The last evening before my wedding was spent with my family. Sarah had sent me a note, wishing me a good night's rest, "because I would hate you to look like an owl at your wedding", and promising me to come along early the next morning with her lady's maid to help me get ready (probably in case I DID look like an owl that morning).
Mama had left the important mother-daughter speech about "men and their needs in marriage" until that evening. She was rather nervous and embarrassed, and, from the expressions she used, she could as well have talked of something completely different. "Suffering his attentions" was an expression she used quite often in that respect. Now, after 25 years of marriage, I am still wondering what she meant. There was nothing to "suffer" from in the case of MY husband, I can assure you. - Why, thank you, Sophy!
Sarah kept her promise and turned up very early in the morning, with her lady's maid in tow. She was already dressed for the "great event", as she put it, and endeavoured to entertain me while I was in the dull process of having my hair done.
I was happy to have her with me, because her gossip kept me from getting too nervous.
The first thing she informed me of was that her brother, Colonel Kennington, had suddenly decided that he had spent enough time away from his regiment and had, consequently, left Kennington House the evening before.
"I thought it was rather strange, and I told him so, but he answered that he had his reasons to be in a hurry, and that I should not ask him. I suspect that Her Highness has something to do with it. She has been insufferable with him lately."
I hoped that it was really just Mrs Kennington who was to blame for his sudden departure, and that my marriage had nothing to do with it. It looked rather suspicious to me, after all, he had not even taken leave of me. Still, I could not help it; I could not find any fault with my behaviour. Perhaps he had mistaken my friendship for more, but that was certainly not my mistake.
When I was finished, Sarah looked at me admiringly.
"You look so beautiful, Sophy," she said. "Really, next to you I feel like an ugly old witch."
"Nonsense, Sarah, you know you are pretty." I grinned. "Bewitching, perhaps. I shall have to interview Sir Alexander about that."
Sarah laughed, and the next moment she was embracing me.
"What is that for," I asked her, wondering.
"I will miss you, Sophy. Are you sure you are going to leave?"
"Absolutely. But you will not miss me for long, I suppose."
"Will you come back soon?"
"I do not know, Sarah. I meant you will not miss me for long, because you will get married soon, too."
"That is not the same, Sophy. I love Alexander, but there is one place in my heart he will never be able to take, and that is yours. You are my best friend, you know."
I smiled, and I have to admit that tears were in my eyes at the same time.
"I will miss you, too, Sarah. But I shall write, I promise. I shall write as often as I can."
"Do! I am already looking forward to it! And, if you happen to come back to England, do not forget to visit me."
Ah, the famous correspondence of Lady Baldwin and Mrs Croft. How many volumes could you fill with your letters by now, Sophy? - Several, I suppose. I prefer reading Sarah's letters to any other thing. - True, if any woman knows how to write a good letter, it is Lady Baldwin.
I promised her to come for a visit as soon as I returned to England, provided that nothing kept me from paying my visit or her from receiving me.
I had no idea, then, what events would keep me from visiting Sarah when I first came back to England. That winter at Deal, all by myself...I suppose things might have been different, had I had the opportunity to spend that winter with Sarah. But I am digressing again.
My father had been in a bit of a dilemma during the past few days. On one side, he, like every father, wished to "give his daughter away" at her wedding. On the other hand, he was the parish parson who had to read the wedding service. He had tried to find someone to take his place as a clergyman at this particular occasion, but since time was running, he was not successful. I reassured him in that respect, and told him that I was more than happy to receive the blessing of the Church through the hands of my own father, and that this was, actually, worth more than his walking up the aisle with me. My dear brother Edward most readily took that responsibility.
I heard a knock at the door, and Edward asked if I had finished getting dressed.
"Sophy, hurry up or you will be late," he said.
"Do you think they will start without me," I asked him, grinning.
Sarah nearly choked with suppressed laughter.
Edward opened the door, and said, "Stop being silly, sister, and hurry up, or our mother will have a fainting fit. She is very near it already. You look good, by the way."
"Thank you sir, this is just what I needed to hear right now." I turned to Sarah. "You see, he is already in a hurry to get rid of me. What have I done to deserve this, Edward?"
Edward just looked at me and shook his head in disbelief.
"I cannot believe you are in such a light mood, Sophy. You are going to be married in half an hour! I always thought that such an occasion might call for seriousness, or some nervousness, at least. Instead, I see you here, lounging around with Miss Kennington, and trying to be witty."
"I am nervous enough, Edward, thank you for reminding me, or I might have forgotten it for a minute or two. Besides, I am not trying to be witty, I am witty by nature."
"Does your husband-to-be know?"
I laughed. "There will be plenty of time for him to find out, Edward."
Oh yes, it took me some time to get used to it, and I loved every minute. - You deserve a kiss, Admiral! - Just one?
When I entered the parlour, my mother and Frederick were already waiting there, and it was true, my mother was in a flutter.
"Where have you been so long, child," she exclaimed, walking across the room to have a closer look at me.
Sarah had told her that she and her maid would tend to me, and that my mother could sit back and relax (as if she would) until I was finished.
"What do you think, Mrs Wentworth," she asked my mother now.
"Your maid has done excellent work, Miss Kennington," Mama answered. "She looks breathtaking, does she not, Frederick?"
Frederick murmured something that could, with a great deal of goodwill, be understood to be a compliment. I only understood the last few words, which sounded like "hardly recognised her at first".
It was not far from the parsonage to our village church, and still Sarah had insisted in conveying me to the wedding in her father's best carriage.
"Who has ever heard of such a nonsense as the bride walking to church on her wedding day? Just look at the weather, you will soil your dress if you try that!"
True, the weather on my wedding day was dreadful. It was raining cats and dogs. It is a good thing that I am not superstitious, and never have been. After all, it is said that bad weather on the wedding day means an unhappy marriage. Well, if anyone believes that, they are most welcome to visit me and the Admiral, to see that there is nothing true about that superstition.
You are digressing again, my dear! - You are right, Admiral. I am sorry.
We arrived at the church in time, after all, and the first thing I noticed when I entered it was Henry waiting for me. I remember the way he looked at me while I was walking towards him. His expression was a mixture of love, admiration and delight.
You cannot blame me, Sophy, I had never seen any woman only half as beautiful as you. I could have married you on the spot. - You DID marry me on the spot, Admiral.
I also remember the way my father looked at me, and his voice when he was reading the service and pronounced us man and wife. He was deeply touched, I could see that clearly, and he was not the only one. My mother cried during the whole service. I hoped those tears she cried were tears of happiness.
Sarah's thoughts were easy to guess. While Henry and I were saying our vows, she was looking at Sir Alexander as if to say, "Would you not like to swap places with those two?"
I think Sir Alexander silently agreed.
How do you know what happened behind your back just then, Sophy? - Frederick told me so afterwards. Do you really think I had eyes for anything but you at that moment?
After the service, the guests were invited to a breakfast at the Parsonage. There were not many of them - my own family, of course, and Mr Carter, who had been Henry's best man. The Kenningtons were there, too, except the Colonel.
Sir Alexander delivered the Colonel's congratulations to Henry and me, telling us that the Colonel regretted very much that he had left so hurriedly, without taking leave, but that he had received an urgent message that he was to rejoin his regiment and his departure could not have been delayed any longer.
Neither Henry nor I believed a word of this rather feeble excuse, but as we both had an idea of the real reason for Colonel Kennington's departure, we did not feel offended.
He must have hated me. Perhaps he still hates me for it, what do you think, Sophy? - No, I do not think he does. He has other things to care about, I am sure.
When Mrs Kennington heard that the Colonel's name was mentioned, she tried, for the last time, to spread her poison.
