As my previous two posts on John Alden and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow have indicated, my most recent tale, “The Courtship of Lord Blackhurst” was inspired by Longfellow’s narrative poem, “The Courtship of Myles Standish.” Other than the knowledge of Standish being a part of the original Plymouth colonists, what else do we know of the man? In truth, not as much as one might think. As it was with John Alden, we know Standish’s “history” after his arrival at Plymouth Rock, but much before that time is mere speculation.
For example, many list his birthdate as occurring 1584, while others think it more likely to be closer to 1587. His place of birth is also greatly debated. Nathaniel Morton, writing in his book New England’s Memorial (1669) states that Standish hailed from Lancashire, England. Morton tells us Standish owned a book about the former head of the Rivington Grammar School in Lancashire, and he cites the town of Duxbury that Standish and John Alden founded as a reference to Duxbury Hall in Lancashire. Others believe him to be from the Isle of Man state that “in his probate will that were “surreptitiously detained” from him (including lands on the Isle of Man itself); these lands all belonged at one time to Thomas Standish, of the branch of the Standish family from the Isle of Man. In September 2006, Jeremy D. Bangs supplied a scholarly review of the evidence and controversy in “Myles Standish, Born Where?”, Mayflower Quarterly 72:133-159.” [Mayflower History]
Standish was an heir to a fairly sizeable estate in Lancashire, but his lands were lost during the English Civil War, and neither he nor his son Alexander were ever able to legally regain control of the estate.
Likewise, we know little of his service to Queen Elizabeth’s army. Unsubstantiated reports claim he was a lieutenant in the Queen’s arm. Scholars believe he served for a time in Holland where he became acquainted with John Robinson and the Pilgrims who lived near Leiden. He was hired to be the Pilgrims’ military captain. His role in the settlement was to be coordinate the Pilgrims’ defense against outside threats from, say, the French, the Spanish, or the Dutch, as well as the “Indians” (Native American) tribes.
We know he was married when he traveled with the Pilgrims. His wife Rose traveled with him to the New World. As they had no children, they likely married before the Mayflower set sail, but we do not know the date or even Rose’s last name. The lady died during the first winter at Plymouth. According to the tale Longfellow set about, Standish set his eyes on Priscilla Mullins, an orphan (Her parents and brother also died during that first winter.) and one of the wealthier Pilgrims because she held the shares of her family in the expedition. Moreover, she was the only female who was not married among those who, initially, traveled with the Pilgrims. Priscilla, however, chose John Alden over Standish. Standish, later, courted and married a woman named Barbara (again, no last name), who arrived at Plymouth on the ship Anne in the year 1623.
As part of his duties to the Pilgrims, he explored the area and assisted in developing the site chosen for the settlement. In his role as military captain, Standish oversaw the building of the fort designed to protect the colonists. He led trading expeditions and designed the group’s response to the Indian tribes in the region. “He led the party that went in pursuit of the alleged killers of Squanto (who was later discovered to be safe). He led the revenge attacks on the Indians in the Massachusetts Bay after they were caught in a conspiracy planning to attack and destroy the Plymouth and Wessagussett colonies; several Indians were killed or executed, for which Standish received some criticism, even from his friends, for being too heavy-handed.” [Mayflower History] At times Standish was criticized for his ruthlessness and for his quick temper. However, he was also praised for his defense of the colony and for his tender concern for those who took ill during that first disastrous winter.
In the mid 1630s, Standish and John Alden founded the town of Duxbury, where they lived out the remainder of their days. Standish and Barbara had eight children: Charles (died young), Alexander, John, Myles, Lora, Josias, and Charles. He died a painful death from most consider to be kidney stones on 3 October 1656.
To Read The Courtship of Miles Standish, go HERE.
Introducing The Courtship of Lord Blackhurst
What happens when a lady falls in love, not with her betrothed, but rather with his cousin?
