Archives for posts with tag: The Regency era

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 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.

 

//

//

 

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.

 

 

//

Chapter 13

       Louisa sat in bed looking radiant with her little son in a cot beside her, and was overjoyed to hear my news.    We chatted and laughed and I realised how long it had been since I had enjoyed female companionship.  In Charles’s study, he and Cowper were deep in conversation. That evening, as we gathered around the maternal bed it was decided that we should rent a house in the village – there to await the beginnings of our own family.

I had been warned that Harriet had taken to her bed and the next day I travelled to Fynes Hall. The grand old lady I had last seen at my wedding looked small and rather fragile.  She seemed to be sleeping and I was trying to accept her changed appearance when I suddenly became aware that she was looking at me through one eye.

“Mitty?  Don’t look so worried. I’m preparing for a new journey and I can’t say I’m sorry.  Its dull and…” she smiled weakly, “rather boring at Fynes now.”

She had lived to see her grandson Charles and his Louisa have a son, which obviously delighted her: “Of course you will know that they’ve decided to call him Rochford!”

I nodded but made no comment.

She wished to hear something of our travels.  She wasn’t in the least interested in Wales, wanting only to hear about Ireland, in particular how Dridala was looking.  When I told her of its well-organised state, she remarked with a slightly smug smile: “So your brother doesn’t take after his father – he sounds more like his grandfather… my dear William.” She sighed deeply and closed her eyes.

Did she say ‘my dear William”? That was my grandfather. What was the inference here?  Would I ever know?   It seemed as if she wanted to sleep, so my curiousity was not rewarded with any revelation.

Harriet lived to enjoy a hearty Christmas dinner, albeit in her bedroom, where Charles, Cowper and I joined her later. She wished to make provision for the advent of our child, about which she said to Cowper:  “Pleased to know you’re taking the upper hand with Mitty, the wild thing.  Being a mother might settle her down.”

“It is the wish of Louisa and Charles that we should be Rochford’s God Parents.” I told her.

“Why otherwise would they give him such a name?” Aunt asked, smiling at Charles.

********

The Christening was a very joyous occasion in celebration of the long awaited heir.  The family gathered, also many friends, and so delighted were my Aunt and Uncle that, exceptionally for a Christening, they organised a special party for the evening, to which many denizens of the County were invited.  Louisa danced herself into a state of exhaustion. Exhilarated by being on her feet again, her excitement nearly drove her back to bed!

My own pregnancy had passed the ‘mystical three months’. If you are one of the lucky ones, the sickness stops and you begin to feel fine.  Dancing every dance, I was also having a splendid time, the comment of a local farmer casting the only shadow: “Your leave must soon be coming to an end Captain – when do you return to India?”

Cowper replied “The Army, particularly the Indian Army, moves mysteriously,” then with a shrug as he walked away: “so how the hell would I know?”

How quickly he’s annoyed by such apparently innocent questions, I thought.

Rochford’s Christening had been arranged to coincide with the Christmas Festivities.  The overjoyed grandparents were naturally present at both events and Aunt Em met Cowper again, after so many years. They seemed to get on well and if Uncle John still had any reservations about Cowper, I was sure Aunt Em tried to dispel them.

Our news had also pleased her: “Such perfect timing. Now Rochford will have a little cousin.”

Even though they would be third cousins the older generation still called all such relations cousins.

We very fortunately managed to rent a charming little house in the High Street, next door-but-one to Louise and Charles. This  street, which I had so admired at first sight, climbed gently uphill until it reached the 12th Century  Castle,  after which the village was named, and in which friends of Aunt and Uncle dwelt. It was reputed to have the finest Norman Keep in Western Europe.   The houses in the street were like an architectural medley of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, even a few of the present century.  They seemed to have grown out of the ground during these diverse periods and without apparent plan or design, yet now they blended so beautifully it was difficult to believe that it must have been a haphazard development.  Forming a small terrace, between some half–timbered buildings, were three houses which belonged to the Fynes Estate.  Two were relatively modern, from the late 18th century. One, borrowing an East Anglian colour, had deep-pink outer walls which were pierced by seven windows, four on the first floor, and at ground the other three, plus the front door.  This belonged to Charles and Louisa.  Next door in a greenish–grey colourwash was a double fronted house and adjacent to that was an older and smaller house with a bay window, to the side of which stood the front door, with two small sash windows upstairs.  This charming little house was ours.

