Here’s the thing

snow_trees

…the snow has been falling a lot in the last 48 hours so it has been lending itself to my February Funk. Some people get very industrious in January. The spirits are high after Christmas and expectation at a peak with January and the promises of a new year. I don’t come alive until February.

Well, it’s sort of being alive. I get introspective in a lighter shade of gray. Not to be confused with 50 shades of the stuff, just a hue or two above charcoal.

Anyway, I’ve been reading some of my old, old stuff. Most of it was rejected for one reason another. None of them very good reasons by my reckoning, but it’s not my opinion that matters.

joe

A nice bit of serendipity is that my favorite Captain Wentworth, Ciaran HInds, celebrates his birthday on the 9th, (this Thursday), so I thought I’d post up my ancient tribute to him.

 

 

Chapter One
A Word, A Look

February 09, 1820
Sir Richard, 38 gun frigate
At sea

Wentworth descended the companionway with the grace of a man completely at ease on a ship. It was his fondest hope that the short, graceless ship’s surgeon, Mr Hannigan, who trailed behind, would catch his foot and stumble—but certainly not fall—whereby giving the captain some relief from the man’s incessant prattle.

“I am certain, sir, you will agree that Llewellyn is grossly overstepping, and overstating the need to move your wife to the sick-berth.” The man neither stumbled, nor fell, and was right on the captain’s heels. There would be no respite owing to an accident.

The ever-vigilant Marine opened the door to his cabin. The man was nothing more than a scarlet blur as the captain strode by without slowing. The door to his bedchamber was standing wide open. He surveyed the scene. Aside from Anne’s absence, the only thing that registered in his mind was a bloodstained sheet lying on the floor by the bed.

“I told you, sir, she was taken down to the sick-berth. I must say, sir—” Wentworth turned. Hannigan thought better of continuing on with whatever unremarkable thought he might be preparing to give voice. As Wentworth headed to the door, he took a perverse amount of delight in the sight of the stout fellow practically throwing himself out of the way.

It did not take long for the steady thrum of Hannigan’s footsteps catching up to him, and the prating to commence, yet again. “Lieutenant Everett was unceremoniously tossed out and the place commandeered—” Hannigan was just barely able to keep up, and that was only due to Wentworth’s responses to the crew’s bobs and forelock tugging as he passed by them.  Only when Wentworth saw Eyerly, his coxswain, and Kilmeade, a massive man with a child’s wits, did he slow.

Eyerly stepped forward and nodded. The man had been with Wentworth from his first command, the Asp, and was even now one of the captain’s most trusted crewmen, which allowed for the casualness of his salute. “We carried her as if she was crystal, Sir.” The giant nodded in agreement.

Wentworth reached for the curtain covering the entrance to the sick-berth. “Thank you, gentlemen. Now back to your duties.”  There was only the imperative, to get to his labouring wife, which left no time for civility.

He opened pulled back the sailcloth. The closed room smelled of sweat, vinegar and stale food. He saw that the surgeon’s assistant’s hair was clubbed with a black ribbon. An unfortunate choice considering, according to Hannigan, his dear Anne was not likely to survive the birth of their first child.  Llewellyn’s long snake of hair swung to the side as she turned at the sound of his footsteps.

Llewellyn was an awkward sort of woman. Lean in body, and stark in features. She lacked any sort of physical refinement. Her clothes were generally ill fitting, her cap perpetually askew. The cap was off and with her hair back she looked rather shocking. What was more puzzling to Wentworth was why she might need the hammer in her hand. He looked farther into the gloom of the sick-berth to see Anne, senseless, moaning in pain, and covered only by a sheet.

“You see, the woman is mad! She is ruining my sea chests!” It was a common practice for the ship’s surgeon to make an operating table from sea chests after they had been emptied of medical supplies and personal items. Hannigan tried to squeeze by Wentworth to reclaim his realm.

Llewellyn turned and approached the men; hammer still in her hand. “I had to put them loops on the table, sir. She needs somethin’ to push against with her feet.” She leaned to the side to address Hannigan.  “I tol’ you that, you silly—”

“Stirrups belong on a saddle, girl, not on a table!”

