The Farmer and Father
Archie was in the doldrums, and becoming more depressed and isolated. There was no urgency but he started to look around for retirement possibilities, thinking perhaps of a small business in Rathdowney or Dunkerrin. He was now in his early forties and could not be charging full-tilt on a cavalry horse for much longer.
As an escape from the noise of the barracks, and from the smell of unwashed bodies and feet, he took to making long walks in the laneways around Donagmore, deep into his lonely thoughts. On one fine day towards the end of winter, with spring just an unfilled promise, walking to the northwest, he came across a house cow in the lane. He could see where she had pushed through the hawthorn hedge, and tried to herd her back into the field behind, but she trotted up the lane away from him. He made some repairs to the hedge, bending and threading withies to close the gap, and then followed the cow. Rounding a bend, he saw her ahead, and, when he got closer, that she was standing by a gate. So he opened the gate and the cow passed through back into the field.
There was little grass left in the field, and looking across he could see that the hedge along the laneway was in poor repair, with several places where a hungry cow could push through. To his right he saw a farmhouse with a woman walking towards him. She was neat and petite, walking with a stride that showed strength and determination.
‘Thank you for getting Buttercup back into her field. She keeps breaking out.’
Archie felt awkward and clumsy in the presence of this small person, and replied,
‘I fixed up the hole in the hedge as best I could without tools, but I am sure that she will escape again soon. There are many weak spots. I expect that she is hungry.’
‘Yes, you are right. I hope that the warm weather will come soon and get the grass growing. The end of winter is always the hunger time.’
‘Do you have any hay that you could give her?’
‘I did not manage to harvest very much last summer, and it is all gone.’
‘Perhaps you could buy some?’
She hesitated, not sure whether to continue the conversation or to simply say thank you again and excuse herself, so, half hoping for a refusal, she said,
‘Perhaps I can thank you with some refreshment back at the house. I only have buttermilk, but it is fresh.’ Then with a smile, ‘and you know where it came from.’
Archie was also hesitant, but the warm day had left him thirsty.
‘Thank you, but just some water would be enough.’
As they walked together back to the farmhouse, he suddenly realised who she was.
‘Pardon me, but you are Mrs Whitehead aren’t you?’ She nodded, and he continued, ‘I heard that your husband died about two years ago. My condolences.’
In general, the Protestant settlers of Queen’s County were not there by first preference, but because it was their best, or only, option. The grand plan by the English government to make Ireland British through settlement had not been a success, but led to two societies, Irish Catholics and English Protestants, requiring constant policing to uphold peace.
Ruth’s mother, Anne Cheadle, had been a chambermaid in a grand house in Anglesey. The Master of the house was smitten and formed a long-lasting relationship with Anne. The Lady of the house was accepting of this arrangement, but not without some animosity. Her mother had advised her that if her husband was going to stray, it was better that he do so at home. Also she had two sons, with absolutely no desire to have more children, and she was content that the maid should deal with her husband’s base desires.
It became more complicated when Anne fell pregnant, with baby Ruth being raised as one of the household, but not one of the family. There was also a brother, Robert, also raised as a part of the household. Ruth grew into an attractive young woman, and the Lady reached the limit of her tolerance when her two sons started to compete for her attentions. She demanded that Ruth be removed from the household. It was decided that a husband had to be found for her, and then she be established away from Anglesey. William Whitehead, one of the farm foremen, was much taken with Ruth and offered to marry her and set up their own household. The Master was fond of Ruth, his daughter, and took responsibility. He had connections in Ireland and found a farm in Queen’s County, Dunnacleggan, which he purchased for the couple.
Once in Ireland, Ruth no longer had contact with her family, and never had news of her mother or brother. She still claimed them as family, in part to achieve some respectability in the settler community.
Will was much older than Ruth, but a kindly man and an accomplished farmer. They were not lucky with children, with a single pregnancy ending in a miscarriage. Then Will became ill and, over some years, progressively could do less and less in maintaining the farm, and their income. Ruth did what she could and cared for him until his death, but the farm became rundown and debts mounted.
She dictated a letter to her family with the news of his death, and explaining her situation, hoping that some help would be available. She never had a reply and was not sure whether the letter had got lost on the way. This was not the case. Both the Master, her father, and the Lady had died with the eldest son inheriting. His wife considered herself to be of superior nobility to the Anglesey establishment, and could not be expected to acknowledge an illegitimate half-sister of her husband, so he wisely washed his hands of Ruth, having enough difficulty in keeping her brother Robert, his half brother, employed. Ruth’s mother Anne was still alive, but a pensioner with a small room in the almoner’s cottage of the estate. The son did not tell either the brother nor the mother of Ruth’s letter.