Since her birth, Miss Priscilla Keenan has been promised to the Marquess of Blackhurst. The problem is: She has never laid eyes upon the man. So, when Blackhurst sends his cousin to York to assist Priscilla in readying Blackhurst’s home estate for the marquess’s return from his service in India, it is only natural for Priscilla to ask Mr. Alden something of the marquess’s disposition. Yet, those conversations lead Cilla onto a different path, one where she presents her heart to the wrong gentleman. How can she and Alden find happiness together when the world means to keep them apart? Inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Courtship of Miles Standish,” this tale wants for nothing, especially not a happy ending, but that happy ending is not what the reader anticipates.
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They remained silent for several minutes before she asked, “Would you tell me something of your life in India? I feel I could better understand Lord Blackhurst if I viewed him through the eyes of someone who holds a similar point of reference as does he.”
He shifted uncomfortably, and Cilla instantly regretted her request. “I would not know where to begin.”
She shrugged. “Where did you live in India? I know only generalities of the place. When did you two first know a conflict? I have heard many of the locals do not appreciate the efforts of the British East India Company. Is that true? If so, it must have been daunting, attempting to assist those who do not wish your advantage.”
Mr. Alden grimaced at something she said, but he did not reprimand her. “Admittedly, the give-and-take between the two sides sometimes fell out of balance,” he explained in obvious general terms. She would have preferred something more detailed, but she would accept what he was willing to share.
“Then arms are employed?” she asked.
“Aye.” He sighed heavily. “A man would not wish a woman to stand witness to such atrocities as one finds in war, whether on the Continent, the American front, or in India.”
“Yet, the devastation must change a man,” she argued. “Surely, Blackhurst is not the same carefree youth of which Mr. Sterling and many in the village speak. What should I know so I will not be afraid of what, I pray, are his rare bouts of temper or depression?”
He presented her a weak grin. “I can tell you with all certainty that in those early days of conflict in India, Lord Blackhurst began to think seriously upon your eventual marriage. Although you were still very young in ’09 when we in service to the British East India Company were called into that first battle, Blackhurst, then the Earl of Hurst, took solace in knowing he possessed a future.”
Cilla felt tears rushing to her eyes. “Truly?”
He nodded sharply, as if a bit embarrassed at what he had confessed. “Absolutely. Blackhurst wants you to know happiness in your joining.”
“I shall cherish your promise.” Swallowing the emotions rushing to her chest, she asked, “Where was that first conflict?”
“You are a persistent one,” he said with a sad smile and another sigh. She observed how he ordered his thoughts before he spoke. “We were in an important port city on the southwest coast of India,” he recited. “At the time, there was a local objection to the occupation of the city of Quilon by the East India Company. Troops of the Indian kingdom of Travancore attacked a local garrison situated near Cantonment Maiden.”
He paused as if the memory was still very new. “Quilon is very important to trade and shipping,” he explained, “which was the reason for the British being in the area. Vlu Thampi Dalawa, the Travancore Prime Minister, brought more than twenty thousand Nair troops and nearly two dozen pieces of artillery against us. Thankfully, Colonel Chambers had three battalions of native sepoys, Indian infantrymen, available, along with one regiment of British troops. We were outnumbered nearly four to one.” He grimaced as he heard his own words. “With God’s good fortune, we prevailed by destroying fifteen of their eighteen artillery pieces, but the loss of men was many, nearing fifteen hundred when one considers both sides.”
“How long?” Cilla spoke barely above a whisper, as she attempted to comprehend what he described. She knew he had spared her the most horrific details; yet, what little he had shared was enough for her imagination to run wild.
“The battle itself?” She nodded her agreement. “Thankfully, we prevailed in a matter of six hours, but that first taste of hostilities was enough for me. Men should not exact such devastation upon each other.”
“However, that was not the only conflict you knew?” she questioned.
He shook his head sadly. “I spent eleven years walking a narrow line between the interests of The Company and the various factions operating within India. Often we were caught between one empire and another.”
Cilla had dozens of other questions she wished to ask, but she knew there would be other days to ask them. She did not like the idea of bringing Mr. Alden pain.
“Tell me something I should know of Lord Blackhurst’s nature,” she requested.
Mr. Alden studiously avoided looking in Cilla’s direction as he spoke. “Despite what you may think of his lordship’s first letter to you, many consider the marquess equally skilled with both his pen and his weapons. I have known Blackhurst to place himself straight at the head of his troops, calling upon each captain, by name, to order forward the ensigns to win the day, declaring, ‘If you wish a thing to be well done, you must do it yourself; you must not leave it to others!’”
