Twenty-five years. That is how long I have been married by now.
Twenty - five years...they have been good years, most of them.
In those twenty-five years of my marriage, I have not once regretted the day I married a man I barely knew - or knew in person. I had heard so much of him before I actually met him, that, when I did meet him, it was like coming across an old friend one has not seen for years.
Nothing could induce me to leave him, in those twenty-five years. Wherever he went, I went, too, and this is not usual for a sailor's wife. I remember he was not very happy about it at first, but when he saw that I had no objection to the harsh conditions on board - that I liked being there with him, he gave in.
I remember that one day, on my first voyage with him, one of his officers had told him that he would not be surprised seeing me climb up the rigging one day.
The only answer my husband gave him was, "I would not be surprised, either."
By his smile I could tell that he was proud of me, although he would not have admitted it, especially not in front of his officers.
That reminds me, I do not think I have introduced myself properly. My name is Croft, Sophia Croft, or "my Sophy", as he calls me. You may have heard of my husband already - Admiral Henry Croft.
I remember, that when he was made an admiral, no one was more surprised than he was. He has always been modest - well aware of his own worth, but not expecting others to notice it as well. I always knew he had the potential for greatness, and I told him so, but he never believed me.
He always said that there were "better men than him", but he never answered me when I challenged him to show me just one.
As things turn out, he might be the next Admiral of the Fleet...but I do not dare mention it in his presence, he does not want to hear of it.
Twenty-five years...such a long time.
There is only one thing I regretted about our marriage - and still regret. It is the fact that we have never been blessed with children of our own. I know that Henry regrets it too, sometimes, although he never said so. I can see it in his eyes whenever he is with his nephews and nieces - he is so fond of them, and the children are fond of him, too. He would have made an excellent father, but it was not to be.
Twenty-five years...is it really possible that a woman can be so very much in love with her husband, that she does not want to be without him, after such a long time?
My looks may have faded in the past twenty-five years, but my feelings have not. I may not be as pretty as I used to be when I was twenty-three, when I first met him, but my heart remains his.
I am looking forward to growing old with him. It is a good feeling to have someone to love, and to care for. If it pleases the Lord, we shall stay together for another five-and-twenty years, caring for each other and sharing everything life has in store for us.
If you want, I shall tell you the whole story how it all began...
Now, where shall I begin with telling my story? I could start with the moment when I met the Admiral - Captain Croft, then - for the first time, but I do not think that is a good idea. After all, I had heard of him a long time before I actually saw him. The story of Sophia Wentworth and Captain Croft started earlier.
Ah, well, I think I will start with my twenty-third birthday, twenty-five years ago.
1799 - what a year that was! The war with France was at its height, and the previous year had seen one of the most glorious victories of our Navy.
I was exceedingly worried about my brother Frederick, who was - at that time - a young midshipman on board HMS Anemone, with a Captain Rigby. Frederick was still young, but already keen to do his best to make his way in the world....dear me, how time flies, he is an Admiral by now, married and a father of three! Oh, I am getting old, am I not?
Of course, his ambition did not worry me. It was not having heard of him for so long that made me uneasy. I could not tell anybody about my feelings, at least not my mother. She had always been of a rather nervous disposition, and I did not want to plague her with my problems, knowing that it would only make matters worse. So I was confined to waiting for the post every day and being disappointed whenever there was no letter from my youngest brother...
But I am digressing again, sorry. Back to my twenty-third birthday.
When I came into the parlour for breakfast, I already knew what was to come.
Mama was there; ready to speak to me seriously.
"Sophia," she said, "this is your twenty-third birthday today, and I entreat you to think of your future."
"I do, Mama," I answered. She could have spared her breath; I already knew the lecture she was going to give me by heart. She had delivered the same speech on every single birthday of mine for years before.
"I have watched your behaviour very closely lately, Sophia, and I have to tell you I am not pleased with the way you act."
"Have I done anything wrong, Mama?" I pretended not to know what she was talking about, hoping that she would soon give up, but no chance.
"I do wish you would encourage Mr Williams a bit more," she said.
I suppressed a sigh. Ever since I had been sixteen, my mother had tried everything to marry me off. This was not so easy, as my father was not very rich. He was a clergyman, and his living was not very lucrative. Besides, he was only to hold it until someone else took it over. Whoever would marry me, would have to marry me for love. My dowry was not worthwhile.
Lately, however, Mama's hopes had been raised when she had noticed that Mr Andrew Williams seemed to have taken a fancy for me.
Mr Williams was one of the richest men in our town; he was not bad looking, and rather nice. There was, probably, nothing wrong with him except the fact that he was a bore, and - let us put it that way - not very clever. Five minutes with him, and I nearly fell asleep. What sort of marriage would that be?
"Mama," I tried to convince her for the umpteenth time, "I have no interest in Mr Williams. I do not love him."
"Love him? Nonsense, girl, the appetite comes with the eating. Get married first, there is plenty of time to fall in love with your husband afterwards.
I do not understand you, Mr Williams is rich, and he is agreeable. You should thank your Creator that such a man pays you such particular attention, Sophia! You are three-and-twenty now, and if you do not take care, you will end an old maid."
I was sure that she would rather see me dead and buried than an old maid.
Now I know that I was unfair, that my mother only wanted my best - she did not want to see me as a governess, working for my living. She wished me to have a good life, as a respectable, married woman. Growing older has convinced me of the fact that my mother had been right - at least as far as marriage was concerned.
Mr Williams was rich, respectable, and even if he was not the cleverest of men, he was not vicious. I can understand her now, but at that time I only thought she was meddling with affairs that were none of her business.
"You will never find a husband if you keep acting in such a disgustingly independent manner."
I could have enquired if it was too much to ask for a girl if she wanted her husband to have a brain, but I thought the better of it.
It was better not to annoy her, my friend Sarah had asked me to go for a walk with her, and I was sure Mama would forbid it if she was particularly angry with me.
So I listened to what she said, and wished Frederick would be there. Of my two brothers, Frederick was my favourite. I loved Edward too, of course, but Edward was always so earnest, just like the clergyman he was going to be. Frederick was livelier, and we shared a laugh very often.
My afternoon walk with Sarah had to be cancelled, the weather was too bad. It had looked as if it would clear up soon, but it started to rain again at about three o'clock, and shortly after that the rain started mixing with snow.
So I had to spend the rest of the afternoon with Mama, who was still cross with me, and, as if this had not been enough already, Mr Williams came to call on us - well, me. He always found an excuse to call on my father and to spend some time in my mother's and my company.
I had to admit that he was not unpleasant to look at, but the problem was that he was well aware of this and probably spent more time in front of a mirror than I did. His clothes and hair were of particular interest to him, and so was hunting and everything that had to do with it.
He bored me to death with his descriptions of a new waistcoat or exciting accounts of how his dogs had fared at the latest fox hunt...and Mama really wanted me to bear with that sort of conversation for the rest of my life?
No, I would rather stay single than marry a man I cannot love, I thought.
Mr Williams told me that the Kenningtons were giving a dinner party the next day - as if Sarah had not had invited me the week before already!
Apparently he thought my memory was as bad as his - he could barely remember a thing for more than five minutes.
I was sitting there, imagining what it would be like if I married him - would he be able to remember my name, at least?
Even if I was in a bad mood, that thought nearly made me laugh, and I had to try hard not to laugh right into his face. Poor Mr Williams! Maybe I was cruel, but what was I to do?
Oh yes, I was cruel! I still pity Mr Williams - but I am still convinced that I would never have been happy with him. Neither would he have been happy with me. No, it was much better the way things turned out at last.