"It is such a pity my brother-in-law had to leave us so soon, is it not, Miss Wentworth - sorry, I meant Mrs Croft, of course."
"A pity, indeed, Mrs Kennington. Your life at Kennington House must certainly lack something now that he is gone," I answered, coolly.
Mrs Kennington reddened, turned around and sat down next to her husband without saying one more word.
Henry looked at me, grinning. "That one went right between the eyes," he whispered to me. "Believe me, she won't forget it."
"Do you think I was too harsh?"
He laughed. "No, not really."
After a tearful leave-taking from my family, Henry, Mr Carter and I set off for Yarmouth. Mr Carter was to go on board the Phoenix again, and Henry and I were heading for Henry's lodgings. He had said that there was no use looking for a different place to stay for one week.
"Had you stayed here, Sophy, I would have done my best to find something more suitable for you, but as it is, I thought that one place is as good as the other."
When we arrived at Henry's lodgings, his landlady came towards us, greeting us cordially (and eyeing me with evident curiosity), offering her heartiest congratulations.
"Besides, while you were gone, Captain, there was an express letter for you, sir. I took it and paid the messenger, I hope you do not mind."
Henry assured that he did not mind at all, took the letter, paid the landlady her expenses, and put the letter in his pocket.
"Are you not going to read it," I asked him.
"Not yet," he answered. "I've got something very important to do first."
"What would that be," I wanted to ask, but before I had got so far as to say a word, my husband had already picked me up and was carrying me across the threshold of his rooms, closing the door behind us.
Gently, he put me back on my own feet when we were all by ourselves, and kissed me.
"I have wanted to do this ever since I first met you," he said. "In the carriage, on our way here, I was getting rather impatient with Carter. He could at least have had the decency to fall asleep."
I smiled. "Well, we are on our own now," I answered and kissed him, running my hands through his hair.
"What about that letter," I asked him when we parted, breathlessly.
"You want me to read it now?" he asked, incredulously.
"Why, it is an express, so it must be something important," I answered. "It will only take you five minutes, and, to be frank, I want to know what it is about, too."
"Stubborn woman," he said, grinning, and taking the letter out of his pocket, reading the directions.
"It's from Taunton, and besides, it is for you."
"For me? I do not know anybody in Taunton," I answered.
Henry laughed. "Not yet."
He handed the letter to me, and it was true, it was directed to Mrs Henry Croft, Yarmouth.
I looked at him doubtingly, and he said, smiling, "Go on, read it! I'll give you five minutes, not one minute more."
"Talk about being stubborn," I said, kissing him on his cheek and opening the letter.
I am still keeping it, by the way, but I do not have to fetch it now. I think I know it by heart.
First, I noticed that it was from two people. The letter was signed with "Elizabeth Croft" and "Susan Delaney". It seemed that my new family, since they had not been able to come to my wedding, had found another means to welcome me.
This is how the letter went:
My dear child!
Please forgive me for addressing you thus, but by marrying my son you have become my daughter. I was most surprised, but also pleased, when he let me know that he would be married very soon. In his letter he described you as a lovely young woman, and I believe him, since I believe that he would not fall in love with a woman who is undeserving of his affection. Be assured that I fully approve of my son's choice, and that I am indeed happy to hear the news.
It is a pity I cannot be there at my son's wedding, as I ought to, to welcome you in your new family the way I want to. Please believe me that my absence at your wedding has nothing to do with disapproval on my side. It was only quite impossible for me to get to Yarmouth in time. I do hope, however, that both you and Henry will come to see me here in Taunton as soon as it is possible.
In accepting my son as your husband, you have chosen a hard life, my dear; I can bear witness to that. Sailors' wives have to put up with a great deal of problems. But, with a great deal of love and understanding, you will be able to master all difficulties that may lie ahead of you, and I sincerely hope that there will not be many.
You may depend on my support and advice at any time, and feel free to ask it as often as you like. I wish you and Henry all the best for your future, and hope to see you soon.
Your most affectionate mother,
I looked at Henry, and said, "It is from your mother!"
"I know," he said, smiling.
"And Susan Delaney is your sister, I suppose."
"True. Have you finished reading your letter?"
"Not yet, Henry."
I turned to the letter again. The second part was shorter, but also livelier than the first one.
I take the liberty of being on first-name terms with you although we have never met. I hope you will not consider it a sign of rudeness; it only looks rather strange to me to address my new sister-in-law as "Mrs Croft".
I am glad to hear that my brother has finally made up his mind to marry, it was about time, I can tell you. You will be able to make him mend his ways, get rid of his bachelor habits and become a respectable member of society after all. Be not alarmed, Sophia, I am only joking.
I laughed out loud.
"What is the matter," Henry asked me.
"Your sister seems to be a delightful person," I answered.
"What does she write," he asked, suspiciously.
"Oh, nothing in particular. She only told me that there was still hope for you to become a respectable man."
"Next time I get hold of Susan..." he grumbled.
In earnest, my brother is a good man, a bit lively, to be sure, but he never means any harm, and never did any harm that I know of. I am sure you will be the happiest couple in the world, except my own husband and me, of course.
Give my love to my brother and give him a kiss from me, if you have any to spare. Tell him that his godson is now old enough to be able to read and write, and that he is to expect a letter from him in the next few days. My husband sends his regards and congratulations, and as husbands are a rather impatient lot, as you soon will find out, I have to finish my letter now. I hope to see both you and Henry in Taunton as soon as possible (but I think my mother mentioned that, too, did she not?).
"I like your sister. She must be very much like you," I said to Henry.
"Are you finished with your letter now," he answered, coming to me and taking me into his arms.
"I am," I answered. "Besides, your sister asked me to give you something"
I kissed him on his cheek.
"Is that all I am going to get," he asked, smiling mischievously and drawing me nearer.
I laughed. "That one was from your sister, Henry."
"And what am I going to get from my wife, then," he asked.
Just to tease him, I said, "I will show you, Henry, as soon as I have answered that letter."
"You will not answer it now, Sophy," he said.
"Try to keep me from it," I said, playfully.
Well, all I can say is that he was quite successful as to that.
I had not believed this could still be possible, but our love became deeper every day we spent with each other. The first week of my marriage, we spent in Henry's lodgings in Yarmouth, and I have to say that our marriage had caused a great deal of curiosity in that town.
I had not known before that so many people knew me, or Henry, but there were lots of visitors I had to deal with on my own, since Henry was busy on the Phoenix most of the time. However, I enjoyed the quiet evenings we were able to spend on our own, and those evenings are some of the fondest memories I have. It was the nearest thing we had to a honeymoon. - Aye, my dear, there was something about those evenings.
On one of those evenings, Henry told me about his family. I had answered his mother and sister's letter and had asked him if he wanted to add a few lines.
After that, I asked him how long he had not seen them.
"How long...good Lord, I cannot remember," he laughed. "Let me think...that must have been at young Henry's christening - and he is five years old now. No, hold on, I did visit them for three or four days about three years ago. Henry was still a baby then."
"And now he is going to write you a letter," I said, laughing.
"I ought to feel ashamed of myself, I know," he said, more earnest than before. "But I had a good reason to stay in Yarmouth this time. I have to admit it was not only the distance between here and Taunton that kept me here."
"It was not?"
"No, my main reason for staying here was something completely different. You know, I had met a girl on my very first day here..." he started, putting his arm around my shoulders.
"So you tell me now," I answered, teasingly. "Do I know her?"
"Let me go on, Sophy. I did not know then who you were. But I liked what I saw, I admit that. I had promised your brother to visit him at his home, and you can imagine my delight when I met you again there, and he introduced you as his sister. That evening I decided that Yarmouth was, indeed, a place worth staying."
