The Woolwich Affair
William Price, recently promoted to the title of Captain William Price disembarked from his friend's carriage, in front of a sturdy, yet not plain, stone house. His friend, Captain Murray Sanders, had called his friend to join him and his wife in the town of Woolwich, site of the Royal Arsenal and Royal Military Academy, where they were living. William, being grateful to all friends related to his career, accepted the invitation. Chance then was with William, as he was assigned to a ship which would be leaving from this port.
William Price had not always been so fortunate to be a Captain, and was indebted to the recommendation of himself by a former friend to his first promotion to a Lieutenant aboard H. M. Thrush. Several years had passed, and through bravery and a show of intelligence, he had worked his way up the social ladder. Now, awaiting his next assignment's beginning, he was to stay with Captain Sanders.
Captain Sanders was a kind man, and a very understanding one as well. From his first meeting with then Lieutenant William Price, he had liked the young man, and was eager for his wife and his young son to make the brave youth's acquaintance. Now, after several years of trying to arrange a convenient time, the whole affair had worked out, and here William was.
The Sanderses home was comfortable, and filled with happy people running about. Captain Sanders was of a wealthy background, although his father had been in trade, and he could afford a large staff in his home. The staff was all smiles, and made William feel very welcome. Then, he entered a small parlor, overlooking a small park, where small trees and sea grasses grew along side each other, and met Captain Sanders family.
Mrs. Sanders was a small woman, with a smile, although she was not handsome, she was quite merry, and welcomed William as she would a brother. Young Sanders, by the name of George, and only six years of age, was awed with the manly countenance of the stranger, but delighted that he bent down and helped young George to untangle the rigging of a rough model ship, which the lad was playing with.
Besides the Sanders, there were three ladies, a Mrs. Grant, who was visiting Mrs. Sanders, and was wife to an Admiral, who was seen as rather a major figure in the social world of Woolwich, a Mrs. White, who was Mrs. Sanders's mother, and who dwelt with them, and lastly there was a Miss Susan Liark, a niece, recently orphaned. Miss Liark was twelve years old, and buried behind a copy of Paradise Lost , and this confirmed William's first theory that the young lady was studious and precocious in nature. However, all greeted him warmly, and William was pleased with the amazing quantity of nice people in the room.
William stayed up late with the Sanders (for he included Miss Liark and Mrs. White under this name), and the whole party was quite merry, and filled William with an astonishing longing for his family to be like this...happy and carefree. Too often, in his mother's struggles to manage the home, she was cross in the evenings, and with the lack of good help, she was forced to make her younger daughters assist her, which made them cross. His father was no help to all of this, being mostly interesting in the comings and goings of ships.
With his promotion, and subsequent rise in money being made, he had had the option of finding his own quarters, and leaving his cross family. However, he had chosen to stay, and contributed some of his money to the family, so that his brothers and sisters might be dressed more decently, and all might eat better. Indeed, their home was much cleaner, and he had lifted a little of the stress by finding a servant girl, however, she proved inefficient, and was dismissed. Susan had gone to live in Northamptonshire with the Bertrams, and as companion to both Lady Bertram, and Fanny Bertram, but the rest of the girls needed a chance in society, and thus he remained with his family.
William soon cast these thoughts from his mind, and inched forward in his chair, so that he might watch Captain Sanders whittle a tiny oar, and Mrs. White and Mrs. Sanders doing carpet work. Miss Liark was not interesting to watch, for she now was curled up in the chair across the room, with Richard III in her lap. William wondered who had started this girl's reading, for she certainly had odd taste for a twelve year old. However, laying oddities aside, the party was quite a happy group. On seeing that William had awaken from his reverie, Mrs. Sanders addressed him.
"Captain Price, tomorrow night we are bound to the house of a dear friend of ours, Captain Robertson. I think that you shall like him immensely. He recently was in charge of the H. M. Cole. He is married and has two daughters. The elder is engaged to a Dr. Campbell...I believe you might know him, for he was doctor aboard the Thrush...now he has come into a fine inheritance, and settled here to court Miss Robertson..and as you can tell, he has succeeded. It was quite the news when it happened."
"And shall remain so," voiced Mrs. White, "Unless Miss Juliana gets a fiance. But that Katherine was always the one to make gossip. Mrs. Robertson is not doing a good job at keeping her in line. If I were Katherine's mother, I should have kept her in line...she is too forward, that's what I say. Too forward. Miss Juliana's the sweet one. I'm surprised that no one wanted her earlier...sweet and quiet...just what a lady should be...not at all like her sister. I say, Captain Price, you'll see what I mean when you meet them. Not at all like sisters, them two."
"Mother," said Mrs. Sanders quietly. "You oughtn't to speak so of our friend's children...but Capt. Price, you'll like the pair. They are quite pleasant. Besides, Admiral Grant will be there, and you certainly ought to meet him. He is the local "father figure" you might say. A wonderful man. Yes, just wait until tomorrow...the society of Woolwich will love you."
"I am glad to hear that, Ma'am," spoke William gallantly. And he did hope so...high society was not a thing he often had a chance to participate in, and he hoped that he wouldn't seem awkward to these people. These nice people.
When William entered the large home of Captain Robertson, the first thing he noticed were a pair of young women standing by the door, greeting the guests. He assumed, correctly, that they were the Miss Robertsons that he had heard so much about. He did not see Mr. Campbell, and indeed wondered if he was there.
