BB Book 1 – Chapter 2 – The Orphan

Amelia Ecclestone had been born in India, the only daughter of Captain James Ecclestone of the 1st Berkshire Regiment and Rebecca Ecclestone.  The house they lived in Simla was sumptuous with many Indian servants. Amelia was doted on and idolised by the her parents and the whole household. There were very few restrictions on her as a child, and she was totally unaware of the barriers of class between the Indian and the Raj. So she ran around the compound, chased the cows and the chickens, hit snakes with sticks and knocked fruit off trees before it was ripe. At the age of 4 and a half she became a fully accepted member of the gang of kids who roamed the streets of the bustling town and went out into the countryside and down to the river. Also a member of the gang was Stuart Hawthorne, a few months older than her and son of Captain Hawthorne, a close friend and regimental colleague of her father and his wife Cynthia.  Freedom and independence were their watchwords. In spite of the apparent chaos of the town and its inhabitants children were sacred, looked after and protected when need be by all members of society, British or Indian. This way of treating (or actually, not treating) children  was not approved by all members of the Raj and scandalised mothers and grandmothers protested to both Rebecca and Cynthia, who responded in a similar manner to the effect that they would grow up soon enough and be forced into the rigid strictures of adult society. As Rebecca would often quote to her friend “You have to be carefully taught/You have to be carefully taught/To hate all the people your family hates/You have to be carefully taught”. So, Amelia and Stuart lived in freedom, and it was something that Amelia carried with all her life, and which probably was the basis for her rebellion against the strictures of English society as she was growing up. Because after the age of 9 she did grow up in English society but sadly she had to leave Stuart behind her in India, although she never for her whole life ever forgot him.

From time to time the 1st Berkshire were involved in action, sometimes small detachments went out to deal with bands of thieves other times to dissuade a local head man from taking too much power to himself or not passing on the taxes he collected to the appropriate British authorities. There was enough action to keep Captains Ecclestone and Hawthorne busy and when they were not in action, there was drill and shooting practice, discipline to be maintained, and afterwards, polo, cards and drinking and of course social activities with their wives (and ‘girlfriends’). The ladies kept themselves busy running a houseful of servants, entertaining, riding, church on Sundays and giving their children an education. The seasons were very predictable. The weather was mostly benign interspersed with occasional winds and rain in the rainy season. In the heat of the summer, when it was peaceful, the ladies and their children mounted donkey’s and went up into the hills in those months when the temperature was highest. A very pleasant and easy life style and for her first 9 years Amelia took it all for granted and gained an education unparalled in width and depth. Then a few months before her 10th birthday, evil came into Ameila’s Garden of Eden. An outbreak of Cholera, which had started in a small village steadily worked its way into Simla, causing consternation among the population. The soldiers were obliged to stay, but after some discussion it was agreed that both women and their children would return to England for a period, and return in a year or two when the disease had played itself out. While they were making preparations to leave, Amelia’s mother Rebecca  fell prey to the disease, and her close friend Stuart did as well. Stuart died first and then Rebecca finally succumbed. So it was left to Cynthia to escort Amelia to England. They left in great sadness, Amelia leaving behind in Simla graveyard both her mother and her best friend. Cynthia distraught from losing her only son. On the long trip home a strong bond developed between Amelia, joined together as they were in grief. They returned to a land they hardly recognised and a way of life of which Amelia knew little. Together they moved into the house at 1, Conaught Mews in London. Cynthia gradually began to accept Amelia as her daughter and Amelia looked towards Cynthia as her mother. Together they gradually adjusted themselves to life in England. Amelia was subject to the greatest cultural change. Whereas she had lived a free life in India, here in England she was treated and expected to behave like a young lady, with all the restrictions Victorian society imposed on the young, especially of the female variety. They were buoyed up by letters from India, both James and Bernard did their duty and wrote on a regular basis. But their fates took a very different turn. Bernard was promoted Major. James led a small detachment into the hills to deal with a band of brigands. The detachment was ambushed, there was a skirmish and James was shot dead by one of the brigands. The soldiers under command of their Sergeant fought off the brigands and brought James’ body home for a military burial. Of course it was many months before the sad news reached England. Amelia was now a orphan and Cynthia in extended correspondence with her husband and consultations with their lawyer, became Amelia’s Guardians and Ameila their Ward. The deaths of her parents had left her with an inheritance, which although not substantial, was certainly enough to keep her in comfort and would form the basis of a very nice dowry in the event of her marriage. As she grew into a young woman, she realised that the inheritance could be a burden, as young men showed interest in her as marriage material. Slowly she came to the conclusion that marriage in Victorian times was a poor deal for a woman with an independent attitude to life, and determined that she would never marry.

Amelia gradually settled down in English Society, she learned to ride side saddle as ladies did, something she had never done in Simla. She learned to fire a pistol, something she found exciting and which had become very fashionable among young ladies. She also became intrigued by the newly invented bicycle, which she saw could give young women like her, much greater freedom. In spite of her vow never to marry, a vow which Cynthia put down to the high spirits of youth, and would disappear the first time Cupid’s dart struck her, Cynthia followed the usual pattern of introducing a growing young women to a steady stream of eligible young men.  Amelia found that resistance was futile, so she gave in with as good a grace as she could muster and developed her own way of dealing with unwelcome advances. She was an avid reader, especially in the winter months when it was dark early and cold winds, rain and snow roared outside. She worked her way through ‘the classics’ and absorbed the stories of the heroines in those pages.  It was clear from these studies that the heroine would end up with her lover in the final chapter and any show of real independence resulted in some form of punishment or domination by a man. In the 1880s and 90s there were stirrings of female emancipation and although it did not reach the assertive stridency of later years, female writers and activists were laying the foundations of those later campaigns. Then Amelia chanced on the writings of Dr John Watson, who had recorded and published the exploits of his detective friend, Sherlock Holmes.  Mr Holmes was well known in Victoria society through the newspapers, as being the cleverest detective of his generation. His techniques were unique and Dr Watson produced a series of cases solved by Holmes, each one being more dramatic than the ones before.  It’s probable that Amelia would have dismissed these works, in which as she found later, treated women as very much second class citizens who appeared in the cases as the poor victim if at all.  However as chance would have it, the first case she read was ‘Scandal in Bohemia’ in which Watson related that Holmes was outwitted by of all creatures, a woman, Irene Adler and Amelia decided that of everything she had read, this woman was her heroine, in spite of the fact that she was in fact the villain of the piece. If a mere woman could outwit the Great Detective, then she Amelia Ecclestone could also rise to his level and from then on she determined to become, not a blackmailer, but a detective herself, following in the footsteps of the great Sherlock Holmes. Such an ambition, though childish and quite impractical,  gave Amelia, a direction and purpose to balance the obsessive efforts of Cynthia to marry her off to a rich and/or titled young man.

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