Runs In The Family: Part Twenty-One

This is the twenty-first part of a fiction serial, in 825 words.

The surgeon examined Agatha in the presence of her maid, to maintain decorum. He pronounced his diagnosis of a growth in her womb with a solemn expression. She had guessed as much already, given the unusual swelling of her lower belly, and the cramping pains that often preceded the loss of blood. There was little he could do, as he feared cutting her open would undoubtedly kill the poor lady. He left her a strong potion for the pain, and advised her to take a double dose when she was very uncomfortable.

Agatha had no intention of dulling her senses with the opium compound. Instead, she sent for notebooks, and set about writing down all she knew of the history of the Dakin family. Letters and journals stretching back to the time of Isiah Dakin had been discovered in a box in the attic during the last renovations, and she had kept them safe in her room, locked in a trunk. There was also an old family Bible, with notations of the births, marriages, and deaths that had preceded her arrival at the riverside house. Agatha added two loose pages to that, completing the family tree with what she knew up to that time.

Aileen proved to be a wonderful additon to the household. With Esmerelda as good as useless as lady of the house, the pregnant girl studied carefully under the instruction of Agatha. She took it upon herself to spend time with the cook and her assistants, to speak to Jarvis about his function, and to encourage the housemaids with her friendliness and down to earth manner. Despite her youth and condition, she fast became very popular, even with Oscar. The one stumbling block was her strong Scottish accent, which necessitated her having to constantly repeat herself when speaking. Agatha employed a tutor to travel daily from Colchester, so he could educate the girl in how to make herself better understood, and also give her some encouragement in reading so as to better herself. Her presence was just what Agatha needed to try to fight her terminal illness, and to hope to live long enough to see the Dakin family well settled.

Henry arrived home on leave, startled by the news that there was a new wife in the house, and a child soon to be born. But he was more concerned about the condition of James. The confusion in his mind had not healed, and he spent much of his time walking around the estate, as if in a dream. No less than three doctors had examined him carefully, and all agreed there was nothing to be done. He had been given his own rooms in the new East Wing, and a young man had been employed to stay with him at all times, lest he wander away and get lost. Henry was also appalled at the behaviour of his wife, Esmerelda. He went into her room and much shouting and reprimanding could clearly be heard, even from the floors below.

His scolding seemed to do some good, at least for a while. Esmerelda joined the family for dinner, though her tiny portions were laughable. She also sat with them in the late evening, as they discussed business and family matters. But she insisted on being close to the fire, and constantly complained of feeling cold. When he went back to his regiment, Esmerelda returned to her old ways. But it was not long before she discovered she was with child again.

Henry had obviously done more than just shout at her.

During the first week in May, Aileen delivered a healthy boy child, with the ease of a sheep lambing in a field. At the request of her absent husband, the boy was named Spencer Abraham, and his bright red hair matched that of his young mother. Not long after that, Richard returned from his education, now a strapping young man. He seemed somewhat embarrased to find his mother expecting again, and that may have encouraged him to discuss a career in the military, asking to follow in his father’s footsteps. He didn’t bother to consult his disinterested mother, so spoke about his desires with Oscar and Agatha. She was now confined to her sick-bed. Frail, and close to the end. She advised Oscar to let the boy do as he wished, adding that if it didn’t suit him, he could easily come back and study the family business.

On the day that Richard left for his training as an officer, Agatha died in her sleep that night.

Young Aileen had to step up immediately, becoming the lady of the house despite her age. Esmerelda had confined herself because of her expected baby, and was rarely out of her room. With baby Spencer cared for by a nurse during the day, Aileen took charge, putting into practice everything she had been taught by Agatha.

Though she added a few ideas of her own too.

Runs In The Family: Part Twenty

This is the twentieth part of a fiction serial, in 825 words.

