Archives for posts with tag: Indian Army Officer

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 16

Much as I loved Castle Dursingham, I was delighted to be staying with Aunt Em again.  Although the Military Enquiry had been looming grimly for some time, Cowper said that Edward had reassured him that he was optimistic about the outcome.  He believed that the trial was a mere formality.  So I determined to enjoy London and leave military and legal matters to military and legal men.  Cowper had gone to Edward’s office to iron out the final details of the case and so Aunt Em and I spent the evening in her beautiful drawing room overlooking Pall Mall, recalling all the times we had shared and enjoyed together before my marriage.

She naturally wanted to hear all the family news and more details than I had already written about our little house and growing family.  She was delighted that we saw so much of Charles and Louisa and she was even interested to hear about Huw, although she advised caution.

“What about Christmas?’ she added eagerly “Fynes Hall will be opened up and it will be just like old times with the babies.  You’ll come and stay of course and Charles and family will move in; there is, after all, there is plenty of room.”

We really indulged in Aunt Em’s favourite subjects, the family and the theatre.  It was all so cosy and comfortable.

The morning of the Enquiry came rather more quickly than I had expected, and certainly before I had seriously considered its implications.  If I had allowed any of the old doubts to creep in, I reminded myself that the ever-cautious Edward was feeling optimistic. “Ah yes” I said quite happily when Cowper pointed out they were leaving and I added: “Aunt Em and I are going shopping – Louisa has given me a long list, and I need more material for the new baby.”

Cowper looked at me strangely. Then said, somewhat curtly, as he followed Edward to the door: “Well, I hope you enjoy yourself.”

 

Uncle John had followed the Royal Court to Brighton for two or three days, so on our return to the house, Aunt Em and I had been sorting out the shopping and packing up the items from Louisa’s list, to take back.  Thus absorbed we had not noticed how late it was getting.  Hearing a clock chime, followed by the Carriage Clock on the mantelpiece – Aunt Em said: “My goodness it is quite late, surely they should be back by now.  Do these enquiries go on into the evening?

Suddenly I felt guilty because I hadn’t really given Cowper’s day a thought.  Supposing something had gone wrong?

We both involuntarily moved towards the windows and gazed down at the street.  Why should they arrive now, just because we had become aware of the time? Noticing my suddenly anxious expression Aunt Em walked to the bell rope. “We may as well have our chocolate drink now, after all we cannot do anything but wait.”

It was more than half an hour later, when we felt the vibration of the front door shutting downstairs.

Cowper walked in first.  He greeted Aunt Em and myself but he was abstracted and kept moving about.  Edward followed.  He greeted us but remained standing, looking concerned.

“Won’t you both sit down, and can I order anything for you?” Aunt Em enquired.

“No thank you.” they replied in unison.

Cowper continued to pace about, but Edward, feeling he was being impolite, took a seat.

After a long, tense pause Edward said, “I’m afraid I have to report to you that this Enquiry did not go as we expected.  Not at all as we expected.”

The atmosphere, already made dramatic by the demeanor and expressions of Cowper and Edward, became even heavier.  My heart suddenly began to beat in my throat – why had I not anticipated this possibility?  Why had I secretly worried over this for months and then dismissed it at the time when it mattered most?

Aunt Em touched my hand: “It is already rather late for me – I hope you won’t feel offended if I retire to my bedroom.  Would you object Cowper?”

He stopped pacing briefly: “Not at all, we can discuss this in the morning.”

Edward rose to his feet: “The same applies to me.  It’s been a long day.  You too would be wise to turn-in I think.”  He looked directly at Cowper.

Aunt Em and Edward moved to leave the room. As he opened the door, Edward turned to say: “I’ll see you after breakfast Cowper and we shall, I hope, begin to see all this in a new light.  Goodnight Mitty.”

 

Cowper had already started pacing the floor before they left the room.

“Whatever has happened?”

“God knows”

“I don’t understand”

“You don’t understand!” Cowper turned on me, his face strained and drained of colour. “You don’t understand…”  he repeated throwing himself into the chair by the fire, his head in his hands.