The two young women were very gracious, on being introduced to him. The elder was a tall woman, with reddish brown hair, who wore a bright stole made up in plaid, and had a slightly defiant gleam in her eyes. The others, was much shorter, and had very dark hair, and wore black ribbons in her hair. Both looked pleased to see him.
As the Sanders moved on into the room of the party, William realized that there were not many men there, and questioned Mrs. Sanders on this.
"Oh," she said, "Three ships have left this past week, taking some of our finest men away. And the Halfinger is not yet here, although she is over a week late. thus, you must do your duty and dance with as many women as you can." She smiled. "I am sure that shall not be too hard."
"Madam," he returned in a mock-grave voice, "I shall attempt my very best. And, you must not play 'mother', for I insist that I dance with you this evening."
"Of course, Captain, but you must dance with our two young hostesses. They keep looking after you."
He turned, and indeed noted that each was furtively gazing his way, and he was rather startled. However, he decided that it was his duty as a gentleman, and indeed there were not many there, in comparison to the number of women, so, he approached Miss Robertson, foe he knew her fiance, and felt that this was some acquaintance.
"Miss Robertson," he said, and she turned round to face him. "I understand that you are engaged to a Mr. Campbell. I knew him. Is he well?"
"Indeed, Captain Price. He is quite well."
"Is he not here this evening?"
"No, he is off taking care of some business of his in London. We expect him back in about a week."
"I see. I shall, of course, be eager to meet him again. I have seen him only once since I left the Thrush. Do you dance already?" He added the last phrase, as he saw the couples beginning to arrange the set.
"No, sir, I thank you." Her smile was very bright, and her manner quite forward. He had to remind himself many times that she was engaged, and in coming to that conclusion, at last, he decided that he was dancing as a friend of her fiance. However, it must be said that he enjoyed that dance very much indeed.
When the set was over, Miss Katherine Robertson did not seem eager to leave him, so she led him over to where her sister was sitting sulkily, but prettily, and the trio sat out in the intermission between sets, and talked. When the next set was about to begin, William offered his arm to Miss Juliana Robertson, and led her through the dance.
After the Robertsons, he danced with Mrs. Sanders, Mrs. White (who protested that she shouldn't dance while the young ladies sat out), Mrs. Grant, a pair of young ladies with an amazing amount of freckles by the name of Carter, and a Miss Friole, who was visiting from Portsmouth, and who he knew rather slightly.
Being tired of dancing, he retired to a corner, with Capt. Sanders, who had likewise danced with half the ladies (old and young) . They were soon joined by a graying man, whom William found was the distinguished Admiral Grant.
The Admiral was very kind, and was interested in William's road though his career, as he had once come from humble beginnings as well.
"Captain Price, I am quite pleased to hear of your success. I think it a great pity that many young men are not able to join the ranks as captains, when quite qualified, but merely have not the proper acquaintances. It is always a delight to meet men who have truly earned what they have. Delightful."
He sat down then, and they discussed William's journey, which was approaching.
"The Admirable, did you say? A fine ship. I've never sailed her, but heard good things from hose who have. I believe that her last captain was Jennings...Sanders, was it? Ah...it was. Poor chap. His carriage overturned on his way to his sick mother, and he was killed. Poor chap. And it turned out that his mother had died that morning....poor chap. Not to worry, though, Price...you'll love the ship. She's very pretty, and rather fast. Who is your first Lieutenant?"
"A man by the name of Brayle. He is a good man...from Northamptonshire...close to where my uncle lives. I've only met him one, but apparently he is a worthy acquaintance of my sisters and my cousin."
"Brayle...I believe I've heard of him. Supposed to be steady."
"Yes, Admiral, I think he'll be a good man. Someday he'll very likely be a captain...just, like me, he has awkward relations. His parents and his elder brother won't let him go far in his career. They want him to be a minister, and refuse to advance him on his way. A great pity, as he has plenty of talent."
"These relations....mine are a perfect plague to me."
É * É
The last set of the evening was about to be formed, and both of his companions had already claimed their wives, to join in. William wondered who he should take through the set. On seeing Miss Robertson not among those who were arranging themselves into two lines, he approached her, and was pleased to lead her onto the dance floor. She was quite merry, and talked of everything in the world...there was scarcely a subject that she did not know something about.
When the set was done, William sadly let go of her hand, and made his way towards his party. She was a beautiful woman, and, as the infamous Henry Crawford had stated earlier, "An engaged woman is always more agreeable than a disengaged. ...She feels that she may exert all her powers of pleasing without suspicion. ...no harm can be done."
Quite satisfied in the society of Woolwich, he left the home of the beauteous Miss Robertsons, and returned to the happy home of the Sanders, to sit about and dream. There is no harm in dreams, and they are always a great comfort.
When William was active again the next morning, he went out from the house, and went for a walk along the waterfront. In the distance he saw two men walking, one of great stature, with a voice that could be heard somewhat even from his distance. The other was a remarkably ordinary man, in comparison, at least. William caught the words "the Admirable", and hastened towards them, interested in talk about his ship.
As he came closer, he recognized the large man to be Admiral Grant, who, with a great billowing cloak, and tall hat, seemed a great deal larger than last night. perhaps, though, it was just how his chest was puffed up with pride, at the sight of his favorite ship, which was just visible from where he stood.
The other man William recognized as well. It was Mr. Campbell. His approach was swift, yet cautious, as he was eager to meet the man who had caught the attention of the fair Miss Robertson, and also the man who had once been friendly towards him. However, they had not met in some years, and William hoped that he had not changed much.
"Good morning, Admiral, Mr. Campbell," he said, as he approached.
