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Love Child of Colonel Fitzwilliam: Story Four

April 07, 2017 07:36PM
She’s back! She being Sofia-Elisabete, our irrepressible young girl from Portugal and the natural daughter of Colonel Fitzwilliam. In Story One, Voyage to Albion, which is told through the eyes of this enchanting eleven-year-old girl, we learned about her humble beginnings and search for her father. In Story Two, Chocolate Destiny, she described the two most important people in her life, as only she can tell it. In Story Three, Bugbear in the Old Wood, her grandfather showed her the glories and mysteries of Sherwood Forest and the lessons therein.

Here, in Story Four, Tree on the Hill, she learns about the transiency of human happiness, yet there is an everlasting, profound happiness that comes from an appreciation of the natural world – its cycle of life, its growth and change.

These short stories are a part of a series (I, Sofia-Elisabete) I am drafting about a love child growing up in the Regency Period. The back story about Colonel Fitzwilliam and the other adults can be found in Freedom & Mirth: Or, A Pride and Prejudice Serio-Comic Journey (Book One). In Story Four, Tree on the Hill, Sofia-Elisabete cannot understand why her father is having such a difficult time in his life, but the back story for it will be found in Book Two of Freedom & Mirth, which I'm presently drafting.



MY FIRST DRUM, thinks I, was an adufe, or pandiero quadrado, in the shape of a square, its two goat skins stitched along the sides of the frame. I clutched the adufe with both of my thumbs and the pointing finger of my left hand, while the rest of my fingers beat the rhythm on the skins, the seeds rattling pleasantly within. The adufe, which the Moors from North Africa introduced to Portugal, was played by many a woman in the Provinces of Beira and Trás-os-Montes during religious processions and at festivals where couples danced the charamba, a circle dance.

Catarina Baptista, she being an adufeira from Trás-os-Montes, came to live one day in the picturesque market town of Monchique, and she taught me the adufe rhythms – ritmo de passo and ritmo de roda – whenever Sister Matilde and I begged for alms. When I left the Convento do Desterro for good to search for my papai, Senhora Baptista celebrated by playing her adufe as I rode by her on the streets of Monchique. She sang a traditional song about how her adufe was not played with the hand, but with a golden ring, a gift from her heart:

Este pandeiro qu’eu toco não se toca com a mão,
toca-se com anel d’ouro, prenda do meu coração.

Here, in Scarborough, without an adufe to remind me of those sacred, ancient rhythms, I beat my fingers on the table, the bedpost, the cover of a book – whatever I could find and whenever my papai and mamãe were not attending to me, for they said it was impolite to tap my feet or drum my fingers. One afternoon, I heard the strongest of heartbeats – tah-tah da-dum, tah-tah da-dum – coming from below stairs. I snuck down to the kitchen and, there, out in the small kitchen garden, I beheld a most astonishing sight. My papai’s valet, MacTavish, wore a round drum, the size of a gigantic pot, resting high up on his left hip. This drum, so similar to the caixa used by the Portuguese military, hung suspended from a leather strap that he wore over his right shoulder. With a stick in each hand, he beat the drum with the air and spirit of a valiant soldier, making a tempest of sounds such that I had never heard before. ‘Viva! MacTavish,’ cried I, when he had done. ‘Is that your caixa?’ He told me, ay, it was his bres drume.

MacTavish explained that an age ago when he was just a lad of twelve years, he enlisted in the army as a drummer boy after lying about his age. He came from a poor family of ten children, and his maw and paw reasoned that one less bairn around to feed would mean more parritch an’ broo of broth for the others. He and two other young lads in the village enlisted at the same time, for they wished to wear a smart uniform and eat tasty chum in the army – mighty English roast beef! – at least, that is what the gregarious Captain MacAdoo promised them as he and his three drummers beat the beat from village to village to attract and recruit soldiers.

A Drum-Major taught him and the other two lads all the drum signals – march, alarm, approach, assault, battle, retreat and so forth. Why, there were even drum beats to signal the taverns to stop serving ale to the soldiers, or to signal the idle women, they being camp followers, to take their leave. And every so often they had to drum out a miscreant from the army with the Rogue’s March. According to the Drum-Major, the French Army enlisted boys as young as seven years to be drummer boys, and many years ago, the British Army had done the same.

