This is the thirteenth part of a fiction serial, in 802 words.
When Hope’s new baby arrived, the family celebrated as normal. The boy was small but healthy, and he was named Abraham Justin. The mop of black curly hair and vivid green eyes were never mentioned, and Justin appeared to take to the new arrival without a second thought.
But Arabella and Agatha were watching Hope much more closely now.
Then when suspicion among the servants was at its height, Fionn asked permission to marry Molly, the scullery girl. As everyone assumed that the girl was with child, the marriage was allowed, and the happy couple moved into the coachman’s lodgings above the stable block. Arabella was relieved, but still uncertain whether or not the marriage was a contrivance to divert gossip and suspicion about the coachman and Hope Dakin.
Percival was rarely at home back then, but at least his son was still proving to be a reliable student. And James was flourishing well at the military school, with excellent reports arriving about him on a regular basis.
News from London was that Percival was still flaunting his mistress with abandon, and trying to get in with the social circle around the Royal Court. With the king being mocked, and accused of all sorts of eccentricity and madness, the power game behind the scenes was busier than ever.
That summer, Justin consolidated his business interests by investing in some new inventions that were changing the weaving industry. For the first time, the Dakin family became involved in the cotton trade, and Justin decided to travel to the West Indies and the American colonies, where he would invest in plantantions in an effort to control his supplies. After a long family discussion, it was agreed that Arabella and Agatha would oversee the business during his absence, assisted by the family lawyer and bankers.
With the leaves beginning to fall, Justin said his farewells, and took ship to America.
The Dakin family was now left with only women in charge. Percival still took no interest in commercial matters, and Agatha hardly heard from him bar an occasional letter asking after the health of everyone.
If Hope was missing her husband, it didn’t show. With a nurse caring for little Abraham, she resumed her round of social visiting, always using the coach and four driven by Fionn. When James returned from school for the holidays, she showed little interest in his tales of military life, and failed to notice that he and Oscar no longer seemed to get on. With the other women of the house occupied with business, the two boys spent most of the holiday apart. Oscar sat studying in his room, while James rode around the estate on a fine pony bought for him by Justin.
Life for the Dakins carried on much as it always had.
When news arrived from America, they discovered that Justin had been very ill with a fever. Doctors there had told him it was the ague, and might return. By the time the letters arrived, Justin had recovered, and sent news of the purchase of a huge plantation in the southern colonies. But he also told of trouble there, with many colonial settlers unhappy with taxation and trade laws coming from England. He predicted that there might even be civil unrest. But he had already bought substantial amounts of cotton that was being sent back by ship, and the thought of disturbances affecting production meant that it could be sold at huge profits once it arrived.
Arabella wrote the necessary letters to deal with the distribution of the cotton to the new mills part-owned by the family, and after meetings with the lawyers, the expected income was expected to be vast.
Unknown to the family in Essex, things were going awry with Percival. He had made bad choices of contacts, and his expected favour at court had not happened. Then his young mistress left for a new and more influential lover, resulting in Percival taking to drink. He was usually to be found the worse for brandy most days, and there was talk around the regiment that he would be asked to resign. When he was unable to stand to take parade one morning, the colonel wrote to him requesting his resignation.
Disgraced socially in London, Percival returned to the family home. Agatha was shocked at the appearance of her husband. Bloated, slurring his speech, and drinking brandy at breakfast, she was only too pleased that he never asked to come to her room any longer. Arabella tried to speak to him, but he became reclusive and stayed in his study at all times. The servants would find him slumped in the chair, not even having bothered to change his clothes, or retire to bed.
He was fast becoming an embarrassment to the family.