A few minutes. That was all the rest I was allowed to have. Then my mother rushed in, demanding to know what had happened. I had prepared myself for trouble of some kind, but I had not been able to foresee how much trouble there would actually be.
"Mr Williams asked me to marry him, Mama, and I refused."
"You did what?"
"I refused to marry him, Mama. I told you many times that this was what I would do if he ever asked me, did I not?"
"How could you? How dare you?"
I was startled to see my mother like that. I had told her often enough that I did not want to marry Mr Williams, so I had never expected such a violent outburst from her. She had been prepared for it, had she not? Why she flew into such a rage, I did not know.
I did not know then, I ought to say. Now I know that she was scared, she was scared what would become of me. Perhaps I would react like that as well, if I had a daughter, but I do not think so. The difference would be that my daughter, if I had one, would be well provided for in any case, while I could not expect much from my father. Mr Williams had been willing to marry me in spite of the fact that I had no money or connections. My mother thought this was my last chance to marry.
Besides, there were more things for her to worry about -much more serious matters. Had I known about her troubles then, I would have been able to understand her, but as it was...
My mother never shared her problems with anybody, not even with my father. Looking back now, I know that she wanted to settle everything in the world before she had to leave it. She knew she would have to go soon, and she did not want to leave unfinished business behind.
"Disregarding my advice, disregarding my wishes and your father's! How could you?"
"Mama, I told you..."
"I do not want to hear a word of it! You seem to be determined to disgrace our family!"
"Disgrace our family, Mama?"
I could not for the life of me imagine why I should disgrace our family by refusing to marry Mr Williams. It was not as if I had to marry, was it?
"Yes, disgrace our family. Did you ever think that Mr Williams might be able to help your family, that he might be able to help your brothers along? He might have been able to provide for you and them, if your father died and you had to leave this house. Now that you have refused him, what is going to become of you?"
"Mama, there is no danger of my father dying soon, is there? As far as my brothers are concerned, I think they can very well fend for themselves. I am also quite sure that each of them will take care of you quite happily if anything happens. Besides, my refusal to marry Mr Williams does not mean that I am going to stay single for the rest of my life. It just means that I am not going to marry Mr Williams."
"Nonsense, girl, who do you think would still marry you? There is not much choice left, Sophia, let us face the fact."
My mother was sure to hit me where it hurt most. Who would marry me, indeed?
"You have not heard the last about this matter, Sophia. I am sure your father has to say something about it as well. As for me, since you have ignored everything I have told you lately, it will be better if I remain silent. I will not speak to you any more, you are not worth it."
I winced. How could she do such a thing to me? I knew I was right, I knew that I could not have been happy with Mr Williams, and I was sure she would not want to see me unhappy. Why did she treat me like that?
I decided to leave her and go for a short walk. It would give her some time to recover. On my way out I met Edward, who offered to walk with me.
I nodded assent, and he went with me, not talking for a while.
Then he said, "Come on, Sophia, what was that row about? I heard our mother scream at you, I know there must be something wrong."
"Mr Williams made me an offer of marriage."
"Now this is hardly a reason for Mother to reproach you, is it?"
I smiled faintly. "No, perhaps not, except for the fact that I refused him."
Edward did not say anything more for a few minutes. He seemed to be deep in thought.
Then he said, "Do you want to tell me about your reasons for refusing him? I would like to understand you, Sophia. As far as I know, Mr Williams is an amiable gentleman, and he is quite rich. I think he would make you a good husband."
"Perhaps he would, he would definitely try, but, Edward, I do not love him. I cannot imagine myself being his wife."
Edward nodded. "That is another matter, of course. Did you tell Mama about your reasons?"
"I did, but somehow she did not take them seriously. She told me that love was overrated, that there was plenty of time to fall in love with one's husband after marriage. I suppose she is right, in a way, only I think that in such a case one should be able to find something endearing in one's future husband before marriage, do you not think so, too?"
"And there is nothing endearing in Mr Williams, you think?"
"I suppose there are one or two things I like about him, yes, but still I cannot imagine to marry him for those reasons. Do you think I am wrong?"
I looked at him pleadingly.
Edward shook his head. "No, I do not think you are wrong, but I am afraid I cannot be as impartial as I ought to be, Sophia. I cannot help but sympathise with Mr Williams. He is a good man, and I am sure he would treat you well. Certainly your rejection hurt him very much. But if you can honestly say that you do not love him, I am sure he is better off without you. It will only take some time until he will realise it."
I sighed. "I hope he will realise it soon. I really feel sorry for him, you know, and I wish I could have spared him the humiliation. Edward, do you think I encouraged him?"
Edward gave me a searching look. "Why do you ask?"
"Mr Williams said I had. Do you think I did?"
"No, I do not, but if he thought it, there must have been something in your manner that must have made him think..."
"You have seen me in his company often enough, Edward. Do you think I have knowingly deceived him?"
"No, not knowingly. Oh dear, what a muddle! Well, let us walk back home, Sophia. I think our mother will have calmed down by now."
I was not so sure as to that, but I could not stay away all night.
Mama received us rather coldly, and only cast a significant look at Frederick, who, it seemed, had become her means of communication with me.
He cleared his throat, and said, with a look of compassion, "Sophia, our father said he wanted to have a word with you as soon as you got home."
I was still out of favour, it seemed. "Thank you, Frederick," I answered. "Is he in his study?"
"I think he is." Frederick's voice sounded unusually kind, I supposed he wanted to show me that he agreed with me. He could not say so openly while our mother was with us. It was a comfort that, although my mother disagreed with me, I could at least count on support from my brothers.
I went to Papa's study and took a deep breath before I knocked at the door. I knew that Papa was a mild-mannered man, but what if he agreed with my mother? It was very likely, after all. Could I really oppose BOTH my parents? It would be advisable to arm myself for another fight.
When I came into the study, Papa asked me to take a seat, and then said nothing for a while. How very like Edward he was! I only hoped that his opinion would be the same as Edward's.
He just looked at me, silently, and waited for me to start the conversation.
"Frederick said you wanted to see me, Papa."
He nodded and said, slowly, "I think you know why I sent for you."
"I can imagine. I suppose it has something to do with Mr Williams' offer of marriage."
"Your mother told me you refused him."
"So I did."
He took a deep breath. "Sophy, I am in a bit of a ...difficult situation here. You have refused Mr Williams, and there ought to be an end of this topic, in my opinion. Nothing I can do or say will change your decision, I know that very well, and even if you did - I do not think Mr Williams will have so little pride to ask you once again. Still, your mother thinks that someone ought to tell you about your prospects. You know I am not rich, Sophy, do you?"
"Do not interrupt me, Sophy, or I shall forget what I was going to say. I am not rich, and I cannot provide for you the way I would like to. If it were for me, you need not give a single thought to a marriage of convenience. But as it is, I have to agree with your mother here, as it is, you have thrown away an excellent chance of an advantageous marriage. I wanted you to know that. Now, what did you want to say?"
