Love Suffers Long and is Kind
Looking around the room, Frederick was struck at how his life was so changed from his last journey to Plymouth. He had stayed at this very inn, Thank God, not the same room, he thought. It would have been more than he could countenance had that occurred. He looked out on the port. Still as shabby as it ever was, but bustling with occupation. The rumours about Bonaparte were throwing everyone into a right patriotic fervour and ships were being readied in anticipation of war. He had kept account of things through the London Gazette and the Naval Chronicles, that was how he had come to know the Laconia was being taken off ordinary and put back into full commission. While he had little hope of taking her to sea again, he did hope for some command which would take him out of the country and keep him occupied.
Turning from the window and its scenes of dock life, he set to laying out his uniform. The coat needed brushing and to hang the night. Looking at the epaulets, he mused as to how much of his life they represented. He recalled buying the first one. After being wounded in the main action off St Domingo and his promotion, he had been forced to wait nearly a month to get to a port where the long-awaited prize could be purchased. He and Patrick McGillvary had been granted a day of liberty and had made the acquisition of their 'swabs.' As the day and evening had progressed, the number of bottles consumed in wetting the swabs had been lost count of and therefore the walk back to the ship had proven to be something he remembered little about. Two years later, when he had been promoted into the Laconia, a fifth rate, 38-gun frigate, and the rank of full captain, he was entitled to move the epaulet from his left shoulder to his right; then after three years, another had been purchased for his left. He was aware that in a group of officers, the two swabs meant something and now was the time to press his advantage with his brother officer, Admiral Benjamin Locke.
Shaking himself from the memories, he proceeded to lay out all the articles for his dress uniform, the snowy waistcoat and lawn shirt with white neckcloth. The white breeches with gold buttons, the silk stockings and black shoes with silver buckles. Taking the decorative scabbard from the saddle scabbard, he removed the sword carefully. The blade shone in the afternoon light. He felt of the heft of it and how it molded to his hand. Carefully wiping down the blade and hilt, he placed it back in its resting place, and laid the sword upon the bed.
Admiral Locke was in charge of the port of Plymouth and had, in the past, proved to be a valuable acquaintance to Frederick Wentworth. There had been an opportunity to make himself of service to Admiral Locke several years ago and while the Captain loathed pressing repayment, it was his only hope of returning to sea and extricating himself from the situation he had created at Uppercross. Giving a small thought to Uppercross, he quickly put it away from him. He was over fifty miles from the place and not to return for ten days, there was no need to wear himself out agonizing over unchangeable circumstances. Going back to the window, he ran over the plea in his mind and considered all the possible ways that the situation might proceed. After exhausting all the possibilities that came to mind, he thought about his trip to Lyme.
He wished to tell Timothy Harville and James Benwick of his engagement to Louisa Musgrove face to face. He wished them both to attend the wedding, knowing that he could not and had not asked Edward to support such a thing with his presence. His brother had been quite plain in his opinions to do with the notion of marrying one woman when your heart was held by another. It was not that his brother was an extraordinarily romantic man; he himself had planned to wed his wife out of convenience and not love. Edward was a man of great religious sensibilities; he saw it impossible to stay faithful of mind to a wife if one was in love with another woman. His brother had used faithfulness as the chief argument against Frederick's marriage to Louisa, not the fact that she did not own the Captain's heart.
A knock at the door brought him back to the present. It was a note from Admiral Locke's secretary. The Admiral was detained in Sussex, but would be returning by Monday; he would be pleased to see the Captain at ten o'clock that morning. This meant five days of waiting. He had not counted upon such a long time in Plymouth. He had desired an appointment today as requested in the express sent Monday afternoon. There was nothing to be done for it and so he would have to wait and occupy himself as best he could.
After an indifferent meal in the bar-parlour of the inn, Frederick took a brisk turn about the docks, his hope being, that physical activity would lessen the frustration of waiting. As the wind blew sheets of rain over the harbor, he watched some of the ships warping out a mile or so to ride out the squall. Others staying in the port were dropping two, sometimes three mooring lines to hold them fast as the wind whipped the water into a foam. As he took in the scene, he could actually feel the heaving of the decks beneath him, hear the particular sound of the ship's joints creaking, punctuating the wind in the rigging. Turning to begin the soaking walk back to the inn, he took such a vivid imagining as an omen of a return to the sea. Walking by a wooden post, holding the dock planks, he absently gave it a scratch. He knew that his brother would be horrified if he saw such a display of superstition, but it was hard to fight his desperation, a desperation willing to grasp at anything.
Hoping to find a message telling that Admiral Locke was now returned and would be able to see him sooner than Monday, but finding none, he went up to his room to begin spending the night like the ships in the harbor, just waiting out the storm.
Taking notice that the candles had been lit, he proceeded to hang his oilskin and hat, then fetched a towel for them to drip on to. He had brought nothing to amuse himself, he had not planned to be long in Plymouth and was now regretting his lack of planning. Just then a gust of wind slammed into the side of the building and rattled the windows. We're in for a h_lluva blow by the sound and feel of that, he thought. From his window, he had a view of the docks and decided to watch the capers of the storm; he doused the candles and pulled the room's one chair over to begin the show.
It was a nasty squall, but one for which the port had had the entire day to prepare. Only for the occasional freak gust, there was not much that was out of the ordinary for winter weather in Plymouth. Putting his feet on the sill of the window, Frederick commenced leaning the chair on its two back legs. The creaking was the same as that of the ships snugged to the docks and he thought better of it, The last thing I need do is ruin myself by running a chair leg through my backside. Carelessly, pushing the chair back to its usual resting place, he kicked off his boots and lay on the bed. He again went over the speech he would use with Admiral Locke, thinking on all the counter arguments which could be raised, he answered them thoroughly and afterwards felt certain that he would again have a ship. Lying there, staring towards the cracks he knew to be in the plaster of the ceiling, he began to think about the service that he had performed, the service which he hoped would be a boon to him. A service, that at the time, had been anything but a boon.
A few years ago, on the Mediterranean station at Valletta, Malta, the Port Commander, Admiral Benjamin Locke had particularly sought out Captain Wentworth. Other than their short interview where he had presented his books for inspection, the Captain had no direct experience of the Admiral, only knowing that he had just hoisted his flag a few years previous and had recently been sent to this particularly isolated base on the Mediterranean. While the Admiral did have a reputation as a harsh and dictatorial captain, it was difficult to know whether gossip was based on truth or merely the whims of the teller. His reputation for being a 'flogging captain,' Frederick had overlooked in deference to his senior position. There were many who would call Wentworth a prig when it came to flogging, for his not taking the cat out of the bag for months at a time and only then, for the worst of offenses. Not regarding himself a prig, he chose not to regard the Admiral as a flogging dictator.
The Laconia had been in port for several weeks being refitted after an extremely damaging turn on a blockade of Toulon. It had been months of tacking and wearing with no other diversions. A blockade was damaging to not only the ship, but its crew. There had been little communication with the outside world and his men had been nearly gross in their behaviour when the orders to proceed home had come. The orders had included a short run to Malta to deliver dispatches and mail as there were no envoys free to convey them. The weeks in port had been used well, damage to his precious ship had been repaired, his men had cast off their doldrums and in turn, excessive energies, with several liberty days and they were now preparing to return to England, preparing to return home.
Two days before they were to weigh anchor, Admiral Locke had sent a message that he needed to speak with the Captain immediately. The secretary's carefully printed request had merely read an immediate interview was desired. In a personally written note at the bottom, the Admiral had added that this was of a most personal nature. Captain Wentworth had immediately washed, shaved, and had brushed his best coat in anticipation of meeting with the Admiral.
When he had arrived at the Port Admiral's office, he had been ushered in with the greatest of courtesy, not the usual indifferent handling that came with a summons by one's superior. He had been seated in leather wing-chair in the Admiral's inner office, a much more private and intimate affair than the outer business office with its austere green walls and printed pictures of the King and Nelson. This office was smaller, but richly paneled and upholstered. As the Captain had begun his second perusal of the room, the Admiral stepped out of what must be a necessary room as he was drying his hands and face on a hand towel.
"Oh, Captain Wentworth? Please, sit back down, no ceremony today. I am sorry, you have caught me refreshing myself. This blasted heat! We just arrived a few months ago from the Baltic and my family and I are suffering a martyrdom from it." Turning, he tossed the towel back into the little room and closed the door. He walked over and took his coat from a nearby hook and stood before a mirror buttoning, tugging and pulling things into place. Giving a final look to himself, and liking the results, he turned to face Wentworth. Rather than seat himself at the large mahogany desk, he took the wing chair that was the mate to the Captain's.
"I have to thank you for answering my note so promptly, Captain. I know you must be quite scattered, preparing to be away home and all. Please know that I do appreciate this. Would you like a bowl of frozen punch . . . no, better yet . . ." The Admiral rose and stepped to the outer office; Wentworth could hear a murmur of voices, one a bit sharp and the other low. The conversation was not long and then there was the opening and closing of a door. The Admiral stepped back in and seated himself. "I must tell you Captain, you have quite a reputation and that is why I have called you here. I cast about and found that you seem to be the most trustworthy of men and I am in need of such a fellow. I must have someone whose discretion I may trust completely . . ." As he was about to continue, a knock at the door admitted his clerk bearing a tray and two iced tankards. "I find that there is nothing like thoroughly iced sham to cool one on a murderous day such as this." Taking down one of the cans from the tray, he handed it to Wentworth and took the other for himself. He sent the clerk off with the instructions to bring another round when the bell was touched.
The Captain watched as the Admiral took a deep pull of the champagne. Wentworth himself cared little for the drink, iced or otherwise and he was not particularly sweltering; he had been in the Mediterranean for over a year and was somewhat used to the heat. It was only May, but the Admiral had mentioned the Baltic and so that might account for his feeling the temperature more acutely. The Captain took a polite drink and awaited the Admiral's return to the conversation.
Finishing his drink with what seemed to be great satisfaction, the Admiral set the tankard down and began to finish his thought. "You see Captain, as I said earlier, my family and I are just a few months from the Baltic and I find that we have already met with an extreme tragedy." The words had an ominous tone and it was quite obvious to the Captain that Admiral Locke was nearly undone just saying them.