On a bitterly cold afternoon that December, Jarvis the butler heard the large bell ringing at the main door. He slipped on his formal frock coat, and went to open it. In front of him was a short girl, ginger curls bursting out from under her small bonnet, and a face white and frozen with the cold. She managed a cursory curtsey, and put down a cloth bundle as she handed him a letter. He saw it was addressed to Oscar Dakin, so showed the girl how to enter by the trades entrance at the back, telling her to wait in the kitchen.

Oscar read the letter twice, shaking his head. It was from Abraham, and introduced the girl as his wife, Aileen Mackenzie. She was the daughter of a tavern-keeper, and barely sixteen years old, almost half Abraham’s age. She was at least three months with child, his child, and Abraham had done the decent thing, with a hurried wedding in a parish church outside of Edinburgh. He had then sent the girl south by mail coach to London, and from there to Colchester, where he had told her to hire a carter to bring her to Dakin Hall. He pleaded with Oscar to care for her, and to welcome her into the family. She could read and write, he said, and would prove to be a loyal wife, he was sure.

Jarvis was told to bring the girl to the study, where she sat gazing in fear at Oscar’s eye patch, and disfigured face. He explained the domestic situation to her, and told her that Agatha and Esmerelda would have to take charge of her, to educate her in the ways of a lady of consequence. Not knowing what to say or do, and exhausted from her journey, Aileen showed Oscar the cheap wedding band on her finger, and thanked him for his kindness. As she was led away by Mrs Knight, the new housekeeper, Oscar called out that she should be fed, bathed, and given a change of clothing.

Fionn heard the news two days after the event. There had been trouble to the south. The slaves were in revolt, and white men were being killed. Houses and crops had burned, and rumour was that a substantial slave army was roaming the countryside almost unopposed. At the plantation where he worked, inland from Cap Haitien, the owners and managers were getting a militia together to defend their interests, as they themselves prepared to escape the island. All the slaves were now ordered to be shackled or tied together at all times, even when working in the fields. Any white man willing to fight for pay was being employed as extra guards, from the pickpockets of the coastal towns, down to released prisoners and local vagrants. Fionn was now in charge of a team of unsavoury characters, all well-armed, and edgy and nervous too.

Nobody was prepared for the sheer size of the slave army that quickly moved across the north of the island, killing and burning as they went. On Fionn’s plantation, they felt secure behind their well-constructed defences, but with some sixty white men available to fight, and most untested in battle of any kind, the news that almost one hundred thousand were against them left them in no doubt what to do. They chained the slaves together inside their huts, and ran for the coast. Fionn was hoping to get on a ship to anywhere, with enough plunder taken from the plantation house to pay his passage. But with an old winded horse, and the whole area in turmoil, he was forced to hide in some undergrowth, still a good distance from any port.

They found him still sleeping, but their shouts woke him up. He knew better than to try to buy them off, so made a fight of it as best as he could. The first three to appear through the thick leaves were shot down by his musket and pistols. But there was no time to reload, as the next dozen or more charged him. In moments, he was hacked to pieces, by ex-slaves using the very pangas they had once been given to cut the sugar cane.

They left his body where it was, took his weapons and horse, and moved on.

Agatha was bleeding again. As she woke up that morning, she could sense the sticky mess between her legs, and under her nightwear. What had started weeks earlier as an annoying occasional drip, was fast becoming a nightly flood. For days now, it had got so bad that she had instructed the maids to just burn the sheets, as they could no longer get them clean. Standing in front of her dressing mirror, she ran a hand around her gaunt face, feeling the hard jawbone stretching the skin. She could put it off no longer.

A message was sent to the surgeon in Colchester. He should attend at his earliest convenience.

Runs In The Family: Part Nineteen

This is the nineteenth part of a fiction serial, in 815 words.

By the time Fionn’s company got to the fight at Yorktown, it was all over. The British had surrendered, and Washington had won the war. He had managed to get through the whole war without once firing a shot in the direction of the British, and had emerged on the winning side. Robbing a few dead bodies along the way had provided him with some coin, and a couple of fine pocket-watches, but life in the new America, victorious or not, held little appeal for him.

