Archives for posts with tag: British Empire

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.

**********

 

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.

//

Chapter  17

    After our return to Essex, Cowper kept himself busy by making detailed notes of all that had occurred, and by giving even more time to Huw’s education. He progressed so well that Cowper began to teach him basic words in French and Hindustani.  Partly, I guessed, to show optimisim for the boy’s future, and also to polish up his use of the languages himself.  The latter was an essential language in dealing with native soldiery in the area where he had been based, and the former, which had been the second language of his parents and my grandparents, was also frequently used in commands among the many French officers in the Indian Army.

Edward had discovered that Cowper was likely to receive orders to return to India, but he was unable to ascertain when it might be.  He also wrote a long explanatory letter to uncle John covering the details of the Enquiry.  This was a great help to Cowper, as not only would it have been a very difficult letter to write, but also because Edward was a known and trusted legal advisor, as well as a friend of the family.

My time was fully occupied with Philippe, with making and mending for the new arrival, and with preparations for Christmas.  Since we were short of money, I made all the presents myself.

 

Phillipe was adorable.  He and Rochford Rawlings were so very different.  Rochford was very active and slender, with light blonde straight hair and large blue eyes. Philippe had dark curly hair, brown eyes, and was still pleasantly plump.

With all this activity, Christmas was upon us quickly and we moved to Fynes Hall for four days of festivity. The babes were, of course, the centre of attention, as both had made great strides.  Rochford was managing his first faltering steps, holding on to the furniture.  Philippe was sitting up on his own, rolling around on his stomach, and when sitting he managed to move around the floor, dragging one leg after him.  Unlike Rochford, he never crawled, but moved around in this unconventional manner until one day, he just stood up and walked.  Aunt Em, always rather over anxious about babies, thought Rochford should be discouraged from walking because that way he would get bow–legged and Phillipe would fall over backwards and should be propped up. Louisa and I feigned listening attentively, then promptly ignored her advice.

The ten foot-high Christmas tree in the hall was very beautiful.  All the carefully stored and most tinkly, glittering tree decorations were brought out to attract the babies.  Although the tree was spectacular, our eyes were mostly on the little ones as we enjoyed each new reaction.  On the night before Christmas, Jim and one of the young gardeners had brought in swathes of holly and ivy entwined with red ribbons.  There were hung in large bunches in the entrance hall and the sitting room and thus Fynes looked as festive as it always had at Christmas.

It was now necessary to make a leather harness for Philippe to stop him falling out of his baby cart.  Charles and Louisa had not bothered with such a contraption, even though they had the resources, but they used a small wooden chair for him to eat in, which had been used by Charles as a child; it had a circular, wooden ring above the legs which had wheels set into them.

This ring went under Rochford’s armpits, when he was standing up, and enabled him to walk around without falling.  It had little silver bells attached which tinkled as he walked and it pleased his grandmother to see it in working use again.  When he walked with confidence we borrowed this for Philippe and we managed to obtain a special, high chair for him to eat in.

Uncle John was naturally anxious to talk to Cowper and to know if he had heard from India.  The potential outcome of the Enquiry did not dismay him as much as it did Cowper.  His position at Court gave him access to more information than he was in a position to convey.

“You were right Cowper” he said, “I’ve scanned The Times most diligently and have seen no report of this wretched business.  Nor do I recollect seeing a report of the storming of the Hill Fort at Cuman Droag about which you received such praise in despatches.  Yet I read a detailed report of the storming of Fort St. George by Coorg Field Force in 1834.  No word either about the Rajah of Madras whose Escort you commanded, but a great deal has been written about Maharaja Runjeet Singh and his army of 73,000 men, partly because this army included quite a number of Sikhs and Gurkhas. European commanders admire them, I believe?”

“Yes sir.  The former, because their religion probably fits the army more than most, and the latter because they are excellent fighters and very well disciplined.  It is said of the Seiks: To venerate the cow, to cherish the growth of the beard and to abstein from the use of tobacco are their great national characteristics and the latter is peculiarly their own.  Also, they will eat any meat, except beef.  There was a Mutiny against Runjeet Singh due to his cutting down rations and, in some cases, pay. This mutiny actually included the Gurkhas, but although Singh brought out his Cavalry, they had to beat a hasty retreat and Singh had to retire to the Fort.”

“Interesting… there is no shortage of reporting about the commercial interests of the East India Company, I notice.  Share prices in tea are well reported and there are even rumours of sugar exportation – though what the West Indies will think of that, I know not.  Scandals too – the Chairman resigned recently, under something of a cloud.”

“I think Sir that it was in connection with the financial speculation and malpractice which brought about sudden bankruptcies in this country.”

“Yes, yes, without doubt! You are wise to be circumspect Cowper and I trust you will remain so,” he paused briefly,  “I am sure – if I may talk to you confidentially – that you also believe, as I do,  that this case has been ‘hushed up’ because further publicity would have been disastrous at this time for the East India Company.”

“It gives me some comfort to hear that you are also of this opinion Sir.  I can only hope, however, that the EIC will not wait over-long before recalling me.  My reduced salary does not support my growing family adequately.”

I knew of this conversation because I had heard a little of it, as I passed by – and Cowper had told me more later. It was a great comfort to me as well. Fearsome as uncle John might sometimes seem, I respected him and valued his opinion.

As the months went by and nothing but very occasional and ambiguous remarks came through from the E.I.C, I was thankful Cowper had become involved in recording his side of the military records, as well as being Huw’s voluntary tutor.

His bouts of melancholia increased and it became even more difficult to reassure him that he was not permanently on the scrap heap.  Sometimes he would borrow one of Charles’s chestnut hunters and go missing, riding for most of the day. It was understandable, but worrying.  He loved Philippe and often said how fortunate he was to enjoy his youthful development.  Preoccupied as I was, I often found it necessary to remind myself that I had duties as a wife as well as a mother.

 

Cowper, however, had kept up regular correspondence with several of his fellow officers and on one occasion a letter arrived which was to add more than a little spice to his record keeping.  It totally absorbed him at breakfast that morning, and as I left the table to join Mary and Philippe he looked up: “Apologies Mitty. This is very interesting… Charles and Louisa are to have supper with us tonight, aren’t they?” As I nodded, he added, “I think they would like to hear of this.”

It was April and a fine evening so we took a turn around the garden following the excellent meal which Mary and Huw had prepared.  Huw’s diligent studies in no way deterred him from cooking, nor us from encouraging him.  He still managed to surprise us with his different abilities, and the dear boy had to earn his board and lodging after all!

The sun was still shining into the garden, and as we all stood enjoying it Cowper said: “I have no doubt you will all remember the first letter I wrote to you Mitty, since you and Charles had a hand in deciphering it.”

“Will any of us ever forget it?”

“In that case Charles; you will remember my account of a cousin of yours, a John Dickenson?”

“Do you mean the chap who fell in love with some girl, but on Mama’s orders she was forced to marry a Major, because the one she loved was a mere Captain?” Asked Charles.

“Well remembered. After the marriage the poor girl died, if you recall, and he, devastated, entered into a disastrous marriage himself.  I thought him to be a very likable fellow who had entrapped himself.  A further chapter in his history arrived in the post this morning, and when we go back inside, I would like to read it to you.”

Once settled in the the snug, and having informed us that the opening paragraphs were concerned with routine military matters, Cowper informed us: “My fellow officer begins this tale by bringing me up to date, as I will read.  ‘You will no doubt remember a Capt. John Dickenson, who had been Commissary of Ordnance at Bangalore and, in March 1833, whilst you were still there, he arrived at the Presidency and was created temporary Paymaster…’

Looking up at us Cowper said,  “I do remember, of course… but to continue.”

In August 1833, after you had left for England, rumours spread that he was misappropriating the military funds.  In fact a military letter was later quoted, written on the 13th August, which stated that Dickenson’s appointment was inexpedient.  However he continued unabated in his appointment until 1st May 1834 when a Court Martial was ordered.  At the request of the prisoner this was postponed and took place on the 19th May.’   

Glancing at Charles, Cowper said “I find that rather strange.” Then continued to read.

‘He was charged with the misappropriation of public money, from 1830 and for many years afterwards. Naturally, he was arrested… ’

But note this, he broke arrest.”

‘…Having escaped, he was struck off as a deserter.  Apparently someone had seen him boarding a sailing ship bound for Mauritius, and had reported this to the Guardroom.  A speedier sailing packet was immediately commissioned by the army, and as they arrived in Mauritius before the ship on which Dickenson was travelling; they arrested him as he disembarked.  Brought back to Madras under Military Guard, he was found Guilty.  Therefore on the 20th January, 1835 he was transported to New South Wales for seven years.”

“Oh no, how dreadful.” I interjected.

“Dreadful indeed, but I will read on.”

Imagine Cowper, if you can, the excitement of the race against time between those two sailing ships, the better one catching the wind and arriving first.  It is said by those who’ve spoken to the Military Guard that at times they were close enough to have been seen by the other ship and that Dickenson may well have known that his escape was doomed before his arrival in Mauritius.  I don’t know if you know that the fellow lost the one he loved to another and had a disastrous marriage – however that is no reason to break the law.’

“He then goes on to other matters.

“What a story!  – Drama in the Indian Ocean eh?  He seems to have had more than his share of bad luck… nevertheless, any chance of a remittance?” Charles enquired, “I mean he is some sort of a cousin of mine.”

“Let us hope so.  I think it is remarkable that we have gained this information so quickly – the packet it travelled by must have had the wind behind it all the way.  Imagine what it will be like when they finally decide to put a steam packet on this run?”

“Did I hear you say that the Court Martial was postponed at the request of the prisoner?” Charles asked.

“Yes, rather surprising, that”.

“For how many days?”

Re–examining the letter Cowper replied:  “Eighteen, from the 1st to the 19th May.”

“That would have allowed ample time for organising his escape plans.  Do you think he was being aided by someone?”

“Perhaps, it does seem possible.”

“It could also be possible that he was a victim – another cover up?”

“Dear God I hope not; if so he has my deepest sympathy!”

After some more discussion about John Dickenson, it was finally accepted that there was nothing further we could do about it at that time.  Thus the rest of the evening became very enjoyable and we went to bed happily. However, Cowper re-read the letter  the following morning, which obviously revived Indian memories for him, and he was – as I half-anticipated – very withdrawn for some days after that.

//

//

//

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.

//

I fell asleep a little after dawn but still awoke early. My mind was certainly clearer, or was it my lack of sleep which made me think it was? Seeming to be motivated by something outside myself, I sat down to write to Cowper. Years later, and with hindsight, I marvelled at the speed with which I had, almost recklessly, arrived at this decision. A decision which included the knowledge of an horrific event, which took the Indian Army many years to resolve, if they ever did. An event which would also remain in my thoughts for many years.

Yet I wrote:  After much thought I am prepared to accept what you told me, that you had no connection with the actual executions. Consequently if you wish to call upon me I will be happy to receive you. However, I wish to stress that this does not mean anything more than an act of friendship.

I folded and sealed the note and left it on my writing table. It was still too early for breakfast so throwing a wrap around myself, I made for my favourite place – the stables. One of the grooms came over, remarked about my being about so early, then said: “I am very concerned about something and would like to talk to Mr. Charles.”

“Well, if you think that is the right thing to do, why don’t you?”

“I would have to get Madam’s permission to ride over.”

“I could ask her during breakfast”

“Oh would you please.”

“Yes, of course, and if you do go, there is something you can do for me. There is a guest staying with Mr. Charles.”

“Yes, Captain Rochford, I stabled his horse yesterday.”

“Oh yes, well I have a note I would like you to take to him.”

After breakfast the groom set off with my note. The deed was done.

Having sent the message I decided it would be better to try and put it out of my mind, for the time being at least.

