We Stirlings, traditional strivers, had some peculiar family traits. Rapaciously foremost among these was a fervour to marry for money. I encountered it after the peace treaty of 1815 put an end to Britain's rampages against America. This curtailed my quest for prize money on the high seas, alas, before I had collected much more than the price of my uniform.
I was young then and given to flights of fancy, and was persuaded by Uncle Charlie’s alluring strategy: “A bold boarding, lad, wins the prize. Chin up, Jim boy, and follow me.”
Lacking only cutlass and pistol, he led on, his wide, white-breeched backside preceding me across the portico, and up the steps to the mansion’s magnificent entry and the prize that was named Ellen. Down on the gravel driveway, a yardboy was attending our horses.
Uncle's mood said swing-rope and at ’em, and many was the time I had shared his pre-battle euphoria. Unwavering was he. Predatory. Irrepressible. Like him, I could be all of these, but not now. Not here in the genteel English countryside.
Here on Ellen’s doormat, threshold of my greatest opportunity, I was reduced to jelly-kneed panic by mere thought of the desired maiden. Did I say her father owned only half of India? He was looting the other half under voracious trading contracts imposed by the British Raj. The filthy-rich status of Ellen’s pa put her a stretch beyond even my extended ambitions.
My fears had grown progressively worse as our nags trotted closer to the square-rigged hedges that marked the boundary of the vast Mangles lair. We had been on the estate for more than 10 miles, a ride that took us through four villages and wide horizons of pasture, like a green ocean where cows and sheep floated in a vista shimmering to the high distance.
With each new evidence of the endless wealth, my confidence had sagged another knot, even though Uncle referred to his old chum as Manglewangles, a schoolboy nickname from long ago.