Archives for posts with tag: Country Estates

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.

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CHAPTER 14

 

It was Cowper’s proposed visit to Cornwall which finally tempted me.  I longed to see the waves which uncle John had described, crashing on the rocks below the cliffs of The Queen’s folly.  Mary, who assured me of her reliability, quickly found a very worthy wet–nurse for Philippe, and Mary would look after him most ably.  Anna also offered to look in from time to time. So I was ultimately weaned away from my baby in the month of September which, we had always been told, was a lovely time to be in Cornwall.  I did wonder how we could afford these journeys, as Cowper was only on half-pay. He told me he had been putting money aside, especially on his long sea voyage back to England.  “There is not much to spend on a sailing ship,” he had said, but I began to wonder if Charles was subsidising his old school friend.

Our preconceptions of the county of Cornwall had evoked: rocky coastlines; pounding white–capped waves; narrow streets; fisher folk; smuggling; tranquillity; friendliness.  We were not to be disappointed.

During the journey Cowper and I decided not to take up uncle’s letter of introduction to the Edgecumbes. A member of Court certainly, but uncle was not of high rank; ‘Lord of the Closet’ was his extraordinary title and the Edgecumbes might possibly have been condescending towards us.  Their Tudor mansion had been clearly seen when we made a rough and windy evening crossing of the river Tamar. This place where the river had been crossed for 2,000 years, was known as Cremyll, named after the hamlet on the western side of the river.  The present ferry turned out to be a none too steady boat, manned by four oarsmen, and we were thankful to arrive in one piece. The coxswain spoke so well of an inn at Cawsand known as the Old Ship that, despite the weather, we pointed the heads of our hired horses in that direction.  Struggling against the wind and the rain along the top road we reassured each other that we did not wish to risk the probable formality at Mount Edgecumbe, but on arrival at the low ceilinged, smoke-filled Inn we wondered if we had made the right decision.

The old buildings nestled up to each other on all sides so there was no approach to the rear, and our horses were taken right through a passageway in the middle of the Inn to be stabled in the small, enclosed yard. Doors led off this draughty passage and there was a rickety staircase to the upper floors.  However, once inside, the rooms, the atmosphere and the temperature improved. The food was wholesome and well cooked and on this unseasonably cold evening, a hot meal was welcome.  A good night’s sleep and a large cooked breakfast improved our opinion of the place.   The inn was over 100 years old, being built around 1703, in the time of Queen Anne.  During our stay we spent many an evening by the dim light from the fire and a couple of candles, often enjoying the salty tales, which we guessed were recounted for our benefit.  Old men declared that they had seen ‘The Little Admiral’, Lord Nelson, sitting in that very room with his lovely Emma, the Lady Hamilton.

A few nights after our arrival we were awoken by the sound of feet running down Garrett Street.  Since there was an unusual urgency about the sound, we became inquisitive and, jumping out of bed we peered through the small window of our bedroom which overlooked the narrow street.  Four or five men entered the door of the inn which was quickly shut.  Another man, apparently in hot pursuit, rounded the corner just in time to witness this and knocked loudly on the door.  Someone obviously kept him talking on the step, until another two joined him.  Whilst this was going on we heard soft movements above our heads which could only be in the rafters. Finally, the men (customs officers, we assumed) entered the inn, so we returned to bed but the sounds above the ceiling persisted. After a while voices from below, led us to think that the pursuers were leaving the inn. As the ring of their heavy boots passed under our window we heard them say: “I know they went into The Ship – I saw ’em.”

“Where did they go then? –  They can’t just melt into thin air?”

The sound of their angry voices moved out of earshot.

 

The following morning Cowper asked the innkeeper: “Did you hear the noises during the night, particularly in the roof?”

He appeared surprised, and said he had heard nothing.

“Not in the roof?”

“I’m afraid Ma’am,” the landlord said looking at me: “You does sometimes gets rats”.

“I don’t doubt you do, plenty of them,”  Cowper said, smiling broadly. Then turning to me he scoffed:  “Rats indeed!”

This, we felt sure, was the famously rumoured smuggling.  Cowper believed the houses to be connected in the roof rafters, thereby enabling smugglers to make a quick get-away.

One evening he remarked to a man pouring drinks “This is a remarkably good brandy. French isn’t it?”

“Ah, an lively–like… like folks ‘ereabouts.  Tharr’s plenny of good spirit.” He said with a twinkle in his eye.

The concealed inlets and coves encouraged smuggling.  Perhaps the coastline always would, but the temperamental moods of the sea did not.  However, the anchorage in Cawsand bay was well sheltered from the prevailing Westerly winds, and the South Westerleys, so the bay was often favoured as a safe harbour.  During our stay, two warships were anchored there, and smaller vessels came and went.  One old salt had told us:  “Boney’s prison ship stayed a couple of days, but ‘cos the Cap’n heard ’bout a plot to rescue ’e do get zum of we fishermen in our boats and us towed ‘is great boat out to sea.”

“I would have thought Plymouth had the bigger harbour.” Cowper remarked.

“So ‘e do, ’till wind blows a wrong ‘un.  This do face Sou/East but Plymouth do get ‘ammered by Sou/Westerleys and Westerleys, but they do say it wont allus be.”

“Oh, why is that?”

“Ain’t yer seen the reef?  They’ve been a’buildin it for years.  They do tell we that’ll make Plymouth one o’ best ‘arbours in’t world.”

“But I thought it always had been – I mean Drake sailed from here didn’t he?”

“Tis fine ’til wind blows a wrong ‘un.”

 

To Cowper and I viewing from a safe haven, the changing moods of the Channel were very exciting.  I wanted to walk to Penlea Point and see the summer house built for Queen Adelaide, about which uncle John had spoken, and Cowper wanted to climb up to St.Michael’s Chapel on Rame Head, but all the land of the Earl’s estate had been fenced in, either to protect his Red Deer or his Pheasants.  Quite a few locals who objected to this sometimes broke the law and just walked where they had always walked.  However we felt that we had two alternatives, either to make ourselves known to the Earl and his family, or observe the law.  We chose the latter.

One of the gamekeepers who visited the inn, told us about the bridle path, which followed the top of the cliff round to Whitsand Bay and this was free land anyway.  Walking in the teeth of a gale along these cliffs – hat tied on – hand firmly held by Cowper, was an exhilarating experience. Returning windswept and cold to the warm inn and to an even warmer welcome was a pleasure, long remembered.  On fine days we stayed out later, and as we returned, we would stop to gaze at the beautiful curve of the bay with its green backcloth of Devonshire hills turned golden by the setting sun which twinkled on the returning fishing boats.  All just as typical of Cornwall as the crashing white-capped waves which produced brilliant emerald hues from the submerged rocks.

