BA Book 1 – Chapter 1 – The Funeral

The funeral party was a sorry sight, wrapped up against the biting east wind and so few in number. The chief mourner, hardly visible beneath the layers of black material, could just be discerned as a young woman. From time to time her shoulders shook uncontrollably as, beneath her veil, tears cascaded down her cheeks. Two coffins were lowered into the grave on that day as the Vicar spoke the words of the Book of Common Prayer “Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. In full assurance of the life hereafter”.  There were a few members of the family at the graveside, but only two people were known to the grieving young woman. Her mind was blanked with sorrow, but if she had been able to pass a thought, the sheer unfairness of life would have been to the fore. Twice she had been orphaned, and now she was alone in the world.  Beside members of the family, whom she did not know, standing beside the grave was her closest friend Alice Worcester, leaning on the arm of her husband, McKenzie.

The service ended. The Vicar moved towards the young woman, offered his condolences and left. Each mourner in turn did the same, with Alice and Mckenzie bringing up the rear. As friends of the young woman and not family, they were not attending either the meal or the reading of the will. As they walked down the path to their waiting carriage, Alice was the first to break the silence. “Husband” she said “What is to become of her, now without a relative in the world? No one to protect her or to comfort her in her grief”.  “All the relatives will disperse as soon as they have discovered whether or not they have received anything in the wills, so it will be left to you my dear to become her friend, comforter and confidante” responded her husband. “Oh you are a cynic” she retorted “Surely someone in the extended family will rally round.” “Someone in the family may offer her support if they can see profit in it” said McKenzie “But I would not wager on it. After all she is really not one of them” And with that they reached their own carriage and were transported home,  Alice still nursing the secret she had been expecting to share with Amelia before the double tragedy occurred.

The rest of the family members in the funeral party, repaired to the Hawthorne family home in Conaught Mews just off Knightsbridge a very fashionable part of town. The young woman was still inconsolable and tearful. She did not remove her veil even when she had entered the house. She refused all offers of food or drink and if she had not been supported by a family member would have sunk to the floor in grief. The family tucked enthusiastically into the food and ample supplies of drink, but really all they were waiting for was the reading of the two wills.  At last the lawyer was ready and they all moved into the study to hear it read, except for the young woman, who showed no interest in the proceeding whatsoever. The lawyer cleared his throat and began “This is the last Will and Testament of Major Bernard Hawthorne – – – “. In summary, he had left all to his wife, and if she pre-deceased him to Ameila Ecclestone, his beloved Ward. The Will of Cynthia Hawthorne was the mirror image of her husband’s. She left all to him and if he pre-deceased her, to her beloved Ward, Ameila Ecclestone. There was a rising tide of resentment and disappointed from the assembled family. How could it be that a girl who had no connection with the family at all, and had been taken in out of the kindness of their hearts had inherited everything? But there it was, and quiet soon, and one by one the family took their leave and the house was left to the grieving Amelia and her three servants, her maid Mary,  Butler and general dogsbody, Joseph and Penny the Cook. Never in a thousand years would the family have understood why the Hawthornes had left all their wealth to Amelia. They would never understand the dreadful occurrence in India some 14 short years ago.

Over the next few weeks there were only two regular to Conaught Mews. One was the loyal Alice, who had decided to concentrate the majority of her resources on supporting her closest friend. She was a few years older than Amelia but being married and having the support of her husband keenly felt the loneliness and isolation that must sweep over Amelia if her mind ever cleared to give her the opportunity for some rational thought. She knew that deep down Ameila had the resilience to overcome this double tragedy if she was there and showed the steadfastness of true friendship. Occasionally during her trips to or from the house, Alice wondered at the terrible coincidence that had robbed Ameila of both her Guardians within a few short days of each other. Cynthia had contracted a short illness. She spent a few days in bed but did not appear to be ill enough to warrant calling the doctor, then suddenly, without warning one day she died. The doctor said that her heart had just given out and was critical of the fact that he had not been called. Cynthia had been aware that her husband, Bernard was due home quite soon, and before her illness, she and Amelia had been preparing excitedly for his homecoming. His regiment were returning from India, and after a brief respite in England, was bound for South Africa. The regiment had spent many years on the sub-continent and was in need of a rest and change of scene. Tragically, walking through London on his way home from the railway station, he was set upon by thugs and died from the beating. The police had investigated the event, but with so many such assaults in the city, they were unable to investigate the crime properly.  It was ironic, she thought, that Amelia, if she had not been so personally involved, could have investigated the crime. Throughout her teenage years she had been an avid follower of Sherlock Holmes the great detective. She had read all the reports of his cases published by his colleague Dr John Watson and all of the research papers produced by Holmes himself. On a number of occasions, she had made efforts to meet her hero but he had a myriad of followers and hid himself very much from public view. By another co-incidence, during the time Amelia was in deep mourning, reports had appeared in the papers that Sherlock Holmes had disappeared. The rumour was that he was on the heels of his greatest adversary Moriarty and they had both gone to ground somewhere in Eastern Europe.

The second regular visitor to Conaught Mews was ‘Cousin’ Rupert.  Rupert Hawthorne was the son of one of Major Hawthorne’s cousins, and he circulated round the family, sponging off each of them in turn. He was a typical ‘man about town’, one of a circle of fashionable men, who drank, gambled and whored through the clubs and brothels of London town. Living well beyond their usually meagre allowances, they sponged off whichever member of the family was a soft touch at the time. The ‘understanding’ was that they would live a dissolute life as young men relying on their ‘breeding’, manners and style to land them a beautiful wife who came with a substantial dowry. The inferior position of the single woman in society, labelled beyond the age of 25 as a spinster, allowed this class of drones to carry on their lifestyle until they decided to marry. In many instances such men carried on their previous lifestyles, with just a little more discretion than when they were single. Such a man was Cousin Rupert. As Amelia had been a ward, they were quite unrelated, although for his part Rupert called Amelia ‘Cousin.’  He had visited the house soon after the funeral (or to be more precise, after the reading of the will, and realising that Amelia may not have become an heiress, she could be described as being very, very comfortably off). He had apologised profusely for missing the funeral but in the early days it was probably that Amelia was unaware of what he was actually saying, although she had met him a few times when he had called at the house and she recognised who he was.  If she had thought about it at all previously, she could have detected that Cynthia had been minded to help along the young man from time to time and ensured on occasions that the two young people were brought together. So Cousin Rupert called on a regular basis, but acknowledging Amelia’s condition made no attempt to solicit money from her. Let us say that he saw the visits as an ‘investment’.

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