"I know very well that it would have been an advantageous marriage, from the prudential point of view, Papa, but I do not think that money is the most important thing in life."
My father smiled. "Not the most important thing, Sophy, but one of the most important things. I am sure one need not be rich to be happy - but one cannot be really happy being desperately poor, either. All I want for you is that you may, in time, be able to lead a comfortable life, once I cannot look after you any more. For a woman, the only way to lead a comfortable life is to marry a man who can provide her with everything she needs. I did not make that rule, Sophy, but so it is."
He looked at me earnestly. "All I want you to do, Sophy, is that you consider this the next time someone asks for your hand in marriage. I cannot, and will not, force you into a marriage that is so disagreeable to you, but you need to understand us, your mother and me. We only want the best for you."
I got up and put my arms around him. "I know, Papa, and I am sorry that Mama was so upset. If I could change my mind, I would. You know that I never do a thing without having a reason for it."
"I know, but I will not ask for your reason now. Just remember what I told you, will you?"
I nodded. "Papa, I hoped you would be on my side."
"I am always on your side, Sophy, believe it or not. Sometimes it may not look like it, but so it is. Your mother is on your side, too, although her opinion may differ from yours. She has the advantage of age and experience. Remember that."
"I will. Is there anything more you want to tell me?"
He shook his head. "No, there is not. Hold on, there is one more thing: Your mother need not know what I said to you. Do you understand?"
I smiled and kissed him on his cheek. "I understand, Papa. I will not tell her."
He grinned, and for a moment he reminded me more of Frederick than of Edward.
"I will tell her I had a serious word with you, that will do."
I had an opportunity to tell Frederick what had happened, but not before the next morning.
My hopes for my mother to calm down were not justified; she still refused to speak to me. Frederick was in an unfortunate position. Mama did not talk with me, at least not directly, and the atmosphere between her and me was extremely tense. I pitied him, he had done nothing wrong, and now his stay with us was spoilt by such circumstances.
He did not say a word before Mama left the breakfast table, but then he turned to me.
"What has happened, Sophia? I have not seen her like this for ages."
"You have not seen her for ages. I thought Mama had told you what had happened."
"Not a word, she only said you had vexed her and she did not want to talk to you, that was all. So, what have you done?"
"I refused to marry Mr Williams."
Frederick laughed. "So he finally made up his mind to ask you, did he? Did he take it hard?"
"As one could expect, Frederick. Do you believe I was wrong to refuse him?"
"No, of course not. Good Lord, what would I do with brother-in-law like Mr Williams? Really, Sophia, I would have had a very strange opinion of you if you had accepted him."
He was the first member of my family who seemed to approve of my decision, at any rate.
"It is good to hear you speak so kindly of me, Frederick. I cannot tell you how much Mama's behaviour distresses me. She makes me feel as if I were the worst person in the world."
"She will get over it, Sophia, do not worry. Some day she will need something of you, and there will be no one near her to ask you - that will be the moment when she starts talking to you again."
I hoped Frederick was right. I hoped Mama would see that, whatever she did, nothing could change my mind. I hoped she would be able to accept my decision for what it was: the well-founded decision of a grown-up woman, not the caprice of a child.
The present situation was dreadful, but I knew this would change soon. Well, I hoped so.
Mama was not the sort of woman to forget things easily, and she was determined to show me how displeased she was. She did not say a single word to me all day. Neither my father nor my brothers interfered. They knew that there was no use in annoying her even more. As Frederick had said, she would get over it sooner or later, and the more one tried to press her, the less inclined she would be to do so. Of course I could have apologised, that would have changed a lot - only I did not see any reason for saying I was sorry if I was not. I could be just as stubborn as my mother was. Guess where I got that from.
I was reasonable enough, though, to keep out of her way. The weather was fine, and my mother went out into the garden, which made it easier for me. I seated myself in the parlour with my work basket, to make some alterations with a dress of mine.
Perhaps I wanted to show her that I was a good daughter after all, doing my duties just like before. But it was more likely that I wanted to have an opportunity to dream myself away, as I frequently did when doing needlework. Somehow everyone believed that I concentrated on my work, while I was really just dreaming.
I suppose everyone can guess what sort my dreams were that day. I hoped to meet Captain Croft at the party that evening, and I spent my time quite pleasantly imagining our meeting. Now that Mr Williams knew I had no special regard for him, he would most probably leave me alone, and that would mean that I had more time to spare for the Captain. If he came, that was.
What do you think could have kept me away, Sophy? I knew you would be there, that was reason enough to come, even if I had had to travel all the way from Portsmouth. - You're an old charmer, do you know that? - Doing my best, my dear.
I had not met Sarah all day; she had been very busy with the preparations for the party. Why she did not leave them to Mrs Kennington who was so keen on being the mistress of Kennington House, I do not know, but I suppose she did not want Mrs Kennington to take her place before it was necessary.
So, the first opportunity for me to talk to Sarah was when she greeted us at our arrival in Kennington House in the evening.
She did not have much time for me, of course, as she was busy with welcoming her guests, but years of acquaintance with my family and me had trained her to notice that something was wrong.
After she had seen that my mother did not even look at me (I did not think I looked that ugly, but looking at me seemed to be insufferable for Mama), she arched her eyebrows and said to me, in a low voice, "Tell me everything, Sophy."
"Nonsense, Sophy, later, of course. Tomorrow morning at the latest."
I went on into the drawing room, where some people were already assembled. Captain Croft had not arrived yet, so it seemed.
Mr Williams was there, giving me a bitter look, but not rising to greet me. Even though I have to say I had expected some sort of coolness in his behaviour, I had not been prepared for such deliberate incivility.
Well, if he needed that sort of thing to get over his grief, I was most happy to oblige him. So I just gave him a nod by way of a greeting, and walked on to the other side of the room, where my mother had already taken a seat next to Mrs Kennington, listening eagerly to what she said. It had something to do with me, it seemed, and I only hoped that Mrs Kennington said nothing to sink me in my mother's esteem.
I decided to be particularly polite with her, because I did not want to give her a reason to speak ill of me. After all, she had already spoken ill enough of me without having had an actual reason.
Her friend Miss Barnaby was there, too, and after having looked at Mrs Kennington for a sign of approval, she dared start a conversation with me.
She told me what a pity it was to lose so pleasant company as the Colonel and Sir Alexander, and I agreed.
"Sir Alexander is a very agreeable gentleman, and the Colonel can be very entertaining if he has a mind to it," I said.
I was careful not to speak too well of the Colonel, or the rumours would start again, I was afraid. I listened to what Miss Barnaby had to say, or perhaps I should say I pretended to listen, because actually I was only looking around for a sign of Captain Croft.
"Did you know, Miss Wentworth, that Mr Williams will leave for Bath tomorrow?" Miss Barnaby said.