"I am sorry to hear this, sir. I hope that I am able to be of use, especially since you have sought me out personally." Even with the heat and the tankard of champagne in him, the Admiral was pale. The Captain, seeing the man's distress, and being an ordinary fellow with a sympathetic heart, wished to help in whatever way he could.
"Thank you for making yourself so available to me, a stranger. But we are, after all, brother officers and that kinship is what I am counting upon. You see, I find I must trust someone with my most precious of possessions . . . my daughter." The Admiral visibly sagged as he said, 'daughter.'
The Captain was not certain whether it had been the Admiral's tone of voice, or how the statement had been phrased, or perhaps it was his own natural wariness coming into play, but immediately he did not like the turn that things were taking. At that time, he had been reluctant to have any involvement with women at all, much less an admiral's daughter, even in a disinterested way.
The Admiral went on to explain that his seventeen-year-old daughter was with child and must be taken back to an aunt in Cornwall. The vague explanation was not to the Captain's liking, not that he wished more details; he could see the drift of the conversation and he wanted no part of transporting a young girl, in a family way, home to England. The use of a King's ship for such purposes was repellent to him and he felt that he must endeavor to point out to the Admiral other ways to accomplish this delicate, but obviously unavoidable task.
"Surely, sir, there are merchant ships heading home that would be far better . . . far more comfortable to your daughter's needs. On a frigate, there is precious little space and while I would not, in the least, mind giving up my accommodations, there is also the question of a travelling companion and then there are the men themselves, sir. A woman aboard makes the normal operations of a ship impossible." There were other, more dangerous reasons as to why he did not wish a woman aboard the Laconia, but he did not feel it appropriate to point out to the girl's father that though he anticipated no trouble on the sail home, there was still the possibility of engaging the enemy or a chase that might take him hundreds of miles out of the way. Though he might carry an admiral's daughter, his duty to the crown still must come first.
Frederick had thought he had seen a flash of anger in the Admiral's eyes, when it was clear that he would not just mutely agree to transport his daughter. However, he had thought that for only an instant. The Admiral was well within his rights to use his rank over the Captain, and order him to take the girl; Admiral Locke had chosen instead to appeal to Wentworth's sense of honour. Visibly bracing himself, the Admiral had begun to pour out the whole squalid business before him.
"My daughter, Susan is normally very shy, but when we came here, almost immediately she was introduced to a young man. His father has some influence in the affairs of the city and in the course of my taking command of the station, our families were introduced." At this, Admiral Locke had stood and walked away to the windows. He continued, "They took a liking to one another . . . it became clear that she loved him." The Admiral stood silently for a time, obviously collecting his thoughts. "Captain, are you married?"
"No, sir. I am not."
"Then you have no children . . . no children to see used for another's gratification, and then, after they have been sullied . . . tossed aside like so much . . . " The Admiral's voice was choked with emotion. The Captain had been embarrassed by the display. Not so much by the display of the man's feelings, nor even by the terrible shame of the girl's being used in such an infamous way, but by the confidence being placed in him. It had taken great courage on the Admiral's part to lay bare such a wretched family secret. The man continued. "When it was clear that he wanted no more from her, the young man was not satisfied to leave her be . . . his family desires him to marry the daughter of a very high ranking official here on Malta and any breath of scandal will end that hope . . . he started by warning us to keep quiet about the affair, but once it was found that Susan is with child . . . he began to threaten her with physical danger. As a gentleman, I cannot tell you the things he has suggested that he will do to her . . . and the child . . . if word of his indiscretions should come to light." The Admiral turned and touched the bell. In an instant, his secretary entered with two more tankards of champagne. He took the one and indicated the other for Captain Wentworth. The Admiral then asked for some port to be brought, saying he needed something stronger. The secretary quit the room and the two men were silent for a time. "Captain," the Admiral began, "I greatly lament my daughter's foolishness and impropriety in giving herself to this man, but he is a man and she is but a girl. He used her dreadfully and then cast her aside. If that were the worst of it, I could bear the shame. But to think that he wishes her harm . . . that is more than I am able to countenance. Do you see why I am frantic to have her away from here and back to the safety of home?" The pleading in the Admiral's voice was more than Frederick Wentworth or any man with a heart beating in his chest could bear. Despite his personal feelings, the Captain knew that he would take Susan Locke to the antipodes were it necessary to make her safe.
"I wonder if Locke has ever found out what a vacuous and scheming creature his daughter truly is. I doubt that the fellow on Malta used her a bit," Frederick muttered to himself as he rose, and lit a few more candles. Pouring water from the ewer into the basin, untying his neckcloth and unfastening the buttons, he began to prepare for bed. As he dried his face and hands, he continued the thought, "Only God Himself knows whose child that might have been."
For the past years, Frederick had been struck with the contrast between the lovely, shy girl that Admiral Locke counted as his daughter and the girl that had sailed aboard the Laconia over the course of those weeks. When the Captain argued with his sister, and others on the justness of women aboard ships, it was partly his experience with Miss Susan Locke which had cemented his ideas. There were other, more desperate reasons he hated to see a woman on board, but this matter had put him solidly against ladies on ships and had given him the, "lack of comforts" plea that he used so vehemently.
In deference to her sex and need for discretion, he had given up his cabin to her. With a few modifications by Chips, the ship's carpenter, the Captain was still able to make use of his dining table, making it do double tides as his writing desk, this was along with a few of his lockers, but otherwise, he had relegated himself to a small and cramped, canvas-walled cabin off the gun room. While personal comfort was not uppermost in his mind, the comfort and goodwill of his crew was. The girl had been told that she would be very limited as to her movements, particularly on deck. Though she could be called pretty, she was by no means a beauty, but she carried enough charm to be a distraction and he wanted no skylarking or showing out to impress her. That meant one hour of exercise a day upon the quarterdeck, though she could walk freely, with her maid,on the comparative privacy of the gangway.
While things had not been to his liking from the start: too many trunks had been hauled aboard, the companion was not much older than Miss Locke and there had been no one of responsibility to see the girls on board, merely a houseman with a note again thanking the Captain for his liberality. The first few days had lulled the Captain into a belief that he had perhaps been mistaken about the effect that Miss Locke would have on the voyage. She had stayed strictly to her quarters, coming out with her attendant only for the occasional short stroll upon the gangway and the agreed hour upon the quarterdeck. This was fortunate for the peace of a vessel comes from the regularity of the watches, the bells and religiously keeping to the order of the day. When anything out of the ordinary occurs, it is felt throughout the ship, for there are no secrets aboard a man-of-war.
The out of the ordinary occurred upon the Laconia in the middle of the second week of the voyage. The ship's First Officer, Lieutenant James Benwick had been meaning for the bosun, Mr Crafter, show him the wear in the anchor's cable. There was not felt the need and so the cable had not been replaced in Malta, but upon weighing, as it had been stowed in the cable tier; a previously unnoticed cut was found and the bosun had gone to Benwick, requesting he look to see if a repair should be affected. It had been put off the first week in favor of getting under way, but could no longer be shunted aside. Benwick disliked the idea of spending his morning clambering about the cable tier as it was dark, habitually damp and the air was unreasonably foggy; the very reasons which kept most persons of responsibility away from the place, aided those endeavoring to keep things secret. As Mr Crafter and Lt. Benwick had made their way down to the cable tier, they had, at the same time, heard the sounds of a rather passionate exchange. It was not the angry voices of seamen settling a difference, it was the sounds made by a man and a woman locked together in the age old struggle.
Benwick's first thought was that a prostitute had been smuggled aboard before weighing anchor and had been hidden here after the anchor had been catted and the cable stowed. It was not an unknown practice, but one which Captain Wentworth abominated and was known to punish quite severely. James Benwick was a parson's son and while he was not what could be called 'religious' he did have some sensibilities when it came to propriety and women. He had made their presence known, allowing the couple to hopefully straighten whatever was particularly in need, followed by an appearance to demand they answer for their behaviour. Having expected a seaman and a brute from one of the grimier bawdy-houses near the docks, he was shocked beyond speech to find the ship's physician and Miss Locke's maid.
Frederick smiled as he remembered Benwick's astonishment as he had related the incident while they dined together that evening. While neither had been shocked so much by the act, the participants had given the Captain a turn, for the ship's physician was just newly warranted and the Laconia was his first commission; hoping to make the Navy his bread and butter, Mr Hemmings had told Benwick he meant to distinguish himself from the outset of the cruise. Both men had laughed uproariously at the irony of his means of 'distinguishment.'
"Ha, ha, ha, but sir, all jest aside, I am not certain that things went terribly far with the girl and Mr Hemmings. By the time I was able to speak with him about the incident, the young gentlemen of the gun room had thrown the fear of Wentworth in him and it took quite a lot of time to convince the poor creature that you would not be ordering a hundred lashes or more." Taking a last bite of his dinner, James had smiled and said, "One of the little blighters had even hinted that the girl might just be your sister!"
A look of shock came over the Captain's face. "Ahem . . . I hope you disabused him of that notion quickly."
"Yes, sir. I did just that. He is expecting a very harsh punishment, but in speaking with him, I think it was mutual . . . impetuosity that went further than either meant or even thought could happen. That does not excuse Hemmings in the least, but he is a young man that I believe will learn from this."
As he folded his shirt and trousers, Frederick again smiled, thinking about Benwick and his romantic sensibilities. Even in those far gone days, before he had known Fanny Harville, he was enough the sentimentalist to call taking a young woman to the cable tier for an assignation, impetuosity. "Oh, my dear Benwick, lust is lust, no matter what you name it," he said to himself.
"And I must tell you, sir, I have found that, the doctor's . . . examination, aside, Miss Locke's maid is no maid, if you smoke my meaning?" He had smiled under arched brows, knowing that the Captain loved a good word play and Benwick was one of the best.