"Did you already want to marry me then, or were you just looking for a flirt," I said.
He kissed me. "What do you think," he said.
I smiled. "I think that was a good answer, Captain Croft."
Christine Hunt came to visit me nearly every morning, and even though I liked her, I did not like her well enough to enjoy seeing her so very often, especially since she came for no other reason than gossip. From my being a married woman she had concluded that I had firstly an unquenchable hunger for all sorts of rumours and secondly nothing else to do but listening to her.
Thank God for Sarah, she came to see me, too, and since Mrs Hunt was a bit afraid of her (or should I say Sarah's sharp tongue?), she often left me very quickly as soon as Miss Kennington entered the room.
Sarah had happy news to relate. Her brother James and Mrs Kennington had decided that it was now time to go back to London again.
"It seems that Her Highness misses Town very much. Why could she not have missed it sooner," Sarah said, grinning. "Does she really think I am going to long for her?"
I laughed. "Perhaps she just wants to be there when you arrive to buy your wedding clothes," I said.
"Too true! You should have seen her face when I told her that I would go to London with Lady Reynolds. Especially when I pointed out Lady Reynolds' excellent taste in clothes."
"Does Lady Reynolds have an excellent taste?"
"Oh yes, and she is definitely better company than Her Highness."
I thought that this was not much of a compliment, but I decided to keep quiet. Instead, I changed the topic.
"How is Sir Alexander?"
"Very well, only he is getting ready to leave as well." She sighed. "Now I understand why you do not want to stay behind when your husband leaves. If I did not know that we are going to be married soon, I would not be able to stand the separation."
"One thing I really regret is that I will not be able to be there at your wedding. You will need to let me know everything," I said.
"So I will. I have to leave now, Sophy, I promised my father to be back early."
I nodded. "Get back home safely, Sarah. Give my regards to your family."
When Sarah had left, I sat down and pondered. I had not thought so before, but my marriage had also changed my friendship with her. Sarah was still my friend, as she had been before, but there was someone so much dearer to me now.
The door flew open and in came my lord and master, with a broad smile on his face.
"Guess what!" he exclaimed when he saw me.
"You have been made Admiral of the Fleet," I said, trying to keep a straight face.
"Nonsense, Sophy, you can do better than that. Try again!"
"Why, I do not know, my dear, so tell me. Is the Phoenix to leave earlier? Or later than you had planned?"
"No, none of that. But the Anemone has gone into harbour this morning. I have not had the time to call on Rigby yet, but I am sure..."
"Croft!" someone yelled in the hallway.
Henry laughed. "I am sure he'll turn up sooner or later, I wanted to say."
He opened the door, and shouted, "Rigby? Why the heck are you yelling like that? I'm not deaf, man!"
Both men laughed, and Henry showed his friend in. I had met Captain Rigby before; he had been Frederick's captain before Frederick had swapped his place with a certain Mr Hayes.
Captain Rigby still looked the same, his face was perhaps a little more weather-beaten than I had remembered it, but otherwise he had not changed much. He was young, eight- or nine-and-twenty, and although he was not what one could call handsome, he had a frank manner that made him very agreeable. He did talk a great deal.
He looked at me and said, "So it is true! The first thing I heard when I arrived here was that my old pal Croft had married young Wentworth's sister. Welcome to the club of old married men, Croft. Helen was quite surprised to hear the news, as well."
I had to laugh at this outburst, and said, "How do you do, Captain Rigby?"
"Me? Oh, I am fine, thank you, Mrs Croft." He laughed. "I'd never believed I might live to see you married, Croft. You were the most determined bachelor I have ever seen in my life. But, looking at your wife, I quite understand why you have finally changed your mind."
I laughed. "It seems I am at last going to find out a few things about my husband's dark past," I said.
"Oh, I will be at your service, Mrs Croft, but not as long as your husband is here. It is much nicer to speak ill of him behind his back." Captain Rigby winked at me.
"And much healthier, too," Henry said, grinning. "But tell me, how is your wife?"
"Helen is fine. She wanted to come along with me at first, but she has met a friend of hers in the street whom she has not seen for AGES (I am using her expression, not mine, I am sure she has met that particular lady before we left England two years ago), and has asked me to go ahead and announce our return. She was quite angry with you, although I cannot tell you why."
Henry laughed. "Perhaps because she missed the wedding."
"That might be possible. I am not quite sure, but I think she blames me for not being here three days earlier."
"Did she say so?"
"She hinted at it, I might say." Captain Rigby turned to me again. "I am sorry, Mrs Croft, for being so rude and leaving you aside while you really ought to be the most important person in this room. It is only that I have not seen my friend for some time, and the news I heard was quite overwhelming...I am not always as inattentive, believe me."
"Don't believe him, Sophy, ask his wife what she has to say about that matter," said Henry, grinning.
I laughed. "I would like to have the opportunity to meet your wife before we leave, Captain Rigby. Are you already engaged tomorrow evening?"
"Nothing that I know of, Madam."
"Then I would like to invite you and your wife to dinner, sir. The occasion will give you the chance to exchange news with my husband without "neglecting" me."
"Excellent idea, Mrs Croft! I shall be glad to come, and so will my wife, to be sure."
I was looking forward to my first dinner engagement with anxiety. I wanted to show that I was very well capable of that sort of thing - after all, I had often helped my mother with arranging dinner parties - but I was nervous that something might go wrong. I wanted to make a good impression on my husband's friends and officers.
When Henry had heard that I had invited Captain Rigby and his wife, he had suggested that I invite his officers also, to "get to know them before we set sail". I had thought it a good idea, and had therefore extended my invitation to Mr Carter, whom I already knew, my brother Frederick (it was good to have someone with me who made me feel completely at ease), Mr Marshall (the first Lieutenant who had just returned from Sussex), and Mr Avery, the surgeon, with his wife.
All my anxiety was unfounded, though, everything went well. Our landlady had helped me with the preparations (that is, she allowed me to hire her maid for the occasion), and so the dinner was ready in time, and was enjoyed by all the guests (especially Mr Avery, who was, indeed, a very stout gentleman, as Frederick had already hinted). The guests were a delightful set of people, and I amused myself excessively.
While the gentlemen were enjoying their port, Mrs Avery and Mrs Rigby took pains to tell me what I was to suffer soon. Both of them had spent some time at sea with their husbands, although Mrs Avery had now lived in Yarmouth for more than ten years. Now they shared their experiences with me.
"Mrs Croft, life at sea is not really comfortable," Mrs Avery said. "You will have to get used to a great deal of inconvenience. There is never enough room on a ship, and besides you will hardly ever be alone. - I hope you are not prone to sickness, Mrs Croft," she went on after a short pause.
I laughed. "I have never been ill in my life, Mrs Avery. Except from an occasional cold, I have always been as healthy as one could wish to be."
"One needs to be in good health if one wants to live on board a ship, Mrs Croft. I remember I lost a huge amount of weight when I first went at sea with my husband. The sea did not agree with my stomach at all."
I looked at Mrs Avery doubtingly. Whatever weight she might have lost in the past, she had certainly made up for it in the meantime. Like her husband, she looked... well fed.
"This is the only thing I am afraid of," I said. "I have heard there is not much one can do against seasickness."
"Not much," Mrs Rigby answered, smiling, "although your husband gave me an interesting piece of advice once."
"What was it," I answered, curiously.
Mrs Rigby laughed. "He told me to get drunk. He said it would make the sickness worse, but at least I would not have to admit I was seasick."
"Sounds perfectly rational to me," I said dryly. "Did you ever have to take such harsh measures?"