After Will’s death, there were a number of suitors. She judged that they were really after the farm, and she would rather lose everything than be shackled to an unsuitable marriage.
Ruth asked Archie to sit at the kitchen table while she fetched the buttermilk. He looked around, peeking into the larder which did not have a door, and saw that there was little food other than potatoes and some home-made cheese. He had seen the kale yard, with little growing at the end of winter. It seemed that Ruth was surviving on the produce of her cow, with potatoes, at least until spring.
When she had sat down with him, he asked,
‘How are you managing to run the farm on your own?’
She made a sigh and a little grimace,
‘It is difficult. While Will was dying we ran up our debts so I cannot afford to pay for help. I am just scraping by, and this is the worst time of year.’
Archie considered that doing some farm work would be a welcome change from hanging around the barracks, and get him out into the fresh air, perhaps more interesting than going for walks.
‘Would you let me come and help you every now and then? I would like a change, and doing some work on the farm sounds interesting.’
‘But I cannot pay you.’
‘I am not looking for money. I have my trooper’s wage, which is not much but includes bed and board.’
She looked at him, wondering whether this was a plan to get the farm, but decided that he was genuine, or at least worth the risk. If he started to come on in the wrong way, she would send him packing.
‘You would be welcome any time that suits you. What would you like to do?’
‘Well, I would like to make things better for Buttercup. She will keep breaking out of the field unless she gets some feed. And her milk will dry up if she gets too poor. Perhaps we could start by leaving the gate open, so that she can get some along the lane.’
Ruth had not thought of this, wishing to keep control of things, saying,
‘But then she will be in the lane all the time.’
‘The hedge is no better than an open gate, so I expect that she is already in the lane most of the time, but comes back to be milked.’
Ruth laughed and agreed. So they went together to open the gate. Buttercup had already gone through the hedge.
Archie asked, ‘Why do you not let her into the other fields?’
‘The byre is next to this field, and she is used to coming there to be milked. I have tried her in other fields, but then she has not been able to find her way back. We always used to winter the house cow here and feed her with hay, but now I have run out of hay.’
Archie thought over the situation, and said,
‘When I come back on Sunday, I will do some repairs to the hedge along the lane and  then make an opening through to the next field down, which still has grass in it. And then get her back from the lane and walk her down through the opening. Perhaps she will learn to come back to the byre. If not it should be easy to herd her back. If I have time I will scythe some hay as well.’
Ruth was very happy to have someone helping her, and was impressed by Archie’s plan.
‘I will make sure that there is buttermilk,’ she said with a smile.
Archie looked away,
‘Your buttermilk is very nice, but would it be alright if I bought some tea? I used to enjoy a pot of tea when I was in lodgings, but I do not feel comfortable making a pot of tea in barracks. I have some left, and I would be glad to share it with you.’
‘I have never tasted tea, but I have heard of it. From China?’ she asked.
And so they fell into the habit of doing some work on the farm, and then becoming friends over the little brown teapot. Archie spent some of his savings on buying more tea. It was not of the same quality as he had been able to afford before, being smuggled, rough, black and bitter, and needing plenty of milk to make it drinkable.
Over the weeks and months they learned slowly to trust each other. They both had secrets that would make their lives more difficult if they were to become public knowledge. Little by little they traded the stories of their pasts. Archie learned about Ruth’s parentage and her expulsion from Anglesey. Ruth learned about Archie’s life in France, and about his marriage to Marie, with her death in childbirth. Then, one day, he took a deep breath and told her about his father, explaining about the allowance that had provided for him to live as a gentleman, with the understanding that he stayed in Ireland and did not marry and have children.
Ruth was astonished about this condition, asking,
‘Did he really say that he would disown you if you married?’
‘Not in so many words, but I understood his position that he did not want any possibility of his enemies taking advantage. So I became a confirmed bachelor, which was easy enough after Marie’s death.’
‘But you no longer have the allowance?’
So Archie explained that, following the battle of Culloden, that allowance was no longer possible. He then told her that his father was the Lord Lovat that had been executed at the Tower of London. She was not shocked, knowing from her own experience that acknowledgement of parentage was sometimes difficult, but then asked him to explain why he could not be acknowledged as a son. Archie told the story of his one meeting with his mother, and the politics that had led her to disown him, and eventually to his father sending him away.
Ruth was thoughtful,
‘If your father is now dead, and you no longer receive an allowance, does that not mean that you can now consider having children and a family?’
Archie had been so fixed in his mind about being a bachelor, now for more than twenty years, that this had not occurred to him. He suddenly felt the release of a great weight, and rose to his feet with his arms raised, ready to dance with joy, but then he realised that his freedom also meant that he did not have the means to raise a family. His arms dropped and he looked at the ground.
