Archives for posts with tag: India

Chapter 19

     It was nearly time to leave.  The house had been cleared and all the items which were surplus to our requirements had been sold or given away.  Then, and only then, did I feel the full impact of what was about to happen. I wandered into each room, each of which held so many memories.  I was about to leave the village where I had been so happy, this house where both my sons had been born and – this was really hard to bear – to leave my dearest cousins, ever our closest friends, Louisa and Charles and their little son Rochford.  I had no idea how long it might be before we would meet again.

The day of departure soon arrived and the carriage was at the door.  It was a Ransome carriage that Charles had recently purchased, and it was to take us to the Bull at Halstead.  Our luggage had been piled up at the back and we were ready to depart.  Huw was carrying Philippe and Mary was still holding Henri.  Louisa and I clung to each other sobbing and even Anna, normally more likely to say: “I thought you’d never go”, was standing there with tears in her eyes.  Charles and Cowper embraced each other too.  Then Charles hugged me, and, as my bonnet had been knocked back by all the affection, he gave the top of my head a very tender kiss.   Mary found the parting almost beyond endurance and after she passed Henri to me she put her apron up over her face and ran into the house.  Edward shook hands with us all, but looked most unusually sad.

“Please write as often as you can.” I said, addressing everyone.  “I will want to know everything, about you all and about the village.”

“Come along now” Cowper said, putting his arm around my shoulders.  “We had better get going if we are to catch the London mail.” He took Henri off me whilst I climbed up into the carriage, then placing him on my lap, he clambered in beside me.

We set off, waving goodbye to our very dear friends. As we drove away, Mary ran out of the house sobbing and waved until we could see her no more.  Also, local people we had learnt to know well, like Mrs White and the Vicar, some friends of Harriet’s, some friends of Aunt Em and Uncle John, plus Mrs James the midwife and the doctor, all appeared at different places, waving.  As we were finally out of sight of Castle Dursingham I hid my face in Cowper’s jacket and let the tears fall.  I did not look up again until we reached The Bull at Halstead.

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Huw was accepted at India House; this was a mere formality, as his passage had already been booked and paid for.  Thus Cowper and I would have help with the boys during the long journey.  Cowper was not going to return to India by means of steam, as he had hoped; it was to be some time before the East India Company encouraged this form of travel to India.

I had learnt, from listening to Cowper explaining to uncle John, that we would be sailing on an East Indiaman, a fleet which belonged to the East India Company.  As I sat down with them to listen, Cowper said:  “I am reluctant to admit it, but these  sailing packets are some of the finest merchant ships you can sail on.  They are run on very similar lines to the Royal Navy and are known as Lords of the East.  Some are built at Blackwall Yard on The Thames and they are considered to be top-class. Also because the EIC runs the China Tea trade, some are built out east, of teak wood.  They say teak is even better than English oak because worms cannot eat it.  As I say, due to my own circumstances, I hate to have to admit it, but the accommodation is of equal importance for passengers and crew, as is the care of the transported goods.”

Uncle John, who had once travelled on one, had said that he had to agree.  This knowledge gave me some comfort.

Leaving Pall Mall was almost as heart breaking as leaving our home. I had learned to love London during my stay there, and Aunt Em and I had spent some wonderfully happy times together, which we would remember all our lives.  Even Uncle John, an infrequent member of the household, had become dear to me. However, I was finding these farewells altogether too emotional, and I began to think:  If we have to go, let’s get on with it!

Thus we made our way to Gravesend.  When I first saw our ship, it was tied up alongside the quay so all the sails were reefed.  Yet I had to agree with Cowper’s prognosis, it looked very impressive.  Boarding was assisted by two crew members and we were soon up on the deck, with our luggage already stowed in the cabin.  We stayed there whilst the ship was being prepared for departure.  There was so much activity, on board and on land, and it was fascinating to watch.  We remained on deck, as many other passengers did.  But we kept to the side decks as the main decks were so busy with the crew members un-reefing the main sails, then hauling on the ropes to enable the sails to catch the wind.  Finally, the men who worked on the quays were untying all the ropes, and throwing them back on board.  Then slowly we slipped away, out of the Thames, into the Estuary and headed for the open sea.

I began to think of my brother Stephan and his wife Moira as we left Britain’s shores.  We had planned to pay them another visit (they had never seen the boys) – but lack of money and the short time allowed to get prepared for our departure had made the visit impossible.

Once we could no longer see the shores of England, we went to explore where we were to spend the next several months.  I had never sailed on a ship like this, and despite being assured that any passenger cabin in an East Indiaman was superior to most other ships, to me it seemed cramped.  I was therefore very surprised to see that a slender and delightfully small piano had been set into the wainscotting.  I gazed at Cowper, hoping my face was expressing my heartfelt gratitude, yet I half suspected he was disguising his own surprise.

Thinking that this must be my imagination, as he had a lot on his mind, I tried to work out the practicalities of how we would manage.  There were two bunks, one above the other, and a smaller bunk-cum banquette, which Philippe could sleep on in comfort; then there was just enough room for a large basket for Henri’s use.   Huw was initially put in the lower decks, and allotted a hammock.  But after a few days at sea I managed to persuade the Captain that as Huw was virtually part of our family that he should be allowed to sleep in the gunroom with the midshipman.  So he was permitted to fix his hammock in there each night. The midshipman rather looked down on him, thinking themselves far above drummer boys. However, in time his pleasant personality and helpful ways soon allowed him to become accepted.  I had been surprised to find midshipman on merchant ships, but Cowper had explained that many of them gained their experience this way, before being accepted into the Royal Navy.  Also, he told me, the merchant ships were armed, which was very necessary, against possible privateers and the possibility of intermittent conflicts between England and other countries.

Huw’s help was an enormous asset to me, as the cabin was far too small to keep the little ones in, except in the worst weather conditions.  Before breakfast, it was the habit of the crew to stack and secure all the hammocks on deck, but Huw managed to get permission to use three of them.  Making the sleeping parts hang horizontally, he would tie these up to various bits of super-structure on deck, so that Phillipe in particular, was free to play, but was not in danger of falling into the sea.  Also Henri’s basket was much safer enclosed in that manner.

I tried not to be fearful of the long journey which lay ahead.  The accommodation for passengers was very confined, and it would not be easy with a small boy and a baby. I reassured myself with the knowledge that I had the capable and practical Huw to help and I naturally assumed that Cowper would always be around to lend a hand.

It was thus we made our way to the infamous Bay of Biscay, very much aware and wary of its reputation for seasickness.

I resolved to look forward to a new life, with a husband who knew about the country we were heading for, plus two small boys who would rapidly grow and learn.

As I had always loved adventure and relished a challenge, I made up my mind to confront, and hopefully enjoy, whatever might lay ahead.

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Chapter 18

      During June I took a little more care of myself – I did go walking, but not alone and not for long distances, because the doctor had warned me that my confinements were likely to be quick ones.  But this had not prepared me for the head of my next son emerging during the night, almost before I was aware of it.  I woke Cowper up and he was out of the house in an instant, like a man possessed, in order to fetch Mrs James.  The babe was born and lying on the bed when she arrived.  Although she was at first annoyed with me, she calmed down when I explained what had happened.

We called him Henri after my father, and gave him the second name Cowper, as that was the family tradition.  I experienced the same real joy and delight as with my first-born: now here was another healthy little boy, and a brother for 11 month old Philippe.   It was a relief as well, as I had been worried how we would manage if Cowper’s orders came through before the birth.  I could not bear to think of travelling all the way to India without Cowper, and with two small boys.  Now we just had to hope that the little fellow would be a bit older before undertaking the journey.  When I mentioned this, to my surprise, Cowper replied somewhat bitterly: “What an extraordinary person you are – do you really believe I shall ever hear from the East India Company?  Let us forget all about it and enjoy our two sons.”

It seemed as if Cowper might be right.  It was some weeks later before he heard anything.  Louisa had just looked-in to bring me a new baby-gown for Henri.  Sorting through Rochford’s clothes she had found a beautiful silk one, which he had never worn. “As soon as I saw it, I could see that the deep blue colour would match Henri’s lovely eyes.” Louisa said sweetly.