"Ah! So what we actually have, are two young, adventuresome girls on a sailing holiday, rather than a fearful and shamed young woman being attended by her lady's maid?" The thought that his ship had been used in such a fashion angered Wentworth then and it angered him still. "Surely the Admiral knew nothing of this sorry arrangement, most likely the mother knew . . . mothers always seem to know," he muttered as he finished brushing his teeth.
Turning his thoughts to the present, Frederick pulled back the sheets on the bed, and inspected them; to his surprise, he found them to be freshly laundered. His last sojourn to Plymouth had him sleeping on a mattress with large lumps and a pillow of questionable history. He lay down and settled the covers, looking over to the bed table, he saw that he had forgotten to remove his watch off its fob and rose to fetch it when he heard the bells begin to strike . . . "Five, six, seven," he counted to himself automatically. He had forgotten that Plymouth being a port was nearly the same as being at sea for keeping the time, even the ship's bells and, "All's wells," could be heard playing tag from ship to ship. He laid back down, knowing that the bell was never more than half-an-hour away. Having snuffed all the candles, save one, Frederick drifted back to the conversation all those years ago . . .
"Precisely, sir. When I returned the afore mentioned maid, who, by the way, is a cousin or some such who makes her home with the family . . . where was I? Oh yes, I returned her to her quarters and admonished Miss Locke to keep her under control, I was bombarded with such language concerning my person and allusions to my parentage that I might have been nonplused were it not for the preposterous image they presented . . . two lovely girls with such coarse, and ill-born language spewing forth, it was very sad." There had been genuine pity in his eyes as he had said this.
Benwick and the Captain had finished their meal and were well into a bottle of young port, when the Captain said, "Well, lovely girls or not, I am rather tempted to haul Hemmings and . . . just what is the cousin's name, any way?"
Frederick had not been able to remember what the girl looked like, he doubted he could even put a name to her, when Benwick's voice brought it to him . . .
"Miss Janet, sir" Benwick had told him.
"Yes, Janet. As I said . . . haul Hemmings and Cousin Janet in here tomorrow morning and say the words over them and be done with it. I have Article Two roundly on my side and if he'll not consent, perhaps those hundred lashes are in order!" Finishing off his last glass, he had gone on, "A gentleman would be in here begging to make things right."
"That might very well be true, sir. But, I am not certain that you have the authority, even at sea, to force a marriage involving an underage girl, no matter what has been done to her." Benwick had looked at him sheepishly.
"Then, by Jove, we'll just not make them put their hand to any papers and let them think that they are bound up all legal and tight." Wentworth wanted to punish both Hemmings and the girl, but he thought that the lash was not quite the thing for Hemmings and he could not revoke the Doctor's warrant for that would leave the crew without a medico. As for the girl, he had nothing, other than confinement to use against her.
"I understand you are frustrated, Captain. And while that sounds to be a handsome plan, I fear that it would be worse than forcing a marriage . . . even one that was not legal but performed in good faith. If you say the words, but have them sign nothing, then send them off thinking they are married . . . well, what will most likely happen is that she will move her dunnage to his quarters and then . . . things will begin in earnest." He had given Frederick a look which made his meaning very understandable. "Perhaps you should reconsider the hundred lashes?" A smile in the corners of his mouth had told the Captain he was attempting to force a bit of humour to the circumstances.
The Captain had looked at his First. Benwick's exacting nature, had, at times been a sore trial to the Captain, and the crew. Though, in this case, it had most likely saved him quite a lot of embarrassment. Frederick raised his arm and laid his head upon it, thinking again about Benwick's ways, he wished that he had had James to watch over his antics with Louisa Musgrove. James had kept him from a raging blunder those many years ago, perhaps he could have done the same for him again.
"Michaelson! Bring the coffee now!" He had called for coffee a little more loudly than he normally would, but every possible avenue to resolve the situation had been thwarted and at that moment, Michaelson seemed to be the only person he could count on to do as he was told without the freedom to express an opposing point of view.
Captain Wentworth's steward, Mr Michaelson came bearing the coffee. It was poured and the cups placed before the officers. "Thank you, Michaelson. I assume that Miss Locke and her cousin have finished dinner the same as the officers?" He asked as he took a drink of his coffee.
"No sir, and she made it clear that none of the meals has been to her liking." Michaelson stood, visibly uncomfortable with the question. The Captain looked at his steward; Michaelson had been with him since his days on the Asp, and the seaman's countenance was quite readable by now; there was more to tell, but the man was hesitant to initiate anything.
"Michaelson, just what did Miss Locke and her cousin have for dinner?" The hurriedness with which the arrangements for Miss Locke had been made, precluded much in the way of stores being brought aboard for her and her cousin. That had not been a concern, for the Captain had more than enough laid by to well feed two young girls for a short sail home.
"The same as you, sir. A chicken, sea pie, potatoes, boiled cabbage and an apple tart for a finish. Plus two wines." Michaelson squirmed a bit, knowing that the Captain would not tolerate such rude behaviour. Considering the alternatives, her turning down a decent meal, properly served was insulting. If there had been one thing on which Captain Frederick Wentworth prided himself, it was his ability to offer a good table to a guest and no matter what else he thought of Miss Susan Locke, she was a guest of the ship.
"I see." Turning to Benwick, he asked, "Now be honest, old friend, was this a passable meal or no?" His tone belied ease and curiosity, Benwick knew that his captain was seething at that particular moment and it was in his best interest to be quick with his answer.
"Captain, it was the best meal this commission . . . but I am partial to sea pie," he answered with a low tone.
"Sir, I beg you not think me telling tales, but . . . the food was never touched. She and the cousin got no idea how it all tasted, it was the look of it she detested. Beg pardon sir, but she took one look and hoved it at me!" The man stood mutely.
"All right, Michaelson. I can see that there is more, tell it all and let's be done with this."
"Ahem . . . well, as I say, she hoved a full plate at my head, but in it missing me, sir . . . it plashed all over the facing of your cabinet that Admiral and Mrs Croft took such pains to send you from India. I wiped it as best I was able with the harpies at my back sir, but I'm dreadful afraid that the sea pie is made its way into the inlay work and it will harden to stone before we end this commission and I am able to attend it proper."
Turning onto his side, Frederick yawned and chuckled to himself about the chest. He had ordered it struck into the hold the following morning where some of his other furniture had been stowed, and where Michaelson could properly attend to the sea pie in the inlay work. The irony lay in the fact that the chest itself had not survived a chase through the Sargasso Sea, the monstrously heavy piece had been hoved over the side in an attempt to lighten the ship.
Turning onto his back again, thoughts of the rest of that hellish commission hastened through his mind. A few days later, Benwick had determined to take it upon himself to amuse and distract the young ladies. He could see that they were bored and needed occupation. The Captain had felt that James would be up to the task as there would be no hint of impropriety; Benwick's distaste of them would keep him from temptation and his previously disparaged person would hopefully keep them at bay. It became clear very soon on that discovery of the afore mentioned occupation might, in itself, become an occupation.
The girls had no literary sensibilities, excepting a few gothics Miss Locke had brought for entertainment. After Benwick's perusal of the novels, and his putting down the strong desire to heave them out a nearby scuttle, he knew that any of his attempts to broaden the girls in that regard would be useless. Neither had any talent for cards nor games of any sort. Lacking any musical talent or the appreciation of it left that topic unusable. While the family had travelled widely in the course of the Admiral's career, other than venturing into the arms of her Portuguese suitor, Miss Locke had never taken any interest in her surroundings outside the naval society that any given port might offer. While Benwick generally had a very high regard for women, he had quickly decided that these girls were hopelessly stupid, and that his self chosen task was doomed to failure.
By the time Benwick had washed his hands of the ladies, there was only a sennight left to Plymouth. The Captain's frustration with the circumstances had become quite noticeable in his every action and he was beginning to notice the crew's looks as the tensions mounted hourly. Each day had brought a new restriction. On the first day, the ladies had been removed from the Captain's stores and put on the ship's stores. As that had been a Tuesday, at one o'clock on the afternoon watch, the ladies, (having by now been confined to their quarters), had been served the customary one pound of bread, two pounds of pork and one-half pint of pease each; one concession to their femininity was the substitution of wine for the three-part grog usually served out. Michaelson had reported to the Captain that these had promptly been hoved at his person. The Captain had countered by ordering that the mess was not to be cleared away until an apology was given. As he was forced to use his writing desk in the small fadged cabin next to theirs, he personally heard the complaints of the accommodations, crew and morality of their treatment. Frederick hated to admit to himself, but he still derived a wicked bit of pleasure remembering the tone of the whining.
On the last day, as they had been making ready to dock in Plymouth, leaving all the hullabaloo to Benwick and the day watch, the Captain had neatened his books and dressed in his finest in anticipation of his meeting with the Port Admiral to finish out the commission. The ladies had been informed that they were arrived in Plymouth and to make ready to leave the ship. The gang plank had been laid and the Captain had been ready to escort his charges to their next keeper, the maiden aunt come from Cornwall to see them home.
The trunks had already been carried off and stowed on the carriage; looking to his watch, the Captain had begun pacing with energy as the Port Admiral had sent word that the sooner the captain of the Laconia made his appearance the sooner the Admiral could go home and prepare for a ball his wife was giving. Just as the Captain was about to send Benwick down to help the ladies along, they appeared.
Two more sweet and innocent looking girls he had not seen before. The effect of white muslin and lace was amazing. All the seamen removed their hats and made a bob as the ladies passed by; it was all rather grand, as if Royalty had come to call. Cousin Janet gave a cold nod as she passed him on by, but Miss Locke stopped and gave the Captain the sweetest of curtsies. Demurely raising her eyes to meet his, she said, "Captain Wentworth, I must thank you for bringing my cousin and me safely to England. The voyage was one that I shall never forget. And I must tell you, I am going to tell my father everything that was done to me and perhaps a few things which were not." Her smile widened as she went on, "When I am finished, he will break you and you will be fortunate to pilot a bum boat hauling slush to the chandlers." Batting her eyes, she concluded, "Have I made myself clear, sir?" Dealing what she must have thought to be the coup de graceí, she offered her hand.
