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The Love Child
By Philippa Carr
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1978 Philippa Carr
All rights reserved.
I was first aware of mystery when my father, who had hitherto for the most part seemed unaware of my existence, suddenly decreed that Mistress Philpots, who had until this time been my governess, no longer possessed the required qualifications for the task, and must be replaced. I was astounded. I had never thought that my education would be of any great concern to him. Had it been my brother Carl, who was some four years younger than I, that would have been another matter. Carl was the centre of the household; he shared my father's name—Carl being short for Carleton since it would have been misleading to have identical names in one household—and he was being brought up to be exactly like my father which, summed up in my father's phraseology, was "making a man of him." Carl must be complete master of his horse; he must lead the hunt; he must excel at archery and gunnery as well as drive a good ball in pall-mall. If his Latin and Greek were a little weak and the Reverend George Helling, whose task it was to instruct him, despaired of ever making a scholar of him, that was not of great importance. Carl must first and foremost be made into a man, which meant being as like our father as one human being could be to another. Thus when he made this announcement, my first reaction was not "What will Mistress Philpots say?" or "What will the new governess be like?" but amazement that his attention should have come to rest on me.
It was typical of my mother that she should demand: "And what is to become of Emily Philpots?"
"My dear Arabella," said my father, "your concern should be with your daughter's education, not with the welfare of a stupid old woman."
"Emily Philpots is by no means stupid, and I will not have my servants turned out because of a whim of yours."
They were like that together always. Sometimes it seemed that they hated each other, but that was not the case. When he was away she was anxiously waiting for his return, and when he came back the first one he would look for—even before Carl—was she; and if she were not there, he would be restive and uneasy until she was.
"I have not said she should be turned out," he insisted.
"Put to grass ... like an old horse?" said my mother.
"I was always devoted to my horses and my affection does not end with their usefulness," retorted my father. "Let old Philpots retire and nod over the fire with Sally Nullens. She's happy enough, isn't she—as happy as she can be without an infant to drool over?"
"Sally makes herself useful and the children love her."
"I've no doubt Philpots can share the usefulness if not the love. In any case I have decided that Priscilla's education can be neglected no longer. She needs someone who can teach her more advanced subjects and be a companion to her, a woman of good education, poise and scholarship."
"And where shall this paragon be found?"
"She is found. Christabel Connalt will be arriving at the end of the week. That will give you plenty of time to break the news to Emily Philpots."
He spoke with finality, and my mother, who was very wise and shrewd in a rather innocent way, realized that it was no use protesting. I could see that she had already decided that Emily Philpots had taught me all she had to teach and I must move into a higher sphere. Moreover my father had presented her with a fait accompli and she accepted it.
She questioned him about this Christabel Connalt. If she did not approve of her she would not accept her, she insisted. She hoped he had made that clear.
"She will naturally know she has to please the lady of the house," retorted my father. "She is a pleasant young woman. I heard of her through Letty Westering. She is well educated and comes from a vicarage. Now she needs to earn a livelihood. I thought this would be an opportunity to do her and ourselves a good turn at the same time."
There was a certain amount of argument and finally my mother agreed that Christabel Connalt should come, and set about the unwelcome task of tactfully telling Mistress Philpots that there was to be a new governess.
Emily Philpots reacted in the way my mother and I expected. She was, as Sally Nullens said, "Struck all of a heap." So she was not good enough anymore to teach Miss! Miss must have a scholar, must she? They would see what would come of that. She communed with Sally Nullens, who herself had a grievance because Master Carl had been taken out of her hands since, as my father put it, it was not good for a boy to be mollycoddled by a pack of women. Moreover my parents had added to her indignation by not producing more children—neither of them being of an age when it would be impossible to populate a nursery.
Emily declared that she would pack her bags and be gone, and then we would see, she added darkly. But when the first shock had worn off and she began to consider the difficulties of finding a new post at her age, and when my mother pointed out that she would indeed be lost without her for there was no one, she was sure, who could do such fine feather stitching as Emily could, nor put a patch that was almost invisible on a garment, she allowed herself to be coaxed to stay; and with a certain amount of self-righteous sniffing and dark prophecies in Sally Nullens's room over the glowing fire with the kettle singing on the hob, she prepared herself for the new life and the coming of Christabel.
"Be kind to poor old Emily," said my mother. "It's a blow for her."
