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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