Archives for posts with tag: Essex

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 15

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

I shook my head.

“So you didn’t take precautions?”

I stared at her blankly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For the time being.” Cowper said.

“Until he gets stronger.” I had added.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s the matter with it?” I asked.

“It’s so darned isolated.”

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

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

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

“Oh, that was Huw.”

“Who is he?”

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

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

“That is a long story.”

“Yes…  I’m listening”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I think we are about to.”

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

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

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

“It was sunny when I left, Charles.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Has she read yours Mary?” I asked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And such bright blue eyes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why did you not come in the family phaeton?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“When did it arrive?”

“Yesterday.”

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

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

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

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

Charles and I seated ourselves at the round table.

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

I brought out my sketchy and incomplete notes

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

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

Louisa nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Mitty and me shall be bound

Over the glad waters of the dark blue sea,

Our thoughts as priceless and our minds as free.

As the wild life and tumults still to range,

From trial to rest and joy in every change.

For as the breeze can hear the billows foam;

Survey ocean’s empire and behold our home.

“Could Cowper have written that, Charles?”

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

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

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

“No, no of course not.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Perhaps”

“Oh Charles!”

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

“Harrumph!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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