Richard was delighted when Cicely delivered him a fine son, and named the boy Edward Albert. He made the long trip from his barracks to visit his wife and new baby, remarking how nice it was to see Dakin Hall so full of life again, with Spencer’s three children running around, Henry appearing at the dinner table, and the ladies of the house all getting on so well. There was news of George too, with his regiment being posted to service in India. The situation there was mercifully quiet at the time, and all agreed that George would benefit from the travel and experience of that exotic land.
Spencer was becoming very interested in the application of steam power. Reports suggested it was more efficient that using horses, and could possibly enable work to be done on the company-owned farms in half the time. Although it was still untried, he decided to invest heavily in the plans of some companies to produce steam-powered equipment of all kinds. He mentioned this to Oscar, who showed little interest, happy to let him do as he wished. To balance his investment, Spencer sold off the shoe shops and hat making concerns in London. With most of the family interests now based in the county, there was little need to visit the capital.
With the house decorations nearing completion, it was decided to arrange a grand party for the local gentry. The affair would have a winter theme, and be held early in December. As Aileen was always concerned for the servants to be involved in some way, they would be allowed to have a similar party, to be held in the main stable block the following day. Extra staff would be hired to serve them, and entertainers employed to make music for dancing.
Both functions went off without a hitch, leaving the wealthier townsfolk and local landowners talking for weeks about the generosity of the Dakin family, and the magnificence of the Hall. Though Henry was taken much the worse for drink, and had to be carried to his bed by three footmen well before midnight.
Ocscar was well-pleased with the actions of Aileen and Spencer in arranging the party, which helped to cement all the good business contacts he had spent his life nuturing. The new year arrived, heralding yet more profits, and a continuing peaceful life for everyone living at Dakin Hall.
An unusually warm Spring found Henry in some difficulties. His legs had swollen badly, and he was short of breath after the least exertion. Doctors were consulted from as far away as London, but all came to the same conclusion. Henry’s age was against him, and his lifestyle would finish him very soon, unless he was prepared to make some radical changes involving drinking, eating, and exercising. Now over seventy himself, Oscar was also slowing down considerably, and had little time for Henry’s antics. He announced that Henry must either take the advice of the doctors, or be damned.
Around the same time, Aileen showed Cicely her secret trunk containing the journals recording the history of the family, including her own additions. She asked her to pledge to continue them, should anything happen to her. Cicely readily agreed, finding the records most fascinating. She spent much of that day reading them, acquainting herself with the complexities of the various members of the Dakin family over the decades.
During her detailed perusal, she came across a folded envelope. containing one piece of paper. The envelope was caught between two other sheets, apparently being used as a bookmark. It was fragile, and brown at the edges. Opening it carefully, she read the haphazard writing, which appeared to be in the hand of someone who had the most basic education. To her great surprise, it was a love letter, the envelope addressed to Clara Dakin.
Despite the clumsy prose, and abysmal spelling, it told of a great love for Clara, and the children they had created together. It spoke of regret that they could never be together, due to the acute differences in their social standing. As Cicely got to the end of the page, it ended with a fond farewell, and a wish for happiness and good fortune. The name at the bottom was written in simple capitals, and it was not one she had ever heard mentioned at Dakin Hall.
Cicely took the page and placed it back into the envelope. Then she folded it again, and took it to her room. Finding a crack between two floorboards, she jammed the letter in until no trace of it could be seen from above. Though reluctant to destroy it, she was in no doubt what its contents proved beyond doubt.
Not one of the Dakin children had ever descended from Isiah.
They had all originated from a working man of some kind, called Simeon Rudd. Although he would now be long dead, the news of this proof could never be allowed to surface.
It would ruin the reputation of the family irreparably.