Summer is here! Time for days at the beach with lots of sun, sand, and romance. Grab your sunblock and join your favourite Austen characters in their adventures at the sea.
The Cajun Cheesehead returns to give a couple of bits from his unpublished sequel to PERSUASION.
Ahoy, maties—Jack Caldwell is back. One post this month wasn’t enough. PERSUADED TO SAIL is part of my Jane Austen’s Fighting Men Series. It takes place during the Hundred Days Crisis, and is a companion novel to THE THREE COLONELS and THE LAST ADVENTURE OF THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL.
Now, don’t get too excited. The novel is not ready for publication. I do promise, however, to work on it.
To set the scene, the wedding of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth occurs right after Napoleon’s escape from Elba. Wentworth retains command of HMS Laconia and has been assigned to the North American Station in Bermuda. Anne will accompany her husband on board. The couple hurries from Bath to Portsmouth, and Anne beholds Laconia for the first time:
The couple journeyed though Wiltshire throughout that day, stopping only a few miles from Hampshire for the night. There, to Mrs. Wentworth’s delight, Captain Wentworth kept to his promise of revenge. The next morning the coach entered the county and crossed over to Portsea Island and Portsmouth by mid-day. “Where to, sir?” asked the driver.
“The Navy docks, if you please,” returned Wentworth. Soon the carriage was driving along the docks. Frederick looked intently out the window, which was a source of amusement to his wife. But before Anne would utter some witty remark, Frederick cried, “Here! Stop here, driver!”
Before the carriage could lurch to a stop Frederick threw open the door and leapt out. Startled, Anne leaned over to see, when her husband stuck his grinning face back in. “Mrs. Wentworth, would you like to see your new home?”
“With all my heart, captain.”
Frederick helped Anne out of the carriage. There before them, hard against the dock, lay HMS Laconia. About one hundred forty feet long, not counting the bowsprit, it had three masts and a single deck of main guns. Much lower to the water than the great line-of-battle ships, like the Victory, it appeared fast and deadly.
Or at least it should, for the craft it was an unholy mess. The masts were struck down to the deck, rope and cordage were everywhere, several cannons were unfastened, sails nowhere to be seen, and crawling over the mass, like ants, were at least a hundred men. A din of hammers and saws and curses filled the air.
Anne shuddered—was she to go to sea in that? She could not expect the ship to even leave the harbor and remain dry.
She turned to her husband to ask what had happened to his command—had the French attacked?—when she saw a singular look on his face. She had seen on their wedding night when he gazed at her. It was at that moment that Mrs. Wentworth knew she had a rival for her husband’s affections. Frederick was in love with the Laconia.
“Is she not beautiful, my dear?” he cried.
“Oh yes,” she lied, “I have never seen the like.” “She?” Oh yes, of course. Sailors refer to their ships as a female, for some reason.
“To be sure, she looks a bit shabby, with her yards all which way, but see her lines! She’ll do fifteen knots, ballast set right, or I’m a Spaniard. Not any leeway to speak of. And dry as a bone—and she being near twenty years on! Get her trim and ship-shape, with a spot of paint and a shine on her brass, why she’d be the Beauty of the Ocean!”
“Ahoy, captain!” called a voice from the chaos.
“Ahoy, Mr. Price!” Frederick returned. “Report, sir!”
From the Laconia a tall, well-looking young officer crossed over the gang-plank and walked towards them. He wore a worn blue coat, with one epaulette on the right shoulder, and trousers. About five and twenty, his open face wore what was to prove a habitual grin. He wore his longish hair tied behind him.
“My dear,” said Frederick, “allow me to present to you the First Lieutenant of the Laconia, Mr. William Price. Mr. Price, Mrs. Wentworth.”
Lt. Price bowed. “Your servant, madam. Allow me to wish you joy.”
“Thank you, Mr. Price. You are very busy, I see.”
“Oh, yes ma’am. Captain, the guns are all aboard and the powder and shot, too.”
“Excellent, William. I see you got the long twelves for the quarterdeck.”
“Yes, sir. They wanted to give me smashers, but I recalled your preference and held out.”
“Good, good. I’ve no desire to fight from pistol-range with a lot of scurvy pirates. You got the extra powder?”
“Yes sir—enough to practice from here to St. George.”
“Make sure the bill goes to my agent.” Frederick pointed. “What’s the matter with the fore topgallant mast?”
“Carpenter says she’s sprung. Would you come take a look?”
“Yes, yes…” Frederick turned absentmindedly to Anne. “I beg your pardon, dear. We shan’t be a minute.”
The minute turned into a quarter-hour, but it did not signify to Anne. She was still attempting to clear her head—the nautical terms thrown around by the two gentlemen had quite confused her. “Long twelves”? “Smashers”? “Fore topgallant”? She had no idea if they were important or not. Soon her husband and his subordinate were leaving the ship.
“I’d like to see that mast set right before sunset tomorrow, Mr. Price.”
“Aye aye, sir—as long as the supply yard comes through with the replacement.”
“Any trouble, use Admiral Croft’s name—he’ll be here in four days.”
Price grinned. “It’s handy to have an admiral in the family, sir—if you don’t mind me saying so.”
Wentworth frowned momentarily at Price’s glib remark, but patted his second-in-command on the shoulder. “Well done, Mr. Price. I’ll see you in the morning. Carry on.”
Price touched his forelock, the naval version of a salute. “Yes sir. My complements, Mrs. Wentworth.”