After the initial sickness, I was otherwise fighting fit and felt quite apologetic after Louisa’s difficult pregnancy.  I went walking until the end, and riding until the last two months.  The riding shocked a of the  few villagers who thought I should assume a pale and interesting demeanour (more fittin’ for a liddy).  Once Cowper realised I was so strong he enjoyed this unconventional behaviour, pleased to have a riding companion for longer than he had dared hope.

I looked in every day on Louisa and loved helping with baby Rochford, yet I found it impossible to relate the growing lump where my flat stomach ought to be, to a baby.  The two were somehow incompatible, or perhaps I dared not believe it in case it did not happen.  Even when the kicking began; a very thrilling and comforting experience – as much of a pleasure to Cowper as myself – I still found it hard to accept: “Is it really a baby kicking?” I asked myself, “or is it some form of indigestion?”

Some of Rochford’s clothes would of course be passed down but I was anxious to make my own – it was all such a novelty!  Anna van Bagen was an unusual combination of artistry and practicality.  Being an excellent needlewoman, we spent many happy hours together as she showed me how to make the tiny, tiny little clothes.  These intrigued and delighted me.  Louisa would come round and join us during these afternoon sewing sessions. She would bring her embroidery or just join in our conversations.  Often she would need to put her feet up and close her eyes – she still had not fully regained her strength.  I’m not sure if she ever did, and now, I’m not even sure that she wanted to.  But she was always a gentle companion.  Anna was made of very different stuff.  She had a dry sense of humour and a droll wit, sometimes her comments could be very cryptic, touching on the mildly offensive; but Louisa and I knew that she would come at any time to help us when requested.  In addition, her capabilities were legion.  She managed most of her own business finances and because her father had been a lawyer, had a keen grasp on certain legal matters.  This was why after talking it over with Edward, Cowper asked her to be his other Executor.

We also helped with the village baby boxes which the Rev. White’s wife kept at the Vicarage.  Every new ‘village mother’ was presented with a box which formed the baby’s layette. It contained everything she needed.   When the baby had grown out of the little clothes the box was returned.  Sometimes it came back in a better state than received, sometimes not.  On those occasions all the clothes had to be washed, mended and ironed ready for the next village baby to use.  Mrs White would undertake to do this but was always glad of some help and if a box was returned in a bad state, older women with more time would form an afternoon work circle.  The original plan had been for one box but as demand had grown this had become two, with some spare clothes contributed by the better-off. Farm labourers were very poorly paid. They could grow vegetables and some farmers gave them a small share of crops, yet they had no money to spend on clothes or shoes, and these boxes were much appreciated.

We stitched during the afternoon because the light was better; also because Cowper disliked any distractions of that sort in the evenings.  He liked us to talk, read or play music together. Sometimes we would play card games or spillikins.  He also taught me to play chess, but if Charles came in, he’d cheekily snort: “now we’ll have a real game!”

It was a perfect July – and despite heaving around that being which was now a part of me, I nevertheless managed quite long walks.

Returning one afternoon, I found Anna taking tea with Louisa: “Can’t you talk to her Luisa?  She will not listen to me.  Why, oh why Mitty are you determined to take such ridiculous risks?  At the very least you could ask someone to walk with you.”

Louisa waved her hands in amusement at the possibility of my listening to Anna, or to anyone.  Putting an arm around my shoulders she said gently: “But do please take care, my dear.”