On another day this same gamekeeper told us that the Minadhu was sometimes open to the villagers.”Lord Edgumbe leaves it to I to say when gates can be open – ‘cordin to the stage of the nides –  that’s pheasant’s nests. I ‘eard you talk t’other night to old Sam ’bout the reef.  Best place to see it is Minadhu and it’ll be open tomorra.”

After breakfast, Davey the innkeeper pointed us in the right direction and we set off for what turned out to be a large green sloping sward half way up the cliff.  It was a fine clear morning and the view was glorious.  It was still early and the gamekeeper had only just opened the gate, so he walked along with us to show us the best vantage point to see the reef.

“They’ve been building it for years Sam told us. Is that right?” Cowper asked.

“Yes, 1811 they started it, but that’s a mighty buildin’ job – mile long tis. ‘Ard to tell from ‘ere, but it is a mile long.”

“But you can see it above the water from here, it must be nearly completed” Cowper remarked.

“Nay tis not – long ways to goo yet.  First they put in stone – tons and tons, kep bringin’ it oot in boats til arter a wile, three year I think, you cud see it – then they stopped – no more money – then storms cum and moved a lorra stones away – then they started agin, like that, see.”

“So when will it be finished?”

“Well they do say they’m zoon goin’ to start and this time they’m goin on wi’ it til ‘e’s finished.”

“It is, as you say, an exciting project.  Does it afford any protection now?”

“Is it any good d’ya mean for ships like?”

“Yes”

“Well mebbe folks dinna trust it, zo they kep goin’ in Cawsand.”

As we walked back Cowper and I agreed that despite all the setbacks it was an amazing engineering project and we looked forward to seeing it in action one day – protecting the magnificent harbour for which it was designed.

Awaking one morning to a golden dawn reflecting on a sea rippled by a gentle breeze, the reflected sunshine creating a carpet of sparkling diamonds, I stood by the window murmuring: “This precious stone set in a silver sea.”

Cowper laughed from under the bed covers: “What, Shakespeare at this time of the morning?  I had Richard II for a school examination once – not a happy thought. What has got you out of bed so early?  Shall we make the most of it and go for a really long walk?”

“Not today.  I’m up early because I couldn’t sleep, so I’m rather tired. Can we not take a stroll on the beach?”

Cowper was agreeable.  In fact, he was very agreeable in Cornwall, his depressions were noticable by their absence.

After breakfast, Davey asked: “Did ya see ‘ow ‘igh tide was last night?”

We nodded, we’d watched it from above, swirling over the sea wall.

“Bit odd, too late for full moon, but wind was Sou/Easter and low tide’ll be very low the day.”

He was right, the tide was exceptionally low.  I had decided to seek small ginger/brown stones which I hoped might turn out to be Cornelian. If I could find sufficient I would have them made up into a bracelet as a keepsake of our visit.  As my concentration was fixed on my quest I failed to notice the high rocks which surrounded the small beach I moved on to.  The sea, even at low tide, would normally cover this beach.    I wandered further in to what seemed like a small cave and found myself looking at a heavy metal door fitted with large hinges almost spanning its width.  Of course, I found it to be securely locked and immovable.  Wondering what Cowper would make of it, I soon discovered that he had climbed up the rocks.  At the same time he saw me and shouted: “This is Garrett Street, I’m right opposite the Ship.  Can you make it up here?”

Nothing daunted, I set off and got about half-way up, but as the rocks were slippery, Cowper came down to give me a hand.  When at the top, once I had caught my breath, I told him – indicating the spot: “I’ve just discovered a heavy metal door, behind those rocks on the beach. It’s locked, of course.”

Cowper said:”That’s right below the Ship – it might be the entrance to a tunnel, for smuggling, do you think?”

“But how would they get to it?  The tide is not usually so low.”

“They’d bring the boat as close as they dare, then wade in the sea to the doorway, you see the customs men would have difficulty in finding it if the tide is normally over the entrance.  But the smugglers must have misjudged it the other night – it would be submerged at high tide – that’s why they nearly got caught.  I’m hungry; let’s go inside and eat.”

Feeling quite smug about our discovery we sat down to a deliciously herby beef stew and a glass of ale. Glowing and refreshed Cowper said: “We’ve never seen them bring in the catch” – turning he asked Davey: “Will the fishing boats be returning about now?”

For the answer the innkeeper went to his door and looked up at the sky, then walking back in he said: “Might be lucky. S’fine day zo them’ll stay out, but zum’ll be comin’ if them full o’fish.”

We set off towards The Cleave and could see from above the sea wall on Garrett Street, which was half way up the cliff,  that boats were indeed returning, and as we passed the first beach we saw some of the smaller vessels being moored on the beach.  They were secured to stakes at both ends, for safety from the sea and when we asked a boy about it he told us: “Girt, that’s what they they calls doing that.  That’s why it’s called Girt beach.”

We could hear the noise and bustle before we reached the Cleave.   Several boats were drawn up and women and small children were running down with well-used boxes which they pulled up as they climbed aboard. From our vantage point we could see that the sorting abiity which followed was very expert, even among some quite young children. Flat boxes packed with fish, which appeared to be sorted into type and size were being handed down, to be stacked on the Cleave.  Every so often a large fish would be thrown on to the beach and some women hurried to gut an unusual looking Angler fish, keeping some of the offal. The offal, which was usually discarded, was pounced on by hungry screeching gulls. The fish itself was cut into sections and this, with the offal was shared out among the women.

Because there was so much activity, we had not noticed that two men had arrived, bringing pony-driven carts.  They were now haggling with the fishermen; then once a price was resolved, were putting their purchased boxes of fish into their carts.  Another type of boat had been moored just off shore when we arrived, a large boat which had sets of oars protruding from the sides, and a reefed sail.  This too was being loaded with boxes, which had been bargained for, and before each was stacked they dipped it into the sea, either to wash or cool the fish. Close by where this boat was moored, just on the edge of the beach by the flat rocks, which made a path to the rest of the beach, a man was haggling, even more successfully than the others. His successful purchases, which we were told, consisted of herring and mackerel, were being carried off mainly by young boys, along the beach, out of our sight.  By this time the fish had all been sorted and some of the fishermen were hauling their nets over frames to dry and, where necessary, mend. One had a large tear caused we were told, by the Angler fish.  Other men were climbing into the larger boat and taking up their oars, whilst others unreefed the sail which soon filled with the slight breeze and they set off. Silently and we thought slowly, yet when we looked again they were already out of sight.”They’m goin’ Plymouth” said one of the fishermen we had met in the inn who, his work done had come up to join us, adding: “Sell ’em better there.”