‘I’m almost five, and that’s nearly seven,’ I counted on my fingers. ‘Could I be a drummer boy?’

‘Och! Ye’re a wee bit bairn wi’ wee bit han’s,’ said he. ‘Ah’ll tell ye a’ aboot Mary Ann Talbot instead.’

MacTavish recited the strange story of Miss Talbot, who claimed that, as a youth, she had been disguised as a lad against her will by a certain Captain Bowen and had served in the army as a drummer boy when not acting as a foot-boy for the Captain. She was an eyewitness to the siege of Valenciennes, where many a soldier on both sides swallowed fire. As a drummer boy, she had been ordered to keep a continuous roll despite the cries and confusion on the battlefield. MacTavish doubted not that she had murgullied the drum roll, because only lads, who were trained early from youth, make good drummers.

I scoffed at his maxim, because nothing could stop the rhythm that poured out of my soul. I grabbed his sticks and I began to beat the skin of the brass drum in the same pattern he had done and without bungling it. This shocked MacTavish to see a wee bit lassie like me striking his bres drume, but soon he began to clap his hands and stamp his feet to the beat. Tap-tap tah-too, tap-tap tah-too, tap-tap tah-too, tap-tap tah-too! Amazed by my brilliant display of primitive drumming, MacTavish promised to teach me the drum signals, but only if my papai agreed to it.

The day next I told MacTavish that my papai had granted my request to become a drummer boy and that I could commence my lessons that very afternoon as long as I did not practise more than half-an-hour. MacTavish eyed me warily, calling me a bardy bairn, and said he would speak with my papai about it. ‘But you cannot now,’ I shook my finger at him. I explained that papai was doing his manly duty with mamãe, and away they went – to where, I knew not. I tried my utmost to sound convincing, knowing that my papai and mamãe had walked out and that their stroll would last exactly half-an-hour. MacTavish hesitated, but agreed in the end to meet with me ‘oot in the yaird’ for my first lesson.

There, in a verdant music room, our discourse covered something called ‘technique’, which is a fancy word methinks for holding the sticks properly and for standing upright with my left heel jammed into the hollow of my right foot. In the upper or left hand, one must position the stick firmly between the thumb and two middle fingers and rest it on the third finger above the middle joint, while in the lower or right hand, one must hold the stick with the whole hand, the little finger gripping it firmly like one does with a sword.

Next, my maestro demonstrated how to perform a long roll – rat-tat tat-tat, rat-tat tat-tat – and a stroke roll. He placed his bres drume on a footstool where I could reach it and practise the rolls. And once those beats became easy and familiar to me, he taught me how to close a roll with two heavy strokes with the upper hand, followed by two strokes with the lower hand, quickening the strokes each time till the roll was closed – rat-tat tat-tat-t-rrr-r-r-r-rrr-r-r-r-rrr!

Eager for my second lesson, I arranged to meet with MacTavish the following ‘Soonday’, and he taught me the open flam and the close flam – a-ra a-tat-a-ra a-tat – all of which I learnt quickly. He then demonstrated two drum signals – advance and retreat. No sooner had he done so when papai stalked into the garden. Unbeknown to me, he had returned early from his stroll with mamãe. Upon seeing his Colonel, MacTavish saluted him soldier-like with a pull of his cap.

‘Miss Sofia-Elisabete! Did I not refuse your request to become a drummer boy?’

‘Please, papai, please…’ I stamped my feet – left-right-left-right – in a petulant manner.

‘Permission denied, again.’ He then began to rail at his man. ‘Confound it, MacTavish! I am the master of this house, yet I find I’m running down the stairs and then back up the stairs because of your drum signals. I’ve no idea if I’m supposed to be a-comin’ or a-goin’.’

‘Colonel, Ah’ve faithfully discharged my dooty an’ teatched the lassie a guid drume beatin’,’ MacTavish spoke with his usual dry manner.