I was admiring it when there was a knock at the door, then an elderly neighbour was being shown-in by Mary. He and Cowper shared the task of collecting the mail for each other if they happened to be passing the Receiving House at the Inn.  After warmly greeting Louisa and myself he dug deeply into his capacious pockets.  “I have two packets for Cowper, one looks very official.”

“Good morning Major” said Cowper, who had just joined us. “Can I get you something to drink?”

As our neighbour was a retired army officer he and Cowper often enjoyed a nostalgic chat over a glass or two but today, he said, he was expecting relations for lunch, so he left rather hurriedly after bidding us goodbye.

Mary had hardly shown him to the door before Cowper was ripping open the envelope.

“Can this be it?” asked Louisa anxiously.

I couldn’t bring myself to speak – the atmosphere in the room was charged with anticipation.  Cowper quickly scanned the contents, whilst Louisa and I watched and waited.

“Yes Louisa, it seems that… this is it.  We leave for India on the 10th September,” then he added rather thoughtfully,  “and that means I will have been in England for more than two years.”

After a moment’s hesitation, I said  “But that is in two week’s time. How can it be done?  We have to clear this house, sort, pack, give things away, hopefully store some things we treasure and…” I was thinking out loud, “I’ve no decent clothes to take, no-one can organise things that quickly.”

Cowper laughed “You don’t need anything, my dear”

“How typical of a man.”

“No really – two warm dresses will suffice until we get further south, then two summer dresses.  Believe me,” he stated as I protested, “You can buy Shantung silk for next to nothing in Madras, and as for getting them made up, they’ll run up a dress overnight if you wish, and it will cost what would be farthings here.”

At this moment Charles unexpectedly appeared and Cowper told him of our momentous news.  Sitting down at the table, he took a notebook out of his pocket, then handed it to me saying:  ”Mitty you should sit here quietly and make three lists;  what you want to take, what you want to store – we have some room in the loft – and what you want to give away.  Once the decisions are made we will all help in whatever way we can.

Dear Charles, always so reassuring and practical.

Fortunately, Henri was now beyond the tiny baby stage and able to travel, but still needing extra care.  I had no idea how this could be achieved, as there was no way anyone could travel with us, least of all Mary, who was finally  happily married to Will.  But she did continue to come and help me until the day we left, walking the two miles there and back from their cottage in the next village.

Cowper had written to India House about Huw, whose surname was now officially Rawlings, and it transpired that providing Cowper would act as his patron or guardian, and with the proviso that Huw could be seen at India House before departure, he would be accepted as a drummer boy and his passage to India would be paid. It should be stated that Cowper had explained all the advantages and disadvantages to Huw before expecting him to make a decision.  There was no doubt, nor had there ever been: he most definitely wished to accompany us.  He would be taken to India House, to report in, during our stay with Aunt Em and uncle John before leaving with us from Gravesend on an East Indiaman sailing packet bound for Madras, on September 10th.

On September 6tth, on Edward’s advice Cowper added a codicil to his Will making myself and our children, alive and to come, his main beneficiaries; then his brother William Cowper of Upper Canada (a reversal of the previous will). He also included a small allowance for Huw.  Since Cowper now had ‘prospects’ (these being the Estate of my brother Stephan), Edward had insisted that the adjustments were necessary.

We thus observed all the advice we received, and were very grateful for the unstinting help given by everyone around us.  In this way we managed to organise everything and, despite the short notice, we were almost ready for our departure at the allotted time.

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Chapter 12

 

When the ferry arrived at Milford Haven it was getting rather late,  so Cowper booked us in at the Harbour Inn for the night.  It was clean and comfortable, but very basic.  Apart from the innkeeper, the only person who spoke English was a young boy who served us at table.  He seemed to be an all–round helper, some kind of pot boy; so we saw him several times during the evening and chatted with him.  I had been under the impression that this was a stop–over en route for Essex, but when Cowper came into the bedroom all such thoughts were put aside.

“I have booked a post chaise and we will be heading north in the morning”

“But, aren’t we going back home first?”

“Whatever for?  I said I would take you around Wales and now we are here.”

He obviously had his mind set on it, so I had to accept it.

We missed the pot boy’s cheery face at breakfast the next morning and struggled to explain to the Welsh serving girl what we wanted to eat.

When we were outside the inn awaiting the arrival of the post chaise, and Cowper was organiszing our boxes, the boy appeared.  He was dressed in long trousers and he wore shoes upon his feet, a cap on his head and a kind of small cut–away coat.  His clothes were homespun and hand-sewn, but he looked clean and quite smart. He carried a small carpet bag.

Surprised to see him thus, I asked? “So are you off somewhere as well?”

“I’m staying by here, with you, see.  You can’t travel round here on your own, seeing you don’t speak the Welsh, now can you?”

Whilst I looked at him still amazed, he went on, “My name is Huw and I speak the Welsh and the English and you need me, see.”

“But your mother and your father, do they know?”

“It’s not mother nor father, I have.”

“Well the people at the Inn, have you told them?”

“Yes they know.  They’re kind, I live by there in the hay–loft and I do jobs for them and they feed me, see, but they can manage for a bit.”

I turned around and explained to an equally bewildered Cowper, who had just joined us.

“But there’s no room for him.”

“Its small I am, and I can squeeze into any old turn–out, I can sleep on a bit o’hay.  It’s no trouble I am. You need me see. Can I come wid you?”

Cowper looked quizzically at me and I nodded.  The boy was right: we did need some help especially with the language. “You said when we started our journey that if you are travelling alone you have to trust some people.  So let us have faith in this boy.”

The post chaise, when it arrived, was very comfortable.  The driver rode one of the horses so there were openings at the front as well as at the back out of which you had a good view in fine weather, and the morning was fine, if getting a bit cold.

We trotted along along glen sides where streams and rivers babbled over the rocks, with little Huw somewhat squashed in a corner. Glorious mountains were ever present, and Cowper remarked: “Do you remember, Mitty, when I wrote to say that I hoped we would set off for England, Ireland and Wales in a neat little turn–out with you beside me, telling me all your little histories… I have to admit to you, that at the time, it was more of a dream than any real plan.  I cannot believe even now that we are really doing this.”

What a mixture he was; on occasions so demanding, and also dominant, and at others appearing to be a vulnerable romantic.

Delightful as the post chaise was, it was rather expensive, and Cowper said: “I fear we will have to travel lighter, in order that we can join a stage coach or hire horses.” Seeing my slight disappointment he added: “We’ll hire a post chaise occasionally, when it’s raining.”

As we still planned to return this way, when we next stopped for the night, Cowper arranged for the excess boxes to be stored, awaiting collection.

To begin with we could not pronounce Huw’s name properly even though he tried patiently to teach us.  He could neither read nor write and he had picked up English from listening to the travellers at the inn, because he had a responsive ear.  After a while we managed to grasp his explanations:  his name was H U (pronounced heh) and W (pronounced as it sounds uu) Hehuu.  When we began to understand, from his pronunciation that W was a vowel, it helped, to read words like Church, (eglws), and other place names.  From Huw we also began to understand DD (pronounced th) and D as it sounded.  FF (pronounced f) and F (pronounced v),  Ll (pronounced k). He pronounced the words and when we’d worked out the logic Cowper began to teach him the letters. We were alright in places like Haverfordwest because some of the local people, especially at the inns had, like Huw, picked up some English.  In the country it was a different matter and travelling the way we were, Huw was essential to us.

I was used to seeing poverty in Dublin and it saddened me to realise that it was everywhere – Cowper and I often talked of it.  But he was more pragmatic, having seen the most dreadful poverty in India.

I saw this at first hand, on one of the rare occasions when we again hired a post chaise.  Previously jogging along happily, we suddenly received a terrific jolt.

