This is the fourteenth part of a fiction serial, in 908 words.
In the early Spring of the year seventeen seventy-five, life changed dramatically for the Dakin family, and their peace was shattered. At the end of a long and busy life, Arabella Dakin succumbed to old age, and was mourned by all. And after almost killing himself through strong drink, Percival saw the light, and slowly began to crawl out of his alcoholic haze. Long walks around the estate helped clear his head, and he sought the advice of Oscar to finally be able to assist him with the running of the family business in England.
Justin was planning his second trip to the Americas, where managers and overseers looked after the cotton plantation, and arranged for the raw material to be sent to England. He had never fully recovered from the fevers he had contracted there, but was reluctant to leave the booming trade in the hands of employees and agents. Following Arabella’s funeral, he left once again, despite rumours of serious trouble brewing in the colonies.
Then on an afternoon ride to see Miss Wiltshire at her home, Hope was bady injured when a broken wheel hub caused the coach to crash. Both her legs were broken just above the ankle, and Fionn carried her all the way back into the house before leaving again on horseback to summon the doctor.
James was by then an officer in the army, and he returned home briefly with news that his regiment was to be sent to the American colonies to deal with unrest. He said his farewells before reporting back to barracks, distressed to find his mother so gravely injured. With Henry due to join the army any day soon, and young Abraham away at school, the huge house felt strangely empty.
The local doctor sent for a surgeon from Colchester, and he brought an assistant to help try to set Hope’s broken legs. Even after copious doses of laudunum, the poor woman screamed loud enough to be heard throughout the house. Despite strong splints tied securely to both legs they could do little to alleviate her pain, and there was no chance of her being able to stand on them. With the coach undergoing repairs, Fionn was brought into the house to carry her around, and her maid had to see to her every need.
There was news from London of open warfare in the colonies, and the shock of a defeat by the colonials. Agatha was worried. Justin would have arrived not long before the fighting, and James was still on board ship on his way to what was fast becoming an all-out war. But within the week, things were happening at home that diverted their attention from colonial problems.
Hope’s legs had become infected, and when the doctor returned, he shook his head gravely. In his opinion, amputation was the only answer. Agatha sent for a specialist from London, regardless of the expense. That serious surgeon broke the bad news that the infection had already spread too far, and he feared amputation now would serve no purpose.
During the first week in May, Hope Dakin died in her bed. Percival decided not to try to send a letter informing Justin of his wife’s death. He had enough to worry about over there as it was.
For the family business, war was good in parts, bad in others. Military contracts helped sell more leather goods, and cotton production was increasing to meet demand too. But raw materials were not arriving, and there was no news from Justin. Oscar came back from a trip to London declaring that the finances of the Dakin family were stronger than ever. So Percival decided that the riverside house would be improved with the addition of a Palladian facade, and would henceforth be known as Dakin Hall. Since he had sworn off strong drink, he had immersed himself into the running of the estate, leaving most of the company concerns to his son Oscar.
As the year drew to its end, Agatha and her husband and son were now the only Dakins resident in the family home, with no news at all from the Americas.
The death of his sweetheart Hope left Fionn in a difficult situation. Her favours had guaranteed him an easy life, and secret gifts enabled him to live well. Now treated in every respect like any other servant, he took to stealing and pilfering whenever he got the chance. Anytime he was in the house he stole small ornaments, and extra food from the kitchens, which he sold in the town. The local gossips were active, and he knew it wouldn’t be too long before news reached the big house that he was known to be selling stolen goods.
Molly had no idea of her husband’s criminal activities. Although many had presumed she had been with child when she and Fionn married, she had not been. And even after the years of marriage, she had produced no children. Being the wife of the coachman suited her well, and she had been happy to leave her job in the scullery. But there was little to do as a wife, and she knew full well her husband was not romantically attached to her. Her life became one of boredom and routine.
So when Fionn disappeared one night, taking the mantel clock he had collected from repair, and a fine roan mare from the stables, she was not unhappy.