Archives for posts with tag: Wales

Chapter 15

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

I shook my head.

“So you didn’t take precautions?”

I stared at her blankly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For the time being.” Cowper said.

“Until he gets stronger.” I had added.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s the matter with it?” I asked.

“It’s so darned isolated.”

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

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

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

“Oh, that was Huw.”

“Who is he?”

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

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

“That is a long story.”

“Yes…  I’m listening”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I think we are about to.”

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

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

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

“It was sunny when I left, Charles.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Has she read yours Mary?” I asked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And such bright blue eyes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Chapter 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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