“Madam! Tell me about my wife.” Wentworth had no time for the ridiculous sparring and territorial dispute boiling up between his ship’s surgeon and the female loblolly.

“Sir.” She realised her duty and bobbed a hurried curtsey. “I told him yesterday that it wouldn’t answer, Misses labouring up there, just under the quarterdeck. She’s a lady sir, and it’s hard enough to get fine ladies to scream like some need when birthin’ a child. But to have the crew caperin’ right above her head, sir, you can see how that ain’t gonna come off.”

“That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard.” Hannigan was evidently leery of the hammer and rethought entering the room, and was now just off the captain’s left shoulder. Wentworth could feel the man nudging him ever so slightly as he leant in to passionately make his point. “She was given a gag, girl. It’s not my fault she refused to use it.” Wentworth distinctly heard the man snort. The idea of his Anne biting down on what could likely have been a filthy knot of linen was disgusting.

“You know nothing about ladies, sir.” Llewellyn’s chin jutted as she addressed the surgeon. “It’s quite clear you ain’t never had any contact with one by the way you treat this poor girl.” She realised her mistaken familiarity with the Captain’s wife and looked away.

Wentworth of course knew nothing about the birth of a child, but he did know his wife. Their nearly three years at sea had been difficult for Anne, with precious few women to share it. The suitable companion whom they hired to accompany her died only a month out of Plymouth. When they had reached Valparaiso, the only other woman, the sailing master’s sister, had found comfort with a rich cattle rancher from Buenos Aires. This left Llewellyn and Mrs Wentworth the only women aboard the Sir Richard.   They had formed a proper friendliness, as two women from such differing classes might under the circumstances, and this sustained them over time.

When Anne had realised she was with child, Llewellyn’s society had become more important then ever. His wife was genuinely partial to the loblolly, and moreover, any deficiencies there might be in Llewellyn’s medical knowledge, Anne trusted her and would, in all likelihood, wish her husband to listen to the woman’s reasoning.

“Such a comment is totally out of line! Sir, I demand that—”

“Hannigan, you shall have your say later. At the moment, Llewellyn is making some sense. Please, continue.”

The dim light threw shadows and deepened the fear on the young woman’s face.  “I admit, sir, I am the one who had her brought down here. Like I said, she’s embarrassed. It’s bad enough when it’s only women in attendance, legs all sprawled out—” She closed her mouth and touched her lip. “Anywise, she won’t let loose with any sort of noise for thinking of the men stoppin’ what they’re doing and listenin,’ and thinking about what’s going on beneath ’em.”

Dear Anne was sensitive about being one of so few women in the company of over one hundred men, and occasionally did speak of such concerns. “Go on.” Embarrassment alone did not explain Llewellyn’s concern over Anne’s condition.

“Well, sir, it’s the pains. For the last few hours, they been slacking, both in force and length.” She took a breath, a new seriousness overtaking her. “If she don’t push mightily in the next one, or the one after, I’m afraid we’ll lose her.” She made no apology by way of her expression for adding herself to the loss, if it should occur.

“What do you propose doing about it?”

“There is nothing to be done.” A gust of warm breath blew across his left ear.

He did not look away from the loblolly. “Hannigan! Shut up.”

Llewellyn dropped the hammer to the floor, took the captain by the arm, and led him around the table to a chair. She took his leave and removed his coat. “You sit here, looking only at her.” The gold buttons rattled against a metal pan when she tossed it aside. He took his seat. “Believe me, sir, you don’t want to see what’s goin’ on down there. But you just talk to her, sir. Encourage her, sir. She’s exhausted from havin’ to go so long.” She glared at Hannigan for a brief moment.  “If you must, making her a little furious might not go amiss even.” The girl cocked her head and then took one of his wrists and unbuttoned the cuff, indicating he should roll up his sleeves. “Getting her to push is the main thing, sir.” She was about to move away when she said, “Remember, don’t look the other way.”

Wentworth’s stomach twisted as he contemplated just how horrible must the sight be if she warned him off so vigorously. A quiet moan drew him out of the morbid reverie.

Anne’s eyes were barely open. She fairly glistened with sweat, and her pale skin shone even in the murkiness of the close room. He touched her jaw. It was cool and damp. She responded by turning her head towards him. Her wan smile did more to revive his flagging heart than anything Llewellyn had instructed.