"Only once or twice, in a storm. I am blessed with good health, just like you. Believe me, there is nothing to be afraid of."
"Good!" I grinned. "I do not want to turn into a drunkard."
I liked the two ladies, and I liked talking with them. They told me about the places they had seen, especially Antigua, since this was the place where Mrs Rigby had spent the previous year.
"Believe me, Mrs Croft, you have made the right decision," she said. "I already dread to stay behind now, I hate the thought of my husband leaving."
"Why are you not going with him any more," I asked.
Mrs Rigby smiled. "I cannot decide only for myself now," she said, stroking her belly. I understood perfectly. Even if I could imagine life on board a ship for a woman, it was hard to imagine such a life for a pregnant woman or a young mother with her baby.
I hoped that I would be spared such a decision for a while. Perhaps in a year or two...
I have sometimes thought about that wish, and have wondered...we never had children, Henry and I, although we had wished for a son or a daughter, or both.... Perhaps I made a mistake in not wanting children at first. Perhaps this is my punishment. - Nonsense, Sophy. Do not think of such a thing, it will only make you sad.
We spent the rest of the evening talking about children, Mrs Avery giving a lively account of her own family.
"I've got six children, you know, Mrs Croft, boys, all of them," she said. "And I would not mind to have some more. Some girls would be nice for a change."
I tried to imagine what life would be like for a mother of six boys, and I asked her.
She gave a good-humoured laugh. "It means a great deal of scolding and dreading the next mischief they are up to. Our boys are possibly the worst rascals in all Yarmouth, Mrs Croft. But I love every one of them, and so does my husband. Although I do suspect him that he is glad to be at sea again soon."
I could picture that, as well. Mr Avery did not look like the sort of man who could stand a lot of trouble.
I had underestimated him in that respect. Mr Avery was always remarkably cool and collected once matters got really difficult.
This was one of the last evenings I spent at Yarmouth. Two days later, I boarded the Phoenix with my husband.
So, what does a woman do on board a ship, some of you may ask. Well, my first days on board were dedicated to getting used to everything and not being in everybody's way. I am sure it was so, but both Henry and his men bore with me with admirable patience.
Frederick was a great help, too. Whenever Henry was too busy to assist me, or to explain things to me, Frederick would be there. He had recovered from his shock, and seeing that Henry and I were happy together, he had reconciled himself to the fact of our marriage. However...
I have one triumph to relate. I did NOT get seasick. I did feel a bit out of sorts, I was very tired, and needed a lot of sleep those days (to my husband's great dismay), and occasionally I felt a bit giddy, but this was nothing in comparison to the horrors of real seasickness (Frederick could give me a very vivid description of these out of his own experience).
It seemed as if I found my sea legs very quickly.
What else did I do? Please, do not laugh, but one thing I did was to start raising poultry. Those animals were a very welcome addition to our otherwise rather monotonous diet. The only problem was that I could never get myself to kill those poor animals. So, whenever we had chicken, everyone was quite happy but me. It took me some effort to swallow even one bite. Henry thought it was the best joke of the century.
Why, so it was Sophy! Why did you keep those blasted animals if not for eating them? I did not allow them on board for nothing. - Barbarian!
Well, perhaps it was funny for everyone else, but not for me.
Our journey did not take us far, in comparison to the voyages I have undertaken later. We were bound for Gibraltar, and were to stay there, to "wait for further instructions". If there is one sentence my dear husband hated to hear, it was this one. "Wait for further instructions."
At one occasion, I heard him curse at the Admiralty in general and one gentleman in particular, because of that. Mr Marshall, the first Lieutenant, was wise enough not to interrupt him and even wiser in not saying a thing himself.
Perhaps I ought to give you a description of the men on board, so you can picture me among them. You are already acquainted with my husband, of course, and my brother Frederick. Mr Carter, the Second Lieutenant, is known to you as well. As for the rest...Admiral, will you help me out in case I forget someone? - Certainly, my dear.
There was Mr Marshall, the first Lieutenant. He was about my age, and a very diligent, serious man. Sometimes I thought he was too serious, he had no sense of humour at all.
He did have a sense of humour, Sophy, only a very different one from yours. Though I admit that the funniest things he said were actually not intended to be funny.
I do not want to give you the impression that I did not like him, because I did. He was an intelligent man, very well read, too, and we spent a lot of time talking. Although he did not quite approve of my being there (at least I suspected him of that), he never showed it clearly. He always treated me with the utmost politeness and respect, and, as long as we stuck to the conversation topics he thought suitable for a lady, he was most ready to talk. But whenever I tried to get to know more about life on board in general, or wanted to encourage him to tell me about his voyages, he wilfully misunderstood my questions or did not answer at all. To him, it did not seem appropriate for a lady to live on board a ship, or, even worse, trying to understand things.
Apart from that, I liked him, I have to say. He had a fiancee at home, in Brighton that is, and I think he was quite happy to have someone to listen to him when he dreamed away, talking about his plans for the future.
He wanted to get married soon. The only thing he was waiting for was money, and, perhaps, a promotion. Henry stated that a promotion was not so very unlikely; after all, not even the Admiralty would ignore such a talent as Mr Marshall's for long.
He never lived to see it, though. The letter announcing his advancement to the rank of Captain arrived three days after his death. This was one of the few times when I saw my husband really furious. - It was such a waste, a man like Marshall...
There was another lieutenant on board, a Mr Simmons, who, though still rather young and inexperienced, was yet a very capable seaman already. The only trouble with him was, to say it with Henry's words, that he "could be excellent if he weren't such a good-for-nothing".
Mr Simmons was about the only man on board who, in general, had to hear an order twice to consider doing as he was told. It got a bit better after every time he had got into trouble (and Henry did not spare him!), but he tended to forget about the trouble very soon.
Mr Avery had become one of my best friends on board. He was, like Henry and Frederick, very attentive and ready to help. I soon found out that, although he did not look like it, he was an excellent surgeon and loved his work.
We spent much time talking, if he had not much to do, that was, and he taught me a great deal about nursing. Henry was not sure at first if it was really a proper employment for me, but when I told him that I did not want to laze about all day and needed something to do, he gave in.
Naturally, Mr Avery preferred to be without me once he had a lot to do. He said that there were "sights a woman should not see". However, he did not always manage to keep me away in an emergency case, and I think he was, sometimes, quite glad to have me around, even if he scolded me and asked me "what on Earth the Captain will say if he finds out you are here". I always assured him that "the Captain" would say nothing, as long as no one told him about it.
"Keep quiet, Mr Avery, and I will not tell the Captain either. As long as he does not know, everything is fine. If he should happen to find out, which I do not think probable, I'll take the full responsibility. Don't worry!"
It was a calm passage though, seen from Mr Avery's point of view. There were, of course, the usual injuries the men got in work accidents. One of the men broke his arm when he lost his grip climbing the rigging and fell down (luckily he was not very high up when that happened).
We were not engaged in any action during that voyage - which was rather lucky, I think, although my husband may disagree.
I thought it was lucky, too. You had enough to get used to, anyway.
Now, did I forget anyone? Well, there were lots of people, of course, and I am only going to mention those who were closer acquaintances. There was the chaplain, Mr Connor, and Mr Howard, the purser. That was about it, I think.
I soon noticed that Henry, as tolerant as he might be off duty, was not at all easygoing as far as duty was concerned. There was no one on board the Phoenix who needed to be reminded of what he was to do (except Mr Simmons, sometimes), and Henry hardly excused anything.
The midshipmen (except Frederick) lived in constant dread of him. Not because he was harsh, but because they wanted to make a good impression on him.
As to Frederick...I am sorry to say it, but it was he who was the reason for our first, serious argument.
