Posted on Monday, 5 February 2007
He used to like her, James had just said. Sophia waited for him to explain how he felt now. It might be presumptuous of her, but she believed he did more than like her. He might not say it, however. He still seemed rather shy now and then, but if she looked very encouraging he might feel his response would be very welcome indeed.
"I am very fond of you," he said, seeing that more was required than saying he used to like her. He would agree that it was a rather unsatisfactory phrase and not one he would like to hear without any elaboration either, but he did not have any experience with these matters.
Sophia gave him a brilliant smile. "I love you too." Fortunately his actions carried more conviction than his words, although she did not need to be convinced much more. Still, she did not protest.
"Captain? Your breakfast," Jimmy's rather anxious voice disturbed them a while later. "Or are you…er…busy?"
James separated from Sophia, embarrassed at being caught at something a second time. "Yes, but tea gets cold and Mrs Croft does not."
"Oh!" she spluttered. "You are so complimentary." But perhaps, if he meant kissing could warm her up, he was also scandalous -- which he would be scandalised to hear.
He grinned at her disarmingly and was glad to see that appeared to satisfy her, because he was not really certain what he had meant. He certainly had not meant to be uncomplimentary. To make up for it, he gallantly helped her off the bench and they sat down to their breakfast. As they started, he asked how her dinner had been, but he made sure not to sound too anxious. "Did you enjoy it?"
"The food?" she asked innocently. He would care nothing for the food.
"I like your company better, of course, but they were agreeable and entertaining enough. One asked me to sing." Her eyes sparkled. That should amuse him.
It did. "Oh no. Poor Frederick. I hope you did not oblige. I did not, at any rate, see --" He swallowed that he had been keeping an eye out. He had not seen anyone running away.
"I could not do that to him. One of the boys sang." She refrained from asking him about the song. It was very likely not perfectly decent and if he heard it had almost been sung, there might be repercussions.
"I did not have such a frivolous dinner." Suddenly James looked sad when he thought of the evening before. "I missed you and I did not know what would happen to you."
"In short, please do not ever dine out again?"
"That would be unfair and I hope I am never unfair. I shall settle for complaining. Loving a wife is different from loving brothers," he mused. "You are so much more than company -- I detest such poetic speeches."
Sophia smiled, but it was not a very teasing smile. "It was not yet so poetic as to lose all its meaning."
"Do you agree with me about matters other than poetry?"
"If you were to dine with a group of young women I might feel as many apprehensions as you did. More, in fact." She supposed she could trust James, but the young women would pose a problem.
"Oh, Sophia! I hope you would never force me to dine with a group of young women!" he cried. "If I must, I would certainly take you."
"And old women?"
Sophia spent the entire day revelling in the fact that her husband loved her. She would almost talk to somebody about it and suddenly silly girls such as her former neighbours became much more comprehensible with their need to relate every silly thing a man had said to them.
James perhaps felt he had to make up for sleeping late, because he was very busy all day and she saw very little of him. Sophia had enough happy feelings to tide her over, although he was not even there yet when she went to bed. He returned not long after.
"My blanket is gone," he noted in surprise. He had been searching for it for a while, but he finally decided to speak in case Sophia was still awake.
She was. How could she have fallen asleep already? She had been waiting and watching his search with half-closed eyes, knowing all about the blanket. "No, it is not."
"I do not see it." He checked again.
She wondered why he kept looking in the same places, since it clearly was not there and it could not reappear on its own. "I have it."
Since James looked as if he was utterly ignorant of what her reason for having it might be, Sophia had to explain. "Because I want you to come here."
"Because I am so cold!" she complained. It was a lie, but considering his slow understanding, a forgivable lie. She wondered whether it even was a whole lie, considering that she would be warmer if he joined her.
"But…" He approached the bed and looked down on her uncertainly.
"Mrs Croft?" Jimmy's hesitant whisper broke the silence in the cabin. "Where is the captain? He is missing."
First his blanket, now the captain himself! The two were related, but Jimmy could not know that. Sophia was rather amused, however, by receiving those questions about them. "Do not fret," she whispered back. "He is with me."
"Will you tell him it is time to wake? How am I to do that if he keeps sleeping with you? The captain told me not to touch you, but if you are in front or on top what am I to do?"
Sophia suspected James was awake and trying not to laugh, for he was shaking behind her. She tried to keep her voice steady, but Jimmy's distress was rather amusing in all its sincerity. It was his task to wake the captain and he took it very seriously. "Wake us however you think necessary, Jimmy. Shaking my shoulder will not hurt me -- and it will not make the captain burn with jealousy either. I hope?" she said over her shoulder.
"I think I could stand it," James replied, but Jimmy had better not take more liberties with Sophia than her husband dared to take with her. "But let us try. Pretend to be asleep, Sophia, and Jimmy, shake her shoulder."
Jimmy stretched out a hesitant hand.
"Come on, employ a little more force."
The boy gave Sophia a vigorous shake.
"Aye, that wakes me," she said.
"May I go now?" Jimmy inquired. He wanted to be away from them. They were strange.
"You may. I am awake." James waited until he was gone. He recalled how they had almost hidden under the blankets like two mischievous children who were doing something forbidden, giggling rather than speaking. Now that morning had come he had to say something intelligent about it perhaps, something more befitting a grown man. "Could you not simply have asked…"
"Oh, I could have and then you would have told me something about not wanting to have anything in your way in case you had to get up quickly. Or some other excuse."
"Really?" He examined himself. "Probably."
"But I really did not understand why you wanted us to separate on board. You like sharing too, because you never left."
"I like it," he nodded. In fact, he might like it rather too much and that might have all sorts of consequences in the future. "But --"
"If I did not know you liked it, I never would have lured you," Sophia said seriously. "And I knew you would fit into the bed. The carpenter made sure of that."
"What?" James cried.
"Do your feet stick out, my dear?" She felt around with her own feet.
"No, but --"
"They would have, had he followed your orders. Suppose you had wanted to share and then found that you had ordered the bunk several sizes too small for a couple! I suppose you could have asked him to fix it, but how would that have looked?"
"Did you speak to the carpenter?" He feared the worst. If the carpenter had changed the size of the bunk so it could be shared by a couple, he must have had a good laugh.
"Only in a very clever and unrevealing way," Sophia said in a proud tone. "I can even lie to have my way."
"Do not cultivate that talent," James advised. "But when did you lie?"
"When I said I was cold. I was not. I merely wanted you beside me and I succeeded. Now, James…if you allow Jimmy to wake me if I am in the way, does that mean you will give up the hammock?" She looked at him imploringly.
He asked a superfluous question to gain time to think. "Would you want me to?"
"Oh yes." There was no doubt in Sophia's voice. "And if you do not share with me, I am going to share with you."
This determination made him laugh. It relieved him that the decision was taken out of his hands. "But something is in my way if I want to get up."
"Climb over me." She tried to flatten herself against the mattress, but James did not move.
"That is easier said than done. I do not mean so much that you are in the way as that it is tempting to stay here. And that would not do. I have a ship to command."
"Well, my dear, we should grow bored very soon," Sophia soothed. "You would not be here forever and you could start your duties perhaps five minutes later. I do not want to be in the way of your duties."
Posted on Thursday, 8 February 2007
During the first days it had been such fun to share, Sophia reflected, but then the inevitable had happened. Although she had not foreseen it, in retrospect it had been very inevitable indeed. She was ashamed of her tears. Those had frightened James into wide-eyed silence and she had not known what to say either, because his experience was clearly different from hers.
It had surprised Jimmy that she had breakfasted alone, but she had not told him why. She did not even know why James had dressed and eaten in such a hurry. Perhaps she had merely been extremely slow, as there had been some practical problems to solve. Still, he had not waited.
She did not really mind that -- it meant he was affected as well -- because she had not yet formed an opinion. Getting Jimmy started on his cleaning work offered her some time for reflection, but when he asked her if she was unwell she fled outside.
She looked out over the vast expanse of water. They should not go long without talking. Silence would be unbearable, especially when there was something that weighed on their minds. She turned away from the railing and scanned the deck. Why did all those blasted fellows have to wear the same colours? It had never annoyed her before, but it did so now. It made it more difficult to discern James, if he was on deck at all. He might not be -- she had had her back turned towards everyone for a while.