‘What duty?’

‘Sir!’ MacTavish gave him a waggish grin, his eyes a-twinkling.

Papai turned round to scowl at me. ‘Why, you rascal pup! Prepare to be court-martialed little drummer boy.’

I tossed the sticks to MacTavish and I took to my heels, my papai uttering a dreadful oath or two behind me, for he had stepped on one of Tin-Key’s turds in the garden. ‘Confound it! That pug is getting turnspit duty,’ he roared like he always did when he stepped on Tin-Key’s turds. Mamãe would joke that the entire town could hear him and that the town folk would all say: ‘Hark! The Colonel must’ve stepped on a turd again to-day.’

When I appeared for my court-martial in his study, he interrogated me about my bad habit of lying. In my defence, I told him I never really lied, but rather, I helped the truth along whenever it needed it. To be sure, this response did not please him and so he withheld my ‘goose-grog’, my gooseberry fool, at dinner that day, and the day next and the day after that. When I complained bitterly about the loss of my goose-grog, he said the alternative was a good flogging with the cat o’ nine tails, so which would it be, drummer boy? ‘The army this is not!’ mamãe cried. She chided him for teasing me in such a coarse manner, and in her soothing voice, she assured me my papai would never use the cat on me; for, if he did, she would use the cat on him, by gock. Papai waggled his eyebrows, wondering aloud if perhaps she meant the wildcat, to which mamãe responded by goggling her eyes and pointing her chin at me for whatever reason.

One afternoon, as my governess, Miss McIntyre, and I strolled near Quay Street, I observed papai leaving the chemist’s and placing a flask into his coat pocket. I waved at him to gain his attention, but he acknowledged me not and thereafter ducked into The Golden Ball for a prime ale – the best thing for his health as he was wont to say. When the time for dinner arrived and we had taken our places at table, I discovered the reason why papai had been skulking about in town.

‘Colonel, where were you this afternoon?’ mamãe enquired of him. ‘Gadding about as usual?’

‘Mrs Fitzwilliam, you are looking at a man who likes to gad about.’

‘I saw papai gadding about to-day,’ I chimed in.

Mamãe raised her eyebrow. ‘Oh? Where was this?’

‘Near Quay Street. Papai went to the…’

‘My dear Sofia-Elisabete!’ papai exclaimed. ‘You shall ruin my little surprise.’

‘What surprise? Oh, tell me, tell me, papai,’ I bounced in my chair with excitement.

Papai gulped down his Madeira and he became thoughtful. ‘I am now of the mind…to grant your request to learn the drum signals – yes, yes. I shall purchase a small drum more appropriate for your wee stature,’ said he with conviction.

I jumped down from my chair with alacrity in order to kiss papai’s hand. With great tenderness of feeling, he chucked me under my chin. Mamãe, however, pursed her lips and tapped her fingers on the table, no doubt wondering why papai had changed his mind of a sudden.

Erelong papai presented me with a small drum and small drum sticks with small buttons on the ends. MacTavish tightened the calf skin head to create a crisp sound. He slung the drum strap about my neck and checked the length of the drum carriage, ensuring it rested on my left thigh such that when I bent my knee, the drum balanced on it. With my wee drum, I soon mastered all of the drum rolls – faint roll, faint stroke, hard roll, hard flam, stroke and flam, half drag, single drag, double drag, drag paradidle, &c. – and all of the drum signals, including the Rogue’s March, Troop, Retreat, General, and the Taptoo. MacTavish called me a musical prodigy, a true musitioner, and he began to teach me the drum beating for the ‘Grenadier’s March’, ‘The Female Drummer’ and ‘Rule Brittania’.

One lazy summer day I hid behind the Scots pine, from where I espied MacTavish a-flirting with Maddison, my mamãe’s maid. He followed her about the garden, beating his drum most passionately and singing ‘Hot Stuff’. When he had done serenading her about stuff, he challenged her to ‘dance a reel wi’ him’, but she ignored him. He therefore surmised that she must be afraid of his Scottish might. ‘Ye doan’t freeghten me wi’ yer wee stuff,’ Maddison replied with an insolent coolness ere she stalked away.