Henry took his duty very seriously, and so it was no wonder that he was also very critical towards himself. There was one thing that worried him at that time. He thought that one might, perhaps, accuse him of favouritism if he treated Frederick, who was now a member of his family, with too much indulgence, and therefore he turned to the other extreme. He was much stricter with Frederick than with anybody else.
I suppose that I felt this even more than Frederick himself did, since I had only seen them as friends before, and therefore the business-like manner Henry assumed with him as soon as we had left Yarmouth was a bit of a contrast. I do not mean to say that Henry was unkind to Frederick, or unfair...at least not intentionally. It only seemed as if Henry was afraid of giving him too much praise - even if Frederick deserved it, and on the other hand he was quite ready to criticise. It was hard for Frederick to get praise from Henry, and he was scolded for even minor mistakes that, had others committed them, had only extracted a sarcastic remark from Henry. One must not forget that Frederick, at that time, was not yet eighteen, and that he had still a lot to learn. Mistakes happen to anyone, but they happen even more often to people who are still learning.
I noticed that Frederick's behaviour towards Henry changed. He was hurt, and although he did not show it openly, I could guess it by the looks he gave Henry whenever he was - again - rebuked for something that was not really worth the trouble. If Henry was not careful, their friendship would soon be ruined.
I watched this for a few days, without saying anything, but it was hard for me to see my brother suffer - and I think he did suffer, even if he did not show it. So, I decided to speak up, and to ask Henry what was wrong. It was a BIG mistake to do that.
So it was, Sophy. But I made a big mistake, too.
I do not know how it had started. It was a mere trifle, I suppose, and again, Henry overreacted. It was not only I who thought so, I saw Mr Marshall give them a surprised look as if he wanted to say that he could not quite understand what the fuss was about.
This time, however, Frederick was not disposed to just give in. He was standing there, his eyes flashing, looking straight into Henry's face, and for a moment it seemed as if he was going to say something.
Henry noticed that too, and snapped, "Is there anything you want to ask me, Mr Wentworth?"
"No, sir, I understood you quite well," Frederick answered, in a heated tone of voice.
"Are you sure, Mr Wentworth?"
"I am, sir. I do not think there is anything for me to say." Having finished, Frederick just turned around and marched away, leaving Henry standing there.
Perhaps, I would still not have said a thing, had not Henry referred to the incident when we were sitting together that evening.
"I do not know what is the matter with Frederick at the moment," he said.
"Is there anything the matter," I asked, cautiously.
"Well, you did see what happened today, did you not? It looks as if he does not respect me any more."
I shook my head. "I do not think he was disrespectful, Henry. Actually, I was wondering what was wrong with you."
"Are you taking his side?" Henry looked at me in surprise.
"I am taking nobody's side, Henry, but, if you want to hear my opinion, I think you treat him rather harshly, in comparison to others."
"Are you going to tell me how to manage my men," he asked, irritably.
I shook my head. "Of course not, Henry, I only thought you wanted to know my opinion, and I think that you are quite ready to find fault with Frederick."
"I am unjust, then."
I could not, for the life of me, imagine what had made him so angry. He had started the topic, had he not?
"I do not accuse you of unfairness, Henry. I only thought that, in your anxiety not to treat Frederick as a favourite, you have started treating him with unnecessary severity."
"I don't know what this is called in Yarmouth, but where I come from they call it "injustice", Sophy."
"You need not become sarcastic now, Henry. I did not do anything wrong, did I? You asked for my opinion, and I told you. Like it or not, but I will not change it."
That last sentence sounded a bit snappier than I had intended. Henry looked at me angrily, got up without a word and went to the door.
"Where are you going," I asked, unnecessarily. How far could he get, after all?
"Out," he answered, and slammed the door behind him.
I stayed where I was, furious. Why did he get angry with me? In my opinion, I had done nothing wrong. If he was angry with Frederick, why did he take it out on me?
I did not take it out on you! - Yes, you did!
After about half an hour, Henry returned. He did not tell me where he had been or what he had done, and I did not ask him.
It seemed as if he wanted to make up for his behaviour, because he started talking quite pleasantly, carefully avoiding the topic that had started the argument. But that was not what I wanted, I was still angry, and I showed it by remaining silent, frowning when I would have smiled otherwise, in short, by behaving just like my mother had behaved towards me not too long ago.
You were very good at sulking, Sophy.
So, after a while, Henry said, "May I ask what is the matter, Sophy?"
"Don't you know?"
Five-and-twenty years of marriage have taught me that a woman gets nowhere by this method. Men NEVER know if a woman does not tell them how she feels. But I was still a beginner in the marriage business at that time. All I wanted was to make him feel sorry. He already DID feel sorry, but not sorry enough. So I thought.
"Whatever my talents may be, I cannot read your thoughts, Sophy," he said, with a sigh.
"I do not expect you to read my thoughts, Henry."
"So, what is wrong?"
"For Heaven's sake, Sophy! Either tell me what is wrong, or stop looking at me like that! But don't go on like this without telling me why I deserve such treatment!"
Suddenly, I told him everything. I told him why I was so annoyed, and I suppose that the words I used to describe my feelings were not very kind. I cannot remember the exact terms I used.
Luckily, I cannot either. But I remember I was rather shocked. It was the first time I saw you really angry, after all.
I had finished my sermon, and felt relieved - and sorry, because when I looked at Henry I noticed that I had hurt him. He had come back, ready to be forgiven (although he had not asked for pardon), and what he had got was rebuke.
He gave me a sad look and said, "I see. I have some explaining to do, I suppose. You know where I've been?"
"No, you did not tell me."
"Because you did not ask. Well, I will tell you now. I was walking about on deck, and I met Frederick there. Believe it or not, Sophy, but as soon as I saw him, and by the way he looked at me, I knew that you had been right. I suppose I was only angry with you because you had expressed the things that I had already known, without admitting them to myself.
Well, I had a serious talk with your brother. I asked him if he thought I treated him badly lately, and he said that he, indeed, felt so.
I told him that, if he did not feel comfortable here any more, I would try to find another place for him, I even offered him to ask Rigby if he'd take him back. You know what he said? He said he preferred to stay here with us. Even though...well, I can tell you, it has been a long time since I have been as ashamed of myself as I am at the moment."
Now, show me the woman who would not be touched by such an honest confession. He admitted that I had been right, and that was a fact that endeared him even more to me. There are not many men in the world who would do that, I knew that even then. It showed me that he respected me and my opinion, even if my view was not the same as his.
We learned one more thing that evening. We learned that an occasional quarrel does not mean that the love is gone. The worst mistake one can make in marriage is to keep quiet, not to talk about things that make one feel unhappy, just to avoid an argument. It may prevent an argument, but it also kills love. Besides, there are few things that can be more delightful than the reconciliation after a quarrel. Another thing we learned that evening...
We reached Gibraltar without difficulties. There was one thunderstorm that scared me a bit, I have to say, after all it was the first storm I experienced at sea.
It was nothing in comparison to the other storms I have seen meanwhile, I can tell you, a hurricane in the Caribbean Sea is no fun at all, but it did very well as a "starter".
Henry told me to "take care of myself, because he did not want me to get washed overboard", which I thought rather considerate. Frederick showed his consideration by keeping me company in the worst hours and entertaining me with a narrative of storms and shipwrecks. He still denies it, but I suspect he did this to frighten me. I wonder if he ever tried that with Anne... I will have to ask her, what do you think, Admiral? - Do, Sophy, that would interest me too.
I liked Gibraltar, as I liked most of the Mediterranean places I have seen. Gibraltar, of course, had the charm of being the first foreign town I had been to.