As he had gently taken her hand, he had given her his most friendly of smiles coupled with his iciest of tones, and said, "Miss Locke, in all my years of sailing, I have never experienced anything to match this commission. And perhaps you are ignorant of the fact, but each officer aboard keeps a log of the voyage and to break me would require that I face charges. I would welcome such an opportunity as I believe you favoured more than just me with your wretched behaviour. I wish you and your cousin an excellent journey to Cornwall." With that, he had kissed her hand and she had flounced away.
Resting his head on his arms, Frederick yawned and wondered how the rather pleasant, older lady introduced as Aunt Mary had fared. He also thought how Miss Locke must have kept mumchance regarding certain parts of their misadventure, or else her father had chosen not to act; just then. "Either way, I shall find out soon enough." Bringing his arms down and settling down beneath the covers, he turned on his side and as was his habit, fell quickly to sleep.
Anne was busy working on a letter to her father, always a bit of a chore, as there were several particulars she had to be sure to observe. Her writing must be legible and rather large. Sir Walter would only rarely condescend to use his spectacles, and then for only the most important of documents, and only when shut up in his room. Also, she had to write out all of the names of the people she mentioned. He tended to mix up references to initials (M and Mr. M, for instance ... Mary and Mr. Musgrove ... would easily confuse him); many unusual stories had been generated this way; it was far easier to do the extra work in the first place. And then, the paper had to be of the proper sort. Anne had brought along her package of cheap stationery from Bath, and had rather maliciously begun writing her letter on it, seeking to demonstrate her commitment to strict economy. Then she realized it would only reflect badly on Charles, who gave his wife as a generous household allowance for these sorts of things. She began again on some of Mary's lovely stationery:
Uppercross Cottage, Friday, Feb __, 1815
I hope this letter finds you well. By now you should have received the note appraising you of my safe arrival in Uppercross on Tuesday night. I apologize for the delay in writing a more detailed account; I have not had a spare moment until now.
As you might imagine, my journey to Uppercross was difficult, due mostly to the dreadful condition of the roads from so much rain. The fact that we traveled much of that distance at night only made it worse. Mr. Musgrove's men were a godsend; they were very resourceful and capable in handling the horses and the carriage, and in extricating us when we became mired in the mud. We were very nearly overturned at several points; we passed several deserted vehicles which broken shafts or missing wheels. I arrived just before midnight, by the grace of God, exhausted but extremely thankful to be safely here."
Anne laid down her pen, remembering being ushered into the darkened house; she was weary, sore, and terribly hungry. Mary's housekeeper had kindly given her some bread and soup; the rest of the household had retired for the night. She recalled the exquisite feel of the clean, crisp sheets as she slid into bed. I don't think I have ever been so grateful to arrive anywhere in my entire life! The trip had taken twelve agonizing hours.
Anne picked up the pen, and put it down again, thinking over the events of the days which had followed, trying to determine which were the ones that would interest her sister and father. She had awakened late on Wednesday, having practically slept the day away, disoriented, then surprised to find herself at Uppercross. She had then dressed and made her way downstairs, only to find the house empty except for Jemima, the nurserymaid, who was in the kitchen preparing a bite to eat for her two charges.
The most pressing worry of Anne's that morning had been the question of a funeral, but she could see no evidences of mourning in the deserted house. When she asked Jemima about the crepe on Rodgers' hat, the woman had sniffed, and said she didn't rightly know, but she thought that the horrid man had lost his mother a month ago. Rodgers was obviously beneath her touch; she was a little offended at Miss Elliot for asking such a question, but didn't dare say so. Anne resumed writing.
When I received Mary's letter, I was as mystified as you as to the reason for such an urgent summons. I had assumed the worst, perhaps a death in the family, or serious illness. But my fears were short-lived, and I am now a little ashamed of myself for automatically assuming a great tragedy. The Musgroves are preparing for a joyous celebration: a wedding! But I shall tell more about this later in the letter.
When I received Mary's letter, I was as mystified as you as to the reason for such an urgent summons. I had assumed the worst, perhaps a death in the family, or serious illness. But my fears were short-lived, and I am now a little ashamed of myself for automatically assuming a great tragedy. The Musgroves are preparing for a joyous celebration: a wedding! But I shall tell more about this later in the letter.
Anne wanted to see Henrietta herself to learn the details of the wedding before she wrote any more. How very wonderful it was that Dr. Shirley had been able to give over the position to Charles Hatyr so soon! Anne had been invited to the Great House for tea that afternoon; she wanted to hear the whole story and she knew Henrietta would relish telling it, as would any happy bride. She smiled as she took up the pen.
Mary's letter was right, everything is in an uproar! I have been so occupied here at Uppercross Cottage that I have not been able to pay my respects at the Great House, but these days we are too busy to stand upon ceremony. Indeed, I suspect that had I called, no one would have had the time to receive me! Mary tells me she has never seen Uppercross Hall in such a state of frenzied activity! She says that due to some pressing business of the groom's, it was necessary to hold the ceremony within eleven days or put it off for quite some time. Mr. Musgrove wisely decided to proceed with a simple family ceremony, much to Mrs. Musgrove's joy and consternation. She is driven to distraction with all of the preparations, but she is very, very happy.
As it stands today (Friday), there are eight days remaining and the Musgrove women have made a much anticipated trip to _______ to order the wedding clothes. We were kept indoors Wednesday and Thursday as we waited for the condition of the roads to improve, but we were never idle. Mary says that Mrs. Musgrove has pressed every available servant, from the lowest scullery worker to the housekeeper herself into service and I believe she will be hiring many more. I can only tell you what I have heard in passing, for I have hardly spoken with anyone since my arrival, not even Mary, who, as you know, always enjoys telling all the latest news! For the past two days I have taken over the care of Little Charles and Walter, while the nurserymaid is set to some other household tasks up at the Great House. This is a little wearing, for they are very active and I am unused to the antics of boys at the ages of four-and-a-half and two. But it is a very pleasant change for me, so you need not picture me as unhappy or ill-used.
Anne glanced up at the clock; it was almost time to leave. She put her letter aside. Jemima was home now, taking care of the boys with a very good grace. She had been complaining vociferously about having been made to polish every single piece of silver in the Great House, working for that slave-driver, Alice. Jemima was only too happy to return so that Anne could keep her appointment.
But the Great House was strangely quiet when Alice ushered Anne into the parlor. The tea service was set out, as if all the family were expected, but only one person sat on the sofa waiting for Anne.
"Why, Louisa! Good afternoon!" Anne was surprised and pleased to see Louisa Musgrove, especially as she was looking to be in such good health. "You look wonderfully well! I am so glad to see you again." Anne found a seat very near Louisa's and smiled at her in her friendly way. "I do not think we have been together since that dreadful day in Lyme!"
"Hello, Anne. Mother and Henrietta may be some time in coming down; I have been charged with welcoming you. Mother says we are to go ahead with our tea." Louisa spoke gently and quietly, returning Anne's smile. "I am a little tired; would you mind pouring out for us?"
Anne was only too happy to do so, and began talking cheerfully, grateful to be in the company of another adult. "I imagine Henrietta must be in a flutter, with the date for the wedding set so soon, and with so many decisions to make." She handed Louisa her cup. "I have not had the opportunity to speak with her yet; I only hear what Mary says. I think she and your mother have differing ideas from what Mary would like! I ... well, this is a little delicate," she confided, "but please know that I have been attempting to remind her that the bride makes the choices for her own wedding day." She smiled. "And as Mary did have a very lovely, very elegant wedding, everyone else's must pale in comparison. I hope your family does not mind. She does not mean to be critical"
"Oh, no! That is, thank you, Anne." Louisa colored and took a sip of her tea. She had not often sought to converse with Anne in private, she had always thought her a little too quiet. Louisa had preferred lively, spirited conversation, but now she began to wonder if she had been too hasty in forming her opinion. She knew Anne to be a good listener, and as no one (besides Henrietta) had truly listened to her for a very long time, this quality was becoming more precious. "You are very kind. No, Mary was very helpful today when we went to the dressmaker's. She does have very discriminating taste."
Louisa put down her cup. "Mama ordered oh, so many things! We have never had a daughter married from our house and I had no idea so much would be included in a trousseau." She smiled shyly. "I have some of the fabric samples here. Everything was decided so quickly; I cannot remember what was ordered! Most of it will be finished and sent on after the wedding, of course. I am to have the most lovely dress ..."
Anne leaned over to look at the sample Louisa had been fingering. It was a beautiful fawn-colored silk, woven in a very fine end-on-end pattern; it would shimmer and slightly change in hue as it moved. "Is this the fabric? It is very pretty."
"Oh! For my dress? No, I do not think anything is being made up in this one, although I love it dearly. No, Henrietta chose something for her own trousseau in a lilac silk, ah, is it here somewhere? I cannot tell." Louisa frowned over the sample cards spread beside her on the sofa. "And because we would receive a discount in price if we ordered a large volume of that particular silk, it was decided that my wedding dress would be of the same fabric. The dresses themselves are in a different style. And I do like lilac, too." But she continued to stroke the fawn silk in her hand.
"Your ..." Wedding Dress? Anne's words stuck in her throat.
Louisa's shining eyes met hers and she smiled at Anne's reaction. "It does seem incredible, doesn't it? Even I have had trouble believing it! Until today, when we placed that enormous order ..."
Anne swallowed. "Incredible ... yes."
Louisa looked down at the fabric she was holding. "Mama and Henrietta have made most of the choices; I am such a goose! I cannot think of anything!" She smiled confidingly at Anne. "Before the accid ..., well, before Lyme, I would have been very annoyed. After all, I didn't even choose my own wedding gown ... but now ... I don't mind!" She almost hugged herself for joy. "Oh Anne!" Louisa's eyes filled with tears, her cheeks were delicately flushed. She was ready to burst with happiness, but no one had taken the time to let her speak of it. Now here was a listener, one who was so sympathetic and kind, and who did not interrupt, or speak to her as if she were a child. Politeness and propriety were forgotten; Louisa's words poured out from her overflowing heart. "Anne, he came back for me!"