Looking at him sufficed when she finally located him. He stared back, but after a few minutes he came towards her. Her eyes were clear now and she looked well. He had nothing to fear.
James leant against the railing beside her. "How are you feeling?"
His guilty and regretful tone touched her and she spoke gently. "I feel we must talk."
"I did not know you could cry."
"Of course I can cry. I had merely not yet had a reason."
"I am sorry I gave you one. I promise it will not occur again, but it was so easy," he mumbled. "Yet I knew it was evil and vicious, but I could not prevent it."
"That is not the sort of talk I meant. I did some thinking and concluded it was bound to occur at some point and since it did, it is bound to occur again," Sophia said bravely. She did not know much about evil and vice, only that they could not apply to James. Even his fearing it proved that.
He raised his eyebrows uncertainly. "But I thought you…"
"Yes," she sighed. "My crying was not an exaggeration. It was indeed what it looked to be. Then. But I plan to accept it as one of the less pleasant things that must come my way now that I am out in the world. There have been few so far."
James saw she was sincere, but he could not accept her resignation. "While such self-sacrifice may work for you, it will not work for me. I cannot reason it away as one of the less pleasant things to which I must subject my wife."
She laid her hand over his. "Yes, you are very sweet."
That too was sincere, but it vexed him. "Sophia, there is no need for you to suffer pain simply because you think it might be time for it because you have never suffered any pain before, or some other stupid self-effacing reasoning."
Her lip trembled. Being called stupid stung, almost more than any pain could. It would certainly last longer. "But what would you have me do?"
"I do not know," he said honestly. "But not this."
"Making me a promise you cannot keep is not stupid?" she asked bitterly. She looked away to hide her tears.
"Why could I not keep it?" He was determined to try and why should he not succeed?
"Because I am going to make you break it, whether I want to or not." It would be as easy as it had been now. She had brought it upon herself and she would do so again.
"I --" But he was interrupted by someone informing him that an object had been seen ahead. "Let us finish this conversation later."
The disadvantage of having a brother on board was that he kept a close eye on her even if he should be doing something else. Sophia realised this when Frederick replaced James by her side even before she had had time to think properly.
"You look upset," he said cautiously. "Did you have an argument?"
"Upset? Oh, no," she said with artificial cheerfulness.
"You are unhappy."
"Not really. One cannot be blissfully happy every day, but a little less is no cause for concern." She focused on thoughts of her sweet husband and managed to feel a little better already. He could have reacted less concerned.
"But what was it?"
"Something insignificant," she lied. "James collided with me this morning, as is bound to happen in small spaces, and he thought it was his fault. It was not. It also does not hurt anymore, so I am absolutely fine." That was another lie. She was not really fine, although she tried to be. She wanted James to embrace her, but he had been called away.
"I hope he apologised," Frederick said darkly.
"He promised me it would never occur again," Sophia said in a solemn voice. In spite of the situation, she could not stop herself from being amused at the image of Frederick demanding an apology from James. "But it probably will. You know how clumsy I am."
She shrugged and spoke of something else. "Will you give me your coat so I can adjust your sleeves? You are growing too fast and you will look quite silly soon if I do not keep altering your clothes."
"Still growing?" Frederick beamed instantly and measured himself against her. "Now that you mention it…you do look a little shorter, Sophia."
James, returning to Sophia after it had been decided that the floating object did not need investigating, gave Frederick a suspicious glance. The boy took off instantly before he could be ordered to go away. "I hope you did not tell him anything." He supposed not; he had not been attacked.
"I told him to give me his coat."
"Whatever for? Do you want to wear it?"
"No, I have to make his sleeves longer. He is growing." As tempting as it was to speak about other subjects, she knew they should not. It would become more difficult to speak about what was on their minds as more time passed.
"In my days we fixed our own clothing if we could not afford to have it fixed. Come and have a stroll with me." He took her arm and was pleased to feel she walked closely to him. She must not be upset with him.
Sophia decided not to wait. "You said you knew it was evil. Does that mean you knew it would happen?"
James looked cautious. He did not want it to appear as if he had had an intention, because he had not. "After all that kissing I thought it might if I did not control myself. The men whose belongings I was retrieving were not the first I ever sailed with who engaged in such practices, but I never connected it to nice girls and to think that I might -- and did!"
"And that the nice girl cried was proof…" she said quietly, understanding him better now.
He looked sideways for a moment. "Yes. It is evil to make nice girls cry."
"Let us look at this rationally for a moment," Sophia advised. "Because I am not crying anymore. Is there anybody you could ask anything?"
"The captain cannot ask anybody. He has no equal except his wife. Besides," he smiled wryly. "There would be some who would pat me on the back and tell me well done."
"Well…" Sophia wrinkled her nose. "If you are predisposed to disbelieve such a reply…"
"I am, unfortunately, but I see what you mean." He might not believe the same words if they came from other men either.
"Who are the men whose possessions were stolen?" She had never thought of asking so far.
He did not want her to look strangely at them. "I shall not tell you that, since they are perfectly good at what they ought to be doing on board and that is what matters while they are here. Why?"
"You could ask them whether -- wait!" She had a better idea. Even James had been to a place with girls who were not nice. "What sort of intentions did that fat woman have with you? To me she did not look as if what she had planned for you was going to be unpleasant for her."
"Oh, Sophia," James said in embarrassment, but he went over the implications of her words in his mind.
After settling the matter almost to their satisfaction, they separated, James to his duties and Sophia to hers. She did not have any official ones, but she could at least see how Jimmy was progressing with his cleaning.
"Mr Wentworth came to bring you his coat for mending, Mrs Croft," said Jimmy. "And he gave me some advice on how I should do this."
"Nicely, I hope." Mr Wentworth had better not have too high an opinion of himself, although his now being called Mr Wentworth by a boy only a few years his junior might be reason enough. "But it surprises me. At home he never betrays that he has any idea about cleaning at all."
"He must, if he did this before me. But I should not tell my mother either."
Sophia almost dropped her sewing basket. "I am his sister! Do I look old enough to be his mother?"
"No," he said hurriedly. "But my sisters are too young to be told anything. And Mr Wentworth gave me shoes."
"Shoes," she repeated. "Oh dear, is that how sailors acquire the habit of walking about with nothing on? By giving away their clothes?"
"He was too big for them."
"Too big for his shoes," she said with a gurgle. "I was afraid of that."
As she worked on Frederick's coat, Sophia wondered where he could get new shoes. She supposed he had some, since she had not seen him walk barefoot earlier. Perhaps James had an old pair for him. Or Frederick would have to wait until they were in a port again. Very likely he would sort it out himself and he would not want advice from his sister.
James had said they would visit his family when they returned. Considering what he had recently said, she was very curious about them, their opinions and their reaction to her in particular. But given how well she fared on a ship full of men, a house with only a few of them should not pose too many problems.
Posted on Monday, 12 February 2007
Frederick had not quite grasped what a marriage entailed, for he reacted in fearful surprise when the captain's plans were casually revealed to him by his sister. "He is coming with us?"
Sophia stared at him. "You cannot tell me you had thought of going home only with me?"
He had not given it much thought at all and he had spoken in haste, he was ashamed to realise, but that was something he would not admit. "Well, it is our father, not his."
"Indeed. But my father being nearest, we shall visit him first and then we are off to see his father, because we are married and we must go everywhere together." There was no question about that. They had begun that way and they would continue. She could not imagine anything else. Besides, were they to shun her father?
"But he will live with me in my home and see me there."
"If you were his servant in what might pass for his home, you saw him in all his glory, I am sure," she said dryly.
Seemingly walking about in that manner was as ordinary to Frederick as it was to James, for he looked uncomprehending. "Glory? I do not know what you mean. But I was not in a position to say anything about how he lived. He will be."
"Frederick, he will stay with me, not in your room to spy on you."
And indeed, the captain had displayed very little interest in what Frederick might be doing in his father's home. He was more occupied by looking at Sophia and talking to her.
After not having seen him for a while, Sophia noticed that her father looked worse than when she had left, but he nevertheless exerted himself to receive them. Edward was away at university, so there was no one else. What Frederick would do when she and James went to see the Crofts, she did not know. It would be lonely here.
While still on board she had asked James to speak to Frederick about a matter of great importance, since he would be left alone in a port and he might fall in with the wrong sort of company. For all his reluctance, James had complied, but he had not yet reported back to his superior.