"Indeed! I hope there is no reason to fear for his mother's health, Miss Barnaby."
"Ah, no, I do not think so, but I met Mr Williams yesterday evening, and he told me that he had thought of what I had advised him to do the other day, and that he thought I had been right."
"It must be very satisfying, Miss Barnaby, to know that your good advice has been useful to Mr Williams."
Now that I had got rid of Mr Williams, I seemed inclined to be kind to people - even Miss Barnaby. Though I was sure that her good advice had only played a minor part in Mr Williams' decision to hurry off to Bath, I was disposed to let Miss Barnaby have the full credit for it. She seemed to be fond of him, and there was no reasoning about questions of taste, after all.
Now I saw Captain Croft enter the room, and while I was still looking at him, he noticed me and his face brightened up. He went over to me immediately, and after greeting Mama and Mrs Kennington, he turned to me, asking me for the first two dances.
"I hope I made it in time to ask you, Miss Wentworth. Or has someone already been here before me?"
I laughed. "No, sir, you made it in time."
"Good! I was lucky, then."
I grinned. "That, sir, you will see when we are dancing. Perhaps you will find out that it was not worth asking me?"
He shook his head. "Hardly, Miss Wentworth. You are one of those ladies with whom I need to dance to make the evening worth remembering."
"One of them, Captain Croft?" I asked, smiling.
"Oh dear, I'd better leave you now, Miss Wentworth, before you start teasing me," he said, with a playful smile.
"This will not help, Captain Croft. During the first two dances, there will be enough time for you to show me all the ladies with whom you have to dance to make the evening worth remembering."
He laughed, and went away, heading for Frederick and Colonel Kennington.
The Colonel had been gentleman enough to treat me with nothing more but mere politeness that evening. Perhaps he wanted to help me, by showing that there was no considerable feeling between him and me. I was grateful for it - although I liked him, I did not want people to believe that I felt any thing more than friendship for him, and I definitely did not want to appear as if I wanted him to marry me.
I saw that Diana Bell arrived, and resisted the urge to walk over and slap her face. Her face lit up when she noticed Colonel Kennington, went over to him and started using all her charms on him. I noticed that he was well aware of it, and that, although he treated her with proper politeness, he did not really join her in the flirting game. Still, she seemed to be satisfied.
When I was dancing the first two dances with Captain Croft, I was too happy to notice anything that happened around us. I did notice that the Colonel danced with Diana Bell, and that Mr Williams led Miss Barnaby to the set, but I did not care for any of them.
I was just happy to be there, with Captain Croft, and to enjoy myself in his company. He was a good dancer, and even if he had been the worst dancer in the world, I would have enjoyed myself with him, because I loved him.
Being so happy, I nearly forgot to talk to him. I smiled at him happily and had to check myself, after all, I did not want to make my feelings for him too obvious to everybody. He had already noticed that I was not quite the way I always was.
"I say, Miss Wentworth, you are not as talkative today as you usually are. Although I have to admit I quite like the way you smile at me."
"Oh, I am sorry, sir."
"For not talking or for smiling at me? You need not be sorry for any of these things, Miss Wentworth."
There was something in his manner - I was never really sure how much he knew or guessed about me. I hoped he would guess how I felt about him - and then I was afraid he might, and that he would not feel anything for me. I knew he was not the sort of man who would ridicule me because of that, but it would certainly sink me in his opinion.
I had to pull myself together.
"I was waiting for you to show me the ladies with whom you have to dance to have an unforgettable evening, Captain Croft."
He laughed. "I hoped you would forget about it, Miss Wentworth."
"Who, me? Not very likely, sir."
"No, true, it is not very likely. I should have known you well enough to know that, Miss Wentworth."
"So, who are they? Let me guess...Miss Kennington!"
"Oh, yes, Miss Kennington is a delightful lady, a good dancer...I think we can put Miss Kennington into that category."
"I see....now, who else? Miss Barnaby! You know, Miss Barnaby, do you not?"
"Is Miss Barnaby the short lady who is dancing with Mr Williams?"
"Yes, this is she. So, what about her?"
"I do not know her well enough to tell you about her. I shall ask her for a dance and then tell you all about it."
I laughed. "Miss Diana Bell?"
"No, I do not think I miss too much if I do not dance with her. Besides, she seems to be more attached to gentlemen wearing red coats. Not that I have any reason to complain." He winked, and I had to laugh.
"You are cruel, Captain Croft."
"Am I? I am just telling you what I think, and I really have no reason to complain. After all, I am the one who is dancing with the prettiest girl in Norfolk at the moment, even if she is just making fun of me, accusing me of paying too much attention to other ladies..."
"This is not true, sir! I never said such a thing!"
"No! I wanted to know about the ladies with whom you need to dance to think that the evening is worth remembering, as you said before."
"To tell the truth, Miss Wentworth, I think there is only one lady here who perfectly fits into that description. It is the lady with whom I am dancing right now."
"You are flattering me, Captain Croft."
"No more than you deserve, Miss Wentworth."
I blushed, and did not know what to answer, so we danced on in silence, until the music ended. Captain Croft escorted me back to my seat, where Frederick was with our mother, and said, "By the way, Captain, I nearly forgot to ask you something. Do you think I might be allowed to show my sister the "Phoenix"?"
Captain Croft gave me a surprised look. "You want to see the Phoenix?"
"I would like to, sir, if it is not too inconvenient."
"There is no inconvenience at all, Miss Wentworth. Name the day, and I shall be happy to show you around."
"Sir, I do not want to be in the way...I am sure you will have other things to do. My brother can take care of me very well, I think."
"I suppose he will be very busy," he said, smiling.
"In that case, I'd better forget about my visit on board altogether. If my brother is busy, there will be no reason for me to keep him away from his duty."
Frederick grinned. "Don't worry, Sophia, I am sure the Captain will be able to spare me for an hour or so."
"Miss Wentworth, this will not do. You cannot disappoint your brother by first promising to visit him on board, and then refusing to come."
"Are you sure I shall not be in the way?" I gave Captain Croft a searching look.
"Absolutely, Miss Wentworth."
"Of course you won't, Sophia." Frederick said.
I sighed. "Very well then. What about Monday or Tuesday next week? That is, if you will still be there."
Frederick looked at Captain Croft. "What do you think, sir?"
"Sounds good to me. Monday, Miss Wentworth?"
I laughed. "Monday it is, then."
After that conversation, there was nothing that could have spoilt that evening for me. I danced once more with Captain Croft, once with Sir Alexander, and once with Colonel Kennington. A "farewell dance", as he put it.
"We will not have much chance to dance with each other for some time, Miss Wentworth," he said.
I liked dancing with him, although I did not enjoy myself half as much as with Captain Croft. Looking around, I saw that Mr Williams gave me a furious look, and Mrs Kennington's eyes were furious as well.
If looks could kill, I would probably be dead, I thought.