Well, at least there was one thing to look forward to - we were to dine with the Kenningtons the next day, and even if Mr Williams was to be there, so was Sarah, my best friend. I really did not know what I would have done without a friend like her!
The dinner with the Kenningtons was very pleasant, even though Mr Williams was there, too.
Sarah's father, Sir James Kennington, was the most influential man in our town. He was not the richest (that was Mr Williams), but the most influential.
It was not only his title that made people respect him, but also his intelligence and goodness. Sarah was his only daughter, one year older than I was, and had been my friend ever since my family had moved to Norfolk years before.
She welcomed me with a smile, and told me that Mr Williams had already arrived. She knew I could not stand the sight of that man, but she liked to tease me with him.
"Oh, Sarah, what am I to do," I whispered, glancing at Mama. Sarah caught my meaning at once.
"Still trying to marry you off, is she?" she asked, in a low voice.
"It is worse than ever. She delivered the same old sermon yesterday."
"Not the "if you go on like this, you will end an old maid" one?"
"The exact one, Sarah." I sighed. "The only variation in it is my age. I tell you, Sarah, if she goes on like this, I shall do something desperate. I shall seriously consider marrying Mr Williams just to do my mother a favour."
Sarah laughed. "This is not to be borne, Sophy! There is only one thing we can do."
I looked at her suspiciously. "What would that be?"
"We will have to find someone else for you to marry."
As if it were that easy! I knew it was easy for Sarah, the men were circling her like moths were circling the light - she was beautiful, witty, and well to do.
But, like me, she was determined to marry for love, and had already refused an offer of marriage for that exact reason.
My mother thought that it was Sarah's bad influence that kept me from marrying, and if she had not feared snubbing Sir James Kennington, she would already have put an end to our friendship.
"Tell me when you have found someone," I said to Sarah, grinning. "Any alternative to Mr Williams will do. Prince or pauper, I shall have them all."
Sarah shook her head. "Sophy, I do not like your way of speaking. Please, whatever you do, do not commit yourself to a man you cannot respect. You would do neither of you a favour, dear."
I sighed. "I know, Sarah, it is just so difficult sometimes. If Frederick were here, at least..."
"Have you had any news from your brother lately, Sophy?"
"No, I have not. I am beginning to worry, Sarah, I hope he is well. I know it sometimes takes a letter very long to arrive in England, but it has never before been such a long time since I heard of him."
Sarah smiled. "Believe me, Sophy, there is no power on earth that can get the better of Frederick Wentworth. I am sure he is well."
We entered the salon, and Mr Williams, on noticing us, joined us at once.
"Miss Wentworth, you do look very pretty today."
"Thank you sir, you are very kind."
Mama gave me looks like poisoned arrows; I had to try to be friendly.
"How is your mother, Mr Williams?"
Perhaps, if I was inquiring after his mother, he would at least refrain from describing his newest waistcoat to me. Or was it a coat? Never mind...
"My mother is very well, thank you, Miss Wentworth. Bath seems to agree with her."
"How nice! Are you going to join her?"
Please do, give me time to breathe...
As I said before, I WAS cruel...
"No, Miss Wentworth, my mother wanted me to stay here and look after the estate."
I must have looked really desperate, because Sarah came to my rescue.
"Mr Williams, have you heard the good news already?" she asked, with her sweetest smile.
"Good news, Miss Kennington?"
"My father has had a letter from my brother today, Mr Williams. You know how worried we all have been when we heard that he had been wounded. Well, my brother wrote in his letter that he was feeling better and that he had been granted leave of absence to recuperate. He will arrive in a few days."
Now this was a piece of good news!
Sarah had two brothers. Her eldest brother, Mr Kennington, was already married and had settled in London.
The younger one, the famous Colonel Thomas Kennington, was still single, and enjoying his single life. He had quite a reputation, to be honest.
"Quite a reputation!" Ha! - Admiral, please! Will you let me tell my story myself?
I did not care if he was a rogue, at least he was amusing. Knowing that he would arrive soon cheered me up.
We spent the rest of the evening with listening to Sarah's singing and piano playing, and with card games. Mr Williams was my partner at whist - there is nothing more entertaining than playing with a partner who has a bad memory. For those who do not play with him, I mean.
When I went to bed that evening, one thing still worried me. There had still been no news from Frederick.
Tomorrow, please, tomorrow...
Have you ever had to fear for a beloved person's well-being? Then you can imagine what I suffered, the week following my birthday. My brother was at sea, our country was at war, and there were about a thousand dreadful things that could have happened to him. Having no news of him was torture.
One of the reasons why I went to the sea with my husband so often was that I did not want to suffer from this uncertainty. I did try to stay at home once - I spent the first winter after our marriage in Deal, because Henry thought it would be too dangerous and too fatiguing for me to go with him. During that winter, I nearly went mad with worry, not knowing what to do with myself - and from then on, nothing could have kept me back...
Where was I? Ah, yes
At last, after weeks of hoping, waiting and worrying, we had news from my brother Frederick. We received two letters from him, one was for Papa and Mama, and the other one was for me.
I cannot describe the relief I felt on receiving the letter from him, I had already feared the worst.
As soon as I got hold of it, I dashed upstairs to my room and opened it, my hands trembling. I wanted to be alone, just in case there was bad news.
The Phoenix, December
First I have to apologise for not writing sooner. I hope my letter finds you in both good health and spirits.
We are currently stationed in Antigua and shall spend the next two or three months here. The weather has been rough lately, but nothing we could not deal with. So, do not be uneasy for your little brother, Sophia, I shall be fine.
I could not help but laugh. If only he knew! Of course I would not let him know how much sleep I had lost on his account. It was so very much like Frederick, always expecting the best...well, he did not know better, he was but seventeen.
I am not on board the Anemone any more. Captain Rigby has asked me to swap places with a Mr Hayes from the Phoenix, to do his old friend, Captain Croft, a favour. Mr Hayes did not get along with Captain Croft, and the captain was tired of arguing with Hayes all the time.
So, I am on board the Phoenix now, under the command of Captain Croft. I think I will get along with him tolerably well, he is an excellent seaman, and I am sure he will be able to teach me a lot.
Captain Croft gives me much credit for not being Mr Hayes, and has already called me the "only useful lad in his bunch of good-for-nothings", although not in my presence. One of my new shipmates, Mr Harville, told me about it. I hope I shall not disappoint the captain in his good opinion of me.
Mr Harville has told me that Hayes, the man who is now with Captain Rigby in my place, has not one friend on board, that he was lazy, unreliable and quarrelsome, and that everyone including Captain Croft was more than happy to get rid of him.
I know Captain Rigby well enough to know that Mr Hayes is in for a great deal of trouble if he tries behaving like that on the "Anemone". Captain Rigby has his own way of dealing with people like him.
Harville seems to be a likeable sort of fellow, and I am looking forward to setting sail again in spring. With a captain like Croft, and shipmates like Harville, nothing can go wrong.
Dear Sophia, I hope to see you again in summer, and I am already counting the days until then. Take good care of yourself!
It seemed rather strange to me that Frederick should change his place, after all, he had always been content with Captain Rigby...still, he had had his reasons, I supposed.
I only hoped that Captain Croft would treat him well. Frederick was courageous, clever and ambitious. Of all us Wentworths, he was the most likely to rise to fame and fortune.
In the evening, my parents discussed Frederick's letter. Mama was worried about Frederick, but Papa said that, in times like these, a mother should be proud if her son did so well in defending his King and country.
It did not have much effect on her, and I understood her feelings very well.
If Frederick died - the Lord may prevent it - it would be no comfort at all that he died doing his duty, defending his country against the French, Spaniards or whoever, I thought.