She touched his cheek with an even cooler hand. “So, you have come to visit a sick crewman. You are a fine captain.” Her eyes closed and her hand dropped silently to the sheet. Something nudged him from behind. It was Llewellyn putting Anne’s feet into the leather footholds she’d hammered onto the table.

Wentworth held his breath, but in seconds she grimaced and moaned again. He took her hand and kissed her fingertips. “Annie, girl. How are you feeling?” It was an insipid question, but he did not know where else to begin.

“Tired.” Her eyes remained closed, but the pain she was feeling intensified.

Anne began a low moan, and Llewellyn looked past the captain. “Another contraction is coming on. Mr Hannigan, if you please.” There was a peace pact forming. Wentworth could hear the doctor moving around behind him and then saw him join his loblolly. They conferred, and the surgeon left again.

“Mrs Wentworth, you need to push very hard this time. None of that weak tea like that last time.”

Anne opened her eyes a little, but did not respond more.

Wentworth touched her cheek and coaxed her tenderly. “Dearest, you must push.”

Hannigan joined Llewellyn. “Shall I?”

“Sir, you may need to do as we spoke about. She’s too tired. Not until I tell you, sir.” The latter was addressed to Hannigan.

A slight scowl crossed Anne’s face, as though she was pushing, but not with much energy.

“Mrs. Wentworth, you must give your babe all the help you can.” She looked again to the captain, and shook her head when the surgeon spoke quietly in her ear.

Anne scowled again for just an instant. Her eyes closed.

“Mrs Wentworth, please! Push. Shout, whatever you must. No one will know now.” Anne’s leg pressed on his shoulder as Llewellyn moved around.

It was clear that Anne was almost too far-gone, and that gentle admonition would not be enough to spur her to push. It broke his heart to use against her private observations about her weaknesses, but he occasionally did it with a man prone to underperformance; this would be no different. “Never mind, Llewellyn. As you said before, she is too much of a lady to make any noise, or strain herself unnecessarily. The Elliot pride is not to be put aside for something so common as childbirth.”

Anne’s eyes opened and she gazed at him as though she’d not heard him properly.

“Sir, that is really too—” Hannigan was trying to come to her defence, but Llewellyn silenced him.

“It is the Elliot way, after all, to be above everyone and everything. Including nature.” All the terrible things he’d ever thought about his wife’s family were coming effortlessly to his mind.

Anne’s eyes were now wide open. She looked wounded. Wentworth leant as close as he dared. “The Baronet would be mortified that his second daughter would behave like any other uncultured female who, with careless abandon, launch mewling brats, one after another, into the world.” The only thing redeeming the wretched remarks was the fire lighting in Anne’s eyes.

“This is your child.” She panted and struggled to rise onto her elbows. “How you could say such things—” Her face crumpled, and she grunted deep as she began to bear down to push.

He held her shoulders. “Yes, it is. And won’t Sir Walter Elliot be proud to introduce the world to his grandchild, born of oh-so-common stock.” It was a term the baronet had used once at a party to describe his son-in-law. When it had gotten back to Anne, she was livid. She had always regretted not confronting and condemning her father to his face. Wentworth would gladly endure the old man’s barbs if it aided in birthing his child.

“Keep it up, Captain.” There was more, and vigorous, movement at his back. “Now, sir, if you please.” Llewellyn spoke low and with great calm to Hannigan.

He knew not what was transpiring behind him, and he’d not been told to stop. “What would Mary say? She’s done this three times now. And you not even able—” There was a muffled cry and he knew he needn’t continue the taunts. She let out what sounded much like the beginning of a hearty laugh, and then her head fell back. She groaned loud and long, and then collapsed against his hands. He lowered her to the table. He followed her down and rested his head against hers.

For five years Anne and Frederick had only one another to care for. First, they lived unfettered in Bath. They had travelled a little and entertained frequently. When orders had come, and Anne expressed an earnest desire to sail with him, Wentworth had relented. He was loath to admit she was so precious to him that he put aside his one firm dictum: never willingly admit a woman on board a King’s ship. The only exception to this firm rule was in the case of a mother visiting her sick—preferably dying—son, or ladies invited for dinner or a ball onboard.

