To commemorate our second anniversary, we invite you, our loyal readers and friends, to join us this month at Austen Variations. We have grand plans! For February, we intend to share the endearing moments of Jane Austen’s beloved characters as they celebrate their own anniversaries.
It’s Jack Caldwell’s turn today. This edition of the Cajun Cheesehead Chronicles looks in on Jane Austen’s most dashing naval hero and his beautiful bride…
The following is based upon my unpublished sequel to Persuasion, PERSUADED TO SAIL (previously posted online as The Unexpected Passenger). One day, I’ll clean up the manuscript and publish it. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy my offering.
March, 1816 – St. George’s Town, Bermuda
A WEARY CAPTAIN FREDERICK WENTWORTH, RN, dressed in his worn everyday uniform and Number Two hat, stepped off the ferry from Hamilton Parish onto the dock in St. George’s Town. He had suffered a journey of several hours made up of barges, carriages and ferries, and he was not done yet. A few minutes’ climb up several hilly street blocks lay ahead of him before he could rest.
Many things had changed in the year since he had been posted to His Majesty’s Royal Colony of Bermuda. The capital had been moved from St. George’s Town to Hamilton Town in Pembroke Parish, a dozen miles south. It was rather confusing to Wentworth that the parish surrounding Hamilton was named Pembroke rather than Hamilton. Of course, it may have something to do with the fact that the town of Hamilton and the parish of Hamilton were named after two different gentlemen.
The wars against France and the United States were over. Frederick’s naval duties were routine—looking for smugglers and pirates. It was also important to show the flag, for the possibility that the blasted Americans still desired the valuable naval base worried the Admiralty even though the war was over.
The most irritating change for Frederick was that HMS Laconia was no longer berthed in Castle Harbour near St. George’s Town. She was now moored at the new Royal Naval Dockyard on Ireland Island, the southernmost isle in the Bermuda chain, directly across the Great Sound from Hamilton Town. That meant Frederick had to traverse the entirety of the fishhook-shaped island chain to reach St. George’s. There awaited a small rented cottage and his sweet Anne.
Anne. That was the best change in this last year. Indeed, it was the best change in Frederick Wentworth’s life.
After arranging the delivery of his sea chest, Frederick made his way up the street. The islands of Bermuda were, in fact, the tops of seamounts; there was little flat land in the colony. There was also no source for fresh water save from the sky. Therefore, each building had a white plaster roof designed to channel the plentiful rainwater into cisterns. The roofs gave the place a fairytale appearance.
At last, Frederick approached the door of his cottage. The sound of a child’s giggle from within caused a smile to grow on his weather-beaten face. Renewed energy flowed to his limbs, and he redoubled his pace and threw open the door. The welcome was all he could desire.
The mirth adorning the beautiful face of the lady with a small child in her lap changed to joy. “Frederick, you are home!” Anne Wentworth cried as she rose from the couch to her feet, clutching the baby close. She made to move toward him, but Frederick raised a hand.
“Be seated, my love!” He hurried to join her and was wise enough to greet her with a kiss before turning his attention to the precious bundle in her arms. “And how are you, my boy? By Jove, how you have grown!”
Three-month-old Kenneth Wentworth only stared at his father, not reacting to a kiss on his forehead.
“I do not know if he remembers me,” Frederick complained.
“I am certain he does.” Anne held the babe up to her face. “You know your papa, do you not, my little love?”
Kenneth giggled again.
Mary, their freedwoman maid, approached and made her curtsy. “Welcome home, Cap’n Wentworth.” Raised in Jamaica, Mary spoke with that particular melodious accent common in the Caribbean Islands. “Dinner will be served soon, ma’am. Shall I take Master Kenneth?”
“Thank you, Mary. Kenneth needs a lay-down.” As soon as the maid left the room with the baby, Frederick gave Anne a proper Royal Navy welcome. It took Anne a moment to catch her breath. “Oh, Frederick, I missed you so.”
“And I missed you, my dear. But I must beg your pardon—I am a disgrace. I must bathe and change before dinner.”
“No, sir! I require you to remain where you are. After a month apart, I am greedy for your presence. There will be time for bathing after we dine.” Anne softened her orders with a smile. “Do you recall what today is?”
Frederick smiled in return. “I do. One year ago today, you made me the happiest of men.”
She kissed his cheek. “I did not know if you would return in time. Dinner will be a dull event, I am afraid.”
“Belay that talk, madam! I have no need for finery or company neither.”
