Archives for posts with tag: The East India Company

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  17

    After our return to Essex, Cowper kept himself busy by making detailed notes of all that had occurred, and by giving even more time to Huw’s education. He progressed so well that Cowper began to teach him basic words in French and Hindustani.  Partly, I guessed, to show optimisim for the boy’s future, and also to polish up his use of the languages himself.  The latter was an essential language in dealing with native soldiery in the area where he had been based, and the former, which had been the second language of his parents and my grandparents, was also frequently used in commands among the many French officers in the Indian Army.

Edward had discovered that Cowper was likely to receive orders to return to India, but he was unable to ascertain when it might be.  He also wrote a long explanatory letter to uncle John covering the details of the Enquiry.  This was a great help to Cowper, as not only would it have been a very difficult letter to write, but also because Edward was a known and trusted legal advisor, as well as a friend of the family.

My time was fully occupied with Philippe, with making and mending for the new arrival, and with preparations for Christmas.  Since we were short of money, I made all the presents myself.

 

Phillipe was adorable.  He and Rochford Rawlings were so very different.  Rochford was very active and slender, with light blonde straight hair and large blue eyes. Philippe had dark curly hair, brown eyes, and was still pleasantly plump.

With all this activity, Christmas was upon us quickly and we moved to Fynes Hall for four days of festivity. The babes were, of course, the centre of attention, as both had made great strides.  Rochford was managing his first faltering steps, holding on to the furniture.  Philippe was sitting up on his own, rolling around on his stomach, and when sitting he managed to move around the floor, dragging one leg after him.  Unlike Rochford, he never crawled, but moved around in this unconventional manner until one day, he just stood up and walked.  Aunt Em, always rather over anxious about babies, thought Rochford should be discouraged from walking because that way he would get bow–legged and Phillipe would fall over backwards and should be propped up. Louisa and I feigned listening attentively, then promptly ignored her advice.

The ten foot-high Christmas tree in the hall was very beautiful.  All the carefully stored and most tinkly, glittering tree decorations were brought out to attract the babies.  Although the tree was spectacular, our eyes were mostly on the little ones as we enjoyed each new reaction.  On the night before Christmas, Jim and one of the young gardeners had brought in swathes of holly and ivy entwined with red ribbons.  There were hung in large bunches in the entrance hall and the sitting room and thus Fynes looked as festive as it always had at Christmas.

It was now necessary to make a leather harness for Philippe to stop him falling out of his baby cart.  Charles and Louisa had not bothered with such a contraption, even though they had the resources, but they used a small wooden chair for him to eat in, which had been used by Charles as a child; it had a circular, wooden ring above the legs which had wheels set into them.

This ring went under Rochford’s armpits, when he was standing up, and enabled him to walk around without falling.  It had little silver bells attached which tinkled as he walked and it pleased his grandmother to see it in working use again.  When he walked with confidence we borrowed this for Philippe and we managed to obtain a special, high chair for him to eat in.

Uncle John was naturally anxious to talk to Cowper and to know if he had heard from India.  The potential outcome of the Enquiry did not dismay him as much as it did Cowper.  His position at Court gave him access to more information than he was in a position to convey.

“You were right Cowper” he said, “I’ve scanned The Times most diligently and have seen no report of this wretched business.  Nor do I recollect seeing a report of the storming of the Hill Fort at Cuman Droag about which you received such praise in despatches.  Yet I read a detailed report of the storming of Fort St. George by Coorg Field Force in 1834.  No word either about the Rajah of Madras whose Escort you commanded, but a great deal has been written about Maharaja Runjeet Singh and his army of 73,000 men, partly because this army included quite a number of Sikhs and Gurkhas. European commanders admire them, I believe?”

“Yes sir.  The former, because their religion probably fits the army more than most, and the latter because they are excellent fighters and very well disciplined.  It is said of the Seiks: To venerate the cow, to cherish the growth of the beard and to abstein from the use of tobacco are their great national characteristics and the latter is peculiarly their own.  Also, they will eat any meat, except beef.  There was a Mutiny against Runjeet Singh due to his cutting down rations and, in some cases, pay. This mutiny actually included the Gurkhas, but although Singh brought out his Cavalry, they had to beat a hasty retreat and Singh had to retire to the Fort.”

“Interesting… there is no shortage of reporting about the commercial interests of the East India Company, I notice.  Share prices in tea are well reported and there are even rumours of sugar exportation – though what the West Indies will think of that, I know not.  Scandals too – the Chairman resigned recently, under something of a cloud.”

“I think Sir that it was in connection with the financial speculation and malpractice which brought about sudden bankruptcies in this country.”

“Yes, yes, without doubt! You are wise to be circumspect Cowper and I trust you will remain so,” he paused briefly,  “I am sure – if I may talk to you confidentially – that you also believe, as I do,  that this case has been ‘hushed up’ because further publicity would have been disastrous at this time for the East India Company.”

“It gives me some comfort to hear that you are also of this opinion Sir.  I can only hope, however, that the EIC will not wait over-long before recalling me.  My reduced salary does not support my growing family adequately.”

I knew of this conversation because I had heard a little of it, as I passed by – and Cowper had told me more later. It was a great comfort to me as well. Fearsome as uncle John might sometimes seem, I respected him and valued his opinion.