Cowper rode over sooner than I expected. He said he was delighted to hear from me so soon and was prepared to accept my conditions, although his expression seemed to be saying providing I do not have to wait too long. From that moment on, either his presence or my enquiring thoughts about him seemed to take over my life. At times the humbled spirit was still evident, but was often concealed by the swashbuckling bravado which he delighted in portraying. His unpredictability was deeply rooted. Sometimes it was exciting and sometimes unnerving. There was no time of day which Cowper considered unsuitable for visiting. However on one particular morning some weeks later, with the rain streaming down the windows, it seemed reasonable to anticipate a breakfast alone with my aunt. I was still trying to accept that this relaxed, gregarious woman was the same person who had openly shunned my arrival at Fynes. It had been obvious that by inviting me to live in Essex, her son Henry had given her an unwanted responsibility. This responsibility she had now shifted to Charles and Cowper, even Henry. She even seemed to be enjoying the unfolding plot.

“This continuing rain will presumably prevent Cowper riding over.”

“Possibly, its hard to tell.”

“Have you arranged a date for the wedding yet?”

“No – he has reminded me several times of his wish to marry me, but I have not given him his answer. If I had, you would be one of the first to know.”

“I cannot understand why he has not been snapped up already – surely you find him fascinating?”

“Utterly. My mind is dominated by him, yet I fear his unreliability.”

“Unreliability?”

“Yes, if I expect him here, he doesn’t come. If I don’t expect him, he does come.”

“Oh that – it is hard to believe that you, of all people, so fearful of spending your life at boring Fynes Hall, seek boring predictability. Awaiting your response is a tall good-looking cavalier of a man who wants to sweep you off to the excitement of India. I simply do not see the problem.”

“He has no money – and he may think that I have.”

“You are full of suprises this morning – I never saw you as a prosaic soul. Marry your man – you’ll manage. Have you forgotten that you told me you would have married a poverty stricken Irish poet, if you had loved him. Why this change?”

“I am still not sure that I wish to marry him.”

Aunt had little sympathy with my indecision. It was clear she saw me as an ageing woman. An unmarried twenty-five year old was, ‘on the shelf’, in her eyes. Also I had no dowry and had had an unruly, uneducated upbringing; thus she was amazed that I should be offered such prospects – and could not comprehend my indecision. As the conversation wore on and aunt’s persuasive remarks were bearing little fruit, she finally lost all patience with me, and left the room. Pleasant as she had now become, it was nevertheless clear that she really wanted me ‘off her hands’.

Even though I was unsure, an overwhelming tide of destiny seemed to be bearing me along. Should I try to swim against it? In Cowper’s presence I was mesmerised – in his absence, yet missing his presence, I was consumed with doubts. Should I talk to my levelheaded maid Mary, in whom I had now confided everything? Would she be able to advise? If not, who else? Louisa was still inaccessible to me – being in the Cowper camp, as it were. The rain stopped and the sun came out, but there was still no sign of Cowper; so I resolved to ride over to see uncle Henry at his home in Seble Dursingham.

We spent a pleasant afternoon in his garden, eating a huge bowl of strawberries which we had picked together. As we sat in the bower, I sipped my third cup of tea, surrounded, and almost enveloped, by sweet smelling roses. I told him I would value his advice about the possibility of marrying Cowper.  At this he laughed out loud.

“Me, ask my advice? Surely you’ve heard about my history?”

“No”

“I am surprised, I thought that the gossip would have reached you by now.”

“Gossip?”

“Well it wasn’t really gossip at all. You see, many years ago when I was much younger and slimmer than I am today, I fell in love with the very pretty daughter of a local gentleman farmer, and she agreed to marry me. I rather naively believed that we were happily married for about three years, although I am afraid I was very often away at sea. On returning, from a rather longer than usual voyage, I found that she had gone off with a young man. Some young buck from London apparently, whom she had met when he’d come down here for some shooting. I was very much in love with her, and despite the scandal which undoubtedly would have resulted; given the chance I would have taken her back. I planned to take her away and settle abroad – but I never saw her again. In time, news reached me that she had died giving birth to his baby, and hours later the baby had died too.”

“Oh dear, what a terribly tragic tale. I am so very sorry.”

“Yes, well now you understand why I live alone, and why I don’t feel capable of advising anyone about marriage.”

“Are you saying that ‘don’t do it’ would be your obvious advice?”

“No no, of course not, it’s just that, well, my own history precludes it.”

“But you’ve met Cowper. Surely, your sad experience doesn’t prevent you from forming an opinion of people does it? I would have thought it might have heightened your ability.”

He laughed: “You may be right. Yes I’ve met Cowper two or three times now.”

“Well?”

“He’s a likeable bounder.”

“He’s a loveable bounder in my view, but should one marry a bounder?”

“You’ve answered your own question haven’t you? If he’s loveable in your view, so why not marry him? Only don’t come back and blame me for saying so, because marriage is a damned funny business.”

*******

The following morning the sun shone brilliantly, after the early morning rain. The small world around Fynes sparkled, and the fresh, sweet-smelling air was intoxicating. I wanted to share this with Cowper, who had promised to visit yesterday morning. As it had been raining I had tried to plan things we might do, in such inclement weather. We both loved music. He sometimes sang with me at the piano, and he sang well. He also played a woodwind instrument, which he produced from the depths of a pocket in his long waistcoat. It looked rather like an Oboe, and had been made, he told me, by a talented Indian batman. Or perhaps we would explore the house as we sometimes did, examining the oils and watercolours which covered the walls. Or even spend time in the library. Books by new authors were constantly appearing on the shelves. Uncle John sent them down, to add to his collection.

But that was yesterday and the rains had gone. I was reluctantly beginning to realise that planning anything to include Cowper was impossible.

Still he did not come.

I was determined that he should not find me hanging around waiting for him to turn up, which was partly why I’d ridden over to visit uncle Henry the day before. So, seething with irritation at his inability to keep a promise, I was in the drive on my way to the stables, when he came galloping up.

My temper is not very well controlled: ‘Irish Mist’ some call it. I accused him of ruining the previous day, and when he did not apologise I could easily have struck him with my riding crop. In fact I had started to raise it, and his first reaction was to turn his horse’s head, as if to ride off, so I turned to walk away.

Then, suddenly turning his horse back and coming up behind me, he bent down and grabbed me around the waist, then expertly pulled me up in front of him and rode away towards the hill.  At first, in a vain attempt to escape, I punched his arm, which was holding me around my waist in a firm grip. I kept shouting at him to stop and let me go. I tried to keep this up, but eventually I just had to laugh,if a little breathlessly.

Cowper pulled on the reins and brought the horse to a walk.

“I told you in my letter that I would storm your defences and overcome every obstacle which was put in my way. Well here I am. I want to marry you Mitty, there is no one else in the world I want for my wife … will you have me? Well what do you say? Do you love me? Do you want to marry me?”

“Oh Cowper, please, please, stop, and put me down.”

“No I will not. I want your answer first.”

I think I had always wanted to be swept off my feet, although perhaps not quite so literally; but the way he’d carried out the proposal did excite me. I had already decided that if he returned to India, without me, I would be devastated because … having met him, life would seem unbearably boring without him. I wanted to be with him. Finally I had admitted it; at least to myself. I turned and looked at him, then nodded my head.

“Do I read that as a yes, that you will marry me?”

I nodded again.Having finally received my answer, he stopped as promised. Having dismounted, he looked up at me, then putting his hands on my waist he helped me down, very gently, and then he kissed me. I had grown accustomed to the lovely sensation, as he passed me, and brushed aganst me, of the touch of his hand, especially of his lips on my hand. But nothing had prepared me for this, not even occasional indiscretions in the past at Dridala.

If I had had any doubts they were dispelled by that long lingering kiss. Why had I never realised this before? Perhaps, because he had never kissed me.

We returned together on horseback, quite slowly this time, in self-evident, yet unspoken contentment.

//

Chapter 9

     I didn’t relish discussing this with Harriet.  I was unable to imagine how she would react to it.  On the other hand, Charles, on his visit to London, had assured me that he was sure she would find the revelation thoroughly enjoyable.  Even so, how would I find the opportunity?  In the event, as luck would have it, the opportunity presented itself.  Aunt had received a letter from her son John by the same letter carrier who had brought mine.  She mentioned some of its contents at breakfast, but apparently he had not referred to Cowper.  It was obvious that he was leaving it to me.

“I’ve also had a letter from uncle John.” I said.  “His letter refers to another one I received sometime ago, one I would like to talk to you about.”

“Very well then, we will make ourselves more comfortable.  Would you care for some more coffee?”

Being a lovely day, the tall windows of the morning room, through which one could walk, were fully raised.  Aunt chose seats close by them so we could enjoy the warm, fresh air which gently disturbed the drapes.

I read uncle’s letter first, which naturally created curiosity, and thus led to my reading the transcript of Cowper’s letter.  I then explained Charles’s participation and finally my own anxieties.  Charles had been right, aunt was intrigued.

“That young man sounds like someone I would like to meet again.  I believe I do remember him, as a young school friend of Charles.  He seems to possess the boldness and romance of the young men I knew when I was young.  I am relieved to know that such young men still exist.  Well, when will be be coming here?”

“Charles has sent me a note to say that both of them will be here tomorrow.”

“So soon – oh well time enough to arrange a little supper party. I will see cook now and then I have some letters to write.”

As she stood up to leave she remarked, with a smile:

“This should brighten up your long, dull days at Fynes Court.”

As usual she had caught me on the wrong foot , but I returned her smile.

After she had gone, I sat and pondered what had taken place.  Harriet’s reaction was very different from uncle John’s, or even aunt Em’s.  She had seemed to throw caution to the wind, as she made no reference to position or financial suitability.  Aunt just seemed to assume that I would go along with all Cowper’s suggestions.  Was this reassuring or disturbing?

*********

The following morning aunt came to my bedroom – The first time she had taken such a step for the eighteen months I had lived with her.  She wanted to know what I had chosen to wear – which, as it happened, was helpful, as I was in a quandary.  Mary, my usually wise adviser, had produced many of the outfits aunt Em had provided for me, but this tended to make me panic.

Aunt seemed confident enough: “Something simple and colourful but not too colourful, a summer cotton perhaps?”

Mary rummaged, then held one up,

“That looks fine, but why not add a touch of white, perhaps a lace collar?  It will set off your splendid dark hair.”

I followed her advice and allowed Mary to dress my hair a little, yet I was still amazed at aunt’s interest and indeed her compliments.  As I made for the Sitting Room I was surprised to hear the clatter of hoofs on the drive – it had to be them.  They had wasted no time and must have left Castle Dursingham very early.

Trembling a little, I went over to rearrange some roses, which of course needed no such attention, but this allowed me to have my back towards the door, giving the impression that I did not know they had arrived.  Such plans were in vain because they marched straight in, through the open window from the garden.

“Ah there you are Mitty.” Said Charles, “Cowper thought it would be fun to come in this way, we are in luck to find you in here.”

With a slight smile, Charles introduced us.  Taking my hand, and holding it rather higher than usual before he bent to kiss it, allowed Cowper to glance into my eyes.  I was aware of this little trick, but was surprised how very gently he handled it.

At this point Charles suggested that we take a walk around the garden.  I was not exactly ignored, but their conversation was mostly about shared old times together, in this very house.  It was something of a relief, as I could glance at Cowper whilst he was talking, and I felt sure he was doing the same with me.

Charles had not exaggerated Cowper’s good looks and being so tall made him appear impressive. His dark wavy hair was an extra bonus, but I was reminded of the saying of our old, half-sozzled cook at Dridala, when talking of good-looking young men. “To be sure; its not the handsome way he’s a’looking, but the handsome way he’s a’doing.”

Aunt joined us for an early luncheon. She was, it had to be said, a handsome woman and cared for her appearance, but this day she had obviously taken extra care and looked quite pretty. It was obvious that she liked the company of young men and was quite the centre of attention. Unusually, we took a little wine with luncheon, which served to relax us all, and I found myself being surprisingly grateful to Harriet.  Cowper was telling us about his delight at seeing the green fields of Essex again, when Aunt said:  “I have never thought about asking Matilda this, but are your family in any way related to the other Essex Rochfords?” Cowper and I both looked puzzled.

