The Road to Redway (Pt.5)
Colonel Nathaniel Ackley is the second son of the Earl and Countess of Aysthill. We first meet him on a battlefield in Spain that I loosely based on the battle of Vitoria. The British, along with their Spanish and Portuguese allies were pursuing the retreating French from Spain during a series of battles that comprised the Peninsula War.
Immediately we learned of Nathaniel’s bravery as he comes to the aid of Tommy Smithson the son of a coal miner.
It all happened so fast, but for Nathaniel, the attack seemed to last an eternity. Shielding Tommy with his body, he saw the Frenchman’s bright steel flashing towards him. The movement of the horse carried the sword upwards as it whipped across Nathaniel’s torso, the razor-sharp edge searing his flesh as the blade parted his heavy coat. The strike carved a deep wound from his ribs to his shoulder.
Despite suffering a broken leg during their escape, Tommy ends up saving Nathaniel’s life as much as Nathaniel saved his.
Over the next few weeks, Nathaniel convalesced at the convent hospital with Tommy, whose gangrenous broken leg they had amputated below the knee. Nathaniel had been astonished to regain full consciousness two weeks after the battle to find he was still alive.
When Nathaniel’s mother collects him from the convent hospital on the south coast, we learn of her hope of him marrying his cousin, Lady Grace Bainbridge. Although Nathaniel insists on allowing Tommy to travel in the coach with them, his mother decrees that Tommy must ride with the driver. Once the journey begins, Nathaniel quickly realises he feels less sorry for Tommy than he otherwise might.
Nathaniel, now formally dressed, sat inside the vehicle. Uncomfortable within the hot confines, he felt less sorry for Tommy than expected. When his mother began to regale him with news of their family, he closed his eyes and rested his head against the window. The droning of her voice faded in and out while he sought the oblivion of sleep.
“Your cousin, Grace, has written to me often to find out how you are faring. She is very concerned. When you are well enough, you should visit Bainbridge. Perhaps now you can consider selling your commission? You are thirty after all. You should be taking a wife and making a family of your own. You could not do any better than Grace...”
Upon arriving at his family home of Aysthill House, just fifteen miles away from Redway Acres, we learn how the servants feel about Nathaniel. He slips down to the kitchen to speak with the long-time family cook, Mrs. Rollins to ensure Tommy had been well cared for before he left for Sheffield.
“Fed him up, while he told us of how you saved him. Not sorry for himself at all with his poor leg. God bless you, sir, for what you did for that young man. I’m so happy we did not lose you instead. I wasn’t sure we would see you again. Used to love it when you would run in here, begging for biscuits or whatever I had baking.” She covered her mouth with her hand to hold in the tears welling in her eyes.
When sufficiently recovered, Nathaniel makes his way to the Harker estate of Eastease. When he discovers Helena’s horse, Perseus, in Harker’s stable, we learn how good he is with horses.
The horse caught the scent of Nathaniel’s extended hand and then accepted the carrot. While the animal chewed, Nathaniel stroked his neck and muscular shoulder, all the while murmuring reassuring words. The horse then put his head over Nathaniel’s shoulder and rubbed none too gently in greeting. At the edge of his vision, Nathaniel saw the stable manager standing frozen. Amused by the man’s astonishment, he opened the stall door and entered.
“You do remember me then, boy,” Nathaniel crooned. “It is you, here are the scars. No new ones though; thank goodness for that.” He ran his skilled hands over the horse’s back and haunches, feeling the ridges of old whip lashings. As the horse nuzzled into his shoulder again, Nathaniel flattered himself that this response stemmed from the pleasure of seeing him. On a practical level, he decided the stallion only wanted another treat.
I’ve already mentioned Nathaniel’s contentious relationship with his father. Having to deal with that man the day after the dinner at Eastease, where he met Helena, puts Nathaniel in a foul mood. His anger at his father brings out the fighting soldier part of his nature, which he struggles to shake off. Soon after attending church, Nathaniel decides to ramble back over the fields back to Eastease. Harriet accompanies him.
Harriet’s company turned out to be the tonic Nathaniel needed. They walked through the graveyard, crossed over a stile, and entered a field that would take them back to Eastease. Over the first hill, the house came into view.
When Harriet teases him about Helena, the playful and tender sides of his nature rise to the occasion.
“I will give you a ten-count head start, Harriet,” he warned.
She screamed and ran as fast as she could, picking up her skirts over the long grass. It is so good, Nathaniel thought, to see her run and laugh. “That is ten,” he shouted and then easily overtook her. Taking hold of her waist, he lifted her off the ground and swung her in a tight circle, making her squeal with delight.
After finally putting her down, he hugged her to his chest and kissed the top of her head, as he had often done when she was younger. Nathaniel loved both of his wards and had missed them in the long months he had been away. They were the only remnants left in the world of his cousin and friend, Mark. He revelled in being with Harriet again.