"Did you speak to Frederick?" Sophia asked when they had gone up to her room to refresh themselves. "You never told me and now you are not his captain anymore."
James was interestedly taking in what a girl's bedchamber looked like, but he paused his inspection to give her an answer. He had waited long to speak to Frederick, almost putting it off until he was indeed no longer on board an in a position of authority. Sophia did not seem to understand it might have been an embarrassing conversation, but it had been, very much so. "Yes, Admiral, I did, but I thank you not."
"Why not? How did it go?"
"You were trying to save his soul, but I was trying to save my life. There were certain aspects that could have led to mutiny or murder, notably the discomforts to which his beloved sister was subjected. I had to speak a lot of poetic nonsense about his beloved sister to obscure it." He hoped he had not betrayed his embarrassment.
"Nonsense?" She was not aware that much nonsense could be spoken about her, nor that James could make it poetic.
"That means it could be said in a more economical and convincing way, not that it did not apply to you at all. I do not know why you felt he needed the lecture. He is sixteen. Surely he will not have an interest in these matters for years?" He had not and why should Frederick? They had had this discussion before and he knew Sophia would not suddenly have changed her mind, but still he tried to convey his displeasure.
"If you lectured him well, he will not."
James did not know if he had lectured well. He preferred not to analyse it and it should be forgotten as soon as possible. "This is a mighty large bed. I shall lose you in it."
"James." The bed was absolutely normal and Sophia considered saying he should have ordered a bunk this size. She did not. He would seize her remark as a perfect distraction from what she was trying to get him to talk about.
"I never thought I should ever rest my head on little pink flowers," he said, observing the pillow case. He would never have guessed Sophia to have one like that, although he did not know what suited her more. Perhaps he would not have to rest his head on it at all, for there was but one pillow and two heads. He might get another, unless they shared. Would that fit?
He could not resist a look that was a mixture of a plea and an order. "Well, really! Do you want a word-for-word repetition? I shall not give you that. I shall only tell you he was suitably embarrassed, disgusted, impressed and angry. And he is now informed."
"Your father did not look very well," he said to change the subject.
Sophia frowned. "No." She wondered if his health was now steadily in decline. He had looked more tired and had not been with them for long. Perhaps she should not have gone away. He might have had additional worries about the running of the household now that she was no longer here.
"He asked me to see him after dinner. Perhaps he wants his money back," he said flippantly when Sophia looked too concerned.
"Which money?" she asked in a distracted voice. Her father did not look well at all.
"For the marriage licence. He paid for it. Did you not know?"
"I did not have it." He supposed he had not considered it important enough to tell her, but her father had supplied the money when they had spoken about financial matters.
"He must really have wanted to be rid of me," she spoke sadly.
"No, Sophia. He did not want to be rid of you. If that was what he wanted, he would have let me take you with no concern for my finances and how you would be settled." Instead, Mr Wentworth had paid for the licence so they would not start out penniless, which they might have been if he had had to scrape the money together.
"What if he had not given it to you?" She would have asked for it in that case, she supposed.
"I might have taken you with me anyhow. Or I could at least have threatened your father with that and then he would have paid up."
"James! And such a dishonourable proposition would persuade me?" Sophia's eyes were bright with curiosity about their respective answers. She tried to gauge what she might have done and whether he would really have proposed it.
"I might not have considered it dishonourable. Besides, I never literally included marriage in my original proposition. We went into that later. Yet you said yes." They had both not thought of everything immediately, or perhaps they had tacitly understood certain things. She would no more have agreed to become his mistress than he would have taken one.
Sophia stared at him and then shook her head as if she had made up her mind. "No. You were not so besotted with me as to throw all caution to the wind. Could you afford to live at odds with your father, having to rent a house every time you were thrown ashore? Your father would have disowned you for not marrying."
"As you know I must have been besotted enough not to give every practical matter proper consideration."
"But those matters had to do with me," she said, colouring. "Not with money."
Dinner was quiet. Mr Wentworth spoke mostly to Frederick, whom he found much grown, although he did relate as much news about Edward as he could. Edward was doing well. He enjoyed his studies and wrote once a week.
After dinner Mr Wentworth requested to be left alone with his son-in-law. Surprisingly Frederick and Sophia complied, although Frederick instantly quizzed his sister when they were out of the room. "Why? Would that be about me?" He had been flattered by his father's comments on his height.
"Why not about me?" It was her husband who was staying behind now. He might well be asked about his wife.
"What could be said about you? There is enough that could be said about me, such as whether I am promising or not, or when I might make it to lieutenant."
"When you pass your exam, that is when. Now let us see to the coffee, or we shall be scolded. Did you know, my husband does not have me bring him his coffee. Do you remember that you thought so?"
"No. " He followed his sister around, but he did not help her. "What do you think they are talking about?"
"You are only saying the conversation was about Edward because Sophia and I thought it was about us!" Frederick exclaimed. He was certain he was right and he did not want to listen to arguments to the contrary, nor to another lecture. Perhaps the captain had told his father about the lecture. "I am going to bed. A real bed! And I can stay in it for as long as I like. Good night."
"Good night," Sophia replied. She could understand better why James and her father should speak about Edward, but perhaps Frederick did not have to be confronted with those reasons yet.
"I was speaking the truth," James said when Frederick was gone.
"I know. There is too little amusement to be had in speaking about Edward, so it had to be true."
"He has too much time to go until he comes of age. I wonder if you mind putting off our departure for a day or two. There are some things that must be arranged." Mr Wentworth had asked him to take on a few responsibilities. Although he had asked that before, now was apparently the time to arrange it. Mr Wentworth had been frank, but James would not relate that to his daughter if he did not do it himself, although he suspected she knew enough.
"I certainly do not mind, but Frederick might."
"Oh, nonsense. Would he really like to be left here all by himself? I doubt it. He will have a taste of that when you and I are busy arranging all these things with your father. Even if he feels he cannot speak freely to me, he can still speak to me if I am here." He was never going to lecture Frederick on that one subject anymore and he hoped Sophia did not also want him to speak of the same matters to Edward. Why could she not do it herself?
"Which things?" Sophia grew curious about these things that apparently involved Edward and his not yet being of age.
"Things," James said vaguely. "Now that is why I need you there. I told your father I was sure you would know much more about it than I did, so that I insisted on your presence and he complied. Why did Frederick and you think we might have been talking about one or both of you?"
"Frederick thought you might have been telling my father he would be captain in a year or two, or something in that vein. And I thought my father might ask you about me." She glanced away with a blush.
"He did. He hoped I did not regret our quick decision and I said I did not. And that was that." Well, that was the summary. In reality that part of the conversation had been a little longer.
She could not imagine it, but she had to ask. "You did not speak poetic nonsense to my father about me?"
"As he did not threaten to keep you here, there was no need for that. I did not offer to leave you here either," James said a little guiltily. Perhaps his family and hers would both prefer that, but he did not.
Posted on Thursday, 15 February 2007
"Sophia, I do not have long to live," Mr Wentworth had said at the beginning of the meeting.
Sophia had known it, but to hear her father say it was nevertheless a shock. It made his death more immediate, not merely something that would happen to all of them and a little sooner to him in particular. How long would it be? A month? A few months? A year?
Her mother was already gone and soon Edward, Frederick and she would be all alone. No doubt he was making arrangements for when that would happen, but he was so calm that one would never guess. She sat quietly, her tears rolling down her cheeks while her father and James spoke to a host of lawyers, bankers and their clerks. They were all so cool and composed; they must be wondering why a girl needed to attend if she could not keep her eyes dry. At least she was not making any sound.
James could have handled it on his own, but perhaps because it was her father and not his he had wanted her there. She answered when James asked her a question, but it was not often and she never received the impression that he was so undecided that he required her advice.
Halfway through, when her tears were just beginning to dry up, she realised that James was really being very good for agreeing to take on these responsibilities and they flowed again. Either he was very good or he loved her very much.
Frederick and James had gone out together on gentlemen's business, as they put it. A remarkable thing, although there was nobody else who could accompany Frederick on his errand, which Sophia knew to be nothing more mysterious than the purchase of new shoes. But if they were gentlemen's shoes perhaps this was indeed gentlemen's business.