"He ... he ... did? I mean, yes, of course he did." Anne's heart had skipped a beat; she struggled to comprehend the meaning behind Louisa's references to the wedding dress and to he. Fear and despair fought desperately to overwhelm her heart.
Louisa looked down at her lap again. Anne noticed she was trembling. Anne trembled, too, but not from happiness as Louisa did. "Anne, he wants me ... he does! I ... well, I was not exactly sure before, but I am now! You remember when he first came, in November; he laughed and joked with me so much." Her blush became deeper. "He soundedi like he was in love with me, and we, well, we flirted shamefully! But I was never certain he was serious in his attachment to me. And after the ... foolish ... oh, that stupid accident of mine ... I thought I might never see him again and ..." She wiped away a tear with a shaking hand.
Anne could not tear her gaze away from Louisa's beautiful face, shining with love for the man who had returned for her.
"But when he came back, he was not laughing any more. When Papa brought him in to me, he was so serious in his manner! I knew then that he truly loved me ... and that he meant it when he said he was mine if I wanted him. If I wanted him!" Her face was glowing with happiness. "Of course I wanted him! I have been in a daze, unable to think or feel at all, but now I find I can hardly think of anything or anyone else but him!"
Anne could not trust herself to say a word.
Louisa put both hands up to her cheeks. "Oh my, listen to me run on! I haven't said so much at one time for months and months! I am so sorry, Anne! You have been very kind to listen to me." Her smile trembled a little. "May I ... show you something?"
"Yes, of course," Anne managed.
"This has been my task, these past few days while we have been waiting for the roads to dry. Papa and Charles will ride out to deliver them to the family tomorrow, although there is no real need. The news has spread like wildfire." She held out a gilt-edged invitation card. "I have always enjoyed writing; it has taken me a long time to complete each one. I am glad this will be a small wedding, for it was not an overwhelming chore! This one has a tiny mistake. I have kept it here in my pocket to remind me that all this is real. Do you see? His name, here, and mine."
Anne took the card, the invitation to the marriage of Captain Frederick Wentworth. She stared at it. All the names written on it, save his, were wrong; the date was at least eight years too late! She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Once, when she was little, she had crept out onto the landing at Kellynch during a lavish Assembly held by her parents. It was quite late, she had meant only to get a glass of water and to take a tiny peek at the elegantly attired ladies and gentlemen below, but she had been overwhelmed by the magnificence of what she saw from her perch above the entry hall. Lying down so as not to be noticed, she had slid closer and closer to the edge to see more, unaware of the precarious position of her glass. It tipped and rolled over the edge, much to her horror. Now, holding this card, she felt again the anguish of helplessly watching that glass slowly fall to the marble floor below and shatter into countless pieces. She could feel her heart dropping, cracking, breaking apart ...
Nevertheless, Anne fought to keep her countenance composed and her heartache hidden. She turned the card over to hide the names of the Musgrove family from her tear-filled eyes. But here, written over and over in varying styles, was another name: Louisa Isobel Wentworth. Louisa Wentworth. Louisa I. Wentworth. Mrs. Frederick Wentworth.
"Oh!" Louisa smiled foolishly and blushed a little. "I have been practicing writing out my married name. It looks so grand! I do not feel so! I am not worthy of such a beautiful name." Anne smiled as best she could and returned the invitation. Louisa was obviously besotted with her affianced husband, as well she should be. As was I.
She knew she should say something kind; she did not mean to be rude to Louisa. "I ... have always been fond of ... the shape of the letter 'W' myself. It would be nice to have that letter in one's name. You do have a lovely hand, Louisa." As Frederick's fiance, Anne had practiced, too, covering pages with variations of Anne Elizabeth Wentworth. How could she blame Louisa for loving him? For being pleased and proud to become his wife?
Louisa leaned back against the cushion of the sofa, closing her eyes and holding the card to her heart. "Louisa," Anne leaned foreword and spoke quietly. "Louisa, I do believe you are rather tired. Your shopping trip this morning may have taken more of your strength than you realise. I will go now."
Louisa opened her eyes. "Yes ... but I do not mean ..." She caught the compassionate look in Anne's eyes. "Thank you, Anne. You are right; I am tired."
"I ... wish you joy, Louisa." Anne's voice broke a little, but she spoke sincerely. "You are marrying a wonderful man. Please give my regards to your mother and sister. I will call again when it is more convenient. Good day." Somehow she managed to rise gracefully, walk across the parlor floor and out into the entry hall, collect her things, and open the main door to let herself out. She calmly made her way down the stone path in the direction of Uppercross Cottage. All at once she began to run.
Oh God, help me! It has happened! I knew it would! I knew it! Frederick is marrying Louisa! The tears she had held back now flowed unhindered. She left the road and headed out across the fields. I do not care about the mud! I do not care about the cold! If only I could become so cold and numb that I would never feel anything again! She stumbled across the uneven ground, not caring where she went. She never paused to look back, until at last she heard a voice calling her.
"Anne! Hey there, Anne!" She turned around. Charles Musgrove's cheerful voice shouted out. "Anne!" Oh no! Charles! He had been walking in the vicinity of the Great House; now he waved and came directly toward her. Anne hastily dried her eyes and waited for him to reach her.
"There you are, Anne! Mary sent me to fetch you back home." He slowed his pace as he neared, in order to catch his breath. "Whatever are you doing out here?"
Anne stood quietly, fighting to control her emotions. "It was a little ... stuffy ... in the parlor, Charles. I needed some air. I will be better in a moment."
"Anne?" Charles had come up to her now and was looking at her inquiringly. She had averted her face, but she knew she could not hide her red eyes or husky voice for long. "Anne, are you all right?"
"Yes, Charles. I'm fine." She gave him a pathetic little smile. "I had a nice visit with Louisa ... and ... it is just that I find ... that ... weddings make me cry, sometimes. It is very silly." She wiped her eyes again.
"Ah ... oh." Charles was a little taken aback. He had never realised that hearing about a wedding might be difficult for a still-unmarried woman. After all, Anne could hardly be considered an old maid or a spinster, could she? So what reason did she have to be sad? He offered her his arm and turned toward home, deciding that she needed cheering up.
"Well, you know, Anne, I've been thinking. We've got to beat the bushes around here and flush you out a husband, eh?"
Anne gave him no answer, but Charles never needed encouragement. "Humph! It's just that the selection in these parts has never been very ... abundant, has it? Let me see." He thought a while as he strode along; then he brightened. "Say! I know! Old Cousin Harry! He's, ah, some sort of third or fourth cousin several times removed; farms a parcel for us down by the old Hanford estate. He's on the lookout for another wife; lost his second last fall."
Charles grinned mischievously at Anne as he led her around a marshy patch of ground. She looked back at him blankly. "Yes! I believe you would do quite well together! He's very like that Jack Sprat fellow with the fat wife -- I'm rather a dab hand at nursery rhymes these days, you know -- ah, but in the reverse, for you are the one who would eat no fat; old Harry must be two or three of you put together!" They had come to a stile; he broke off speaking only long enough to help her over it. "Or ... is Jack Sprat the one who kept his wife in the pumpkin shell?" Charles frowned. "No, that was a blighter named Peter."
Anne choked as Charles continued gaily on. "Well, anyway, old Harry looks rather like a pumpkin, around the middle, you know. Plus, his face has those whaddayacallit, you know, those warty-looking bumps pumpkins sometimes have ..." He gave a sideways glance at his sister-in-law. She was chuckling in spite of herself.
"And then, there's the name: you would be 'Mrs. Harry Stickleweed'! Although I believe his given name is Henry, but he never goes by it!" Charles was laughing at his own joke, too. They were nearly at the back door of the cottage by this time, having cut across the fields. "Well ... maybe not, Anne, eh? I'll keep on the lookout for somebody else. I mean, can you just hear old Cousin Harry's name being announced when he comes to ask for your hand? Your father would pop all the buttons on his waistcoat!"
"Charles! You are an abominable tease! Poor ... Mr. ... Stickleweed!" Anne could barely say the name without laughing herself. Crying and now laughing; I am a hopeless wreck today!
Mary had a 'hopeless wreck' of another sort spread out in the dining room.
"Anne, dear, there you are! My, we have had such a time today! Oh, do you want any tea? Fix yourself a cup; everything is over there." She waved her hand in the direction of the sideboard. "Well!" Mary was cheerful this afternoon and all was right in the world. The shopping expedition had been successful in every way. The dressmaker had been a little in awe of so many fine ladies (and one of them an Elliot!), and of the size of the order they had placed, and she had had the good sense to show it. Mary went on to explain that she had been able to order a silk gown for herself, and very inexpensively, too. Anne listened with amusement as her sister talked on. She never said, but Anne knew that here was another use for that lilac silk!
Bus as Mary chatted on about ribbons and trim and shoes, a new problem occurred to Anne. She had brought nothing appropriate to wear. Except my black silk, which was supposed to be for the 'funeral'! I would never wear it to a wedding! Well, perhaps to this wedding, I should, but ... no. I am not mourning the death of a person, but that of a hope from long ago ... and they are not at all the same.
"Anne, why do you have that expression on your face? I do believe you have not heard a word I have been saying!"
"I am sorry, Mary. I have been quite distracted with my thoughts. Please continue."
"Well!" Mary gave her sister a reproachful look. "As I was saying, I had placed an order for this blue gown several weeks ago; it will be something to wear when we visit Father in Bath this spring. But the Musgroves have so overwhelmed the district with their needs for the wedding that I am unable to have it completed when it was promised, which was to be Friday next. As it turns out, it would have been in time for the wedding. I was quite distressed about it, after all, what is the use of having a lovely dress like that delivered after the occasion for which it would be absolutely perfect is past?"
Anne listened carefully; she had a sinking feeling that she would be involved in this business about the dress somehow. Mary took a sip of her tea and smiled at her sister. "And then I had an idea!" She motioned to the dining table and the pile of cerulean fabric. "This is my dress ... and we are going to finish it ourselves! Isn't that clever of me?"
Anne stared at the wad of fabric pieces. "But Mary! How can we? We have never made a dress!"