“A wheel’s off, sit you still!” announced Huw.  He was right and the dismounted driver confirmed it.  We were helped out on the side of the good wheel – Cowper joked that now he knew why it was called a turn–out.  It was pouring with rain and we were in the middle of the countryside.  Huw had spotted a cottage further back along the road and he ran off in that direction, soon returning to accompany us there.  The driver came too, carrying the wheel because he needed some help with its repair.  The shepherd, for that is what Huw said he was, welcomed us into the shelter of his cottage, which consisted of two rooms.  The one, into which we were led, seemed very dark at first, except for the firelight, but when our eyes became accustomed to the light, several things became visible.  There was a table and about three chairs, an earthen floor, some sort of cupboards in the wall, which seemed to contain a lot of straw covered by some course material, which might have served as beds.  Many small children came running in followed by clucking, hopping chickens and even a baby lamb.  The shepherd’s wife shooed the animals and children into the next room, then she put some freshly ground flour into a bowl on the table, she added fat, eggs, some chopped fruit and water.  This she made into small balls which she then patted with her hands flattening them.  They were placed on to a piece of metal, which had been heating up on top of the brick oven.  We were offered fresh warm goat’s milk to drink, or home brewed ale.  This was warmed, since the day was chill, by placing a very hot poker into the pot or vessel, which contained it. “Welsh cakes and ale, there’s lovely,” said Huw.

When the cakes were cooked all the little children came running in and sat on the floor. Their feet were bare, and bore evidence of sores and abrasions.  Their clothes were well–washed and well–mended, and crossed over their chests and tied at the back, were extra pieces of sacking to keep them warm.  Even so, there was much laughter and it was obvious that this meal, which we were being so generously offered, was to them, a great treat.  The children, although their noses were running from the cold outside, looked rosy and happy and were obviously given, as well as adequate food, that greatest of all gifts: love.

The wheel, with the help of the shepherd, was now repaired and had been fixed back on the chaise.  Since the wife would accept nothing in payment, Cowper made sure that the husband received payment for his assistance.  A visit from some strangers was a great event – especially odd speaking folk, like they must have thought us to be. We were trying to eke out our holiday on the suspended half–pay which I had recently learnt Cowper was receiving from the Army, but compared to them we were living in the lap of luxury. I felt guilty and wanted to help but perhaps we were being almost patronising. We could not buy what they had – an ability to survive on very little; ignorance of the things which they did not possess; a joy in their surroundings and a philosophy which helped them to accept the inevitable.

As we drove away I said: “It must be difficult to be so poor Huw.”

“Poor is it?  That’s not poor Miss – they have food and a proper home, even some chickens and a lamb or two.  Rich that is, isn’t it?”

Home-spun Philosophy from a young, illiterate boy.

News of John Wesley, and his sermons, was reaching the valleys – this gave much comfort to the under-privileged, and certainly hope.  Although Wesley himself wanted to reform his own Church, being the Established Church, his followers wished to form their own group.  There were many meetings taking place in Welsh cottages and Cowper wished to take part. Huw was able to contact and make arrangements for us to go along. Because Huw was there to translate, they welcomed us in their open–hearted way.  The sheer warmth and friendliness of the people of these valleys was something I will never forget.

During one of our night stops on the way to Fishguard, Cowper met another Englishman travelling south.  He brought us up-to- date with London news and gave Cowper his copy of The Times.  He read to me, with great interest, an article in the newspaper about the proposed flotation of a company to be known as the Great Western Railway.  There had been a deal of apprehension about the idea of a national railway network and in the House Of Commons, Members had expressed their warnings, which the reporter quoted:  “Just because the Manchester to Liverpool railway is successful it does not mean that others will be – money could be lost”.  Cowper, however, was very optimistic about it, and thrilled at the prospect of being able to travel from one end of the country to the other in a matter of hours instead of days: “If I had any capital I wouldn’t hesitate about investing in that.” He enthused.

Our journey up through Wales was leisurely.  If the weather stayed fine we would make our stopovers last several days and walk up in the mountains. Sometimes we would steer our hired horses right off the route in order to have a look at some small hamlet, or explore a gorge – without Huw this would have been impossible as no–one in these areas spoke anything but Welsh.

When riding, Huw always took his seat in front of me and although he knew nothing of maps his instincts were alert and his knowledge of the area, local customs, wildlife, and climatic conditions, was immense. Huw made the holiday special and both Cowper and I realised our good fortune in having him along.

After some weeks we arrived in Fishguard and put up at an inn, which overlooked the harbour and the busy shipping lanes.  One morning, after chatting with some shipping agents, Cowper returned full of news about the proposed new Steam Packets.  These, he had been told, would soon be able to achieve a journey from England to India in 70 days: “Think of that Mitty.  When we go back we will not have to sail for six months, as I did.  Progress is exhilarating.”

He had said: ‘when we go back”.  Would we make this journey?  Would I ever see this vast, amazing, sub-continent?  Would there be a trial?  Cowper had received one or two intimations to that effect, in correspondence.  But nothing of a certain nature.

Our visit to this busy interesting harbour/town was marred by our first serious argument.  I had not been feeling too well, rather nauseous and somewhat fatigued by all the travelling – so I was relieved that we had reached our point of return. This was not, however, to be the case.  Cowper had other ideas; we were to travel on into the Lake District and thus to Scotland.”We are so near,” he argued “why turn back now?”

“It will be December in a few days”, I pointed out,”and the weather can become very nasty in Northern Britain.  We could be snowed up for days, and what about Christmas?”

Christmas was of no great concern to Cowper – celebrations in India were of the ‘British-maintaining-traditions’ kind, but his family had travelled so extensively that the celebrations had never been consistent.

I was wondering if my sickness was due to possible pregnancy – but I knew so little about it and there was no close friend at hand with whom I could talk. I had told Cowper that I did not want to go on with this winter journey and that I would return to Essex alone, if that was what he wished.  He was behaving in  an odd manner, assuming an air of hurt pride – he wanted to see Scotland and I did not.  It was as simple as that to him.

My mind, which had previously been preoccupied with this, was however turned around by Huw.  He had asked for some free time to look up some old friends who lived in Fishguard.  Always a cheerful young lad, I expected his return to be a jolly one.  I was quite unprepared for his distraught manner when he came in that evening.  He was suddenly a young orphan boy again, baffled by circumstances, which he was unable to handle.

Cowper had gone off, somewhat in a huff, to meet some of his new naval acquaintances.  Thus I was available and could listen.  The innkeeper brought up some ale, and we sat down by the fire in a little sitting room, which had been set aside for our personal use.

Huw began by blurting out that Mia Morgan was dying and there was no–one to look after her.  I tried to calm him and with the help of the ale he began to tell me the story.  He had been abandoned in Fishguard when he was about two years old – he thought he could just about remember his mother. David Morgan had later told him that he had seen a well dressed lady getting into a coach, bound for London he thought, just before he had come across me, sitting on the side of the road, and howling after the receding coach.

At first Morgan thought that there was some mistake – the little boy was well dressed, he had explained to people.  The coach must turn and come back, he had thought.  When it did not David Morgan came to accept the reality of the situation.  A kindly man, he scooped up the little fellow and carried him to – to what?  A hovel.  A two roomed hovel in a narrow back lane.  “Poor though they were these dear Morgans,” Huw told me through his tears, “they looked after me.”  He told me that they shared the little they had with him.  Although almost starving, he survived.  They had saved his life.  More than that they had shown him kindness and love.  When he was old enough (how young was that, I wondered?) they told him the story.  Even then, he knew how poor they were and marvelled that they had taken him into their care.

A little after this Huw (who had been given that name by the Morgans and knew no other) felt that he must fend for himself.  He moved away, promising to come back soon.  He did not know how he would live and for a time he stole food when he could – earning a farthing here and a farthing there, minding a horse or carrying a basket.  Finally, he got to Milford Haven and stopped there: “You see it’s the sea’s the other side, isn’t it? And Ireland.”

The people at the Inn had given him odd jobs and some scraps to eat and gradually he had proved himself useful enough to be given better food, a bed in the hay–loft and even a sip of ale sometimes.  Where others had found English both difficult and unnecessary to learn – Huw found it easy, just by listening when he ‘waited’ at table.  He sometimes wondered if he had heard it before.