She was left alone with her father and she addressed him hesitantly. "You have arranged everything for the boys now, but you had arranged nothing for me." It had come right, but it could have gone wrong.
"Oh, Sophia! You have always arranged your happiness on your own. Would you really have wanted me to choose you a husband?"
"I suppose not." But she wondered what he would have done if she had not found a husband on her own. Left her to live with distant relatives?
"You never wanted me to choose your schoolmasters either."
"No?" She could not remember that.
"I should say their subjects, not their persons. When you were seven you told your music master it would be more pleasant for him to teach Edward instead of you and so he did, even though Edward was only three. Your mother despaired of your lack of talent, but it is a talent to know where your talents do not lie. She would not despair of you now, although you have not become what she wanted you to become."
"What did she want me to become?" Sophia asked with a constricted throat.
"A young version of herself, but you are not like her at all and her hopes and wishes were only frustrated." He studied her. In appearance she was like her mother, but the resemblance very nearly ended there.
"I frustrated my mother," she said softly. It was not what a girl would like to hear, even if perhaps she had not frustrated her father.
"That was entirely her own fault," he said with a stern look, but then his expression softened. "When I see her, I shall tell her what you have become, a fine young woman. And that you have a fine young man for a husband who appreciates your talents."
Sophia bit her lip. She did indeed have a fine young man for a husband, but she wanted to hear more about her talents. "I do not remember that about the music master."
"You were seven and you thought nothing of it. Why should you remember every logical thing you did? To you it was the most sensible thing to do. Everybody would enjoy it better, except perhaps the man who paid for the music master, but I doubt you realised he was being paid and that for weeks he did not tell his employer he had not been doing what he had been hired to do."
"Why did he not?"
"I suppose he wanted to let Edward learn so much that his disobedience could only be applauded. And with Edward, that was not a problem." Edward had mastered in a week what Sophia had not managed to learn in a month.
"We have only talked as father and daughter," Sophia said in regret. "But now that we may talk differently, you will be leaving us. Then I shall never know -- it will be too late to know you. And I have been unkind." She rubbed her eyes. She had thought he did not care enough to arrange anything for her.
"Afraid, perhaps, not unkind." Mr Wentworth adjusted himself a little more comfortably in his chair. "Tell me about your husband, Sophia. Did you truly meet him at a ball? He was quite vague about that."
"Of course I met him at a ball, but that was not the first I heard of him."
Sophia had been looking at the carpet as she spoke, a boring part of it that would not distract her from her memories. When she raised her head at some point to see if her father was not tiring of her story, she saw he had sagged sideways a little. His eyes were closed and there was a smile around his mouth, but it remained there in spite of the fact that she had stopped speaking.
"Papa?" she said with a feeling of dread. There was no reaction and she repeated it a little louder. "Papa?"
When again there was no reaction, she broke into sobs. "Oh, Papa! I killed you!"
James and Frederick were met at the door by some grave-looking servants who were nearly in tears, but who could nevertheless still apprise them of the situation. Whereas Frederick wanted to see his father, James' immediate concern was Sophia.
He found her sobbing and as he threw a glance at the body of Mr Wentworth, he could not help thinking it was the happiest looking dead man he had ever seen.
"I did it," poor Sophia sobbed. "I was talking and not looking and when I looked he was dead. I should have…" But she did not know what she should have done. She could not have prevented anything and she looked desperately sad.
"You should be glad you missed the moment," Frederick said gruffly.
"But we had not yet finished talking! And now we shall never finish. Never."
James took a gentle hold of Sophia. Her desperate look made him want to do something. "No, you will never finish. You feel you have not said enough, perhaps, but he heard enough. He waited until he knew all three of you were doing well and then he went."
He hoped he was not speaking utter nonsense, but his father-in-law had been making so many preparations in their absence that it might well be true. Sophia might not have noticed, but many of the papers had only needed to be signed. They had long been drawn up. Everything was settled and then he went. It might not be a coincidence.
"Truly?" She would cling to any hope.
Assistance came from an unexpected quarter. "I think so," said Frederick. He did not cry. He was not a girl. But he did want some time alone and he walked away. "I shall write to Edward. He must be informed."
James returned his attention to Sophia, glad to find that Frederick did not need any immediate comforting. "What were you talking about?"
She shrugged as if she could not really remember. "My life. What we did. I had not yet finished."
"He passed away knowing you were happy."
"Do you think so?"
He hoped he was speaking the truth, but nobody could ever really know. "Yes. Would you have wanted him to go in another manner? I have seen people die, Sophy."
She blew her nose. "Have you?"
"Yes. This was good. I am quite certain he did not suffer today." He glanced at a servant who was hovering, perhaps waiting for instructions. "Someone must --" Very likely he was to be the one to arrange things now. He did not know how it was done ashore, but he would find out.
Their visit to James' family had been put off for a while. Edward had come down, the funeral had taken place and Edward had gone back to university. Like Frederick he had been boyishly calm and even Sophia had become less prone to crying by the day.
Frederick had said he could be left alone for two weeks and they had had no choice but to believe him. Sophia was more apprehensive than James and he hoped he was not forsaking his new responsibilities already by trusting Frederick, but he had had a word with him about that and he believed that would suffice. The boy was ambitious enough really to do the studying he had said he would do.
Sophia was curious what awaited her at the Crofts. She had been told they were afraid of women, but she had not really been told why. James and she had conversed about other topics on their journey.
An older man and four young men lined up awkwardly to greet them when they arrived. They all looked like James in a way.
"Mrs Granger will show you your room after you have had something to drink," said Mr Croft to Sophia. "James Frederick will share with Henry Alexander."
Sophia glanced at James. They were going to be separated at night. Of course he had warned her a little about his family's strictness and his own behaviour had been some indication, but she had not given it any thought beforehand. Since James and she had shared for such a long time now, this came as a shock. A married couple, separated! He said nothing, however, and submitted to the arrangement. As this was not her family, she must do the same.
The Crofts looked curious and wary. She wondered why. She was not frightening. Perhaps it was because she was in mourning, but James had not understated the case when he had said they were a little afraid of women. Apart from a polite greeting they said nothing else to her, but they asked any questions they had of James. Sometimes they glanced at her so she did not feel completely excluded, but they dared not address her. And that while they had a housekeeper and maids. It was very odd.
"Sit by me, Sophia," said James when they reached the sitting room. "I am not afraid of you."
"I had guessed that a little from the way you never fled the carriage," she responded with a cheeky grin. She could see some startled reactions on the faces of his relatives. It surprised them that girls could talk. Or perhaps that girls in mourning could grin. "And never jumped overboard."
"Since I am the captain, you would be the one going overboard. Your departure would have fewer consequences."
She sat by him. "I should miss you terribly."
There was an earnestness in her voice that made him think he should not say too much about departures, although she had recovered well after her father's death. She had known he was ill and persuading her he had passed away in peace had helped. There was still the occasional worry about her brothers, but she could laugh again.
Posted on Sunday, 18 February 2007
The Crofts were interested in James' new responsibilities and situation, but they dared not ask too many direct questions for fear of involving Sophia, which amused her. They had, however, very civilly offered their condolences and their shyness did not trouble her very much.
James' father troubled her much more. He had had a wife once, she presumed, because there were five sons here who must have had a mother. James had even spoken of a mother, but it was not clear to Sophia how he could exist if his father was so strongly opposed to sharing a room with a wife. She was not yet completely knowledgeable about the process, but more so than before marrying and she was fairly sure it required sharing. Mr Croft was a great puzzle.
She focused on the brothers' names when she could not make sense of the father. They all had double names. James had told her about that, but she had not been able to remember which names went together and now that she had the young men before her, she could not tell them apart.
James had not dared to bring up the sleeping subject with Sophia, since he had not yet decided what he would do and hearing her criticise his father would only make him feel powerless. He did not know what she could do other than criticise. There had been a flash of astonishment on her face, after all. Even he had been amazed, although he had chided himself for not having foreseen it.
He told himself it was only for a short period and that they could see each other during the day. He ought to be man enough to bear the separation. It would not be forever.
In Henry's room, however, he was quiet. Every time he wanted to tell Sophia something, he was confronted with the fact that she was not there and he was surprised at the many things he suddenly needed to share with her. Was it always like that?
Henry regarded him bashfully. "You are not happy to be here, are you? You have not yet undressed."