The Colonel led me back to my own party, and took his leave. He went over to Mrs Kennington, and said something to her that made her look even angrier. I turned away and watched Mr Williams, who was flirting with Miss Diana Bell.
Frederick noticed that I was looking into their direction, and said, "There goes undying love and devotion, Sophia. It does not look as if you are going to miss much."
I gave him a smile and said, "I never thought so, anyway."
He laughed, and answered, "Well, I just wanted to tell you that I do not think you hurt his feelings much. If he really had been in love with you, he would act differently. He would not fall at the feet of the next best lady who comes in his way. He ought not."
"Thank you, Frederick," I said, pressing his hand.
During supper, I noticed that I had forgotten my shawl in the other room. Although Frederick offered to go and fetch it for me, I went myself. My mother had given me such a sour look, that I needed to get away from her for a moment.
So I went, fetched my shawl, put it round my shoulders and was on my way back to the dining room, when I noticed that the library door was half open. I wanted to close it, but then I noticed that someone was talking inside. I could distinguish Colonel Kennington's voice, and perhaps I would just have gone on, had he not at that moment mentioned my name.
"Gertrude, I wish you would leave Miss Wentworth alone. She has never done anything to you, as far as I know."
Gertrude...so he was speaking to his sister-in-law. Had she again started to spread rumours about me?
"Give me just one good reason why I should," I heard her reply in a shrill voice.
"For the simple reason, Gertrude, that if you do not stop, I shall let my brother know about your reasons for speaking ill of her. I know it has nothing to do with Miss Wentworth, you want to hurt me by hurting her, and that is not fair."
"You would never tell James. He would not believe you! Besides, telling him would mean killing him, that is what you said once."
"Would he not? Well, perhaps, but it would still mean trouble for you, would it not? What do you think my brother would say if I told him that his wife tried to seduce me? You really believed I would go so far as to betray my own brother with his wife, did you not?"
I had heard enough and went away quickly. So this was the reason why Mrs Kennington disliked me! Jealousy! Though, I had no clue why she should be jealous. I was not in love with Colonel Kennington, I knew him too well...
But he had said that she had tried to hurt him by hurting me...could it be that he...? No, I had not seen any signs of special attachment on his side. Mrs Kennington had been mistaken, to be sure.
Somehow, what I had heard fit in with my opinion of Mrs Kennington. I had always thought her capable of everything bad. Still, trying to commit adultery with one's own brother-in-law was...disgusting, to say the least.
I entered the dining room again, sat down with my family, and tried to look as cheerful as before. It worked, and no one seemed to notice that I was distressed.
Well, I did, although I did not tell you. - You did? - Of course! I kept an eye on you that evening.
The rest of the evening passed pleasantly, but I did not get the chance to meet Sarah and to talk to her. She was too busy doing her duty as a good hostess to have some private conversation with me - and the things I had to relate were not of the sort I wanted to discuss with her in public.
You may perhaps wonder if I wanted to tell her about the conversation I had overheard when I had passed the library. I did not want to keep a thing secret from her, of course, but, on the other hand, it was none of my or her business. The things I had heard had not been for me to hear, and the only people who ought to know about this were the Colonel and Mrs Kennington, and perhaps Mr Kennington, but I feared that, if he ever found out about it, Mrs Kennington would tell her husband that it actually had been the Colonel who had tried to seduce her, and Mr Kennington was infatuated enough to believe her. Such a thing had already worked in biblical times, had it not?
Considering the Colonel's reputation, he had little chance of defending himself against this accusation - or at least, of defending himself convincingly.
I believed Mrs Kennington to be capable of everything bad, I told you so before.
The less Sarah knew, the better it was. After all, she would soon be married and far away from her family, and the Colonel would also be gone before long. -
Sophy, you are digressing from the topic again! -
Thank you, you are right, my dear. Back to the day after the ball at Kennington House.
I left early in the morning, to walk up to Kennington House and to see Sarah. She had told me she wanted to know everything, and I was eager to tell her about Mr Williams and my mother's reaction to the whole business.
I hoped she would be able to advise me.
Sarah was in the drawing room with her sister-in-law, and welcomed me warmly, while Mrs Kennington only gave me a short, "Good morning, Miss Wentworth," before she turned to her fashion magazine again. It was obvious that she did not want to talk to me, and, I have to admit, I was rather glad about it. I was not really keen on talking to women of her sort.
Observing that I was not too happy with the presence of Mrs Kennington, Sarah said, "Sophy, being indoors all the time has given me a headache. Would you mind going for a short stroll in the garden with me?"
I readily complied, and Sarah turned to Mrs Kennington, saying in a sweet but chilly tone, "Do you want to join us, Gertrude?"
Mrs Kennington gave us a spiteful look and said, "No, thank you, I do not want to ruin my shoes in the dampness outside."
I told you before, it was early in the morning, and the dew had not yet dried up.
"As you wish, Gertrude," Sarah said and went for her shawl.
"Her reading fashion journals! The only accessory that Her Highness is lacking for a perfect style is a black cat on her shoulder," she said, grinning, when she joined me again. "What if I buy her a black fur stole for her next birthday?"
"Mrs Kennington will be delighted to hear that you spend so much money on her," was my only answer.
"You are right, she is not worth it. But now to something more interesting. Why does your mother not speak with you any more? Has it something to do with Mr Williams?"
I gave her a full account of what had happened the past two days, and Sarah listened eagerly.
"He said what," she exclaimed, when I told her that Mr Williams had said that I had encouraged him.
I repeated it, and Sarah shook her head in disbelief. "He is a greater fool than I thought him, then. I know I should not talk about other people like that, but it is true. Sophy, any other man would have noticed you were not encouraging him, but, on the contrary, trying to tell him to get lost, in your very own polite manner, of course."
I laughed. Sarah had hit the nail on the head. How often had I wished Mr Williams to "get lost"? Then I became more earnest again. I asked Sarah what I was to do now.
"My mother seems to be extremely worried, Sarah. How can I reassure her, and at the same time show her that I will not put up with her meddling in my life?"
"That's a tricky task, Sophy, and I am not sure if it will work. The only thing that might work would be to marry."
"Now do not ask me whom you are going to marry. I think you know it just as well as I do."
"Nonsense, Sarah. I think you know more than I do."
"Well, it is obvious, is it not? Yesterday, when the guests were gone, we were sitting together, my father, my brothers, Her Highness, Captain Croft and I..."
"Yes, we invited him to spend the night here, so he did not have to go back to Yarmouth by night. Well, anyway, Her Highness said something about you, I do not remember exactly what it was, but I think it was something about you and Mr Williams. You should have seen how interested in the discussion Captain Croft became once he heard your name."
"Sarah, you are imagining things."
"Oh yes, just as I always do. I am famous for imagining things."
"Is...is Captain Croft still here?" If I had only had an idea, I would have...well, what would I have done?
