NBY Chapter 1


“Frederick, it has been an age.” Sophy Croft held him close. Not wishing to seem aloof he returned the gesture. As they grew older it was clear that their infrequent times together made propriety was less and less important to her.

“I have missed you so, Brother,” his sister whispered. The tears in her voice were unmistakable and she let him go.

Now it was he who held on. Grasping her shoulders, he looked at her closely for the first time in nearly six years. Perhaps ever.

Her hair was the same deep brown as always, but now it was shot through with strands of silver. Her face had the ruddy hue of one who lives at sea. Over the years, the lines had grown deeper and while her skin was not precisely coarse, but no longer smooth as in her youth.

Over the years, everything had changed a little bit, except her eyes. They were the same hazel eyes that looked back at him in the mirror. And they both carried the image of their mother’s eyes. Whereas Sophia’s and his were sharp with perception, their mother’s had windowed the melancholy and anxiety of her weak constitution and feeble disposition.

When comparing his sister to himself, he had always thought them each different and quite separate, but today he could not help but recognise the close familial bond they shared.

Gently he kissed her cheek and pulling her close again, he said, “I think I missed you more.”

Her husband, Admiral Adam Croft joined them at the door. She released him and turning dabbed at her eyes. Wentworth put out a hand to his brother-in-law. “Admiral, thank you for inviting me.”

“It is our pleasure, Captain.” He winked. “You always liven things up when you visit.”

Sophy tucked her arm around his. “Well, brother dear, you have not changed a whit. As handsome as ever. And still unmarried.” She and the Admiral exchanged smiles.

“I have tea in the sitting room. Or perhaps something stronger. We do not stand on ceremony here.” He let her lead him to the sitting room. For an instant he was annoyed that he knew where they were likely headed. She paused. “But if you would rather I will show you to your room and you can freshen up.”

Not wishing to part just yet, he accepted something stronger.

For half an hour, they talked of people and places of mutual interest. Frederick told what little was proper about his going to James Benwick in July. “Fanny Harville was a wonderful woman and he was utterly destroyed to hear of her death.” The crofts knew and like Miss Harville and so the news was grievous to them as well. “But then all my feelings of tenderness were swept away when I returned to Plymouth and was called to sit on a very contentious and narrowly decided Court Martial.” He explained the case, this time with details and opinions. “There were shades of grey on both sides and no verdict was going to be true justice, in my opinion.”

Adam Croft refilled his brother-in-law’s glass. “There are plenty of those I am afraid. Unfortunately, the Admiralty sees no grey, only the blue of their rightness and the red of some at the end of a noose.”

“No one swung, but that may be preferable to being flogged ‘round the fleet. There is no word when it will be carried out.” He took a sip and was thankful again that his commission was done and he would not be expected to take part in the ritual punishment. “So, sister, are you of the mind we have heard the last of Bony?” This was sure to bring about a lively discussion of the war’s end and sure to bring pink to her cheeks.

[::] [::] [::]

“And that is all I will say about how untrustworthy the situation is.” Sophy looked from her husband to her brother. “You asked whether I thought it was done, Frederick. And I do not. But Bony is a conniver and however he is able to make another appearance, I am sure the Army will find a way to keep the Navy from having much of a part and keep the glory for themselves.”

The men glanced at one another. The diatribe had been far longer than Frederick had counted on.

I am surprised you brought no one from Laconia with you. I would have thought Michaelson and particularly Eyerly would be in your wake.” It was the Admiral who chose this topic.

“Yes, well, Michaelson has taken up with some bad company and finds them preferable to the country.” He chose not to say he had not even considered bringing his steward, rather, allowing him to follow a new interest in brawling and gaming to their logical conclusions. “And Eyerly was headed south to an aunt. My normally stalwart crew has abandoned me,” he laughed. “Though, there was significant prize for some of them at the pay off so that makes me the creator of my own tragedy.”

There were polite chuckles. Then Sophy said, “I am just surprised that you’ve no one to valet for you.”

“I have learnt to shift for myself, dear. I suppose it was inevitable that once put ashore, I would have to learn to live like ordinary folk.”

“I shall speak to Lowell and ask him to recommend someone to look after you.” She rose. “I must go down and speak to Mrs Crane about dinner. I shall have hot water sent up.”

He watched her bustle out of the room. As was her custom, Sophy was in charge and seeing to the needs of others. Other than her tender welcome, he saw the same confident, capable woman who asserted authority, in her proper sphere, on board her husband’s ship and was now in command of a great country house. Sophy remained the same whether on land or at sea.

“We are glad to have you here, Frederick. But Sophy in particular.”

“I am glad to be here, sir.”

“When we didn’t hear right away, she was worried that you might try and avoid coming. The country not being lively enough for you.”