“I heard you say, didn’t I, you were going up Wales.  I’ll go too if they’ll have me, I can get to see the Morgans, isn’t it?”

He explained that he knew he was proving useful to the innkeeper, but that he would not be busy now through the winter and would be glad of less mouths to feed.  Huw had been very thrilled when he heard us say that we were going all the way to Fishguard and at the first opportunity he had gone off to find his benefactors and life–savers. Imagine his horror when he found that the family had all become victims of the dreaded cholera, brought ashore by the sailors.    Mia was the only survivor and she, he thought, did not have long to live – Mother, Father, brother dead – and no–one to look after her.  What should he do, what could he do?

His agony was such that I determined I must help.  We set off to find the slum area, with me gritting my teeth at the sights and smells, almost turning back in horror when a large, fat rat ran across the alleyway.  It was just getting dark and poor lighted flames flickered in the doorways.  The cottage found – hovel was a better description – we went in.  The poor little girl, not much older than Huw I thought, although smaller and definitely thinner, was lying in a heap of rags in the corner.  Seeing us arrive, a woman put her head in the doorway – she had been looking in on Mia she said, but with no money, could do very little.  Huw translated that she indicated me, “Mrs” as perhaps being able to get the child into the Charity Hospital.  When I produced a few coins, the woman found an older lad, who picked up poor little Mia and carried her ahead of us – leading the way.

The hospital reached, the older boy left hurriedly.  After a long wait a woman approached us.  We must have seemed an odd sight.  A well–dressed woman, a reasonably dressed boy and on the floor at their feet, with Huw supporting her head, a poverty-stricken child in a bundle of rags.

Huw again translated and explained that the woman was a nurse and would take in the patient ‘Mia’ if I could pay something towards her nursing care.  The place looked bare of any comfort but I presumed must be better than the hovel.  I agreed and at that point Mia was very sick and went into a painfully rigid cramp spasm – Huw told me that the nurse said I must go no further as she would take Mia into the ward – he went on that she also   said, I had taken enough risks already and should get home quickly.

After the nurse had left, with a man carrying Mia, Huw explained that he was sorry, but he must stay. “There’s no–one by here to see to her, only me, isn’t it?” He said, he also told me that if we were returning on the main roads we would possibly meet English speaking people.

Suddenly I realised how much we owed to this young boy.  Quite apart from his useful, although limited linguistic ability, his humour and common sense had brought another dimension to our journey through Wales.

I wrote out the address of my cousin Charles and gave it to him:

“Keep this safe Huw.  I know you cannot read but you will find someone who can.  Here is a sovereign in case you want to come down to us – head for London – you will find your way, I know it.  I have paid enough for the Hospital fund.  If you do find us Huw, we will be very pleased to see you and we will find some work for you to do.” I had to say, and do, something, yet my suggestion was probably ridiculous.

We both had tears running down our cheeks, and I felt so very hopeless when I walked away from that lonely and desolate little figure outside that grim Charity Hospital.

When Cowper returned he was extremely annoyed, that I should have entered a slum full of filth and disease – have been close to a child with cholera – have handed a small boy a sovereign which, he was sure, could only compound his problems: “Did I have any idea of the danger? What if I had contracted cholera? Also, did I realise many people carried knives?  For a man, let alone a woman to be out alone was very, very dangerous.”

When he had calmed down and was thankful that I had returned safely, he said he thought my giving Charles’s address to Huw was a bit far fetched, but added, smiling “You never know, we might see him again.”

The following day my nausea increased to such an extent that I was very sick and Cowper could not avoid being aware of it. He was horrified and quite convinced that I had caught the fatal disease.  Springing into action he managed to find an English–speaking doctor and persuaded him to come and see me immediately.  The medic told Cowper it was unlikely that I would be affected by the disease, because I was presumably healthy, well–fed and not living in squalor.  But poor Cowper was in a lather of apprehension – his relief was therefore all the greater, when he discovered that, far from having a serious illness, I was actually going to have a baby!

No talk of a visit to Scotland now, of course we must return to England, without delay.  By the mail coach routes of course!  His bad mood had evaporated, at least for a while.

 

//

//

Chapter 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*********

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

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

Mary rummaged, then held one up,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I do indeed” said Charles smiling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes Mitty.”

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

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

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

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

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

Pulling out the required paper Charles said:

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

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

“Is this really necessary Charles?”

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Cowper looked fully at me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

//

 

Chapter 6

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

“What should I take?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do they know all the tunes?”

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

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

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

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

 

//

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good walk?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That is unworthy of you Mitty!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

//

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why did you not come in the family phaeton?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“When did it arrive?”

“Yesterday.”

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

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

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

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

Charles and I seated ourselves at the round table.

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

I brought out my sketchy and incomplete notes

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

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

Louisa nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Mitty and me shall be bound

Over the glad waters of the dark blue sea,

Our thoughts as priceless and our minds as free.

As the wild life and tumults still to range,

From trial to rest and joy in every change.

For as the breeze can hear the billows foam;

Survey ocean’s empire and behold our home.

“Could Cowper have written that, Charles?”

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

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

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

“No, no of course not.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Perhaps”

“Oh Charles!”

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

“Harrumph!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

//

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“When was that, now?”

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

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

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

” So the lovely buildings deteriorated, typical!”

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

“Well the Catholic Irish perhaps.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do?  Nothing, if I can help it.”

“Well then, what did you do?”

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

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

“About the Church itself?”

“Not very much.”

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

“Well come on, what have you noticed?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Surprises you does it?”

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

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

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

“W.R. 1798.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Aunt also inferred that grandmother married beneath her.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“By the way, where do you live?”

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

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

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

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

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

“You live alone?”

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

“Have you  always lived alone?”

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

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

I said to uncle, but really almost to myself:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanking her, Henry got to his feet saying:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***********

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

                                                            Pall Mall,

                                                          Nov.14.1833.

My dear Mathilda,

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

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

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

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

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

Your affec. aunt………Emily.

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

********

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No future then?  Well good luck.”

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

“Well, perhaps.”

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

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

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

After about an hour, it looked like this:

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

 

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

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

//

//

Chapter 2

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

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

Why had Charles sent Cowper my portrait?

Would Cowper think it was with my agreement?

If Cowper did write, would I reply?

Did I want him to write?

Was I intrigued?

Perhaps I was flattered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you know your grandfather, Mathilda?”

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

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

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

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

“There were always male friends staying at Dridala.”

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

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

“I… suppose so.” aunt grudgingly agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After lunch, uncle Henry arrived.

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

 

//

Reverse of letter

Chapter 1

Am I condemned to spend the rest of my life constrained by the curious allure of this house?  It is a beautifully appointed and lovely dwelling, but as I gaze out of the large, square, bay windows, the trees in the parkland surrounding Fynes Hall stand like ghostly sentinels, somehow guarding my solitude.

Living in England has had a strange suffocating effect on me – and the onset of winter is especially difficult, as now it seems to cause alarm when I leave here, even to go riding or walking. Normally I would ignore these stupid restraints, but I haven’t yet begun to understand the nature and personality of great–aunt Harriet, who is the chatelaine of this house.

How father would have laughed at my uncharacteristic temerity. A warm, sun–gold autumn followed last summer making it bearable here; but this wintry November afternoon has had an oddly depressing effect.

My thoughts were interrupted as Jackson came in. Knowing that he would wish to draw the heavy curtains across the bay, I moved away.  The apple-wood logs which he had just piled on the fire not only gave off a lovely aroma, but they soon crackled merrily, as if trying to cheer me up.  Susan, the parlour maid, arrived with the tea tray and placed it on the round table in front of the hearth, inviting me to sit down.  This was the one part of the day I enjoyed.  To sit beside a roaring fire taking tea was delightful, but considered too modern by some.  The door opened again and this time, my heart sank, as the crisp rustle of skirts announced my aunt’s arrival.  She approached in an unfriendly manner, or so it seemed to me; and with her head held high, she made for her favourite, straight-backed chair. Sitting down carefully and smoothing out her full skirts, she then placed her hands on top of her slim silver–topped walking stick, which she held in front of her, and gazed somewhat frostily at me.