‘But I do not have the income for a family. I am just on a troopers wage, which has been cut to the minimum.’
Ruth looked at him and saw his distress, and found that she could make a decision.
‘We could raise a family together. Dunnacleggan could provide for a family.’
Archie looked down into her smiling face, and again raised his head and arms, smiling back. She also rose to her feet and they started a slow joyful dance, not touching - yet.
So Ruth made another pot of tea, and they started to make plans.
The most pressing issue was the debt that Ruth had run up while Will was dying, and subsequently. All the stock had been sold except for Buttercup, including the draft horse needed to pull the plough and other implements. Archie had some savings, but not enough to pay off all the debt and restock the farm. Without restocking the farm could not produce income and pay off the debts, let alone provide for a growing family. So they decided that Archie’s savings would be used to pay off the most pressing debt, but mostly to get the farm back into working order.
Ruth said that the most difficult debt was with Mr Henderson, a shopkeeper in Rathdowney, and she thought that he was trying to take over the farm. He was already married so he was allowing the debt to build up until he could make a claim. She thought that the total owing was about 35 pounds, over a five year period. Archie sat down with her and made a list of the items that she remembered getting from Mr Henderson, with her memory of their value. The total agreed with her estimate.
Archie went to meet with the shopkeeper, finding him to be a bluff fellow with an air of entitlement.
‘Good morning, Mr Henderson, my name is Frazer and I have come to start paying off Ruth Whitehead’s debt.’
‘What would you be doing that for? The debt is getting bigger every year and I will soon have enough to make a claim on Dunnacleggan.’
‘Mrs Whitehead and I are to be married, and we will run the farm together. I have some money and would like to start by paying off some of the debt, and then the rest will be paid once the farm is productive again. How much do you think she is owing?’
‘I reckon near 60 pound, and I would expect that to be paid off smartly, or I will take a claim to the assizes.’
Archie was expecting that the number would be inflated.
‘Do you have receipts to confirm that amount? I have a list of goods received by Mrs Whitehead.’
‘No, I keep a running total in my head, but I do not make mistakes, and I have a good memory.’
Archie took out his list and asked,
‘Do you remember what she bought in the first week of September two years ago?’
‘Why would I remember that? It was probably sugar. She bought a lot of sugar while her husband was still alive. Or it might have been the liver tonic.’
‘It was an axe handle.’
Henderson was not convinced, so Archie showed him the list.
‘Who are you?’, Henderson asked.
‘I have just put in my resignation as a trooper, and I am now planning to raise a family.’
With sudden recognition,
‘Are you the one they call the Frenchman?’
‘Yes, some of my comrades call me that.’
‘Then you are also the bookkeeper?’
On an affirmative answer, and looking at the tall broad-shouldered man in front of him, Henderson saw his daydream of being a landowner dissipating before his eyes. Archie went on to say,
‘I would like first to thank you for being so generous with Mrs Whitehead. She would have been hard pressed without the help that she received from you and her neighbours.’
‘But now to business. With your agreement, I would like to pay you back ten pounds now and another thirty pounds over the next year or so, as we get the farm back into producing an income.’
With a sigh and a grimace, Henderson agreed, and they shook hands on the arrangement. He showed the ten pounds to his wife and explained that they had been thanked for helping out the Whiteheads, to which she replied,
‘Oh good, the children need new shoes.’
Archie realised that his knowledge of farming was only at the common sense level, and that much more would be needed to make a living from Dunnacleggan. He believed that his bookkeeping would be useful from a management point of view, but, more usefully, he had been a trooper for more than twenty years and knew a lot about horses, particularly cavalry horses.
As he explained to Ruth, providing suitable mounts for a Regiment of Horse was a constant challenge. They had to be stallions, brave and strong with good endurance, but many stallions were not steady enough and became unpredictable during manoeuvres. The provision of such horses was a significant industry. But nature provides that foals are more or less equal in numbers as colts or fillies, so there was an over-supply of mares and a scarcity of stallions, reflected in their price, with a useful looking young stallion being worth many times more than a mare. So the regiments had most of the stallions, except for a few of the rich and noble, while the rest of the population had to make do with mares and sometimes geldings. A stallion that proved to be unsuitable was gelded, with some kept in the regiment for new recruits to improve their riding skills, and some for quiet parade ground duties. Other geldings were sold off at a fraction of their original purchase price.
There were two sources of horses for the regiment. Firstly from Army contractors in England, who bid for business directly to Whitehall. In reality all the good stallions stayed in England, and Ireland, being a long way away, ended up with the dregs. Secondly, local farmers raised a few stallions and sent them to market, hoping that a regimental horsemaster would like the look of them and have the budget to bid for them. These were the best horses in the regiment, but supply and budget was uncertain, and local supply was frowned upon by Whitehall.
