Somewhere in Hertfordshire, July 1790
Of all the many modern contrivances of man, though most have their faults, few pose more danger to life and limb than the improvements in conveyance. The faster a curricle bowls along, the greater its risks, but such is the demand for speed and convenience that we think little of such perils until they wreck havoc on our own lives, as they are so often wont to do.
Though only 12 years of age, Thomas Westover had already been master of Glendale for half his short life, and so when his mother’s chaise upended itself –
instantly killing not only Mrs. Westover, but also her lady's maid, the faithful coachman, the postilion, and two footmen – he was quite ready to address the necessities of the moment, rather than lose himself in the childish hysterics which his younger brother, David, was currently engaged. His own highly capable coachman (also orphaned in the accident) had adeptly saved the family coach from meeting the same end as the more stylish vehicle it followed, and having assured himself of both his brother and sister’s wellbeing (the latter of whom, having just completed her first season, was perfectly capable of administering to the former’s needs), Mr. Westover took command of the situation: ordering mercy for the squealing horses, confirming the status of the departed for himself, and commandeering two of the coach horses to transport himself and a footman to the small town of Meryton, which, according Paterson’s Roads, should not be more than two miles distant. Only an hour had passed since the departure of his mother from this Earth when Thomas road into the town, where he found himself quickly taken into good hands. Carts were sent to retrieve the bodies, and the Mayor and his wife took it upon themselves to collect Mr. Westover’s siblings and servants, transporting all to their own home to provide whatever solace might be had in wholesome food and clean beds.
Miss Westover made some protest upon learning the Lucas children had sacrificed their own rooms for her family’s comfort, but Mrs. Lucas was insistent, and Cordelia, feeling the enormity of her new responsibilities as keenly as her brother, had little strength to resist. Her mother was gone. It was she who now must parent two boys. All the concerns of yesterday – balls, fashion, and suitors – were now chimeric in their triviality. Her own shock and grief, too, was inconsequential. Nothing mattered more than the traumatized boy clinging to her neck, inconsolable, and the stoic young man before her, burying his own pain beneath the responsibilities of position. The care of the kind tradesman’s family was a blessing, and she accepted it as graciously as her present state of mind allowed.
The Westovers continued in Meryton for three nights, and though they were suffered to remove to more suitable lodgings at the local inn, they remained in the custody of the Lucases, to whom all the town seemed to think they belonged. Tom and Cordelia shared their concerns regarding indebtedness to such a family and how it might be repaid, concluding that a dinner hosted by themselves at their lodging, along with a shipment of produce from Glendale upon their return, would serve as sufficient testament to their gratitude. It would not do to maintain the acquaintance, but the family must also not be slighted. Cordelia was particularly determined to honor the eldest child of the house, a little girl a few years younger than David, who had assiduously pursued his acquaintance until finally rewarded by a game of spillikins, breaking through the sensitive boy’s determined depression. Though she had no notion that such diversion would keep his mind from sorrow for long, she was relieved enough to see his attention to a simple childhood occupation that she purchased a much admired doll from a local shop and presented it to Charlotte. The girl shyly accepted her present, abundantly pleased with the tribute, and it was her memory that the elder Westovers chose to dwell on when recounting their companions during those first dreadful days of mourning. Far better to recall a child’s pleasure than the hurried business and deplorable duties that seemed to fill their lives in the weeks and months to come, but her image, like that of her family’s, dissipated with time, eventually leaving little behind but a tenderness for the middle class uncommon amongst the gentry.
Continue reading: Part One (A)
Continue reading: Part One (A)