This is the tenth part of a fiction serial, in 895 words.
Although Goody Tuppy was departed, the town gossips still enjoyed talking about the notable family in the riverside house. More servants meant more sources of information, and Harker the coachman could easily have his tongue loosened by a flagon of cheap ale. The daily life of the Dakin family was known to all, supposedly even their few secrets behind closed doors. But as well as being known, it was also embellished, until the loyal Arabella became known as a dominant harridan, and Percival’s absences in the army were suspected of being a result of his not caring that much for his bride.
The accidental death of Josiah, followed by the passing of the twin Marjorie were greeted with nods and winks, with the older crones regailing new arrivals with the story that Isiah Dakin had fathered none of his children, before murdering his wife for her blatant infidelity.
They were silenced for a while by the arrival of Justin and Hope’s baby. A black-haired healthy boy, who was named James Justin. There were now two baby boys in the family, and the sadness over the loss of little Marjorie diminshed in the busy household. Percival visited his family, bringing news of the French defeat by Clive in India. This was welcome, as it meant his regiment would not be sent to support that war. Arabella enjoyed that busy weekend surrounded by those that she loved, and looked forward to quieter time, with the business continuing to prosper under Justin’s management.
Their home was further improved too, with the engagement of a notable landscape gardener to start to develop the surrounding land into a lovely park with follies and statuary. Justin was keen to create a pleasurable environment for the boys to grow up in, and a nice place for the ladies of the house to take their afternoon strolls. But after less than two years of that idyll, world events interrupted the peace of the land. With Percival now an army captain, all feared he might soon become involved.
Their fears were realised when Percival was granted leave to bid farewell to his family. He had expected to be sent to Europe, where the Prussian allies needed support to oppose the French coalition arranged against them. However, he brought the news that his regiment was setting sail for the Americas, to aid the militia fighting the French there. With his future uncertain, Percival convened a meeting with Justin and Arabella, asking the family’s lawyer to attend with his clerk.
It was his decision to divide the wealth of the family. In law, it was all his to do with as he wished, but he wanted to make sure that the family had no financial complications, should anything happen to him overseas. He instructed his father-in-law to draw up papers allocating half of all assests and land to Justin and his descendants. By doing so, he was assured that his wife and son would be cared for, and that Justin’s family would never be disinherited. After the clerk had finished writing the papers, and they were signed and sealed, the whole family gathered for an early dinner with the children.
The atmosphere at the table was one of enforced jollity. Agatha fought back tears as she realised that she might not see her husband again for years. Arabella kept the conversation flowing with dificulty, not wanting that last evening with Percival in the house to be a sad one.
With the winds against them, the voyage had taken almost twice as long as expected, and it was over sixty days before the vessels carrying Percival’s regiment reached port. He had suffered terribly from seasickness on the journey, and had to be carried off the ship on a litter by order of the surgeon. But there was little time allowed for recovery and recuperation, as the troops were ordered to French Acadia in Quebec, where they were to join a siege under the command of Colonel Monckton.
In early summer, during an assault on the French fort, Percival distinguished himself. During the action, he received a slight musket-ball wound to his forearm. He wrapped his neckerchief around it, and led his company back to safety with few casualties. By the time of the French surrender just two weeks later, his arm injury was festering, and he was running a high fever that gave him an insatiable thirst. One of the native guides was brought to inspect the wound, and applied a disgusting poultice to Pervival’s arm. Through an interpreter, he told the officer to leave it on for one week.
That night, the arm started to itch uncontrollably. Percival was unable to get to sleep in his tent, and could not scratch his arm through the thick bark-covered poultice. So he tore the thing off, and was relieved to be able to scratch at last. Flinging the smelly object outside his tent, he wrapped his arm in some muslin, and finally got to sleep.
By the end of the week, the fever had returned, and his arm was fire-red and grossly swollen. The wound itself had turned a bad colour, and the smell from it could not be covered up by cologne or pomade. He had no option but to visit the regimental surgeon, who reproached him at length for removing the poultice.
“There’s nothing else for it, Captain Dakin. The arm has to come off”.