This made him feel guilty for dodging the visit. “I was delayed with standing the Courts Martial Board, and paying off, and all the other petty concerns of finishing out a commission.” He relied on the Admiral’s understanding of how slow the climb of any action making its way up the Navy chain of command. “But you know all that.”

“And so does she. It worked out well however, as after signing the lease here, it gave us time to go north and visit Edward. And meet his new wife.”

“Ah, yes, the new wife. And what is she like?”

The Admiral laughed a bit. “I knew not what to expect. Sophy is the one who generally has opinions on such things. And she was prepared to dislike her.”

“That is not like my sister. She is usually quite open to new people.”

“Mostly, yes. However, it was idea that as a religious man, Edward would choose a wife suited to his calling.”

“In other words, a dead bore.”

Adam smiled and nodded vigorously. “Yes, yes, but to our great surprise, the new Mrs Wentworth is quite a nice, very likeable woman. No art, no pretence. And somewhat witty.”

Frederick had known for some time that his brother had a sense of humour that he kept tightly locked away. To have a wife sympathetic to such a trait might do him good. Might. “The tone of his letters has been different. More at ease, I think.” He did not add that he expected this lighter tone would change as soon as the newness of the marriage wore away.

“That is no surprise. Cathleen is a lovely woman.”

The woman’s name sounded wrong to Wentworth. Rather than correcting that he was not sure about, he thought it would be best to reread the letters before commenting.

Croft poured himself a cup of tea and continued. “I have always liked your brother. Though he and I are not of the same philosophical bent, I have always considered him a good friend. We have shared many a glass and many an interesting conversation. I was very happy to find him so…content. More than once I walked in on him, his book, and glasses in place, not reading but staring out a window and grinning like a fool.”

Wentworth compared this statement with his own relationship with Edward. There was little resemblance.

The brothers were close until the summer of the year six when Frederick had stayed in Monkford. Once Frederick’s towards Anne Elliot had been made known, Edward had changed. Edward was always a genial host, but distant. When they shared a glass, it was at dinner and there was little in the way of conversation. The Captain reckoned it was his lack of religious sensibilities that put them at odds. In the same way that sailors found it difficult to converse on subjects not related to the sea, perhaps the religious knew nothing of the world outside the church. And there was never a time he had found his brother smiling for no apparent reason.

Almost to prove him wrong, the Admiral said, “He introduced me to a friend of his, a physician I believe, who raises horses. He has hopes of one day winning a cup or two.”

He could not help but remember lectures on the useless pursuit of gambling. Edward had droned on about how casting your bread upon the waters of vice was a wasteful and faithless act. Finishing his sherry, he wondered if his brother had changed his opinion, or if the price of friendship with the physician was moral silence.

“I suppose you noticed that Sophy was rather enthusiastic in her welcome.”

Lifting his glass to be filled, he said, “I could not help but notice. I have never been greeted in such a fervent manner.” Leaving it at that, he chose to not to say it lifted his spirits more than anything had in an age.

“You may notice that she is a bit changed. Much more sentimental than before.”

Not by nature, and certainly not by upbringing, were the Wentworth siblings sentimental. But it would seem that time was making changes. By the Admiral’s accounts, his brother’s marriage might transform him into a more sympathetic human being, and his sister, while not previously a cold woman, was willing to toss propriety aside and leave no one doubting her love for family.

“Has something in particular happened?”

“She lost a dear friend this summer.”

The early part of the year had been hard for more than just Benwick.

“A very dear friend. The woman was a widow in Deal. She befriended Sophy years ago, before she started coming to sea with me. They remained close over the years. The woman was an amazing correspondent. No matter where we were, her letters found us. As we were on our way home, a letter from her daughter arrived, saying she had died. Sophy had been very much looking forward to seeing her again after so many years in the east. The letter crushed her. After a week or so, she finally began to be herself. She told me one day that no longer would she take it for granted that those she cared for most in the world would always be waiting ashore to receive her. It had come to her that there was no way to know when you were seeing someone for the last time. That is why she was so anxious to see you. And to visit Edward.”

It was interesting that both he and his sister would have such philosophical revelations thrust on them by death. Of course, his understanding was only second-hand. Though, he too had been shocked by the hand fate had dealt. There had never been an expectation he would return to this part of the world, and certainly no expectation of ever seeing Anne Elliot again. Clearly, the future was the province of God and his prophets and it was becoming ever more obvious that he was not even one of the latter.

“So, if she seems a bit overwrought, you’ll know why.”

“Thank you for telling me, sir. It will be my first consideration.”

“Precisely what will be your first consideration, Frederick?” Sophy asked. She had entered the sitting room without either man noticing. He stood, downed the last of his sherry and said, “My behaviour while I am here. I will always consider that I represent Kellynch Hall and all the nobility for which it stands.” The words sounded ridiculous even to his own ears. He took her arm, and said, “Now, I would like to go up and wash away some of the dirt of the road.”

