(From Chapter 2:)
The next morning
the coach entered the county and crossed over to Portsea Island
and Portsmouth by mid day.
The driver asked his destination.
"The navy docks, if you
please," returned Frederick. He looked intently out the window, which
was a source of amusement to his wife. But before Anne would
utter any remark, Frederick started.
"Here! Stop here,
Before the carriage could lurch
to a stop, Frederick threw open the door and leapt out. "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. It was about one hundred forty feet long, not counting
the bowsprit, with three masts and a single deck of main guns.
Much lower in the water than the great line-of-battle ships,
like the Victory, it appeared fast and deadly.
At least it should have appeared as such, but what Anne beheld was bedlam. The masts were struck down to the deck, rope and cordage were everywhere, cannons were unfastened, the sails were nowhere to be seen, and crawling over the whole like ants were at least a hundred men. A din of hammers, saws, and curses filled the air.
Anne shuddered. Was she to
go to sea in that? She could not conceive the ship capable of even
leaving the harbor. She turned to her husband to
ask whether his command had been attacked by the French, when she saw a singular look on his face. She had seen it only once before--on their wedding night. 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?"
lied, "I have never seen the like." She? Oh yes,
of course. Sailors refer to their ships as female for some
"To be sure, she looks
a bit shabby, with her yards all which way, but see her lines!" His
eyes were bright. "She will 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 shipshape with a spot
of paint and a shine on her brass--why she'd be the beauty
of the ocean!"
Anne looked askew at her husband. Before she could ask why his language was so rough, a voice arose from the chaos.
"Ahoy, Mr. Price!"
Frederick returned. "Report, sir!"
Aboard the Laconia a tall,
fit-looking young officer crossed over the gangplank. He was dressed
in 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 long hair in a queue.
"My dear," said Frederick,
"allow me to present to you the first-lieutenant of the
Laconia, Commander William Price. Mr. Price, Mrs. Wentworth."
servant, madam. Allow me to wish you joy." He bowed.
Anne curtsied in return. "Thank you,
You are very busy, I see."
"Oh yes, ma'am." Mr. Price returned his
attention to Frederick. "Captain,
the guns are all aboard and the powder and shot, too."
see you got the long twelves for the quarterdeck."
"Yes, sir. They wanted
to give me smashers, but I recalled your preference and stood firm."
"Good, good. I have 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 Hamilton."
"Make sure the bill goes
to my agent." Wentworth squinted. "What's the trouble with the fore topgallant mast?"
"Carpenter says she's
sprung. Would you come take a look?"
"Yes, yes." Frederick turned to Anne.
"I beg your
pardon, my dear. Pray excuse us. We shall only be a minute."
The two quickly made their way onto the ship.
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 discussed by the two gentlemen
had quite confused her. Long twelves? Smashers? Fore topgallant?
Soon her husband
and his subordinate returned to the dockside.
"I would 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 will be here in four days."
Price grinned. "It is
handy to have an admiral in the family, sir--if you do not
mind me saying so."
Wentworth expression showed that he
but did not to correct his subordinate. "Well
done, Mr. Price. I shall see you in the morning. Carry on."
Mr. Price touched his forelock,
the naval version of a salute. "Yes sir. My compliments,
Anne was saying farewell to Mr. Price
when a marine rider pulled up beside the party. "Excuse
me, but is Captain Wentworth aboard?"
Frederick stepped forward. "I am Captain
The marine dismounted, pulled
an envelope from his saddlebag, and saluted, palm out at his
eyebrow. "This dispatch
is for you, sir."
Wentworth frowned deeply, thanked the marine
and opened the envelope. "Pray
excuse me, my dear," he murmured as he turned to read the
communication. He stared at it for a full minute, clearly puzzled, before turning back
to the rider.
"Any reply, sir?"
asked the marine.
"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 looked at him expectantly. "A dispatch from London.
I am to report to the Admiralty." He shook his head. "We
are still for Bermuda, at least for now, but it is very strange. I am to report a week hence."
Mr. Price hesitated before responding.
"Singular indeed. Very well--until the morrow,
Mr. Price. Come, my dear."
Frederick climbed into the carriage and set off for their rented
"Is there something wrong?" It was
obvious to Anne he had strong feelings about the mysterious order.
Frederick paused a moment too long. "No, my dear. Nothing at all to