Mrs. Anne Wentworth had just sat down to her breakfast when her husband entered the room, waving a letter like a pennant. From his appearance, she surmised that he’d met the postman on his return from his daily walk.
They had settled at Gosport shortly after their marriage, neither having a fondness for Bath or being able to abide Lyme after what had happened there. Shortly after setting up house, they'd been joined in the town by Captain Harville and his family, much to the happiness of both parties. Since then, both men were in the habit of walking together in the morning to gather the latest news of the port. Anne could tell that they'd walked back along the waterfront, for Frederick's fine appearance had been considerably brightened by the sea breeze.
“My dearest, it has come at last!” Frederick called out to her, a wide smile on his handsome face.
“Your appointment?” she asked, a smile hiding her anxiety. War with the former Colonies had been reignited and she lived in fear that her new husband would be posted where she could not follow. As a sailor’s wife, though, she was prepared to greet his news with a glad heart for his sake.
“The Warrington, as pretty a little frigate as I could hope for,” he replied, shedding his coat into the hands of their maid before taking his place at the breakfast table. “I saw her being fitted out when I was in Portsmouth the other day and envied the man who’d have the command of her.”
“That’s excellent news, Frederick!” Anne replied warmly, pouring out his coffee. “And your posting?”
“The Mediterranean Fleet, out of Malta,” he replied, helping himself to food from the covered dishes before him. “We are to bear William Henry Smyth there in a month’s time, and to facilitate his mapping of the coastline. It’s an important task – our chart data is woefully inadequate and inaccurate, as we found during the late war with the French.”
“ ‘We’?” his wife echoed, looking at him inquiringly.
“Certainly,” her husband replied and he stretched his hand across the table towards her. “You will come with me, won't you, my dear Anne?”
Anne’s heart was filled to overflowing and she laid her hand within her husband’s. She smiled widely at the man who'd once vowed never to have a woman on his ship. “With all my heart, my love.”
The news of Captain Wentworth’s appointment spread quickly among their family and friends, as such word is apt to do. Those who knew Wentworth were glad for his good news and advancement. The additional information that Anne would be accompanying him was not so universally well-received, though.
The Harvilles were the first with the congratulations, all the better for being heartfelt and sincere. There was no envy or malice in Captain Harville's manner, only the best wishes of a good heart. He and Frederick rode over many a fine day to see the progress on the Warringtona, and on rainy days would sit before the fire and discuss crew appointments.
However, Sir Walter immediately put pen to paper, imploring his daughter not to subject herself to the injurious effects of the sea air. “For,” he added, “your youth and good health will not withstand the ills of Foreign Climes and the Harshness of Nature’s fury.”
Elizabeth was indifferent, as she was to most everything but her clothes and her marzipan, although she did think it was imprudent of Anne to think of dwelling aboard a ship of coarse navies. “You should think of what is due to the Elliot name,” she concluded.
Mary was not inclined to take so dismal a view of the situation. It must always be a point of pride that her brother-in-law was flourishing in his career – so long as he wasn’t made a Peer for it. “And a much better thing for you, Anne, than me, for you know that I could never abide to travel on the water. I should be dreadfully ill – not that Charles would take any note of it. I caught a putrid sore throat when we went to dinner with the Woodville’s the other night, on account of the horrible draft in their parlour, and Charles insisted that it was a mere tickle and nothing of note! If I was dying, I do believe that he would think it a mere cold and nothing more.”
The Admiral and Mrs. Croft were delighted, of course, and came in person to tell them so. Wentworth and his brother-in-law set off for the port immediately, to take its measure from mast to keel, for Frederick was as proud of his ship as a new father and as eager to show it off. Mrs. Croft settled in for a cosy chat with Anne, with practical advice of life at sea mixed with fond reminiscences of Malta and Gibraltar. Anne was immensely grateful for her words and made careful note of all of her advice.
Lady Russell had advice to bestow as well. “I will be sad to lose your company for so long a period but distance cannot dim our friendship. I will write to you of all our news and I look forward to your letters with great anticipation. I know that you will be happy to be free of the constraints of your family, who have caused you pain in the past. To be of real value to your husband must be your chief joy. Be happy, dear Anne. It is what your dear mother would have wished for you above all else."
Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove were less sanguine, imploring Anne to reconsider. “Only think what you must suffer, an Englishwoman alone in those foreign parts!” Mrs. Musgrove had cried to Anne, clasping her hands earnestly, for the Musgroves had descended upon Gosport to visit. “And what if you should fall into an interesting condition,” she added, with a nod towards Henrietta who blushed and laid a hand upon her stomach.
Anne blushed as well but, with her characteristically gentle but firm manner, assured Mrs. Musgrove that she was quite determined. “And there are doctors in the Mediterranean, you know.”
Mrs. Musgrove sniffed. “Foreigners, no doubt.”
“And English ones as well,” Anne said. “A Royal hospital at Malta, so Frederick says.”
Frederick, when appealed to by Mrs. Musgrove about the need to take great care of dear Anne, smiled at his wife. “Anne will do quite well. No one as capable as Anne, in any circumstance.”
With that Mrs. Musgrove had to be satisfied, and her genuine regard for Anne allowed her to wish her the best of fortune although with a heavy heart. The former Miss Musgraves, however, were much more sanguine, and Louisa even had hopes that she and her husband would follow shortly.
As for Anne? She gently reassured fears and accepted the advice of her family and her friends, but she had learned to trust her own heart better these days. And when she stood beside her husband as their ship sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar, with the wind in her hair and the sails billowing above her, she knew that she had made the right choice.