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Virtue and Importance

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Anne touches at the back of her glove; through two layers of cloth, she is still chilled, and can hardly feel the movement of her fingers against her hand, only a muted sense that they ought to be near one another. The walk from the engravers' is long, and she is quite pleased she has little need for his services. If she could look down, she might recognize it properly: how her hands are fitted together, the way her long fingers are bent, knuckles like spider's legs, and the shine of the pretty gloves, warm for winter storms and new.

The winter has not been unduly harsh, having well passed through the first third. On the recommendation of several captains, they have taken up a residence, for the Navy must take its time with its officers, and cannot send them out like so many corks, bobbing and lapping in the waves. So they have taken to it, days out in the quiet bustle a town with no real permanent inhabitants to speak of, and clusters of nervous young men twisting through the wet streets: laughing with each other and unwinding when women walk by, and quickly regathering to touch their hats, shyly peeking out from their black hats. This setting unwinds below their windows several times daily, and Anne has observed it from behind her curtains, sufficiently to recognize the principal actors.

Out in the wind, Anne looks up at a window; the stripe to these curtains is a lighter blue than her own, light weakly billowing out from the interiors. It is very much the style which the wives of this town, accustomed to their own times and interests with their husbands away at sea, have collectively taken. Their numbers are steadily accumulating, although many women have stayed in their inland towns; it is the especially brave, or adventuresome, who have accompanied their husbands thus far, and Anne has observed several who have encouraged their husbands strongly and a fair few who would match Sophia Croft in their dedication!

She paces her step, moving like the sea. It is not so far from here; the walk could take her a few short minutes, and she would be alongside the ocean, quayside, nearly-freezing saltwater lapping at her feet. Thankfully, she is in her most useful shoes; warming from the inside, with high sides and smart seams; on cold afternoons like this one, she has tried moving her toes, as though she is a dancer in some ancient court, caring for the elegant points of her feet, and it is for nothing, only she never feels the slightest cold, even when she searches it out, sliding in the wet mud. It is hardly a graceful motion, more like a tree coiling against the wind then a dancer light at air, yet it reminds her that she is good and warm, distant from those without it.

The boots were a present from Frederick; he had been busied with accounts and fees all day, having gone into town for that purpose. Anne had met him at the door that evening, on his return, and he, having ascertained how much more sat in his accounts after the resumption of the war, had presented her with a number of fine things; ribbons and these boots. It is of a sort of fancy, that he will return laden with delights. Upon such occasions, Anne had thought of protesting, for she hardly needs such things, surely there is a far-better purpose? She had hazarded the whole line once, while at an attempt to lacemaking: while cutting and stitching the threads together again, with the slightest alternations, it had seemed a time to mention this, to offer her studied objections. She had not, looking up from her thread and seeing him contented and lit by the crisp fire, said anything at all. Upon this most recent occasion, she had merely offered the slightest movement of her brow, hardly registering yet she cannot do without her own comment, even with such prizes.

They are practical yet quite fine and highly valued, and she clips through the street, straightening her sleeves.

The wind nips in at her neck and wrists, winding up her coat like flames over kindling. She had stood out with Frederick, looking at the ships, and trying to best guess which would next depart. They had both read the Gazette more closely in the weeks following, and when her choice had departed before his, she had been very much delighted, and he had said that she had been learning rather well, from the state of the ship's paint to the announcements. In a different age, Anne would have gone to sea and they would have been very happy. She had stored away that brief high moment, and assiduously, saved and planned for what is wrapped safe in her pocket.

The buildings at the centre of town rise, and fall again, as she makes her way onward, to the ship that Frederick is to be inspecting today, Creusid a swell little beast. It is sharp-looking, even with its cannon disorderly in the procedures, and she watches with a good deal of interest while the tiny figures move on the decks, and confer. She stands apart, mindful of the shipyard itself, but firm in her conviction; she shall stand in this very spot. It is not quite how they met, for it is neither the quiet drawing room nor the busy party, and his departure will be wrung with fear. Yet this time it shall be for his person, for she is sure, as he is, of their love.

The sea rises, roaring dully in her ears, until she can hardly hear without it. This is a favoured place of hers – with the noise, Anne finds it easy to be contented, and only to be herself, not shaped by everything else. It is quite dramatic, as a feeling, and she very much enjoys it; as though she is alone in the middle of all this activity, and something certain and special is within her.

Busy in her thoughts, Anne hardly nods to the gentleman who tips his hat at her; she smiles at Frederick when she has come back to herself and realised that it is he.

"Our winter storm. This is what has held us in port, kept me here on land." Frederick reaches for her arm, and they cross their elbows together, beginning to walk. Anne looks back at the spray over the rocks, the tiny efforts that are helpless in the face of such weather.

She turns back to him. "It has not been so very bad on land, has it?" He leans to kiss her, pausing in the inlet of calm, between the grey-blue of the sea, and the grey-black of the town, the engraved cameo heavy in her pocket. She will give it to him when they are in their own warm rooms, the tiny picture facing her inscription:

yours ever constantly
AW