"She is my wife," James complained with a sigh. He should be allowed to be with his wife. She had recently lost her father and she needed company. And he had not lost anybody, but he needed company too. Henry would not do, as much as they would have to talk about.
"Why did you marry her?"
That was an odd question and James stared at his brother. He gestured at the door because Sophia was somewhere in that direction. Henry had seen her, so he should understand why. "Because…can you not tell?"
Henry said nothing. Apparently he could not tell.
"It is morally wrong to be separated from one's wife," said James, a little astonished at his brother's incomprehension. He could not immediately put his reasons for marrying into words.
"Father thinks it is morally wrong to use women to gratify one's selfish desires."
James rolled his eyes, although he had once agreed completely and he still agreed partly. "I also think it morally wrong to repeat such nonsense without rationally considering to whom you are speaking. I am not using women. I have one wife, whom I am not using at all."
"Why else could you have married her?" Henry asked as if he feared the answer.
"Preaching does not become you. I married her because I enjoy her company and because she is the best girl who ever lived. Desires do not come into it much."
"Ah, not much."
"They do liven up one's Sunday," James admitted with a grin he knew would shock his brother, but he could not suppress it. There was much more grinning than desiring on Sundays, but Henry would not care for the difference. He would not know a girl could make one smile or even grin. "But they are merely a small part of both one's Sunday and one's life."
Henry indeed looked shocked.
"But as it is not a Sunday today, you will not have to fear for me. It satisfies me much more to have her within talking distance and within reach, and to see her when I wake up. Therefore…" She would be missing him terribly too and he knew what to do. He packed up his nightclothes.
"What are those?" Henry pointed.
"Sophia made me wear those at her father's house. The servants there would not be used to anything else. Perhaps I do not need them here. Oh well. She will tell me. Good night, Henry. I cannot stay with you. I am going to keep Sophy company."
"Pssst! Here I am," James whispered as he slid into Sophia's room. He knew the room well. It had always been his. It still was -- another justification for going here.
"I missed you so!" she complained, although she had still seen him a quarter of an hour ago. "Have you come to stay?"
"I must. I do not think I could sleep otherwise."
With a satisfied smile she watched him get ready for bed. "I was hoping you would do something about it. Does your father not know I love you? Does he not know I would rather have you here?"
He was pleased to hear she had been hoping. "I doubt it would occur to him that you might have desires of your own. He is mostly concerned with curbing mine. But as it is not a Sunday, there is nothing to curb."
She gurgled. "But mine are not entirely the same."
"I know, not entirely. Partly," he said, although she was well aware that he knew.
She very seriously looked at him as she adjusted her pillow behind her back. "Do you know how to make children, James?"
"Children?" he repeated, as if he had never heard of them before. "Why? Would you like some?"
"I am not sure if I already do," Sophia said hesitantly. She rather liked still being alone with him. "But that was not my question. I asked you if you knew how."
"How." He gave that question a concentrated frown. "I suppose so. More or less."
"Then you will see that in the past -- in fact, at least five times in the past -- your father thought differently about these matters." She wondered if this had puzzled him as well.
"That is possible." James had never thought about it and he was reluctant to think about it now.
"Possible?" she exclaimed, but then lowered her voice again so as not to raise any suspicions in whoever occupied the adjoining rooms. They would think her very strange if she spoke too loudly to herself and if she wanted them to speak normally to her someday, appearing strange must be avoided at all costs.
"It is irrelevant what he used to think, since he will not change an opinion he has had for years." And he felt little enthusiasm for attempting to change his father's mind. It was his father, not a friend. He must respect his father's opinions, not belittle them.
"But for years he held a different opinion, because you were not all born in the same year."
"He has a right to his opinion and this is his house, so he may decide who sleeps where. And I may decide to ignore it. Sophy, I doubt it was intended to offend you. Perhaps he really cannot imagine -- Henry certainly could not."
Sophia had a sensible observation to make. "Henry is not a father of five."
"Neither am I and I think differently -- which I am not going to tell my father." Such a disclosure would inevitably happen if he confronted his father. It should and could be avoided in the short time they were here.
"I understand and I am very glad my father did not ask me about it." She threw back the blanket so he could climb into bed. She would not ask him to speak to his father, but she did want him to have sensible thoughts.
"Because he had already asked me," James said gravely as he took up a position.
"Oh!" she cried and then she glanced at the wall behind her. She had been too loud. "You never told me that."
"Would you tell me if my father had brought the subject up with you?" He studied her. "Yes, you would. Well then. He asked."
"What did he ask?"
"He apologised for having forgotten to have someone explain matters to you before the wedding and he expressed the hope that it had not led to difficulties." He lowered his voice to a dramatic whisper.
"Oh! Which difficulties did you relate to him?"
"Sophy, my dear! Did we have so many difficulties to choose from?" he teased. "I pulled my most innocent and ignorant face and told him I had no idea of what he was speaking."
"What…" She hardly dared to ask. "What did he say to that? Because I am not at all certain you are a good liar."
"To be honest, I did not instantly catch his meaning, so at this point I was very innocent indeed. It was not until I had spoken that I began to have an inkling, but by then he was already staring at me in disbelief. You must realise that if you can discover what some of the Navy do in ports, your father certainly can -- and did."
"I was wondering what to say, but he remarked there must not have been any difficulties in that case. I wanted to save my reputation, as I am sure no difficulties means prior experience, so I said our difficulties were nobody's business but our own."
"Exactly." Sophia was quite satisfied with that response.
"But I asked him what you would have been told had he found someone to enlighten you and he said he did not know, because he did not know what women thought about these things. So it was my turn to stare in disbelief. I told him he had had a wife --"
"Now that is exactly what I should like to tell your father," she interjected. "But go on."
"-- a wife who must have told him what she thought and then he stared at me again. He said your mother was not like you. But all the same, I said, he could have asked her as well. Apparently this was an odd suggestion. Where do you come from if you resemble neither? You had very strange parents." He looked at her curiously.
"From the same odd place you came from, I suppose, unless you take after your mother and she was not strange. How did it end?"
"We chose to let the matter rest. If he never spoke to the only woman he could speak to, I did not think he would know enough about matters on which we are not yet completely clear, so I did not ask anything. What shall we do tomorrow?"
"You must probably do things with your brothers." She did not know where that would leave her, but she could walk to the beach and look out over the sea or explore the countryside in the other direction.
"I will not leave you to fend for yourself. They must get to know you. Their sister."
"They seem eager," she mocked.
"They are a bit shy, but they will improve. You will have to come along. Good night."
"Will you tell?" James asked Henry in the morning when he came to dress. He did not think anyone had seen him change rooms. "I am prepared." He had his arguments ready and they were strong.
"No. I do not see why I should tell." Henry almost looked offended. Nobody could stand to gain anything if he told his father. Whatever James wanted to do was his own business.
"Thank you. What have you planned for us today?"
Posted on Wednesday, 21 February 2007
Sophia sat on a dune and observed the five young men on the beach. They had run to the waterline and undressed quickly, whereupon they threw themselves into the waves. She was too far away to see anything very clearly, except their obvious enjoyment. It brought a smile to her face, yet no desire to join their splashing.
They had not counted on her doing so or even on her coming along to watch, for they had stopped moving when she did. James, however, had dragged her along and positioned her on this little sandy hill. That she was seated at a distance had reassured the boys and they behaved as she presumed they normally did. She was pleased to see it.
She grew a little concerned when James ran to her at full speed. He was panting and dripping when he reached her. It was a lovely sight, if one could only disregard his intentions. He must be having some. He looked as if he did.
"Sophy, can you swim?" he asked.
"Er." She backed away a little, but there was only sand and grass. There was nowhere to hide from the wetness. "Why?"
He held out his hand. "Come."
"Not with your brothers," she said, although she had not even made up her mind about going in the first place. James' brothers would not like it very much, although after her time on board she was equal to the sight herself.
"But if we go a little way down the beach, you would? With me?" He gave her a pleading look.
"Are you going to throw me in with my clothes on?" she asked nervously. This was not innocent splashing in a still lake; this was a sea with waves. Granted, there were not very many this morning, but the surface was definitely not still.
"They would get wet. You should learn how to swim, Sophy, in case we ever fall overboard together."