"Hullo, there!" boomed the Admiral, perfectly at his natural setting, by the water.
"Have we met?" questioned Mr. Campbell, gazing at William.
"Indeed, Mr. Campbell. Do you not remember William Price, from the Thrush?"
Mr. Campbell studied him carefully.
"It is you. What on earth have you been doing with yourself?"
"I'm to captain the Admirable."
"I thought that was what the Admiral was telling me, but I didn't recall your name just then."
This is a bit odd," thought William, He is a changed man. But then...he now has a beautiful fiance, and plenty of money, as well as an abundance of friends, ad no family to care for. I suppose that we have both changed. Farewell to all thoughts of that kinship we once had.
The three walked on a ways, towards the harbor mouth. They spoke of the sea, the one common theme between the three. The Admiral and Campbell had many friends in common, but William should have been left out, so the Admiral kindly maintained the subject.
"I have heard, from my friend, Captain Sommers, that the Admirable is one of the best ships in these parts," spoke Mr. Campbell, as they caught a glimpse of one of the deck hands scuttle by.
"Indeed, I have heard that as well."
"Never liked Sommers," grunted the Admiral. "Too sly, by half. Never felt comfortable with him."
"He is a fine man," Campbell rejoined. "He knows his ships very well, and his cunning is is on of his most admirable traits."
"Cunning...that sort is dangerous, mark me. I am an Admiral, you know, and his upstart-y ways unnerve me. Much too clever. In my day we didn't need that sort of cleverness. We used sound common sense."
"Ah...but Admiral, it is still your day."
"You flatter me, Campbell. Price -- remember this always. Don't compliment a man too much...he'll know that you mean to persuade him. Only a fool accepts compliments without ruffling a few feathers."
"I say, Price, Admiral, you must listen to me, at least a little. I was a sea man, too, before I landed my fortune. Compliments are all very well...and get you places, to be sure..."
"Especially with women. Mrs. Grant was wearing this gown last night, that I should have rather fed to a cow than see worn...ah...Mr. Campbell, have you been down to Robertson's yet?"
"No, Admiral. I arrived quite early this morning. I had wanted to make the party last night, but was held up. You see me without a solid night of sleep, as it is. How is Katherine?"
"Eager to see you, you know. But rather disappointed about your not showing up for last night. Price here had to keep her entertained."
Campbell's eyes were cold gray.
"I'm sure he did an excellent job."
They all walked in silence, for a ways. William gathered that Mr. Campbell was very possessive of his future bride, and hated competition. As they approached the street where the Robertson's lived, although a good ways down it, they turned, intending to make a call. William was eager to see how the spoilt Mr. Campbell acted in the company of Miss Robertson. The Admiral was eager to talk to Captain Robertson. Mr. Campbell just wanted diversion from these two men.
É * É
The three men were in luck. All members of the Robertson family were in, and seated about in the morning light, gaily laughing with themselves. The family members were quite pleased to see their guests, and welcomed them in happily.
On seeing Mr. Campbell, Katherine ran up to him, eyes happily shining. Then. she saw that William stood behind in the doorway, and welcomed him in, as well. The Admiral had already made himself comfortable by Captain Robertson.
Juliana was embroidering, but let her work drop as the dashing young Captain from last night entered the room. Katherine and Campbell took one large seat, so William decided that he might as well sit by her. They talked, with the group, and privately, for a while, but the whole time, William's eyes were on Campbell.
Campbell was acting fiercely possessive of Katherine. If any one talked to her, save her father or mother, he answered for her. Should anyone suggest that they bring out some amusement, he would not allow Katherine to fetch it, but he would not leave his seat either. On top of this, he saw William often looking his way, and Katherine's way, and became all the more fierce.
Katherine noticed his behavior, and frowned. Her love was not acting hi,self. Indeed, he was showing many unattractive traits, and she was not sure that she could handle them all. Like William, she began to doubt whether Mr. Campbell's attitude was entirely human, and maybe a bit more beastlike.
The night, of the day on which Campbell and William had called, found both Miss Robertson's in their Katherine's room, laughing together, over the day's jokes, admiring each other's needle work, and tidying gowns for the next day.
"Katherine...you know, you are engaged. You needn't flaunt in front of Captain Price."
"Julie, why should you ever think that?"
"You do, Kath. I could tell. You were quite normal until he entered, and then you just shone. You must let the lest of us have a chance, as well."
"Silly. I shouldn't have been able to flirt, had I wished to. John..." she stopped.
"I know," whispered Julie. "I had told you not to accept him."
"You were right. I think...I think...that I do not care for him as I once did."
"Return your ring, and apologize, while you have the chance."
"I do not dislike him, though. Julie...you aren't in such a muddle. I think that I shall be happy if I marry him...but I could never be sure...could I?"
"I'm sorry, Kath." Julie lay her dark shiny head on her sister's shoulder, immaculate in a white night gown. "But will you try not to flirt so much? I know that you do not mean it, but you do...and I can get no where with anyone."
"Silly me. I should love to see you happy. But you must recognize, Julie that I do not mean it. There is something in my soul that still harks after every decent looking and admirable man...like Captain Price."
"He is lovely."
"His manners certainly are. He behaved as best he could even with John....acting a fool. I'm happily engaged...I think...and he should have no cause to be jealous." She paused. "Was my unintentional flirtation, this afternoon, so...obvious ?"