Henry had been there before, and while he was still waiting for his orders, he showed me around and introduced me to his friends in this town.
I have to say that my husband had - and still has - a knack of befriending the right sort of people. I have never seen a more delightful set than Henry's friends.
One gentleman was able to secure my friendship at once. I first met him at a dinner party in Gibraltar, two days before Henry was scheduled to leave. He had persuaded me to stay behind meanwhile, as he would only be gone "three weeks at the utmost", and he had said that they were very likely to be engaged into some sort of action.
"It is safer for you to be here," he said. So I decided to take his advice and stay in Gibraltar until he came back, although I did not like the notion of being alone, even if it was for only three weeks.
But back to that dinner party. I was just talking with our hostess, a Lady Stewart, when two sea officers arrived.
I noticed how Henry went to them at once and how jovially he welcomed them. They were surprised to see him, it seemed, but I saw that they were by no means displeased with this meeting.
Lady Stewart was not able to give me any information concerning these two gentlemen; she just mentioned, "she was sure that they belonged to her husband's acquaintance".
However, Henry was not disposed to leave me in the dark for long, because he came over with his two friends.
"Sophy, these are two gentlemen I have already looked forward to meeting here. Captain Graham, and Captain Baldwin. Graham used to be my first lieutenant before his promotion, and Captain Baldwin is Sir Alexander Baldwin's brother."
Sir Alexander's brother! Of course, now I remembered that Sir Alexander had once mentioned that his brother was at the moment stationed in Gibraltar, but I had forgotten about it. Besides, even if I had remembered, I do not think I would have expected to meet him here.
I gave Captain Baldwin a curious look, trying to discern a likeness with his brother, but I could find none. He was a rather plain looking man, I thought. His charms were not in his looks, but in his temper, and this was also where his likeness with Sir Alexander began, with one difference.
Captain Baldwin was not at all shy. I suppose that his years in the Navy had cured him of any shyness that might have been in his nature once.
He was, on the contrary, quite ready to talk, and did talk a great deal.
The first thing he said after exchanging pleasantries was, "Your husband told me you were acquainted with my brother's fiancee, Miss Kennington. I only heard about their engagement three days ago, news like that travel slowly. Tell me, what is Miss Kennington like?"
"She is the most charming woman I have ever met, Captain Baldwin, and my best friend, too."
"It is good to hear such a thing. That does not mean that I do not trust my brother to find himself an excellent wife, though. Yet I thought I could use the chance to hear more about my future sister-in-law. I only met her brother, the Colonel, once or twice, but have never seen Miss Kennington. I will rely on you to find out everything I need to know about her. If you will help me, that is."
"I will do my best to be of assistance, sir," I answered.
This was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between me and Captain (later Admiral) Baldwin. The Baldwins still visit us regularly, and the Admiral and I visit them very often, as well.
I will not dwell too much on our stay in Gibraltar. It was a very happy time for both of us, and, as far as Henry was concerned, it was a successful stay too. He earned a great deal of prize money in those three months we spent in the Mediterranean.
Both of us had expected to be stationed in Gibraltar for some time, at one point it was mentioned that we were meant to stay there for one or two years, but then plans were changed, and Henry was sent back to England with some urgent dispatches.
The bad weather had prevented Captain Graham to be in Gibraltar in time to take them, and so we were homeward bound again by the beginning of October.
Our destination was Deal, in Kent. Henry was quite optimistic that we would spend the winter there, after all, who on earth would be so foolish to send him off during the winter?
Whenever we had some time to spare, we made plans what to do that winter.
"The first thing we'll have to do is to find decent lodgings, Sophy. Not the sort of thing I had in Yarmouth, that will not do. I want my wife to have a proper home, you know," he said, one evening.
I smiled. "Do not distress yourself on my account, my dear," I said. "Or did you ever have the impression that I was discontented? I loved your lodgings in Yarmouth, I love this ship, and I loved our lodgings in Gibraltar as well. I love any place as long as I can be with you."
Henry put his arm around my shoulder and drew me near him.
"You know you are the best thing that ever happened to me in my life," he said. "It is about time I can give you the attention you deserve."
"I can reassure you, my dear, I never felt neglected in any way."
"But still, I did not treat you the way I wanted to, Sophy. I'll make up for it, I promise. What do you think? Shall we travel to Taunton to spend Christmas with my family? My mother would be delighted. Or would you prefer to spend Christmas with your parents and brothers? I do not mind, just make your choice."
I gave him a kiss. "I would like to spend Christmas with my husband, if it is not too much trouble."
"I think that can be arranged," he said, smiling.
He was mistaken.
We arrived at Deal on a gloomy afternoon in late October. It seemed especially gloomy to me after all those weeks I had spent in the radiant sun of the Mediterranean. I looked rather weather-beaten, "quite like an old sailor", as Frederick had stated once.
Our passage had been not at all as calm as the one we had had in summer. Storms had been quite frequent. So I have to admit I was quite glad when I finally saw land ahead.
While Henry was still busy on the "Phoenix", I set out to find a suitable home for us. Henry said he trusted me completely in finding the right place and said he would be at my service whenever I needed him.
It has always been like that. Even if it was Henry who did the dealing officially, as the husband and head of our household, he left most of the decisions to me. - Why not, Sophy? You have always been much better at that sort of thing than I have, and you know best what you want.
Finally, I found a pretty cottage that suited my wishes very well. It was a charming house, with a lovely garden (although it was not quite as lovely then, in late autumn). It was not big, but then we did not need much space, did we? There was only Henry and me.
The house was furnished, and although the furniture was not of the newest fashion, the person who had once furnished it had had considerable taste in doing so. It was a wonderful, cosy little place, and besides the rent was reasonable.
Ha! That is my Sophy! I remember you even haggled with that Mr Shepherd when we rented Kellynch Hall. - Well, why should we pay more than is necessary?
Henry liked the cottage as much as I did, and so we took the house, until March at first, with the option to stay longer if we liked.
The next thing I had to do was to find a housemaid and a cook. Henry insisted on it, he said he did not want me to do everything by myself.
"Come on, Sophy, it is not as if we could not afford it, is it? I do not want people to have the impression that I cannot give my wife enough money to manage a decent household."
"Henry, there is only the two of us, after all. Do you not think that one maid will do? I can always hire a cook if we have more work in the kitchen."
"No, this is too troublesome. Besides, I do not want my wife to slave in the kitchen all day. Economy is all very well, Sophy, but you are overdoing it."
I gave in, and consequently a cook and a maid were hired. Mrs Ellis, the cook, was a woman in her thirties, a young widow who had to work to support herself.
The maid, Sally, was a young girl of seventeen, and men were her greatest interest. I suspect that she had her own plans when she agreed to work for us, after all, in a sea captain's household one can expect to meet a sailor or two, and one of them might be unmarried as well.
If she had paid as much attention to her work as to the young men in Deal, everything would have been fine, but it was not so. Mrs Ellis and I had a lot of trouble trying to keep her to her work.
I was looking forward to spending the winter ashore with my husband. I had enjoyed travelling, of course, but on the other hand I also liked to have a comfortable home. Once we had settled into the cottage, I sat down to write a few letters to my friends and family to let them know about my whereabouts. Everything was perfect.
One evening, however, Henry came home, looking dejected. I asked him if anything was wrong, and he nodded.
"I'll have to be off by next week," he said.
"Next week? Henry, I cannot believe it! I thought..."
"I thought so, too, Sophy. I know you are disappointed now, but I cannot help it. I am sorry."
I sighed. "Well, never mind, my dear, we'll just move back on board then."
I did regret that we had to leave again so soon, after all I had just settled in and was beginning to enjoy the house and the town.