I knelt down beside him.

“Please Cowper, we’ve always been able to talk”

“They’ve destroyed me.  I had no reason to believe it would turn out like this.  There was no warning that they would lay all the blame at my feet.”

“Surely, not for the executions.”

Searching in his pocket for some notes he said:  “I was interrogated for almost two hours.  Then, while we waited, they compiled the summing up. A copy of this…” he pulled out a paper and handed it to me “… will be despatched to India tomorrow. Read that” He said, pointing to an extract.

Dated 25th November, 1835, I skipped the legal jargon to read: “There is something seriously to be deplored in the conduct of Captain Rochford on this occasion.  He might, without at all overstepping the duty of a soldier, have so far yielded to the dictates of humanity as to have endeavoured to prevent a military execution on a scale, and under circumstances quite revolting and inconceivable with the feelings and usages of a civilised people.”  I looked up at Cowper.

 “Well, what do you think of that?  What is this thing we call justice Mitty?

I handed the paper back and he made no attempt to prevent all the papers falling and scattering on to the floor.

“But Cowper, why?  You told them you handed all the prisoners over to the Civil Authority.  It was nothing to do with you.  It doesn’t make any sense.  Didn’t you tell the Court this?”

“Of course, but their lawyers twisted my words and made it sound like something which was not the case at all.  I cannot understand why the praiseworthy comments that Lord Bentinnick, the Governor General, sent to the Enquiry in India, were never once quoted.  He said if you recollect…” Cowper retrieved the papers from the floor, then finding the pertinent reference he read: “…t is but justice to this officer to observe that his gallantry was conspicuous throughout the operations.”

I sighed deeply, but what could I say?

Cowper continued: “Edward and I went to his Club afterwards.  We were there for quite some time, I think. We had to talk and we needed something to sustain us.  Edward was devastated.  Although he has had little experience in military law, he had examined all the notes with meticulous care – you know what he’s like.  As we talked it through, he began to wonder if this can be linked to the trouble the East India Company have been having with investors in this Country. He was telling me that speculators have been forming partnerships, then withdrawing their investment and causing deplorable bankruptcies.  I’m afraid there are other important factors; such as sudden resignations of powerful individuals, no doubt due to the same cause.  We came to think it possible that the Company wanted to avoid further bad publicity, so they decided, damn them, that I should be the scapegoat.”

“Can they really get away with that?”

Suddenly Cowper’s attitude changed from reasonable to extremely hopeless. “Oh Mitty, if you only knew!”

“But is the Army capable of that?”

Remember thqt I signed with the Indian Army, not the British Army in India.”

“Does it make a difference?”

“Of course.  The Indian Army is controlled, owned if you like, by the East India Company.”

“But to put the blame on to you is unbelievably corrupt.”

“I am caught up in this major financial issue.  I am just a pawn, a mere nothing.”

“So will they get away with it?”

Edward thinks the Civil Courts will be drawing up legislation to prevent speculators juggling in financial malpractice.  But that will take forever and where does it leave me?”

“Are you still an officer in the Indian Army?” I almost whispered.

“Oh yes,” he said bitterly, “the EIC don’t want a Court Martial, that might become public.  You can be sure this will be kept quiet.  I’d be very surprised if it is reported, even in The Times.”

“Do you think we will we be going to India?”

“I don’t know.” He jumped up and began pacing the room again. “That’s the very devil of it.  They have told me nothing, which indicates I will have to remain on half-pay.  How can we manage Mitty, and with another baby coming?”

“We will manage somehow.  If we run into a crisis I could write to my brother Stephan. I think he would be more than willing to help.”

“No, if it comes to dire necessity I will write to my brother in Upper Canada, he’s growing quite rich out there.” Then he got angry again:  “But why the hell should it happen?  I am unable to leave the Army and I cannot seek another profession whilst I am in it.  I have no idea whether I will ever be allowed to return to India and I am still to be on half-pay.  It’s an impossible situation.  Absolutely impossible.”

 

I sighed again deeply, I just did not know what to say or how to reassure him. “There must be something we can do – but we can do nothing tonight. Won’t you come to bed?”