To distract my mind from these gloomy thoughts, I took a book and started reading, trying to ignore my mother's angry look. She had always disapproved of my extensive reading, she thought that it was "not ladylike to have one's nose in a book all the time", and reading only "put ideas into girls' heads".
My father, however, thought that it did not do any harm if a lady read, and so I could count on his support in that matter.
I was not quite able to concentrate on my book, however. I was listening to my parents, who were still discussing Frederick's letter, and thinking my own thoughts on that subject.
I was sorry that Frederick was not with Captain Rigby any more - I had met him once, and had thought him an agreeable gentleman. I tried to imagine what sort of man Captain Croft was, and what he looked like. I wondered if I would ever meet him.
Two days later, I happened to be with Sarah when Colonel Kennington arrived at home. The Colonel was as charming, dashing and handsome as ever. Though I had known him for such a long time, and his sister had always kept me informed about his latest mischief, not even I was completely immune to his charms.
It took more than a poor woman's heart to withstand his smile, and his voice...not to forget those dark eyes. And, as if the charms that Nature had given him had not been enough, he also was a colonel in His Majesty's Army, and even plain men looked good in regimentals. Colonel Kennington, well...he was handsome in civilian clothes, so the red coat made him irresistible.
Please do not get a wrong impression, I was not in love with him, but I could understand those who were very well. I was sure that all the young ladies in our town were madly in love with him, except his sister and me, of course.
This could also be applied to all the young ladies in London, Brighton, Bath or wherever he chose to go. Any of them would have been happy to marry him, only the Colonel had no intention of doing so. He had once said that he was too young to marry (he was nine-and-twenty) and that he was too fond of all the ladies to be happy with just one.
Whenever he was asked, he admitted freely that he was a rascal, and that he would only make his wife miserable if he married.
Sarah said he had probably never spoken a truer word in his life. She loved her brother, but she was not blind to his faults.
Still, I liked Colonel Kennington, and we were good friends.
We had some sort of agreement. He accepted that I was his sister's friend, and abstained from flirting with me, because he did not want to interfere with our friendship. That was what he said, but I thought it was also because I was not his type.
I liked his company; he was witty, charming, and capable of intelligent conversation, if he - for once - decided not to flirt.
That day, however, he was not in the best of spirits. Had I not known him so well, I would not have noticed judging by his outward behaviour, but as it was, I could see that he was depressed. Being confined to his home, when everyone else was able to fight on the fields of glory, did not suit him at all.
The bullet that had hit him had not only wounded his leg, but also his pride. He was not the all-conquering hero any more, and he felt left out.
"Ah, it is you back again," Sarah said, coolly. Of course she was glad to have him back, but it would have been against the rules of the game if she had shown it at once. The Colonel knew it, and yet...
"Is this all the welcome I am to have," he answered, with a no-one-knows-what-I-suffer expression in his face. "I hope you, at least, are happy to see me alive, Miss Wentworth. My own sister is not. Cruel woman!"
I laughed. "At least I am not unhappy, Colonel Kennington, and I do believe your sister is glad to see you, she just takes delight in being contrary today."
"Indeed I am, Sophy," Sarah said and rose. She embraced her brother and gave him a kiss.
"I am happy to have you here, Thomas. I admit I was frightened when I heard that you were wounded. How are you," she added, glancing at his crutch.
"Much better, thank you," he answered, with a smile that was too radiant to be true. "Where is our father?"
"He has gone out, he did not expect you to be here so soon. Neither did I, or I would have kept Sophy out of your evil influence." She grinned.
"I knew I should not expect a warm welcome at home, it was too much to ask for," he said with a theatrical sigh, sitting down next to me. "I hope you welcome your brothers with a bit more feeling when they return home, Miss Wentworth."
I laughed. "I always do my best to let my welcome exceed their expectations, Colonel."
"So does my sister, but in another way. How are your brothers, Miss Wentworth?"
"Very well, as far as I know. Edward is in Oxford, and Frederick is at sea."
"Is he already a lieutenant, Miss Wentworth?"
"Not yet, Colonel."
"Ah yes, I quite forgot." He laughed. "Your brother has always been so grown-up and sensible, Miss Wentworth, that I thought him older than he actually is."
"With other words, Frederick Wentworth is the complete opposite of you, brother," Sarah said, trying to get even with him for calling her a "cruel woman".
"You behave like a youngster most of the time, and I have yet to see one occasion in which you act sensibly."
He looked at his sister, with a teasing smile. "It is all right, Sarah, I love you too," he said.
Sarah laughed. This was her brother's way of disarming her.
One look at the clock on the mantelpiece told me that it was time for me to leave. Mama had made a particular point of my being at home in time, since she had invited Mr Williams to dine with us. My mother was not the sort of woman go give up her plans so easily...
I therefore rose and took my leave of Sarah and Colonel Kennington.
"Too bad I cannot be with you tonight," Sarah said. "But I am sure you will do well. Please, tell me more about your brother and his new captain next time - I am wild to hear more."
"I am afraid I do not know more about Captain Croft than what I have already told you, Sarah."
"Oh, too bad." She turned to her brother. "Thomas, you have been stationed in Plymouth for six months. Among your navy friends, is there no one named Croft? I never heard his name before - have you?"
"Captain Croft...let me see...the name rings a bell, but...no, I cannot remember at the moment."
He smiled at me. "Perhaps next time, Miss Wentworth. Please give my regards to your parents, and tell them I shall call on them tomorrow."
The evening passed rather pleasantly, even considering Mama's efforts to give Mr Williams enough encouragement.
The problem with Mr Williams was that he was nice, and that made it hard to dislike him.
I could not blame him for being in love with me, and I felt sorry for him, but a woman cannot marry a man out of pity, can she?
To satisfy my mother, I kept up some polite conversation with Mr Williams and talked to him about his mother and Bath. It seemed to be a safe enough topic to me.
"I hope Mrs Williams is well, sir."
"Oh yes, Miss Wentworth, Bath seems to agree with her."
Yes, I know, you already told me that before...
"Has she got a large acquaintance in Bath, sir?"
"There are several friends of hers, yes. Lady Summerston is there with her two daughters, and Mrs St John Davies is there, as well."
"You must be glad that your mother has so much pleasant company, then."
As neither he nor I could imagine anything more to say at the moment, I took another sip of my tea to give myself some time to think.
After a while, Mr Williams said, "I have heard that Colonel Kennington has arrived today."
"Yes, he did. I met him."
There was a great deal of jealousy in Mr Williams's look, when he said, "You did? Where?"
"At Kennington House, where else, Mr Williams? I was visiting Miss Kennington when he arrived."
I turned to my parents and said, "The Colonel sends his compliments, by the way, and said that he will call on you tomorrow. Sir James was not at home when he arrived and he thought it improper to call on anybody before greeting his own father."
"How is Colonel Kennington," Papa asked. He liked the Colonel, despite his reputation. My father always tried to see the best in everyone - probably because of his profession. A clergyman needs to see the best in people - otherwise he would despair, I think.
"A bit out of spirits, I thought. Though it may have had to do with the long journey in his weakened state."
"His injury has been serious, then," Mr Williams asked.
"I do not think he would have been sent home if it had not been serious, sir."
"I am sure the visit in his home, with his family, will do him good," Mama said. "And perhaps this wound and the threat to his life have caused him to reform and mend his ways."
I did not want to contradict her, but I was quite sure that there was little chance for the Colonel to mend his ways. At least, a wound would not be enough to do that trick.
No, the wound did not do the trick...it needed more than that.
The next morning, Colonel Kennington paid his formal call on Papa. He also sat with us for about half an hour, answering Mama's questions readily.
"Miss Wentworth told me you have had news from your youngest son lately, Mrs Wentworth," he said, finally.
"So we have, sir. We had a letter from him."