Henry shook his head. "I will, Sophy, but not you. I cannot take you with me this time."
"Because, Sophy, it would be too uncomfortable for you. It is winter, and the North Seas in winter are hard enough to endure for someone like me. You are much better off here."
"No, I am not. What am I to do here? I do not know so many people in Deal, I will be quite desolate without you. You will stay away for longer than just three weeks, as you did in Gibraltar, and I was hardly able to bear our separation for those three weeks already."
"Sophy, please." He looked at me, pleadingly. "Do not make it worse for me. Do you not think that I, too, would rather have you with me? But I cannot, in good conscience, expose you to such conditions. Stay here, Sophy. I know that you are safe and comfortable here, and that will make it a bit easier for me. It is for your own good, my dear."
"For my own good, you say? Do you not think I am old enough to decide for myself what is good for me and what is not?"
It was harsh, I admit that, but I was desperate. In those months of our marriage, I had grown so fond of Henry's company that I could not bear the thought of a separation. I was selfish, perhaps, and I knew that Henry felt like me, that he really would have taken me with him if there had been a chance.
"Believe me, Sophy, in every other matter I completely trust your judgment. But in this one, please trust mine. It would not be good for you, and you will be much more comfortable here. As for a lack of acquaintance, there is a remedy for that. You will have no difficulty in making new friends soon, and as to feeling lonely...I will miss you, too, Sophy."
I started to cry, and he put his arms around me, trying to comfort me.
"I will be back in April, Sophy, or May, at the latest."
"That will be five or six months, Henry."
"Right, only five or six months. It could be worse, you know. What do you think, why do you not write to your friend Lady Baldwin? I am sure she will be delighted to see you again, and I dare say once she knows that you are back in England she will invite you."
Sarah...that was a suggestion, but then I could not invite myself, could I?
"Even if she does not, Sophy, you could still go and stay with your family for a while. Or with mine, for that matter. What do you think? Those months will pass, Sophy, and I will be back before you notice it."
"Is there no way for me to go with you?"
"No, there is not," he said sadly.
I nodded. "I will stay, then," I said.
I decided that I would stay here, at Deal, and try to get over that winter somehow. Henry would not hear one more word of reproach from me. I knew that he had had no other choice, or he would have taken me with him. I just had to face the facts.
During the following days, I tried hard to hide my feelings and endeavoured to be as cheerful as possible. Nothing should spoil the last days my husband spent with me before he went back to sea.
We attended several evening parties, and I got to know many new people. I found out that officers' wives were a very special set of people. They were all very helpful, and welcomed me in their circle most readily.
On a rainy morning in early November, the "Phoenix" left Deal. As long as I was still among people, I was strong enough to suppress my tears, but once I was back in my own house, nothing could hold me back any more. I went to my bedroom, and spent the next hour or two crying, before I fell asleep.
You never told me that, Sophy. - What was there to tell you? After all, I did not want you to worry about me. You had enough to worry about anyway.
The following weeks were very hard for me. The days were not a problem - I was quite busy then, if not with household matters then with meeting people. I got to know some of the officers' wives in Deal and I have to say we were quite a merry circle. I also met the uncrowned "Queen of Deal", as she was called behind her back. Her name was Mrs MacLean, and she was an Admiral's widow in her late seventies. Despite her age, she was still very active, and nothing could happen in Deal without her noticing and commenting on it. She still ruled the naval community with her will of iron, and one was well advised to be on good terms with her. After all, she had enough influence to be of use if she chose to - and to make one's life pretty hard, if she did not like a person.
It was not the days that bothered me, but the evenings and nights I had to pass all by myself. During those evenings, I had nothing else to do but worrying, and hoping that everything was all right, and at the same time fearing the worst. The uncertainty nearly made me go mad.
Henry had told me, before he had left, that he might not be able to send me any letters.
"All I can promise you is that I will write whenever it is possible, Sophy," he had said. "But do not worry if you do not hear from me. It does not signify anything. Just remember all the time that I love you, and that my thoughts will be with you wherever I am."
But I could not help it, I kept worrying, and then, I missed him... I missed him so much that it hurt.
And still, after all those years, I believe that it was right to leave you at Deal, Sophy. That voyage would have been too dangerous for you. Yet, believe me, I missed you, too. I wondered how you were, all the time. I would not like to experience such a thing again, my dear.
I had got used to Henry's presence, and I had cherished every moment we had spent together. Now that he was gone I became aware of how much I really needed him. Even if he had not had much time for me, his being there had been enough to make me happy. The smiles he had given me even in his busiest moments, and the moments when he had stepped in to see me for a few minutes, just for a kiss, sometimes...I missed all that, and I can tell you, I shed many a tear because of it.
Believe me, the littlest things often make the fondest memories.
Sometimes, if it seemed too much for me to bear, I just sat down to write him a letter, describing all that I felt, telling him all my hopes and fears. I never posted those letters, however. As soon as I had finished them, I threw them into the fire and watched them burn.
Why did you never post them, Sophy? - Would they have reached you, do you think? And then I did not want you to know how miserable I really felt. It was hard enough for you as it was.
By the end of November, I received a letter from Sarah that made me feel better. She wrote that she wanted to spend Christmas in London, and she invited me to stay there with her.
"I know how you must feel at the moment," she wrote. "I would feel the same if Alexander had to go and leave me behind. But believe me, the best remedy for depression is good company. Do consider coming and spending some time with us. Alexander and I will do our best to cheer you up."
I thought for a while. Was it really advisable to leave Deal? But then, Henry had suggested I should go...so why not?
I decided that I would go to London for a few weeks, and asked Mrs Ellis to forward all my letters to Grosvenor Street.
So everything was settled. On December 15th, Sir Alexander's carriage was to pick me up and take me to London.
I arrived in Grosvenor Street in the late afternoon of December 16th, and Sarah greeted me ecstatically.
"I did not dare hope you would really come," she said again and again. "I thought there was sure something that would prevent it."
Sir Alexander, too, gave me a cordial welcome. He urged me to consider his house my home for as long as I wished, and thanked me for "giving up my comfortable house for the sake of keeping them company".
Sarah soon took the opportunity of showing me around in her new home. Most of it had been redecorated to suit her taste, and she was exceedingly proud of the effect. I congratulated her on her good taste, and added, "But I always knew I could trust your likes and dislikes, especially when I found out whom you had chosen to be your husband. Tell me, what does it feel like to be Lady Baldwin?"
Sarah embraced me with a radiant smile. "I have never been so happy in all my life," she said. "Sometimes I just hope it is not a dream, and fear that I might wake up any moment."
Finally, she showed me into a very elegantly furnished, cosy apartment.
"This will be your room during your stay, Sophy," she said.
The apartment consisted of a small sitting room, a dressing room and a beautiful bedroom.
A maid was already at work, unpacking my trunks.
"I will leave you here, for a while," Sarah said. "I am sure you will need some rest after the long journey. Dinner will be ready at half past six. We will only be a quiet set tonight, however, I did not want to fatigue you with too much company on your first evening here. There will only be you, Alexander, my brother and me."
"Mr Kennington will dine with us," I asked, hoping that it might be him.
"No, not James. Thomas. I thought he would be an addition to our circle, and might keep us from becoming too gloomy," Sarah answered, smiling. "Listen, if there is anything you need, Lucy will be at your service. See you at dinner."
With these words she left me to my thoughts. Colonel Kennington was to dine with us! I had not seen him since the day he had heard about my engagement, and I had not forgotten what his reaction had been like. It could not be explained with mere surprise...I had had the impression that he was fonder of me than was good for him.
How was I to meet him now, how was I to deal with that situation? I was a married woman, what if he still loved me?