"No, not at the moment. He has gone for a ride with my brothers. But they will be back soon, I think. Now look how interested in the discussion you get once Captain Croft is mentioned."
I laughed. "You caught me, Sarah, but I can tell you, one word to anyone and I'll drown you in the lake."
I pointed to the small lake at the far end of the park.
Sarah grinned. "I would like to see that. I am stronger than you, you know."
"That would not help you, I assure you. I would get someone to help me."
"I do not think Captain Croft would help you. It is not his job to drown people, Sophy."
I hated it when Sarah was fooling around. Even in her being silly there was some intelligence.
"Sarah! Will you stop it and be serious for a moment."
"All right, I am serious. So you have finally admitted to yourself that you are in love with him. It's about time, I knew it already. What does he say about it?"
"Sarah! How am I to know? Do you think I talked with him about that matter?"
"You did not? You had plenty of time, though."
In the meantime we had reached the house again, and, in walking in, we met the gentlemen in the hallway. They had just returned from their outing and greeted us politely.
"Good morning, Miss Wentworth. Have you been for a walk with my sister," Colonel Kennington asked.
"Yes, sir, your sister thought she could do with some fresh air."
He turned to Sarah and asked, "Why did you not go with us then?"
"How could I? I had already asked Sophy to come."
"Miss Wentworth could have joined us, too," Captain Croft said.
I laughed. "Me on horseback? Not for the world!"
He grinned. "I thought you were rather good at handling horses, Miss Wentworth."
"As long as I do not have to sit on their back, sir. No, I'd rather walk."
Mr Kennington looked at Sarah and said, "Did my wife walk with you?"
"No, James, she preferred to stay indoors," was Sarah's answer. Mr Kennington walked into the drawing room to see his wife.
I watched the Colonel anxiously, trying to discern any reaction to the mentioning of Mrs Kennington, but I could see none.
I could have killed him that morning. I thought you were giving him a bit too much attention. -
Was I? I cannot remember, really. I do not think I ever gave Colonel Kennington more attention than I ought. -
No, not more than you ought, but still too much for my taste. -
I spent another quarter of an hour with the Kenningtons, before I got up and took leave.
So did the Captain, saying that he had something he wanted to talk about with my brother, and offering to accompany me, if I had no objection. As if I would object!
I assured him that I did not mind (really, I said, "I do not mind", which is not much of an encouragement, if you come to think of it, but I think he got my meaning).
I think I did. -
Why are you grinning like that, Admiral? -
Oh, just remembering the old days, that is all.
We walked for a while, discussing the previous evening. After a while, Captain Croft asked me, "What about your family, Miss Wentworth? Did they enjoy themselves?"
"As far as I know, they did." I could not answer for all of them. My mother was still ignoring me.
He gave me an interested look, but did not dwell on the subject. Instead, he changed the topic, told me how the work on the "Phoenix" was progressing, and I listened readily.
After a while he checked himself, and said, "But I must be boring you, Miss Wentworth, I am sorry."
I laughed. "I am by no means bored, Captain, really, it interests me. The only problem is that I do not know much about ships in general, so I am afraid I do not understand much."
"And still you are putting up with my ramble...really, you're adorable, Miss Wentworth."
"Not really, sir, I am afraid." I blushed. His compliments seemed so natural, in comparison to those Mr Williams had given me.
He gave me a sharp look. "Something worries you, Miss Wentworth, am I right?"
I was amazed. Sometimes it really looked as if he could read my mind. How did he do that?
I tried to lead him away from the topic, but this time he was determined to know.
"I suppose there has been a quarrel with your mother."
"Captain Croft, how..." I stopped. It was no use asking him how he knew. First of all, my mother's behaviour at the ball had been enough to let everyone know that she did not dote on me any more, and then there had also been Mr Williams. Why should I deny anything everybody knew?
"There has been no quarrel, only... never mind, sir."
"Only? Miss Wentworth, I noticed that although you were in good spirits yesterday evening, there were times when you seemed to be rather depressed, usually when you were with your mother. If there is any thing I can do for you, tell me so. I'd be happy to."
"Mama and I are not on speaking terms with each other at the moment, Captain Croft."
"That is what I thought, Miss Wentworth. Although I cannot think of any reason why your mother should be displeased with you."
I sighed. "We seem to have very different opinions concerning Mr Williams."
So now it was out. I knew he had no business knowing about my feelings for Mr Williams or anybody else, but he had already guessed half of it, had he not? I did not show my best manners by telling him about my family matters, but then he seemed to be so concerned...
"So that is the trouble, is it? You want to marry Mr Williams and your mother refuses to give you her blessing."
I laughed. "No, actually it is the other way round."
"You mean your mother wants to marry him and you refuse to give her your blessing, Miss Wentworth?"
"Captain Croft!" I looked at him, half angry, half smiling.
He laughed. "Sorry, Miss Wentworth, I ought not to tease you like that, I know. I promise to be good. It was only that you had looked so sad - I had to say something to cheer you up."
"Somehow you always manage to cheer me up. How do you do that?"
"Don't ask me, I would not know. So Mr Williams is the cause of all your troubles, is he?"
"It looks like it. Mr Williams made me an offer of marriage, but I have no intention of marrying Mr Williams, and I told him so."
"Good! He is not the right man for you anyway."
"My mother, however, cannot forgive me....what did you just say?"
"I said that Mr Williams was not the right man for you. It is a good thing you refused him."
I did not believe what I had just heard. He was looking at me seriously, and yet, his eyes were sort of...glowing, and I was not really sure if he was in earnest.
"I am sure you know who is the right man for me, then." I said, ironically.
"Of course I do. I am," he answered with a broad smile.
"This is not the right moment for a joke, Captain Croft," I said, looking at him incredulously. This was so sudden - and yet, it was what I had always wished for. Well, not always, but at least for the past few days.
"Who says I'm joking, Sophy?" was his only answer. "I have never been more serious in my life, I assure you."
Why are you laughing, Admiral? -
I am laughing at myself. Bursting out like that. You know I was scared I might lose you? That is the only excuse I can offer for behaving the way I did.
I stared at him in utter amazement. Now I knew he was serious - and I was too happy, too surprised to say a thing.
"Sophy," he said, looking at me anxiously. "Are you all right?"
"I am all right, it is only..." Somehow the whole situation was getting the better of me. A proper heroine would have fainted at that point...
...and frightened me to death... - Admiral! - 'Tis true, I've never been more frightened in my life.
... but all I did was to walk a few steps, take a deep breath and to look at him.
"It is only quite unexpected, sir." I was finally able to say.
He sighed. "I was too blunt, wasn't I? I should have asked you in a different manner, of course, now you probably think I am the most arrogant idiot in the world. I am not always like that, Sophy, I swear. Will you give me the chance to...to make a fresh start and tell you what I really feel? If you want to hear it, that is."
I smiled. "I am all ears, Captain Croft."
How could I possibly have resisted that pleading look of his, not to mention his voice...I already mentioned that I liked his voice, didn't I?
