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The Women Who Wait
by Simon

"Let me take Neddy, Mavis, he's fallen asleep. He'll be more
comfortable laying down, anyway."

"Thank you, Mama. He is getting heavy." Sophie picked up the sleeping
child from his mother's lap, and placed him on the soft pillows lain
there for just this purpose on the floor beside them. The boy often
liked to nap here at his grandmother's, laying on the floor behind
the chairs and pretending that he was on a cot aboard a ship.

"Are you feeling all right, darling? You seem a bit blue this
afternoon."

"I'm fine really. I guess that I just miss Horatio. When the baby
starts kicking I wish that he were here to feel it, he missed that
with Neddy, too."

"Why don't you write to him? I know that always makes me feel closer
to your father when I wish that I could talk with him." Mavis just
shrugged.

"I wrote him already today, and twice yesterday. I've not had a
letter from him in over two months, Mama. I worry so much that
something has happened to him or that Hotspur has run into trouble.
When he had that trouble with Renown I didn't hear anything for
months and then when we found out what they had been through. Oh,
Mama, I'm so afraid that there's something just as terrible happening
this time."

Sophie had been hearing this same thread repeated endlessly over the
last few months. Mavis was terrified that Horatio would either not
return or come back with a new horror story to tell them. Not that he
would actually tell them whatever really happened, of course. One way
or another, the women always found out, though.

"Darling, you know that if anything had happened we would have been
informed. If the Admiralty didn't tell us, then Edward would. Now you
know that. He could well be on his way home right now, for all we
know."

"Or on his way to China."

"Mavis, that's enough of that. You know as well as I do that he's
likely just away from the dispatch vessels for some reason. He's
always careful, he's known for that and he'll be back. Now, no more
of this. You'll bring the baby on early if you're not careful."

"It's not due for another month. That's when Jacob told me it would
be born. Mama, could we ask him to come here to help with the
delivery like he did for Neddy? Please?"

"Darling, he's a busy man with his own practice. He can't just drop
his patients to deliver a baby. You know that there were no
complications last time and there's no reason to think that there
will be any with this one. You're in perfect health and the baby is
growing normally."

Mavis continued with her tatting, making a muddle of it, as always.
No matter how she tried, she simply wasn't good at the domestic side
of things. Give her a book to read or a kite to fly or a game of
chess to play and she was more than fine, but sewing and cooking and
all that sort of thing just didn't come to her easily. The only area
where she could manage and not feel a proper fool was when she was
dealing with Neddy. With him she was confident and sure of herself,
delighting in his smiles and the sound of his laughter. With new baby
she somehow felt detached this time. When she had been carrying
Neddy, she had been excited and sure that all would go well. Though
she was worried about Horatio and the trouble onboard Renown, somehow
she had known that all would turn out well, and indeed it had.

This time she found herself nervous, unsure of herself, weepy and
frightened easily. She had begun to have nightmares where she either
lost the baby or received news that something terrible had befallen
Horatio. She was, simply, unnerve red, and Sophie was coming to a
loss as to how to handle her any longer.

"Dearest, would you like to stay the night here? I would love to have
the company, if you'd be willing and you know that Neddy always seems
to enjoy being at Granny's. I do so love to have him come running
into my room in the morning. He's so like you when you were that age."

"Except that he's the spitting image of his father." Seemingly
uninterested, but equally unwilling to argue with her mother, Mavis
gave in easily. "Yes, Mama, that would be lovely, thank you. That
house is so lonely when Horatio is away. Do you realize that I've
been there for almost three months now and he's never even seen it?
At least not when it was finished."

"Yes, I know, darling, but he'll see it when he comes back and I'm
sure that he'll love everything about it, especially the fact that
you're in it and you two can finally have the privacy you deserve.
Lovely. I'll tell Preston hat you'll be here, then."