Then I reassured myself. I was certain that Colonel Kennington would not be here if he still felt for me the way he had. He had never been a constant man in his feelings for women, anyway. He had always had a reputation of falling in love very quickly, and out of love even more so. His feelings had not been something to rely on.
He was a notorious womaniser, that's what he was! - Admiral, please!
Besides, even if he still felt the same way about me, I was sure he was too much of a gentleman to show it and to distress me with it.
I asked Lucy to prepare a bath for me and decided to wear one of the dresses I had bought in Gibraltar, when Henry had asked me to be "shamelessly extravagant as long as he could afford it". That had been after he had come back with prize money. Henry.... I wondered how he was faring at the moment.
Shortly before half past six, I left my room and was shown into the drawing room, where Sir Alexander and Sarah were already waiting. There was nothing to be seen of the Colonel yet. Sarah complimented me on my dress.
"It is lovely, Sophy. Where did you get it?"
I told her I had bought the dress in Gibraltar, and mentioned that I had met Captain Baldwin there, which provided us with a conversation topic for a while. Sir Alexander was keen to hear everything I could tell him about his brother.
"His letters do not replace my seeing him, Mrs Croft. He did write me he was well, but I am glad to hear you confirm it."
Finally, the door opened and Colonel Kennington came in, apologising for being so late. He did not notice me at first.
Sarah smiled sweetly, kissed him on his cheek by way of a greeting, and said, "Oh, I do not mind your being late, Thomas, but I am afraid it will not make the best impression on our other guest."
"Other guest? Who..." The Colonel saw me and stopped in the middle of his sentence. For a moment, nobody spoke. Obviously Sarah had not told him I was expected.
"Why, Mrs Croft! This is what I call a pleasant surprise," the Colonel went on, after having recovered from his first shock. "How are you?"
He smiled amiably, and yet I had the feeling that he would rather be somewhere else.
"I am fine, thank you sir," I replied as calmly as possible. "I did not expect to meet you here, though. I thought you had joined your regiment again this summer."
"So I have, madam. Only, my regiment is back in England for the winter, and I thought I might use my time to visit my sister...I thought you were at sea with your ... husband ... Mrs .... Croft."
His embarrassment was obvious, and I pitied him. Why had Sarah invited us both?
"So I was, Colonel," I answered, smiling. "But we returned to England in autumn, and at the moment Captain Croft is in the North Seas. He said that he would rather leave me here, as it is too dangerous for a woman."
"I think Captain Croft is right there, madam," the Colonel said. "Besides, we have to thank him for his decision. We would not have had the pleasure of seeing you here, had the Captain decided otherwise."
Meanwhile, he had nearly regained his composure. I was glad to see it. The evening would have become quite an awkward affair, had he not.
Sir Alexander took over the conversation now, and Sarah asked us to follow her to the dining room, "before Cook turns up in person to scold us in".
After dinner, Sarah and I were sitting in the drawing room by ourselves, talking about how we had fared with our respective husbands. Sarah was most curious to hear more about my life at sea.
"Sophy, I just cannot imagine what it must be like," she said. "I mean, you must have felt quite...trapped, all alone with all those men..."
I had to laugh. What ideas did Sarah have about life at sea?
"I never felt trapped, Sarah. I do admit that the conditions on board a frigate can be a bit confined, but one gets used to it. You know, I have never been such a fine lady, Sarah. I got on very well, believe me, and I hope to go to sea again soon."
"You really do?" Sarah gave me a doubting look.
"Of course! I can tell you one thing for sure, Sarah. The Captain will not be able to persuade me to stay behind again."
Sarah giggled. "You call your husband the Captain?"
"It is a thing I have started during our journey, yes. I mean, referring to the captain of a ship as "Henry" among his men would not be that good for his authority, would it? He was "the Captain" for everybody, and so he became the Captain for me as well. Sometimes I even call him "Captain" when we are all by ourselves."
"How does he react to that?"
I laughed. "He hates it, that is why I am doing it. To tease him."
Not much has changed in that quarter, right, Admiral? - Right, Mrs Croft. A man gets used to a lot of things. So you started calling me "Captain" to tease me?
"I wish I could see you with each other, Sophy," Sarah said, grinning.
"So do I, Sarah," I answered, and for a moment I felt sad.
It was now three days before Christmas. We were sitting at the breakfast table, when a servant came in.
"An express for Mrs Croft," he said.
Suddenly, I felt very weak. "Where from," I asked, faintly.
"From Deal, Madam," the servant answered.
"From Deal," I repeated, trying to get up, but failing. I did not have the strength to do so. Sir Alexander took the letter instead, gave it to me, and he and Sarah left me to read it in private.
It was true, the letter was from Deal, but only because it had been sent there at first and Mrs Ellis had forwarded it to London. It was from my father, and the news it contained was alarming.
My dear Sophy,
I wish I had good news to relate, but it is not so.
Your mother, who has always been in good health until now, has fainted during church service yesterday and has, meanwhile, regained consciousness only once. During this short time, she expressed her wish to see her children, as far as it is possible.
I have spoken to Mr Shaw, the apothecary, and he has told me to prepare for the worst.
Dear Sophy, if you can, please come home as quickly as possible. Your mother wishes to see you, and I confess I need your assistance as well.
I do not know how to convey the news to your brother Frederick, but perhaps you know a way in which it can be done.
I am anxiously awaiting your arrival.
Your affectionate father,
Mama! I wondered what had happened. She had always been in good health, it was true...but then, it was hard to tell, was it not? She had always kept her problems to herself.
The tears were running down my cheeks, and I could hardly read. My hands trembled so much I nearly dropped the letter.
The door opened, and in came Colonel Kennington, who had wanted to call on Sir Alexander very early.
"Mrs Croft, for heaven's sake, what is the matter," he exclaimed when he saw me.
Turning to the servant who had shown him in, he said, "Go and get Lady Baldwin, she is needed here. And while you are on your way, get Mrs Croft a glass of wine."
The servant, taken aback by the Colonel's unusually brusque tone, hurried away, and we were left to ourselves.
"What is it, Mrs Croft? Is there anything I can do for you? Please, do calm yourself, and tell me," he said, in an entreating voice.
At the same time Sarah arrived, as well as the servant who brought me a glass of wine.
"Good Lord, Sophy!" Sarah cried, hurrying towards me. "What has happened?"
When I was able to speak without an outburst of tears, I answered their anxious questions.
"Sarah, I am so sorry, but I am afraid I will have to leave you at once," I finished.
"Of course, Sophy."
Sarah rang the bell and told the maid to pack my trunks.
"I can do that myself," I protested, but Sarah would not hear of it.
"You have got enough trouble already, dear. Leave everything to me."
Two hours later, I was on my way to Norfolk. Sir Alexander had insisted on sending his own carriage, although I had felt uncomfortable about trespassing on his hospitality like that.
"It is the least thing I can do for you," he had said, and had not listened to my reasoning.
Sir Alexander had also offered to go with me, but I had not accepted that offer.
"I cannot ask such a thing of you, Sir Alexander. It is very kind, sir, but you ought to spend Christmas with your own family. I will do very well by myself."
So, Sir Alexander had given up his plan, but only in favour of another one, as I was soon to find out.
When I got into the carriage, I noticed that the Colonel was there, too, on horseback and ready for travelling.
"Colonel, you are not going to travel with me? I told Sir Alexander that it is not necessary for anybody to go with me," I said.
He smiled. "No, Mrs Croft, I am not going with you. We just happen to go into the same direction. I am going to visit my father for Christmas."
I had to give in,but I did not feel too comfortable about it.
Continued in Part 6© 2001 Copyright held by author