Of course I knew better.  I felt very fit, I was strong and in any case, I still found the idea of producing an actual living, breathing baby hard to accept.

I had been on a reasonably long walk, unaccompanied, when it all started.  Discussing this later, I found that I’d had very few contractions before the waters had broken.  By the time I got back to the village I was really having difficulty in walking.   Fortunately, Mrs James, the woman who acted as village midwife, lived in a lane close by and happened to be in the High Street.  Immediately recognising the signs, she rushed me inside and Philippe was born – just twenty minutes later!  Thinking about it afterwards, I felt sure I had seen the tail end of Mr. Ransome’s cows disappearing through the farm gate.  Twice a day they entirely blocked the street, and there might have been problems if I had been unable to get across the road.

When Mrs James put him into my arms, he was making little gurgling noises, tiny bubbles were coming out of his mouth and he was opening and closing his little hands.  I still found it hard to believe that I had actually achieved this small marvel.  Cowper was as enchanted by his little boy as I was and smiled appreciatively  when I whispered: “We’ve done this, you and I, we’ve given life to this perfect little boy. We really must be incredibly clever.”

“I suppose everyone feels the same way about their first child – but it is not until you experience it that you can possibly understand.” Cowper said, gazing at his little son whose wet hair was forming little flat round curls all over his forehead.

“Look at his little fingers and perfect little finger nails.”

How many times has that been said? But it is something of a miracle when a perfectly formed baby is born – and one which should not be taken for granted.  We were so thankful that we couldn’t stop looking at him, telling each other what a splendid, clever, talented and successful man he was going to be.

After presenting gifts or congratulations, every visitor gave me a mild lecture.

“You must take more care in future.” Was the remark which, rather tediously, was on all lips.  However, I did listen, because I was appalled to realise that I may have endangered the life of the precious little creature who lay in my arms. The euphoria lasted for several weeks.

Whilst I was still confined to bed after the birth, Harriet slipped quietly away, in her sleep.  With aunt being so well known in the district, the funeral was a very fine one.  Charles had been kept busy organising everything, and as so many people wished to attend, there was a large ‘wake’ held at Fynes.  Although I felt well enough to attend, I was told it would be considered unwise.

Despite our differences, Harriet and I had come to understand each other a little better, and I would like to have been present to say my own personal goodbye to the aunt who had provided a home for me.

On a visit some weeks later to see baby and me, Mary, my helpful maid from Fynes, told me that ‘her Will’, who worked at one of the farms near Castle Dursingham, was due to get a cottage, but not yet.  Since Harriet’s death, the Hall had been more or less closed, and although uncle was happy to retain her and continue to pay her, Mary was bored – thus it was that she moved in to assist me with baby Philippe.  A great help for myself, and very convenient for Mary and Will, as he could walk round to see her most evenings – which of course had not been far from Mary’s mind!

We called him Philippe Sean; Philippe because of his French relations, and Sean because he was probably conceived in my birthplace, Ireland.  Louisa and Charles were to be Godparents, and the Christening, unlike Rochford’s, was a low-key affair.

The weather was lovely that summer and Louisa and I were constantly in each other’s houses and gardens sharing the joy of bringing up our baby boys.  Although many people at that time thought bathing to be very dangerous and to immerse small babies in water to be horrifying, I did not.  Fortunately Lousa, usually more cautious than me, agreed.  So bath time became noisy and delightful. We borrowed a large aluminium tub from the laundry, and with my sleeves rolled up above the elbows, I did the bathing, sometimes with Anna’s help – there was no way that we would allow that pleasure to be enjoyed by anyone else.  Louisa loved it too, but preferred to watch, although she loved to wrap her son in his warm towel at the end.  Young Rochford was full of mischief and chortling away he would kick water all over us.  On hearing the noise, Charles and Cowper would come in to enjoy the fun – and dodge the splashes!  Then rolling my sweet smelling babe in blankets, I would run home. The villagers thought me quite mad, but smiled relatively indulgently.