"Shall we?" She had never considered falling overboard, but now that he spoke so seriously she looked a little frightened. It might really happen and in that case she would also like to be able to swim and she could not really do so.
"Let us not take any risks. Let me teach you." It would of course be more pleasant than useful and he grinned.
James had called his brothers for assistance when he thought that might be safer. He could not show her and hold her at the same time. They stood in a circle in waist-deep water and let Sophia paddle from one to the other. After a while they even began to speak to her and said she was doing well. Once or twice she went under, but she was always pulled up instantly by whoever was nearest.
"But now my shift is all wet," she complained when they got out.
"I told you so. Bring two tomorrow," James advised. "But because of my brothers you should probably not go without. I am amazed they even agreed to come hither while there was mixed bathing going on."
When their services were no longer needed, the brothers had waded back to where their clothes were. Sophia stared after them. It was indeed amazing they had helped. "And they spoke to me."
"Indeed." He had been pleased to hear it too and he picked something out of her hair. "Because you are not a silly girl who minds getting wet and getting seaweed in her hair. You are a sort of boy."
"The highest compliment a Croft can bestow?" she asked mischievously.
During the next few days Sophia joined in on most of the boyish activities after her swimming lessons. It was no great effort. Most of these activities were rather amusing and ordinary, even though riding was not possible because they had no saddle for her. She discovered there was at least one other woman in the family when James took her to visit his uncle instead.
The uncle was married as well, although he had not been for long enough to make it accepted. "My father always sneers at him because Uncle Philip succumbed to his housekeeper," James informed Sophia.
Try as she might, she could not get a clear image of what that meant. "What does that mean? What did she do?"
He could not imagine her doing anything and he shrugged. The news had surprised him at the time, but he had still been too young to care very much about people's reasons for getting married. "She provided him with a motivation to marry her, I assume."
"Does your father sneer because she was a housekeeper? Or because your uncle married? And would he sneer at you now?"
"I doubt he would. I am not an old clergyman. Now that I am married myself, I understand much better why he married a woman already living in his house." Her company must not have been enough. It had not occurred to him before, but his father had evidently thought of it.
"James." Sophia did not know what to think of his remark.
He looked defensive. "I can share such thoughts with you."
"Only with me," she warned.
Although at first sight Uncle Philip appeared an ordinary older man of about fifty, Sophia quickly decided that he too was an odd Croft when he addressed James as Frederick. He must be Mr Croft's brother. It was unthinkable that he should be related to James' mother, whom she still suspected of having been somewhat normal.
"Frederick! You brought a young lady!" he said, but he was evidently pleased to see both, even the young lady he had never seen before.
"She knows me as James, Uncle Philip. This is my wife."
Uncle Philip and an older woman who had come out of the house just in time to catch these words both looked astonished. "Your wife?" asked the uncle. "Your father never mentioned that you were married. When? You were here less than a year ago and I thought you were constantly at sea afterwards."
"A few months ago I was ashore briefly. I did not count the weeks. May I introduce you to my wife Sophia?"
Sophia revised her opinion a little when apart from calling James Frederick, Uncle Philip seemed to be very normal. She ascribed it to the good influence of his wife, who as a former housekeeper must have been cultivating her good sense and practicality.
"You are an odd one, Frederick, to marry so young," Uncle Philip commented. "You must be taking after your father."
Sophia thought it wise to hold her tongue, but she could only barely bite back a comment. James did not take after his father.
"But why did he not tell me you were married? Or even engaged?"
James shrugged. He had no idea why his father had not passed anything on to Uncle Philip, but he was a little offended on Sophia's behalf. It made her appear insignificant or even unwanted. "I wrote to him and I assumed he would tell everyone. I am sorry he did not. And we were never engaged. We simply got married. Did we not, Sophia?"
"We were engaged for less than two weeks, but since I saw nothing of him during that time, I am not sure it counts." They gave each other looks of doubt.
"No matter," said Uncle Philip. "No harm done if you and Mrs Croft were not at home before and this is the earliest opportunity of meeting her."
"No, we were at sea. And then her father passed away."
Uncle Philip and his wife, who had of course noticed their mourning clothes, very politely expressed their sympathies and they were invited inside.
"Father, you did not tell Uncle Philip I was married," James said at dinner. He had thought about it and eventually decided to speak up. It had been an insult to Sophia, who must now be thinking his father was even stranger. At least she had seemed to like his uncle and aunt, but that was but a small consolation.
"While there was still a possibility of your having written that note in a drunken haze, I thought it best not to do so," Mr Croft said very calmly.
It was not James, but Henry who reacted first. He was the eldest son and his opinion carried more weight. "That was not a fair comment," he said equally calmly.
His father knew that well, but he did not look ashamed. "My apologies. I still did not believe it well enough to pass on to Philip."
James considered saying what had happened to him if he got drunk and that this left him in no state to write, but his father was not supposed to hear anything about anyone drinking too much at the village fair, considering that there were brothers who did not become so sick they had to be carried home. Their enjoyment would be spoiled if his father ever came to hear of it.
Perhaps Uncle Philip would have said something triumphant about wives, James speculated, and that could never be allowed. Yes, that must be it. His father had been afraid of what Uncle Philip might have said. He gave his brother a nod to thank him. At least Henry and he got along better than his father and Uncle Philip.
James was surprised and impressed by Sophia's calmness. She was seemingly not at all affected by the conversation. She must have given up his family already. It was a blessing that nobody else dared to sit beside her, for now he could do what would drive his father into insanity -- he took her hand and smiled at her.
Two or three forks, spoons, or knives clattered to the table. He heard the sound but did not look. There was much more to be seen beside him. Sophia's look conveyed that whatever she might be thinking of his father would not affect her feelings for him.
"Well," James spoke, strengthened by her support. "We informed Uncle Philip ourselves and we had tea with him and Aunt Mathilda."
"Mrs Groves," Mr Croft corrected. He cringed at hearing a former housekeeper addressed as aunt.
"Mrs Croft, if you insist on being formal."
"There is another Mrs Croft?" Sophia suddenly realised. She gave a theatrical little sniff. "And I thought I was always going to remain unique."
Surprisingly, all the boys were amused, although they were too shy to betray it very openly, but Mr Croft the elder was too taken aback to speak.
He asked her to stay behind after dinner. James was of course concerned, but his father waved him off. He gave her a drink that burnt in her throat when she took a sip, but she dared not put it down when he so obviously wanted her to drink it. She could not begin to imagine what he wanted to speak to her about.
Posted on Saturday, 24 February 2007
Sophia was ashamed to admit that Mr Croft inspired some fear in her, the way he had requested her to stay behind and the way he was appraising her now. The first question he asked was not one on which she had been speculating, however.
"Am I correct in thinking you sailed with my son?"
Before she answered, Sophia would like to settle a small matter. "I do not like this drink you gave me. It burns. I should like to be excused from drinking the rest of it." She was surprised he poured her a glass of water instead without questioning her taste. "Thank you and I sailed with your son indeed. Why did you send James away? I should like him here."
"I thought we could hold this conversation without the interference of your valiant protector. Why did you go to sea?"
"He did not marry me so he could send me here. He married me so he would have company. And because he has no money, he could either take me along or send me here." She thought everyone was happy with the outcome. She could not imagine being welcomed with open arms if she came to live here permanently.
"Why was there no engagement?" Mr Croft inquired.
"There was. We were engaged for a few days," Sophia said seriously. "Others seem to think this very short, but what was there to wait for? Our minds were made up."
Mr Croft had nothing to say to that, so he moved on to his next question. "Did you marry my son because your father was dying? To secure your future?"
"Oh! I will not explain myself. You would make something odd of it." She took a sip from her glass of water, wondering if she could leave when the glass was empty. Sadly, she would probably not be allowed to leave until Mr Croft dismissed her.
"You speak very frankly," he observed.
Sophia gave him an earnest look. "James and I agree that being frank prevents many problems."
"It might prevent problems if you explained yourself. Why did you marry him?"
She considered that. He should not have the wrong impression of her, although she could not explain very well why she had married. "Because he is good."
"Is he a good captain?"
After an astonishing conversation about James as a captain, a subject on which she was certain she had nothing objective to offer, Sophia had gone almost straight to bed. She had of course first informed James that she was going and he joined her a suitable while later, as soon as it had been possible for him to leave his brothers without raising any suspicions.