He managed to slip away quietly, selling his booty to pay for passage on a French ship bound for Haiti. There was a good living to be made there, as a slave overseer on sugar plantations. He kept his musket, and a sword and pistol that he had looted from a dead officer.

They would come in useful down there, he was sure.

During the years following defeat in America, life carried on as normal for the Dakin family. Agatha did her best to try to make Esmerelda take some responsibilty around the house, but following the birth of her son Richard Henry, in 1780, she had taken to her bed claiming an attack of the vapours, and was rarely seen again downstairs. The infant was left in the care of a nurse, a kind lady who treated him as her own. With Oliver at school, the now sullen Oscar remained fixed on business, and refused to disuss the prospect of remarrying. Running the household fell completely to Agatha, who remained doughty, despite her advancing years.

New gossips in the fast-growing town still made much of the misfortunes that had befallen the richest family around, and one toothless widow spoke openly of The Dakin Curse, brought on by the unfaithful Clara, and her murder at the hands of her husband Isiah. But with the vast majority of the local people reliant on the Dakin businesses and custom for employment or trade, they never received any open criticism to their faces.

In the summer of 1789, James visited from London with shocking news. There had been an uprising in France, and the common folk had taken control of that country. Wealthy landowners and noblemen had been imprisoned, some even killed. Europe was in uproar, and there were rumours of war. Oscar liked the sound of that. War was good for business, even if it meant many of his own family might have to leave to fight in it. He began to make plans to increase leather production, and to buy more farmland for the food that would be needed. At the suggestion of one of his banker friends in London, he bought the controlling interest in a gunpowder works too.

Oscar Dakin would welcome war with relish.

News from the continent became increasingly worrying. The French Revolutionary Army was invading neighbouting countries, their King was said to be in custody, and many aristocrats were trying to flee across to England. This turmoil across The Channel was all music to Oscar’s ears, as he wisely invested in anything needed for the impending war effort. The mlitary men in the family were each recalled to duty. In Scotland, Abraham had secured a move to the Scots Greys as a junior offcer. He wrote asking for the funds to purchase his new unitfom, and a fine grey horse to fit in with the regimental tradition.

Life in Haiti had proved to be idyllic for Fionn. He had easily secured a job as an overseer, and showed a ready ruthlessness when dealing with the slaves under his control. Quick to use the whip, and also to avail himsself of the forced pleasures of young female slaves, he became hated by all, even by some of his colleagues. After an argument about a card game, he had killed the chief overseer in what was judged to be a fair fight. The plantation manager was happy to promote him immediately, and he moved into the comfortable bungalow with its own house slaves. He selected some of the youngest women to move in with him too, providing himself with a veritable harem.

Both the slaves and the manager began to call him Fionn le Roi, at least when he was out of earshot.

The expected war with the French began with a campaign in the Low Countries. James receivd orders to go with his regiment, but Henry and Abraham stayed in England. It was late in 1793 when news of a defeat by the French at Hondshcoote reached Dakin Hall. But as for what had happened to James, nobody seemed to know. As the family anxiously waited for news, the continuing war spread to the colonies, as each nation tried to protect and secure their wealthy assets abroad.

It was a cold February the following year when James returned. Shaken and exhausted, he had survived the battle, but his mind was elsewhere.

Runs In The Family: Part Eighteen

This is the eighteenth part of a fiction serial, in 868 words.

The rest of the year passed with a solemn mood presiding in the Dakin household. Although Agatha was not unduly distressed by the death of her once wayward husband, Oscar’s mood had darkened after the loss of his eye. Though he still treated his family well, he became unduly harsh in his business dealings, and his desire to expand themĀ  knew no bounds. Wearing one or other of many eye-patches lovingly fashioned by his wife, his now fearsome visage sent chlls through anyone encountering him.