“Why” said Aunt, “Viscount Rochford of Rochford Hall”

“Ah ha, you mean the Bolyn’s” put in Charles.

“You don’t mean the descendants of Thomas Bolyn, the father of the infamous Anne who changed the course of our history?” asked Cowper.

“I do indeed” said Charles smiling.

“I had never heard that they bore the title Rochford, but since they do we fortunately cannot be related, as their surname is in fact Bolyn … one I would prefer not to be associated with.”

“Of course you are right.” Said aunt, a faint smile lingering, proving that she had brought it up on purpose.

Charles suggested a drive after lunch, which aunt declined.  The combination of the mid-day wine, the warm afternoon, and the trotting motion of the trap, soon found us all laughing and joking.  I could even begin to look at Cowper directly.  I am normally neither shy nor coy, but this unusual occasion had been fraught with apprehension.

On our return we followed the formal pattern, and retired to change for the early dinner aunt still preferred.  She appeared, looking terrific again, to join us in a most elaborate supper, this time accompanied by the best cellar wines.  Jackson and Lilly, the parlour maid, also wore special attire.  Aunt had, surprisingly, arranged a special celebration.  Her conversation was full of anecdotes and even more embroidered details of ‘the goings on’ in Bath, in her young days, but I had to admit she made it entertaining.  I had seen glimpses of this side of her when talking with Charles, but I’d never seen her quite like this.  Could it really be my great-aunt Harriet, or was it all an act?

As supper was being cleared she made a special request for me to play.  Chopin, or a Beethoven Sonata would do, but not Liszt.  After I had played my first piece Charles and Cowper came over, and leaned across the side of the  piano.  Even though I had tried to select pieces which were not too intense, the whole setting created an emotional atmosphere, and no matter what I played, these feelings seemed to be expressed.   I was very glad I had the excuse of gazing at the piano keys, as I was quite unable to look at either Cowper or Charles.

Finally aunt announced she was going to retire.  A keen reader and fortunate to have good eyesight, she always went to her room after supper, as Mary had told me, to read her current book.  Since my return from London we had taken our meals together, but she had never stayed up as late as this.  Her exit was suitably and respectfully acknowledged, and since the formality was now over, we decided to take coffee on the verandah.

Charles brought with him a small leather case, which he placed by his chair.  Comfortably settled, we sipped our coffee, enjoying the golden glow as the sun slid slowly towards the horizon.  Suddenly Cowper said, but quite quietly, “I knew you could play as a kid Mitty –– but I had no idea you could make the piano sing like that.  Just as well I mentioned that you should have your piano built into the cabin.  The door of that cabin will become a busy place …”

It was the first time since his arrival that he had made any reference to his letter, and my expression must have deterred him.

“Oh dear, you will accuse me of being presumptuous again. Yes, Charles has told me.  Of course I had no right to expect you to agree to anything, you must forgive me.  In India both the climate, and the local culture, seem to create a different atmosphere, now I am back here I can see that…” he paused, then added ”…but even more than that, subsequent events need an explanation.” Cowper looked signiicantly at Charles, then added:  “Charles and I have decided that you should know about a very serious accusation which has been made against me, charges which could affect your opinion of me.  If you agree, we felt that you should know sooner rather than later.”

“Are you referring to what Charles called dramatic events?”

“Yes Mitty.”

“Well, you both seem convinced that I ought to know.”

“I fear so, but as this is a military matter, it is necessary to go into some detail” Said Cowper, seeming to take a deep breath.

“In 1827 I was given – what was said to be temporary command – of the escort to the Rajah of Mysore.  Whilst in my capacity of leading the escort to protect the Rajah, we were attacked by rebels at the Fort of …”

“May I interrupt Cowper?” Charles asked “I think you should first mention that in December of that year, and acting as Lieutenant/Commander of the Tillador Horse, you received prize money for the capture of Kittoor and …” At this point Cowper tried to resist the interruption, but Charles insisted, and went on:  “Mitty must be given all the facts if she is to form an accurate judgement”.

While Charles searched for a document in the case he had brought, I was longing to say: ‘Oh do get on with it’, but I bit my lip.

Pulling out the required paper Charles said:

“This is from a despatch written at the time: ‘His gallantry and professional knowledge in command of the Rajah of Mysore’s troops, in storming the Hill Fort known as Coman Droag, noted.  The Commander in Chief then wrote ‘Under all the disadvantages of leading troops, to whom Lietutenant Rochford was almost an entire stranger, his perseverance and well-arranged plan of attack, added to the confidence his admirable example could not fail to inspire in all around him, induced His Excellency to record his high opinion of…”

My expression must have indicated my irritation at this show of admiration, and Cowper seeing this asked:

“Is this really necessary Charles?”

“You know it is necessary Cowper, and once Mitty hears what is to follow she will readily understand.  So if I may complete what was recorded:  ‘… His Excellency to record his high opinion of the professional talent displayed by the young officer, and to the cool, reflected and animated zeal so conspicuous in the execution of his plans.’  Finally, in March 1831 Lieutenant-Colonel Evans had stated:  ‘Lieutenant Rochford seems to be in fact, the real head of the Mysore authorities here.’”

 

As things turned out that final remark was very unfortunate.” Cowper stated. “Bear with us both please Mitty, everything will become clear in due course.  I was not the head of the Mysore authority; as I have said I was granted a temporary command of the Rajah’s Escort. So Charles, since  you are probably right in wishing everything to be perfectly clear to Mitty, perhaps you should continue?”

Sighing with relief at Cowper’s change of heart, Charles again began to read: ‘In December 1831 the Rajah acknowledges Lieutenant Rochford’s services by granting him a command allowance of 1,000 Rupees.’ 

Charles glanced at Cowper and then at Mitty.  “I have been reading documents congratulating Cowper, because what is to follow changes so radically.  Forgive me if I continue to read these official reports, but it is wiser for you to hear the facts as they are stated. ‘We now find Rochford faced with rebels at the Fort of Honelly.  Having made conciliatory overtures without success; a Pagoda within two miles of the Fort was carried by assault on 12th March, 1833, and of the prisoners taken; ninety-nine were hanged.’

Charles read this slowly and with gravity.  Then there was a silence allowing me to try and digest what he had just read … ninety-nine were hanged!  I was unable to form my thoughts, let alone express them.  Charles broke the silence: “I know you are hearing this for the first time Mitty, hearing about this massacre which Cowper has lived with for many months; and which I have hardly had time to absorb or completely understand.”

Cowper added “This happened two months before I wrote to you Mitty, and I do sincerely assure you that if I had taken any part in the execution of these prisoners I could not have written as I did.  About the time I was thinking of returning to England I was summoned to a Court of Enquiry.  The findings went very much against me.  Even the Report from Lord Bentinck, the Governor General at HQ …”

“Head Quarters,” explained Charles, as he added:  “This is the damning Report: ‘He – the Governor – is by no means satisfied as to the part which Captain Rochford acted in the enormous severity practised at Honolly.  His Lordship deeply regretted that it never occurred to Captain Rochford that the public would necessarily ascribe to him the principal share in the proceedings.’

 Cowper looked fully at me.

“Of course I denied that I gave any of the alleged orders.  Acting on instructions, I delivered the prisoners to the Head of the Mysore Civil authority in Camp.  I also told the Enquiry that I had been appalled to hear that the prisoners were to be executed, and that I had appealed for a milder form of punishment.  However, my recommendations were, as you now know, ignored.”

Charles added:  “Strangely, at the end, Lord Bentinck added a more understanding dispatch which said: ’It is but justice to this officer to observe that his gallantry was conspicuous throughout the operations.’

‘Yet …” said Cowper ruefully, no longer disguising his anxiety, “… the Enquiry went against me.”

“Have you any idea why this might have been Cowper?” Charles asked.

“I am convinced that I am being made the scapegoat for this whole ghastly affair.  I did wonder if it had been reported in the press here in England.”

Charles felt sure that nothing had been reported and added “Surely, that is significant?  The press love to report anything horrific in lurid detail.”

“I have wondered if it could have been a cover-up by the East India Company, since they are our controlling body?”

“That seems possible Cowper, several other Fort skirmishes have been considered newsworthy.”

“What is going to happen?”  I managed at last, to feebly ask.

“I don’t know.  After the Enquiry, I was strangely given permission to return to Europe on leave. Confirmation arrived on the 8th February and I set sail on the 9th.  From the ship I wrote resigning the Command of the President’s Escort and this was taken ashore on the 14th at Cape Town. I fear it is likely that there will be a Court Enquiry here and, if so, I will be notified.

“Mitty,” said Cowper, taking my hand, “what can I say?  This is certainly not what I had planned for our meeting, yet Charles and I felt it was only fair to let you know right away.  Hopefully you may be prepared to accept my word.”

Could I accept the word of either of them when they had been able to put on such an act in front of aunt, I thought, as I removed my hand?

“I am sure you must be terribly shocked by all this Mitty,” Said Charles gravely, “believe me, I am also shocked, but I have known Cowper for so many years, that since he tells me he played no part in this, that is enough for me.”

“As Charles said, he has been a good friend and known me for many years.  Yet you and I have only just met – I cannot imagine what your thoughts might be.”

To say that I was shocked would be a gross understatement.  For months I had tried to imagine this scene, but in my wildest imagination I could not have foreseen this.  I had feared a man who would try to sweep me off my feet, with or without my approval.  Instead I was faced with a criminal judgement about a ghastly event.  The fearful image of ninety-nine prisoners being executed haunted me, whether Cowper had played any part in it or not.  Did he have blood on his hands?  Would I ever know?

I was so shocked that I had almost forgotten I was not alone.

“Do not think about it now Mitty.  Wait until we have gone, when you can quietly absorb the details, which may help you to come to your own conclusion.”

“I have made copies of the statements for you to read” Charles said as he handed them over.

“Your great-aunt kindly offered accommodation for the night, but I think it better if we return.” Cowper said.

“It is a clear night and the moon is full, Cowper and I will not have any problems.”

Taking my hands in his, Cowper said:  “When you have read the copies of these papers, and given this consideration, could you please write a note, letting me know whether you wish to continue seeing me or not. Believe me, I will understand if you decide you do not.  I had set my heart on being with you Mitty, before this happened, but if you decide you cannot be a part of all this, I promise I will not trouble you again.”  He smiled softly, revealing an unexpected vulnerability.

They left very quickly and I went to bed, but of course I could not sleep.  The events of the day overwhelmed me, yet did not seem to be fully understood.  The Cowper I had imagined as perhaps brash, certainly confident, had seemed totally humbled.  I thought that he might even be close to breaking point.  Yet, earlier in the day he had been humorous, and what about that wicked kissing of my hand. Also he had not mentioned this during his visit to uncle John.  He, and indeed my trusted cousin Charles, had carried off the bonhomie knowing this revelation was to come.  On reflection, what else could they have done, with Harriet in party mood?  Yet, even on the afternoon drive, when she was not present, they had kept it up. The term ‘men are deceivers ever’ came to mind. I suppose they had to wait until she had gone to her room, before broaching the subject.  Oh dear God, what would her reaction be to all this, and what about my uncle John?  If only Louisa lived closer!  Charles would surely have told her all about it and she was a woman with quietly strong convictions.  But I could not talk to her, as she lay on a couch during the day in the very house where Cowper was staying.

Unable to sleep, I got up, lit a candle and having stirred the fire into life, re-read the official statements, trying to understand the military jargon, and comprehend the implications. The actual implications were not stated, and Cowper and Charles had not mentioned them.  Perhaps they did not know, or did not like to face up to them.

The real problem, as they both had seen, was that I simply did not know Cowper.  Trust, after all, has to be earned over time.  I had absolutely no idea whether I could trust this man or not.  My only yardstick was Charles, and after today I was also doubting Charles.