Ah, it is always good if a woman loves her husband for something else but his looks.
"It is not easy for me to express myself as I wish to, Miss Wentworth."
So I was Miss Wentworth again? It was a pity, I had loved the way he had said my name.
"I usually just speak plainly what I think, you may have noticed that very often. I do not beat about the bush, you know.
I meant what I said. I believe that I would - could - be the right man for you if you'd just let me try. I know we barely know each other. We've only met ten days ago. I am aware that this fact may influence you against me, but it certainly does not influence me against you. We sailors cannot afford to make long courtships in time of war, Miss Wentworth.
I know you are a beautiful, warm-hearted, intelligent, adorable creature, and that is all I need to know to be convinced that I could be happy with you. It did not take me long to find out about that. I love you. That may sound strange to you, considering the shortness of our acquaintance, but this is how I feel. So, what do you think? Do you think you could be happy with me? Will you marry me?"
I will never forget the expression in his eyes, and the tone of his voice when he asked me that question. His eyes were anxious, pleading, and his voice was soft - softer than I had ever heard him speak to me before.
I smiled at him reassuringly and said, quietly, "I will, Captain Croft."
What would you have done if I had refused you, by the way? -
I do not like that thought at all, Sophy, but I think if you had refused, I would have taken you home, just as I had promised...and then I would have gone to the nearest pub to drink myself senseless.
That would have been my first reaction, but do not ask me what I would have done in the years to follow. I suppose I would have survived somehow, but surviving is not the same thing as living.
"You will?" He stepped towards me and took my hand, smiling happily. "So I did not make myself that disagreeable?"
"You would have to do more than tell me that you love me to make yourself disagreeable, Henry."
He drew me near and wrapped his arms around me. I felt so secure in his arms; I knew this was the right place for me to be.
"So you like me, Sophy?"
"Very much...I do not think liking is the right word for it. It is more than liking..."
Looking in his eyes, I felt embarrassed. I had never thought so before, but to say, "I love you" was not so easy. It had already taken some courage to admit it to myself, but to admit it to him was even more difficult. But I think he understood anyway.
That moment was magic...
Oh yes, it was.
...but it was over much too soon. We heard the sound of an approaching carriage, and Henry let go of me. We walked on, my hand resting on his arm and his hand covering mine.
"Do you think your father is at home, Sophy," he asked me.
"At this time of day? Yes, I think he is," I answered. "Unless he has some important business, that is."
Henry laughed. "The business I want to settle with him is quite important, too. What do you think, Sophy, supposing your father gives his permission, when would you like to marry?"
I had not thought of that. He had to leave so soon...I had to prepare myself for a rather long engagement, I was afraid.
"As soon as you come back, Henry."
"As soon as I come back?" He sighed. "Very well, Sophy, but I cannot possibly tell you when that will be. What about getting married before I go? I do not want to press you, but what exactly do you think we should wait for?"
"I do not know...I only thought we should get to know each other a little better."
He laughed. "Looking at the state of affairs as it is now, Sophy, do you think you will know me better when I return from my journey in...let us say, one year? I will be gone, there will be no chance for us to meet, and I am afraid you will not know me any better then than you do now."
"Are you trying to persuade me to marry you before you leave?"
"I leave the decision to you, Sophy. I'll have to accept it, whatever you say. You are worth waiting for, if you want me to wait, I will."
It was a difficult situation. He was right, there was no chance for us to meet once he was gone, and not even he knew when he would return. Besides, his profession was a hazardous one. He might just as well not return at all, although the mere thought of it made me shudder. I loved him, and I was sure about my feelings for him. He had said he loved me, too.
Still, it would perhaps give cause to speculation if Sophia Wentworth married a man so hurriedly, after an acquaintance of not much more than ten days. It might do some damage to my reputation...but then, there were already enough rumours about me. They did not hurt, whatever people said, and I would not hear them, anyway.
"Which day would you suggest then," I asked him.
He laughed. "It depends on how soon we can obtain a marriage licence, Sophy. In three days?"
"That would be on Tuesday, then. Very well, Tuesday it is."
I laughed. "I did not think I would visit you on the Phoenix as your fiancee."
"Neither did I. I hoped you would, but I did not think of it as certain."
Meanwhile we had reached the parsonage, and Henry said, "I shall speak to your father directly, Sophy. Wish me luck."
"What for? I am sure my father will give his consent. I will face the difficult task of informing my mother, in the meantime."
Henry gave me a searching look. "Do you think your mother will oppose us?"
I shook my head. "No, I do not think so. But she will feel cheated. There are not many wedding clothes one can buy in three days."
So, while the Captain and I had even agreed on the date of our wedding, my family was still left in the dark. Frederick had gone out with Edward, and so I found my mother alone in the parlour. She gave me one brief look, and then turned to her needlework again. It looked as if she had still not forgiven me.
"Mama," I said, sitting down next to her.
She did not react. This is going to be hard work, I thought.
"Mama, I would like to tell you something."
She looked up, but she did not say a word. She just gave me a piercing look, waiting for what was to come.
I sighed. Why did she treat me like that?
"Mama, it would be ever so much easier for me if you said something."
"You said you wanted to tell me something," she finally said. "So, go on. I am listening."
Thank heavens, I finally made her speak, I thought.
"Mama, Captain Croft has made me an offer of marriage, and I have accepted him."
Her expression changed from stern disapproval to surprise and delight.
"Sophia, dear child! I did not know that Captain Croft had any intentions concerning you. This is good news indeed!"
I laughed. "Yes, it is. I still have to get used to the thought of being Mrs Croft soon. At the moment, Captain Croft is speaking with Papa to obtain his consent. Do you think he will approve?"
"Undoubtedly, Sophia, you need not worry. Well, you will not be as rich as you might have been with Mr Williams..."
"Let me finish, child. Your father has never been rich either, but he has always been a very good man, and I have always been happy with him. I hope you will be as happy with Captain Croft as I am with your father. The Captain is a good man, too."
"I knew you would think so, Mama. There is one more thing...we would like to marry before Captain Croft leaves Yarmouth. On Tuesday, to be precise."
"Sophia! This is too soon! How can I prepare a decent wedding in three days?"
I laughed. "Mama, what is a decent wedding in your opinion? In my opinion it is a simple ceremony in our church, and a nice wedding breakfast with our family and friends afterwards. We do not need to prepare much for that."
"But what about your dress?"
"Mama, I do not care about a new dress. Really, I do not. I have a new dress, the one I was saving for Sarah's wedding. I'll wear it at my own wedding instead. What do I need a load of new dresses for? I cannot take so many things with me, anyway."
"Take them with you? What does that mean, you cannot take so many things with you?"
"I cannot take so many things with me when I join Captain Croft on board his ship."
My mother started to laugh heartily.
"Why are you laughing, Mama?"
"Sophia, do you remember the day when you were little and let Farmer Andrews' sheep out by accident?"