“Where are all those boxes going, along the beach?” Cowper asked.

“Dryin’ sheds. Ain’t you seen ’em?  Lots o’ dryin’ sheds ‘ereabouts.  Wen they’m dry they do go to all sorts a’countries, France, Holland and the like. ‘Ere” and he bent down to a box of his own, “take a couple o’mackerel for zupper, nuttin’ like fresh. Davey’l cook ’em for thee… and, he said as an afterthought, “I’ll see you gets couple o’ kipper afore you do go – they be mostly dried ‘ere, but I d’know a fella what smokes ’em.”

How kind they were, I thought.  They seemed to have so little yet they shared what they had, and as the women came up off the beach rubbing their hands on their aprons after dipping them into the sea, there were no surly looks, and many smiled at us.

“Been a good catch.” our fisher friend said, as if in explanation.

A fierce storm only two weeks previously had been in strong contrast. It had claimed the lives of three village fishermen and had been caused by a combination of the autumn equinox, a full moon, an exceptionally high tide and a south easterly gale, which was predictable yet unavoidable.

From such patterns are our lives woven.  An incident, which could not have been predicted, took place the following evening in the Ship.  The day had been exceptionally warm, the sea – calm as a millpond.  As usual, we had taken our meal in the little room to the side of the main communal room where the villagers gathered.  When we’d eaten, it had become our habit to join them, and this we did. Sitting at a table chatting to one elderly seaman we had grown to like, we were disturbed by a lot of noise, as two men who’d obviously had too much to drink, rolled in.”Jes come ashore:” said our seaman friend as he removed his old clay pipe to make the remark out of the side of his mouth.

One of the men, probably the noisiest, suddenly fell into an empty seat near us and stared at me cheekily:”Wha’s this then?  A lady ‘ere, and a pretty one.”

“That will do – have a care, hold your drink man.”

When Cowper said this the man turned and looked at him for the first time.  He said nothing for a while, he just stared and stared, looking right into Cowper’s eyes.  Gradually the room went very quiet as there seemed a sense of drama.

“You – ‘ere?  You dunno me do you?  I was in your reggimen, n’India.  They chucked me out – did they chuck you out?  What ‘appened to all the natives then?  I did’n know nuttin’ – but, did you?  I’m at sea now – whach you doin?”

At this Cowper got to his feet and said with a chilling but controlled voice:  “What right have you to address me – and with such nonsense?”

The man jumped up raising both fists: “Call me a liar, wud yer?”

He leared towards Cowper and seemed determined to cause more trouble, but Davey and a burly customer, who had quietly moved around to the back of the man, lifted him bodily and threw him outside, as he loudly protested – his drunken companion followed, without a word.

Cowper was visibly shaken and we moved to go to our bedroom amid cries of:”Tak no notice o’ee –”

“‘im’s well drunk”

“Lorra rubbish.”

But as I lay awake that night staring at the ceiling I thought of the smugglers on the run.  Was it going to be like that for Cowper?  If he could be recognised as a protagonist in the Madras affair here, in this remote part of Cornwall, what ever might happen next?

Whilst getting ready for bed Cowper had said that he hadn’t recognied the man and that he’d no-doubt been thrown out of the army for bad behaviour, but next morning he had gone out before I woke.  Realising, I suppose, that he could not leave me unaccompanied, he joined me for breakfast but did not speak to me all day.  His mood was much more difficult for me to handle here, with just the two of us and neither able to escape.  In Essex these moods had sometimes lasted for several days and when we went to bed that night I lay awake wondering how I would be able to deal with it.

The following morning he had again risen before me and I pulled the covers up around me for comfort, fearing the worst but to my amazement, his cheery face appeared at the door bearing a tray: “Our friend delivered the smoked kippers and they’ve been specially cooked for you with lots of butter.”

There was a large hunk of freshly baked bread on the tray, which smelt wonderful, along with a glass of warmed milk.

While I grinned my appreciation and put out my hand to take Cowper’s he said: “There’s a drop of port and a drop of brandy in the milk. Davey said it was to cheer you up after the other night.”

A bit early in the day I thought, but was delighted, especially because Cowper seemed to have shaken off his mood.

“Eat away,” he said, “I’ve had mine,” then added: “little Philippe will be getting bigger, you must be missing him.  I’m missing him too and our little house. Let’s go home.”

He made no further reference to the encounter with the drunken soldier/seaman and we went for a last walk to Whitsand, then left reluctantly – promising to return, as everyone who visits such an enchanting place must surely do.

Trotting briskly along the cliff–top road heading for the ferry to Plymouth to catch the London–night–mail, the waning moon rose over the sea and seemed to travel with us.

 

 

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Chapter 13

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

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

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

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

I nodded but made no comment.

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

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

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

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

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

********

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

//

 

 

CHAPTER 11

 

Suddenly, it seemed as if Cowper and I had known each other forever. In reality it had been a very short time.  I had met him in June and our wedding day was fixed for August the 4th.  Aunt, Charles and Louisa had been absolutely delighted at the news.  Aunt Em was also very pleased, and even uncle John wrote to say that since receiving letters from his mother and Charles, he realised that I had not approached this wedding without careful consideration – although he still disagreed with the undue haste.  There was one remark in his letter, which I found particularly amusing: My Mother writes in glowing terms of your Captain, she seems to be captivated with the man herself!

Edward Woollaston, the family’s legal advisor – with chambers in London, but living nearby – had been a frequent supper visitor at the Hall (Harriet liked him), and in the event of an Enquiry into Cowper’s alleged involvement in the Indian executions, Edward had spent some time advising him.  He also corresponded with my family’s lawyer, at my brother’s suggestion, and when my father’s Probate was granted I discovered that I had been left a small annual allowance.  He also advised Cowper, as my future husband, to make a Will.

A short time after returning from London, I had recognised an old friend in the congregation at Church – Anna van Bagen, an English girl married to a Dutchman who had lost his life in an accident. Tragically young to become a widow, she had moved to Ireland to be near her relatives. Re–establishing her passion as a watercolour artist, she had become a pupil of my father’s, and a regular visitor to Dridala.  Later, moving to Essex to live, she had not been a resident for more than a month or so when we met in Church.  It had been such a delightful surprise to find this old connection with Ireland so close at hand.  Until Cowper arrived we had met quite frequently, but she was wise enough to understand my sudden abandonment. It didn’t really matter because we had so much in common that, should we not meet for years, we would still be close friends.