" It was most likely just me...I'm nervous. Every aunt and cousin and female relation, when they talk of your engagement says 'Oh, Julie, when are you going to get married...isn't there any man? Your sister has made such a great catch...'. I hate it when people use fish metaphors. I have to live in this stinking fish place, as it is. I wish I was the daughter of a country squire, or someone different."
"Oh, Julie...there you go into one of your fits. Besides...what of that young Lieutenant from the Rascal? You seemed to like him quite well."
"Oh yes," was an answer, said quite dryly. "He ran home as soon as he heard that his cousin had become heiress to her father's estate. They were 'childhood lovers'. Quite handy, wasn't it? The minute she gets a bit of money, he suddenly remembers her. Meanwhile, I'm here."
"So that is why you are jealous over Captain Price?"
"Who said that I was jealous? Just because I noticed that he couldn't keep his eyes off of you and Campbell, and danced with you more than any other woman last night..."
"Oh Julie, dear, don't be angry. I don't mean what I say. I honestly hope that you 'catch' him. I cannot think of anyone nicer for him. He is...the most gentlemanly man I have ever met."
"Puss-Kath, I know. Your smitten dumb."
"Not quite. I have propriety, and I still find him somewhat attractive." She smiled.
"Of course, Kath. Very attractive, after what he was like Today."
"But in all the Yesterdays...he had no competition. A worthy man, a kind and attentive man, and man of fine habits and good company."
"Are we speaking of the same man?" voiced Julie, tossing one of the down pillows from her sister's bed at her.
"Then I may court Captain Price?"
"If he is willing. Otherwise you should look an awful fool."
The pillow landed on Katherine's head, like a hat, set at a jaunty angle.
"Who looks the fool, now?" asked Julie.
A pillow fight ensued, much to the maid's dismay.
É * É
Later that night, after the room had been tidied again, Katherine lay in bed. She thought up a little pray, and whispered it.
"Dear God, Please let me be in the right. Do not ever let me choose the option which will hurt any of my friends or family. Show me the way through this muddle. John is a fool, and Captain Price knows it. I know it...I no longer am sure of my loyalties. And please, help out Julie. She's a good girl, and deserves a husband. Thank you, Amen."
She turned her head to drift off the sleep. Why did Captain Price have to enter her prayers? It was he who had caused all the trouble. All of it. It was all his fault. Everything. Avery little thing. She fell asleep, with these words in her mind, and slept, for a long time, without any dreams.
Katherine and Julie spent the next several days together, without much other company, save various of their father's friends and Mr. Campbell. It was Katherine's hope that this should allow her to make sure that she really did care for Mr. Campbell. It was that of Julie that she might be able to calm her own nerves, which were rather flustered after talking with her sister. Both were very close, but they sensed that both of them admired Captain Price to some extent, and they were eager to retain their friendship, without the company of their bone of contention, the Captain.
When Captain Price was not in the company, nor any other young man of good manner s and easy address, Mr. Campbell was fully charming and pleasant. This charming character was the one that Katherine Robertson loved so well, and was pleased to see that it had not left entirely. However, whenever any single and pleasant young man was in the same room as him, he turned into a beast. Perfectly greedy, defensive and aggressive, without much respect towards breeding, manners or seniority.
One afternoon, Captain Price, Captain Sanders and Mrs. Sanders had come to call, along with Mrs. White, on the Robertsons. Mr. Campbell was not there at the time, so Katherine was feeling a bit neglected, as older friends are bound to leave on feeling, when there is no one special friend along. She then decided, along with Julie, to draw Captain Price aside, and talk of such things as young people enjoy, and not listen to the gossip and sea talk of the old generation.
Katherine was sitting on a settee, along with William, with Juliana on a chair drawn up nearby, when Mr. Campbell was announced in. They all rose to acknowledge him, but they did not change seats. He found a chair by Katherine's other side, but his face was slightly purple, as he eyed William, sitting easily and comfortable beside the glowing Katherine.
She had not been acting quite so gorgeous as she might have, recently, as she remembered his queer and beast-like behavior. However, she was much animated by the agreeable William Price, and the conversation of the Miss Robertsons' with him had been most lively. Therefore, Campbell was insanely jealous, and in quite a rage, though he succeeded quite well in concealing these feelings.
É * É
As all the callers left the Robertson's home, Campbell lingered a bit behind, in all pretense of talking to William. They indeed, did make pleasant conversation for a while, but once the Sanderses and Mrs. White had turned a corner ahead of them, Campbell faced William.
"What on earth do you think you were doing?" he asked.
"I beg you pardon?" spoke William.
"You...her...what are you doing?"
"Do you mean 'is there anything between me and Miss Robertson?' If that is what you are asking, I assure you that there is not. I am not in the habit of courting women who are spoken for." William kept quiet the fact that he was, indeed, not in the habit of courting any women. Most, when they heard of his family, and that he was a working man, would have little to do with him...or at least the very pretty ones. Miss Robertson was a creature of her own sort.
"Are you sure?" Campbell looked relieved.
"Positive," William assured him. "And believe me, I do not blame you for being possessive over Miss Robertson. She is a very lively young woman."
"Yes," muttered Campbell. "Sorry, Price. I've been keyed up lately. Kath can tell, too. Didn't mean any of it."
Campbell's face was still doubtful, and William did not believe him. Also, William was not sure that he didn't admire Miss Robertson, but he promised himself not to get mixed up in this affair. It wouldn't be worth the trouble. He would keep any affections carefully locked away. Besides, his ship would be sailing soon, and he would not remain in this company long, and by the time he returned, Katherine Robertson would be married to Mr. Campbell.