The Colonel turned to me. "Miss Wentworth, after you had left us yesterday, my sister kept nettling me with her questions about your brother's captain - Croft was his name, if I remember correctly."
Both my mother and I answered in the affirmative.
"Well, I tried hard to remember, and I think I have met him once or twice in Plymouth. I am not absolutely sure if it is the same man, but I did meet a Captain Croft."
"What sort of gentleman is Captain Croft, Colonel?" Mama asked eagerly.
"The man I met was very intelligent, Mrs Wentworth, a man who had learnt his trade and who did well in it. He spoke his mind freely - too freely, sometimes. An absolutely capable seaman, so I have been told, and an agreeable sort of fellow, if one likes the type."
That's what he said about me? - Yes, Admiral, that is what he said. And I did like the type, did I not? - Ah, my dear, don't ask me, I wouldn't't know.
"What does he look like, Colonel," I asked.
The Colonel looked at me with an amused smile.
"He is not very handsome, Miss Wentworth, I am sorry to disappoint you."
"Colonel Kennington, really!"
How could he! Then I noticed he was just teasing me.
He laughed. "Seriously, Miss Wentworth, I cannot tell you much. He is about my age, rather dark, rather tall...I am sorry I cannot tell you much more, it is not my habit to look at other men too closely."
I gave him one of my sweetest smiles.
"It would be too much to ask of you, indeed, when there are so many pretty ladies to look at. Never mind, Colonel, if I really was that much interested in Captain Croft, I would ask my brother to give me some more details."
After the Colonel had left, I seated myself at the window, and, in looking out, reflected on what he had said.
...an agreeable sort of fellow...intelligent...spoke his mind freely...
It did sound as if Frederick would get along perfectly with Captain Croft.
...about my age...rather dark...rather tall...
Oh well, it seemed as if Captain Croft was an interesting sort of man.
Friends - it is always important to have a really good friend, is it not? For me, Sarah Kennington was such a friend. Very often I would not have known what to do without her. Some people called her capricious, and compared her with her brother, the Colonel. There may have been some traits of character they had in common, but these were not many. Beyond that capricious facade she kept up for the sake of protection, she was a warm-hearted, intelligent woman.
Soon after the Colonel's visit, I went for a walk with Sarah. I asked her how her family was, and she told me about her brother and sister-in-law in London.
Mr Kennington, Sir James's eldest son and heir, had married the year before and settled in London.
Mrs Kennington was not a favourite with her new family; she prided herself too much for being "de bonne famille". Sarah always called her "Her Highness" because of her arrogant conduct. She loved to hate her.
"James is too good for that woman," she said. "What on earth made him fall in love with her? I cannot even say he married her for her money, for she had none, at least not enough to tempt someone like my brother. Now she is spending his. Sophy, they have invited me to visit them, and I cannot think of a proper excuse. What am I to do?"
"I do not know." I thought for a few moments. "What if you tell them that you are needed here, to nurse Colonel Kennington?"
Sarah laughed. "Oh, yes, of course, I quite forgot I have a poor sick brother to attend to. When Thomas hears that, he will go to London out of contrariness. That might make the stay a bit more pleasant, at least. I am not sure if he is ready to face Her Highness's moods, though. I think he would rather face all of Napoleon's army with nothing to defend himself but his sabre."
I could not help but laugh at that suggestion.
"I always knew that your brother was a brave man. Both as a soldier and a gentleman."
"Speaking of brothers, that reminds me of yours. Have you heard of your brother Frederick again?"
"Sarah, of course not. It is not as if I can receive letters from him every day. He is in Antigua. I shall be glad if I get another one in a few weeks."
"Too bad... I really would have liked to hear more about Captain Croft."
Sarah had teased me with Mr Williams so often; I could not resist the temptation.
"You are not going to fall in love with Captain Croft, are you? The way you want to find out everything about him is really suspicious."
Sarah laughed. "Who knows? Perhaps I shall meet him one day, and then I have to be prepared. So, what am I to do about Her Highness and her invitation?"
"There is not much you can do, Sarah. Either you find a really good, acceptable excuse, or you will have to go. You could ask your brother, the Colonel, to go with you."
"Oh, I can already imagine what he will say. "He was very sorry, but in his weakened state this was quite impossible. The journey would be too much for him." Would you go with me?"
"I have not been invited, Sarah, and I do not think my mother would allow it. She needs me here."
"Too bad. As for the invitation, I could have procured one for you as well, but your mother is another problem. She needs you here? Then I am afraid you will have to stay behind." She laughed, but it was not a happy laugh.
"You are going to go, then?"
"I will have to, I am afraid, but I will make my visit as short as possible. Two or three weeks will do to make Her Highness reconsider her sisterly affection for me - she will be most happy to be of my assistance to get back home. I tend to be homesick, you must know, and then I am intolerable."
"Since when, Sarah?" I was all astonishment. Sarah and homesick - was this the same woman who had said that eight weeks in Bath were barely enough to amuse herself?
"Ever since the moment my sister-in-law invited me to London, dear." She stopped at the milliner's shop window.
"Look at this bonnet!" she cried. "Does it not look hilarious? I think I shall buy it."
"What for, Sarah? You said it looks hilarious!"
She looked at me with arched eyebrows and a malicious grin.
"I am going to buy it as a present for my dear sister-in-law, of course. She is too polite not to wear it at least once."
"Has anyone ever told you that you are really, really bad?" I asked, smiling.
"Not yet, but I think you are right. I am bad, and I like it."
The comical expression in her face made me laugh. Sarah went inside the shop, bought the bonnet, and we had to laugh all the way home. If only Sarah could have stayed...
I worried what I would do without Sarah while she was gone. Time would pass slowly without her, that was sure, especially if there was no one else to keep me company but Mama, Papa and Mr Williams.
However, there was one spark of hope. Mama had had an invitation from her friend, Mrs Benton, who lived in Yarmouth.
She invited us to stay with her and to attend an assembly with her. It had been ages since my last dance, or so it seemed, and even if the assembly would not be half as amusing as if Sarah would have been there too, it was something to look forward to.
Another thing happened to cheer me up. A letter from Oxford arrived, announcing that my brother Edward would soon come to visit us. On the day before we were to go to Yarmouth, to be precise.
I had not met Edward for a while, he had been with us at Christmas, but since then he had been too busy with his studies to come to see us.
Of my two brothers, Edward was the older one. He was three years my junior. Edward was very much like our father, calm, earnest, patient, and always ready to help. Just like Papa, he often gave in without arguing, putting up with drawbacks just for the sake of peace and quiet.
Both Frederick and I told him that he was too good, that there would always be people who took advantage of his goodness, and that he needed to stand up for himself a bit more. Edward, on the other hand, said that he would always reach his aims sooner or later, if he could only wait.
Edward, too, was to go to Yarmouth with us. As soon as Mrs Benton had heard the news of his arrival, she had invited him as well.
We arrived there in the late afternoon, and after having had some refreshment, we retired to our rooms to get dressed for the assembly.
Mrs Benton had a daughter, who was married with a sea officer, a Lieutenant Hunt. I had not seen Christine Hunt for more than three years, as she had lived with her husband in Plymouth. Now he had been transferred, and they had moved to Yarmouth again. Mr and Mrs Hunt were to meet us at the assembly.
I was looking forward to talking to Mrs Hunt. Perhaps she knew Captain Croft?
Colonel Kennington had met him in Plymouth, so there was a good chance of the captain's being acquainted with Mrs Hunt as well.
I was still eager to find out as much as I could about him. Of course, I had to wait for a good opportunity to start on the topic, but I was sure there would be a possibility sooner or later.