Anna’s ebullient personality was her great asset.  She was rather small and was already showing signs of being plump, but she had lovely wide apart eyes and an all-embracing motherly smile. Louisa was of course, still unable to leave her couch and was happy that I had asked Anna to be my attendant at the wedding.  There was not enough time to have a special dress made up, so young Mary arranged for someone locally to alter my ivory satin; the theatre–going gown Aunt Em had given me.

The law required us to be married before 11 o’clock, and the morning proved to be dismal with persistent rain.    Both Anna and Mary, thrilled about the wedding, but tearful at the possibility of my going away, surrounded me with affection.  Stephan and his wife Moira had been unable to leave Dridala to attend, and so we planned our honeymoon in Ireland where Cowper could meet them, and we could of course stay at Dridala my beloved old home.

Uncle John was accompanying the King somewhere, Brussels I believe, and could not give me away, so Uncle Henry assumed that role, which pleased me, because I had become very fond of him.  As I walked up to the Church on his arm, beneath his large umbrella which protected us from the drizzling rain, he told me: “I am very proud to escort such a beautiful young bride, thank you for asking me,” then he added roguishly: “I’ve asked Cowper to lead you around the stone which says W.R.1798, when you walk out of the Church.  After all both of you are Rochfords and should show respect to your relative”

Anna followed wearing a peach coloured gown, which she had brought with her.   However, I was unprepared for the sight of Cowper.  Surprisingly, I had never seen my muscular 6’3″ Captain in uniform. In brilliant red with dress sword in scabbard and wearing regalia, he looked amazing.  Not only would I feel dwarfed, but almost insignificant, beside this dashing officer.  However, he turned to greet me when we approached – and his smile gave me all the reassurance I needed.  Only later did I recollect the warm, yet wistful smile which Charles gave me as he took his place at Cowper’s side.

The Rev. Rawlings, a distant cousin, muttered his way through the service, but his glance was kindly, and all in all the service went well. I was somewhat surprised to see moist eyes amongst my female relatives, but happy smiles all round as we walked together down the aisle.

The sun came out and warmed us as we left the ancient Church, making the raindrops sparkle as they trickled down the petals of the wild roses and summer flowers in the churchyard.

Aunt had planned to invite all her old friends from the County and ‘make a proper showing’ as she put it, but when we pointed out that Louisa would be unable to join us she agreed to a small reception in Charles’s Drawing room where Louisa, obeying instructions, reclined. Thankfully, it was very informal.  Uncle Henry made an affectionate speech, with a few carefully selected naval jokes. As he raised his glass for the toast he told us that he could take the credit for the event because it was he who had brought me from Ireland!  Charles, as Cowper’s Best Man, made some light hearted remarks about his unconventional friend, as Cowper gave him amused but warning glances.  He then toasted Anna, and Cowper toasted Louisa, aunt Harriet, aunt Em and uncle John.

 

 

********

 

Our first view of Dridala was a revelation.  What a transformation!  The golden fields of corn and barley waiting to be harvested gave evidence of the husbandry employed by my brother.  The house itself looked no less impressive, not a single shutter hung by only one hinge, not a yard of guttering was seen to be toppling over the edge.  The paintwork glistened in the afternoon sun and pretty curtains blew out of open windows.  Inside, smells of appetising food invaded the entrance where bowls of flowers stood upon polished tables. There were no children to destroy the orderliness.  The only concession was to the three Welsh Collies – confined to the floor, but nevertheless monopolising the front of the fire, just as dogs always had done in this house. There was always a fire at Dridala, during summer as well as winter, as the sun never completely penetrated the stout walls. I could almost hear my father saying ‘Too much organisation is a disaster for the creative.’ But, of course, he was not there. I felt his absence keenly.

Moira was frail and, I learned, would never bear children.  Stephan did not seem to mind, he had his farm, his dogs and his music.  Irish folk–music was his delight and was the only characteristic he seemed to inherit from father.  Every week, and sometimes more often, if the occasion arose, Dridala would be taken over by fiddlers, whistle players, harpists, drummers and others who formed the ‘jig band’ in the village – just as it had been in my father’s time and then as now, they brought with them all the joy and gaiety that was at the heart of Irish culture. I was delighted to find that my old piano was still in the house.  It had been father’s pride and joy. He had bought it for me from the funds of a newly published novel, but it was in desperate need of tuning. One of the harpists tuned it by rule of thumb and ear, and it worked tolerably well after that.  Cowper had his ‘whistle thing’, as I called it and with Stephan on his fiddle, which he played in typically Irish fashion, we made merry music – some of us stopping playing and breaking into a jig from time to time, out of sheer exuberance.  The creamy, black Irish stout helped.

Stephan bred horses and so the misty mornings saw the three of us out on the hills and above the lake, exercising the animals.  When Cowper and I were left to our own devices we chose to walk, talk and explore.  We both loved walking and during this time we never tired of talking to each other.  There was so much to discover from what seemed like whole lifetimes, before we had met.  Every little new discovery was a delight, every coincidence of shared interests, we felt, in our newly found love, seemed miraculous.

We could not delve deeply enough in our explorations of each other’s minds.  At night we explored each other’s bodies with the same insatiable curiosity and I found my impulsive, unpredictable Cowper a very gentle lover.  It was all that a honeymoon should be. Throughout our married life, with its drama and excitement, we often tried to draw on the joy of our honeymoon, even though we mostly failed.

Cowper and Stephan, although so different, got on well. They had met previously because Cowper’s summer holiday visit had coincided with Stephan’s school holidays and, being older than me, my brother could remember it more clearly.  Stephan had no personal desire to travel but liked to hear about other countries, and was interested in Cowper’s description of India.

“And you Mitty, you’ll be going to India?  For sure, you were always the one for the bit of adventure.”

Cowper then found it necessary to explain about the pending Court Enquiry, a date for which had still not been set.  To watch Cowper having to go over it all again and to talk about the events at Honelly, which was obviously agony to him, meant that I suffered with him.  He felt he had to warn my brother that the news of the result might get reported in the papers, that in fact he may not be recalled to India, and I began to understand how it could significantly affect our future.

But most of the time it was wonderful to be back in Ireland. To leap on to the bare back of a horse, with a complete sense of freedom, and visit friends I had not seen for nearly two years.  Also word had got around about Cowper – it was hard to miss him after all, being so tall, but he did draw attention to himself.  Like the day he had suggested we bathe in the lake, without our clothes.  I had done this as a child of course, but felt a sense of propriety was called for in a married woman.  Cowper felt differently and picking me up kicking and screaming, threatened to throw me in the lake fully clothed, unless I agreed.