"It is Sunday tomorrow. Henry now thinks I shall spend the entire day desiring you," he told her. "And he will be watching me for signs, I am sure."
"Poor Henry," Sophia said with a compassionate look. "You never should have told him that about Sundays. I am sure that other people do not tell their brothers these things. I certainly would not."
"That is because you asked me to do it for you," James said dryly.
"That is true," she said with a giggle. "Do you think my brother is behaving himself at home, or will he have invited friends for singing and drinking parties every day?"
"I should not be surprised if there was one of those, but if there were any more we should probably call him to order."
"You would tolerate one?" She wondered if they ought and she could not make up her mind. It was very difficult, because she was certain there were harmless parties as well. "Oh, this is horrible. Are we now to play his parents?"
James laughed at her. "You have been playing his mother forever."
"But I only advised him! I did not and could not forbid him things."
"There is no harm in a drinking party. The greater the mess afterwards, the less likely he is to hold one again," James said philosophically. A boy of sixteen might not learn any other way.
Sophia was concerned. "But he might get drunk."
"I got drunk once. It taught me not to do it again."
"Not everyone is as wise as you are."
He did not know if it had been true wisdom, but it was more flattering to let that pass. "What did my father wish to speak to you about? We tried to guess, but we could not. And it took very long."
"Why I sailed with you, why we were not engaged, why I married you and then what took the longest -- you will never guess that one." She looked at him expectantly.
"Do not tease me so. What?"
"Whether you were a good captain. I wonder why he thought I had a trustworthy opinion on that matter, but I discovered I know more about it than your father does." She looked smug.
He smiled at her. "Of course you do. So…"
"So I impressed him with my knowledge." She was proud of herself. Her father-in-law and she had held a real conversation like ordinary individuals.
"But what about me?" James knew he was childish and he could not help it, but he was extremely curious about their discussion. He should be more interested in the fact that they had spoken and that Sophia was not exasperated. He was, but he was also curious.
"Oh you poor dear, you sound like Frederick when you were talking to my father! He was also very curious what was being said about his brilliant naval career."
"I expect I am far from brilliant, as brilliancy is often judged by the fortune one has made," James sulked. While he had made a little money, he could still barely support a wife and nobody would be very impressed by it. Brilliant moves could not be measured.
"You will soon make a fortune and distinguish yourself further," Sophia reassured him. "You simply need one lucky posting."
James would not call his next posting very lucky, however.
Sophia and he had come home to find Frederick had done almost nothing but study. The servants supported his account, saying that only once or twice young men had been around, but that those had all been well-behaved young gentlemen -- if one discounted the fact that they had made the Misses Gooding next door quite giddy, but since Sophia knew it took next to nothing to accomplish that, she was not worried.
After having been home for a week or two, James received news about his next posting. He had been following current events and he had been well aware that he might be among the ones sent into battle, but he had never wanted to think it through. He had to now.
And, after considering the matter for an hour, he also had to confront Sophia with the inevitable. It would be better for her not to come, but he had no idea how to break that to her. Keeping silent for too long would not be appreciated either, so he simply gave her the papers.
"I shall have to stay behind all by myself?" She felt miserable at the prospect of being left ashore while he sailed and she could not keep that misery out of her voice. Ever since he had withdrawn with that letter she had been fearing this, especially since Frederick had been overjoyed with his own news. James' not being overjoyed could only mean one thing and these papers indeed proved it.
"Would you like a companion?" James would get her one if she wanted. He would do anything to make their time apart bearable for her.
"I do not want a companion. I want you." She felt like a child saying that when she knew the situation could not be altered.
"But it is very likely that we are going to run into a spot of trouble where we are going and it would not be safe for you to come along," he said once again.
She knew that and she must count herself lucky that she had been able to come along so far. Most women had to say goodbye every time, not only in times of trouble. It was still difficult to accept that this time she could not go with him. "For how long?"
"I do not know yet. It will be difficult for me too, Sophy." She must not think him indifferent. He felt the same.
"But…" She contorted her face as she tried to hold her tears back for as long as she could. "You will be distracted by fighting and surviving. You will not be idle and fearing for my safety. It will not be the same. I shall be --"
James knew how much she disliked being idle. "Please, Sophy. I beg you to find something to do, anything to keep your mind off worrying."
"I know I must, but what am I to do here if you and Frederick are both gone? I want to be close to where you are likely to return, so that I can see you instantly. Promise me you will come as soon as you may and you will write at any opportunity you have."
"We have never discussed this," he said with great reluctance. "But I want you to know what you should do if I never come back."
"No!" she cried, beginning to sob wildly. She threw her arms around him as if he was on the verge of going away that instant.
He put the subject off for the time being.
Sophia had a snug little house in Deal, some bright servants recommended by the wife of a captain who had just left for a posting overseas, complete independence if she wished, but she was not happy. There were more Navy wives in the row of little houses, most from the same fleet, but she felt completely alone. Their sisterly friendliness could not give her what she craved most, which was James.
Despite the fact that only Edward visited sometimes, she would still not have preferred to be sent to the Crofts. She would have been quite as alone there. The neighbours all had families, except for one whose children were already married, but she had no one. It made her wonder why she did not have a child. It would certainly have helped her through these trying months. Sometimes she wished for it desperately, but at other times she saw quite clearly that it would keep her here forever and that her anxiety and worries about her absent husband would never be gone. She would never be able to accompany James again if she had a child.
Some women had care-worn faces, from having too little money for too many children. Some were not even happy with visits from their husbands. Sophia had noted that in dismay -- not happy when their husbands were ashore. At first she could not imagine such a thing ever happening. A closer acquaintance with her neighbours, however, taught her why the visits were as feared as they were appreciated.
Mrs Oakes on the corner had six daughters, no sons with a promise of a good position. After every visit from her husband, she had another daughter and she was still young enough to have a few more. The women around her proved that having children was generally not limited to having only one; there was one down the row who had eight. Even a captain's cabin was not large enough to accommodate such a family.
Although she had no child to keep her company, Sophia supposed she must feel fortunate that she was spared the fate of her neighbours, although another dismal fate might well befall her in time. James kept her childless and affluent, certainly compared to those around her. She could not be affluent and happy, that much was clear, unless he were here with her.
She had wondered if there was no way to prevent those children, but there was not, because they had asked her with barely concealed resentment. She was glad she had not asked, because for all their failed methods they still knew more about it than she did. They were surprisingly frank.
Although her society was confined and she was lonely, she learnt more -- too much, she reflected when on one of her sleepless nights she sat gazing out of the window into the moonlit backyards. A strange man came out of her neighbour's house. In the moonlight one could clearly see him blow a kiss to somebody in the house, after which he disappeared into the night. He looked nothing like her neighbour's husband, however, and it could not be him, for the husband was away on a voyage to the East Indies and he could not possibly be back already.
She had sat wondering who the man might be and what business he could have had. Her conclusion -- a belated insight -- shocked her. The discovery troubled her for a long time. It had been difficult to face her neighbour afterwards. She did not understand it and could not imagine betraying James in such a manner, not even if he stayed away for two years -- or would her outlook change after such a long time? Her neighbour might not have thought of this at the time of her wedding either. But no. It was a choice and one she would never make.
Sophia kept up a frequent correspondence with Edward about these matters because she had no one else in whom she might confide. He could be counted on to treat her concerns seriously, even if they were still miles away from his own world.
He was growing up nicely. Although their father had left him a little money, he lived soberly in the house of a tutor. In return for that he tutored his tutor's daughters, something that had heartily amused Sophia. Girls! But he seemed no longer afraid of them. They were perhaps too young for that -- although what the tutor was thinking when he arranged for a handsome young man to teach his daughters was incomprehensible. Perhaps he had known Edward was trustworthy, or he had entertained a secret hope. Edward, however, entertained none, he had assured his sister.
Because she had so little to do, she dwelled much more on her health than she was wont to do before. There were not enough distractions to prevent her from suffering colds and headaches. Spring, though, brought better health and a letter from James. It was unclear which of the two came first.
Exactly how the letter had come to her was untraceable and it was dated two months before. She had depended on public sources for information about his ship's whereabouts and she must do so still, for he gave her no particulars. Either what he was up to was not worth mentioning or he thought it was best to keep it from her. His letter was full of cheerful nonsense and suggestions as to how she might keep herself busy. It was as romantic as she could have expected from him, but she reread it every evening.