"Why do you ask? What has my marriage to do with Farmer Andrews' sheep?"
"Nothing, but your way of breaking news to me has not changed in the least. One bit after the other, leaving the worst bit for the end. Does Captain Croft know that you want to go to sea with him?"
I grinned. "Not yet. I think I will tell him so on Monday."
My father was just as happy to hear the news as my mother was, and he gave his permission readily. He had always liked Captain Croft and was delighted to welcome him as his future son-in-law.
As for Frederick, he had not been aware of what mischief he had done when he had introduced us, or so he said. He was completely taken aback when he arrived back home and we told him the happy news. But he took it like a man...
...this is how you put it, was it not, Admiral?
...and wished us happiness with all his heart. So did Edward, who had suspected something already. He had noticed an attachment on the Captain's side long before I had guessed anything.
As for Sarah, she had already expected something of the kind, so when I told her, with a sad face, that I would not be able to be her bridesmaid at her wedding, she guessed the reason at once.
"Never mind, I hope you will allow me to be a bridesmaid at yours," she said.
Sir James, Sir Alexander, Mr and Mrs Kennington congratulated me as well, although I must say that Mrs Kennington's congratulations did not really sound sincere.
What surprised me most was the Colonel's reaction when he was told the news.
Do you mean you had no idea, Sophy? - Not until then, no.
For a moment, he turned pale, and stared at me in disbelief.
"You are going to marry Captain Croft, Miss Wentworth? Why...this is rather sudden, is it not?"
I admitted that it was.
It seemed as if the Colonel was desperately trying to keep his countenance.
"You must be very convinced of the Captain's good qualities, then," he said. His voice sounded bitter.
"I am, in fact. Colonel, is something wrong? I must say I expected a different reaction from you. We are friends, after all, are we not?"
"Friends, yes," he said, hesitatingly. "I wish you and Captain Croft all the happiness in the world, Miss Wentworth."
What happened in those days remaining until the day of my marriage? Well, there was Sunday, which was spent with my family, friends and neighbours who came to congratulate Captain Croft and me. As I had foreseen, there was much speculation on the part of our neighbours - especially Mrs Kennington - as to the reason for our hasty marriage. I smiled at the different theories I heard and did not mind them - but my fiance got quite angry with Mrs Kennington at one point. He was polite with her, but his voice had the warmth of an iceberg. I have heard that tone of voice more often in the meantime, though he never talked to me like that. He reserves it specially for annoying midshipmen. - Annoying people in general, Sophy, this is why I never use that tone of voice with you.
Before Henry left us that evening, everything was arranged for my visit on board the Phoenix. I was to go to Yarmouth with Frederick, and he was to take me home after my visit. I was looking forward to it. First of all, because I was going to see Henry in his own background, and secondly because I wanted to see the place where I was going to spend the next few months (I had still not told Henry about it, I had only mentioned that there was no hurry in finding a house for me to live in, as he had suggested).
After all the guests were gone, I asked Frederick to go for a short walk in the garden with me. I wanted to ask him what he thought of my idea to live with my husband on the Phoenix.
It was still warm and light, a lovely, calm summer evening.
"You know the two of you played me quite a trick," Frederick said to me.
I laughed. "It was your fault, Frederick, you brought the two of us together."
"How was I to know about the consequences? Captain Croft always seemed so harmless...I didn't think there was any danger."
"Frederick, we are getting married the day after tomorrow, so what danger are you speaking of?"
"The danger of you falling in love with him." He grinned. "I was just joking, Sophia. Really, he is an admirable man, you could have done worse. You could have accepted Mr Williams, for example."
"True. But what is the point in marrying if my husband leaves me behind after a few days?"
"Well, he will be back, Sophia."
I shook my head. "I have thought it over, Frederick, and I think I will go with him. And you."
Frederick looked at me, horrified. "You aren't serious, Sophia."
"You know me, Frederick. I would not say such a thing if I were not serious."
He shook his head. "Sophia, believe me, this is not the life for you."
"Why do you think so? Captain Croft said there were many women who joined their husbands at sea."
"But, Sophia, their lives are by no means comfortable. Take my advice, think it over once more."
My dear, seventeen-year-old brother really worried about me, it seemed.
"I will think it over once more, Frederick, if you want me to, but I do not think I will change my mind."
Frederick sighed. "Perhaps tomorrow, when you see the Phoenix, you will get another point of view. Once you've seen how we live there, you will see that this is not the sort of life I would want my sister to lead."
"And yet it is the life you lead, Frederick. What is the difference?"
Frederick did not answer, probably because he did not find a suitable answer to my question. Instead, he said, "Does Captain Croft know about it? Did he ask you to come with him?"
"He did nothing of the sort, and he does not know about my plans - so far."
Frederick grinned. "Just you wait until you tell him, then. I am sure he can persuade you to stay here, if I cannot."
Oh yes, old "No woman on my ship" Wentworth. It's strange, but he doesn't like to be reminded of it now, does he, Sophy? I always told him he would sing a different tune once he was married. - You are unkind Admiral; you cannot blame him now for things he said when he was seventeen. - I do not blame him, it only amuses me. Besides, he still said so at the age of two-and-thirty.
I cannot say that Frederick's opinion did not have any influence on me. Frederick was right, perhaps I should not make a decision until I had seen the Phoenix with my own eyes. I did not know much about Navy life, I knew, of course, that it was not easy, but I thought that I could face a lot of difficulties with the help of my husband.
I was not the sort of woman who expected to have a life with no problems at all. They would come, sooner or later, I knew that. I also knew there would also be problems if I stayed here all by myself - but, if I did so, there would be no one there to help me.
My husband would be far off, and I would end up like Mrs Hunt, not even knowing where he was, because it did not make a difference to me. He would be gone, and that would be all I would care for.
I would live for the few weeks he would come home, and spend months - years - all alone, waiting for news from him - good or bad. If there were no news, I would hope this was a good sign - after all, bad news spread rather quickly - and yet I could not be easy before I had received good news from him.
The more I thought of it, the more I was resolved to join my husband at sea as long as it was possible. Once we had children, the whole situation would change, anyway, and there would be plenty of time for me to stay behind then. The difference would be that I would have someone to care for, I would be busy, and that would keep me from fretting.
It took me some time before I fell asleep that night. My thoughts kept me awake for a while, as I was trying to find arguments in favour of my going with Henry. Perhaps I would have to convince him as well as I would have to convince Frederick. On the other hand, he had once said that he wanted his wife to join him, but that he would not ask her to do so. He had said he would leave the decision to her. Well, I had made my decision; the only thing to do now was to let him know.
The next morning, on our way to Yarmouth, Frederick asked me, "So, have you made up your mind yet, Sophia?"
I laughed. "Frederick, you told me I should not decide before I have seen the Phoenix, right? So why do you ask me now?"
"I thought you might already have come to a conclusion, Sophia."