“Good afternoon Mathilda”

“Good afternoon aunt.  I am about to make tea, would you care for a cup?”

“Thank you, no.”

I took out the little key from its cloth bag at my waist and opened the precious tea caddy. The aroma of the dried and crushed leaves wafted out invitingly.  I continued with the preparation as the silver kettle began to boil on its little stand.  Susan had lit the oil burner with a taper from the fire.

“My son John brought those tea making things from London, as I didn’t like the idea I suppose that he might have induced you to take it up.

“But you do like tea, don’t you?”

“It is an acquired taste – I prefer my familiar coffee.”

As the tea brewed in its silver kettle she added: ”I don’t approve of this afternoon habit.  After all it is not a meal is it?” Her hands seemed to take a firmer grasp of the silver dragon’s head, and after a significant pause she continued:  “I see it is an affected fancy of some time-wasting ladies in London.  I cannot imagine how you, living in the depths of Ireland, were beguiled by it.”

“An actress friend of father’s always brought her tea caddy with her, and we grew to enjoy drinking it.”

“Ah!” she snorted, with undisguised significance.

“Why don’t you just take a cup, you may acquire the taste.”

“I do not wish to spoil my supper”

“Oh come, just a cup of tea, and why do you need to take supper so early?”

Her eyes narrowed, expressing only too well that she thought me very impertinent. “I was brought up to have supper at five–thirty, and during the season in Bath it was very convenient because it was normal to go out in the evening.”

“But you don’t go out in the evenings now.”  As she did not reply I felt I had to add something:  “I suppose it was all very enjoyable – in Bath?”

“How could you possibly understand; I don’t suppose you’ve ever been to anything remotely like it – there was so much to do, so many people to see, and endless social events.  On one particular afternoon my partner and I were so fatigued with pleasures we were almost supporting each other around the dance floor.”

As aunt talked on in her detached manner, sitting bolt upright in her high-backed chair, it was almost impossible for me to imagine her doing what she described.  She had continued talking without looking at me, but suddenly she stopped and was now aware of my expression.  “No doubt you are unable to accept that I too was once young – in fact at the time I speak of…” she added sniffily,  “younger than you are now. We often danced throughout the night.  At the Bread & Butter Ball, breakfast was served at 5.30.am, and as many as 500 covers were laid.”

“To eat bread and butter?”

“Of course not, the bread and butter had been served at 1.30 am.  You seem to deliberately misunderstand. I thought you might have been somewhat interested, but obviously I was wrong   She rose to her feet, swishing her dress and titling her head backwards in a certain way she had, which indicated that she was annoyed with me, and without another word, she swept out.

It was very difficult to imagine my unapproachable elderly aunt being young and enjoying herself, especially sitting down to eat breakfast in the early hours of the morning with 500 other people. It was even more surprising that she should have decided to tell me about it.  Perhaps it had been a great effort for her to begin. Had I been rather insensitive?  Sadly all our efforts at conversation seemed to end like this.  Why was it so difficult for us to communicate?

On my own again, I could indulge in toasting some home made bread before the fire as I had always done at home.  Then dripping with the golden butter they made so well at the Fynes’ home farm, and covered in cook’s tangy damson jam, it was delicious.  Of course, I realised that I was fortunate to enjoy the privileges of Fynes, so unlike the rough and tumble of father’s house in Ireland, but oh how I missed the fun of my former, less formal life.

My aunt’s nostalgic descriptions had got me thinking.  It would seem she had enjoyed her visits to Bath. I did know about it of course, despite her presumptuous assumption that living in Ireland had isolated me from everything. Also, I had read the famous novels of the day, which probably provided reliable accounts.  All that was now in the past, but older people still pined for those days. In Ireland we had been well aware of the Prince of Wales, known as Prinny, who had taken his outrageous pleasures to Brighton, and all his hangers-on had followed him there. So the Bath season had withered a bit, but many people still preferred to go there.

Talking of the scandals and corruption which were supposed to abound, particularly amongst some of the sons of George.III, had been part of intriguing conversations in Ireland, and I’d always wondered if they bore any relation to the facts.  Uncle John knew – his position at the Court of Saint James gave him access to the facts – and I had found that he sometimes felt able to furnish me with intriguing insights.

Fynes was his home, and when he came home, and to visit his mother, my formidable aunt Harriet, he would happily relate the details.  He had said that William, known as our Sailor King, was aptly described and, uncle said, he does like the sea and had actually seen action in America and the West Indies.  But his modest lifestyle made members of the court pine for ‘the good old days’.    Musing by the fire and trying to understand the customs of this country, and how they came about, had become one of my occupations – perhaps a significantly lonely occupation for a youngish, unmarried woman.

I also spent a lot of time trying to understand these relations of mine. I had little else to do, and I’d hardly known them before coming here to live with them. Aunt Emily, uncle John’s wife, had told me that she didn’t like living in London (they call it Town here). Nor did she like mixing with high society; but duty demanded that she was obliged to live in her husband’s spheres.   Fortunately, it seems to me, she had developed an absorbing interest in ‘the playhouse” which did give her something exciting to do.  But they would not be coming to Fynes again until the Christmas holiday, which was a shame, as I had rather taken to Aunt Em.  Apparently they expected their son Charles to ‘keep an eye’ on this, their home and estate, which I suppose was not too onerous a task – as there was an estate manager.

My cousin Charles’s occasional visits brought a welcome and refreshingly different atmosphere, as did those of Uncle John’s brother Henry who sometimes looked in on his mother. He lived only two miles away and was a jolly, likeable fellow.   We had first met after my father died, when he came over to Ireland  to bring me back to England and this house. My unmarried brother Stephan inherited Dridala, my family home, but my virtually unknown English relatives had insisted that it was improper for me to remain in the same house with a bachelor brother.   Shocked though I was at their interference, I had agreed.   I seemed constantly to be wondering in those days: why had I concurred?

The candles flickered and Susan came in to remove my tray; as she left she passed Jackson on his way in, and he said to me rather crossly:  “It is not my job to see to the fires, but the houseboy Jim is away and the other boy is busy in the stables.”

“Please don’t trouble yourself.  I can attend to the fire.”

“These large fire baskets and heavy logs are not for a young lady’s hands. If we had one of those new, stainless steel grates which take small logs, well – then perhaps.”

I was tempted to argue that I was quite capable of dealing with a few logs, but thought better of it.

“You will be glad of the extra warmth,” he said, stirring the fire, which seemed to brighten his mood, “the wind has come up – it has blown away the mist but has brought with it driving rain.  Mr. Charles will have a difficult ride.”

“Charles – is he coming here tonight?”

“Mrs Rawlings mentioned it when I was mending her fire.”

Strange that she did not mention it to me.

“So, my cousin Charles is paying us a visit. That is good news.”

Turning to leave, Jackson suddenly remembered: “Ah Miss Rochford, Madam asked me to say that she has a bad headache and is taking supper in her room.  Will you wait until Mr. Charles gets here, and take supper with him?”

“Of course – I have only just finished my tea.” We smiled at each other, Jackson was only too aware of aunt’s entrenched habits.

This headache of Harriet’s was probably an excuse; possibly to avoid spending another evening with me. I sometimes thought of great-aunt as Harriet, although I would never dare to call her that.  It seemed to me from our first meeting that she actually disliked me. Perhaps she agreed to my coming here out of a feeling of duty rather than choice.  I could understand the situation being difficult, but why should that make her dislike me, and continue to do so?  Even so, it was better to spend an evening with her, than yet another one on my own.  It was so unlike my father’s easy-going, overflowing household, but at least Charles was coming to visit later.

Jackson had warned me that Charles might be arriving quite late.  Although numerous books lined the shelves, and these often provided a welcome escape, I wasn’t in a reading mood.  When I felt unsettled, as I frequently did these days, I turned to my favourite escape – the piano.  A very fine but mostly unused one stood in this room and the possibility of disturbing sounds were contained by the solid structure of the walls.  Thus insulated, I played to my heart’s content and could almost forget that I was not in Ireland.