‘Viva! MacTavish.’ I jumped in front of him, giving him a violent start. I begged him to show me the drum beating for ‘Hot Stuff’, but he said I was too proper a young lassie to learn it, and besides, my papai would drumhead court-martial him in the garden if he did. This confused me because the song rallied the British troops, did it not? ‘Advance, Grenadiers! And let fly your Hot Stuff!’

‘MacTavish, did you let fly hot stuff in the war?’


‘Did your friends let fly hot stuff?’

‘Na, na. Blown to atoms, they were, by a cannon ball.’ MacTavish explained that drummer boys had to assist with carrying the wounded to the regimental surgeon and thus they were exposed to fire on the battlefield. And that is how his young friends had perished and never got a chance to let fly hot stuff. He and his friends had gone to war for the glory of Britain and a’ that, but instead, he had buried what had remained of them. When he was old enough to be a batman, he was assigned to the Colonel – the Colonel having been Captain Fitzwilliam back then – and he has served the Colonel ever since.

I shrugged at MacTavish. ‘Twas difficult for me to understand how one could lose friends in an instant because of a cannon ball. My thoughts returned to drumming and my wish to be the best drummer boy – nay, the best drummer girl. Now that I understood drum notes and their proportion to one another, and the rules relative to time, I began to practise the method of carrying the drum while marching a quick step behind ‘Drum-Major’ MacTavish, who strutted to and fro like a coxcomb with crisp, precise steps, marking the beat with a cane that he held high in his right hand.

One Sunday, as MacTavish and I marched about the garden beating our drums, we nearly stumbled upon papai, who lay sprawled underneath his favourite Scots pine, dreaming with his eyes half-closed.

‘MacTaveeshhh, pray lead me to…to…the front door. I do believe the house is backwards,’ papai rose to grip his man’s shoulder. ‘I wish to be at home now.’

‘Sir, ye’re at whome, just nae within.’

‘Confound your Scotticisms, MacTaveeshhh, I wish to be at home,’ demanded papai.

‘Sir, ye’re in Scarbro’ an’ at whome already.’

‘No-no-no…impudent scoundrel,’ papai wagged his finger at him. ‘I knows a Scots pine when I a sees one. I dare say I am not within.’

‘Exackly, sir.’ MacTavish sighed as he removed his bres dume. ‘Aweel, aweel, did ye meet wi’ Mr O. P. Umm to-day?’

‘To be sure I did.’ Papai nodded slowly. ‘He is a great friend of mine.’

‘Och, a raal jintilman that one,’ MacTavish drily said.

The next evening Father O came to see us, or more specifically, my papai, the two of them ensconced in papai’s study for a long while. When I asked why papai seemed gloomy, mamãe explained to me that human happiness is transient – it comes and it goes – and such is life, and one must endure these trials with fortitude, faith and prayer, and that my papai sometimes forgets this and loses his faith. She told me that my papai may be flawed, but he loves us a-plenty, and that we must all love one another.

So I waited and loved, waited and loved, for my papai to regain his health and happiness. It seemed like an eternity had passed before he could muster a smile or tease me again. It occurred to me then that papai’s gloom was due to that hateful man, Mr O. P. Umm. ‘Adeus!’ says I, for I never wished Mr O. P. Umm to return to our Scarborough abode.

One morning, while papai and I perambulated the sands of the serene North Bay, a bright white arc appeared on the horizon in the thinning fog bank.

‘Look, papai, it’s a Scar-bow saying “viva” to us.’

Papai turned sentimental. ‘Perhaps it portends a new beginning for me.’

‘Will you ever be happy again?’ I wondered aloud.

‘O, filha da mina alma,’ he reassured me, the daughter of his soul. ‘Don’t you know – I have recently discovered my half-brother and half-sister.’

My eyes became wide with wonder. ‘Hurrah! How lucky you found them.’

‘Hurrah! I guess I am rather lucky,’ he mused. ‘They do not call me Lucky Fitzer for nothing.’