I had further broken with tradition by feeding Philippe myself.  Cowper was somewhat irritated by this, as he was determined for us to be off travelling again.

 

//

Chapter 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.

 

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CHAPTER 11

 

Suddenly, it seemed as if Cowper and I had known each other forever. In reality it had been a very short time.  I had met him in June and our wedding day was fixed for August the 4th.  Aunt, Charles and Louisa had been absolutely delighted at the news.  Aunt Em was also very pleased, and even uncle John wrote to say that since receiving letters from his mother and Charles, he realised that I had not approached this wedding without careful consideration – although he still disagreed with the undue haste.  There was one remark in his letter, which I found particularly amusing: My Mother writes in glowing terms of your Captain, she seems to be captivated with the man herself!

Edward Woollaston, the family’s legal advisor – with chambers in London, but living nearby – had been a frequent supper visitor at the Hall (Harriet liked him), and in the event of an Enquiry into Cowper’s alleged involvement in the Indian executions, Edward had spent some time advising him.  He also corresponded with my family’s lawyer, at my brother’s suggestion, and when my father’s Probate was granted I discovered that I had been left a small annual allowance.  He also advised Cowper, as my future husband, to make a Will.

A short time after returning from London, I had recognised an old friend in the congregation at Church – Anna van Bagen, an English girl married to a Dutchman who had lost his life in an accident. Tragically young to become a widow, she had moved to Ireland to be near her relatives. Re–establishing her passion as a watercolour artist, she had become a pupil of my father’s, and a regular visitor to Dridala.  Later, moving to Essex to live, she had not been a resident for more than a month or so when we met in Church.  It had been such a delightful surprise to find this old connection with Ireland so close at hand.  Until Cowper arrived we had met quite frequently, but she was wise enough to understand my sudden abandonment. It didn’t really matter because we had so much in common that, should we not meet for years, we would still be close friends.

Anna’s ebullient personality was her great asset.  She was rather small and was already showing signs of being plump, but she had lovely wide apart eyes and an all-embracing motherly smile. Louisa was of course, still unable to leave her couch and was happy that I had asked Anna to be my attendant at the wedding.  There was not enough time to have a special dress made up, so young Mary arranged for someone locally to alter my ivory satin; the theatre–going gown Aunt Em had given me.

The law required us to be married before 11 o’clock, and the morning proved to be dismal with persistent rain.    Both Anna and Mary, thrilled about the wedding, but tearful at the possibility of my going away, surrounded me with affection.  Stephan and his wife Moira had been unable to leave Dridala to attend, and so we planned our honeymoon in Ireland where Cowper could meet them, and we could of course stay at Dridala my beloved old home.

Uncle John was accompanying the King somewhere, Brussels I believe, and could not give me away, so Uncle Henry assumed that role, which pleased me, because I had become very fond of him.  As I walked up to the Church on his arm, beneath his large umbrella which protected us from the drizzling rain, he told me: “I am very proud to escort such a beautiful young bride, thank you for asking me,” then he added roguishly: “I’ve asked Cowper to lead you around the stone which says W.R.1798, when you walk out of the Church.  After all both of you are Rochfords and should show respect to your relative”

Anna followed wearing a peach coloured gown, which she had brought with her.   However, I was unprepared for the sight of Cowper.  Surprisingly, I had never seen my muscular 6’3″ Captain in uniform. In brilliant red with dress sword in scabbard and wearing regalia, he looked amazing.  Not only would I feel dwarfed, but almost insignificant, beside this dashing officer.  However, he turned to greet me when we approached – and his smile gave me all the reassurance I needed.  Only later did I recollect the warm, yet wistful smile which Charles gave me as he took his place at Cowper’s side.