“Wouldn’t you know it”, I was later to tell my friends:  “Just at the very moment when we were jumping in, two riders came into view on the hilltop and not satisfied with that they came down the hill to take a closer look, and we had to remain submerged until they rode away!”

Cowper would initiate a ride, which took us out for the entire day, or suddenly whisk me off at a moment’s notice, to catch a coach and go in search of new sights to see, and towns to visit.

Time had passed quickly: we had been married for two months.  Still at Dridala, I had gone for a walk with the dogs and was sitting on the grass, overlooking the lake.  As was my nature, I questioned whether I was glad that I had married.   Cowper, so uproarious and unbelievable, could also be so very gentle.  I would never forget our first night, he was so loving and so patient and I needed that.  I may be a wild Irish girl but I had never been to bed with a man before – Cowper was wise enough to understand that our future marital relations depended on my first experiences being satisfactory and happy ones.  He was a jovial companion both to me and to everyone he met – except when depression took hold of him.  I could not know whether he had been like this before Honelly, and I determined to mention it to Charles when next I saw him.

We had received mail from England.  Louisa was still carrying the baby and all was well.  Everything seemed much as before.

Our time in Ireland was coming to its end – we could not stay forever.  My relatives were not natural hosts, and although they had been very good to us, Cowper was getting restless. Sitting by the fire one evening, Stephan pulled at his old pipe and knowing it would not be long before we were on our way he began to talk quite seriously: “You know Mitty that Moira cannot have children – if anything happened to her, God forbid, I would never marry again.  I’ve thought it all out and I’ve made over all of this…” he swept his arm outwards, embracing the house and the land, “legally to you – there’ll be a bit for some folk in the village and some of the workers – but this will be yours.  However, now that you are married I shall make it over to you both. But I ask you Cowper, to see that you leave it to Mitty in your own Will.”

Cowper smiled: “You’re a bit young to be thinking about that Stephan – although I have to admit I’ve discussed making a Will with a legal friend of the family. I’ve not got much to leave, but now you’ve said this, well I’d better see to it.  Edward is drafting it up, so when we return … also I have to include my brother William who lives in Upper Canada. I did write up a short thing and sign it, just in case anything happened whilst we were away, you know.  But that’s quite enough of this morbid conversation, let’s play some music together.”

I was sad to say goodbye a few days later  – It had been lovely to visit my dear old Ireland, although I could see Moira was relieved that we were finally going. Before we got the coach to Dublin we met a member of the jig band near the inn: “Sure, and you must come back to Ireland, tis your own beautiful country, sure it is, and we like the beautiful people like yourselves – so don’t you be leaving it too long… come back soon!”

He summed it up for both of us, and as the coach drove away, we both believed that we would return there together.

 

//

//

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 8

     I did not seem to find an opportunity to talk to aunt Em (perhaps I was not particularly trying), but my time continued to be happily filled until one morning when aunt and uncle received a letter from Charles.  Louisa had lost the baby. The doctor had said that if she ever conceived again she would have to take to her bed, from the moment she became aware of the pregnancy – and stay there until the baby was born.

The news of the loss of the baby depressed the household. To be a grand-mama was Aunt’s dearest wish and uncle was also concerned about the ultimate inheritor of Fynes Court.  A curtain of gloom remained for a while until Jenny, my upstairs maid, finally helped to dispel it.  Aunt Em, in her mood of depression, tended to follow me around, so she was in my room one morning whilst Jenny was pinning my hair up, and aunt was saying to me:

“This must be the end of our hopes.  I don’t think Louisa will ever manage to have a child.”

“Forgive me for interrupting Ma’am,” Jenny piped up, “but I don’t think you should take on so. It’ll never be like that, you’ll see.  In our family we has more children than us wants, as a rule.  But my sister; ‘er had this trouble – oh and ‘er did want to have a baby so!  That’s ‘ow it is,  ain’t it Ma’am,  when you can’t have ’em you wants ’em.  ‘er had to take to ‘er bed and that t’wern’t easy seeing as ‘ow ‘er couldna work then and so ‘er wouldna ‘ave enough  money.  But our Mum settled it.  Mum said to our sis that she were to move in with our Mum, stay abed and our Mum would look after ‘er.  Our sis‘s ‘usband, he were to fend for hisself and bring some money to our Mum to help out – which ‘e did.  Our sis ‘ad a butiful little boy – jes three months ago.  So Ma’am, if our family can do it I’m sure it can be done in yourn,you’ll see, you see if you don’t. Beggin’ yer parding ma’am.”

Jenny’s apology was accompanied by a little bob and bowed head.

Such wise advice made aunt Em smile and later when relating the tale to uncle, she actually laughed – so the gloom began to lighten a little.

Even so uncle encouraged me to stay on in town to amuse and accompany aunt Em to The Play.   By now I thought infrequently of Cowper Rochford because I had convinced myself that his remarkable letter must be one of his practical jokes and it was not to be taken seriously.

During early April a letter to me arrived from Charles:

My dear Mitty,

      Thank you for your understanding letter – we are trying to put this sadness behind us and to hope for better events in the future.    Louisa and I were very pleased to read that you continue to enjoy the London life.  You write that you have now removed yourself from the recital treadmill … that is good!    

 I also received a short letter from Cowper, written in September. 

He wrote that his departure had been delayed by unforeseen circumstances, which he had found depressing.  But more about that when I see you.  Cowper’s plan was to embark in February so he should be on the high seas now.  Have you been following the Sailing Reports in The Times?  Any notion of expected arrivals?  Cowper concluded by asking me if I would let you know about this and I quote:  ‘Please tell Mitty, despite all that has taken place here, I meant all that I wrote in my letter to her.’  We cannot know what he means, so we must wait until we see him.  Louisa joins me in saying how much we miss you, and that we look forward, with pleasure, to your return. With kindest regards from us both, Your affectionate cousin, Charles Rawlings.

A letter from Charles to his father and mother came by the same post, which was typically thoughtful of him.  Sailing Reports?  Had I been looking.  No, not really.  I had arranged for copies of The Times to be retained, (on some pretext) and had been glancing through occasionally in a perfunctory fashion.  I now collected them and thoroughly checked;  After some searching I found the following: The Lady Flora to leave Madras on February 9th, arriving Cowes on June 11th.

All the apprehensions which I had put firmly to the back of my mind, now came flooding back.  He was coming home, sailing now, arriving June. Should I reveal all to Aunt Em?