"Oh, I know that! But you do such fine needlework, dear. And look," Mary triumphantly held up the bodice; "this has already been finished; the sleeves have been set and basted into position. We do up a few seams here and there, attach the skirt, and hem it up. What could be easier?"
Anne could think of quite a few things, but she said nothing.
"See? Here is the thread, and the buttons ... and Mrs. Dunthorpe was kind enough to draw out a diagram showing how the pieces of the skirt fit together. They are all marked with chalk, so how could you go wrong? We should be finished by tomorrow or Monday."
"I am not so sure, Mary." Anne dubiously sorted through the pieces on the table. The intricate finish work on the bodice had been completed; that was a relief. She turned it to the underside, peeled back the lining, and groaned. French seams, which would double the work. That meant the fabric probably frayed easily. And why did Mary have to choose such a fine, lightweight silk? I have stitched edging on cotton lawn handkerchiefs or on table linen, not on fabric like this! And there are so many buttons; it will take hours just to do the buttonholes!
Anne sighed and put everything back on the table. She smiled pleasantly at Mary, and said, meaningfully, "Well, Sister, we shall certainly shall be busy." She wandered over to the sideboard and served herself a piece of cake. But why do I have the impression that I am the one who will do most of this work? Because that is what invariably happens when my sister begins to call me 'dear'!
Later that night, just before retiring, Anne sat looking over the letter she had started earlier. She had put off finishing it as long as she could, but it must be done now, or not at all. Anne shook her head as she read the last sentence she had written:
'But it is a very pleasant change for me, so you need not picture me as unhappy, or ill-used.'
At that moment, Anne felt she was both! The burden of a large, complicated sewing project. Caring for Little Charles and Walter. Keeping composed and pleasant while helping to prepare for Frederick Wentworth's wedding. But would I rather be in Bath? No indeed!
Her candle was fairly low, it was time to finish, and she did so with far fewer words than she had planned when she thought the wedding was Henrietta's. Why did no one tell me whose wedding it was? Of course I assumed ... however ... I was wrong. Now I know ... and my carefully cherished hope will finally die! I shall tell Father and Elizabeth ... and they will gloat over the news that a man who had once desired my hand is now making an alliance with ' the farmer's daughter' ... and then it will be forgotten by them.
Anne wrote quickly and decisively.
Later this afternoon (after I had already begun this letter), I was at last able to pay my respects at the Great House, where I had a nice visit with the bride, Louisa Musgrove. She will be marrying Captain Frederick Wentworth on Saturday next. You may remember that he is Admiral Croft's brother-in-law; he and Louisa became acquainted in November when he came for a visit. Louisa has recovered very well from her fall at Lyme and looks quite beautiful. She will make him a lovely wife. I do not know of their future plans. I am sure the Musgroves and the Crofts are hoping they will settle in this area.
Since there is so much to be done, you may expect me to remain here for at least another week, and very possibly two. I hope you are enjoying Sir Lucas' company, Father. The timing of his visit was excellent, was it not? We are all well here, and send our kind regards.
Your Loving Daughter,
As Frederick came over the rise, to the top of the Heights, he turned his horse to take a look back towards the Eddystone Lighthouse. He had not seen it for most of his ride up into the hills, but now it could be clearly seen the fourteen miles out. The fog which had obscured his view earlier had lifted, though the high clouds still blocked the sun. It was a damp and dismal day, one perfect for waiting and thinking and regretting. Dismounting, he took the skin of wine he had brought and dropped the reins so the horse could range free. There was no danger of her running off and leaving as she knew him to have a pocket full of sweets; her greed would keep her quite hobbled.
Sighing heavily as he sat on a large, wet boulder, he took a long pull of the wine; taking cloth wrapped pieces of cheese and bread out of his oilskin pocket, he began to eat. As he took his simple meal, his mind wandered in many of the same directions it had gone the past two days. Admiral Locke being detained in Sussex had played havoc with Frederick's peace. The absence had left too much time to think and ponder his situations. Too much time to relive the mistakes of the past and dread the future that he was creating for himself. Not that he would have had less time to ruminate, but had he seen Locke on Wednesday, as he had hoped, he would surely have more to look forward on rather than back. Making matters worse was the fact there were still two more days until the appointed meeting.
He had begun coming up to the Heights on Wednesday afternoon, having become bored in his room at the inn. Tuesday night there had been a horrific storm and it had left everything dark, and sodden, but that had only fit the Captain's mood.
When he had first thought about his circumstances, he was angry, angry beyond reason. He was angry with Louisa for her injuries, angry with Mr Musgrove for forcing him to engage his daughter, and angry with himself for behaving in a manner which had brought about the expectations in which he now found himself ensnared. As the days had gone by, he had become more reasonable. There was now no anger towards Louisa, she had not intended to do herself harm in her foolish behaviour. Behaviour that he had encouraged. There was no anger with the Musgroves, they were merely seeking the best for their daughter and he could not fault them that. But, no matter how he would try, he could not shake the anger with himself. He had caused all of this and now must pay.
Watching a sloop navigate the chops, then catch the stiff breeze that was stirring, he found himself longing to be aboard her. This was not the first time in the past days that he had desired the freedom jumping a ship would afford him. He had walked the docks and gone so far as to ascertain which of the merchantmen were weighing soon and what their destinations might be. If he were to do such an abhorrent thing, he would sign onto the Dutch merchantman, the Van Duyn, it was headed to Nova Scotia, by way of Boston. From all his knowledge of the Canadian Territories, there was enough expansion, enough land and so many people coming to the country that he could be effectively lost. He could resign his commission; he had more than enough money to live out his days on; find a smaller settlement in one of the inland regions; his father had been in trade, surely some of that was in his blood. He could begin to build a life and then write Anne. He could beg her to come and be with him. It would take time, a year or two, perhaps more, but even while waiting he could keep account of her by way of his sister and the Admiral; casual inquires about a mutual acquaintance would not be suspected. Yes, it would take much time, but it could be done with planning and hard work.
Slowly folding the cloths from his meal, he remarked aloud, "You are a scrub, Frederick." He had gone over and over this same ground before. "The more you think on this, the more it proves what a reprobate you are." He had taken to talking aloud to himself when alone. Hearing his own words made the thoughts behind them sharp and piercing, they cut through to his senses and made him see that he had chosen a way and now must stay to it.
The order of his thought had also, by now, become quite a habit. The ship would perhaps change or its destination, but the remaining thoughts always stayed the same and came in the same progression. It was now that his thoughts would turn to Louisa.
Since the engagement and its announcement, she had taken on the role of a girl to be married. Where in their earlier acquaintance, she had been flirtatious and silly, she now was loving and showed concern for his well-being. As when he had left Uppercross for Plymouth after the family breakfast early Tuesday morning.
He had expressed his farewells to the combined Musgrove-Hayter clan and gone to the door in leaving. Louisa had followed him. Dreading a goodbye from her, he had steeled himself to be aloof. A serving girl had brought his coat and as she had begun to help him with it, Louisa had taken it, thanked the girl, and dismissed her. Holding up the coat, so that he could slide in his arms, she had asked if he was certain to be warm enough, that the rain was very cold that particular morning. He had assured her that he had dressed warmly. She had then expressed concern that the coat might not keep him dry enough. Telling her that he wore a coat of the same material aboard the ship and that it did its duty well enough, and that it would do as well on land, she had relented. Seeing the concern in her eyes, he had softened, he could not deliberately leave her in fear for him.
"Louisa, I have spent the better part of my life in weather such as this, mostly worse." He put himself to buttoning the coat, "Besides that, I do not have heaving decks beneath my feet in Somerset." Thinking that this would assuage her obvious anxiety, he prepared to don his hat and go out.
"But on a ship, there are no horses to shy and throw you in a ditch. Could you please stay and give the rain an hour or so to ease?" Her look had been hope and worry. He could not stay, but he also could not dislike this girl. In proposing to her, he had granted her an allowance to care for him and now, she was determined to carry it out.
"You are right, I hadn't a horse to contend with on board the Laconia, but I promise to be quite careful and remain upright and out of ditches." Putting himself to pulling on his gloves, he prepared to go.
"Frederick . . . I will miss you." She was still hesitant to call him by his Christian name and she still coloured a bit when doing so. Her words had been simple, there was no plea for a response in her voice.
He thought of saying the same, but he knew it would be a lie. She would never know that, but the effect would be to draw her to him even more. "I shall return soon, Thursday next. Good bye, Louisa."
As he had turned to go, she had taken hold of his arm and gently pulled him back. Laying her hand lightly on his cheek, she had kissed his other and that was all. She had not demanded a show from him, she had done everything.
A rustling near the doorway had betrayed a spy just then; the youngest Musgrove boy, Harry, had been watching their exchange and had found his sister's behaviour disgusting, "Mama! Louisa kissed the Captain!" he had cried. Haring out of reach of either of them, he had taken refuge in the dining room where the family was still gathered over coffee and tea. As awkward as it had all been, he could not help himself. He had smiled and patted Louisa's arm as he had left out the door.
"I cannot dislike her, if only I could dislike her family! They treat me as a son already. Blast you, Dick, why did you have to cop it? At least then, I could have someone to hate!" Jamming the cloths into his now empty pocket, he rose and began to walk. Carefully picking his way through the sodden hillocks of grass, rather deep plashes and large stones strewn over the landscape, he soon noticed that his horse had wandered back and was taking an interest in his movements. The mare followed and nudged him in the back, demanding a sweet. Reaching into his other pocket, he removed the paper twist, opening it, he pulled out several of the sweets, taking one for himself, he handed the rest to the impatient animal. Nodding her head as she chewed, she bumped his shoulder. "Yes, you would have hated him too. He was about as worthless as one can be without being knocked on the head. No, girl. Midshipman, Richard Musgrove was worse, once over the side, the dead do not make the trouble he did." Not being philosophically minded, and seeing that she was to have no more sweets, the horse wandered off again to find some grass to graze.