Charles and I hadn’t spent much time together, but I had found him very charming.  There had been an evening in early summer which I particularly remembered.   It was soon after my arrival at Fynes.  Aunt had retired to her room – at a rather later hour than usual, as she obviously enjoyed the company of her grandson – and he and I had moved outside to sit on the terrace and enjoy the lovely evening.

He had talked about an old school friend in the Indian Army and the fact that they wrote to each other about twice a year. Soon after the death of my father, he had told me that he happened to be writing to him, and because our surnames were the same, he’d mentioned that I  might be coming to live here. Charles then told me that he had just received a reply from Cowper Rochford, for that was his name, and he was surprised to read that Cowper had stayed at  Dridala, my father’s house, one summer when I was a child. He wondered if I could remember any of this?  I told Charles that I did remember someone making a great point of teaching me to pronounce his name Cooper, and not Cowper, as it is spelt. This seemed to confirm the visit, because apparently, this Cowper was pernickity about that, although Charles had added that he thought it reasonable enough, as most people are fussy about the correct pronunciation of their names.

Then, changing the subject, Charles had asked me if I would object to his putting the finishing touches to a miniature which he was painting of me, and could I give him permission quickly as the light was fading?  I was rather surprised, but apparently he had painted this miniature from some pencil sketches he had drawn on a previous, rather hurried meeting.    At the time I had tried to persuade him to let me see it, but without success. Would he bring it with him tonight, I wondered?

It had been so pleasant sitting there talking to Charles as the sun went down behind the great oak trees.  I could almost have thought myself back in Ireland.  Unlike most of the English  people that I had met, he had a pleasant relaxed manner, and being with him reminded me of evenings at home.

However, completely unknown to me (and, as I later discovered, to Charles) this Cowper had been involved in a dramatic situation in India.  I did not find out about this until I met him, many months later.

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

Six months earlier.

Captain Rochford gazed around contentedly as he led his platoon back towards Madras.  The Maharaja of Mysore had been out hunting and, as Captain of the escort, Cowper had been enjoying the sport too.  It was February and although the monsoon rains had been heavy, this day was fine and sunny and it was becoming less unbearably hot, particularly on the higher ground where they had been hunting.  The Maharaja had shot a tiger and his resultant jubilation permeated the whole hunting party. One could feel his delight as he sat atop the gloriously bedecked elephant, with the carcass of the tiger and other hunting trophies tied to the howdah and draped across the elephant’s flank.  They would soon be coming across the servants setting out the picnic lunch, and the grooms would be able to rub down the few precious horses which could then be fed and rested.

It was undoubtably a good life he led in India.  As leader of the Rajah’s escort he enjoyed privileges that would not be his had he stayed in England.  However, there were things he craved and these were sadly missing.  One was an English woman to share his bed.   Being a second son was also a handicap.  His father had been reasonably generous with his allowance but although his elder brother William, who lived in Upper Canada, had inherited the family estate, he had not inherited much.  Living the life of an army officer without a decent allowance was almost impossible to achieve.

As he rode, he thought of the letter from his dear old friend Charles.  He did remember Mitty Rochford; although she was just a little girl there had been a promise of beauty about her.  She recalled that she had been fun too, because of her evidently free spirit.  It was so strange that she should now be living with her relations the Rawlings, whom he had known since he was a lad at school.  He hadn’t even known that they were related.  They were certainly well-heeled and Mitty’s father must also have had some wealth.  Of course her brother would be the beneficiary, but as Mitty had been the ‘apple of her father’s eye’; surely he would not have left her bereft? Then there were the Rawlings.   Would they not look after their own?

Moving around the foot of a hillock they came in sight of the Indian servants who had proceeded them and had quickly contrived luxurious looking shelters, but Cowper sensed that they seemed nervous; so trusting his experience of their sixth sense, he casually scanned the horizon.  His lieutenant suddenly steered his horse to his Captain’s side and pointed.  Figures were moving in a long line, coming in their direction, then looking closer through his eye glass Cowper could see that they were followed by more men.

“This looks menacing,” he said to his second in command,  ‘tell the men to prepare and instruct the mahoot to assist the Maharajah to dismount as quickly as possible.”

“With respect sir, when the Rajah is safely concealed under cover, the mahoot must remove the elephant to a safe distance.” Said the 2nd lieutenant, who had grown up in India.

“Because she may take fright and bolt?”

“Exactly, and could cause untold damage.”

“Right, please see to it.”

Practices for this sort of attack took place regularly and the men had rehearsed well. A select guard had rapidly taken up positions in front of the Maharaja’s quickly contrived protective shelter.

“Prepare muskets!” Shouted the lieutenant, who had returned to his officer’s side.

“They’ve lost the element of surprise, but there are rather too many of them.” Cowper said, still scanning the area through his eyeglass.

The Indian attackers, realising they had been spotted, were running towards their prey hoping to pounce before the men had spiked their muskets.

“It looks as if they’re carrying their usual spears, the metal arrow heads bound to the bamboo.    Let us hope they’ve not tipped them with poison.”

“Don’t they always?”

“Not always, for fear of retribution – generally they only use the poison for hunting animals. Look out, another mob have approached from our left!”

“Are the men ready?”

“Yes sir.”

“Fire a few warning shots to frighten them – then tell the men to hold their fire until they close in on us – but make sure they obey you.”

“Yes sir”

The warning shots did nothing to alter the resolve of the attackers and they pressed onwards.  The waiting was menacing and difficult to sustain.  There must have been more than two hundred very angry looking Indians.

“A man is wounded – give the order.”

“Fire” rang out seconds before the cracks from the muskets.  The powder boys were at the ready, as were the rammers priming other muskets to hand forward to each actively firing soldier.

A row of Indians fell and then the attackers were upon them, between them, under them, jumping over them, but the soldiers had their bayonets out now.  Indians and Madras Army men were fighting and falling all around Cowper and the shouting and screaming was horrible.  Horses reared and horses fell.  This was the mantra: under no circumstances must they get to the Maharaja.  The lieutenant was down, but the oncoming Indians were falling back.  Too many had been killed by the soldiers.

“Hold them back!” Cowper shouted to two forward rows, still manfully keeping together; then he ordered the inner row to turn to the centre and overpower the Indians who had broken through into the army lines.

“Try not to shoot, threaten!” he yelled, fearful that the cross-fire might kill the very man he was desperately trying to protect.  Seeing there was no escape, the Indians within the lines surrendered, and ordering them to be rounded up, Cowper turned to look at the outer ring of defenders.  He sighed with relief the Indians had fallen back and were running away.  Some forty of his platoon were lying wounded and this included the mere boys who carried the powder, and some of the rammers, but although some of the cries were pitiful and the clothes of the wounded were blooded, it fortunately turned out that few were dead.  And it appeared that the arrow heads had not been primed with poison.

Cowper made for the Maharajah’s shelter – two litters had been hurriedly put on their sides and covered with the carpets, which had initially been brought along to act as shelter from the sun, at the hunting picnic.  These had served well against spear attacks and the Rajah was furiously angry but unhurt.  The elephant too was led safely back, and although the noise and disturbance had nearly caused her to bolt she knew and trusted her mahoot and he had calmed her.  Some of the Indian servants who had accompanied the platoon were moving among the wounded, finding cloths to protect them from the sun.  Others, more proficient, were tearing clothes to provide bandages.

By late afternoon, Cowper’s messenger returned, leading the bullock-drawn litters back to the site of the attack to bear away the non-walking wounded.  A smaller than usual escort waited to accompany the Maharaja safely back to his palace, and the prisoners who could walk had been rounded up.

Cowper’s lieutenant had a leg wound, so was transported in an uncomfortably bumpy tonga.

“Where the hell did they come from and why?”  Cowper asked, as he rode alongside.

“It is rumoured amongst our Indian servants that the Rajah had some of his servants badly beaten, then dismissed them, which around here almost amounts to a death sentence since no-one else will employ them. He put the rest on half pay and all for some trivial misdemeanour.”