Whilst I was thinking of how to proceed she came into the room carrying a copy of The Times:

“Listen to this Mitty, On April 5th the Thames Tunnel will open.  For the payment of one shilling it can be viewed by the public.  Lighted with gas, it is safe and warm, and descent into the tunnel can be achieved by a safe and easy staircase.  Approach is either opposite Old Gravel Lane, Wapping or near the Church at Rotherhithe.  Should we not go Mitty?  Let us be one of the first to walk under the River Thames!”

Was this my aunt talking?  Aunt Em,  an adventurous soul prepared to risk life and limb for the sake of ‘being first’? I was surprised.   There had been so much apprehension about the building of the tunnel and people had said: “they will have to drag me down there, it wont be safe.” Others had declared:  “It will cave in and all will be drowned, crushed or suffocated.”

Despite all this we went, the very next day.  It was warm and dry –  and exciting.  The fact that thousands of gallons of river water was running right above our heads, was never quite out of mind, although there was no actual sign of it. No water dripping down the walls, as had been predicted.  There was a sense of exhilaration in reaching the other side and walking into the fresh air; safe and sound.  Uncle was quite impressed with his wife’s determination to try it out.  Perhaps he didn’t really know her either.  In any case it helped to resolve my indecision – I would tell aunt Em about Rochford, but not uncle.  If and when Cowper approached uncle John, as he had threatened to do, aunt would already be in possession of the facts, and strangely, this pleased me.  Aunt could score up another ‘first’.   But when should I introduce such an extraordinary subject? Would aunt have met Cowper atsome point in the past?   He was a relative of my father’s, but then I remembered;  he and her son were, and still are friends – so perhaps they had.

l chose the time carefully – one of the evenings quietly spent in the drawing room with uncle involved elsewhere. I explained that I wished to read an unusual letter to her. Thus I read the transcript of Cowper’s letter.   When I had read it through once she asked me to read it again, stopping me, to ask questions on various points, nodding vaguely when I asked her if she knew Cowper.  Finally she sat back, ringing the bell: “I think we need a drink of something.  Tea, coffee, cordial… a little wine. Which do you prefer Mitty?”  We chose wine – it seemed to fit the occasion.

“How extraordinary Mitty, my dear.  It’s more like a scene from a play than real life.  Imagine you keeping this to yourself, all this time.   It brings to mind the fact that my own marriage arrangements could not have been more different – my mother and father organized it all for me,  in collusion with John’s parents.   Do you intend to marry him?   Of course you will be told that it is necessary for this young man to have a good position, financial stability and so on.”

“It is also necessary for me to like, or even to love him, isn’t it?”

“I suppose it is… it certainly helps.”

Sipping our wine, which had been dutifully produced, I asked:  “So do you remember Cowper?”

“Of course I do.  He was the sort of boy you do remember.  He spent two or three holidays at Fynes.  He comes from a military family, doesn’t he?  His parents were so often abroad, and that was why he spent his holidays with Charles.   He was rather unpredictable and not a little feckless; or perhaps mischievous. I remember he would sometimes leap in through the downstairs window draped in a sheet, with something like a turban on his head, brandishing the old sabre which hangs in the dining hall – screaming enough to scare the birds from every tree.  He would be chasing Charles who seemed to love every minute of it.” She chuckled as she took a sip of wine. “Yes, of course I remember Cowper and yes, despite his boisterousness, I liked him.” She looked directly at me and added, with a wistful air: ” What will you do – I suppose you will have to return to Essex?”

We spent the rest of the evening discussing this.  Aunt Em didn’t even ask if I had told uncle, I suppose she presumed that I had.  It was decided that I should return.  If Cowper was spending five months on the high seas in  order, as he declared, to come and see me (or carry me off), the least I could do was to be there when he arrived, if only to refuse his offer of marriage.

The task of packing was definitely not an easy one. Aunt Em tried to persuade me to send the bulk of my new things by the carters.  These horse drawn carts went at walking pace all the way and I thought I would never see my beautiful new gowns again. So I resolved to try and get them in the size of box allowed by  the coach people. In the end Jenny and  I succeeded, but I had to suffer the wry comments of the handlers, as they threw the exceptionally heavy box up on top.

*********

Saying goodbye to aunt Em was very emotional.  She and I had shared many experiences and generally, not having many close friends, she was rather lonely.  Even uncle John seemed sad to see me leave.  But I would miss aunt Em, especially our evening chats accompanied by wine, or hot chocolate.  Her pale and delicate skin and frail physique; her way of moving quietly about exuding a faint, lavender fragrance, had become very dear to me, and would always remain so.

Uncle and aunt came down to the hallway in their night wraps, as it was before dawn when I left.  It seemed as if the weather would be lovely, so I chose to travel on top of the coach. I was the only female ‘on top’, so the coachman offered me a seat on the box beside him.  It was so much better than travelling inside.  That was if the weather was fine, and once you had clambered up.

As the dawn came up the views were glorious, and soon afterwards, the people of the villages beginning their daily tasks, waved and smiled as we passed. Little children and dogs chased after us and all was easily visible from the top.  I felt I was privileged to observe the coachman controlling his team of horses.  He knew each by name and they responded to his commands individually.  The two front horses were called the leaders, for obvious reasons, but the two at the back were called the wheelers.  The wheelers had a very important job because the brakes were not strong enough to stop the momentum of this heavy conveyance, so when driving down the hills the horses assisted, by putting all the weight of their rumps against the front of the coach, to restrain it.  The rein for each horse was held around each finger of the Coachman’s right hand, hence the term ‘Four in hand’. Each horse was so responsive to a command, that it was possible to control it by the simple movement of a finger.

At each stop we were given a glass of ‘toddy’, served in odd trays with holes for the glasses, called ‘quaffing’ glasses.  These had sealed stems but no base on which to put them.   Thus you could not put them down until they were empty, so you had to quaff the drink in the five minutes it took to change the four horses. After a couple of these ‘mixture of spirits’ I’d had enough, and more wasn’t necessary, as might have been on a bitterly cold night.  In the winter this had become such a necessity that  many coachmen and guards had  become addicted.  Occasionally a traveller had a tale to tell of a crazy ride with a drunken coachman. Sometimes passengers, on noticing that they hadn’t heard the posthorn blown for a while, discovered later that the guard had ‘dropped off’, quite literally, and was left somewhere back along the road.

This early summer’s morn we were travelling on hard dry roads, and although we bumped and bounced it did not compare with the terrible conditions of the winter!  No wonder some pessimistic travellers made out their Wills before setting off!