Supposing the Enquiry in England, if it actually did take place, also found him guilty – what would happen to him?  If the sentence went against him, but the punishment was slight, could I then live with a man who was allegedly responsible for a massacre?  Yet there were strange anomalies.  Why should this Lord Bent… whatever his name was, condemn, and then praise.  Was it possible Cowper really was being made the scapegoat?  I’d heard of such corrupt things happening.

I returned to bed to toss and turn, wishing I had never heard of the name Cowper Rochford.  Then I thought of his distressed look, and his vulnerable smile, and even though I did not know him, there was something in me responding to his silent cry for help.

//

 

Chapter 6

 

In a household like Fynes, Christmas had to be celebrated in style. Preparations had been underway for weeks.  Even though Harriet and myself were the only residents ‘upstairs’  we were invited down to the kitchens to stir the puddings. Although Harriet liked to be asked, because she remembered that treat as a child, she nevertheless declined. The smells of mincemeats, citrus and many other delectables had been filtering up the ‘back’ stairs for weeks, making my mouth water.

Upstairs, other preparations were taking place. Harriet was following Jackson’s progress closely as he told her how he was checking on the quince brandy he had made in the Autumn.  Oranges were being soaked in rum, ready for making the hot punches that would be served to warm-up cold visitors on arrival.  This rum, I was told, had recently arrived directly from Jamaica.  Port had been laid down weeks before, as had most of the wines, so that the sediment would settle. It was also a time for writing letters and invitations.

These interesting activities had largey kept my mind off the man who’s arrival from India was imminent. When I wandered into the enticing kitchen, the staff delighted in showing me everything – and explaining it all.  I believe they thought we had lived like heathens in Ireland.  This amused me because my father always took great pleasure in the provision and enjoyment of good food and wine.  No doubt as a young man in France, he had witnessed similar grand preparations.

The fear of ‘tempting providence’ seemed to prevent open discussion, but all thoughts were clearly on the advent of the new baby.  A formal announcement had not been made, but everyone seemed to know that Louise was ‘expecting’.   Aunt Em had always been frail and she had had difficulty in  bearing children.  Following the loss of three,  uncle John must have thought that, like his King, he was unlikely to have an heir.  Then Charles had been born to them.  Despite all fears to the contrary he had become a strong and healthy child, and was, naturally the centre of his mother’s life.  Now, after one unsuccessful attempt Charles and Louisa might at last give them a grandchild.

Although delighted, this did nothing to dispel my uncle’s anxieties about the succession of the monarchy.  Even during Christmas itself he brought up the subject.  “Twenty–three healthy children from George III and look at what happened to them!” He would mutter repeatedly.

On Christmas Eve I happened to be sitting beside him.  On the rare occasions that I had met him, he had seemed taciturn and withdrawn, except when talking about matters concerning The Court Of St. James.   I was soon to discover that, in me, he had found  a new listener for his Royal tales.  I had given him an opportunity by mentioning his mother’s love of Bath, ‘in the good old days’:

“She much resents the fact that all the Court followed the Prince Regent to his Pavilion in Brighton,” he revealed, then continued unabated: “Now it is very different; King William does not take pleasure in the high life – thus visits to the Pavilion in Brighton are rare and somewhat subdued.  Also, the Reform Bill, introduced by those meddlesome Whigs, has curtailed the Sovereign’s authority with Parliament.  So King William may feel that the royal life style should be less extravagant.”

He looked to see if I was still listening, noted that I had his attention, then got into his stride:  “His preference is for visiting old friends, quietly.  The Edgecumbes for example.  Their lovely old house, Mount Edgecumbe, overlooks Plymouth Sound and that, of course, appeals to His Majesty as he can view, from a strategically placed telescope, the naval vessels.  It is also a favourite visiting place of Her Majesty.”

“Where exactly is this house you speak of?” I asked.

“Oh, it is on the other side of the Tamar, the River Tamar; can’t recollect whether it’s in Devon or Cornwall – think that the estate is in Devon, not sure. I know Her Majesty enjoys it there,” he added with pride, “because she informed me so herself.” Then leaning forward in his chair and warming to the subject, he went on: “The house is at a place called Cremyl apparently, and the Queen likes to drive from there to the stone–built Arbour which the King arranged to have built especially for her.  It looks like a chapel, she told me, but when draped with tapestries, cushions and rugs it is a delightful place in which to sit. As  it is situated  above Penlea Point.  Her Majesty enthused about watching the Atalantic waves crashing on the rocks below.”

Leaning forward again, he said in a conspiratorial fashion:  “You know of course that His Majesty was really in love with the actress Dorothy Jordan?  He lived with her for twenty–one years and they produced ten healthy, but unfortunately, illegitimate children.”

“What must the Queen have felt  about this when the King married her?” I asked.

“Adelaide of Saxe–Meiningen … yes indeed. It must have been difficult for her to accept. That was why his building of the Arbour at Penlea was important, a token gesture, as it were.  Just two little girls from that Royal union, and now both dead – no heir.  That is why King William is thinking of this very young Princess Victoria as the next sovereign.  Amazing, when you think.  Twenty–three offspring, but, I regret to say that, apart from William, they were so indulgent and extravagant they killed themselves off.  The Princess Victoria is fortunately not indulgent; quite the opposite.”

Charles came over at this point, perhaps to rescue me, because he’d heard it all before,  whereas I felt I was being treated as a confidante, and was rather flattered.  But the thought of being asked by Charles to make up a four for Whist was even more flattering.

Later, during a quiet moment, Charles asked if I had located any old editions  of The Times.

“I managed to convince aunt Harriet that I wished to follow the Court Circular,” I told him,  “in order to keep abreast with uncle John’s movements.  I also told her that I wanted to read more about activities in London, and current affairs… the latter part being true.  She has kept many old copies of The Times, but she misinterpreted my interest, and I discovered about half an hour ago, that she has arranged for me to return to London with aunt Em and uncle John.”

“Well that should be fun, you’ll come back talking about the theatre like Mother. Did you look up the shipping?”

“Yes, a boat left Madras that should have arrived in time for Christmas. Since we have had no word, there is not much likelihood for another month.”

“So now you can relax.” Charles said indulgently.

 

 

**************

 

“Time for me to pack yer box Miss.”  Mary announced one morning.  It was all happening much sooner than I had thought it would, but uncle John’s call to return to his duties could not be ignored, and there’d been no opportunity to seek uncle Henry’s advice on ‘that letter’.

“What should I take?”

“Not a lot, Ma’am says.  She says Mrs John’ll get you some new things in Lunnon, and there’s not much room atop them coaches for yer boxes,  as yer knows.  But I’m told to tell yer to wrap up warm for the journey – not like when you rode over to Dursingham though, Ma’am says.”

How had Harriet got to hear about that I wondered?  Small village, staff gossip?  Not Mary, no she would not have been disloyal to me.  What a good soul she was, and so from what she told me,  was ‘her Will’ whom she hoped to marry one day.  I would miss Mary very much, and I told her so.

Fortunately Charles and Louisa had not left for their home, so we were able to make a few provisional plans before I left.  Charles said he would leave a written message for Cowper with Jackson, which he should present to him if he arrived at Fynes. The message would advise him to go straight to Castle Dursingham.

We left in the brougham for Halstead, then whilst waiting at The Bull for the coach to Chelmsford, we ate a hearty dinner, which uncle had previously ordered. We did not have to arrive until the evening because we were booked on to the London mailcoach.  Sometimes it came from Ipswich, and sometimes all the way from Yarmouth, to pick up passengers at Chelmsford.  Uncle nearly always travelled by The Mail, partly because it had a certain prestige, and partly because it went very much faster.  He had explained that The Mails travelled through the night to maintain speed, because  the roads were virtually deserted.  Therefore, woe betide any farmer returning from a jolly evening at the local hostelry.  The Mails had the right of way and with a call on the post horn would rush past, sometimes running the luckless farmer’s cart into a ditch.

Travelling was quite a performance, as I had learned when returning with uncle Henry from Ireland. On that occasion we had docked at Holyhead and then had journeyed down through Wales.  It had been rather a wet early spring. For some strange reason the mailcoaches crossed the Severn at Aust instead of going through Gloucester.  Speed, uncle Henry said.  We had had no choice but to wade through the river mud to gain access to the ferryboat, then back on to the coach and the Bristol road to London. Here, for some reason, uncle and I had not stayed with his brother at Pall Mall, but at an Inn, which was why this would be my first visit to their London home.   From London we had journeyed to Chelmsford, thence to Halstead where we had been met at The Bull by Jim. Here I was at The Bull once again, but I knew I was embarking on a shorter journey and was looking forward to it.

Once inside the coach, the wooden shutters in the two doors were closed against the cold outside, and with no way of seeing out it was easy to forget that we were travelling through the night.   My uncle appeared to me  to be a man of means, yet he could not afford to travel all the way to London in his own equipage.  It would have been very expensive to provide four horses every sixteen miles, with ostlers and stabling to pay for.  A smaller post chaise  would not have been large enough for all of us and our luggage.   Thus, the three of us were now pressed inside the coach, whereas Aunt’s maid Suzy was sitting outside (on top as it was called), suffering the freezing night air and whatever else a December night might hurl at her.

Just before we left Halstead, a very large lady pushed herself, with great difficulty, through the small doorway.  She sat next to Aunt Em. almost obscuring her.  If this was not enough she was laden with packages of all kinds. These spilled over our knees  which were touching across the small space.  Every bump in the road dislodged another  package and in bending down to retrieve it, which she always did (despite uncle’s entreaties and offers) her very large feathered bonnet bent down with her, constantly tickling our faces and making our eyes water if we did not close them quickly enough.  We soon discovered, fortunately, that she was to travel no further than Chelmsford.

The mailcoach only stopped for twenty minutes to allow the passengers to eat a meal. So I realised why uncle had ordered the most excellent meal at the Bull Inn, served before a welcome log fire, and this had set us up for the journey. During the regular change of horses a quick quaff of hot toddy might be brought out to passengers. I opened the door to watch how quickly the ostlers changed horses.  They were waiting and ready and in six minutes the ‘fresh four’ were in the shafts and buckled up.

“Long practice and a fear of losing their jobs.” Uncle had reasoned. A small, timid-looking man now joined us inside. Since this was to be the longer part of our journey, we were very relieved.   He did rather annoy uncle by asking to know the time, on every occasion that we stopped. Uncle’s carriage clock in its padded case swung on a special hook fixed in the roof above the door.  Each time the little man enquired uncle had to extract the clock and seek a lantern outside to read the time.”

“Ah, we’re not stopping at the Swan tonight” uncle said, lowering the window briefly, to glance out as we rushed past.

“How do the ostlers know whether to be ready or not?” I asked

“There are several tunes which the Guard plays on the post horn, and that is one of them” said uncle.

“Does the tune indicate that we are stopping?” I asked.

“Yes, or passing, or changing horses.” he replied.

“Do they know all the tunes?”

“Of course.  It is their business to do so.  Men in the fields, or in their cottages, know the tunes too.  So if the tune tells them a coach will stop and they want the latest news from Yarmouth, Ipswich or London, they’ll make plans to visit the inn.  London news is usually preferred – the coachman and the guard are the main carriers of news.  When we won the battle of Waterloo all the coaches were bedecked with ribbons to tell the nation the good news. Countryfolk everywhere still talk of that.”

News; everyone wanted to know the latest news … news from India, perhaps addressed to me, would head for Great Maplethorpe by mailcoach.  What would aunt and uncle think of it, and when would it be the right time to tell them?

We arrived in the cold, early hours of the morning and it was delightful to enter the wonderfully warm coffee house.  The smell of steaming hot coffee, and freshly baked rolls, spilled out of the door and swirled around the tables.  Faint traces of freshly lighted Havana cigars added to the atmosphere.  All types of people were there, travellers like us, but also early buyers at the markets, newsmen who’d been up all night and business men obviously anxious for the mail which our coach had brought.

It was very exciting – we’d arrived in London.

 

//

 

    As often happens in a strange bed, I awoke early.  I must have fallen asleep as soon as I put my head on my pillow.  Rising early the previous day, along with the long ride, had made me very tired, not to mention the emotional stress I was feeling from trying to decipher and accept Cowper’s  letter.

