pulled, or pushed, by a person.  Because of Huw’s drawings Cowper had been able to instruct the carpenter, and Cowper was most impressed with yet another ability of the boy’s.  Mary was pleased to be the first one to use it, as she knew the neighbours would look out of their doorways and windows at this strange contraption.

Louise was highly sceptical about its use.  Once we were assured that Mary was making good progress along the road, we returned to our various tasks.  Huw was sorting Bramley apples and Cowper was busy arranging storage for them in the garden shed.  Old Tom, a former farm labourer was “doin’ ‘is bit o’ gardnin’,” weeding round the winter brassicas and tidying up my herb garden.

I found my preserve labels for Louisa, on which I had drawn little flower frames, and we made for the snug’ at the back of the house which Cowper and I used most of the time.

“Cook will know how to make a bit of flour paste to attach these to the jars,” I said as I put the kettle on the skillet over the fire.  We chatted happily, never at a loss for something to talk about, until Mary returned with a peacefully sleeping Philippe.

“You shoulda jes ‘eard Mrs Jameson going on – ‘Lord a’ mercy on us!’ She said, ‘arms was made fer carryin’ babies.  If God ‘ad meant us to do that he’d a growed wheels on us, ‘e would.”

So that was how people saw the baby carriage! Then I noticed that Louisa was gazing into her empty tea cup.  “Can you read the tea leaves?” She asked Mary

“No, ma’am, but I knows yer cook can, an’ she’s good at it too.”

“Has she read yours Mary?” I asked

“Yes ma’am and she’s told me that me and Will ‘ull be married afore the years out.”

“How about it Louisa, shall we have a go?”

“Why not, only don’t tell the men, they wouldn’t approve”

“I wonder – Cowper might go to any length to discover the result of this awful trial and what his future holds.  I find it hard too because I am so happy and settled here, but his life is in the Army –  and that means India.  I know it is never far from his thoughts.  As you know, Cowper would like to have Huw commissioned as a drummer boy, but he certainly would only wish to do that if we were going to be there as well.  Huw doesn’t have a surname and they wouldn’t accept him without one.  Did Cowper ask Charles if he would allow Huw to bear the name of Rawlings?”

“I don’t think so, Charles hasn’t mentioned it.”

“When Cowper does, would you be prepared to support Charles in this?  We would not hesitate to give him our name but if we arrive in India together it would be altogether too confusing. I’m sure he would never disgrace your name, just think how he’s changed and I believe this is only the beginning.”

“I agree it is difficult to believe he is the same ragged child who turned up on your doorstep… how long ago?”

“Five months.  Mary took him under her wing from the first.  Her healthy food and the new clothes have made such a difference.  I’ll swear he’s grown, and he walks taller.”

“His learning ability is remarkable too, Charles says.”

“Quite remarkable.  Cowper has been teaching him to write and I’m teaching him to read.

Because of his ability for draughtsmanship, Cowper is teaching him proper mathematics; Huw has picked up mental arithmetic, so that is a basis.  As you know he designed and built our new garden arbour. That old tree that was lying at the bottom had matured, and when Cowper saw the drawings he got the saw mill to cut it into planks.”

“Since he’s put on weight he’s becoming quite good looking”

“Those high cheek bones, and even his hair is growing now.”

“After ending up in a bucket, covered in lice.”

“And such bright blue eyes.”

Our mutual admiration suddenly sounded so funny we started laughing:  “Seriously though Louisa, don’t you think he has a noble face?  Uncle Henry does; Huw goes over to Seble  Dursingham  because Uncle’s helping him with Maths too, and he’s teaching him to understand the night sky, as the stars are such a help with navigation. Everyone seems to have taken to him.”

“Even Anna, although we know she is soft hearted really – it’s more like a fairy tale.  I believe you think he comes from a noble family?”

“Well perhaps.  I don’t think we’ll ever know whether his mother abandoned him to protect the honour of her family name.  But his intelligence is well above average and we should encourage that, don’t you think?”

“Yes of course.  Why don’t you ask Charles if Huw can become a Rawlings, Mitty, or at least bear the surname.  You know Charles can never refuse you anything.”

Despite all this talk of India, I secretly hoped that we would always live in Castle Dursingham, near Louisa and Charles.  I loved the place, the people and now as a result, England itself.

That very evening I was, as usual, bathing the little boys, watched by Louisa.  It had become the habit for Cowper and Charles, given the time, to look in on this jolly activity; then Charles told us that Edward had arrived, looking brisk and businesslike.  He had made it clear that he wished to talk to Cowper and Charles, so they spent several hours behind closed doors, preparing the brief.  Would this destroy all my hopes of staying put?

As we learnt later, the date for the Enquiry had been set and was to take place in two weeks.

This gave us very little time to get organised.  Cowper and I would go to London, Philippe would stay with Mary and Huw.

 

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