Archives for posts with tag: Village life

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 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.

 

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