He was surprised she adapted so well. They were as happy at sea as they had been in Bath, perhaps more so.

At first, each in a casual manner, voiced the opinion that if they never were blessed with children, they should certainly be happy as those who did. Even with their happiness, in quieter, more reflective times, each expressed a concern that they were the reason there were no children. Anne eventually confessing she would be crushed if they had none.

For the present, such fears were laid to rest.

He raised his head and looked on his wife. The sallow light cast by the lantern touched her skin, making it glisten brilliantly against the surroundings of the miserable, smelly hole. Her face was stark white, except for her lips, and two vivid patches of red at her cheeks. Wild strands of hair clung to her sweaty forehead and temples. Her eyes were closed and her mouth was partly open as her breathing became more regular. The sheet had slipped. He pulled it up to cover her. Anne had survived. She was never more beautiful to him.

“Sir.” Llewellyn was holding a bundle in her arms. The child was mere inches away, and while the cry seemed urgent, it was thin. “Your son, sir.” Even the most ungainly Llewellyn was rather pretty at this moment.

Anne raised her head a little then fell back. “I can’t see him” She tried to raise her arms to no avail.

“We’ll fix that.” The loblolly gently rested the boy on Anne’s chest, and motioned for the captain to put his arms around his wife’s shoulders. She leaned close. “I know it’s awkward sir. But we have some damage to repair, and you can keep her occupied.” No moment of happiness came without a price.

The boy was red as a cooked lobster, and it was not easy to distinguish a genuine face out of the folds and wrinkles on the front of the child’s head, but the captain had no trouble locating the mouth, and he did discern a nose. He was able to imagine the rest. The one saving grace was a mass of black hair atop the infant’s head. In fact, the child was rather hairy all around what little of his face they could see. At least the boy would not be one of those children who sported a cue ball for a head with jug ears. He then took closer note of the ears. Without a doubt, now that the child was born, they would unfurl and become more natural. All in all, until he could get a glimpse of the boy’s body, Wentworth was inclined to think the child quite unattractive.

“Our dear, sweet Edward is lovely, is he not, Frederick?” Anne’s gaze was locked on the child. He suspected she saw nothing of his crushed face, and crumpled ears. It was obviously a mother’s love that kept the little devils from being abandoned immediately after birth. Before his answer was required, Llewellyn joined them.

“If the Captain will leave for a bit, I’ll see that the missus and Master Edward is brought up to her cabin all safe and snug.” She indicated that he could step away, and she picked up the baby. The loblolly looked down on Edward with the greatest of affection. He wondered if all women possessed such an automatic, and blind sort of tenderness.

“Should she not remain here, where you can care for her properly?”

“Oh, sir, no, not in this pool of filth. Mothers and new-born babes need fresh air and good warming sunlight.” Llewellyn smiled, patted the boy, and turned away.

Her proclamation sounded reasonable, and he did not possess any knowledge that would counter it. He found himself staring at a minute smear of blood on the otherwise pristine sheet covering his wife.

In his career, Wentworth had seen the floor of many a sick-berth awash in red. So much so, it was vital that a boy constantly be tossing sand on the floor so that those working could keep their feet beneath them and not slip.

The sight had never thoroughly sickened him, and only concerned him in that it represented the vitality of his crewmen. So it was surprising that the tiny speck now caused a painful twisting in his vitals.

Llewellyn was speaking with Anne, and they were smiling at the child. This was not his place just now, and this was not a crewman, but his own dear wife. For some reason, he hesitated to leave her.

The girl left Anne and he gazed at her. Her eyes were closed. She was so still and pale; she could have been dead. Just then, Hannigan reasserted himself into the little scene and Anne opened her eyes.

At that moment, Wentworth realized Anne, and now the child, were his greatest weaknesses. The thought of them in danger caused him to entertain the strangest, most disturbing thoughts. He had to escape the suddenly oppressive sick-berth, and in separating himself from his little family, get the thoughts out of his head.