The footmen who had tackled the farmer were handsomely rewarded for their bravery. The man had never got to trial, after blows from the two men had broken his skull in many places. The largest and strongest of the pair, John Simpson, was given a new role as bodyguard to Oscar. His smart uniform was accompanied by a fine pistol, and a short cutlass. That man’s presence during any trade dealings was guaranteed to stop any potentially violent argument.

Oscar was mellowed slightly by the arival of his second child, a son. The boy was named Oliver Percival, in a break with Dakin tradition. Both mother and child were fine and healthy, but Oscar stayed at home for some time after the birth, leaving his ventures in the care of managers. Early the following year, Henry announced his intention to marry the daughter of his regimental colonel, young Esmerelda Pine. The spring wedding in London was a grand affair, and the match saw Henry soon promoted to Captain.

In spite of her protests, Esmerelda was brought to reside at Dakin Hall. She found the place too provincial after the social life of London, and made her displeasure known. Agatha took no time putting her in her place, but the resulting atmosphere cast its own shadow over life for the Dakins. That summer, Abraham finished his education, and entered the army as a junior officer. Using contacts as was their habit, Oscar managed to get him assigned to the prestigious Highland Division, and he left for Scotland to join his regiment.

Not long after that, there was news from james. The British had all but lost the war against the American colonies, and he was sure that he would be coming home soon. The letter was old news of course. The family was all-too aware that the war was dragging on.

By the time he finally arrived home, James was unrecognisable as the young officer that had left all those years earlier. Thin and pale, looking more than his age, and shocked at the news of what had ocurred during his absence. Despite being close in age to Oscar, he looked ten years older. After being granted some leave to recuperate, he went back to his regiment with the rank of Major. The loss of the colonies did not unduly affect the family business though. People still needed leather goods and hats, and the crops had done well too, after a slow start. Getting rid of the cotton interests had proved to be a wise move, and propserity was still the norm for them.

One balmy afternoon, Charity was playing with her younger brother by the new ornamental lake. Prudence was bored, listening to Esmerelda complain about the lack of fashionable clothes and hats in the town’s shops. She was asking whether she might be allowed to send a letter to her London hat-maker when a scream came from the side of them. Chasing a hoop rolled by Oliver, Charity had fallen backwards into the lake, and was nowhere to be seen. Oliver was screaming uncontrollably. Although unable to swim, Prudence did not hesitate to wade into the lake, shouting to Esmerelda to take charge of her son.

As the distraught woman waded deeper, reaching under the water to try to find her daughter, Esmerelda snatched up young Oliver and ran for the house to summon help, shouting as loud as she could once within sight of the main doors. Alerted by her cries, Oscar ran out with two footmen, William Frost the coachman, and his bodyguard Simpson, all sprinting for the lake. He ran straight into the water, followed by his retainers. Simpson reached down into the green water, and waved his hands around in circles, finally coming into contact with something. Helped by Frost, he hauled the lifeless body of Prudence Dakin up onto the bank, her heavy clothes sodden and wrapped around her. Oscar and one of the footmen were swimming further out, constantly bobbing under, trying to find little Charity.

It was almost sunset when they found the child, after over two hours of searching.

Oscar carried his daughter’s body up to the house. His eye patch had come off in the water, and his servants were shaken by the terrible expression on his face. She was taken into the morning room, where Prudence lay completely white, and still wet. Other servants had retrieved her body on a small hand-cart. With his voice calm, Oscar thanked the men involved in the attempted rescue, and promised them rewards.

Then he went up to his son’s room, and sat on the bed next to the sleeping boy.

Runs In The Family: Part Seventeen

This is the seventeenth part of a fiction serial, in 925 words.

By the time Fionn arrived in Boston, he was suffering from the cold weather, and his boots were worn out. Pleased to hear that the British had already withdrawn from the city, he made it his first task to slip away from his company to steal some new boots. Breaking down the flimsy shop door of a loyalist boot-maker, he threatened the terrified old man with his musket until he was provided with boots of a good fit. They were old ones, left for repair, but suited him well enough.