É * É
Later that night, Campbell was at the rooms where his friend Captain Sommers was staying. Sommers was a bit of a dubious man, for his reputation was neither appealing, nor spotless. He was called ambitious by his friends, and sly by his enemies, and he thought himself very capable to look after his own interests. He took an eager interest in Mr. Campbell, who was now quite a successful man, and who had been ambitious, as well, though much friendlier than Sommers.
"When I spoke to Miss Robertson, Katherine the angel, she was wonderfully agreeable, and everything was beautiful. It was eternal springtime. I then needed to leave, and i come back to find that she is making fond eyes at a young upstart ...who was a Lieutenant on the same ship as I was doctor. His first post as an officer. His family is far from agreeable...a dirty lot. And Katherine is acting so friendly towards him. At first i was attracted to Kath's lively character, but now it is a great affliction to me. I cannot be on guard all the time. The sweetness of her flirtatious character has faded."
"Man...pull yourself together. She's just a woman."
"You aren't the one in love with her."
"Women are a pain." Sommers spat into a corner. No cleaning woman or maid had been in the set of rooms recently. Sommers was an excellent cook, and preferred to make his own meals. However, there was none of the 'sailor's cleanliness' about him, and he was far from tidy. He changed the subject.
"I hear the Admirable sets out this week."
"You would choose that ship."
"What is wrong with her. You know as well as I that I tried to get her. Worked hard for that post...and they gave it to a new upstart, a new captain, practically."
"It's that man. Price, he's the one that Katherine courts, when I am not about."
"How I hate that man! That post would have meant a lot to a fellow like me. A lot."
"There must be a way to hoist Price from his position," hinted Campbell.
"There might just be. After all...someone has got to shoulder these charges..." he gestured to a pile of paper on his desk. There were sheets reporting various social crimes there. Sommers had a sort of spy network throughout several ships. Sommers had committed every single crime there, and needed a scapegoat. Young Price would do quite well.
Sommers sighed sadly. Some dreams were just to good to be true, and there was no way that this would be one of them.
William Price put all his doubts behind him, as he went to see The Admirable. She was a trim and pretty ship, kept well repaired, and clean by a tireless crew, who even now were helping her prepare for the upcoming journey.
He was welcomed by the crew, who took him all over the ship, and were all happy with his happiness, as he looked her over. There was nothing to be ashamed of, on the Admirable, and her name seemed to be quite fitting. William was delighted, and asked that he might be able to take her across the harbor. The crew was willing to show her off, and they having, at present, the leisure, they decided that such a trip would not be very inconvenient, so they set about it.
To be sailing again, even if it was only for a short distance, was bliss for William. As much as he loved to play the gentleman, he adored the sea, and, having grown up by it his entire life, was quite at ease on the water. He enjoyed giving commands to all the men, and seeing how they affected the course of the ship. The sails even began to blow a little, as a strong breeze played across the water. He stood on the deck, listening to the water, and to the sea birds, and sighed in absolute happiness. No earthly pleasure could be as great as this...to be on the water...almost as good as walking over it...but gliding over it. He smiled.
On shore a small group of passerbys gathered to watch the ship. She was bound away to the West Indies soon, and would then be gone for a long time, collected goods all throughout the islands there. This little journey around the harbor was an added bonus, for there were no comings or goings today, and the people needed entertainment.
Once on land again, he smiled at himself, thinking of his silly little trip...but now he knew that the Admirable suited him. Such was a good thing, for a friendly ship makes a happy crew , including the captain. William could not wait to be out on the sea once more.
One member of William's crew had not yet come. His Lieutenant, Brayle, had not yet arrived, although he was due any day now. Brayle had been off visiting a friend in the North, and then stopping off at a funeral on the way to Woolwich. Brayle was a good man, and William looked forward to seeing him, as well.
William arrived back at the home of Captain Sanders, and greeted Mrs. White and miss Liark, who were sitting in the parlor, working. He went to his own room, where he pulled out a sheet of paper, and began to write Fanny Bertram. He was happy, and wanted Fanny to receive a happy letter.
I hope that this finds you well. I am in high spirits, and looking forward to the time when I clear harbor and am off on the sea once more. My ship is a lovely one, quite perfect, in fact, I am sure. The crew is even pleasant, and I will be more than content to travel with them. I shall certainly bring back a gift for my favorite sister.
I hope that life in Northampton finds you joyful, as I feel that all should share in the state I am in. I am glad to hear that little Thomas is well, and also baby William. They shall also have gifts from across the sea. I take an eager interest in those boys, especially my little namesake.
The company here in Woolwich is quite wonderful. Captain Sanders and his extended family (for such dwell in this house) are kind folk, and generous as well. We have a nice number of acquaintances, including that of the doctor from the Thrush, Campbell. You met him, as he arrived to examine me shortly after you arrived in Portsmouth, nearly five years ago He is a changed man, not neatly so friendly. He is rather possessive of all he owns...and that is a fair amount, as he has come by a fortune. Would that I were so lucky! But I shall not dwell on that, for I am determined to retain my bliss, and besides, there are a great many men who have never been on the sea, simply because they have had no need to. More's the pity, I say. His betrothed is another one of my acquaintances here. She reminds me a bit, I must admit, of Miss Crawford...intelligent, but a butterfly, so to speak. However, she seems determined to love Campbell alone, and I admire her steadiness, which she tries so to have. In all, the company here is delightful.
....write to me when you have the time, although I shall be leaving before it reaches here, to be sure. Captain Sanders will send on whatever ship is likely to be near me.
