Now let’s take ourselves back to January 3, 1877, the only birthday HHR would have celebrated in Chiltern, and think about the scene we might have been looking at then; as you look beyond me now at “Lake View”.
Chiltern was really the end of the line for the Richardson family. Doctor Walter Richardson’s physical and mental condition resulting from syphilis, had deteriorated to such an extent that the carrying out of task’s associated with the conduct of a medical practice were beyond him. He was suffering mood swings, headaches, nightmares, speech difficulties, giddiness and writing difficulties.
Those of you who are quite familiar with HHR, either from reading The Fortunes of Richard Mahony or any of the biographical contributions made by people such as Dorothy Green over many years, can perhaps see the 7 year old Ethel in your mind’s eye, somewhere along the veranda bouncing a ball against the wall, losing herself in storymaking, as she so often does.
Inside the house her father, Walter, is probably closeted away in his surgery, which he ventures out of less and less as the unhappy months spent here drag on. If he has ventured out of the surgery there is every chance that he and his wife Mary are locked in yet another argument about finances and their future. The argument will finish as it so often does now, with Walter weeping like a baby on Mary’s shoulder. Ethel’s way of coping with this embarrassing unhappiness is to escape to the veranda and lose herself playing ball and creating stories.