“Certainly. Lowell says that a footmen named Harkness will assist you. I have instructed him to bring up hot water and anything else you might like.” After the stairs, they walked down a long corridor and turned down another. “I did not put you in the family wing with us. The master’s rooms are in a good modern style, newly done over I believe. However, the daughter’s rooms are in sore need of attention. Not to mention far too feminine for you. You will be in a guest room. It is smaller, but nicely furnished.”

She led him to an open door and followed him in. A man in livery was pouring steaming water into the basin. He looked up at Sophy and the Captain. An unmistakable frown crossed his face. Just as quickly, the typical bland expression of a house servant replaced it.

Putting aside the man’s greeting, he said, “I have been closeted in a rooming house for the better part of a month, sister. And before that, the accommodations on Laconia were not terribly spacious. I am sure this guest room will be more than adequate.” In his heart, he was glad to be in another wing from the family rooms. To be placed in the family wing, and the endless wondering if he might be in the very room which Anne had occupied, would carry the irony of the situation to ridiculous lengths.

“…yes, the accommodations of a fifth rate are a bit snug indeed. I already have plans to redecorate, and if you grace us with your presence long enough you can be moved to a larger room.” She did not wait for an answer. “Captain Wentworth, this is Harkness.” To the footman she said, “Lowell has said you are the best choice to valet for my brother.” Ah, Sophy, he thought, energise the man’s pride. Now he will break his neck in order to turn me out well.

“Yes, Ma’am. Sir, I have taken the liberty of unpacking your case. When you are ready, I will see you prepared for dinner.”

He wanted to laugh at the interesting turn of phrase. For a moment, he wondered if there was a serving platter large enough to accommodate his tall frame. “That will be quite all right, Harkness. I will need very little in the way of assistance. But I would have you brush and lay out my blue coat and my best trousers.” The man bowed and disappeared through a side door, he assumed was a dressing room.

Sophy went to the basin and checked the water. “And how do you find the place? Has it changed much?”


“Edward said the summer you stayed with him that you visited here some few times. I wonder if it has changed.”

“I would not know.” He shook his head. “I was much younger than and houses held no interest for me back then.”

She turned over one of the curtains and examined it. “We have noticed quite a lot of wear since moving in. We thought we had looked it over carefully when the baronet showed us around, but, well, you know it is rather embarrassing to scrutinise anything very closely with the owner standing over you.”

“Do you think he meant to cheat you?” He would not put it past the blighter to engage in that sort of trickery.

“No, no. I just think all the best carpets, curtains, and furnishings were put in the rooms we toured. The family rooms, excluding Sir Walter’s of course, are so worn it is more from pride than not wanting to damage your male sensibilities that I put you up here. By my reckoning, those poor girls put up with quite shabby surroundings for a long time.”

While he was relieved to know he would not be sleeping in a room once occupied by Anne, he was curious about her reaction to the baronet giving up the hall. Perhaps having an establishment of her own had eased the blow.

Pulling the drapes open wider, she said, “I think I told you that I do not revel in benefiting from the family’s difficulties. We are determined to do what we can, and if in a few years they might return, we hand Kellynch back in better condition than they left her.” She continued to fuss about the room when Harkness entered with the coat and trousers.

“I will leave you to freshen up. Dinner is not for an hour so take your time.”

As she approached the door, she touched his arm and said, “I am happy you are with us, Frederick.” Not waiting for an answer, she left him.

He was glad to be alone. He did not remember particulars of the place, but was beginning to feel the tone of the grand house.

“Sir, the water is ready. I have set out your razor and heated two towels.”

He had forgotten Harkness. “Yes, thank you.” He began his washing up.

When Harkness finished, he said, “I can take your small clothes. Our washerwoman is the finest in the county.”

This was a subtle hint that whoever had charge of his personal effects to this point was not up to the mark. He could not help but agree. His landlady, Mrs Bale was a good soul, but not the most scrupulous laundress. “Thank you.” He turned back to the mirror and his razor. It had been simpler to consent rather than comment that no one saw his undergarments and that he was not concerned about their particular shade of beige.

Harkness made a special trip and then returned. “She’ll have it all ready tomorrow.”

He mumbled his thanks as he applied soap to his face. As he finished the first stroke, he glanced at Harkness in the mirror. The man’s hands flexed. He was a study in grave disapproval. Wentworth took another stroke. The man was comical in his reaction. And it was obvious Harkness would like nothing better than to snatch the razor from Frederick, taking matters into his own hands. His evidently more capable hands

In this case, servants are literally a double-edged sword, he thought. Servants had a clear, practical purpose at table and were quite welcome. It was much more convenient to have them fetch the wine than try to move about the cramped, and sometimes heaving cabin. When they were not serving, they stood behind, well out of the way. However, though there was enough room here, he could not help but hear Harkness’s muted sighs of dissatisfaction and frustration.