The Rev. Rawlings, a distant cousin, muttered his way through the service, but his glance was kindly, and all in all the service went well. I was somewhat surprised to see moist eyes amongst my female relatives, but happy smiles all round as we walked together down the aisle.

The sun came out and warmed us as we left the ancient Church, making the raindrops sparkle as they trickled down the petals of the wild roses and summer flowers in the churchyard.

Aunt had planned to invite all her old friends from the County and ‘make a proper showing’ as she put it, but when we pointed out that Louisa would be unable to join us she agreed to a small reception in Charles’s Drawing room where Louisa, obeying instructions, reclined. Thankfully, it was very informal.  Uncle Henry made an affectionate speech, with a few carefully selected naval jokes. As he raised his glass for the toast he told us that he could take the credit for the event because it was he who had brought me from Ireland!  Charles, as Cowper’s Best Man, made some light hearted remarks about his unconventional friend, as Cowper gave him amused but warning glances.  He then toasted Anna, and Cowper toasted Louisa, aunt Harriet, aunt Em and uncle John.

 

 

********

 

Our first view of Dridala was a revelation.  What a transformation!  The golden fields of corn and barley waiting to be harvested gave evidence of the husbandry employed by my brother.  The house itself looked no less impressive, not a single shutter hung by only one hinge, not a yard of guttering was seen to be toppling over the edge.  The paintwork glistened in the afternoon sun and pretty curtains blew out of open windows.  Inside, smells of appetising food invaded the entrance where bowls of flowers stood upon polished tables. There were no children to destroy the orderliness.  The only concession was to the three Welsh Collies – confined to the floor, but nevertheless monopolising the front of the fire, just as dogs always had done in this house. There was always a fire at Dridala, during summer as well as winter, as the sun never completely penetrated the stout walls. I could almost hear my father saying ‘Too much organisation is a disaster for the creative.’ But, of course, he was not there. I felt his absence keenly.

Moira was frail and, I learned, would never bear children.  Stephan did not seem to mind, he had his farm, his dogs and his music.  Irish folk–music was his delight and was the only characteristic he seemed to inherit from father.  Every week, and sometimes more often, if the occasion arose, Dridala would be taken over by fiddlers, whistle players, harpists, drummers and others who formed the ‘jig band’ in the village – just as it had been in my father’s time and then as now, they brought with them all the joy and gaiety that was at the heart of Irish culture. I was delighted to find that my old piano was still in the house.  It had been father’s pride and joy. He had bought it for me from the funds of a newly published novel, but it was in desperate need of tuning. One of the harpists tuned it by rule of thumb and ear, and it worked tolerably well after that.  Cowper had his ‘whistle thing’, as I called it and with Stephan on his fiddle, which he played in typically Irish fashion, we made merry music – some of us stopping playing and breaking into a jig from time to time, out of sheer exuberance.  The creamy, black Irish stout helped.

Stephan bred horses and so the misty mornings saw the three of us out on the hills and above the lake, exercising the animals.  When Cowper and I were left to our own devices we chose to walk, talk and explore.  We both loved walking and during this time we never tired of talking to each other.  There was so much to discover from what seemed like whole lifetimes, before we had met.  Every little new discovery was a delight, every coincidence of shared interests, we felt, in our newly found love, seemed miraculous.

We could not delve deeply enough in our explorations of each other’s minds.  At night we explored each other’s bodies with the same insatiable curiosity and I found my impulsive, unpredictable Cowper a very gentle lover.  It was all that a honeymoon should be. Throughout our married life, with its drama and excitement, we often tried to draw on the joy of our honeymoon, even though we mostly failed.

Cowper and Stephan, although so different, got on well. They had met previously because Cowper’s summer holiday visit had coincided with Stephan’s school holidays and, being older than me, my brother could remember it more clearly.  Stephan had no personal desire to travel but liked to hear about other countries, and was interested in Cowper’s description of India.

“And you Mitty, you’ll be going to India?  For sure, you were always the one for the bit of adventure.”