James was on a ship that had departed from the harbour at Boston. He was pleased to be leaving the place. The conditions during the recent siege had been bad, with fevers abundant, and lack of food. Overlooked by the Colonial Army, they had been subjected to occasional artillery bombardment as they manned the defences around the perimeter. They made a token defence until the ships could be loaded, and then they were told to board at the last minute, once the winds were suitable. The Colonel told him that they were heading for Canada, and there might still be sea-ice further north.

Oscar had a plan, and he outlined it to his father. He intended to buy up as much suitable arable land as he could find in the county, for the planting of wheat and barley, ready for the next year’s harvest. Rather than lease the land to tenant farmers, he would appoint managers to work for the Dakin family, so that the family received all of the profits.

The pair headed out in the coach with bags of coin, together with two well-built footmen armed with pistols, in case of highwaymen or robbers. William Frost was given a blunderbuss to keep next to his seat too. The care of the house was left to Agatha and Prudence, with the running of the business in the charge of their lawyer.

The sight of coin proved popular with landowners and struggling or elderly farmers around the county. Oscar had soon purchased many existing farms, small and large, as well as unused land suitable for crop cultivation. That would need work to clear it for planting, and contractors were also taken on. Deposits were given, with the promise of full pay on completion of the work. Attending to his contracts and paperwork whilst staying in an inn near the Suffolk border, Oscar told his father that he estimated the first profits to be realised within two years.

Back at Dakin Hall, Prudence could keep her secret no longer, and told Agatha she was with child again. Agatha smiled at the news. With little Charity still so small, Ocscar had not wasted any time.

After landing in Nova Scotia, James and his company were assigned to become part of General Howe’s advance on New York. Soon back on board ship, they set sail for Manhattan, where the campaign finally saw some success, as Washington had to withdraw his smaller army into prepared defences. Fionn had still never fired a shot in anger, though he talked a lot of bravado. Sensing panic in his colleagues when faced with the British force, he seriously considered deserting. But there was nowhere to go, so he stuck it out hoping the Colonial Army would retreat.

Buying up farms and land was not always so easy. Most had long-term tenant farmers. The news that they were no longer required by the Dakin family did not go down well. Almost all only had an agreement by either tradition or handshake, so Oscar and Percival were under no obligation to retain them, or to pay compensation. Such as it was, any notice given to those unfortunates was not compulsory, and they had few rights in law. Of course, none of that concerned either of the Dakin men. Their thoughts were only of business and profit.

Near the end of their trip around the county, they received a message from a landowner. He has sold them two small farms near Thaxted, and sent a letter to them at the nearby inn where they were staying. One of the tenants had been sucessfully evicted, but the second was refusing to go. He had threatened to spoil the land with tar, and was barricaded in his house along with his family. Oscar decided that it might be best to visit the troublesome farmer, and pay him off to avoid further bother.

The farmhouse looked like little more than a hovel, and the nearby barn was in a sad state of repair too. Oscar and Percival agreed that it should not take too much coin to pay this impoverished man to seek employment elsewhere. They left the coach, and walked up the rutted path, calling to the farmer to show himself. In reply, the furious man poked a double-barrelled fowling piece through the open shutter of a window, and discharged the weapon at them, firing high.

But not high enough.

Percival was closer, and received a charge of birdshot in his throat, directly under his chin. Oscar was also hit on the side of his face, but was able to keep upright. The footmen they had brought from Dakin Hall came rushing forward at the sound of the shot. They managed to burst in and disarm the man as he frantically tried to reload.

But it was too late for Percival, who lay dead on the filthy, straw-covered ground. And despite the coachman rushing Oscar to Thaxted to see a doctor, his right eye could not be saved.

Serial Delay

Today’s episode of Runs In The Family is not appearing.