A post scriptum offered his firm belief that they would have conquered something or other -- precisely what they would have conquered was blotted out and presumably on second thought considered to be unfit to be read by a lady, Navy wife or not -- by April. As it was April, Sophia started packing.
The word had apparently got around ashore that the captain was expecting his wife. After the sloops had brought three fake Mrs Crofts, with ever decreasing airs of respectability, Captain Croft lost his temper. He instructed that all aspiring wives ashore be told that he would personally toss them overboard if they came here pretending to be his wife.
Sophia heard this warning being given when she approached a small crowd of people surrounding some sailors from her husband's ship. She smiled and wound her way forwards. "That is fine. I can swim. The captain taught me."
Posted on Tuesday, 27 February 2007
Sophia looked out of the window and could not suppress a gasp. The ship was suspended on a wave at a dangerously steep angle. The view from the window was frightening, yet she had never been particularly frightened before. It was worse now because her husband had insisted on watching the storm from the deck.
"James!" she cried, imagining him flung from one side to the other, or worse, overboard. She imagined him lost to her forever, because there was no chance he would be able to save himself in such a sea. It would be unbearable. She could not live without him.
If she had dared to step out she would have dragged him back herself, but she did not dare and she must suffer these agonies until his common sense returned and he joined her again in the safety of his cabin.
After she had been cursing and worrying for goodness knew how long, Admiral Croft finally appeared, soaking wet. "I came to change my clothes," he shouted over the thunder claps.
Sophia stumbled towards him. He was soaked to the bone and his teeth clattered. He came to change his clothes! He must be mad. "You are staying here!" she ordered.
"One of the men was lost," he said, fumbling unsuccessfully with a button.
"You are staying here," she repeated and she raised her voice. It was even clearer now that he was not going anywhere. "I will not lose my husband to stupidity!"
"Sophia," he said, making his way to one of the windows so he could observe the spectacle while he undressed. "Do not be so dramatic. It is but a thunderstorm and some heavy wind."
"You will not go out again! You are an admiral! You have no business being on deck in such a storm! There is nothing for you to do!" She had to help him undress because his fingers were stiff and cold. They could barely keep standing -- some heavy wind!
He gazed on the waves in admiration and forgot he was being undressed. "Beautiful."
Sophia towelled him off vigorously, but he did not notice that either. If she dressed him up again, he would step out and wash overboard. She rested her cheek against his chest, but his mind seemed miles away. The complete disinterest in her filled her with despair. "James…"
"Could you get me some dry clothes?" he requested.
"What?" she cried. "No!"
"I want to go out again."
"I forbid you!" She wrapped her arms around his waist so he could not do much. It was not very pleasant to feel his ice-cold skin, but she had no choice. "James," she purred, but her voice was lost in the racket of the storm. He was so cold. He should not go out. "I am scared!" she shouted, wondering if he was going to hear her now. They should not remain standing. "Come and lie beside me. I am scared!"
He did not even look at her. "I want to see the storm."
She felt tears of frustration well up. "I do not want you to die. I want you with me."
"I can be with you every day, but storms are rare."
Her hands moved over his cold skin, but there was no reaction. "Do you not love me anymore? Do you not desire me anymore?"
"I can desire you every day, if I so desire." Storms were still rare.
"But you do not!" How could she be taking second place to a storm? And not only did he not desire her, he cared nothing for her fears.
Sophia wept against his chest. He was completely oblivious to her, it seemed, and it suddenly made her very determined and angry. He would desire her. Now. And he would forget about that storm.
"How long would it take to come by a house in the country?" Sophia inquired in a seemingly bored and indifferent manner.
Admiral Croft was more intent on cutting his nails than on thinking about an answer. He generally did not think of country houses while he was at sea and certainly not about the time it might take to acquire one. "I have no idea."
"Why not? What would you think? Would it be less than six months?"
"Look into the matter when we come ashore." He had still not raised his face. "It should not take you more than a day to find out." She knew how to find such information, he was sure, and it was useless to ask him now, because he had no idea. He could live without ever getting an idea. It was something Sophia could just as easily handle.
Sophia was silent for a while. "Or do you think you will be sent somewhere again?" In the last few years she had almost been wishing he would not be sent anywhere for a while, yet it would have to be for a long while for her really to want it and that could never be foreseen -- it had turned out that his periods ashore had never been long.
"I did not hear any more than you did at the Cape." He had not kept anything from her and he thought she knew that. She must be bored to be asking this.
Sophia chided herself for asking useless questions. "The reports there seemed favourable."
"For whom?" he asked ironically. Was unemployment favourable? Only a wife might think so -- until she had to make do with the lower pay.
"Me. I relied on them." She hoped she could rely on them still. It was very important now.
"By dreaming of country houses?"
There was a slight pause. "Yes."
"I still say it should take you no more than a day to find out how long it could take to get one. May I specify where, though?"
"Yes." She stayed silent for another bit. "Do you remember that last thunderstorm?"
The mention of that was more interesting than his fingernails. It was raining heavily outside now too. Perhaps she thought they should amuse each other in the same manner again. "Certainly." He left his seat and joined her. He had learnt not to ignore her pleas. Once she had manage to capture his attention, she had been a marvellous sight., but he should probably not say that the lightning had made her exceptionally fiery and pretty. Lightning and storms were now absolutely evil in her mind.
A repetition was not what she had in mind. "James," she protested, but weakly. "No, we cannot."
He gave her a disappointed and uncomprehending look. "I thought we had just settled that I am going to be unemployed." Unemployment meant that they needed not consider any consequences. He assumed that was why she had asked. Sophia always thought ahead.
"I hope so." But she still kept pushing against his chest.
"Well then, Sophy. Besides, you never minded anything during that thunderstorm." A little pressure would sway her, he knew, much less pressure than she had needed to sway him.
"And why do you think I mind now?"
"I have no idea."
Sophia's expression was hesitant and fearful. "I fear the occasion has satisfied me for the next few months. I have been feeling a little differently."
"What if I disagree?" He was fearful too, but then about losing his wife's affection. Fourteen years was a long time. She might be growing tired of him, when he was not yet growing tired of her, whatever she feared in the middle of a storm. He supposed he had taken her for granted, but he was aware of that now.
"That I have been feeling differently?" Sophia looked uncertain. "Did you not notice anything odd about me?"
"I notice you are being odd now." He did not understand her. She invited him and then she pushed him away. She had never done that before. And she looked so uncertain.
"And in the mornings…"
"Bored by the length of the voyage, I thought." He had noticed she had problems getting up and eating her breakfast, but she had not said a word. Perhaps she had wanted him to pay her more attention, although that would have been at odds with her usual directness. She could ask what she wanted.
"So you did notice." She was relieved. "Then it must be true."
He frowned at her changed expression, from concern to relief to nearly joy. "I do not understand why that makes you happy. I do not understand you. What must be true?" He did not want to be left out of the secret.
Sophia pressed herself against him. She knew she should not speak too soon, not before she was certain, but she felt she could almost have that certainty. "I might be expecting a child, but that is why we cannot do anything anymore."
A child? His hands searchingly slid down her body for confirmation. The places where he had always understood an unborn child to be felt no different from before. There was no room for anything. "But I see nothing. I feel nothing."
"I feel it. I hope so. It must be so. The calendar…"
"But you are not sure?" He knew less than she did about these matters and he would not be able to help her if it was not visible to him. He wanted to know, he wanted to help, but he could only feel helpless.
"It must be so, but I am afraid I am imagining it because -- and we cannot do anything. What if we hurt it? I want to keep it safe." She had had to wait far too long to be reckless.
"I --" James looked a little dazed. He felt her again, more gently than the first time. There was still nothing. "Should I go and make discreet inquiries?"
She snorted. "Discreet inquiries! In the middle of the ocean! The only man whose wife is with him! For whom could you be needing such knowledge if it is not for your wife? No, I might as well do that myself if we cannot work it out on our own. But what do you think?" She looked up at him anxiously.
"Think!" he exclaimed. "I cannot think. I can only think that it would make you so happy."
"And you? It is your child too." He had always assured her he would be happy whether they had any children or not, but now that they were having one she wished to hear it would delight him more than anything.
"Yes, but -- yes."