She knew Mr. Alden meant for her to know pride in the man to whom she was betrothed; yet, something in Cilla wondered why a man—a leader upon the battle field—who would never consider leaving the safety of his men to the care of others—would not make, at least, a few gestures to secure her care and to win her affection. Mr. Alden said otherwise, and she was grateful for the man’s thoughtfulness and his reassurances; even so, she knew disappointment in Lord Blackhurst, essentially, ignoring her.
Lost in their individual thoughts, it was several moments before either of them realized it had started to rain. Immediately, they were on their feet and grabbing their belongings. Snatching up the blanket and basket, he caught her by the hand. “It appears, Miss Keenan, we are in for another soaking!”
He hustled her toward the cart, but Cilla had other ideas. “We are likely to know some protection in the denser parts of the woods, than in a slow-moving cart, where we are certain to be drenched.”
The gentleman nodded his agreement, dumped the basket into the back of the cart and took off at a steady pace. Never releasing her hand, they set off together on an exhilarating scamper for dry ground. Cilla caught up her skirt to make it easier to follow along beside him.
Leading the way, he darted around trees and bushes until they stood in a circle of elms, standing so close together, that even sunlight did not penetrate the magical enclosure. It was as if they had stepped into a fairy realm, one she had often dreamed of as a child. There was a thick carpet of leaves at their feet, and everything was turning green with the spring. Branches of the various trees intertwined, as if they were holding hands.
“This is lovely,” she said in awe.
Outside their enclosure the rain pounded against the tree tops, but, within, they remained relatively dry.
“This place is truly amazing,” he said softly. He grinned at her sheepishly. “I imagine you could turn this moment into a melody.”
She knew embarrassment marked her cheeks, but she nodded quickly. “It is rare that some strand of a melody does not circulate in my head, but you are correct, sir. The rain. The occasional bit of thunder. The closeness of the trees. They all mix with the words from Lord Blackhurst’s previous letter. I can hear the notes as they align to form the essence of the tune.”
“You have a gift, Miss Keenan. A unique gift that must be cherished. Would you do me the honor of humming it for me? I would love to hear it,” he encouraged.
Still self-conscious from her admittance, she closed her eyes and permitted the notes to form in her mind. Soon she hummed the tune, seeing the notes as they danced in the air. Her voice had completely filled their little bit of heaven when she felt his arm slip about her waist and the heat of his breath upon her cheek.
“Waltz with me,” he whispered into her ear.
She swayed with him for several seconds, before she allowed him to lead her into the dance form, a dance she had only observed upon a few occasions and had never performed previously, not even with a dance instructor. However, Cilla trusted the gentleman not to permit her to stumble. His hand on her back had just enough pressure to turn her in a tight circle, while edging her closer still to the warmth of his body. As her voice carried the tune, her body hummed also, set in motion by the gentleman holding her so closely.
Suddenly, she realized they no longer moved, and her song had ceased to exist. Cilla opened her eyes to look up into his now familiar features. Her lips were so dry, she licked them, belatedly realizing a fire flickered in his gaze as he looked down upon her. She swallowed hard, her heart flipping over in her chest. Priscilla had never felt such a deep connection to anyone before. Time stood still, and she was afraid to breathe, fearing doing so would destroy the moment they shared.
Instinctively, she leaned into him, irresistibly drawn to him.
Then without preamble, Mr. Alden jerked himself stiffly upright, turning stone-faced in the blink of an eye. Abruptly, he stepped back and offered her a proper bow. “Thank you, Miss Keenan.”
Cilla blinked several times, attempting to make sense of what had just passed between them. Had she imagined the possibility the gentleman had thought to kiss her? Would she have permitted him to do so? Cilla had never been kissed and had wished him to kiss her with all her heart, but she reminded herself, such would never occur, for she was betrothed to the gentleman’s best friend. Mr. Alden held honor at the core of his being, and, even if she wished upon the luckiest of stars to know him better, her wish would not be granted.