By the time we arrived at the assembly rooms, they were already crowded with people. There were lots of naval and marine officers, of course, and all the important people of Yarmouth as well. In the distance I could spot Sir James Kennington and his son, the Colonel. As one could already have expected, Colonel Kennington was surrounded by some of the Yarmouth belles, each of them pitying the "poor Colonel" and at the same time admiring him for his bravery.
Edward gave him an irritated look. "He is still a favourite with the ladies, I see."
I turned to him. He seemed to be ill-tempered, and I could not really see a reason why he should be so.
"He has always been, Edward, if you remember."
"True. I always wondered how anybody could have so little respect for other people's feelings and still be everybody's darling."
Edward judging his fellow men so severely? This was not his usual way.
"Colonel Kennington is not everybody's darling, Edward."
"Sure, he is not. Just look at him." Edward sounded bitter.
Suddenly I realised why he was so out of spirits. I only wondered which of the young ladies was responsible for his feelings.
"You are jealous, Edward Wentworth! Now tell me, who is she? Miss Stewart? Miss Diana Bell? Or Miss Hargreave?"
"Oh, stop it, Sophia, will you? What do you know about it?" he exclaimed.
From a person like my brother Edward, who hardly ever raised his voice, these were exceedingly harsh words. There was only one explanation for this. I had caught him. Well, the evening was long enough for me to find out. I only had to watch him closely.
Being in love for the first time can be so painful sometimes, can it not? Especially if the one you love is not worthy of it, as it was in Edward's case. But I am digressing again, forgive me.
"Miss Wentworth! I was already looking for you," I heard a voice behind me I would rather not have recognised.
"Mr Williams! You are here, too? What a surprise!"
Well, it was not really a surprise. Mr Williams hardly missed an opportunity to show off his newest clothes. I was really wondering why he did not go to London for the season ... perhaps I should have suggested it to him?
"How could one miss such an occasion, Miss Wentworth? Just look at all those people. Amazing!"
"What do you think of my coat, Miss Wentworth? Just picked it up at the tailor's this morning."
"It is very...elegant, sir."
The colours were so bright they actually hurt my eyes. I cast a pleading look at Edward, who was standing next to me. He asked Mr Williams a few questions to divert his attention, and I felt very grateful for it.
Mr Williams then asked me to dance the first two dances with him, and as I could not think of a proper excuse, I assented. Well, at least my mother would take pleasure in seeing me dance the first two with Mr Williams. It would make her day - her evening, rather.
Mr Williams was a good dancer, I had to grant that, and I had no reason to be ashamed to be seen with him. I noticed that more than one of the Yarmouth city gossips gave us a keen look, and I knew what would be the talk of the next day.
"Mr Williams danced with Miss Wentworth and flirted excessively..."
"Miss Wentworth seems to have set her mind on catching Mr Williams. I cannot blame her, he is a desirable match, especially for someone like her..."
It could not be helped. Even the worst gossips usually gave up on a topic after a few days, if something fresh happened.
After the first two dances Mr Williams asked Miss Templeton for the next two, so I was, for the moment, safe.
I did not have a partner, and so I sat down with my mother and Mrs Hunt. I was delighted to hear that they were talking about Frederick. What better opportunity could I have to ask Mrs Hunt if she knew his captain?
"Captain Croft!" she exclaimed, as soon as I had mentioned that name to her.
"Of course I know him! Not very well, but I met him on several occasions in Plymouth. My husband knows more about him - as far as I know, Captain Croft is a very well respected man in the Navy. My dear," she called out to her husband, "my dear, tell me, do you remember Captain Croft?"
"I do," he said, rather coolly, I thought, and drew nearer to us. "Why do you ask?"
Before I could answer his question, his wife had already informed him that my brother was on Captain Croft's ship, the "Phoenix".
"Really? Well, he could hardly have found a better captain," Mr Hunt answered.
"I am glad to hear it," I said. I was glad to hear it. It was a comforting thought.
"Are you well acquainted with Captain Croft, Mr Hunt?"
"We were never really friends, if that is what you want to know, Miss Wentworth. But I have come across him very often, and so I got to know him a bit."
"He is such a charming gentleman, Miss Wentworth," Mrs Hunt interrupted him. "He is from somewhere down in the West Country - Dorset - Devonshire..."
"He's from Somerset, dear."
"Ah well, Dorset, Devonshire, Somerset - it is all the same to me."
"I know it is, dear," Mr Hunt remarked dryly, but his wife went on, untouched by his sarcasm.
"His father was in the navy, too, was he not? I think he mentioned it once."
"Yes he was. As far as I know, his father was the younger son of a country gentleman near Taunton and went to the sea to earn himself a fortune. He was a good man; I have been told, but not very lucky. Died of yellow fever in the West Indies when his son was barely five years old. Mrs Croft then went to live with her husband's family, and depended on their support. Grievous business, that."
I shivered. Yellow fever ... just one of the terrible things that could happen to someone in foreign places ... let Frederick get back home again soon, please...
"Croft's sister is married with a lawyer in Taunton, but I cannot remember his name, it is not relevant at the moment, is it?" Mr Hunt went on.
"No, it is not, Mr Hunt." I answered. "I just wanted to know if you were acquainted with Captain Croft. You see, everything that affects my brother interests me. I wanted to know what sort of person he is working with."
"You could not find a more competent man in the whole navy - well, not many, let us say. I have to grant him that, even if we are not friendly with each other.
Very strict with his men, but never unfair. Never asks more of them than he himself is willing to do. Sharp. Keen. Determined. Speaks plainly, and to the purpose. One has to get used to his ways, some fine ladies would call his manners "unpolished", I guess, but he is really quite agreeable once one has got to know him. Still, I would not want to be the one to cross him. We'll hear a lot of him in the future, I'm sure. If the war goes on for long enough, well..."
At that point, Mr Hunt's father-in-law addressed him, and he excused himself. Mrs Hunt talked with my mother, and I was left to my thoughts, but not for long.
I found myself addressed by Colonel Kennington.
"Miss Wentworth, I have seen you sit here, nearly all by yourself, and thought I might keep you company for a while. Since I cannot be of use as a dancing partner tonight, I shall have to be entertaining in another way."
He took a seat next to me.
"You are very kind to take pity on me, Colonel," I said.
"Take pity on you," he said, frowning. "What makes you think that I am merely taking pity on you? I delight in good company, that is all."
"So do I, Colonel," I answered, smiling. "Have you already heard from your sister?"
"We had a letter from her to tell us that she had arrived safely in London, but nothing more."
"It is a pity she cannot be here with us tonight, do you not think so?"
"Indeed, it is. She would have enjoyed it here. She did not want to go to London, only she has been invited so often, and has always excused herself, she could not put it off any longer. Our sister-in-law is a very resolute lady."
"Why did you not go with your sister, Colonel Kennington?"
He laughed. "A good question, Miss Wentworth. Let us say I was ... indisposed."
I laughed, too. "So you are not dancing tonight?"
"No, I am afraid I will still have to do without that pleasure for some time, for obvious reasons. I would have asked you for a dance at all means, but as it is..."
"Never mind, Colonel, it is the good intention that counts."
"I am honoured, Madam."
"Why that, Colonel?" I gave him a puzzled look.
"You are about the only lady who knows me and still accuses me of having good intentions."
Again, I had to laugh, and only stopped when Mr Williams joined us again, to claim my hand for the next two dances. The look he gave Colonel Kennington said more than words, and the Colonel was clever enough to know its meaning at once. He looked from Mr Williams to me and back to Mr Williams again, and I had a feeling that he was regarding me with a new sort of interest.
I spent the rest of the evening dancing, chatting with Mrs Hunt, and watching my brother Edward. But even though I kept a close watch on him, I could not notice any particular interest in any of the young ladies present.