The wind was stirring and rain had turned to a thin mist, now playing upon Frederick's face. The lighthouse had disappeared in a quickly moving bank of fog. As the wind blew his oilskin about and the clouds dropped, he felt completely alone. It was not a feeling he cared for as he was not solitary by nature, he liked good company. That was what vexed him so about the Musgroves.
When he had first come to Kellynch Hall the previous autumn, they had opened their home and themselves to him without reservation. They had not been exactly strangers. They had met years before in the course of the Captain being their son's commanding officer aboard the Laconia. But, as the Captain had met hundreds of mothers, father, sisters, brothers, wives and children over the course of his career, he had no perfect knowledge of the Musgroves even after being invited to their home. Mrs Musgrove had been the one to speak of the connection. In the course of the evening, he had taken pains to speak as amiably of their dead son as possible, seeing that the mother showed a great love for the fellow. Thinking of Dick Musgrove brought about another vexing point. He was just newly engaged to Louisa, and Mr Musgrove had already taken him into an extraordinarily delicate family confidence.
At the family breakfast, Frederick had found himself in the presence of Miss Arabella Musgrove. It was by her innocent desire for a story that he knew that Louisa was no longer able to read. Miss Arabella was rather smitten with the Captain as very young ladies are wont to be with handsome, older gentlemen. He was quite different looking than the Musgrove and Hayter men, as he was much taller and somewhat slender in comparison with her father and brothers.
She had come and stood silently by his chair for a time, studying him, working up the courage to speak. At last, she began, "My brother Charlth theth that you thail a thip and that you find pritheth. What must you do to win the pritheth, thir?" The question had put him back for a moment. Her impediment made understanding a bit difficult, but once that was overcome, he was left with the very baffling question. How does one make such a complicated process, which keeps men risking their lives year after year, understandable to a very young child?
"Well, Miss Arabella. I sail about on the sea and look for enemy ships, and when I find one, I do my best to take it from them and then give it to other men who sell it and give me some of the money. The money I receive is my prize."
Arabella had looked terribly disappointed. Money held no great value to her, she felt sorry that he did not find dolls and toys like the new pull-horse that her father had brought her when he had returned from Taunton. Another thought had intruded on her sympathy for the Captain. "You are given money for taking away a boat?"
He noticed that she began to speak of a boat, not a thip. "Yes, that is right. They give me some of the money from selling them." Frederick loved the look of vexation on the girl's face, he could see that she was puzzling out something and was curious to hear what it might be.
"I do not think that quite right!" she declared in a firm voice.
This at first surprised him and then this bothered him. It seemed a judgement upon his whole of living, but he was determined to know her reason for such a statement. "And why do you think it wrong, Miss Arabella?"
"Well, if I take that which duth not belong to me, I have to give it back and tell that I am thorry and will never do it again! Mama thayth that thou thalt not thteal!" She had struggled to be clear, but her tone was firm and her look was one of indignation to see that a grown man would be so ignorant of simple, basic fact.
Frederick knew that there was no argument for the little girl's words. Hers were, of course, the ideas of a child. There were adult realities of war and national sovereignty that would be lost upon a four-year-old mind, but he liked her resoluteness and firmness of opinion. It seems to be a family trait, he thought ironically.
All he could think to say, was, "Perhaps it would make you feel better to know that I do share the money with my crew?" He looked at her with a bit of amusement, wondering what she might have to say.
She thought long on this new point, but all she could manage was a firm, "Oh."
Taking advantage of the quietness of the corner, Arabella stood, carefully pondering this man who admitted to taking things and being rewarded for it, as he sat, pondering what he could say to further redeem himself in her eyes. Mr Musgrove had brought things to a close when he found them and sent Arabella to her mother.
"I heard some of your conversation with Arabella. She is much too bright for so young." Mr Musgrove came into the corner of the room where the Captain was seated. He sat heavily in a nearby chair. The morning being so wet and cold had stirred the older man's gout and he was using a cane to help himself along. Calling for one of the serving girls, he asked her to bring them both coffee and turned back to the Captain. "She is very bright. Not much like her father."
It was a statement which could not be answered. Frederick wondered what he could possibly mean. While he had never found Mr Musgrove to be a wit, the gentleman was keen enough to manage an estate the size of Uppercross, and do it very well by all appearances. "She is quite conversant for, how old did you say? Four?"
Nodding, Mr Musgrove said, "Yes, four. Five come next January. No . . . she fortunately takes after neither her mother or father." By his lowered tone and furtive look, Frederick could see that Mr Musgrove was about to say something quite out of the ordinary. Something which he now knew to be terribly confidential.
As he was about to speak, the coffee was brought and the confidence remained untold while the girl poured and handed the cups round. Was there anything else the gentlemen cared for? Could she bring a stool for the Master's gouty leg? It would be no trouble. Mr Mugrove dealt with the girl in an unhurried and kind manner, so that they were soon alone again.
"As I said, Arabella takes after neither her mother or father. It was difficult to realise that my son was such a profligate. But, you would already know that, Captain. Wouldn't you?" Mr Musgrove looked over his cup as he sipped his coffee.
As the Captain looked at Mr Mugrove, he realised that the elder Musgroves were obviously not her parents, but that she was their granddaughter, obviously a natural granddaughter. He thought, Surely, he cannot mean, Charles? Charles is a bit dithering, but certainly not a profligate. And why would I know anything? He was not certain what he should say. It would be presumptuous to pursue an identity, though it was Mr Musgrove who brought the subject to the fore. "Pardon me for sounding thickheaded, sir. I do not understand your meaning," he said simply. It left things open for an advance or a retreat, should Mr Musgrove think better of what he had just said.
"Arabella is Richard's daughter." The man's tone as he said the words, was dull and pained. When the topic of Dick Musgrove had been spoken of earlier in the acquaintance, it had been Mrs Musgrove who had spoken so lovingly of her son. Mr Musgrove had been quiet, but with not so much as a look which would lead a person to think there was an ill-feeling on the part of the man's father. Doing some quick mental calculations, the Captain also realised that Dick Musgrove would have only been barely seventeen when the girl had come into the world.
Dick Musgrove had been under the Captain's care early in the boy's sixteenth year . He had been taken aboard the Laconia at Gibraltar sometime in January or February. And Captain Wentworth had only taken him on because there had been a glowing recommendation from his previous commander, Captain Trencher. Wentworth should have suspected something, knowing Blue Light Trencher's reputation. Captain Ernest Trencher was known for issuing Bibles, bought with his own money, to the entire crew, paying for pamphlets and tracts which made their way into the men's hammocks, and for putting off those found to be poxed. Such was Dick Musgrove. While these things of themselves were not wicked, to Frederick's mind, putting off a good for nothing scrub, poxed into the bargain, and then writing a recommendation to fool the next officer into thinking the man able, made all his other actions a complete sham.
It had taken only days for Captain Wentworth to find Midshipman Musgrove not only unfit for any occupation aboard ship, much less aspirations to officer, but that he was plainly a disagreeable human being. While there could be some expectation of him altering with age, it would certainly not be for the better and within a week, the Captain was making plans to rid himself of Mr Musgrove. It had taken much time for such an opportunity to present itself, but, six months later, when it had, it had been absurdly simple and quickly done.
Upon the end of three days of refitting, provisioning and liberty in Port Mahon on Minorca, the blue peter had been hoisted, and the gun fired, giving all libertymen twenty minutes to return to the ship. While Captain Wentworth was normally given to looking the other way at twenty-two or twenty-three minutes, the instant the twenty minutes was exhausted, and it was ascertained that Midshipman Richard Musgrove was not on board, no search was made, the order to weigh anchor was loudly given and carried out more quickly than recent memory could account. There had been no guilt on the Captain's part; it was certain that Mr Musgrove could have his pick of ships desperate for hands, (and it was obvious that he had found one returning to England very soon there after, considering the age of his daughter). As a bonus, there was no recommendatory letter full of nebulous comments and vague catalogue of accomplishments to write. The memory nearly brought a smile to the Captain's lips, but he recalled with whom he was speaking and knew that a smile upon hearing this news was very inappropriate.
Mr Musgrove sat quietly for a moment, judging the effect of his last statement. The Captain did not seem shocked or disgusted by the revelation and so he continued. "Earlier this year, a girl appeared on the doorstep with Arabella. The creature was dirty and clearly ill-suited to care for her, any child really. She said she was from Portsmouth, how she crept all that way, I cannot tell. It was clear that her claiming the girl to be Dick's was the truth, as I said yesterday, she is the image of Louisa at such an age. The hair and eyes especially. Not only that, but she had Dick's watch. The one given when he went to sea. To get her out of the area, we gave her some money and took Arabella. We sent the little one first to Mrs Musgrove's family at Winthrop, with every intention of merely putting her in school when it was time, and caring for her in all ways that one would expect from a family . . . under these circumstances. But the Hayter family is obviously low," indicating the hilarity in the other room, "and are not prone to improvement; Arabella is too fine to be left withering with them. Sadie and I adopted her as our own. Everyone but Charles thinks she is an orphaned waif from Portsmouth. Charles knows and I am telling you, Captain, in the event that anything happens to me. I am not such a fool to think that I shall live forever, I am an old man and Arabella is so young that I am afraid she would be more than Sadie could care for, should I pass." At this point, Mr Musgrove called for a stool and more coffee. It was clear that the gentleman was uncomfortable, but felt that having launched into this subject, he could not stop now.
As the Captain contemplated what had been thus far confided, he began to wonder what might be expected of him by his being made privy to such a family history. It was unnerving to be told such intimacies when his feelings about his upcoming marriage were so cold. He was being woven into the household by kindness and secrets, becoming a part of the canvas of the Musgrove family.
"Where was I? Oh, yes . . . you see, nothing about Arabella's parents is written down, not even in my will. Upon my death, she will receive the same share as the other girls, but she is so young that I worry for her care." Mr Musgrove shifted in his seat and the furrow in his brow said that what he was not yet finished with this uncomfortable talk. "As I said before, Charles knows about the girl, and has promised to take her if needs be, but . . . I fear that Mary would not allow him to fulfill his promise. She does not like Arabella and I do not think that Charles is of the metal to overrule her."