“Bed?  No, no, no I would never sleep, but Mitty would you please go to bed.  Please, I must think.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, yes I am sure, please.”

I had remained sitting on the floor so I reluctantly got to my feet and left the room

 

I tried to sleep, perhaps I dozed, but whether I had slept or not, I knew it was some time since I had come to bed, and Cowper had not joined me.  I tiptoed down the stairs.  Only a few candles were still burning.  Cowper was slumped in a chair by the dying embers of the fire.  I stood there hesitating.  What should I do?  What could I do?  Without being fully aware of it I made my way towards the piano, my own particular solace.  I sat there for some time, gazing first at the moon which I could see through the windows and which was casting its glow on to the carpet, like a shimmering pool.  Then I looked at Cowper again.  Was he asleep?  He had made no movement when I came in.  Normally Cowper loved me to play.  Was music the answer now?  If so… what?  He loved Beethoven and perhaps The Appassionata would be appropriate. Another of his favourites was the more calming first movement of The Sonata No.14 In C-Sharp Minor, oddly enough, in this moonlit room, known as The Moonlight Sonata.  Would that annoy him?  Would it seem superficial?

Without making a decision I found that I was playing it regardless, very softly.  I still did not know whether Cowper was asleep or not; there was no movement.  The last candle had just spluttered out and I was bathed in this ethereal light; and the almost mystical music was at least soothing me.  After a while I felt, more than saw, Cowper’s presence, the next moment he was on his knees with his head on my lap and his arms around my waist.  I played on, still very softly – I did not hear, but I sensed that he might be crying.  After a few moments I could feel his shoulders moving and almost undetectable clutching sensations coming from his chest – I stopped playing and slid to the floor beside him.

“I had… absolutely… nothing to do with those executions Mitty – for God’s sake tell me you believe that?”

“Of course my dear, of course I’ll always believe you.”

“What will happen to us?’ He asked, his voice muffled as his face was buried in my shoulder.

“I think…. in time, you will be recalled to India.  I don’t see what else they can do.”

 

We sat there as I cradled Cowper’s head in my lap, my back supported by the legs of the piano. The moonlight had moved away from the window and the room was much darker.  I do not know how long we stayed there but finally, leaning on one another, we made our way to bed.

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Chapter 15

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

I shook my head.

“So you didn’t take precautions?”

I stared at her blankly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For the time being.” Cowper said.

“Until he gets stronger.” I had added.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s the matter with it?” I asked.

“It’s so darned isolated.”

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

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

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

“Oh, that was Huw.”

“Who is he?”

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

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

“That is a long story.”

“Yes…  I’m listening”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I think we are about to.”

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

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

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

“It was sunny when I left, Charles.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Has she read yours Mary?” I asked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And such bright blue eyes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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CHAPTER 14

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The sound of their angry voices moved out of earshot.

 

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

He appeared surprised, and said he had heard nothing.

“Not in the roof?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, why is that?”

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So when will it be finished?”

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

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

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

“Yes”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“‘im’s well drunk”

“Lorra rubbish.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Chapter 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.

 

//

//

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

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

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

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

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

“I could ask her during breakfast”

“Oh would you please.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Possibly, its hard to tell.”

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

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

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

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

“Unreliability?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No”

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

“Gossip?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well?”

“He’s a likeable bounder.”

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

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

*******

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

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

Still he did not come.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

//

Chapter 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*********

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

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

Mary rummaged, then held one up,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I do indeed” said Charles smiling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes Mitty.”

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

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

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

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

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

Pulling out the required paper Charles said:

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

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

“Is this really necessary Charles?”

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Cowper looked fully at me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

//

Chapter 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

During early April a letter to me arrived from Charles:

My dear Mitty,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I suppose it is… it certainly helps.”

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

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

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

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

*********

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pall Mall.

Dear Mathilda,

 

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

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

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

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

       Your affectionate uncle… John Rawlings.

 

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

                                     Castle Dursingham… Sunday.

My dear Mitty,

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

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

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

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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.

 

 

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“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.

 

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