“Is that any way to speak to the Queen of the Barky?” she teased.
Frederick threw back his head and gave a great laugh. “You remembered! I did not know you would!”
A year ago, Frederick Wentworth, famous for never wanting a woman on his ship, shocked his crew by bringing his bride along for the voyage to Bermuda. By journey’s end, Anne had so charmed the Laconians, they proclaimed her “Queen of the Barky” and named one of the cannons in her honor.
“How long are you in port?”
“Not long, I am afraid.” At her disappointed look, he added, “Now, none of that! I have news, but first I would hear yours. How have you fared these last weeks? Kenneth is well, I trust?”
Anne assured him all the inhabitants of the cottage were well. His son was growing bigger every day, Mary had been a tremendous help, and Anne had fully recovered from her lying-in. This last report was delivered with a blush.
He kissed her tenderly. “I am happy to hear all is well.”
She smiled wickedly. “I am certain you liked the last news most of all, sir.”
“Perhaps.” That was a topic for much later. Changing the subject, he asked about news from England.
“There was a letter from Captain Harville, and Lady Russell writes regularly,” Anne reported, earning a roll of his eyes from her husband. “Frederick!”
“I doubt your godmother has yet forgiven me for marrying you.”
“She writes only with news from Bath, Uppercross, and Kellynch Hall, and tells me how much we are missed.”
“You mean how much you are missed.”
“I assure you the Musgroves and the Crofts speak of you constantly! And she expressed her joy for the birth of our son.”
Frederick stroked Anne’s hand. “You prevaricate very sweetly, my dear. But I shall learn to tolerate Lady Russell, never fear. As for Bath, any news from that quarter?”
“No, nothing, save Mrs. Smith thanks you again for recovering her late husband’s funds.”
Frederick waved that off. “It was a small thing. I am happy my efforts were successful for your friend. But your father and Elizabeth! Failing to acknowledge the birth of our child! I am rather put out by their disregard, but I should not be surprised. It is part and parcel of their character!” Anne’s pained expression did away with Frederick’s anger. “Forgive me, Anne, but I cannot abide their neglect of you.”
“I expect no more from them, although I do own that their conduct is painful. But enough of that. What is your news, husband?”
“We will not be moving to Hamilton Town, my dear.”
Anne was puzzled. “You wish to remain in St. George’s? I admit I love our little cottage, but I thought you wanted us closer to Laconia’s berth.”
Frederick smiled. “We will not be moving to Hamilton because we will be leaving Bermuda. I am recalled to England.”
“England! We are going home? When? Why?”
“Dear Laconia is rather old and shabby, and she is badly in need of a refit. I am ordered to sail her to Portsmouth. We leave in a month.”
“We leave in a month?” A flustered Anne leapt to her feet. “Oh, I have so much to do! I have to pack and write a recommendation for Mary and—”
“I believe we can wait until after dinner, my dear.” Fredrick his wife’s hands again and guided her back to the sofa.
Anne could not help laughing at her silliness. “I am sorry, Frederick, but this is all so sudden! Is the condition of the ship the only reason for your recall?”
“I do not think so. With the Peace, the government will retrench, and the navy is not immune. There will be more than one post-captain without employment, you may depend upon it.”
“You will lose Laconia?”
“The admiralty does not share its plans with post-captains until their lordships see fit. I will certainly lose my dear Laconia. I have had her too long, and the navy amuses itself by moving the captains about. I might get another command, or it is the beach for me.”
A small frown appeared on Anne’s brow. “You will get another ship, Frederick. I am certain of it!”
“From your lips to their ears! I would prefer another frigate, but fellows with my seniority are for ships o’ the line. Truly, I would be satisfied with any ship, save a flagship. Serving as flag captain under an admiral is a duty I would like to avoid as long as possible. Besides, it would be doubtful I could bring you along with an admiral aboard. No, it’s either another independent command for me, or you must take the packet ship to our next posting. That is, if you do not choose to remain in England.”
“My place is with you, Frederick,” she said firmly. “I will not be left behind, nor will Kenneth!”
“What a bold wife you have become!” The two shared a passionate kiss.
“Oh, pardon me!” cried the maid. “Dinner is ready, Miz Wentworth.”
Embarrassed, the pair broke apart. “We shall resume this later, my sweet,” whispered Frederick.
Anne’s eyes glowed. “I shall depend upon it, my dear captain.”
It takes a real man to write historical fiction, so let me tell you a story.