Mr Musgrove sat silently for a moment. It was a painful admission for the man. It caused him deep grief to think that Arabella could go wanting because of his daughter-in-law. Nearly as galling as the knowledge that Mary would one day be the mistress of Uppercross Hall and his legacy would be at the mercy of such a woman.
The Captain could see that Mr Musgrove was thinking, perhaps thinking better of allowing such a family shame out to a relative stranger.
"The reason I am telling you all of this, Captain, is that, I believe you to be a kindly man. I do not wish to burden you, but I would ask that you and Louisa oblige me by taking care of Arabella if things should come to that. I do not want her to go back to the Hayters or I would charge Charles Hayter and Henrietta with this. As I grow older, I know that a man must provide for his family, when I leave this life, if each is not well taken care of, I will have failed them and would be pitiable above all men."
"Sir, I hate to see you so distressed over this matter." Frederick had no idea what else to say.
Mr Musgrove smiled wryly at the Captain. "My only distress in this matter is that I am not able to give this over to my own son and know it will be done. As I said, you, I believe, are a kindly, and an honourable man; since I am trusting you with the hand of one daughter, I know that I can trust the care of my youngest to you as well."
How much more could be expected of him? He had committed himself to Louisa, to care for her by giving her his name, must he now consent to raising a small child if the need should arise? Could Louisa do such a thing, was she able to care for another? All these things came to his mind at once. Sitting quietly for a moment, he became aware the Mr Musgrove was looking at him with expectancy. He needed time to consider, surely that would be seen as prudent.
Shifting in his seat, he smiled at Mr Musgrove. "Sir . . . I understand and admire your concern for Arabella. I also understand your . . . hesitancy regarding Mr Charles and Miss Henrietta, but I must beg for time to consider. There is Louisa's health . . . and . . ."
Mr Musgrove leaned back in the chair and pursed his lips. He had counted the Captain to be a decisive man and this hesitation came as a surprise. "I understand Captain, if you are reluctant to promise such a thing. It is quite a lot to take on . . . someone else's child and all." He folded his hands and bringing his forefingers together in a peak, he quietly sat staring at them.
Frederick could see that Mr Musgrove telling him the confidence and asking his help had been painful to the older man, but that it had also been an act of desperation, that the Captain's accepting responsibility for Arabella, should it be required, would have put Mr Musgrove at peace. He could see that there would be no living on the out-skirts of this family, In for a penny, in for a pound. Frederick thought. "Mr Musgrove, as I have said, there is much to be considered in taking on such a responsibility. While I would not wish to outright refuse you, I will promise to consider the matter while I am away in Plymouth. When I return next week, I shall have a well-thought out answer for you." He stood and offered his hand to Musgrove.
Taking Frederick's hand, Mr Musgrove said, " The Good Book says that a wise man counts the cost, I can ask no more of you than that." They shook hands and the Captain had left soon after.
Taking a candy from his pocket and placing it in his mouth, he began to think on the matter. Captain Wentworth knew something of having responsibility for other people's children. Not direct care of them, but the responsibility for them. The youngest squeaker he had ever had aboard the Laconia was nine-years-old. Anything under fourteen was nearly useless on board, but as a favor to friends wanting a boy to have time at sea to claim, it sometimes became necessary to take them younger. Since most of the youngsters were used as officer's servants, care for the little boys usually fell to the Lady of the Gunroom: the officer who oversees the meals for the junior officers. Once they were sixteen, the care and feeding of the young gentlemen he knew quite a lot about, since his midshipmen where of particular interest to him. He was always scrupulous about shipping a schoolmaster and seeing that the fellows were literate and mathematically trained. He knew a little something, but these were boys on a ship, not a little girl. There were a few hundred men to watch out for not more than a handful of children. If Arabella were ever to come to them, it would most likely be Louisa alone who would have to care for the girl. Would her health allow it? He did not know if Louisa even liked children. Perhaps Arabella would be worse off with them than with Mary Musgrove.
He sat again on a boulder and pushed the mud before it about with the toe of his boot. The fate of Arabella Musgrove was more than he cared to contemplate just then, watching the fog move over the water, he knew that for a time, there would be no more views of the lighthouse or even the channel, so heavy had the clouds become. A light rain had begun as he allowed his mind to drift and again indulged himself with his favourite of thoughts, a quiet and settled life with Anne by his side. The scenes themselves were varied, but the time of year was always autumn. Perhaps it was owing to the last glimpse of her having been in the fall of the year, whatever the reason, he always pictured them in that season. There were times he imagined a snug frame house in a small town was hers to care for; this particular time, it was a log cabin carved out of the Canadian wilderness, near an outpost far from civilisation. He was never certain about how many or their sexes, but there were always children surrounding them, for surely Anne's tender heart and superior mind would make her a wonderful mother. While his occupation remained unknown, he often thought about his nightly coming home to her. The house was always warm and smelled of dinner cooking, her smiling as she came to him. Then a quick succession of them having dinner with their children, reading stories and talking, putting them to bed. Anne would be a wonderful mother. Then they would retire . . . alone.
He would take her in his arms, and looking into her warm brown eyes, caress her cheek, perhaps brush a stray lock of hair from her forehead. Taking her face in his hands, he would kiss her. Gently at first, then increasingly, it gives way to a passion that had been built over the years of anger. The more he allowed himself to think this way, the more intimate the thoughts of him and Anne became, and in all of this, she, of course returned his affections fully and completely.
Indulging himself in these faerie tales was soothing and took him away from his real world, but they were becoming stronger and more persistent, harder to shake from his mind. He could now see that his brother had been right, fidelity would be impossible. The desire to indulge himself with these thoughts of Anne would not suddenly disappear after his marriage to Louisa, and he knew that resentment towards his wife would build until it became a hate, a hate she could never hope to understand.
While the Captain's heart was becoming somewhat stoney when it came to his private thoughts, another notion had made itself known to him and was disturbing his peace even further.
If he were to do such a thing as start again in another part of the world, he would most likely never return to England. This had stirred the thought that Anne had no family to lament, and it would not be necessary to their happiness to hear from them, much less see them ever again. So, while Sir Walter and his other daughters would certainly be scandalised by Anne running away to the Canadian Territories with him, their never having to returning to England did not seem such a deprivation Though this did not hold true for his family. While he did not think that Sophia and the Admiral would approve of his actions, they would, nonetheless, accept the situation and over the years there would be letters exchanged and perhaps even visits, as the Crofts were lovers of adventure and travel. Edward and Catherine were another matter.
Frederick did not believe that his brother would reject him outright, there would be disapproval to be sure, but not complete repudiation. Edward was a reasonable man and wanted his brother's happiness, that alone would keep them in contact. But Frederick knew that his brother would abominate his throwing over Louisa in such a cold manner as jumping a ship and that there would be a strain that might never be overcome. Another thought had raised its head, if the Captain never returned to England, he would most likely never see his brother and sister-in-law again. He would never see the child she carried or any others they might have in the future. His newfound attachment with his brother would be fairly well wrecked.
While these things saddened him, despite all of these obstacles and sorrows, he consoled himself with the notion that Anne would become everything to him and he could become everything to Anne, they would become everything to one another. Taking another deep pull of the wine, he revelled in feelings such a freedom would bring them. They could be happy. He could be content away from the sea, if he only had Anne. Yes, he could persuade her, surely he could.
But with the same clear vision he could see a happy life for them in another country, he could also see that his betrayal of Louisa Musgrove for that perfect life would be his undoing. Now that he was promised to Louisa, anything he did to extricate himself would be far worse than making it clear to Mr Musgrove that he could not marry his daughter. Perhaps he should have gone first to Admiral Locke, then feigned ignorance of the letter. The disgrace he would now bring on Louisa and her family would be a public humiliation to them and it would not be forgotten by any of the family, and that included Anne. The irony was, Anne's honourable nature would no more allow her to come and make a life with him after such an evil, than his honourable nature could allow him to leave Louisa Musgrove, injured and without a hope for future happiness.
Emptying the skin, he hitched the strap over his shoulder and clapped his hands for the horse. She looked up and began to shamble his way only after he crumpled the candy paper in his pocket. After mounting, he allowed the horse her way down the hill, she carefully wending her way, leaving him enough of his own mind to think.
"An honourable man. Others call me honourable, that is what I call myself. It is the trait I appeal to in justifying my marrying Louisa Musgrove. Honour." The word had a flat, dead sound to it as he spoke it aloud, but very quietly to himself.
"But how much honour is there in deliberately marrying a woman, knowing that you do not care for her excepting in an unspecific humane way? Marrying her with no intention of even staying by her, leaving her with your honourable name and a full purse? Is that honourable? Is any of that less contemptible than jumping a ship, building a new life and begging the only woman I have ever truly loved to join me in it?" The rain had begun again in earnest and his horse was having difficulty keeping her legs under her. Steering her off of the well worn path, they continued down through rocks and puddles, but on more solid earth.
Looking out toward the channel, he continued aloud, "My whole life at sea has been that of honourable toils. Hard work and sacrifice in exchange for the reward of prize. I have given years of my life, I have even given of my very flesh and blood for the honour of serving the Crown. I have followed orders and men I have abominated, I have fought and done things in battle which yet follow me in my dreams; all in the name of honour. I have taken pleasure in the adulation and the fortune which has come to me, but why? What I have desired above all things is not gainable by honourable toils, it can only be gained by turning from honour and selfishly pursuing my own happiness. I have not yet committed myself by marriage; while putting Louisa aside will be hurtful to she and her family and destroy propriety, my doing so could not be as immoral as carrying through with the vows." A stumble of the horse brought him back to the task at hand. Putting his mind to guiding his mount down the rest of the hill, and looking occasionally to the water, he studied the weather for clearing.
He had come to the flats and could allow his mind back to their previous thoughts. "If I could but see Anne, talk to her, tell her of my plans, I could persuade her, regardless of her doubts; I would explain how hurt and angry I had been when I had returned from the war. I would tell her how I had come to see the truth of her superiority and how there has never been another woman who is her equal. If I could but take her in my arms and show her how much I truly love her . . . "
Continued in Part 3
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