Archie’s plan was to buy a dozen or so mares. He was a good judge of horses, and could choose those that had the right conformation to birth suitable stallions. He then talked to the Donaghmore horsemaster, explaining that he would like to provide a service to the Regiment by providing superior stallions at lower cost. He asked that the horsemaster select one or two top-drawer studs from the regimental horses and allow them to be put across Archie’s mares. Archie proposed that the price for any stallions from this arrangement would be available at a lower than market price.
The early years of this enterprise were difficult as it took over three years before a start of income. Archie and Ruth survived on the remnants of his savings. Then the plan started to take off, and in a few more years they were sharing their business with the neighbours, particularly those that had been supportive of the Whiteheads through their difficult years. Archie kept a breed book, both to keep a record and to make sure that there was no inbreeding.
Some officers and troopers in the Regiment also had a wish to have a colt from their favourite stallion, particularly as it came to the end of its career. Also, it turned out that there was a market for stallions outside the regimental requirement, albeit at a lower price, with there being a certain cachet about riding such a steed, particularly an ex-cavalry, for prosperous young men and successful older men, so it became  possible to replace the English horses with Irish, and with reduced impact on the regimental budget.
After his resignation, the Regiment continued to be part of Archie’s life, both socially and because he continued to audit the accounts. There were some who were envious of how well Archie had landed on his feet. One day he was sitting at a desk outside the quartermaster’s office when an officer, Lieutenant Gore, came up and stood over him. Archie resisted the automatic response of leaping to his feet and saluting, but greeted him politely as a civilian. The lieutenant came straight to the point,
‘Frazer, the armourer tells me that you have not handed in your sword. Is this true?’
‘Yes, Lieutenant, I have carried it for nearly twenty years and it seems to be part of me.’
‘You know that only commissioned officers can keep their swords, so you will have to hand yours in.’
‘I was adjutant during the campaign in France. Does that not count?’
‘You could not have been adjutant as that is a position for a commissioned officer. You were merely acting as adjutant.’
Archie took a breath,
‘Lieutenant, you see that I am auditing the regimental accounts. I do not get paid for this, so I am a volunteer. I am very happy to provide this service because I still consider that I am part of the Regiment. Do you think that I could keep my sword for as long as I am working for the Regiment?’
The inference was clear that Archie might consider no longer doing his bookkeeping if the Lieutenant insisted, so he backed down, not gracefully, but considered how he would be received if he was seen as responsible for driving Archie away.
‘Well, Frazer, make sure that you hand it in when you stop working for us.’
It was all much forgotten by the time the Regiment was relocated to Dublin, many years later. Lieutenant Gore had moved on, and the chaos of moving after being stationed at Donagmore for decades, on and off, was such that the small matter of a battered troopers sword did not register.
Their first child was a son. There was some discussion about a suitable name. While it would be traditional for an eldest son to be named after his paternal grandfather, Archie was not comfortable with this possibility, at least in part because he felt the need to keep his parentage as a secret, particularly after his father being executed for high treason. So they agreed on Joseph, at least in memory of Archie’s mentor in Saumur, Joseph Thèreaux.
Their second child was a girl, and again the traditional name would have been after the maternal grandmother, but Archie persuaded Ruth that she be named after his first wife, Marie, and so became Mary. The third was another boy, Robert, in memory of Frère Robert Bernierd, and of Ruth’s brother. Then, lastly, another girl, and Ruth insisted that she have her mother’s name, Anne.
It was a busy and contented life, with Archie still doing some bookkeeping for the Regiment, local societies and local tradespeople, as well as running  the farm and raising children. But there were times when his past weighed on him, and he would fall into melancholy. At such times he would walk outside into the night, after the evening meal. Particularly if it was a clear night at the first quarter of the lunar cycle, with the half-moon high in the sky. He would turn his back on the moon, in the southern sky, and look for the pole star to find north, and then turn some to the right to be looking towards the highlands.
The wound from his mother’s rejection was always with him, but well scabbed over with time and events. He more mourned for his children. They had no grandparents, uncles, aunts or cousins. There were no family histories of past relatives and exploits, as both his story and Ruth’s were too shameful to share. Most of all he would have liked for his children to have kin and clan, but such was not to be. He was used to being an exile himself, but deeply regretted that his children were also exiles.
‘Mais nous survivrons, malgré tout’ (But we shall survive, despite everything)
And then he would go back into the house, to the warmth and the noise of children, and an understanding hug from Ruth.
And we have survived, although still with the feeling of exile. And this is our story.