This is the second part of a fiction serial, in 1115 words.
Isiah Dakin was held in the town gatehouse overnight, then sent to Moulsham Goal, in Chelmsford. His trial for the murder of his wife and unborn child was held within the week, and was a brief affair. He admitted his guilt, and said little more. He was hanged two days later, and that devoutly religious man was buried in unconsecrated ground within the prison walls.
Of course, the town was alive with gossip. If Isiah was not the father of his children, then who could it be? Goody Tuppy denied knowing of any male callers or admirers, telling folk that Master Matthew had claimed his father was deranged, and didn’t know what he was saying. All the same he dismissed the stable lad and the gardener, just in case, then sent Ned the handyman a note telling him his occasional services would no longer be required.
Goody Tuppy had said too much, to too many, and she was also told to go, as she could no longer be trusted. Matthew Dakin employed a French widow, a Huguenot refugee. She became live-in housekeeper and cook, with a stern warning never to gossip. He also engaged the services of a tutor for his brothers, a stick-thin, sallow faced man from Colchester who was given the room once used by the wet nurse. With the family business now larger than ever, Master Matthew was rarely at home, and had matured quickly, easily able to manage all his assets.
With the Dakin family fast becoming the most influential in town, gossip all but ceased, and respect was shown to them, with hats tipped in servile greeting. As the town was growing, the Dakin household grew with it. Two housemaids were employed, relatives of the French woman. Matthew had a wooden hut built at the back of the wooded area of his land, and employed a gardener who lived in it. He also did odd jobs, and with no lady of the house to worry about, Matthew was happy to let the man have free run of the estate.
After another long business trip, he returned in the company of a Scottish man, John Hardie. Matthew summoned his brother Christian to the study, and told him he would be travelling to India with Hardie, to expand the business interests with trade from that country. He had arranged a position with the East India Company, but because of his youth, Hardie would accompany him as an adviser. Christian blanched at the prospect of a long sea voyage to an exotic foreign land, but knew better than to refuse. Matthew had become confident, and with that confidence had come an occasional fierce temper. One thing was for sure, he was not the mild-mannered man of religion his father had once been.
Despite being sure he would die on many occasions during the voyage, Christian made it to Calcutta alive. He had lost a considerable amount of weight, and his skin was sore and red from insufficient nourishment. But the suffocating heat in India felt good to him. He marvelled at everything around him; from elephants, to the aroma of spices, and the smiles of young women in their fine silk clothes, with painted eyes. In less than a week, he had regained his strength, and was sure that Calcutta was the place for him.
Hardie had been given charge of the purses of money, and secured fine lodgings for them both. Christian took his letter of credentials to the shabby office of the East India Company, and they confirmed that they would trade his goods for a percentage of profits, and arrangement fees. Being so far from his home in south-east England, Christian discovered much in himself, and was determined to enjoy his time there. No watchful eye of his stern older brother, or gossiping townsfolk to hold him back.
But Hardie was more than an adviser. He was also paid by Matthew to watch his brother.
Being a wealthy English businessman in India was luxury beyond comprehension. Most people were so poor, Christian felt like the richest man in the world. For next to nothing, he could buy the services of anyone, from sedan-chair carriers, to willing young women who showed him the delights of the flesh. Happy to let Hardie make all necessary arrangements for trade, the young man became something of a notorious libertine. Not content with buying the cheap favours of local girls and women, he also pursued the wives, widows, and daughters of English settlers and traders, using his boyish good looks and obvious wealth to great advantage.
In less than three years, it was said that he had fathered at least five children. Four with Indian girls, and one with the plump daughter of a tea trader, the unfortunate girl sent home in disgrace, refusing to name her lover. Hardie managed the trade, and profits rolled in. Matthew was impressed. Even after the extortionate commissions and bribes necessary, the new venture in India was going much better than he had expected. Along with the accounts, Hardie sent a letter. He respectfully suggested that Christian was out of control. Whoring, drinking, and doing no work. His behaviour was alienating other traders, and even the local Indian men of influence.
The news made Matthew furious. It took almost six months for mail to come from India, so it was impossible to know what had happened since Hardie wrote the letter. And it would be the same time before his reply reached his errant brother. He even considered taking ship himself, to bring back the wayward sibling, but he was needed there, as young Benedict had yet to complete his studies. Fuming with rage, he composed a letter to Christian and another with instructions for Hardie. His brother was to return to England on the first available ship, and Hardie was given authority to continue with the business affairs.
It was the following December when the reply finally came. It was not from either Hardie or Christian, but from the office of the Provincial Governor.
He had to sit down as he read it.
It seemed that Christian had not received the news well. In a drunken rage, he had attacked Hardie, cutting his throat with a knife. He was found covered in blood in a stupor, next to the Scotsman’s body. Taken into custody by the troops of the East India Company, he had been hanged for murder, in July.
The town did not hear of the event for over a year, when gossip filtered down from sailors returning home. Goody Tuppy was in the town square, with a group of nags and gossips.
“Mark my words, it runs in the family, so it does”.