An early outing to the supermarket followed by a longer than usual dog-walk left me with no time to write the post and prepare a delicious evening meal of roast chicken with all the trimmings.

My dinner won the contest…

It will be back soon. Sorry!

(Blame the virus!)

Runs In The family: Part Sixteen

This is the sixteenth part of a fiction serial, in 805 words.

One morning at breakfast, Prudence announced she was with child, to the delight of the family. However, her thunder was stolen later that day, when a letter arrived for Percival. It was from the manager of the Carolina plantation, sent not long after the one from Justin. He regretted to inform them that Master Dakin had died of the ague, and had been buried in the grounds of the plantation house. He also asked for instruction about what he should do now that his employer was dead.

Although much saddened by Justin’s death, Oscar and Percival discussed the implications. The letter had been sent prior to the recent escalation of hostilities, so for all they knew their plantation may well have been abandoned, or captured by the Colonial Army by now. With the war hotting up there was no question of either man taking ship to America, so it was decided to send a letter to the manager telling him to do his best to keep things running. Given the delay before he received that, the future of their business in the colonies was uncertain, to say the least.

Prudence expressed satisfaction that the plantation might be no more. She hated the use of the African slaves as workers there, and was outspoken in her dislike of all slavery, which she claimed went against the will of God. Oscar shared her sympathies to some degree, but also knew that the investment had been huge, and any losses would be substantial. Secretly, he was relieved. The company was rich enough to take the loss, and the future of the cotton trade in America appeared to be doomed anyway. He would work on the basis that they would be unable to continue there, and concentrate on his profitable ventures in England.

There was no news of James until after the birth of a daughter to Prudence. She was named Charity Elizabeth Dakin, and was a bonny girl with fair hair. Prudence declined the attentions of both wet nurse or nanny, determined to be a mother in every respect. The letter from James was of course out of date, but he stated that he was fit and well, and stationed as part of the garrison at Boston. It was decided that the death of his father would be kept from him, rather than upset him when he was called upon to fight in a war. But during that summer, Boston was abandoned, and the colonists declared independence from Britain, with the French now openly supporting them with troops.

Such bad news for the country was nonetheless very good news for business.

The rest of that year was consumed with getting on with life as usual, and hearing nothing but bad news from America. The newspapers were reporting numerous defeats, and the expected victory against disorganised colonials had been anything but. At Christmas, Henry arrived home on leave, bringing the welcome news that his cavalry regiment would not be sent to America. Young Abraham was obsessed with his older brother, wanting to hear nothing but tales of the exciting life in the military. As he grew older, it was obvious to all but the blind that the youngest son bore no resemblance to his brothers. Although that fact did not go without remark among the gossips in the town, it was never even hinted at by anyone at Dakin Hall.

Early in the new year, Oscar agreed to buy the seed business from his father-in-law. This would enable Prudence’s parents to have a peaceful and early retirement to a cottage on the estuary. With both younger daughters now betrothed too, John Marley felt his years of hard work had earned him some peace. Now that the Dakin’s owned one of the largest seed merchants in the south, Oscar and Percival agreed to expand their business into buying up arable land. With Justin’s death, they no longer needed two signatures, and Percival sold off the cotton and weaving interests at a profit. Even taking into account the sum lost in the Carolinas, they were still an exceedingly wealthy family.

After a surprisingly easy voyage, Fionn had not tarried long in the West Indies before taking another French ship north. A fast sloop, able to avoid or outrun the British naval blockade, which in itself was being harrassed by French warships. Arriving in territory held by the Colonial Army, and his funds all but exhausted, he volunteered to serve with General Washington’s Continental forces against the British. Although the pay was low, and often scarce, he was able to get meals and clothing, as well as being supplied with a musket and ammunition. Having lied about being a soldier previously, he had to watch and learn from his new comrades in arms.

Rumour had it that they were marching to the siege of Boston.