He kissed Anne farewell, and with Llewellyn’s full approval, left the surgery. Hannigan had been urged to leave as well. Even the man’s prating could not penetrate the swirl of morbid thoughts ricocheting through Wentworth’s mind. They emerged onto the deck and the fresh air washed over him. He finally began to breath.

He made his way to the quarterdeck and nodded as he was alternately congratulated on having a son, and briefed on the ship’s little-changed state. He thanked his officers, and took to a far corner.

The truth of the matter was that his wife had risked her own life to give him a son. It was terrifying to see the miracle, and to know that how it progressed into the future was completely out of his hands. In command of a ship, Wentworth knew his place and knew precisely what to do when he was called upon. Here, on this tiny scrap of hallowed wood, there was order. He reasoned that life elsewhere was now, forever, chaos.

*/

Llewellyn had wrapped Anne and her baby together in clean sheets and like any good Tartar warrior, overseen her being carried back to the captain’s quarters. After shooing away the men so helpful to her, she had gently unwrapped them and placed Edward in the middle of the bed, and helped Anne into a clean nightdress.

Mrs. Wentworth was sufficiently recovered to take her son in her arms for the first time. There were no words to describe her bliss when she took the small bundle to her heart.

Anne’s all encompassing love for her husband had always amazed her, almost as much as his free and generous love for her. But now, the unconditional love she felt for this tiny creature was more astonishing than anything she’d ever imagined or read of. In the previous months, she’d allowed worry about the child, its future, and her own abilities as a mother, to keep her awake at night. But, even now the pain of his birth was receding as a dim memory, and the fear of the child’s future was for the time being a mere flight of fancy brought on by too little sleep. The overwhelming joy she felt was so all encompassing, it was surely more than enough to sustain the child, herself, and Frederick forever.

Llewellyn fussed about the room as Anne lay content and happy, her arms curled around her son. It took her a moment to realize the tiny, thin sound she thought was a noise on the deck above them was in reality Edward, uttering his first cries.

The loblolly came to the bed, her hands on her hips.  “It’s ’bout time, Master Wentworth. They usually cry right off, but not this one.”  She knelt and touched his head. “I never seen a babe wi’ so much hair.”  Her expression was gentle and her eyes looked far off to some other place. In a few moments, she was back to her duties. “Now, remember, missus, feeding the boy will be right painful, but only for a few days. Then it will come so easy, you’ll never know it’s happenin’.”

Anne opened her gown and guided the boy to her breast. At the first instant, the pain was blinding and shocked her. The searing discomfort was almost worse than giving birth. Her only hope was that Llewellyn was correct and the agony would decrease over time.

“Aye, the good book says women will give birth in pain. It never says that after will be worse for some.” The loblolly’s philosophical outlook was not of much comfort at that moment.

Even with the pain, Anne felt peace and an odd surge of spirit, which again dampened doubts she’d harboured about her ability to mother a child. There was a soft “pop,” and pain lessened suddenly. She looked down to see Edward had fallen asleep. The ordeal of his first feeding was over.

“They don’t stay awake long at first. Just a few minutes here and there. Merciful, eh?”

Anne covered herself. “Yes, merciful indeed.” She had no energy to say more, and so put her head down and closed her eyes. Anne was confident that the warmth of the bed, the pleasant sound of Edward’s breathing, and the natural movement of the ship would soon combine to lull her into a quiet, calm sleep.

*

“Come.” An interruption was most welcome. Anne and the boy were asleep, but he could not pull himself away from the doorway to look on them. An enforced intermission was necessary. He pulled the door shut and turned to greet Lieutenant Bloom, the Sir Richard’s first officer. He ducked as he removed his hat, sporting a generous smile.

He offered Wentworth a sizeable, sailcloth wrapped bundle. “This was left in the binnacle, sir.”

Wentworth took it and went to the table that took up a good portion of his Great Cabin. “Thank you. I meant to bring down when I left the quarterdeck. Was there any more news from the captain of the packet?” He’d been briefed earlier on the mail packet’s visit, but the details, along with most of the other bits of ship’s business had been washed into the whirlpool of the captain’s jumbled thoughts.

“No, Sir. Other than Captain Grant’s heartiest congratulations on the birth of a son, there was nothing of importance.”