Your affectionate brother.
"There," William said to the air. "A nice letter for a nice sister. I had better now attend to my hosts."
The next morning, Mr. Brayle called at the Sanderses' home. He was a fair man, with a smiling face, and serious dark eyes, in spite of his light hair. He wore his clothes very well, and his very air proved that he was of good breeding. He was kind, and friendly, and clearly very grateful that he would soon be on the water. William liked him immediately.
The two men walked down to the harbor, and began to converse, and to meet each other more intimately. William found that Ned Brayle had recently been in Portsmouth, and he asked about his family, if indeed, Brayle had seen them. A curious look passed over Brayle's face.
"Price...I knew a family by that name. Not well, mind you, but I was acquainted with a Miss Susan Price, whom I met at a small dinner party. She was with a Miss Fitzgerald, who was from Northampton as well. Would...is...Susan your sister?"
"Is she fair, and not much taller than my shoulder?"
"Fair yes...as to height...I could not say. But she was charming."
"Did she say how she knew Miss Fitzgerald?"
"Yes...I believe that they had met when Miss Price was visiting her uncle. Yes...now i recall, at Mansfield Park. I then gave a small shout, for I know the place, as well."
"Then she was my sister. My aunt and uncle live at Mansfield."
"Then we are almost neighbors. Forgive my ignorance! Ah...is this our ship?"
The two men just stood and happily stared at her.
"You'll like her."
"It shall be too long until we sail!"
"Aye, indeed, it shall."
They walked on some more, looking at the various ships and such.
"Brayle...are you acquainted with the natives here in Woolwich?"
"Not really," replied he. "As you know, my father refuses to advance me in this profession. I need to create my own friends."
"He does not disinherit you or such?"
Brayle gave a laugh. "What is there to be disinherited from? I've got two older brothers, and a younger one, so we have no shortage of males in the family. Hal is being a good lad and being a minister. Besides, my mother hates change. She likes us all to gather together several times a year."
"Being a minister is not a terrible profession. My cousin is one."
"I've met him several times. A very understanding man. However, I like the sea."
"It is in a man's blood, it seems at times."
"My family has always grown up by the sea. I was expected to earn my way in the world. Luckily, with the help of a few friends, I have earned my way. I just have a family to support as well. And not that of my own creation, either."
"You have done an excellent job of supporting Miss Price," stole in Brayle.
"Ned Brayle! If I didn't know better, I would say that you fancied my sister!"
"Ah...you never can tell. I'll say no more. Besides. When am I to go back to Portsmouth? Not any time soon, so you needn't fear."
"You say that you have only ever met my sister once?"
"No, captain, at least five times."
"It is good, isn't it. But never fear, I shall trip off over the waves like a good lad, and not bother her."
"I don't know," said William, "You are the sort of man that I should like as a brother in law."
"Captain, you ought to watch what you say. I might just hold you up to that."
"I'd love to be a hero, and to sail back from our journey crowned in fame. My family would understand me, and those I admire would look at more, and think, 'there is a man who has done something great for the human race.' Only, I'm afraid that I don't know what I could do to achieve that glory."
"Slight problem, Brayle. Only slight This is going to be an excellent journey, I can feel it in my bones."
"Are you quite sure that it isn't rheumatism?"
É * É
William returned to the home of Captain Sanders rather cheerful. He was even more so as he saw the Captain sitting in his 'library', carving a toy duck for his son.
"Sanders, I quite like Brayle."
Sanders looked up, and smiled. "I'm glad. I liked the look of him, this morning. Some day he'll be a great man."
"Certainly. He even is slightly acquainted with my family. He was very friendly and kind. A sympathetic friend is often a dear one. This voyage will be a success, for sure."
"Glad to hear it. You've been an entertaining and kind guest. And, what's more, as you sail so soon, the Admiral has called on us to ask us to a dinner party in the honor of both you and Mr. Brayle. They met early this morning, and the Admiral took a great fancy to him. Well, are you pleased?"
"Yes, Sanders, quite. You and your wife have been very kind to me, and also the Admiral, and the Robertsons. You have done me a great service by having me here this past week. I've enjoyed it greatly."
"You are welcome to visit us anytime. I had forgotten how pleasant a young face is. Even Mrs. White approves of you."
"Glad to hear it! Well, off to that party then, when the time comes. I'll be sorry to leave your company of friends, Sanders, but ever so grateful for the sea."
"You, too, will make A great captain some day."
"What? Am I not already one?"
William sat down beside his friend, and took up the wooden duck.
"I'll carve young George one to match."
"I knew I liked you, Price. You are a good man."
Captain Sanders was sincere.
Admiral Grant was a moderately rich man. He was not ashamed of the fact that he had needed to earn all of his wealth, and on the contrary, he was proud of the fact. His home was not very beautiful, architecturally, and he had it decorated with style and taste. William was greatly surprised when he entered. The rooms used for the ball were large, and well lit, casting a warm glow over the paintings on the walls, the bits of old figureheads, and the Admiral's collection of full-rigged model ships.
The society was not much less nautical. As the Admiral and Mrs. Grant were sorts of circle leaders, they had a large acquaintance. Mr. Brayle was already present amongst these, being introduced to various people of some note. William was glad to see the Robertsons, as he did not know some of the people who stood about.
"Captain Robertson, Mrs. Robertson, Miss Robertson, and Miss Juliana, I am pleased to see you."
"As we are," boomed the Captain. "Quite a fine little ball here. You leave so soon, my friend! I almost envy you."