I was closer to my mother than I was to my father. I think she was very much aware of his indifference towards me and tried to make up for it. I loved her dearly, but it occurred to me that I had a stronger feeling for my father, which was very perverse of me in the circumstances. I admired him so much. He was the strong, dominating man; almost everyone was in awe of him—even Leigh Main who was something of the same sort himself and had always insisted, ever since I had known him, which was the whole of my life, that he was not afraid of anything on earth or in heaven or hell. That was a favourite saying of his. But even he was wary of my father.
He ruled our household—even my mother, and she was no weak woman. She stood up to him in a way which I knew secretly amused him. They seemed to enjoy sparring together. It did not make a peaceful household exactly, but that they found contentment in each other was obvious.
We were a complicated household, because of Edwin and Leigh. They were twenty-one years old on my fourteenth birthday, and they had been born within a few weeks of each other. Edwin was Lord Eversleigh and the son of my mother's first marriage. His father—my father's cousin—had been killed before he was born—murdered on the grounds of our home, which made him seem mysterious and romantic. Yet there was neither of these qualities about Edwin. He was merely my half brother—not quite as tall or as forceful as Leigh, overshadowed by Leigh actually, but perhaps that was just in my eyes.
Leigh was no relation to us really, although he had been brought up in our house since he was a baby. He was the son of my mother's friend of many years standing, Lady Stevens, who had been Harriet Main, the actress. There was something rather shameful about Leigh's birth. My mother didn't speak of it and it was Harriet herself who told me.
"Leigh is my bastard," she told me once. "I had him when I really shouldn't, but I'm glad I did. I had to leave him to your mother to care for and of course she did that far better than I ever could."
I was not sure that she was right. Her son, Benjie, seemed to have a good time and I often thought what an exciting mother Harriet would be. I was very much attracted by her and she often invited me to her house as she was aware of my admiration, which was something she loved no matter whence it came. I could talk to her more easily than I could to any other grown-up person.
Edwin and Leigh were in the army. It was a family tradition. Edwin's two grandfathers had both been famous soldiers who had served the Royalist cause. His parents had met during the days of the King's exile. My mother often told me stories of the days before the Restoration and her life in the shabby old chateau of Congreve where she had lived while they were waiting for the King to come into his own.
She said that on my sixteenth birthday I should be given the family journals to read. Then I would understand a great deal. In the meantime it was not too soon for me to start my own journal. I was appalled at first. Then I started and the habit grew.
Well, that was our household—Edwin, Leigh, myself, seven years younger than they were, and Carl who was four years younger than I.
There were numerous servants. Among them our old nurse Sally Nullens, and Jasper, the head gardener, with his wife Ellen, who was the housekeeper. Jasper was an old Puritan who regretted the disbanding of the Commonwealth and whose hero was Oliver Cromwell. His wife, Ellen, I had always thought, would have been quite jolly if she had dared to be. Then there was Chastity, their daughter, who had married one of the gardeners and still worked for us when she was not having children, which she did with annual regularity.
Up to that time life had been easy for people like us in Restoration England. I was too young to feel the immense gratification that had been the mood of the country with the return of the Monarchy. Mistress Philpots told me during one of my lessons that there had been such restriction of freedom that people had gone mad with joy when they were rid of their bonds. The country had thrown off an excess of religion and had become quite irreligious, with the result that there was too much levity everywhere. It was all very well to open the theatres, but Mistress Philpots believed that some of the plays which were performed were downright bawdy. Ladies behaved in the most shameful way and the fashion was set by the Court.
She was a Royalist and did not wish to criticize the King's way of life, but he did create scandal with his numerous mistresses, and that was not good for the country.
My father was often at Court. He was a friend of the King. They were both interested in architecture, and after the great fire there was a good deal to be done to rebuild the city. It used to be exciting when my father returned from Court with stories of what went on there. The King's illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth, was a great friend of my father's, who once said that it was a pity Old Rowley (the King's nickname, said to have been taken from an amorous goat) did not legitimatize him so that there would be an heir to the throne other than his humourless, morose brother who was a Catholic.
My father was, rather strangely for a man of his kind, a strong adherent of the Protestant Faith. He used to say that the Church of England had put religion in the place where it belonged. "Get the Catholics in and we'll be having the Inquisition here and people walking in fear, just as they did in the days of Cromwell. The two extremes of the case. We want to steer a middle course."
He would grow very serious when he talked of the possibility of Charles's dying and his brother James taking his place. Whenever I heard him on the subject I was amazed at his fierceness.
My mother used to accompany him when he went to Court. When Carl was a baby she hated to leave the house but now she freely went. Sally Nullens said that my father was a man who needed a wife to watch over him, and I gathered that before his marriage there had been many women in his life.
That was our household at the time Christabel Connalt entered it.