“That could have sparked this off?”

“Who can say?

When they arrived at the town square the prisoners were assembled under guard.  The Maharajah was escorted safely back and Cowper made sure that his men were receiving medical attention. The prisoners were then marched to the Civil Authority in Madras and handed over.

“What will happen to them?” asked the 2nd lieutenant who had accompanied Cowper.

“Oh they’ll receive due punishment, and rightly so.”

“Flogged, do you think?”

“Probably.  I’m returning to report to HQ then I’ll head for my bungalow.  You go and organise the dispatch of burial parties to the site.”

It had been a messy and unexpected business.  Cowper was annoyed that no one had told him of the unrest in the Rajah’s Palace   He if should he should have made it his duty to find out.  Perhaps it was no excuse, but he had not been in charge of the escort for long.  He mixed himself a stiff drink and his batman appeared with a bowl, water to wash, and a change of clothes.

“You a’right Sir?”

“I think so Jones, thank you, a bit shaken.  Takes the wind out of your sales when a couple of hundred angry natives come charging at you with spears.”

“Bet it does too – glad to say it ain’t never ‘appened to me.”

“Let’s hope it never will.”

“Could yer manage a bite to eat Sir?”

“Please; surprisingly I’m very hungry,”

When Jones had left to prepare the food, Cowper mixed himself another stiff drink and sat down to read the letter from Charles again.  A welcome breeze had blown up and was making the rattan blinds rustle and shake in a pleasant relaxing way.  He gazed again at the miniature of Mitty – the childhood promise had been right, she had become pretty, perhaps even beautiful, but she had a rather haughty look.   Cowper thought a plea of marriage from him might not find favour with this unapproachable-looking lady.  Well, he wasn’t such a bad catch – he was tall and some had thought his looks were well favoured; he’d better mention that when he wrote, because dear old Charles might forget or be too embarrassed.  He placed the little portrait on the bed and looked again at the recently opened mess bill, a payment that he feared would have to wait. At that point there was a loud rap on the door and the surgeon/doctor came in.  He was a burly man whose red nose and face indicated the amount of alcohol that he inbibed.

“Bad business eh?” “Yes, it took us totally by surprise.”

“You were pretty well surrounded I hear, but you managed to overthrow them and took a goodly number of prisoners – so it was well done.”

“Thank you.”

“Who is this pretty maid?” He asked cheekily, picking up the miniature.

“Someone I hardly know”.

“You surprise me; if you hadn’t said that I’d have sworn she was your sister.”

“Oh – do we look alike?”

“You do, you do, very alike – hadn’t you seen it yourself?”

“No.”

“If you hardly know her, how have you come by this charming likeness of her?”

“It was painted by her cousin Charles, an old school friend of mine.”

“But why did he send it?

“Because – oh I don’t know, because we have the same surname but..” he added, perhaps surprising even himself: “she is someone I intend to wed.”

“Are you going home to wed, or is she coming out here?”

“Oh I’m due for some leave, I’m going home.  But she doesn’t know about it yet, I still have to write to her.”

“Oh ho!” The doctor laughed, hugging his great fat belly as his cheeks got redder and redder. “So you’re going to carry the maiden off are you?” And he laughed again.  When he’d calmed down he added: “I’m going home soon too, perhaps I’ll have the pleasure of yer company.”

I hope not, thought Cowper, but after he had left, the seed of ‘carrying Mitty off’, which had been sown, took root.  That is the way I must go about it, he decided.

Some days later he heard that the 98 Indian prisoners taken during the attack had been executed – and unfortunately, rumour had it that he would take the blame.  Hell, he muttered to himself.  He’d had no idea they would be executed, thinking they might be flogged.  He wondered who had given the order? It certainly was not he. Should he have checked? Surely it wasn’t his responsibility?

I must write to Mitty Rochford and book his passage on the sailing packet, before the English papers get wind of this awful injustice.

 

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

As predicted, it was late when Charles finally arrived, but I was still at the piano. Looking around the door he said: “What a beautiful sound – I haven’t heard that piano being played for a while, and rarely so well.  Please continue… I’ll be with you soon.

He was drenched to the bone, but Jackson was prepared, and a hip-bath was soon ready.

Before long he joined me, with shining face and still wet hair. “There are many strange ideas about ‘preventing a chill’ here in England,” he told me as we sat down together, “one is that if you get very wet, you must immediately get even more wet by being immersed in hot water, to which mustard has been liberally added.  You come out feeling like boiled beef.  Do they do such things in Ireland?”

“They do and I think it is very sensible,” I told him, laughing at the graphic picture he drew, “I’m sure you will feel better for it”

At this moment Jackson appeared with a jug of gently steaming mulled wine and as we both took a glass, Charles said heartily: “This is an even better way of warding off a cold, but Jackson tells me you’ve waited  to have supper; I’m sorry to have made you stay hungry for so long.”

“I think eating late is rather fun.”

The meal was very cosy, because I refused to sit where my place had been laid, so my chair was moved near to Charles, and we chatted pleasantly.   We talked about his wife, whom I’d not yet met, as she had not been well, and the fact that sincerely wished me to know that she hoped we would meet soon.   Then he talked about the Maplethorpe estate, because it was Charles to whom the manager turned during his master’s absence in London.

As we neared the end of the meal Charles’s next remark surprised me:  “I have a sort of confession to make to you.”  Holding the glass to the candlelight to warm his port and enjoy its lovely purple glow, he went on:  “Do you want to talk here, or shall we move into the drawing room? There’s still a good fire in there.  Or perhaps it is too late?  Tomorrow perhaps?”

He was teasing me, he must have been.  Of course it was late, but how could he imagine that I would wait another day to hear this mysterious confession?  His choice of the room appealed to me too.  After Jackson had checked the fire, Charles thanked him, then sent him off to bed.  We drew our chairs to its warmth – it had grown colder, as Jackson had predicted.

“You have told me a little about yourself Mathilda, but not a great deal, and because I have something to tell you, I’d like to try and fill in some of the missing pieces.”

“Most interesting. What do you wish to know?”

“Everything, I’m most inquisitive,” he smiled,“how about telling me about Ireland?”

“About Dridala?”

“It’s a good place to start.”

“Well as you know I think, it was my home, I grew up there.  It was a bit ramshackle and things were always falling apart or not working properly, but I loved it, as did many of father’s friends  – there always seemed to be a crowd of them staying there.”

“Was it in Dublin?”

“Well Dublin county, not Dublin town, in the shadow of the Wicklow mountains, but built in the foothills, so we had wonderful views.”

“Sounds very appealing. Was it that appeal which drew your father to Ireland – he wasn’t born there, was he?”

“No, he was born in France, but he once told me that he’d been interested in Dublin from the time his father had told him of the family’s links with the 17th century Huguenots, who took refuge there from persecution in France.  At first he went just for a visit, and maybe to seek descendants of Rochford weavers.”

“Did he find any?”

“I’m not sure.”

“But he liked the place so much he stayed, and spent the rest of his life painting and writing – for a living?”

I had to smile “You know quite a lot already it seems, but painting was only a hobby.”

“I’ve only heard intimations, because I have no idea how or when he met your mother.”

“Nor have I really.  She was a Dublin girl – that I know – but she died when I was a baby.  She had been my father’s model, so I have seen paintings of her, looking typically Celtic, with her dark hair and blue eyes.”

“Ah! So that is where you get it from, but it cannot have been easy for you – without a mother.”

“Perhaps not, but my father allowed me a great deal of freedom –  some have said too much.”

“A freedom–loving Irish nymph eh? Fascinating.  I hope you don’t mind all these questions?”

“No-one minds talking about themselves and I’ve done precious little of it lately.”

“Well how’s this – did you get a formal education in the wilds of Ireland where you were reared?”

I laughed out loud and asked “Has great-aunt sent you to quiz me?  Does she want to place me as a companion to a grand lady friend?”

“Believe me, it has nothing whatever to do with grandmother.  I am genuinely interested.”