He was about to take his leave when Wentworth asked, “Bloom, I believed you have mentioned that you have children.”

“Yes, I do, Sir. Three of them. Two boys and a girl.” He stood in anticipation of another question.

Why he asked the question was a mystery. Wentworth could not think of a single thing he wanted to know about Bloom’s children. He dismissed the man. It was impossible not to see Bloom’s puzzled look as he left.

“God, it will get around soon that the captain has gone daft.” As he was about to take a seat and open the mail, the door to the cabin opened and his steward entered, holding the door.  Eyerly backed in, struggling with something. “Mr Eyerly, Mr Collins, what brings you—”

They placed before him a cradle. The men took their places on each end. They snatched off their caps, their smiles wide.

“Sir, I have been delegated by the crew to present this to you and Mrs Wentworth.” Collins fingered his cap for a moment and then continued “It comes with our heartiest congratulations on the birth of the young Master Wentworth.”

Eyerly stepped forward. “Mr Collins did the frame, and is from top to bottom responsible for the carving at the foot and head. And each of the men, even the little boys, with some help, took a hand in makin’ all the spindles, Sir.” His pride in the crew’s participation was plain. “And Old Gordon knitted this here blanket.” He held up a deep grey square Wentworth calculated it would easily cover a small baby. Eyerly put that aside and picked up some other bits of cloth. “And these was sewed by mostly men who is fathers, and have an idea what babies like to wear.” He put them back gently.

The Captain was speechless. Mr Collins, the ship’s carpenter, was known for his most excellent craftsmanship, but not his speed. It was obvious that the cradle was not something knocked together that day. He was stunned not so much by the quality of the gift, but the secrecy surrounding its creation. It would be quite possible for Collins to work on a project without anyone knowing for he had a small and private workroom. But to have the rest of the crew so intimately involved—not only making the cradle, but the sewing as well—and yet not have the entire scheme quickly become common knowledge, was a testament to the men and their desire to surprise him and his wife.

He’d done his best not to sound sentimental and insipid when he thanked them, and asked that both his and Mrs Wentworth’s thanks be conveyed to the men. He trusted that Eyerly would cover for him if he did not accomplish that aim. “It was my intention to order a double ration for the men this evening. I think a week of double rations is in order. Again, thank the men for me, Eyerly.” Wentworth took a seat and pulled the cradle to him. The work on the frames was very fine. Collins was a furniture maker on shore. The tooling on the head was exquisite. Vines and leaves twisted and encircled a bold “W” in the midst of them. The spindles were smoothed so not to give splinters, but most were fairly crooked and ill carved. But each represented so much more than the sum of their workmanship. The captain gave the cradle a push. It swayed back and forth as smooth as anything. For an instant, he envisioned his son sleeping serenely in it.

Voices outside the door broke in on his peaceable thoughts. Nearly at the moment he heard them, the door opened and the marine stepped in. The voices were louder and quite distinguishable now. “Sir. Mr Hannigan wishes to see you.” He lurched forward a little, turned and told those behind him to back away.

It would seem the truce struck earlier by Llewellyn and Hannigan was quite broken. “Let them in.” Wentworth’s vision of little Edward in the cradle dissolved.

“Sir, I demand that—” Hannigan’s opening remarks were interrupted by his colliding with the cradle. It swung back and forth wildly, catching him in the leg twice before he could stop it. He glared at it, and Wentworth would not be surprised if the surgeon kicked it across the cabin. Thankfully, the man was under the captain’s close scrutiny. Wentworth glanced at Llewellyn and saw the trailing edge of a smirk.

All the hubbub now settled, Hannigan begin again to recite his claim. “I demand that the ship’s loblolly, Miss Louisa Llewellyn be disciplined according to Article Twenty-two, of the Articles of War. The article states—”

“I know what it states, Hannigan. In essence, it forbids disputing with, striking, or drawing a weapon on a superior officer.” It would be his luck that his surgeon would not only be a tedious pain in the neck, but a sea lawyer as well. Wentworth was surprised that Hannigan did not try for the more exalted Article Eleven. The article forbidding anyone from disobeying the orders of a superior officer in a time of action would have carried a much heavier penalty, and been simpler to brush aside as they were not under fire at the time the two were bickering. As it was, Hannigan had a point. Llewellyn had done more than her share of disputing when it came to how they should care for his wife.