She rose from her chair to find the butler. Although she could have
simply rung for the man, she was looking for an excuse to get away
from Mavis for a few minutes to attempt to recoup her own flagging
spirits. In fact she was also worried about Horatio, though not in
the ways that concerned her daughter. She had received a letter from
Jacob; Horatio's father shortly after he and Mavis had been to Kent
to visit the old man and to introduce Mavis to his childhood friends.
The visit had been a mixed success at best. From what she had been
told by Jacob and the few things that Mavis had let slip, the couple
had several rows while they were there and there had been jealousy on
Mavis' part regarding an old sweetheart of Horatio's they had dined
with. The young woman had become convinced that her husband thought
that she was too young for the responsibilities of being married and
that their marriage had been a mistake. She was both distraught and
inconsolable at the belief.

When asked directly, she had admitted that Horatio had never said
such a thing, but Mavis insisted that he believed it nevertheless. He
had become exasperated with her and the arguments had begun.

Sophie would not write of such a thing to Horatio, believing that
would be interfering in the privacy of a husband and wife. Beyond
that, she would never give him more to worry about when he had the
responsibility of a naval ship during wartime on his shoulders.

Sophie decided that it was time to find out more, if she could. Mavis
had to come to terms with whatever was happening in her marriage
before the baby came or her intense nervousness and fears could
easily lead to complications. Sitting at the desk in the study, she
took out paper, ink and quill and began to write.

 

Six days later she was sitting alone in her bedroom when Preston
brought the reply she had been hoping for to her on a tray.

Dear Sophie,

I fear that your concerns for Mavis might have some basis in fact. I
confide to you, and know that you will not break this trust, that
Horatio did, indeed express concerns about his marriage when they
visited me several months ago.

I stress that he also went to some length to tell me that he loves
Mavis and Neddy deeply.

His concerns are that Mavis may simply be too young for the
responsibilities and the strains of being married to a Naval officer
during wartime. He also expressed concerns regarding the differences
in their ages"not so much as the simple numbers involved, but in
their different levels of maturity and independence. He is worried
that the separations and the strain of her fears for his safety could
lead to serious complications that he would be unable to handle while
he is away.

I tell you, in all candor, that he suggested that it might have been
preferable for them to have waited several years before marrying.

I need not tell you the distress that conversation caused me. I have
grown quite fond not only of Mavis, but also you and Sir Edward. And,
of course, Neddy is a lifeline to me.

I know that this also causes Horatio much heartache as he would do
nothing to intentionally hurt Mavis.

I pray that you will not tell Mavis any of what I tell you now. I
would not have her hurt for the world and as she is within a month or
so of her delivery, and with Horatio away, I would not wish to know
her upset.

I will do whatever I can to help in anyway, you need only ask me.

I have had letters from Horatio in which I believe he uses me to
attempt to set his thinking straight and clear his mind. Thank God he
writes often, as I can know he is uninjured.

Madam, my son loves your daughter, this I promise you.

I suspect that, like many young marrieds, they must needs find their
way.

With affection,

Jacob

 

So, he was writing to his father often, and not to either his wife or
anyone in the Pellew family. Well, at least he was unharmed, but the
cruelty of his silence was unacceptable.

 

The end of March was a cold one that year, the rain lashing the house
and the town gray and dismal looking whenever one could bear to
venture out. Sophie continued to worry about Mavis. The young woman
attempted to maintain a cheerful façade whenever she saw her mother,
but the mask would occasionally slip and her sadness would spill out
with long sighs and tears. Neddy was her saving grace with his antics
and constant demands for attention. It actually pained her that his
favorite toy was a sturdy model sailing ship Edward had brought home
for him at Christmas. He would not allow it out of his sight.

No letters arrived from Horatio. Sophie checked with the Port Admiral
often, but there were no reports that Hotspur had suffered any damage
or run into any particular trouble. The Admiralty received their
dispatches and letters regularly as did family members of her crew.

The silence from Horatio, which had at first been simply annoying and
thoughtless, was now becoming frightening. In some desperation,
Sophie sent a message to Edward, asking for his intervention. Hotspur
was under his command; he should at least be able to tell them why
there was no word.

When she finally received his reply. It did little to comfort her.