“Well,  to answer your question, my brother Stephan was given a formal education; I was not.  How many girls are?  Father was very involved in his writing, but he loved to talk and would always make time for that.  Books were always available as well, and father had taught me to read at an early age. He believed that if a child has an inquiring mind and available information – plus a listening parent – that said child will become educated naturally.    I think he was right.  I’ve met many a governess–trained girl having no general knowledge whatsoever and as a result, a remarkably narrow outlook.”

“I’m sure that’s true,” he said smiling. “You speak well of your father. You obviously admired him?”

“Yes, – and I do miss him terribly.”

My thoughts were suddenly back in Ireland – with my dear father.  I had always been so very happy in his company and that of his many friends – enjoying his unusual and stimulting lifestyle.

“So your brother went away to school?”

“I’m sorry?”

“I think you were a long way away.”

“Only as far as Ireland,” I smiled, “you were saying?”

“I’m sorry if this is difficult, it brings back sad memories of course, but I was asking if your brother went away to school?”

“Yes, Stephan did go away to school, but from all that he told me, it didn’t do him a lot of good. He spent his early days doing chores for the seniors, and when he himself became a senior, he made the most of every privilege and apparently forgot his studies. His interests were always farming and horses. I suppose that father had always known that’s how it would be.”

“Yet your brother went off to school and your father brought you up himself.”

“Much against the wishes of your family, I might say.  They deplored his way of life and rarely came to Ireland.”

“A way of life which is strongly connected with what I have to tell you.”

“My father’s way of life, and your confession?  Can there be a curious link?”

Charles smiled.  “Perhaps you should listen and see whether you think so.  You will remember our conversation in the summer perhaps, when we sat outside on that lovely evening?”

“Of course.”

“When we talked about my friend Cowper?”

“Yes”

“My confession is, I fear, that I was a little economical with the truth. Do you remember that I’d told you how I’d written to him because you shared the same surname?”

I nodded, but didn’t mention that I had earlier been recollecting every detail of that evening.

“You realise that even if Cowper and I wrote to each other promptly there would still be a long delay between letters – under the most excellent conditions it takes five months for a Sailing Packet to carry mail from India?”

“I hadn’t realised it was that long Charles.” I replied, slightly puzzled.

“When we talked during that evening on the terrace, I spoke of a letter  from Cowper which had arrived that very day.  This letter,” he produced it from his pocket, “had intrigued me, but at the time, I could not bring myself to show it to you. I had been surprised at his prompt reply – his letter must have ‘caught’ the returning packet –  but  I was even more surprised when I read the letter…” he paused. “I find this very difficult because the content is so unusual.  Cowper and I were very close at school, almost as close – or perhaps even closer than brothers,and we still are – even though thousands of miles separate us. So you see,” he gently coughed, then continued, “I owe it to him to convey to you what he has written, then… everything and anything else is up to you.”

I was very curious but I could think of nothing to say.

After another slightly tense pause, Charles continued:  “Apparently you met when you were both children, Cowper is a few years older than you, but from what he says you became good friends… well I had better read it:  ‘Not only do I remember Mathilda Rochford, but in my youthful way I had been infatuated by her  – and in her innocent way I think she had felt the same about me’…. Please bear with me ” Charles said, seeing my expression.  He continued “Because of our age and her innocence this had delighted and amused her father who seemed to have taken a liking to me.”

My expression became pained.

“That’s understandable, Cowper is a likeable fellow!” Added Charles enthusiastically, perhaps trying to over-egg the proverbial pudding.

As he became progressively more aware of my  reaction Charles somewhat ineptly tried to explain away his friend’s extraordinary letter.  “He writes that before leaving Ireland, he had gone so far as to ask your father if he could, aha, erm… marry you when you grew up.  Apparently your father entered into the spirit of this and performed a sort of eastern betrothal ceremony. This needs to be literal so I will read it. Cowper’s hand–writing is always difficult, but thank goodness he has not cross–written the letter this time.

‘Mathilda’s father put our hands together and winding a cloth around them declared that he; Henri Rochford, gave his daughter Mathilda  to me Cowper Rochford, and he concluded by saying that when Mitty had arrived at a sensible age he hoped we would be married.’  Cowper continues that at the time, and even afterwards, he thought it to be a game which your father had enjoyed, yet on reflection he does recall your father saying before he left Ireland – and I quote: ‘I want to be sure Cowper, that someone, hopefully you, will take care of my Mitty’.

Charles looked up, searching my eyes.”Surely you must remember some of this?”

Why had I forgotten it?  I could only conclude that, because it was merely a game, it had simply not been important enough to remember.   But whatever the cause, it had somehow been obliterated from my memory.  Something did stir in the back of my mind, but until now I had forgotten about it.  I replied:  “I have the merest recollection.”

“Did your father never refer to it – before he died perhaps?”

“Never.  It was a game of course.  My father enjoyed acting out fantasies, Cowper must have realised that.”

“On the contrary. He writes that you made a great impression on him, that you were an unusually attractive child, partly because you were  so unconventional – riding horses without saddles and even (he’d been told) swimming naked in the woodland pools (presumably unobserved) – and he wonders if you are still as pretty as you were?”

Either not seeing, or choosing to ignore my unaccustomed blush of embarrassment, Charles added:   “This is where I have to make my confession.  Unlike your father, I can hardly call myself an artist, but I have the artist’s ability to admire beauty when I see it, and I pride myself that I had produced a reasonably good likeness of you, so I’m afraid I was tempted to send my small portrait to Cowper without asking your permission.  You see, I painted two and sent Cowper the one I liked the least, keeping the better one.  I intended telling you about the portrait, but I couldn’t find the opportunity. I do hope you understand?”

“Not really – no, not at all. You should either have told me about this letter when it arrived, or given it the treatment it deserved and ignored it.  Since you obviously took it seriously you most certainly should have asked my permission before sending the miniature.  He will surely think that I knew all about it.  I must say Charles; I truly wonder why you have even bothered to tell me now.”

Charles looked embarrassed and perhaps, even hurt.  “Please don’t be cross with me.  I had told my wife Louisa about the letter, but only recently did I tell her about sending your miniature to him.  She scolded me too.”

He looked up at me with the expression of a boy who had been chastised,  but I was still too cross to be amused, before he went on: “then Louisa said I must waste no time in telling you about it.  As she pointed out, Cowper might decide to write directly to you at Fynes since I have told him that this is where you now live.  I really am very sorry, I suppose I didn’t think it through.”

It was like one childish prank compounded by another.  Did these men never grow up?  I had thought my cousin very charming, yet he was apparently planning to marry me off to a complete stranger. I had looked upon Charles as my one ally in this unfriendly place, now I felt deceived, deserted and very much alone.

“I sincerely trust that he will never write to me – I most definitely will not reply. If, as you say, the painting you have sent to him is not very good, then that should put an end to this nonsense.”

He smiled sheepishly, “I did not say it was bad, perhaps it made you look rather haughty, which – normally – you are not.  The one I retained is, I believe, a more faithful likeness… will you really be pleased if he doesn’t write to you?”

“Yes, I will.  I cannot even remember what he was like, this Cowper, although presumably I liked him at the time, as a child might.”

Seeing his crestfallen expression, I added;  “Even though you have told me he is like a brother to you, surely you must see how difficult it would be for me to correspond with someone who considers himself engaged to me, and with the apparent blessing of my father? Yes, I would most definitely prefer not to hear from him.”

Thus feeling fully resolved, I continued:  “I would appreciate it Charles if you would write to Cowper at once, well tomorrow at least, and tell him of this conversation.” Then I reiterated the facts to be sure that he truly understood.  “Explain that I see that this so–called betrothal as just a childish game, that his letter embarrasses me, and that I would prefer to hear no more about it.”

“As you wish, but bear in mind – as I explained to you –  my letter relating to your reaction will take about five months to reach him. For my part I have now told you of it. So if in the meantime a letter does arrive from him it will not come as too much of a surprise, and if nothing arrives you can forget all about it.   Now I really must take the blame for keeping you up so late, grandmother  would be justifiably shocked if she knew we were still talking by the fire at this time.”

He was right.  We said good night.

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