Anne was replying to Lt. Price when a Marine rider pulled up beside the party. “Excuse me, but is Captain Wentworth aboard?”
“I am Captain Wentworth,” replied Frederick.
The Marine dismounted, pulled an envelope from his saddlebag and saluted. “This dispatch is for you, sir.”
Frederick thanked the Marine and then looked at the outside of the envelope. “Please excuse me, my dear…” he mumbled as he turned to read the communication. He stared at it for a moment before turning back to the Marine.
“Any reply, sir?” the Marine asked.
“Only that I shall be there at the appointed time.”
“Yes sir.” The Marine mounted his horse and rode away.
Frederick turned to his companions, who were looking at him expectantly. “A dispatch from London. I am to report to the Admiralty.”
Lt. Price’s face lost all good humor. “Is it urgent, sir?”
Frederick shook his head. “No. That’s the strange thing about it. I am to report a week hence.”
Price hesitated before responding. “Singular, sir.” It was obvious he felt stronger than that about the mysterious order.
“Singular indeed, William. Why an express if there was no emergency? The Navy does not send riders all over the countryside for its own amusement.”
Anne watched as her husband mulled over the order. Finally, he shrugged.
“Well, I will learn what this is about when the time comes. Until the morrow, Mr. Price. Come, my dear. Our rooms await.”
Several weeks later, Laconia’s refit is complete. Anne has just spent her first night aboard, sleeping with Frederick in a specially-made hanging cot:
Anne dreamed she was floating in a cloud—a cloud with a firm wall on one side. She was drifting through the air. She could see Portsmouth and all the ships in the harbor, drifting peacefully. In an instant she was flying over Somerset—yes, there was Kellynch Hall! How beautiful it looked from up high! Below her—was that Sophy…?
Suddenly there was the crash of a landslide—in the air?
Anne’s eyes flew open. “Frederick! Frederick! Oh, what has happened? Frederick!” The grinding of stones against wood was no dream.
Her husband awoke next to her in alarm. His flailing about almost overturned the hanging cot. “What! Anne, what is it? Is something amiss?”
“That noise—can you not hear? Have we run aground?”
Frederick blinked at her. “Noise? What noise?” He listened. “Oh!” He pinched his lips, trying to stop a laugh. “Ohh, that noise. It is nothing to worry about, my dear. Just the crew scouring the deck.”
Anne was sure her husband was teasing. “They mean to make that racket? What are they using, great stones?”
Frederick could not keep from grinning. “Actually, yes, that is exactly what they are using.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“We use soft sandstones, called holystones, to scour the deck before washing it down with seawater. Keeps the deck smooth and polished.”
“Every morning?” Anne was stunned. “What time is it?”
“A bit after two bells in the Morning Watch.” With mischief he watched Anne trying to recall what she had been taught. Finally he took pity on her. “Five in the morning, love.”
“I would have eventually remembered, Frederick,” she said with just an air of impatience. “How can you sleep with that going on?”
“One becomes accustomed to it. How did you sleep, by the way?” he asked as he lay back down again, with a twinkle in his eye.
She joined him, holding her captain tight. “Like I was dead to the world. This hanging bed is a wondrous invention.” It was not the only reason, she recalled with a smile. Their loving last night was sweet and exciting at the same time, trying so hard not to make a sound. “Do you have to get up now, dear?”
“I usually arise at four bells. That’s—”
“Six o’clock, you teasing man!”
“Ah, you are an observant student.” he said as he bent to kiss her.
“As are you, my dear.”
Less than an hour later, Nowak’s soft knock upon their door alerted the captain that it was time for him to start the day. Frederick left their quarters to dress and go up on deck. Anne allowed herself to enjoy the cot by herself until she could hear five bells ring out. Half after six, she thought, time to prepare for breakfast.
Cautiously she climbed out of the cot. Once accomplished, she put on a robe and exited the bedroom. She noted with relief that the cabin did have a latch on it. She accomplished her morning ministrations then dressed in a light cotton dress. She did up her hair in a kerchief; a cap seemed silly aboard ship. At six bells—7:00— the steward knocked again upon the door.
“Beggin’ your pardon, ma’am,” he said as she opened the door, “and what would you like for breakfast?”
“What does Captain Wentworth usually have, Mr. Nowak?”
“Eggs and some meat. Cook has some bacon.”
“Is there any toast?”
“Yes ma’am—we’ll have fresh bread for another week or so.”
The words “for another week or so” reminded Anne that she wasn’t in England any longer. “Fine. And coffee, please.”
Nowak’s grin showed his missing teeth. “Right away, ma’am.”
A few minutes later Nowak returned and began to set the table for breakfast. Anne learned where the plates and glassware were stored (“stowed” as Nowak referred). He then left and returned with a pot of coffee just as Anne heard eight bells ring out. The sound of hundreds of feet pounding the decks and stairways filled the air. Fifteen minutes later, Frederick entered the cabin.
“Good morning, my dear,” he said as he kissed her cheek.
“Breakfast is on its way. Would you care for some coffee?”
“Thank you. Coffee’s just the thing to set me up.”
So, what do you think? Care to go on a sea voyage with Anne and Frederick? Just be careful what you ask for!
It will be awhile before this puppy’s ready for publication. Meanwhile, be on the lookout for my next novel, THE LAST ADVENTURE OF THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL!
Until next time, this has been the Cajun Cheesehead Chronicles.
It takes a real man to write historical romance, so let me tell you a story…
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