Hannigan stood a little taller. “I am happy to know you see merit in my claim, Sir.” He glanced towards Llewellyn, but she stood a little back and he could not possibly see her.

Wentworth had a clear view of them both, and was not particularly pleased with it. “Indeed, Mr Hannigan, I do see your point.”

When the captain took a breath, the surgeon took the opportunity elaborate his feelings. “I therefore, sir, demand that she be punished to the fullest extent. She should be flogged, sir.”

Suddenly Wentworth was very tired of being the sole source of justice in this little wooden world. Such a demand was ridiculous and Hannigan knew it. Undoubtedly, it was his hope that to insist she be flogged—which was not a very likely punishment for a woman aboard a King’s ship—he would achieve the satisfaction of seeing her punished more harshly than might otherwise be ordered.  He suspected Llewellyn knew this, and was perhaps counting on her close relationship with Anne to keep her from being punished at all. Justice in this case would likely bring no smiles to either of the parties.

Wentworth stood. “Be reasonable Mr Hannigan. I will not order the flogging of a woman, period. Moreover, I do feel that though Llewellyn is bound as a member of the crew to follow the orders of her superiors, I, in taking her part, am the one who usurped your authority. Therefore, the greatest share of your complaint is with me.” Whether a gesture of contempt for Hannigan or a perfectly natural gesture, Llewellyn cleared her throat. Without regard to which, Wentworth turned his attention to her. “As for you, Llewellyn, you did not hesitate to disregard your superior in this situation. That being the case, you must be punished.” Hannigan too suddenly needed to clear his throat. Wentworth glared from one to the other.

For some odd reason, the whole of the situation suddenly seemed ridiculous. “What is the date today?”

Both of the medicos looked confused for a moment, and then each began their calculations.

“It is February ninth, Sir.”

“Quite right, Llewellyn. And, aside from the birth of my son, what momentous occasion took place on this date, thirty-seven years ago?”

Wentworth almost laughed at the confused scowls the question produced. “I will tell you. February ninth is also my birthday.” He went to the stern windows and watched the ship’s tidy wake cut through the blue of the ocean for a moment. He turned back to them. “I am prepared to be charitable in honour of the occasion. Llewellyn, it is so ordered that your grog ration is cut off for one week.”

She could not help herself, and clapped. Hannigan puffed up like a toad and began to protest loudly.

“Silence you two. Need I remind you my wife is just in the next room?” They both quieted immediately. “Mr Hannigan, I appreciate your care of Mrs Wentworth throughout the previous months. Llewellyn, I am grateful you were able to help with the birth of my son. I was particularly glad to see the short-lived bout of cooperation you each showed in the sick-berth. May that be the rule from this time on.” He dismissed Hannigan. “Llewellyn, please stay.”

The door closed hard behind the surgeon. The loblolly looked more triumphant than relieved. “Do not mistake me, Llewellyn, I am grateful for your assistance this afternoon. But do not crow too loudly, and do not think that Hannigan is a fool. There are many men on this ship who owe their lives to him and his skill as a surgeon. You would do well to learn from him what you do not already know.”

She had lowered her eyes when it was clear the captain was in no mood to take her side in the row. She now looked up. “Yes, Sir. I apologise, Captain.”

“Then along with your ration being suspended, I order you to apologise to Hannigan as well. Now please go in and see if my wife needs anything.” She bobbed and left him.

He resumed his seat and pulled the mail to him. He sorted through the various cloth-covered parcels. Most were letters of importance only in the family news they carried. Only one stood out.

Wentworth untied the string, broke the various seals, and greedily read the contents.

He sat back in the chair and tossed the letter aside. “Well, it would seem that my brother is quite correct, the Lord indeed does giveth, and taketh away. And in this case, all in one day.”

Did you see what I did there? Yeah, it’s not much, but it is tasteful, I think. Better than having him tattooed somewhere.

Happy Tuesday to you. The weekend is coming. (Is it too early to invoke the weekend?)

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2 thoughts on “Here’s the thing

Why yes, we DO want a piece of your mind. ;-)

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