Breakfast conversation was dominated by talk of Cowper Rochford. A message for Charles drew him away from the house briefly,  so I decided to go for a walk and asked Louise to join me:

“Would you mind if I didn’t Mitty?  I’m not a walker anyway, and just now, well you know … ”

Walking up the hill by the castle. and appreciating the area even more, I realised that I could have just called on Charles and Louisa at anytime since I arrived.  It was not my style to wait for formal invitations;  perhaps it was Harriet’s influence?  Could it be that I had hesitated to meet Louisa because, liking Charles so much, perhaps I had wondered if I would like her equally?  Well,, I had laid that ghost to rest.  She was pretty, charming and friendly, and it would be difficult not to like her. But what about this Cowper Rochford?  Suddenly I laughed out loud (fortunately, I was quite alone!).

The man is preposterous.  Here I am being shocked by the scribblings of a man who is obviously some sort of a joke. From now on I determine that I will be merely amused by him.

I turned into the High Street and back to the house.  Louisa – her arms full of bits of material she was taking to the sitting room fireside – looked up to greet me.

“Good walk?”

“Pleasant, if short.  That is a beautiful castle – it must be very old.”

“Yes indeed, and also inhabitated.  We know the owners – we must take you to visit them some time. They will tell you all about it’s history.”

Charles had returned, bringing with him some goose feathers that he was about to cut, to make quill pens. Louisa soon became engrossed in sorting out her pretty, soft materials,  and I took my place at the table.

“He’s got to be joking this friend of yours. I cannot believe anyone would want to get married on the strength of one holiday meeting and the sight  of a portrait, however well painted!”

Charles gave me a sidelong glance, and smiled: “Oh I don’t know, I’ve heard of it before, just from seeing a portrait, with no meeting even  – Henry VIII for instance, and Anne of Cleeves.”

“But think of the vested interests and political gain in that alliance, and look how badly it turned out?”

“Not a good example, I agree. But remember, Cowper met a spirited young lass living in the society of poets and artists – enough to turn any young man’s head I would have thought.”  He smiled at me again.

“Do you think he is influenced by my connection with your family – perhaps he thinks I have benefited financially as a result of my father’s death?”

“That is unworthy of you Mitty!”

“But wise, I should think” said Louisa suddenly. “How is he placed?”

“Not very well at the moment, but I understand he has good expectations. Dear me, this is hardly the romantic reaction I expected.”

“My dear Charles – you men are the romantics; so we have to be the practical ones… and talking of practicalities, this letter makes it obvious that he intends to come here, but when? You have not given Mitty any idea.”

“That’s right” I said “when is he likely to arrive?  If, as you say, it takes five or six months sailing time – are we thinking of mid–summer?”

“It depends when he left India, his letter was written in June.  He could have sailed the following month.”

“You mean he might arrive at any time!” I said, amazed.

“It is possible, yes.  But let us continue with the transcription,” Charles said hurriedly,  perhaps not knowing how to deal with this new approach.

“I will arrange for an early lunch.” Louisa said putting her work aside.

“Good idea.” muttered Charles; then added more earnestly: “If you are returning to Fynes today you should leave soon after lunch.  As you know the frost hasn’t lifted since you arrived, and I would be happier if you were back before it gets dark.”

So we set to the transcription with vigour and found that we had arrived at the paragraph about a John Dickenson:“….one day he fell in love with a girl, who was very pretty and accomplished.  His love being reciprocated he proposed and was accepted. Unfortunately, just at this time, a Major appeared on the scene who was favoured by the young lady’s Mama.  When the Major proposed the Mama was only too aware that he had the command of a regiment, and decided her daughter must accept the Major.  With tears in her eyes the girl appealed to her Mama that she wished to marry the Captain.   This was unacceptable and the young lady married against her will.  It turned out very unhappily and she is now dead. Capt. Dickenson, grief stricken, plunged into absurdity and married the first person he came across, which has also turned out unhappily.  They seem now to live separately.”

We then traced the conclusion scribbled at the top of a page:

Mathilda, accept from your Cowper all his wishes, and believe that you have long held possession of his heart.  He will claim you, about six months hence.  He hopes soon to sail from Madras.  God bless you dear girl, accept kiss…..C.Rochford.”

“So now we know. He will soon be arriving.” I said in some panic.

“Not necessarily, he may not have left when he hoped.” said Charles.

“That story about this Captain Dickenson.  Does he write to warn Mitty that if she refuses him – for whatever reason – she will ruin his life?  Charles my love, that is surely emotional blackmail?”

“No, not at all.  It is Cowper’s way, he likes to dramatise. I’ve heard him at it many a time.”

“Well,” said I, “I think he is a bounder – his whole approach confirms it.”

“I must warn you Mitty, he is very good looking.” Charles said, quite seriously.

“I am sure he thinks so too.  Did you hear, Louisa, his description of himself, ‘I am six foot three, and muscular’.”

“I would like you to keep an open mind, until you meet.” Charles said earnestly.

I replied, looking at Louisa: “There’s an easy solution to all this.  He will soon find that I am no heiress, and that I survive on desultory pocket money from my brother. We will soon see him scuttle away.”

Charles sighed audibly and added:  “You two may call your attitude practical, I call it materialistic and not a mite cynical. Let’s have lunch now, then I will ride back with you Mitty.”

When I had donned all my gear again and was ready to leave with Charles, Louisa joined us in the hall:  “You certainly know how to keep warm however unconventional it may appear.”

“I’m not very conventional as you’ll discover, but I have enjoyed myself.  When shall we meet again?”

“We shall meet again quite soon Mitty,  because Charles and I will be coming to Fynes for Christmas.”

“Yes.” Charles said, “We’ll all be together, as father makes a point of coming home. It’s one of those rare occasions when he acts upon mother’s wishes.”

Putting her arm in mine Louise said:  “It will be strange for you without your own father my dear.”

It was true, I rather dreaded the festive season without him, but replied cheerily “Having plenty of people around may help.”

“Do wrap up warm Charles, follow Mitty’s example.”   Then we all laughed.

**************

 

As we rode along the lanes in the crisp, frosty air, I asked Charles if we ought to tell his father about Cowper’s letter.  He said he would need time to think about that.

It was delightful having Charles all to myself, we seemed to have endless things to talk about, but I knew I was being selfish and Charles would have a long, dark, cold ride home.  I had previously been only half–heartedly protesting at the necessity of Charles’s accompanying me, but when we reached the half–way stage I protested more vehemently, and he finally agreed to return.

“You obviously know how to handle a horse in most situations and you shouldn’t meet anyone along here – if you do they probably work for us.”

As the hooves of Charles’s horse clattered away I was left again to my own thoughts.  The sky was turning pale gold, promising a lovely sunset. It was still a clear, bright day.  The stark, leafless trees and the bare, unsown,  gently sloping fields had a beauty which was all their own.  The added frost and hanging icicles tinged with the gold of the almost setting sun, made it doubly beautiful.  Despite this and rejoicing in the  freedom of riding,  I was nevertheless racked by the confusion of my thoughts. What was happening to me?  Out of the blue, marriage had been proposed by a man I did not know, and even as a girl  could hardly remember.  As I persevered I began to recall some details. Perhaps he had been fun?  I could remember how he had teased me.  Was he teasing me now?  It certainly seemed possible!  He was older than me;  according to Charles he would have been fourteen or fifteen during that summer.  To a young girl that would have seemed a great age.   I could vaguely recall a rather thin person, gangly I suppose;  no doubt growing ahead of himself.  I did not remember his being good–looking.  But would I have noticed? Aged seven, maybe eight, grotesque features might have left an impression, but not good looks.  Before leaving Dursingham, I had again asked Charles if he could write and tell this man Rochford, (difficult to speak with dislike of the name when it is also my own), explaining that I did not reciprocate his feelings.  But Charles had replied as before,  that it was probably too late to reach him now. What a situation! Since I had to receive a proposal from an unknown man, why did he have to write from India where the remoteness of the place made it impossible for me to write and put a stop to this nonsense… was it all nonsense?  In all honesty did I want to put a stop to it?  He did sound like a fascinating bounder.  Bounder he was. I had no doubt about that. He was posing quite a problem.  What had father always said?:   ‘There are no problems, only opportunities.’  Was this problem an opportunity?  A way to find  the adventure I sought – perhaps even India!  Might he, might we, return there?  He had written that we would, even suggesting that we could take my piano, a typically wild scheme, since neither of us had any money!  Charles didn’t think Cowper  would be scared-off by my lack of it. But how could he be so sure?

I was very apprehensive … well I could call it apprehension. I could call it what I liked, but fear would be a more accurate description.  Cold stomach-cramping fear. He may hate me at sight – we may hate each other!  Then the problem would be solved,  we would each go our separate ways.  I back to Fynes – there was a thought to rear its ugly head!  Did I really want to vegetate there?  Charles had stated I must not. Easily said, but would he  have written to Louisa, if they hadn’t met for years?  Unlikely, as he wasn’t the gambling type.

One thought came into my head persistently and would not go away: Charles has a great regard for Cowper Rochford. Bounder or not, there must be some good in him.

However much I might question my thoughts, the fact remained that Cowper Rochford was on his way, and I had no idea when he would arrive. Charles had told me to look in The Times, which Harriet received, informing me that shipping lists are published daily. At the very least I could find out when ships were leaving Madras – judging the sailing time as five or six months – depending on the weather, so I could work out when he might come. But Charles had also reminded me not to forget that the actual information itself would also have taken five months to arrive at the news office – oh, this time lag! How did anyone ever adjust to it?  On the other hand, the shipping lines did produce listings of expected arrivals.  Thus Charles’s idea was a good one, and I felt obliged to learn to understand the listings.  Perhaps Harriet kept backdated copies of The Times?  It would be like her to do that.   Some excuse must be sought to find out.   There was no way she could be told of this yet – even Charles had procrastinated about telling his father.

How would my father have handled this?  If only I could ask him.  Still, I ought to have some idea of his possible opinion, as  I’d known him so well.  Charles had said Cowper had written to him declaring that my father had been pleased about the childish ‘betrothal’ – had actually liked Cowper – had murmered “someone to look after Mitty.”  It  did sound like my father, even though I only had Cowper’s word for it. Ironically, it was my father who had  encouraged me to read anything and everything, resulting in the questioning, analytical woman I would probably always be.  If it was not the thought of an inheritance why was Cowper pursuing this?  Was he an honourable man prone to carrying out dead men’s wishes?  Why had he remained unmarried?  I understood that there were military mens’  daughters a-plenty, out there in India.

Suddenly, I thought of someone in whom I could confide, someone who had similar ideas to father:  uncle Henry.  He would also be there at Christmas, I presumed.

At this point Brown Willow  brought me down to earth – quite literally.  She stumbled, and I went over her side, in a most inelegant fashion.  Getting up, I brushed the frost off my skirt and realised thankfully that no–one had observed my unwary horsemanship.  A patch of ice must have caused her to slide and her hoof may have been affected.  Whilst I checked, a barn–owl swooped low over us, no doubt heading for it’s own warm retreat. Brown Willow was unhurt but had started to shiver; my questioning mind had thoughtlessly brought her down to a walking pace.  It was time for us to make tracks to our own warm shelter and we set off at a fast trot. When we  reached the driveway to Fynes it was bathed in moonlight, but I made my way to the stables unseen. I took off my self–styled garments upstairs, also unwitnessed, and I arrived downstairs in time for supper, feeling quite pleased that Harriet would not be able to enquire too deeply about my unconventional riding habit, although she would probably ask if  I’d used her new side–saddle.

//

 

“There were an ‘ard frost last night.” Mary  told me as she busied about her early morning duties.

“You’ll see when you gets up Miss, its all white outside.  My Will, ‘e thinks it’ll be snowing afore nightfall.”

Taking Mary by surprise,  I jumped out of bed and told her of my plans.