"I have, Frederick, and unless I find the conditions on board the Phoenix downright appalling, there is nothing that can make me change my mind."
"You are determined to come with us, then? Poor me, not only having my brother-in-law as a commanding officer, but also my sister to keep an eye on me. What has the world come to?"
"I am sure it will not be as bad as you put it, Frederick."
"I hope so, Sophia."
Henry already waited for us at the docks. He gave Frederick a jovial good-morning, and greeted me with a warm smile and an admiring look.
"I was already getting nervous, Miss Wentworth," he admitted, while we were walking along the quay, in the direction of the Phoenix. "I feared something or other might prevent your visit."
I laughed. "I would not miss this for anything in the world, Captain Croft."
"Are you teasing me?" he said, looking at me with a smile.
"Well, you started the whole thing by calling me Miss Wentworth. Have you already forgotten my name, sir?"
"Ah, no, I think I have memorised it pretty well in the meantime, Mary," he answered with a mischievous grin. "But, seriously, I thought it would be better to use the formal address because otherwise some people might think that I was taking liberties with you."
"You mean there are still people in Yarmouth who do not know we are engaged to be married?"
He laughed. "Good news may spread fast, but not that fast, Sophy."
"You underestimate the powers of Mrs Hunt, then."
"Far be it from me to underestimate the powers of any lady, including Mrs Hunt."
Meanwhile, we had reached a point at which we had a good view of the Phoenix.
I have to admit that I was shamefully ignorant as far as ships were concerned, especially for someone who had grown up near an important naval port, and especially for someone who even had a brother in the Navy.
Frederick and the Captain could have told me anything, and I would have believed them.
You have improved since then, Sophy. - I hope I have. I had a good teacher, by the way. - And you were a fast learner, my dear.
Both of them were doing their best to inform me about the Phoenix.
She was a good ship, wasn't she, Admiral? - Aye, she was.
The Phoenix, so I was told, was a 5th rate Frigate, with 36 guns. Frederick mentioned that there were, all in all, more than three hundred men on board the Phoenix, and I realised a Captain's responsibility. More than three hundred men on board meant to be responsible for more than three hundred lives.
On board, we were welcomed by the second Lieutenant, a Mr Carter (the first Lieutenant had not yet returned from visiting his family in Sussex, as Frederick told me). Mr Carter gave me an interested look when he was introduced, but did not speak to me more than politeness required. He asked the Captain to have a word with him.
Henry turned to Frederick, and said, "Mr Wentworth, will you show your sister around while I am talking with Mr Carter? I will join you later."
Was I imagining things, or had his manner changed the moment we had boarded the ship? He sounded more businesslike when speaking to Frederick, and although he was not unpleasant, it was clear that he would not have any opposition. Not that Frederick had tried to oppose him, that is. He readily offered me his arm and led me around, answering all my questions and patiently explaining everything I did not understand at once.
Sometimes, however, I was not as good a listener as Frederick deserved, because I was too busy watching my fiance, who was, at the moment, involved in a discussion with Mr Carter and skinny man with a weather-beaten face.
"Who is the gentleman the Captain is speaking with," I asked Frederick.
"Mr Carter, Sophia."
"No, not Mr Carter, the other one."
Frederick looked into Henry's direction and said, "Oh, him. This is Mr Smith, the carpenter."
"The Mr Smith Captain Croft knows well enough to know that he will not be able to finish his work in time?"
When Henry joined us again, Frederick had nearly shown me everything that was worth seeing (as he put it).
"Unless you want to pay a visit to the rats in the hold, sister," he said.
"Rats?" I asked.
"Rats. As big as dogs," Frederick answered, grinning.
Henry laughed. "Nonsense, Mr Wentworth, our rats never grow that fat, you should know that. Mr Avery eats up all provisions before the rats can get at them."
He turned to me. "Mr Avery is our surgeon, Miss Wentworth, and he is very fond of a good meal."
"As you will notice at first sight," added Frederick.
I laughed. "I cannot wait to meet him. He sounds like an interesting character."
"Oh yes, he is interesting enough," Henry said. "Beside his passion for eating, there is no harm in him, actually. He is an excellent surgeon, although he does not look like it. - So, has your brother shown you everything, Miss Wentworth?"
"Except the dog-sized rats in the hold, yes."
"And your cabin, sir. I thought you would not like my going in there without your orders."
"So you thought, Mr Wentworth, and you were right to think so. Would you like to have a look, Miss Wentworth?"
"Please, Captain Croft."
He opened a door, and showed us inside.
"Well, here it is," he said. "It is the nearest thing to a home I have got, I am afraid."
I had a look round and smiled. "I like it," I said.
"Well, it is small and not very comfortable, but it's good enough for me, I dare say," said Henry.
"It will also be good enough for me, then," I answered.
Henry looked at me in astonishment. "Did you just say what I thought you said?"
"I said it would be good enough for me, as well."
Frederick cleared his throat. "Sir, if you have something for me to do meanwhile...I mean, I think you might wish to discuss this matter in private..."
Henry nodded. "Of course. Off you go, Mr Wentworth, Mr Carter might need you for an errand or two."
While Frederick hurried away, Henry led me to a - considerably - quiet spot on deck and said, "So, what was that? You want to go with me?" He looked at me earnestly. "Are you aware of what that would mean?"
I nodded. "I have given it much thought, I assure you. I could not stand the thought of your leaving me so soon."
He sighed. "Neither could I, but...are you really sure? Once we have left, Sophy, there is no turning back, you know. And believe me, not every day at sea is as calm and sunny today."
"Do you want to dissuade me?"
"Of course not, Miss Wentworth," he said, having noticed that one of the men was coming near us.
"What is it, Jones?"
"Sir, Mr Avery said he wished to speak to you, sir."
"Tell him I will be there in a minute."
He watched Mr Jones walk away, and said to me, "Listen, I would love to have you around. I always thought that I would want to have my wife with me, that is what a man marries for, after all. The only thing I want to be sure of is that you can be content with the life on board. This I cannot decide for you. If you can sincerely tell me that you are sure, I shall be happy. But, if you have any doubt, you'd better give up that plan."
"I have no doubt. I am absolutely sure. Whatever the hardships may be, I am sure that living without you would be worse."
He gave me a happy smile. "In that case, welcome on board, Sophy. I hope you will not regret your decision."
Now Frederick returned and said, "Mr Carter has nothing more for me to do, sir."
"Well, Mr Wentworth, I would like to introduce you to our new crew member."
Frederick looked at me. "Not really, Sophia?"
I laughed. "I told you so, Frederick."
"Don't say I did not warn you, then."
"I will not, Frederick."
Henry accompanied us back to the shore later on, and took leave of me when we had reached his lodgings.
"See you tomorrow, Sophy," he said, grinning. "You cannot miss me, I'll be the one waiting for you at the altar."
Continued in Part 5© 2001 Copyright held by author