‘Papai, I wish I had half of a brother.’ Methinks I had said something clever, for my papai laughed for the first time in many weeks.

As we continued our stroll on the sandy strip, hand in hand, my attention was drawn to the waves nearby that flowed back and forth gracefully upon the shore in a rhythm all of its own. Could I ever produce that soothing sound on my drum? Determined to find out, I gathered some twigs, imagining how much softer it would sound than a drum stick. I then recalled the adufe and the seeds that rattled between the two skins. With great care, I scooped up two handfuls of pebbles and crushed shells that papai stored in his pockets for me.

Once I had explained to mamãe what I envisioned, she sewed tiny pouches for the pebbles and shells, and she tied each pouch to a sturdy stick. She gathered the twigs I had brought her, tying them into two bundles shaped like whisks. ‘Let us surprise your papai on his birth-day next week,’ mamãe suggested. Together, we practised in secret one of our favourite songs, my mamãe and I singing the beautiful melody while I worked out a unique drum beating using my various implements.

The day of my papai’s birth-day having arrived, Father O toasted him at dinner, wishing him many happy returns of this day, and we feasted on dressed lobster and papai’s favourite apple charlotte. When we had done, mamãe beckoned them to the drawing room for our musical performance. Mamãe helped me with the strap of my drum, whereupon we began to sing ‘Tree on the Hill’, the pebbles and shells creating a pleasant sound on the skin of my drum and marking the rhythm in 4/4 time.

On yonder hill there stands a tree;
Tree on the hill, and the hill stood still.

And on the tree there was a branch;
Branch on the tree, tree on the hill,
and the hill stood still.

For an interlude, I switched to the twig whisks, which mamãe had placed on a small table near me, and I stroked the whisks in a crescendo roll, followed by a diminuendo roll – like the advance and retreat of a zephyr that makes the needle-like leaves quiver on a Scots pine. Papai always said that it is then that the wind can be heard, its susurration being ancient and divine and, for him, salubrious. He called it his wind music.

And on the branch there was a nest;
Nest on the branch, branch on the tree,
tree on the hill, and the hill stood still.

And in the nest there was an egg;
Egg in the nest, nest on the branch,
branch on the tree, tree on the hill,
and the hill stood still.

Using the pebbles and shells this time for a second interlude, I conjured up the crackling of an egg shell as the baby bird secured his freedom and was born, marking his natal day.

And in the egg there was a bird;
Bird in the egg, egg in the nest,
nest on the branch, branch on the tree,
tree on the hill, and the hill stood still.

And on the bird there was a feather;
Feather on the bird, bird in the egg,
egg in the nest, nest on the branch,
branch on the tree, tree on the hill,
and the hill stood still.

I closed with a good roll using the twig whisks, bringing to mind the sudden rush of windswept pine needles on the ground. Twwwoooooshhh. And then, very slowly, I scratched the surface of the skin of the drum several times with the whisks – tsshk tsshk tsshk – like the scattering of a few errant pine needles. Our performance having concluded, both papai and Father O shouted ‘bravo’, and once I had removed my drum, I curtseyed very prettily to my adoring audience of two. Papai hoisted me up to kiss my cheek, and he teased me by tapping my head with one of the twig whisks. His shiny eyes and broad grin betokened an earthly happiness, albeit a fleeting one, which did not signify; for, the eternal joy of the music was now and for ever locked deep in his soul.

Love Child of Colonel Fitzwilliam: Story Four

RobinElizabethApril 07, 2017 07:36PM

Re: Love Child of Colonel Fitzwilliam: Story Four

LorenaApril 07, 2017 09:05PM

Re: Love Child of Colonel Fitzwilliam: Story Four

RobinElizabethApril 13, 2017 03:53PM

Re: Love Child of Colonel Fitzwilliam: Story Four

LorenaApril 25, 2017 11:31PM

Re: Love Child of Colonel Fitzwilliam: Story Four

RobinElizabethApril 28, 2017 05:53AM

Re: Love Child of Colonel Fitzwilliam: Story Four

Lucy J.April 08, 2017 05:16AM


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