There must be someone, I thought. I will have to find out who it is.
Still, I knew that Edward would not confide in me. It was not his way. Edward was a man who usually tried to settle everything by himself.
Edward left us soon after the assembly in Yarmouth, without giving me the least clue concerning whom he was pining for.
I was sure that it was one of the three ladies he had seen with Colonel Kennington, but I did not know which one it had been. My favourite candidate was Diana Bell.
Sarah had sent me a letter from London, telling me that she was enjoying herself excessively, except for her sister-in-law's company, and that she was to come back home soon.
"However, Sophia, I have bad news for you as well," she added. "My brother James and his wife are determined to go with me on my journey back home, and there is nothing I can do about it.
I thought I could escape my sister's company soon, but instead she is going to stay with us all summer."
I was pleased to be informed that her stay in London would only last one more week. It would be so pleasant to have her back again! I had missed her exceedingly.
My father had asked me to visit some of his poor parishioners, because Mama was suffering of a cold and was not able to leave her room. The weather had - finally - got a bit better; there was even something like spring in the air. I was glad to have something to do, and being allowed to go out in my father's gig was a treat. I was able to drive, but not allowed to do so very often. My mother thought it "unladylike", like so many other things.
My ability to drive has come in useful more than once in the meantime.
I had just returned from those charity visits, descended from the gig and went inside the house when the maid gave me a letter. I recognised the handwriting at once, it was Frederick's.
Happy to hear from him, I gave my coat and bonnet to the servant and went into the parlour to read. I did not have to fear any interruption, my mother was still in her room, and my father had a meeting with Sir James, to talk about some important parish business.
The Phoenix, January
I am seizing the opportunity to send you another letter, to assure you that I am well and to tell you how I am faring with my new shipmates and captain.
In the past weeks, I have become accustomed to my new surroundings, and I am happy to tell you that everything is satisfactory. You know I liked Captain Rigby, and the "Anemone" is a fine ship, but my change of situation has been an improvement in all respects.
In my last letter I mentioned a Mr Harville. He was the first one to welcome me on board the "Phoenix", and has, meanwhile, become one of my best friends.
Harville is a few years older than I am, and the only reason why he is not a Lieutenant yet is his lack of connections. Perhaps he will be made Lieutenant as soon as we are back in England. I am sure Captain Croft will do his best to further his advancement. I can hardly imagine a worthier man for a promotion than Harville.
We spend a great deal of time together, and like telling each other about our families. It is a real comfort to have someone listen to me so patiently.
Harville has a sister, too, although she is much younger than he. So, Harville is telling me about his sister Fanny, and I am talking about my sister Sophia, and I am afraid we are already getting on the Captain's nerves. Last week he said that one could see we were still very young, having no other ladies to talk about but our sisters.
Harville answered that his sister was not a lady yet, but a little girl, ten years of age, and I said that, if Captain Croft knew my sister, he would know why I was talking about her so much, her being the prettiest girl in Norfolk.
Good Heavens, Frederick! You are exaggerating shamelessly, I thought. Let us only hope that Captain Croft will never meet me, or he will not think much of your judgement in the future.
Captain Croft is the sort of man who keeps a whole ship's crew under control without much effort. He is a natural leader. Everyone admires him; Mr Hayes was obviously not aware of his luck to be sailing with a captain like Croft.
The men would do everything for him, and I am sure he would also do everything for them. As long as every man sticks to his duty, that is. Discipline on board the Phoenix is strict; the Captain is not the sort of man to put up with work being done sloppily. He cannot stand lazy people.
Off duty, he is one of the most agreeable men I have ever met. He has a splendid sense of humour, and he can be very kind.
Sometimes he speaks his mind a bit too freely, but no one takes offence at this. We all know that it is just his way. One always knows where one stands with Captain Croft.
We are to leave Antigua soon, and are bound for Yarmouth. So, dear sister, I shall be able to see you all soon, after two long years of absence. Even though I know that I will meet you before long, I am impatient to get home, and cannot wait to be off.
May the Lord keep you all in good health until I return.
Frederick had mentioned something like that in his latest letter, but I had not dared to believe it. However, it was true - he was to come home to visit us this summer!
I had to share the good news at once.
"Mama," I cried, running upstairs to her room, "Mama, a letter from Frederick! He's coming! He will come this summer!"
I entered her room, out of breath, and told her about the letter and the news it contained.
My mother, too, was happy to hear that Frederick would come home soon, but her pessimistic character forbade her to believe it, and her cold did nothing to raise her spirits.
"I am sure there will be something to prevent it," she said sadly. "I dare not hope for it until he is actually here."
My father was more optimistic when he heard the news. He said he was looking forward to seeing Frederick in a short time, and sat down to write a letter to Edward to inform him, too.
"It will be wonderful to have you all here with me, for a change," he said.
Sarah had finally returned!
She arrived from London eight days after I had received her letter, and with her arrived Mr and Mrs Kennington.
Mrs Kennington took over the duties of the lady of Kennington House at once, not thinking that this might make her relationship with her sister-in-law even worse. Sarah felt the insult severely, and she was not the sort of girl to put up with it.
"I would rather not imagine what it will be like once my father is dead," Sarah said to me when we were walking with each other in the garden of Kennington House.
"As soon as James and Her Highness have taken charge of this place, life here will not be worth living any more. There are only two ways of escaping this gloomy prospect. Either I get married myself, or I hope for Thomas to be married and settled far away. I cannot stand the thought of living under one roof with Her Highness for longer than necessary."
I wished I could have said something useful, but as I could not, I remained silent.
"Her Highness", Mrs Kennington, was the sort of woman who was beautiful, but without the warmth in her manner which makes women really appealing. Whenever I saw her, I was reminded of a cat. She was moving like a cat, swiftly, elegantly. She had a way of looking at people that made them freeze. Somehow one could not escape the impression that she was watching people all the time, noting everything, waiting for the final move - like a cat, toying with her prey until the end.
There were two sides of Mrs Kennington - the one she showed when gentlemen were around, smooth and friendly.
The other side, which she only showed when she was among ladies - she was haughty, cold, selfish, and unfeeling.
There were only two things that were important for her - money and social status. Her money and social status, to be precise.
She had obtained both by marrying Mr Kennington. He was to inherit a title and a considerable fortune, something that Mrs Kennington apparently thought worth waiting for. Her husband was completely under her control and did not notice how much he was manipulated.
I remembered what she had said once before her marriage.
"The woman who cannot manipulate her husband is a fool. The one who does not want to manipulate him is a saint."
Mrs Kennington was neither.
I agreed with Sarah - once Mrs Kennington was in charge of Kennington House, things would start to look nasty. But I thought that there was no danger of Sarah still being at Kennington House then. Her father was in excellent health; there was no probability of his dying soon. Sarah was young, beautiful, and rich. She could have any man she wanted, I was sure about that, and I told her so.
"Sarah, I am sure you will be married long before that happens," I said.
Sarah gave me a smile. "I shall hope so. You know whom I met in London?"
"I have no idea, Sarah. Whom did you meet?"
"Mr Baldwin, do you remember him? He is one of my brother's friends and spent one summer here."
I could not for the life of me remember who Mr Baldwin was. Sarah guessed it by my bedazzled look.
"Is it really possible you do not remember him? It was about three years ago."
Now I did remember Mr Baldwin. I had not met him very often during his stay in Kennington House. He had been with the Colonel most of the time.
"How is Mr Baldwin?" I asked.
"He is the darling of London society, Sophy. He has come into money since that summer, and he is a baronet. Sir Alexander Baldwin."
"Has Sir Alexander got more than just money and title to recommend him, Sarah?"