Cowper then found it necessary to explain about the pending Court Enquiry, a date for which had still not been set.  To watch Cowper having to go over it all again and to talk about the events at Honelly, which was obviously agony to him, meant that I suffered with him.  He felt he had to warn my brother that the news of the result might get reported in the papers, that in fact he may not be recalled to India, and I began to understand how it could significantly affect our future.

But most of the time it was wonderful to be back in Ireland. To leap on to the bare back of a horse, with a complete sense of freedom, and visit friends I had not seen for nearly two years.  Also word had got around about Cowper – it was hard to miss him after all, being so tall, but he did draw attention to himself.  Like the day he had suggested we bathe in the lake, without our clothes.  I had done this as a child of course, but felt a sense of propriety was called for in a married woman.  Cowper felt differently and picking me up kicking and screaming, threatened to throw me in the lake fully clothed, unless I agreed.

“Wouldn’t you know it”, I was later to tell my friends:  “Just at the very moment when we were jumping in, two riders came into view on the hilltop and not satisfied with that they came down the hill to take a closer look, and we had to remain submerged until they rode away!”

Cowper would initiate a ride, which took us out for the entire day, or suddenly whisk me off at a moment’s notice, to catch a coach and go in search of new sights to see, and towns to visit.

Time had passed quickly: we had been married for two months.  Still at Dridala, I had gone for a walk with the dogs and was sitting on the grass, overlooking the lake.  As was my nature, I questioned whether I was glad that I had married.   Cowper, so uproarious and unbelievable, could also be so very gentle.  I would never forget our first night, he was so loving and so patient and I needed that.  I may be a wild Irish girl but I had never been to bed with a man before – Cowper was wise enough to understand that our future marital relations depended on my first experiences being satisfactory and happy ones.  He was a jovial companion both to me and to everyone he met – except when depression took hold of him.  I could not know whether he had been like this before Honelly, and I determined to mention it to Charles when next I saw him.

We had received mail from England.  Louisa was still carrying the baby and all was well.  Everything seemed much as before.

Our time in Ireland was coming to its end – we could not stay forever.  My relatives were not natural hosts, and although they had been very good to us, Cowper was getting restless. Sitting by the fire one evening, Stephan pulled at his old pipe and knowing it would not be long before we were on our way he began to talk quite seriously: “You know Mitty that Moira cannot have children – if anything happened to her, God forbid, I would never marry again.  I’ve thought it all out and I’ve made over all of this…” he swept his arm outwards, embracing the house and the land, “legally to you – there’ll be a bit for some folk in the village and some of the workers – but this will be yours.  However, now that you are married I shall make it over to you both. But I ask you Cowper, to see that you leave it to Mitty in your own Will.”

Cowper smiled: “You’re a bit young to be thinking about that Stephan – although I have to admit I’ve discussed making a Will with a legal friend of the family. I’ve not got much to leave, but now you’ve said this, well I’d better see to it.  Edward is drafting it up, so when we return … also I have to include my brother William who lives in Upper Canada. I did write up a short thing and sign it, just in case anything happened whilst we were away, you know.  But that’s quite enough of this morbid conversation, let’s play some music together.”

I was sad to say goodbye a few days later  – It had been lovely to visit my dear old Ireland, although I could see Moira was relieved that we were finally going. Before we got the coach to Dublin we met a member of the jig band near the inn: “Sure, and you must come back to Ireland, tis your own beautiful country, sure it is, and we like the beautiful people like yourselves – so don’t you be leaving it too long… come back soon!”

He summed it up for both of us, and as the coach drove away, we both believed that we would return there together.

 

//

//

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

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

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

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

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

“I could ask her during breakfast”

“Oh would you please.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Possibly, its hard to tell.”

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

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

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

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

“Unreliability?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No”

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

“Gossip?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well?”

“He’s a likeable bounder.”

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

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

*******

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

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

Still he did not come.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

//