It was a misty day at the end of October when she arrived. She was travelling by the new stage which would bring her to Dover, and from there my father was to meet her in the carriage. I thought that he was putting himself out a great deal for my education. A room had been made ready for her and the servants were all agog with curiosity to see her. I supposed their lives were fairly humdrum and her coming was quite an event, particularly as Emily Philpots had made such an issue of it and had uttered such prognostications of evil concerning the new governess that I believed half the servants thought she would turn out to be a witch.
Carl was practising his flageolet in his room and the mournful strains of "Barbary Allen" could be heard throughout the house. I went into the gardens because I felt the need to escape from the dirge as well as the overpowering atmosphere of the house. I strolled out as far as that spot where there had once been an arbour and where I had heard that my mother's first husband had been murdered. Flowers grew there now, but they were always red. My mother wanted other colours, but no matter what was planted there they always turned out red. I was sure old Jasper arranged it because he believed that people should be punished and not allowed to forget the past just because it would be comfortable to do so. His wife said of him that he was so good that he saw evil in everything. I was not so sure of the goodness and was suspicious of such a display of virtue; but I reckoned that was true about seeing evil in everything. However, although I was sure my mother deceived herself into thinking that what had happened at that spot was forgotten, memory lingered on and the servants said it was haunted and Jasper's blood-red flowers continued to bloom.
As I was standing there I heard the carriage drive up. I waited, listening. I heard my father's voice as he shouted to the grooms. Then there was silence. They must have gone into the house.
I was pensive, suddenly overcome by the contemplation of change. It would be inevitable. Christabel Connalt would be very erudite, strict, no doubt, and determined to make a scholar of me. Emily Philpots had never achieved that. Looking back, I realized that she was rather ineffectual and with the cunning of children, Carl and I had known it, for before Carl went off to the rectory for tuition, she had taught him too. We had plagued poor Emily sorely. Carl had once put a spider on her skirt and then shrieked at her. He had then removed it with a show of gallantry for which I reprimanded him afterwards, telling him that the incident showed he had a deceitful nature. Carl had folded his palms together and looked heavenwards, and in a fair imitation of Jasper had declared he had done what he did for old Philpots' sake.
I had built up a picture of Christabel Connalt in my mind. Brought up in a vicarage, she would be religious of course, and more censorious of the customs and manners which prevailed in the country even, than Emily Philpots. She would be middle-aged, verging on elderly, with greying hair and steely eyes which missed nothing.
I shivered and was sure I should look back nostalgically on the weak rule of Emily Philpots.
She and Sally Nullens had talked continuously of the newcomer. When I went into Sally's sitting room, which Carl called "Nullens's Parlour," I was aware of an atmosphere of growing tension and mystery. The two women would sit over the fire, heads close together, whispering. I knew that Sally Nullens was a firm believer in witchcraft, and whenever anyone died or developed a mysterious illness always looked round for the ill-wisher. Carl used to say that she regretted that the days of the witch finders were over.
"Can't you imagine old Sal going round examining the pretty maidens ... just everywhere, for the marks of their lovers? They're succubi or is it incubi for girls?"
Carl might have been the despair of the Reverend George Helling where Greek and Latin were concerned but he was very knowledgeable about the facts of life. Even though he was not yet ten years old, he had an eye for the young serving girls and he liked to speculate on who was doing what with whom.
Sally Nullens said: "He's another like his father. Up to tricks before they're out of swaddling."
An exaggeration, of course, but it was true that Carl was progressing fast along the road to manhood—a fact which pleased my father and bore out Sally's words that Carl was another such as he had been.
My thoughts were running on, propelled by the contemplation of the change Christabel Connalt would bring.
"The master seemed glad to bring her in," I had heard Emily Philpots say to Sally when they were sitting together in Sally's room—Sally mending and Emily doing some fine feather stitching on one of my mother's petticoats.
As the remark was followed by a sniffing which I knew from the past meant an indication that there was something profound behind it, I had been guilty of listening. This was because it concerned my father, and about him I had this obsession to which I have already referred.
"And who is she, I should like to know?" went on Emily.
"Oh, he gave all that up. Mistress wouldn't stand for it."
"There's some as never gives up. And it wouldn't surprise me ..."
"Walls," said Sally portentously, "they have ears. Doors too. Is anyone there?"
I went in and said I had brought my riding skirt which I had torn the day before and would Sally mend it please?
She cast a significant look at Emily and took the skirt.
Excerpted from The Love Child by Philippa Carr. Copyright © 1978 Philippa Carr. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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