“I shall have to leave before breakfast, otherwise when Great Aunt becomes aware of the heavy frost she will try to prevent me going.   I will leave a note for you to give to her, also could you help me put on this large flannelette petticoat.” Mary looked even more surprised.

“It will keep me warm as I ride – I shall take Brown Willow – could you send a message down to Ben to saddle–up. NOT the side–saddle please.” I said laughing.

“You ain’t never goin’ to ride Miss, why don’t you take the carriage?”

“I could hardly do that without Mrs Rawling’s permission, could I?”

I then looked out my old riding cape.  It must once have belonged to a coachman because not only was it very heavy and came down to my feet,  but it also had many shoulder capes.  Tying a muffler around the neck of this to keep one of the capes in place over my head as a rode, I only needed Mary to find some thick woollen gloves to go over my dainty and useless ones.  Writing the note for Harriet, whilst Mary searched for gloves,  I was ready, and despite Mary’s misgivings, soon away.

Even though the surface of the country lane was roughened with small pebbles the settled frost and icy puddles made it slippery, especially for Brown Willow’s metal shod hoofs, so I mainly kept  to the grass verge.  I was very warm under all my wrappings and the wind on my face was fresh and exhilerating.  I felt like a free spirit at last!

The countryside looked quite beautiful.  All the deciduous trees, bereft of their leaves, were glistening with the white frost. The two mile ride was wonderful, I fwelt more alive than I had for months. Following Mary’s instructions I came to the point where if I turned left I would come to Seble Dursingham, where uncle Henry lived.  For a moment I had misgivings.  Should I seek Uncle’s help?  He had, after all, told me to call whenever I wished, whereas I would be arriving at Charles and Louisa’s without warning and somewhat uninvited. Almost immediately I dismissed these thoughts; how could I explain all this about Cowper Rochford to uncle? No, it had to be Charles.

I rode on into Castle Dursingham for the first time and reigned in to take a good look at the High Street.  The houses seemed to have arrived by accident. Some of them leaned perilously – seeking support from adjacent buildings,  even though scores of years divided their construction. Old half–timbered houses of the time of Queen Elizabeth or even earlier rubbed shoulders with houses built in the elegant style of the last 100 years. It was immediately evident that time, coupled with individual preference and reverence for the village, had created this charming higgledy–piggledy result.  I liked the place immediately.

It was to one of the elegant, taller houses I was directed by the only human being in sight.  A man, who was lifting heavy sacks from a rather ramshackle trap which was drawn by a sad and cold looking donkey.  As I moved away thanking him he lifted up another sack onto his back which was slightly protected by old empty sacks, then went through a side gate.

I need have had no fear about my unexpected arrival. The younger Rawlings’  house was charming and welcoming.  Louisa smiled wryly when she saw my self–contrived riding clothes.

“Why did you not come in the family phaeton?

“I love to ride – it means freedom to me.”

“Well you could have driven yourself because there’s no room for a driver.”

“That’s true, but I still prefer to ride, and in any case I couldn’t just take the phaeton without great–aunt knowing – and I left before breakfast. Your stable lad looks rather young”. I said to Charles who appeared behind Louisa.  “Will he know how to attend to Brown Willow properly?  He is steaming from the ride and on such a cold morning everything must be warmed for him.”

“It isn’t only the Irish who know how to care for their horses.” said Charles, laughing as he went out to check.

Louisa meanwhile, helped me to unwrap and led me to the fireside to warm myself.  As Charles came back in I asked abruptly:  “Please can you help me to read this letter, from Cowper?”

I had not meant to shock them but the result was the same.  Charles looked at Louisa, then after the briefest pause said,

“Of course,”  as he unfolded the letter which  I had pressed into his hand.

“When did it arrive?”

“Yesterday.”

“I can see why you need help, Cowper has an incredible scrawl. Also, it is so expensive to send even one piece of paper that he has to go in for this impossible cross writing.  But I am used to it and, I am sure I can help.”

“But let us have some lunch first. We don’t have to start work straight away, do we?” Louisa asked as she walked to my side, her fair curls bobbing, and framing her pretty face as she put her arm through mine. “It is after all your first visit to us, and we are very pleased to see you.”

Despite the fact that the interior of the house was just as  elegant as the exterior, their way of taking luncheon on the round table near the fire, made it very cosy and informal, and I felt immediately at home and relaxed.    The house had been built about 30 years before and had the long sash windows with balconettes, typical of the period.  The high ceilings had the usual carved mouldings, but in contrast,  a very modern gas–light fitting hung low over the table.

When luncheon was cleared Louisa seated herself comfortably by the fire and set about sewing some rather small things. Could they be baby clothes I wondered?

Charles and I seated ourselves at the round table.

“This is almost indecipherable, even for Cowper, have you managed to read anything?” Charles asked.

I brought out my sketchy and incomplete notes

“Well you’ve made a start. Let’s see what we can add.”   Two hours later we had only completed two paragraphs.

“You’re very patient Louisa,  sitting there listening to our mumblings. Would you like to hear what we’ve managed so far?” Charles asked.

Louisa nodded.

“This letter was commenced yesterday and I think it a good plan not to write too much at a time, because one gets prissy and begins to moralize and half a dozen other things, which would never enter common conversation. How I sigh for the time for me to start for the rocky shores of old England, and to get hold of you.  When I do once catch you, I wont let you go again, you may depend upon it.  So prepare yourself to be regularly kidnapped.  How I do delight in the idea of a drive through England, Wales and Ireland in a neat little turn–out, with you to tell me all your stories and histories, which I know you have in store for me. 

But probably I am counting my chickens before the eggs are hatched, and travelling may not be a source of delight to you.  But, I think I can guess that it is and indeed I feel persuaded that you are so like myself in this that it pleases me to think of it.  I have also thought of the time when we should be obliged to return to this country, unless occurrences take place which are still in the womb of futurity, to prevent us.  I have often thought of the nice snug after–cabin with your piano set in the wainscoting of the vessel, prettily furnished..when Mitty and me shall be bound….:” 

At this point, hearing it read out I had to interrupt:

“You know him well Charles, is Cowper always so presumptious – he even calls me Mitty.  These plans he makes, they’re preposterous.”

“He does seem to accept the possibility of refusal when he says: ‘occurrences may take place to prevent it.”

“What do you think Louisa?” I asked “because personally, I think that sentence refers to something else.”

Louisa replied in a way I would come to know as her own:

“Do you mind being called Mitty, and would you like to stop now and take some tea?”

“Yes please that would be lovely and I do so like afternoon tea, not early supper, as practiced at Fynes. Of course I do not mind  being called Mitty, Mathilda sounds so formal, but surely it is usual to enquire first?”

“Talking of supper, you’ll stay tonight?” said Louisa, nodding in agreement with my question and rising to ring the bell.

“Of course she’ll stay – it will be dark soon, and we must complete this transcription.  I am curious – I’m sure we all are.”

Harriet had to be notified,  and Louisa pointed out that the doctor was calling to see her and he should arrive quite soon.

“He lives near Fynes. I’m sure he will take a message.”

So it was pleasantly and easily settled. In helping me to read this strange letter, these two were being so kind and supportive. Almost immediately the bell rang and Louisa disappeared with the doctor for a while, then as they came into the hallway Charles joined them for a chat. Returning, they reassured me that Aunt Harriet would receive my note of explanation and we enjoyed a very pleaant tea. Then, without further pause Charles set to deciphering again.  The next few lines were written as a letter in order to use every scrap of paper, but it soon became obvious that they rhymed and so Charles set them out correctly:

When Mitty and me shall be bound

Over the glad waters of the dark blue sea,

Our thoughts as priceless and our minds as free.

As the wild life and tumults still to range,

From trial to rest and joy in every change.

For as the breeze can hear the billows foam;

Survey ocean’s empire and behold our home.

“Could Cowper have written that, Charles?”

“It is possible, he liked to dabble in poetry and prose even as a boy.‘Ours the wild life’, echoes of Ireland?  I don’t like ‘and tumults still to range'”. Charles read from his notes, then began to try and fill in more spaces and I found myself looking at him sideways.

His long fair/brown hair was drawn back and tied, but little short curls escaped attractively  over the back of his rather beautifully formed ears, and I noticed his strong and firm but slender hands as they drew my attention to points in the letter.  Suddenly I blushed and felt confused.  I looked at Louisa but she was intent on her needlework, and I realised Charles was reading more from his notes:

“You weren’t listening, were you?  Are you feeling tired?” Charles was smiling at me.

“No, no of course not.”

“I will read that part again, since you wish to continue…‘but there are some realities we cannot avoid.  Poor little Mitty will feel the influence of the rolling billows.'”

“How dare he assume I will be going, although as it happens I am a good sailor.”

Charles read on: “If the soothing attendances and affection of one who loves you can avail to smooth the ragged way then shall my wife be happy.”

I was rendered speechless by the increasing boldness of this man, so Charles continued:  He read of the army doctor, visiting Cowper and taking a look at the miniature of me: When the conversation slackened, the old fellow – a rough Scotsman – fixed his eyes on the brown box containing your image ”  May I take a look?” Unable to refuse, I let him  look at it, whilst he hummed a significant tune. This I know, she is a relation of yours, that is evident. If I did not already know you have no sisters, I should have said she was one.”

“You do look rather similar to Cowper,” Charles acknowledged, then read that Cowper wrote that this old boy could possibly be a travelling companion on the voyage home, but definitely not as his doctor!

“I can understand that,” he said, “I’ve heard about these army doctors!”

Comments on  some quizical questions I was supposed to have asked were then read to me!

“So, he thinks I knew about all this, and of your sending the portrait?”

“Perhaps”

“Oh Charles!”

“I know Cowper well and I know something of you. I believe you have a great deal in common.”

“Harrumph!”

“Mitty?” His look questioned whether it was acceptable to use my preferred name. I smiled back.

He then surprised me by saying: “Mitty, you cannot and must not, vegitate at Fynes Hall – there is more to life than that – you are a very interesting person,” he took my hand, “and you have so much to offer a husband.”

Charles, in his generous and loving way, was trying to help, but I had to look away from that gentle face.  A husband like Charles, yes, but I was aching with apprehension about this Cowper

“It could be disastrous, don’t you see?  You are seeing the two of us through your eyes.  The reality could find us hating each other.”

“We must wait and see.  I only ask;  please keep an open mind.” Louisa said that she agreed with that.

After supper we decided to continue deciphering the letter again.  We were continuing to read the transcripts to Louisa, and she and Charles were becoming as curious as – yes I had to admit, as I was –  to know and understand the rest of it.

You poor little thing, you do not know that I am six feet three in height and muscular in proportion.

“He is very tall. You didn’t mention that Charles?”

“Well he was always tall,  but it seems he has grown even taller since I saw him last.  He also favoured informality, and his letter seems to infer that in that, he has not changed.”

You will see me some day, portrait in hand, come to recognise what is my own, for what has been given to me, is surely my own!  The dignity which your portrait conveys would be more difficult to surmount than the strongest stockade.  Have pity on me Mathilda and you will then see how particularly meek I will be.

Charles smiled at me: “I told you the miniature I sent to him made you look rather haughty, but if that induces meekness in Cowper Rochford, then you have nothing to worry about.”

He then read on, as Cowper described a fellow officer: Captain John Dickenson of the Artillery and Commisary of Ordnance at Bangalore, who is nearly related to the Rawlings and is a very nice fellow.  I met him sometime ago at a Ball in Bangalore, and we compared notes and found it to be the case.     The only thing notable attached to his history…

It was getting very late and I think we were all becoming tired, but I did ask: “Is this John Dickenson a relation?”

“Grandmother’s maiden name was Dickenson, so I suppose he might be a cousin of mine.”

Soon afterwards, Louisa took a candle holder and showed me to my bedroom.