"Yes, Captain. Would you introduce me to some of these people? I am guest of honor, but I must admit that I know very few of my fellow guests!"
"The Halfinger came into port this afternoon. Did you not know? Well, as these officers over there haven't been in company for too long, the Admiral increased his guest list."
"Come on, lad. You've only a while more in good company. Let's get you off to enjoy it."
The two men went off to the other side of the room. Katherine and Julie stood aside, and watched the youthful captain leave with their father.
"A shilling that you'll dance with him at least twice," whispered Julie.
"Shush!" Katherine retorted. "Here is Campbell."
Campbell has shown up with Sommers, who looked very sleek and honest. The Admiral was a bit suspicious, but as Sommers was a good friend of one of his friends, he said nothing. Sommers had been invited, on account of Campbell, but his honest appearance was more suspicious than anything else.
The two men approached the Miss Robertsons, and talked with them. Katherine was a bit cold towards Campbell, who was a good bit late, and hadn't arrived at her home in time to escort her to the ball. Therefore, Campbell got into a bit of a temper, and Sommers attempted to look even more responsible. Luckily, though, the Admiral announced that dancing would soon commence, and all else was forgotten in the rush to secure a partner for oneself.
Katherine and Campbell arrived on the dance floor, while Sommers set off on a mission of his own devising. William arrived back with the Robertsons with Mr. Brayle, who offered Juliana a chance to dance. William then wandered about, and found Mrs. White, who was a perfect duck about dancing, and he led the somewhat elderly woman into the set.
While the couples were dancing, Captain Sommers slipped outside, where a few rather scrubby tradesmen were standing.
" Sommers, we've been waitin' for an awful long time, here. It's too cold by 'alf...so, wot's the business?" One of them spoke.
"You know those waterfront robberies?"
"The robberies in them taverns?" a fisherman looked interested.
"Them. And the seduction of that innkeeper's lass? And those gambling debts that made Coward's business fold?"
"Yep," replied the motley crew.
"I think I've found the man to blame for all of them."
"Really?" the first man looked suspicious. "Wot do you want us to do?"
"Swear that it was the man I show you. Say that he threatened you to keep silent. Threatened your kids...that's why you haven't spoken until now. Invent stories to incriminate him." Then, he added, "All the real witnesses are too scared. If all goes well, you'll get paid."
"Sure boss," ventured the dirty fisherman. "We'll do it."
"Good," said Sommers, and reentered the house.
É * É
Campbell had gone off in search of his missing friend, so William ventured to speak to Katherine Robertson.
"Miss Robertson, where has Mr. Campbell gone?"
"Away. Left me with no partner, too."
"That can be remedied." He offered a hand to the damsel in distress. She accepted it, and they stood together while a dance went through the final phases.
"So, you leave quite soon," said Katherine.
"Yes, I do."
"And will be away for quite a while."
"Yes. But I have no definite plans, save that I am going to board the Admirable, and sail her to the West Indies."
"You are not going to stay in Woolwich more, afterwards?"
"I am not sure. I ought to spend time with my family, you know."
"Where do they live?"
"I have a married sister in Northamptonshire."
"I see. So your plans are not definite at all. You might be anywhere."
"True enough. Look! Let's dance now."
They departed. William was proud to lead the red headed woman into the set. She was graceful, and he could not help but envy Campbell. Katherine Robertson was a charming woman, there was no doubt to it.
After the set, Campbell reappeared, and claimed his future bride rather savagely, leaving William alone. However, he saw Brayle and the Admiral in a corner, and he hastened towards them.
"There you are, Price! My guest of honor keeps running about."
"My regrets, Admiral, but I needed to dance with some partnerless ladies."
"Quite the gentleman, I'm sure, Price. Brayle, I was just telling you how chivalrous Price was. A gentleman! Perhaps he does not have a gentleman's education, but his manners are those of a Peer. Yes, sir! Price, you are a trustworthy man. Even more so than Sommers, there. He stands there glowering. He was next in consideration for your position, you know. Rather sore about it. Envies you. And Campbell too." he lowered his voice. "Shame as it is, I think Miss Robertson admires you. Shame to him , anyway. Campbell that is."
William did not know what to say. He admired the fair lady, to be sure, but had never considered that she could admire him in return. Then--surely, a short flirtation could do no harm? A friendly conversation? By the time William would return from his voyage, Katherine would be married. However, he would like it dearly if they could be friends. Perhaps Campbell would be more friendly after his marriage? He hoped so.
At this moment Juliana approached, and reminded William of a promise he had made earlier in the evening. He danced with her, and on completing the set, he came face to face with Katherine.
"Surely you wouldn't dance with me again, before so long a journey?" Her eyes were bright.
"Surely, I would." This was his last chance to ever dance with her before her marriage.
They danced. The dance was woven in and out, back and forth. Katherine smiled, and William remembered the conversation with the Admiral. Too soon the set was over, and the pair turned, laughing, to the supper table. The meal was very pleasant, with sensible yet delicious food. The Robertsons sat nearby the Sanderses. Julie nudged Katherine.
"You owe me a shilling."
Katherine looked embarrassed.
"You are right, Julie," admitted Katherine.
The meal was over, and all the guests rose to move into another room, for sedentary entertainment. William and Brayle helped Julie and Katherine from the table. As the foursome began to enter the next room, the Admiral and Captain Sanders pulled William aside, and looked grave.
"What are you about, boy?" boomed the Admiral.
William was shocked at the Admiral's tone. Katherine dropped from Brayle's arm, and turned, also astonished.