It wasn’t until we were nearing the end of the journey, when I was travelling back inside, as all the seats on top had been taken at Chelmsford, that I realised my fascination with the journey had driven from my mind the mixture of curiosity and dread with which I viewed meeting Cowper – but it flooded in now, almost overwhelming me.

I was pleased to be greeted by a cheery, smiling Jim at Halstead, and surprisingly ,when we arrived at Maplethorpe, Harriet was on the porch to greet me.  We had so much more to talk about now.  She found life in London and news of her son and daughter–in–law of intense interest.  She was also able to give me the good news that Louisa was pregnant again.   She actually said, without unkind inference: “Charles’s wife is now confined to a day couch.”

I lost no time in going to Castle Dursingham to visit Louisa and Charles.  It was wonderful to see them both again.  We talked for hours.  My very active life in London had filled several months.  However, the thought of the long awaited offspring was obviously uppermost in their minds.

“I am determined to carry this baby Mitty – even if it means lying around uselessly until it arrives.”

I told her how Jenny, the upstairs maid, had cheered the Pall Mall household with her story of her sister’s confinement.

“It makes me realise how fortunate I am, but the advantages are not all on my side; Jenny’s sister belongs to a large family, you say?  In a large family like that, people are always coming and going.  You will help won’t you Mitty, by coming to see me as often as possible?”

“If she’s around to do so.” said Charles with a wry smile. “Don’t forget Cowper’s threat.  Any day now!!”

A few days later a letter arrived for me, from Uncle.

Pall Mall.

Dear Mathilda,

 

     I thank you for your letter to your aunt and myself and I am glad to read that you are safely arrived in Essex.

 Captain. Rochford has arrived from Madras and has visited me. He explained that he wished to follow through the objective, about which he had written to you Mathilda.  I am bound to say that I feel somewhat affronted at your inability to confide in me, your uncle, as you did with your aunt.  Captain Rochford asked me if I remembered his visits to stay at Fynes Court with Charles?  I do vaguely recollect.

I sincerely hope you will proceed with caution.  I wish I was nearer to aid you in this, as I feel that Charles’s advice may well be biased.  The fact that Captain Rochford should wish to marry you, and with so much haste, is to my mind, quite extraordinary, and I have to admit to being uneasy about his intentions.

I can only  trust that you will consult me or seek wise council elsewhere, before making your decision.

       Your affectionate uncle… John Rawlings.

 

I accepted that I had lacked courage in failing to confide in my uncle, but could I have been sure that Cowper would carry out his threat, and ‘beard the lion in his den’, as it were.? Uncle John’s letter made me feel contrite, and when I wrote to apologise, I tried to reassure him that my own reaction was similar to his.  There was still no sign of Captain Rochford however.  Then a note from Charles was delivered.

                                     Castle Dursingham… Sunday.

My dear Mitty,

      Cowper has arrived and is staying here with us.  He had been involved in some drama before leaving India.  May we have permission to call, and tell you about it?  Jim could ride over with the answer, but if you can get a letter to the inn by this evening – it will be with us by the mail in the  morning?  I’m sorry this is short … Louisa is well and sends her love…Charles

Unpredictable!  Wasn’t that Cowper Rochford’s reputation? Yet, I was pleased that Charles should write and ask my permission to call? Surely at Cowper’s request?  Especially since he had threatened to storm my defences and carry me off to be regularly kidnapped.  I wondered about the dramatic circumstances in India to which Charles referred?   Was this also part of a plan to confound me?  Charles, at least was coming with him. I simply could not have faced him alone.

After months of anticipation, it must be admitted, I was anxious to meet this most unpredictable of men, if only to get it over with. I still had not mentioned anything to Harriet; no time must now be lost in telling her about the letter.  I sent a note to Charles, and Jim took it that same evening to the innkeeper, who was a sort of postmaster. I’d written that I was prepared to receive Cowper, but since I had not yet told my aunt anything, would he please wait at least a day – or so?

//

//

 

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.

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Chapter 2

    I was tired when I got into bed, but of course I couldn’t sleep. My mind was concentrating more on the messenger than the impudent Indian officer who had sent the message; but the messenger was married.

This Cowper whom I could hardly remember: had he intended that Charles should tell me, or had he been confiding in an old school friend who had revived a memory by the mention of a surname?

Why had Charles sent Cowper my portrait?

Would Cowper think it was with my agreement?

If Cowper did write, would I reply?

Did I want him to write?

Was I intrigued?

Perhaps I was flattered.

Every possible permutation of these questions went round and around in my head. Eventually in a half–awake, half–asleep state I had to admit that I was curious and, whether I liked it or not, that I was also intrigued.

As so often happens after too little sleep, I awoke in a confused state. Was that the clatter of horse’s hooves I could hear on the gravel?  My bedroom window overlooked the front door – was it the letter carrier? Hurrying out of bed and pulling my wrapper around me, I saw that it was. He had dismounted and was partly hidden from my view by his horse, but I glimpsed his red coat.

I returned to bed and pulled the covers up to my chin. It was lovely to get out of bed in the mornings, because it was even more warm and cosy to get back in again. When Mary knocked, it was to bring in my hot water jug and rekindle my fire. She didn’t bring any mail, which was not surprising, as I didn’t receive many letters. One had arrived two weeks before from my brother Stephan, but even this had not been brought to my room. It was the custom for Jackson to pay the letter carrier and to leave the letters on the large oak chest in the hallway. Stephan, a poor correspondent, only wrote when he had some special news. The letter he had sent was still on the bedside table and I picked it up to re-read it.

“I loved Moira from the first,” he had written, “within six weeks of meeting we were married.”

It was quite a short letter concluding with: “Come and visit Dridala soon and meet my bride, you will be so very welcome, Your affect. brother Stephan.”

He had not asked me to return there to live, which, now that he had a wife, would be considered respectable. So Fynes, the rambling, elegant, empty Fynes, was to remain my home.

This morning, however, Charles would be joining us for breakfast, and that cheered me. As I walked through the hallway I casually looked at the letters on the chest. They were nearly all addressed to my uncle John and were generally passed to Charles as they were usually about the estate. Sometimes the postmarks told of mail from the West Indies.

When great- aunt appeared, she gave me a curious glance; she knew I rarely received letters. As a way of distracting her curiosity I asked: “Do you know why the letter carrier comes here on horseback? We always had to collect our mail, in Ireland.”