Sarah blushed. "Of course he has. I have always thought him to be a very pleasant gentleman, if you remember."
This was the first time she had ever mentioned this to me.
"Actually, I do not remember, Sarah. Come on, tell me more." I gave her an encouraging smile.
"If there is someone to snatch my best friend away soon, I want to know all about it."
"There is not much, really," Sarah answered. "I just met him again, and I must say I think very highly of him."
"You think very highly of him, aha."
"Sophy! It is not as you think!"
"Is it not?" I looked at her, grinning.
"Sophy, really, there is nothing extraordinary about him..."
"Nothing extraordinary at all, except the fact that he is the first gentleman I ever heard you talk about so favourably."
"This is not true! I always speak favourably about other people..."
"Just give it up, will you? It is no use. I know you too well, you cannot deceive me. You may be able to deceive others, even yourself, but not me."
Sarah laughed. "All right, I admit it, I like Sir Alexander."
I grinned. "We are getting near it, are we? Tell me, what does Sir Alexander think of all this? Does he know his own luck already? Does he like you?"
Sarah sighed and shrugged her shoulders. "If I only knew. He was pleasant, to be sure, but I did not notice any particular signs of attachment on his side."
Soon after that, my family spent an evening at Kennington House. Mrs Kennington had been so condescending to invite us for dinner.
While the ladies were on their own, I had enough time to get to know Mrs Kennington a bit better. I had nearly forgotten how disagreeable she was, but five minutes in her company refreshed my memory. To say it in Sarah's own words, she was "as good a sort of woman as one could wish to avoid".
There was no avoiding her that evening. Whatever we did, whatever we talked about, we had the uncanny feeling that she was watching us and hearing every word. So we kept to topics of general interest, such as the newest London fashions, balls and assemblies, and people Sarah had met in London.
I would have been grateful even for Mr Williams's being there, because the presence of gentlemen always made Mrs Kennington act agreeably. But the gentlemen were still in the drawing room, and considering that Sir James was just as fond of his daughter-in-law as the Colonel and Sarah were, they would certainly stay there for a while. It was really strange that Colonel Kennington, who was often described as being superficial, had discovered the real character of Mrs Kennington, while his brother, whose good sense had been praised so often, had fallen for her so easily.
It was Colonel Kennington who was the first one to join us in the drawing room. Perhaps he had known that being alone with Mrs Kennington was not that pleasant for us, or perhaps he had been bored by his father and brother talking about business matters all the time, I did not know. After he had made some polite remarks to Mrs Kennington and my mother, he casually walked over to Sarah and me.
"I have not told you yet, Sarah, that I have received a letter today, have I?"
Sarah shook her head. "No, you have not. Are you to leave us again?"
He laughed. "Not yet, dearest sister, thank you for your concern. No, the letter was from Alexander Baldwin."
I noticed that Sarah's cheeks coloured slightly, but she did not say a thing.
"Actually, I thought it strange that he had not inquired after my health before he had met my sister in London," the Colonel added.
"He did not know you had been wounded, Thomas," was Sarah's calm reply. Too calm, for my taste. Her outward calmness only indicated how excited she really was.
"Ah yes, that explains it."
Was I imagining things, or had the Colonel just winked at me? What was he up to?
"Anyway, I invited him here. I have not seen him for some time. Tell me, Sarah, is he still as he was or has his title made him a different man? I hope not, I liked him as he was."
"He is still the same, as far as I can tell," Sarah answered.
"Good. I shall enjoy spending some time with him then."
Sarah frowned. "I beg your pardon, Thomas?"
"I answered his letter at once, Sarah, and I invited him to come here. I am desperately in need of good company."
"You did WHAT?"
"Sarah, please, not so loud...I invited Sir Alexander Baldwin to spend some weeks at Kennington House."
His smile told me that he knew exactly what his sister felt concerning Sir Alexander, and that he had invited him on her account as well as his, perhaps even more on Sarah's.
Sometimes he surprised me. He was capable of unselfish kindness - although he did not admit it.
When we took leave that evening, Sarah whispered to me, "I still cannot believe it - Sir Alexander will be here! You will see he is a very agreeable gentleman."
I laughed. "Both of us have something to look forward to now," I said. "You are looking forward to Sir Alexander's visit, and I to my brother's arrival."
Sarah sighed. "Let us only hope things will turn out to be as agreeable as we hope them to be."
She glanced at Mrs Kennington furtively and whispered, "She can spoil everything, you know."
Two weeks after that evening, Sir Alexander arrived in Kennington House. Sarah had been waiting anxiously for his arrival, wondering why he had accepted her brother's invitation.
I was not wondering at all, I knew my friend and was well aware of her charms. I was sure that Sir Alexander had written to the Colonel to get a chance to be near Sarah. It had worked; the Colonel had been obliging enough to invite him.
I have to be honest. My first impression of Sir Alexander was not very favourable. He was not very handsome, in my opinion, and he was not very talkative either. Talking to him was hard work - harder work even than to talk with Mr Williams.
I did not know then that Sir Alexander was just shy. He had been told that I was Sarah's best friend and most likely to influence her, and he was so intent on making a good impression on me that he hardly dared talk to me more than propriety required. He was afraid he might say something wrong, and that I might manipulate Sarah into rejecting him. What a ridiculous thought! As if I would ever do such a thing!
Perhaps I was not disposed to think too well of him because I was jealous. Until Sarah had met him, I had been her best friend, and had got most of her attention. Now most of Sarah's time and attention was bestowed on Sir Alexander. It is not very pleasant if one's best friend finds someone else, and so Sir Alexander had a hard time before him. I was, if not determined, at least eager to find fault with him.
First of all, he was a friend with Colonel Kennington. What if he was of the same kind? What if he was just flirting with Sarah, using her ill, casting her aside as soon as he had done with her? I had to give up that notion, however. Even if Colonel Kennington was a rascal and not at all adverse to an occasional flirt (or even more), I doubted that he would allow anyone to meddle with his sister. If Sir Alexander had had that intention, I was sure the Colonel would have known and prevented it.
I could not call Sir Alexander a bore, either. I wished he had been, but he was not. Even if he did not talk much, once he spoke up, he had something of consequence to say. It was most vexing, indeed.
Stop laughing, Admiral, will you? I'm only saying it as I felt then.
Of course, I did not show those feelings to Sarah. I knew it would hurt her if I did, and so I just kept them to myself.
During Sir Alexander's stay at Kennington House, however, I found out that he was not that bad after all. I was still not sure why Sarah had fallen in love with him, but at least I accepted the fact as it was, was happy on her account and hoped that everything would turn out well.
Spring was turning into summer now. It was getting warmer and sunnier every day, and I was looking forward to finally seeing Frederick again. In his letter, he had only told me that he would get home "in summer", but had not said when exactly.
I knew that he could not really tell me exactly, but he could have given me a hint, at least. It was very like him - I was sure he wanted to surprise us with his arrival.
The weather being so fine, Sarah came up with the idea for a picnic with her brother, the Colonel, Sir Alexander and me.
"You will come along too, will you not?" she asked me.
"I do not know," I said hesitatingly. "My mother..."
Sarah sighed. "Your mother cannot keep you away from all the fun, can she? Sophy, please come with us."
"It is not for me to decide, Sarah. As far as I am concerned, I would love to, but you know my mother.... you know what she thinks about such excursions."
"Oh, come on, Sophy, your mother need not fear for your reputation. We will chaperone each other, and my brother will come with us too."
"I do not think that the Colonel's going with us is a recommendation to my mother to let me go, Sarah," I said, smiling. My mother would rather let me go into a lion's den all by myself, I thought.