“I do hope you will sleep well Mitty.  This must have come as a shock and I can’t say I completely understand Charles’s involvement.  He cares so much for Cowper and I know that he has become very fond of you, so I presume those to  be his reasons.  He believes you to have the strength of personality to handle this.  But my dear…” she placed her hand on my arm “look upon me as a friend, and because you are placing so much  confidence in us, I well… it is too early for announcements yet, but I would like you to know Charles and I have just become aware that I am to have a baby in the summer.  We are a little anxious as I lost a baby last year.”

With that, after giving me a brief, loving hug, Louisa left the room.

 

//

As we climbed into the little pony trap uncle Henry announced:

“I’m taking you to have a look at the Church.”

Laughing, I replied:  “But I see it every Sunday, when I go with Harriet.”

“You go with whom?  Is that what you call my mother.”

“Never to her face of course, but great–aunt Harriet is rather a mouthful!”

“Oh that’s good, I like that,” he said laughing and slapping his leg. “If it isn’t a mouthful it must be a thoughtful!” And he laughed again. I’d already realised that his jovial persona made him easily amused.

“So you go to the Parish Church, I thought you would be a Roman Catholic, being a mixture of French and Irish.”

“Well I am really, but my father didn’t go to Church. Anyway, I don’t take the bread and wine.”

“That’s alright then, as long as some local  Father Johnny doesn’t come and tell you you’re committing a mortal sin.”

“Could that happen here? – it does in Ireland you know.”

“What, since emancipation you mean. You had a difficult time over there, Henri must have moved right into it.”

“He did.  Sometimes he’d talk about it. He used to think that  Dublin town must have been a very beautiful place before the Act.”

“When was that, now?”

“1801, everyone remembers the Act of Union and that date in Ireland because Parliament was abolished,  and all the ‘big wigs’ went back to England, or wherever they happened to come from.  Before that it had been called the second city in the Commonwealth, you see.”

“So I believe, but when I came to collect you I got the impression that it was rather a mess.”

“A lot of local people and  farmers moved into the empty houses but they were big and they couldn’t afford the upkeep”.

” So the lovely buildings deteriorated, typical!”

“Oh no, that isn’t fair.  The British had been very hard on the Irish”.

“Well the Catholic Irish perhaps.”

“I suppose so, but did you know they were not allowed to take a profession or buy property, and education was definitely not encouraged?  They hadn’t a hope of maintaining such large homes without money.  Only now are some beginning to earn a decent income, but it will be many a year before Dublin gets on its feet again and the help was not coming from this side of the water when I left”.

“So,  many were finding it wise to follow Rome, eh?”

“That’s a bit cynical  but probably true.”

“Can’t do ’em much good in the long run – it’ll be a while before we stop thinking of them as traitors over here – allegiance to Rome and not the King; tricky business m’dear”.

I had never looked at it like that and it was obvious there was more to this uncle than a jolly face.  Although uncle Henry had brought me over from Ireland I began to see that I knew very little about him.   We had talked mostly about my life in Ireland and my future. He must have thought me very self-centred..

“If you don’t mind me asking, what do you actually do?  No–one has told me.”

“Do?  Nothing, if I can help it.”

“Well then, what did you do?”

“Oh – I was in the Royal Navy – sailed all over the world and even served under King William once, in the Admiral’s flagship,  his ship in other words,  but I’m retired now. You say you go every Sunday to Church.  What do you know about it?”

“The service is not bad, sometimes the sermon’s rather boring….?..”

“About the Church itself?”

“Not very much.”

I was puzzled about this viait to the Church, but the sun was shining, the day was warming, and it was very pleasant trotting along the Essex lanes.  Looking at uncle Henry I could hardly believe that he and uncle John were brothers, they seemed so very different, but we were nearing the church and he was telling me: “They say there was a building here in Saxon times, but this present building of stone is Norman, built in about 1100.  Its lovely,” he said drawing reign, “look at it.  Look at the squat tower.  It’s one of the oldest churches around here.”  He tied up, and after putting a feeding bag under the nose of the faithful pony,  we walked up the path.

“Well come on, what have you noticed?”

“Most of it is flint.  But that red brick section, looks as if its been built on.  I have wondered about that before”

“In 1612” said uncle, obviously pleased to explain “there was a terrible storm and the tower was struck by lightning – all this collapsed, and the west wall was destroyed.  They obviously decided to rebuild with red–brick, so popular round here – same as Fynes, you see. But it was a very strange choice, stands out like a sore thumb!  Well anyway, I think so.”

Inside uncle pointed out the fine carved monuments in the South Transept, “The Church was specially lengthened for this monument which is carved from marble and alabaster and must have been a striking colour before it faded.  See, this reclining figure with a boar’s head at his feet and his wife and children all kneeling on the shelf above him.  This family once lived at Fynes, ’bout 1600 or so.  I love that monument.  I used to spend a lot of time looking at that, during the Sunday sermon, when I was a boy.”

He led me to  a plain slab with no inscription at all: “See that, that’s to mark the grave of a King of the Gypsies”

“How do you know that?” I said laughing, thinking he was kidding me.

“How do I know? – I once met two of his daughters in here, coming to visit the grave.”

“Fancy, they agreed to bury a gypsy here”.

He looked at me out of the corner of his eye.

“Surprises you does it?”

As we reached the next part of uncle Henry’s church tour he said,

“You’ll have to get on your knees,  to look  at this ..”

He pointed to two stones, “What can you see?”

“W.R. 1798.”

“That’s it exactly” he enthused, slapping my shoulder with delight. “Well don’t you see, that’s your grandfather…William Rochford, died 1798, and he is buried here, in this Church.”

“I hardly knew him” I said getting to my feet, “did you?”

“Oh yes I did – very well, very well indeed!”

As we trotted back along the lanes I said: “I know so little about my grandfather, as I said in the Church, but Harriet started to tell me about my grandparents this morning and that pleased me, but confused me too, because she said that after their marriage, grandfather never returned to France, and that would mean both of them. Yet I believe their three children were born there; my father certainly was.”

“She said that did she?  Strange, her memory is usually so accurate”.

“Aunt also inferred that grandmother married beneath her.”

“Oh yes the family did think that but they lived quite comfortably in France, you know.  I mean, William Rochford was not in the same league financially as my father but that did not mean he was hard up.  After the children were born, your grandmother got homesick and they returned and lived round here.  William never returned to France after that.

I was very fond of your grandfather you know, and he did like me.  Made no secret of the fact that he preferred me, his nephew,  to his own son.   Sorry to say it because that means your father of course.  Didn’t understand or agree with the artistic life you see. Liked the Navy.  Was very good to me and I didn’t think much about it, but when your father died I thought I owed something to the Rochford family and that is why I offered to go to Ireland and bring you here.”

Thinking about it now made me realise that his jolly personality had played an important part in persuading me to leave Dridala and return with him to England.   He was chuckling to himself, and when I looked at him he explained:

” W.R. was always talking about an uncle of his, some belted Earl, always talking about him.  It was as if that was his whole reason for living.  Can you imagine?   As I said, he wasn’t poor, I think he was fairly well off, but he didn’t achieve much really – in his own lifetime – so he hung on to that fact about being the nephew of an Earl.  Perhaps he wanted the Rochfords to be one up on the Rawlings; we  can’t boast anything like that.”

I wasn’t terribly impressed about this so–called belted Earl, who was he anyway?  but I was surprised at uncle’s affection for my grandfather.  Whilst I was wondering about this, uncle was also quietly thoughtful: “One day.” he said suddenly and with resolution, “One day I will get a proper monument put on the wall, in remembrance of the old boy.  I mean, you wouldn’t have known those initials belonged to  your grandfather,  would you?   So,  who else would?  Yes, I owe it to him”

“When you do that,” I said, warming even more to this uncle of mine “will you also add that it was put up by his nephew?”

“Yes, well perhaps, if you think I should,  but I will put that bit about his being the nephew of an Earl.” He laughed aloud at the thought of it.

“By the way, where do you live?”

“Why, bless my soul Mathilda, don’t you know?”

“No–one has ever told me, and uncle please call me Mitty. Everyone did at home”

“Good, much better name, less stuffy! I live in one of the houses belonging to the Fynes estate, in Seble Dursingham.  A nice little village, it’s about two miles from here. Heavens above why don’t you come over and visit me?”

“Thank you, I would like that, I get quite lonely at Fynes.”

“‘Course you do,  should have asked you before,  stupid of me.”

“You live alone?”

“Yes, but it’s quite jolly, I don’t mind.”

“Have you  always lived alone?”

“Why – no, not really.” But his expression told me not to enquire further.

We turned into the drive which meandered  to Fynes Court, through parkland which boasted many majestic trees including ancient oaks and cedars and the court was visible from different and equally lovely angles at every turn.  The fine 18th century squared building, half of which was  covered in golden brown virginia creeper, was built, as uncle had said,  from the local red brick and this was aglow in the late afternoon wintry sunlight. The sash windows, which normally looked merely  elegant, now sparkled radiantly  – as the reflecting sun seemed to facet them like diamonds.

I said to uncle, but really almost to myself:

“It seems an odd thing to say, but I don’t think I’ve looked at it properly before, not realising how lovely it is.”

“Oh it is a grand place Mitty. It was built as a perfectly proportioned square building, before all the extra rooms were added by my father.  But the kitchens weren’t large enough, then they wanted a laundry, a bakery, a dairy, extra pantries and all that. Then of course they needed extra staff, so they had to have more bedrooms. One thing leads to another, doesn’t it?  The billiard room and the smoking room are in that new section.  It’s a bit different from Dridala ain’t it?” Uncle looked at me with an uncharacteristically serious expression:  “Do you like being here?”

“It is a beautiful place.” Was all I could answer.

It seemed odd that uncle Henry and my father had known  so little about each other. Although quite different personalities with different interests, I felt sure that they would have enjoyed each other’s company.

It had been a most enjoyable afternoon.  With his light–hearted paternalistic spirit, uncle Henry had made me feel almost like a  girl again, and on this particular sunny afternoon I had enjoyed that.

*******************

That evening, after supper,  Harriet and my uncle listened to several sonatas by ‘Mr. Beethoven’.  They appreciated the music and  watching them chatting together, I saw that aunt was comfortable and at ease with this son,  although it was the other whose praises she always sang.  With uncle Henry or cousin Charles,  aunt seemed to be a completely different person  – I felt I must persevere in trying to understand her.  Yet she seemed to carry a feeling of guilt, something tangible; but I felt it prevented her from relaxing with me.

“Mathilda has been kind to play so many beautiful pieces to us, but now it is late, I think you should stay here tonight Henry.  It has also turned very cold.”

Thanking her, Henry got to his feet saying:

“You know I always like some fresh air before turning in, so I think I will take a stroll.”  He looked enquiringly at me, but I shook my head, feeling I should remain.

“Thank you for coming Henry.  I have had a very pleasant birthday.”

On our own, aunt quizzed me again, only this time, more gently.

“When your father died you agreed to come and live here.  Why exactly?”

“Everyone told me it was the correct thing to do, since my brother was a bachelor – and where else could I go?”

“Now he is married – are you sorry you came?”

I found it difficult to answer this and aunt continued: “Don’t feel embarrassed, I seek a truthful answer – it might help us both.”

“After father died I knew Dridala would never be the same again – Stephan is no artist nor is he very sociable.  He’s a good man, but I would have found it difficult to stay and see the home I loved become ordinary and maybe boring.”

“Perhaps Fynes Court has proved to be just as boring.” Positioning her cane before moving, in the particular way she had, she added: “I hope you will find happiness here, but – the only people of your own age are Charles and Louisa at Castle Dursingham,  which is a two-mile drive away.  We must arrange for you to visit there,  when Louisa is feeling strong again.  Perhaps they can introduce you to people who are your contemporaries.   As you have said yourself, I do not have many visitors nor do I make a habit of going out, and those I do see are grandparents like myself.  We can only hope something will work out for you. Goodnight Mathilda.”

