Pas De Deux
Copyright© 2012 by Texrep
Holland Hall was perfect. We had no sooner arrived than Antonia was nodding her head in total agreement. The Hall was one of those very old English country houses and exhibited styles from Tudor through to Art Deco. Even explaining it to someone who had never seen it would leave them aghast as such a discordance of styles, yet it worked. It had matured over five hundred years growing into the land and being succoured by the land. Suffolk and Essex were not hilly counties except in the north of Essex and the south of Suffolk. Even then they could not be described as hills, being mere undulations in the geography that became referred to as hills because they were a feature in an otherwise relatively flat landscape. Holland Hall had been built with the hills behind and a view stretching far away to the coast at Harwich. The edifice that Henry had referred to as a Chapel was an understatement. A simple construction but with a full aisle and tall stained glass windows, moderately tall steeple and most importantly a completely renovated organ. The Church was just a two hundred yards from the house, a packed gravel path leading from the house, through the gardens to the portico of the Church. Antonia determined that if the weather was good she would walk that two hundred yards to her marriage. The Hall had accommodation for our immediate families and the local pubs could take the overflow. Those attending from the ballet company would drive up for the day; London was only an hour and a half drive by the motorway.
Over the next few weeks Antonia would visit the Hall frequently, sometimes with Henry making plans for the wedding. I wasn't asked to help in this work so was quite happy to let them get on with it. Becky turned up on more than one occasion, sleeping on my couch and then disappearing with Antonia to various shops and Holland Hall.
My cousins had flown in four days before the wedding and Antonia and I met them at Heathrow holding between us a large placard with the words 'Welcome to our colonial cousins'. Apart from saying hello with hugs and shaking hands, Kent and I managed no more conversation as Amelie and Maxine delighted to meet Antonia were immediately in conversation, telling her how much they had enjoyed her performance in Boston. The men in the party were relegated to bit parts, merely having to agree with whatever Amelie, Maxine or Antonia were saying. The words 'yes honey', 'sure sugar' and 'yes my love' were the extent of our contribution to the conversation. Kent, Jackson, Maxine's husband and I looked at each other with that long-suffering expression that all husbands know, picked up the luggage and followed. I had hired a twelve seat mini-bus so having stowed the luggage our driver took us into London to the hotel they had booked. They were full of questions all the way. Enquiries such as where was the House of Commons, Buckingham Palace, Nelson's Column, the list went on and on. Our driver turned as we sat in the inevitable traffic jam. "Sir and Madam. If you wish, I would be happy to take you on a tour. I have a cancellation tomorrow, so I could take you round all the sights."
"Gee. That would be great. What do you say, Honey." Kent said.
"How much?" Asked Amelie, who it would appear was the practical one of the two. The driver thought and looked at me, knowing that I lived in London.
"Would two hundred be acceptable?"
"Pounds?" Amelie looked at me and I nodded. The driver wasn't ripping them off. You can get a guided tour of London for about ninety pounds per person. So the driver was offering them a good price.
"Ok. Pick us up at nine-thirty tomorrow."
Two days later I met them at the hotel and we drove in convoy to Holland Hall. They in their hired car and Antonia and I in mine. As we turned into the drive at the Hall I noticed that they had stopped. I backed up and got out. Kent was busy taking pictures and Jackson was panning round with his camcorder. Amelie and Maxine just stood and looked. "Is this for real? It looks like a film set."
"Yes it's real. Sir Henry's family have lived here for over four hundred years."
"Wow!" That was Maxine. She went on. "Do we have to curtsy to Sir Henry?"
"Good Lord no. He would be very embarrassed if you did. Anyway isn't it in your constitution you don't bow to anyone? Something about there will be no nobility?" She shook her head. "Henry doesn't go in for formality; he will probably tell you to call him Henry." I added.
Henry did tell them not to use the title, gave the ladies a short tour of the house, and then let them loose in the garden. Kent, Jackson and I were in the library with an old map of England and I was showing Kent whereabouts our family had lived.
"There!" I pointed. "Linton. Just south of Maidstone. According to the eighteen fifty-one census a William Easton farmed there and employed four men and a boy."
"So would that be a large farm?" Asked Kent.
"Probably about three hundred acres." Henry had just joined us and provided the answer.
"Oh not so big then?" Kent seemed disappointed.
"Oh no." Henry replied. "That would be quite a good size farm for the time, working with shire horses and men. In today's values it would be worth something like four to four and a half million pounds."
"Right." Kent mused and then turned to me. "So what has happened to it?"
"I don't know. In later censuses there was no mention of any of our family in that place. They had simply vanished."
"How could that happen?"
"Primogeniture." Announced Henry.
"I've heard of that." Kent stated. "But wasn't that to do with titled people?"
"The idea was introduced for the Gentry, but was adopted by quite a few landowners. It was a disastrous idea." Henry was firm in his conviction.
"Why do you say that, Henry?" I enquired of him.
Henry took a seat before he explained his ideas. "Primogeniture gave everything to the first born son. The land, the title if there was one and the capital. Second and third sons could expect nothing and daughters were married off with a small dowry if they were beautiful and a larger dowry if they were not. Primogeniture denied a daughter from inheriting the property in her own right, although it could be passed to her husband. For the first son, life was easy, he was going to get everything so he need not try, he could live an indolent and lazy life without worry. Second and third sons had to make their own way in life, so they were the ones who went out into the world becoming colonisers, soldiers and merchants often making their own fortune. The firstborn who inherited didn't need to do or learn anything. Consequently they made very bad decisions and over generations frittered away the capital and the land. Of course if your forefather in Kent fathered daughters who couldn't inherit under primogeniture the land would be entailed away to the nearest male relative. He may not have the same surname; he may have had no interest in the estate and sold it. There are many reasons why the land passed out of the Easton family. Primogeniture was a very bad policy, because very often it placed all the capital into the hands of one who had no aptitude for management or thrift."
"So that could have happened to the Easton family in Kent?" Jackson asked.
Henry shook his head "I would think that probably the land was entailed away because there was no son. There may have been a son, but early death was prevalent then. Simple diseases killed and we had the habit of getting involved in wars as well. So survival of sons was problematical."