"I was talking about my brother James. He is coming with us, and Her Highness, too. I could not get rid of them. Please, Sophy, I need your support."
Sarah looked at me pleadingly.
"I can ask her," I finally said. "But I cannot promise anything. You know my mother."
Sarah grinned. "I do, indeed. I will get my brother to ask her, she will not refuse it if he does."
What more can I say? Once Mr Kennington had asked my mother if I was allowed to be one of the party, my mother gave her consent.
The day we set off for our picnic, the weather was fine, and it looked as if it was going to stay that way all day.
We were in excellent spirits; even Mrs Kennington was not able to spoil everything with her mere presence this time. She was to go with her husband, while Sarah, Sir Alexander, the Colonel and I were seated in the carriage together.
For the first time I saw Sir Alexander so lively - he was sitting opposite me and was laughing and joking all the time. My opinion of him improved during that short journey in the carriage.
He was very attentive to Sarah, very good-humoured. I watched them with a smile, and then turned to look out of the window, enjoying the beautiful scenery around me.
"You are very fond of the country, are you not, Miss Wentworth," Colonel Kennington said.
"I have always been, yes," I answered, and added, with a short laugh, "I have no other choice, I suppose. I do not think I will ever live anywhere else."
"Why not? Who knows, you might end up in ... Bombay, some day."
I laughed. Bombay, really...
"What gives you that idea, Colonel?"
He laughed. "I do not know, you just do not look like someone who would enjoy staying in the same place all her life. I am sure you would like to travel around."
"Perhaps I would, Colonel, but I happen to be one of these people who cannot afford to travel around."
"You may not be able to afford it at the moment, Miss Wentworth, but who knows what will be in the future? You are still young, and have all your life before you..." He said this with a mischievous smile.
"Are you playing grandpapa again," his sister asked him.
"He sometimes does that to be contradicted, you know," she said to me. "Just ignore him, this is the only way to stop him acting like that."
I laughed. "I do not mind it at all, Sarah, in fact I find it quite amusing. Do you feel so very old now that you start looking at me as "having all my life before me", Colonel?"
"I do," he answered. "Old and useless."
"Do you want me to contradict you now, Colonel Kennington? You are not so very old as you want me to believe, and not quite as useless either."
"A well-deserved compliment, Miss Wentworth," Sir Alexander said dryly.
I laughed. "Well, he asked for it, did he not?"
"I am glad to see that I am at least good for a laugh now and then. Just you wait until you are my age, Miss Wentworth! Making fun of an old man like that!"
The Colonel acted as if he was hurt, but one could see that he was having as much fun as we had.
The picnic was charming.
First, we went for a short walk; before we settled down to eat our luncheon.
It was the Colonel's first attempt to walk a longer distance without his crutch.
"I need to get used to it," he said. "I am fed up with sitting around and doing nothing. Time for me to get ready to join my regiment again, before my substitute messes up everything."
"Mess up a regiment? How does that work," Sir Alexander asked.
"That is a thing I would like to know, too," I said.
"Well, you know, soldiers get used to their commanders in a way. They know how everything is to be done; they know their commander's priorities. Routine is very important, and so is discipline. There are commanders who care a great deal about these things, and there are commanders who do not. Now, if my substitute does not care that much, the regiment will be messed up, and it will be hard work to repair the damage he has done. I am sure your brother can tell you a lot about that, as well, Miss Wentworth."
"I think it is very much the same thing in the Navy. A regiment - or a ship's company - are just as much use as their commander is."
"What about your regiment, Thomas? Are they any good," Sarah asked, with a wink at me.
"They were the best. Or used to be before I left them." Colonel Kennington grinned.
"Modesty itself, my brother is," Sarah answered. "Did you ever consider that they might be even better when you return?"
"Not with Bellings as their commander, they won't."
"Could we change the topic, please?" Mrs Kennington said. She gave us a sour look, and we knew what the reason was. She hated being not the centre of every discussion. She liked to give her opinions to everyone, but did not like to listen to others.
So, for the next few minutes, we politely listened to her lecture on how picturesque everything was, and my thoughts drifted away.
Once again I wondered when Frederick would return. It could not be so very long now.
"You look like you're lost in thoughts, Miss Wentworth," Sir Alexander said to me.
"I am sorry, I was just thinking of my brother. He has promised to come for a visit this summer, and I was just wondering how long it might take him to come back home from the West Indies."
"Your seafaring brother? How long has he been away?"
"I have not seen him for two years, Sir Alexander."
"Two years! That is an awfully long time, to be sure. I have not seen my younger brother for a year now. He is in the Navy, too, currently stationed in Gibraltar. I do not know when I shall see him again, either, so you are better off than I am. How old is your brother, Miss Wentworth?"
"Seventeen, Sir Alexander."
"Seventeen, and you have not seen him for two years...you will hardly recognise him when you meet him again."
I laughed. "I am sure I'd recognise my brother anywhere, Sir Alexander."
Sir Alexander laughed, too. "I do not think so. At your brother's age, two years make a huge difference."
"Well, perhaps, but I still think I will recognise him. How old is your brother, Sir Alexander?"
"Five and twenty, Miss Wentworth. He was made Captain after the Nile action last year."
"I will ask my brother if he knows Captain Baldwin."
"Do, Miss Wentworth."
This short conversation with Sir Alexander made me like him even more. He certainly was a gentleman who improved on closer acquaintance.
Mrs Kennington suggested that we should stop at an inn in Yarmouth on our way home to have dinner. Everyone was quite happy with that idea, and so it was settled.
Yarmouth was the nearest city to our hometown. It was a principal naval port and also an important army station at that time. There was always a bustle in the streets and lanes of Yarmouth, and one could amuse oneself for hours by only watching the people. I did not have the chance to get there very often, however. My family sometimes visited friends in Yarmouth, friends like Mr and Mrs Benton. We sometimes attended the assemblies in Yarmouth, too, but otherwise we did not have much business there.
We had just arrived in Yarmouth when Sarah remembered that she could use the opportunity and visit a young woman who was just making a dress for her. She asked me to come with her, and I was happy to get a chance to walk and move about a bit. Colonel Kennington was to walk with us, too, while Sir Alexander, Mr and Mrs Kennington would wait for us at the inn.
Sarah had soon finished her business and we walked back to the inn. The Colonel held the door open for us, but stayed outside as he had just met a friend of his.
"Tell the others I will join you in a minute or two," he said to Sarah.
We went inside, and found the innkeeper busy with a customer, a sea captain. As soon as the captain realised that we were waiting for the innkeeper, he asked him to "attend to the ladies first".
Both Sarah and I thanked him with a smile, and he bowed to us. He was not strikingly handsome, but pleasant to look at - rather tall, with dark hair and eyes. There was something about his manner, I could not tell what it was, that made me wish I was acquainted with him.
The innkeeper led us to a private parlour where the rest of our party were already waiting for us and left us again. Sarah told her brother that the Colonel would soon join us, and gave her sister-in-law an exact description of what we had done in town.
After dinner, we set off in the direction of Kennington House. It was not until we had nearly reached my father's house when the Colonel turned to me and said, " I wonder if you saw the gentleman who was speaking to the landlord when we arrived at the inn."
"A gentleman? Do you mean the sea officer?"
"Yes, the sea officer. Do you know who that was?"
I shook my head. "I have never seen the gentleman before, Colonel, so how am I to know? He was very obliging, though, was he not, Sarah?"
"Oh yes, he was. Now, come on, Thomas, who is he?"
Both of us looked at the Colonel in anticipation. He laughed.
"I did not believe it myself at first when I saw him, I thought he was still at sea. Miss Wentworth, the gentleman at the inn was Captain Croft."
Continued in Part 2© 2001 Copyright held by author