It was a depressing note to end on and she had a way of making me feel guilty, as if it was all my fault.  Yet what was there for me here?  The only solution Harriet could think of was for me to meet some eligible young man, that was her drift.  But what other solution was there?  If this had been my home I would not have given the matter a second thought. I did not – had never, made the idea of marriage a priority.  I had also always been so involved in my own activities, but obviously it would solve Harriet’s problems – she had not requested my invasion of her home, even if she had agreed to it.

The effect aunt had on me was strange; she had tried to be kind this evening and her remarks were only being practical, as she saw it, yet there was this barrier between us. Ridiculous really that two people could not find a way of living happily together.

All the pleasurable memories of the day with uncle and the shared happiness of enjoying lovely music were dispelled by the feeling of depression which got worse and by the time I reached the bedroom I felt lonely and desolate. How I wished I had joined uncle in his stroll. The furnishings in the elegant bedroom seemed to treat me as an interloper and it seemed so cold, despite the merrily burning fire which usually managed to cheer me up.  Surely there was something more for me to do with my life?    Mary had left the warming pan near the hearth but although I filled it with hot coals and smoothed it over the sheets they felt colder than I could ever remember.  Thankfully and suprisingly,  tiredness overcame me, and I slept.

***********

With increasingly less enthusiasm, I looked through the mail each morning and a few days later there was one for me…from aunt Em. She was a poor correspondent,  but maybe she had chosen to write to me because she had been told of my father’s actor friends in Ireland.  Perhaps this made her feel that , with me,  she could indulge herself:

                                                            Pall Mall,

                                                          Nov.14.1833.

My dear Mathilda,

       I trust you are well, and all at Fynes?  I have forgot if I told you I was at the Olympic Theatre on April 1st when Madame Vestris made her last appearance.  She made a speech afterwards – the audience loved it!

The Theatre Royal, Haymarket  re–opens next Easter Monday and I’m so looking forward to that, especially because my favourite comedy ‘John Bull’ is to be performed.

Last week I saw the Burletta, ‘Don Quixote’ also ‘Philip of Anjou’ at the Adelphi.  This last was by the English Opera Company.  Just prior to that I was at Covent Garden to see ‘Nell Gwynne’. The notorious consort of Charles II.  I was quite looking forward to this, but I was disappointed. I agreed with the critic of the Times.  He wrote: “It seemed beyond the power of the author to describe the lively wit and generous heart of Nell Gwynne, ot was it a theme to which he did not wish to address himself?” I think that rather well put, don’t you agree?

Please pass my love to Mother Rawlings, Henry,  Charles and Louisa, and say I will be writing soon.

You must visit with me in London, my dear, you could accompany me to the play.               

Your affec. aunt………Emily.

I had to smile at aunt Em’s letters consisting as they did merely of theatre visits, but they did bring with them some excitement and her letters gave me an excuse for seeking mail addressed to me.   They also provided a subject for conversation with Harriet.   November moved into December with no mail from India. I still had very mixed feelings about my reaction to such a letter but I was curious.  Perhaps my solitary existence fostered my curiosity, or perhaps it was a normal reaction.

********

The morning of the 18th December was one of those crisp and bright wintry mornings which are so delighful in England.  The bright sunshine, which must have  travelled around the curtains of my half–tester bed and fallen upon my cheek, probably woke me.   Peeping over my covers – I’m a heavy sleeper, I noted that Mary must have already encouraged the dying embers of the fire back to life – the fire was merry – and the water in the pretty jug on the wash table was steaming.  About to snuggle down again, always feeling at my most relaxed in bed in the mornings, I heard the sound of the horse’s hoofs clattering on the drive.  I would not bother to move, there would be nothing for me.

Harriet saw early rising as a virtue in itself  – and unless there was a good reason, I did not, but I remembered she had arranged some riding instruction. I’ve grown up with horses and I am a keen and swift rider, so I hardly need instruction.  However, although normally disinterested in new innovations she had nevertheless taken to this new idea of riding: side–saddle.  I thought it would be ridiculously uncomfortable and  could not believe that any sensible woman would take it up.  Yet, I was persuaded, I must take instruction, so reluctantly I climbed out of my very comfortable bed. With a swift soft knock, Mary came in, she looked a little surprised at seeing me up, then nodding said: “oh the riding lessons, “adding hastily “A letter come for you this mornin’ Miss.  You have two shillings to pay and the carrier is waitin’ Miss.”

“Thank you Mary.  What a lot of money, wait whilst I find it.”

Normally, the butler paid the letter carrier, and collected the money  later, but today he must have been absent.  It is odd having to pay for letters when you receive them,  before you even knew whether they were worth it, and two shillings!  What can it be that costs so much?   Mary returned with the item.  It had a mark on it saying ‘Madras Ship Letter.’ So it was from India. I could now guess the identity of the sender and could see from the date marks, that it had taken six months to travel from Madras to Halstead.  I was about to open it when Mary returned enquiring if I was ready to take breakfast.  This was a command from Harriet.  Nevertheless, I did break the seal and discovered that the letter  was cross–written,  in other words written diagonally and vertically as well as horizontally  and I could see immediately that it was quite unintelligible.  It was impossible even to find where it began, so I put it in my pocket and went down.

The array of food on the sideboard could have satisfied a multitude, but I was not hungry.  I placed the silver kettle above the burner and brewed some China tea – a great delicacy!  The beef and kidneys, porridge and ale remained untouched.  Harriet told me, but not unkindly, that she had chosen to wait for me before breakfasting.  Even so, I was  tempted to say that such politeness on her part was unnecessary, but a speedy escape was possible since the instructor awaited me.

Riding was second nature to me; I had been riding since I could walk and so I soon mastered the new technique, whilst thinking it ridiculous.  Harriet had arranged for the saddle to be sent down from London.  Obviously she was fascinated by the idea of her great–niece assuming a riding pose which had hardly been seen in Hyde Park, let alone in Great Maplethorpe.

Prepared to accept that this was a simple way to  please her, I trotted ahead of the instructor, deep in thought.  Being on horseback always seemed to take my mind back to Ireland.   I had a deep longing to return to Dridala,  yet I was asking for the moon because it had to be the Dridala of my father’s time.  It had to be the freedom I had known in the house – a special freedom, unrecognised until lost!  But now it was all so clear – I could see myself, sat on the floor in front of the inglenook fireplace, where the huge logs from the forest burned, surrounded by dogs and people. Talking.  Talking of anything and everything.  New writers;  poets;  painters;  their attributes and their failings.   I learnt more than many about politics, the procrastinations of the Reform bill, Dr. Whately’s Irish National School; much discussed since he had become a very outspoken Archbishop of Dublin.  How the policies of the Whigs and the Tories might affect Ireland.  Later this would be followed by a fiddle player or two from the village, because father loved the Irish music and they liked Dridala.

I reached the summit of the higher ground and looked out across the rolling arable land of North–East Essex.  The sun made a brief appearance, bringing brilliance to the panorama before me, which made my spirit fly back to a sultry Sunday at Dridala.  This had been followed by a balmy evening and, as so often happened when the weather was warm enough, a crowd of us had eaten supper at a long wooden table set out in the wild garden.  There was a patch which was a little less wild where the sheep had broken through the hedge and munched the grass, and this made a good level spot for the table..  A writer/director friend of father’s, involved at the theatre in Abbey Street, had joined us to share this precious time.  A Greek scholar, he read Plato’s play “The Supper Party” to us from the original; ably translating as he read. We sat listening with rapt attention, as the shadows lengthened.  Our present supper bore a strong resemblance to that of Aristotle’s time, we decided.   Were we not the same sort of people, with the same opinions, the same problems – just different clothing.  Would it always be so – the same parcels, but different packaging?  Was fundamental change in human behaviour an impossibility?   Thus we had talked and  the candles had spluttered and gutted long before we left to walk through the garden by the light of the stars and lay down our heads.  Would such stimulating times ever return  for me?

Never short of male companions amongst my father’s friends, I had made some good friends of my own, and found some to love.  Never, as I had told Harriet, had I found one to tempt me away.  I must have thought my father would live for ever – I certainly never thought of a time without him.

There was a slight cough behind me and the instructor spoke – I had completely forgotten he was there: “Shall we return now Miss Rochford?  You seemed to have mastered the new saddle.”

I apologised and we turned back. It was then I looked at him properly, and for the first time.  He was smiling at me, despite my bad behaviour and lack of thought for him, and he had a charming smile.  In fact he was very handsome.  Sitting his horse well, as one might expect, with a slim straight back and his top hat set at a jaunty angle, he cut a fine figure.  I hadn’t even noticed, I must be in a bad way.  I was certainly preoccupied with my own problems. Many a young lady I felt sure,  would wish to learn to ride this way just for the pleasure of being taught by this young man.   Presumably, the young instructor was tired of being ignored, since he now rode alongside and we walked the horses for a while:

“You are obviously competent, you only need to practice. Now you’ve tried, do you like riding side-saddle?”

“No not really, but it is a sort of challenge and it fills the time.  Do any of your pupils like it and how do you come to be teaching around here?  I don’t know of anyone else who rides like this?”

He laughed:”I came with the saddle, so to speak,  from London, at the request of your aunt.  I agree, it does seem a rather strange way to ride.”

“For years in Ireland I rode bareback and hated to use any saddle because only then do you feel at one with the horse.”

“Oh yes I agree… I used to be an under–groom in a large household and often rode that way, particularly with the young horses who were only partially broken in.”

“So you’ve taken a gamble to start up on your own, is that it?”

“That’s it, I hope to instruct young ladies because I’m sure this type of riding will become fashionable; also, the principal groom was not much older than myself, and was very competent…”

“No future then?  Well good luck.”

“Just before we return I suggest we take a few low jumps in that field over there – then I can tell your aunt that you’re all set.”

“Well, perhaps.”

As I went to clean up after my ride I realised that talking to that young man and Charles had been my only form of contact with any young men, since leaving Ireland.  Why had I come here?  Had the thought of a luxurious lifestyle tempted me?  I could have argued against the moral terpitude which persuaded me to leave. I certainly had not realised the days would be so long and tedious, nor that I would be so lonely.  Was it God or fate that wrought these changes – did we really make the decisions?  As I took off my riding coat to leave it in the tack room near the kitchen, as was the custom at Fynes, my hand came into contact with the letter – that letter! How could I have completely forgotten it?  The mind plays strange tricks – maybe I didn’t want to think about it, but it was no good, I had to face it.  Although I have good eyesight my earlier glance at the letter had made me realise that I needed a magnifying glass.  After lunch, as I made for my bedroom – and privacy –  I found one on the writing table in the library.

Mary’s sharp eyes had spotted me and following, she was soon rekindling the fire.  It was burning well as I settled to my task, at my little table.

It really was difficult to find the beginning.  There was no ‘Dear Mathilda’, nor a date, nor a place of origin.  Finally I decided it must start at the very top of the left–hand page.  I read the first three words….then after several gaps, a few more words, so taking a piece of paper I decided to write down the words I could decipher, leaving spaces, and these I would try to complete, later.

After about an hour, it looked like this:

“This letter was… and I think it a… not to write… at… because… gets… and… begins to… and half a dozen other things which in… never enters…”

 

“How I sigh for the time… for the rocky shores… England and… hold of you… let you go again, you… upon it.  So prepare… kidnapped.  How I do… idea of a drive… and Ireland in a neat little… with you… and… which I know you have in store for me.”

What dreadful writing, made even more difficult to understand by writing in lines across and at an angle.  If it was so important a letter why did this man not take more trouble in writing it?  I found myself wondering why Charles had so much admiration for this Cowper Rochford, and whether I should struggle to read his letter.  Charles!  He was the answer.  He had told me that he and Cowper corresponded, so he must know his writing and be able to read it.  Charles was often to be seen around Fynes, either going into the office or riding off somewhere, but he was very busy and although always friendly he only had time for a quick word or a wave.  I had awaited my invitation to their home with impatience,  but only the other day he had said that Louisa and he would be staying at Fynes for Christmas and would arrange for me to go over and stay sometime in January.  However this letter changed everything; after all Charles was partly responsible for its arrival. I  determined to ride over to Castle Dursingham the following day.

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