BD Book 1 – Chapter 4 – A Link to the Past

Amelia was standing at the bedroom window looking out on to the Kensington Road. Conaught Mews led off Kensington Road through an archway with no through road. No 1 was on the corner; the front of the house opened into the Mews and the side of the house was on the Kensington Road with views of the passing pedestrians and traffic from both the ground floor and the first floor. The living rooms occupied the ground floor, bedrooms on the first floor and the servants quarters on the third floor, with storage in the loft. Amelia had lived in the house since she had returned from India 7 years ago. the house belonged to Major and Cynthia Hawthorne and had been bequeathed to her in their will. Since the funeral, she had given no thought to whether she would stay or leave. There were bitter-sweet memories and perhaps in time one would overcome the other and lead her into making a decision.

It was the day on which Samuel Cooper had said in his letter that he would call. Alice had provokingly said that she would call round ‘by chance’ to have a look at the young man, but nature intervened and Amelia had had a message from Alice that she would go into her confinement until the baby was born and she hoped fervently that Amelia would visit her with the news of the meeting. Amelia was dressed in black. She had considered wearing a slate grey or navy blue, but decided that as this was the first time she had met Subaltern Cooper, and he had only just discovered the death of Major Hawthorne, he may be surprised if she wore anything else. It had also occurred to her that Mr Cooper may not yet have heard of the death of Cynthia. All these thoughts going round in her head, were mixed with her intrigue at just why the young man was coming to see her anyway.

After sitting, watching the world go by for about an hour and having one or two false starts when she thought she had espied him, she saw a young man in the regimental uniform coming along the road. He looked very dashing in his scarlet livery, his highly polished boots and his striking hat. She leaned back to partially hide herself behind the curtain. She could see that he was looking at a piece of paper and clearly looking out for a street name. she saw a look of recognition cross his face and sure enough he turned into the Mews. Amelia’s heart beat faster and she was breathing more heavily. She realised that she was  very nervous about meeting this young man who claimed a connection to the Major. She flew downstairs into the drawing room and tried to compose herself by sitting in a chair by the fire and opening a book. The doorbell rang, to be answered by Mary and shortly she was showing the young man into the drawing room. “Mr Cooper” she announced and allowed him to enter. He strode confidently forward with his hand outstretched. Amelia put down her book and stood up. “Samuel Cooper” he said with a winning smile “I am addressing Miss Amelia Ecclestone?” She assented and asked if he would take tea or coffee.He replied tea, hoping that is was Assam to which Amelia assented once again. “Will you please sit down” she said and indicated a chair opposite her. Whilst he was making himself comfortable, she was able to observe him. He was very fresh faced with the darkened skin of a man who had spent a lot of time in the sun. Mary brought in the tea and left and whilst Amelia was pouring she asked if he had managed to find Conaught Mews. “No problem” he said. There were a few minutes of small talk, she trying to pluck up the courage to ask the questions she so much wanted the answers to, he not sure where to start. To him Amelia looked very old and  dowdy in black. It did not suit her and he had to look hard to realise that in fact she was young and pretty, especially when she smiled.

She broke the embarrassment by asking “I understand from your letter that you knew my Guardian, Major Hawthorne.You did say that you were in the same regiment. Did you have much contact with the Major.”  “There was a number of occasions when we were very close together when on assignments to put down rebels or marauding bands of thugs. We also had more than one major action with local princes and potentates who got above their station. I was so sorry to hear that the Major, having survived all these actions lost his life on what was supposed to be a safe London street. It is regrettable that I was not able to be with him, but on the way home the flotilla we were travelling in was hit by a very severe storm off the west African coast. We put into port. The ship the Major was travelling in had little damage and was able to proceed within a few days. My ship had more extensive damage which required repair. Taking into account a  further stop we had to make in northern Spain meant that we were 3 months behind in docking. I made my way to London with the intention of visiting the Major. When I found out that he had been killed I wrote that letter to Mrs Hawthorne. Is she not available? I did say I would be visiting today” Amelia look sad “I’m sorry, but Mrs Hawthorne has also passed away” The subaltern was visibly shocked. “When did this happen?” he asked. “A few days before the Major arrived home. We had a double funeral” and bringing back the event, brought tears to her eyes, which she dabbed at with her handkerchief. Getting over his shock at the news he asked how she had died and being told that it was peacefully in her bed but with no specific cause, said with a harshness in his voice “Didn’t you think this was too much of a coincidence? What did the police have to say?”. Surprised by his tone she explained that the Major had been assaulted in the street by ruffians. There were a dozen such events in London every two weeks and unless the culprits gave themselves away,which they regularly did, there was nothing the police could do. It was a question of being patient and waiting for something to turn up. The only thing which was out of the ordinary was that the Major died. Usually, knowing the penalty for murder was death, ruffians usually were careful not to kill their victims. Amelia ended her explanation by saying that in Cynthia’s case, the police were not involved as the death was seen as from natural causes. Cooper retorted “Surely it behoves you investigate the manner of their deaths and whether they were linked? You should consider hiring a private detective to find out what happened.” He said this is such an aggressive way that Amelia rose from her chair “Sir, I do not like your tone. Please leave my house. You have no conception of the distress and misery their deaths caused me. I was in no fit state to think, never mind to consider the manner of their deaths!” He rose to his feet, “Miss Ecclestone I am most terribly sorry that I upset you. It was not my intention. Please forgive me.” He seemed so contrite and apologetic that Amelia relented, nodding him to sit down again, but the atmosphere had been soured and there was no going back. He did not resume his seat and prepared to leave. As he was walking out of the drawing room, he turned to Amelia and said “Have you recovered the Major’s luggage? The ship carrying all the regiment’s luggage, also had problems and was delayed like mine” Seeing Amelia beginning to bristle once more, he added apologetically  “Its just that he had agreed to carry one or two of my most precious possessions and I knew that as a Major, his luggage would be better looked after than mine. It’s not that I own anything valuable, but they are of great sentimental value of my time in India.” The whereabouts of her Guardian’s luggage had just not occurred to Amelia and she told Cooper. “I will ascertain what has happened to it if you wish” he said, and she acquiesced, keen to get him out of the house. As he left the house and passed by the window,  Amelia was shaking. How could the conversation have turned out so horribly wrong?  She was angry with herself for getting angry, but surely she thought to herself he should have taken into account what she had been through, but apparently it had not occurred to him. She spent the rest of the day calming herself down and thinking what she should tell Alice on the morrow.

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