“The literate members of this community have availed themselves of a special arrangement – soon after the mail coach arrives at The Bull at Halstead, a rider leaves with the mail. I believe there is a fee of one halfpence per item for the privilege.” Her tone implied that she had answered my question dutifully, but did I detect a slightly more relaxed manner?

We moved into the breakfast room, which, facing east and having many windows, always seemed bright, even if the sky was overcast. I had been grateful for this cheerful aspect as I had so often eaten breakfast here, alone. Aunt usually preferred to take breakfast in her room. Charles was already there; standing waiting to greet us. He wore his own hair long, disdaining wigs for informal occasions. This was a modern idea but also reminded me of the portrait of a Cavalier on the stairs, which I had often gazed upon. There was a sudden burst of sunshine and as he stood with his back to the windows, his fair hair with the waves coiled and tied at the back, seemed to shimmer in the shaft of sunlight. He gave his grandmother a kiss and said he hoped she would enjoy her special day; then turning to me he asked, with a twinkle in his eye: “Good morning Mathilda, I hope you slept well?” and reading my quizzical expression correctly, he explained: “It is grandmother’ s birthday, you didn’t know?”

“Why should she know? I prefer to keep quiet about it.” Was Harriet’s curt response.

However, aunt was happy because Charles was there – she loved her grandson, and breakfast was quite a jolly affair. Charles had been talking about the running of the estate, as he had already spent some time with Morrison, the estate manager, but he was making light of it and joking about some of the eccentric characters who made up the outside workers. Then suddenly, as if she had stopped listening to Charles, aunt turned to me and said:

“You remind me of your grandmother, Mathilda. Not physically, because like most of the Rawlings, she had the fairness of the Anglo Saxons, not the dark and smouldering look of the Franco/Celtic which comes from your mixed blood. But you have her smile.”

I nooded: “She was of course, your sister–in–law.”

“Yes. the sister of my husband, Charles’s grandfather – she insisted on marrying William Rochford and went off to live in France. He was not considered a suitable husband, as he had no real family wealth. It was his undoubted charm which turned her head.. She became ill in her middle years and they returned here for a visit but she unfortunately died and he stayed on and never returned to France.”

Well, this was something new – even if my ever-so-faintly derogatory aunt was giving me some family information. The presence of her grandson was obviously making it easier for her to try and communicate with me. Again looking directly at me, she went on: “You are trying to restrain your natural instincts because you have not yet found your feet here, I think. I understand that and I am grateful to you for it, but I see you have inherited a strong will from your grandmother, perhaps from your mother also.”

“Did you know Mathilda’s mother?” Charles said, giving me a sidelong, understanding look.

I watched the way Charles handled the situation – he was expertly contriving to keep his grandmother happy but at the same time covertly expressing his concern for me. Although I had not yet met Louisa I felt almost jealous of her and I hoped she was aware of her good fortune.

But aunt was replying: “No I did not, but of course William spoke of his son and daughter–in–law in Ireland, and I saw a great deal of William – as you correctly remarked, he was after all my brother–in–law.”

Years later, I remembered that remark, because at the time I had wondered why it was necessary for her to stress the relationship.

“Did you know your grandfather, Mathilda?”

“I don’t believe I remember him at all – he hardly ever came to Ireland.”

“You stayed with your father until he died, that showed uncommon loyalty.” continued aunt, with a hint of derision.

“On the contrary” I replied, “He was a very special person and I loved being with him.”

“Obviously that affection was reciprocated – I mean he did not run the risk of losing you by introducing you to many eligible young men!”

“There were always male friends staying at Dridala.”

“Writers, artists, musicians? Usually unsuccessful – hardly the right suitors for his daughter!”

“Perhaps you forget, my father was a successful writer, and most of the young men he fostered were likely to become so as well.”

“I… suppose so.” aunt grudgingly agreed.

“Did you never meet anyone with whom you wished to share your life?”

“Well if I had, whether successful or not, I would have married him.”

“I see you are after all a true romantic Mathilda.” Charles said wistfully, perhaps thinking of Cowper, before aunt added rather smugly: “There you see, you are very like your grandmother, did I not say so?”

“That could only make me feel proud, but before she’d reached my age she had, I’m told, already given birth to three children.”

“I did not intend to convey that you are exactly like her, that is hardly to be expected. For example, I don’t believe she was a fine pianist.”

Full of surprises this morning, aunt picked up her cane as she began to leave the table, then turned to Charles and added: “William told me how well Mathilda could play when she was a mere child; six or so, he said.” Turning to me, she asked almost coquettishly: “Would you care to play for me this evening? Perhaps a Sonata by Mr. Beethoven? Now he has died I seem to appreciate him even more.”

“Of course, it is your birthday, you must have whatever you wish.”

Aunt was obviously pleased, for she moved away smiling. I was to discover at last an enjoyment which we shared – and although it was a long time before I really understood her, listening to music proved to be a form of communication. As we also prepared to leave the room, Charles said: “Until our talk last night I hadn’t given much thought to the fact that you grew up without a mother.”

“As I told you my father was wonderful – he tried to make up for the loss, whenever and wherever he could.”

“Hearing all this about you, first from Cowper and now from grandmother, makes me realise that you are rather unusual and I’m eager to hear more. You must come and visit Louisa and I and tell us about life in Ireland.” Then, as we neared the door, “Have you heard, uncle Henry is coming over, later this afternoon I think, to wish his mother a happy birthday no doubt? I must get back to Louisa, she was feeling somewhat sick when I left yesterday but she asked me to say that she is looking forward to meeting you.”

I went outside with Charles. His horse had been brought round and as he began to mount he asked: “Do you still want me to write that letter to Cowper? If you do, I will, of course, but remember it will take months to arrive and might even cause further confusion. Why not just wait and see if he writes to you, then if you still wish it, I will reply… are we agreed?”

I nodded hesitantly, not really knowing how to answer, because what he said did make sense. Smiling at me in that way which I found so appealing, he made a jocular half–salute and rode away.

When Charles had left, I went to the stables to find my favourite mare. Within a day of my arrival at Fynes I had discovered the beautiful horses – and the countryside around was perfect for cantering or galloping. Providing aunt thought I was keeping to the confines of the estate, all would be well. Also, the more I exercised the horses the more pleased Morrison became – it saved him from organising the task. The sun was breaking through the mist and although there was a cold breeze, I had a good hard gallop, which kept both me and the horse warm – and helped me to forget Cowper Rochford and his disturbing letter.

After lunch, uncle Henry arrived.

“I’m just going to greet my lady mother on her birthday,” he announced cheerily, “then I’ve ordered the trap. While mother has a rest, you and I are going to go for a drive.”

 

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