As the months went by and nothing but very occasional and ambiguous remarks came through from the E.I.C, I was thankful Cowper had become involved in recording his side of the military records, as well as being Huw’s voluntary tutor.

His bouts of melancholia increased and it became even more difficult to reassure him that he was not permanently on the scrap heap.  Sometimes he would borrow one of Charles’s chestnut hunters and go missing, riding for most of the day. It was understandable, but worrying.  He loved Philippe and often said how fortunate he was to enjoy his youthful development.  Preoccupied as I was, I often found it necessary to remind myself that I had duties as a wife as well as a mother.

 

Cowper, however, had kept up regular correspondence with several of his fellow officers and on one occasion a letter arrived which was to add more than a little spice to his record keeping.  It totally absorbed him at breakfast that morning, and as I left the table to join Mary and Philippe he looked up: “Apologies Mitty. This is very interesting… Charles and Louisa are to have supper with us tonight, aren’t they?” As I nodded, he added, “I think they would like to hear of this.”

It was April and a fine evening so we took a turn around the garden following the excellent meal which Mary and Huw had prepared.  Huw’s diligent studies in no way deterred him from cooking, nor us from encouraging him.  He still managed to surprise us with his different abilities, and the dear boy had to earn his board and lodging after all!

The sun was still shining into the garden, and as we all stood enjoying it Cowper said: “I have no doubt you will all remember the first letter I wrote to you Mitty, since you and Charles had a hand in deciphering it.”

“Will any of us ever forget it?”

“In that case Charles; you will remember my account of a cousin of yours, a John Dickenson?”

“Do you mean the chap who fell in love with some girl, but on Mama’s orders she was forced to marry a Major, because the one she loved was a mere Captain?” Asked Charles.

“Well remembered. After the marriage the poor girl died, if you recall, and he, devastated, entered into a disastrous marriage himself.  I thought him to be a very likable fellow who had entrapped himself.  A further chapter in his history arrived in the post this morning, and when we go back inside, I would like to read it to you.”

Once settled in the the snug, and having informed us that the opening paragraphs were concerned with routine military matters, Cowper informed us: “My fellow officer begins this tale by bringing me up to date, as I will read.  ‘You will no doubt remember a Capt. John Dickenson, who had been Commissary of Ordnance at Bangalore and, in March 1833, whilst you were still there, he arrived at the Presidency and was created temporary Paymaster…’

Looking up at us Cowper said,  “I do remember, of course… but to continue.”

In August 1833, after you had left for England, rumours spread that he was misappropriating the military funds.  In fact a military letter was later quoted, written on the 13th August, which stated that Dickenson’s appointment was inexpedient.  However he continued unabated in his appointment until 1st May 1834 when a Court Martial was ordered.  At the request of the prisoner this was postponed and took place on the 19th May.’   

Glancing at Charles, Cowper said “I find that rather strange.” Then continued to read.

‘He was charged with the misappropriation of public money, from 1830 and for many years afterwards. Naturally, he was arrested… ’

But note this, he broke arrest.”

‘…Having escaped, he was struck off as a deserter.  Apparently someone had seen him boarding a sailing ship bound for Mauritius, and had reported this to the Guardroom.  A speedier sailing packet was immediately commissioned by the army, and as they arrived in Mauritius before the ship on which Dickenson was travelling; they arrested him as he disembarked.  Brought back to Madras under Military Guard, he was found Guilty.  Therefore on the 20th January, 1835 he was transported to New South Wales for seven years.”

“Oh no, how dreadful.” I interjected.

“Dreadful indeed, but I will read on.”

Imagine Cowper, if you can, the excitement of the race against time between those two sailing ships, the better one catching the wind and arriving first.  It is said by those who’ve spoken to the Military Guard that at times they were close enough to have been seen by the other ship and that Dickenson may well have known that his escape was doomed before his arrival in Mauritius.  I don’t know if you know that the fellow lost the one he loved to another and had a disastrous marriage – however that is no reason to break the law.’

“He then goes on to other matters.

“What a story!  – Drama in the Indian Ocean eh?  He seems to have had more than his share of bad luck… nevertheless, any chance of a remittance?” Charles enquired, “I mean he is some sort of a cousin of mine.”

“Let us hope so.  I think it is remarkable that we have gained this information so quickly – the packet it travelled by must have had the wind behind it all the way.  Imagine what it will be like when they finally decide to put a steam packet on this run?”

“Did I hear you say that the Court Martial was postponed at the request of the prisoner?” Charles asked.

“Yes, rather surprising, that”.

“For how many days?”

Re–examining the letter Cowper replied:  “Eighteen, from the 1st to the 19th May.”

“That would have allowed ample time for organising his escape plans.  Do you think he was being aided by someone?”

“Perhaps, it does seem possible.”

“It could also be possible that he was a victim – another cover up?”

“Dear God I hope not; if so he has my deepest sympathy!”

After some more discussion about John Dickenson, it was finally accepted that there was nothing further we could do about it at that time.  Thus the rest of the evening became very enjoyable and we went to bed happily. However, Cowper re-read the letter  the following morning, which obviously revived Indian memories for him, and he was – as I half-anticipated – very withdrawn for some days after that.

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Chapter 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.

//

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.

//