"We have some serious charges, here, Price," spoke Sanders, "I suggest you come into the library and explain yourself."
William was speechless.
Sanders led the shocked William into a comfortably furnished, though small, library. Assembled there were about four tradesmen and a number of men from the party. All looked grave, except Campbell, who seemed to be somewhere between pleased and furious. One of the tradesmen burst forth.
"That's 'im!" he shouted, "I'd know 'im anywhere. 'e couldn't keep me quiet forever!"
The Admiral nodded.
"Now, Price, sit down. You have some serious explaining to do."
Stunned and silent, William sat in one of the comfortable chairs, but he had never felt more uncomfortable in his life.
"Admiral, my good sirs, why do you treat me so?"
The Admiral looked furious, but also a bit sad.
"I believe the question ought to be, why did you treat us so? I trusted you, Price. I'm sorry to see that I was mistaken."
"But what have I done?" burst forth William.
Campbell spoke, his eyes glittering as he thought of how Katherine had spent do much time with this man.
"Price. I knew you so well aboard the Thrush. I cannot believe that you could have changed so much. Why did you not at least confide in me, your friend about what you had done. I am sure that I could have done something for you...but now...you have brought this upon yourself."
"What?" asked William. He was confused and upset.
"Why," there was a malicious sparkle in the clear eyes of Campbell, "You have robbed several waterfront storage houses, pillaged an inn, seduced the innkeeper's daughter, and not paid some serious debts."
"What?!" burst forth William, "I am innocent! He lies!"
The company looked grim.
" William...how could you have deceived us? We have proof that you have done these things...proof uncovered at great cost by Captain Sommers," said Sanders, sadly. "I am fully ashamed that a guest of mine could have acted in this manner."
"I did not do it," said William firmly. "Let me see this proof."
The Admiral gestured to the tradesmen.
"All of these men can swear that you were the one connected with the robberies, and the fisherman there is the brother-in-law to the innkeeper whose home you have wrecked so. He was in the upper-rooms at the time, and can vouch that your voice was heard, and also that you left this handkerchief there."
William recognized the handkerchief. It was one of his from long before his promotion. Likely someone who had known him when little had borrowed it. however, he had no proof to that, and the item had his name on it.
"Then, here we have a statement by the unfortunate girl, who says that her attacker was of your height, shape and coloring. The man also said that his name was William, and that he came from Portsmouth."
William tried to stay calm. "There are other Williams in Portsmouth, Sir. I have at least five others in my acquaintance."
"But they do not own handkerchiefs with the name William Price on them."
"A true enough statement," muttered Sanders, who, although sad and upset was not fully convinced of his guest's evils.
"The other charge," continued the Admiral, "is that you have some serious gaming debts. There is a matter of several hundred pounds to a Mr. Coward of Eastbourne. You signed the receipt William Paris, and left your address as "soon to be on the H.M.S. Admirable". Soon after this affair, Mr. Coward was unable to stay in business, due to the fact that you had not paid him, and also that you had stolen some of the good man's money. The man caught pneumonia in debtor's prison, and his family is left on the hands of hard working relations. That is indirect murder, Price. And a great deal of money gone."
"Admiral, I say that I did not do any of this. Will you not listen to an officer's word?"
"I listened to you before, Price. There is nothing you can do now. Things have run their own course."
"How did you come across these deeds, which you claim I have committed?"
"Captain Sommers, having been tipped by one of these tradesmen, who had seen recognized you, wanted the truth. Such a man as you is not worthy to captain a vessel."
William blanched. So this was what the whole affair was about. He wasn't going to be able to sail. Slowly, he spoke,
"And what is to happen to me?"
"Price, I should rather that this was settled privately than in court. You will be suspended from your duties. You shall not be sailing on the Admirable."
"Great Geysers!," exclaimed Brayle, who hadn't believed a word spoken, so convinced was he that Price was innocent, "You shan't have another man half so decent!"
"No," said the admiral, "I want a man twice as decent. I thereby have had permission to bestow the captain's honors for the Admirable onto Captain Sommers, in reward for his bringing this affair to the light."
Both William and Brayle looked pale. Sommers was the last man in the world either would have liked to see at the helm of the Admirable. Sommers suddenly broke into a grin. He thanked the Admiral, and bowed to the captains in the room. He did not look at William, but if he had, William could have seen the savage delight in his eyes.
The men all rose, and the Admiral dismissed all the men but the tradesmen, Sommers and William. Brayle tried to stay, but the Admiral sent him away. An hour passed while William denied the crimes, and the tradesmen asserted his guilt. The Admiral was convinced. William was sent from the room, and the tradesmen issued out the servants' door, after they had left particulars about themselves with the Admiral.
* É *
When William came from the room, Juliana was singing with a friend at the piano forte. Katherine caught William's eye as he walked to the door, not joining them. She was disturbed and upset. She rose, and followed William, catching his sleeve as he prepared to leave the house.
"Captain Price," she exclaimed, "What is the matter? What did they want you for?"
"Good night, Miss Robertson. All I shall say is that I had a lovely evening of dancing with you, and I shall take my leave."
"But..." she asked, as Juliana, finished with her song, entered behind them, "But...shall I...we...see you again before you sail?"
William suddenly had tears in his eyes, but he managed a cold voice.
"I won't be sailing."
He turned quickly and left. Katherine and Juliana stared after him, speechless. After the Robertson's carriage disappeared, they ran to find Mr. Brayle. He would know what had happened.
Continued in Part 2
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