Dearest Sophie,

I understand your concern for Mavis and I wish that I could send you
better news than I have for you. Receiving you note, I sent for
Horatio to come aboard Tonnant so that I might ask him directly what
might be on his mind.

Fortunately Hotspur was with the fleet at that point, and he came
aboard within the hour. When he presented himself in my cabin I
suspect that he had guessed that I wished other than an official
meeting with him. I had him in, sat him down and proceeded to ask him
why he had not found the time to send even a single letter to his
pregnant wife and son.

His answer was one that took me aback, I don't mind telling you. He
simply said that, having no desire to hurt her feelings, he didn't
know what to write to her.

I think that I was actually at a loss for words for one of the few
times in my entire life. Didn't know what to write to her? For the
love of God!

I'm afraid that his answer caught me unawares and I fear that I tore
something of a strip off of him, but I do believe that he will put
quill to paper as a result.

I do trust that you will inform me of any developments.

I am well, my dear, you are not to worry about me in the slightest.
When one attains the lofty rank of your other half, they are quite
cosseted. I think when I return you may even find me quite fat!

Your affectionate husband,

Edward

 

With relief, Sophie wrote her reply to Edward's letter. She assured
him that they were well, that Mavis grew larger by the minute and
that the receiving of a letter from Horatio was all that was needed
to make life perfect again. She did not tell him of the tears and the
hurt and the sleepless nights that both she and Mavis had endured
because of Horatio's strange silence.

Finally, a week later, the letter they had been waiting for finally
arrived attached to a package. Opening the letter first, Mavis
quickly walked to the, wishing privacy.

Dearest Mavis,

I can only beg your forgiveness for the silence that has surrounded
me since I left Portsmouth almost five months ago. I wish that I can
give you a full explanation, but I fear that whatever I write to you
will not satisfy the questions I know you have.

First and foremost, my dearest, know that I love you and Neddy. Never
doubt this, I beg you. You are in my thoughts as I lie on my cot and
when I stand on the deck. I see you when I wake and I dream of you
each night.

Please, never doubt this; never doubt my love for you.

I have wanted to write you so very often. I have started dozens of
letters to crumple them and throw them to the decking. I have so many
questions in my own mind, you know this"you know me better then I
know myself. I fear so much for you alone, that you will be without
me again when the new baby comes. I know that you will be well, that
your mother will be there and that the midwife is a good one, but I
would give my arm to be with you as our child is born. I don't try to
shock you, my darling, but I wish it were possible that I could
somehow take away some of the pain for you.

When we were at my father's we were both uncomfortable, though for
different reasons. You because of the newness of the place and the
people, of being on display and me because I felt that I somehow had
to measure up to everyone's expectations of me"the young officer
returning in triumph with his bride and child, newly promoted and
destined (as everyone tells me until I could scream to the moon) for
greatness.

Mavis, I am beside myself that we rowed as we did during that time. I
knew that you were feeling unwell with the new pregnancy and did
nothing to aid you. I'm only happy, looking back, that my father and
Rosie were there to give you what I did not.

You have asked me if I have reservations about our marriage.

My dearest. Believe me when I tell you that you are the only woman
who I love, that you are the woman I wish to have my children and the
one who I want to greet me when I return from the sea.

I cannot not help but smile, as inappropriate as it may be, to
remember how very much neither of us wished to wait in those days
just before our marriage. I am still amazed that your parents allowed
us the freedom they did, and I mentally thank them whenever those
memories are in my mind's eye.

Reservations? I confess to you, and implore you not to be hurt by
what I tell you. Know first that I adore you, and would never
knowingly hurt you, but you ask me and as I can hide nothing from
you, I must confess that I believe we might have waited several years
before we wed.

Mavis, I see your face as you read these words and I know that I have
hurt you"please, read my explanation.

You are my soul mate, I know this, but you are also still so young. I
think sometimes that I have done you a great wrong by asking you to
take on the burdens and responsibilities of marriage and motherhood
when you did. You will bear our second child any time now, perhaps by
the time you receive this, and the weight that you carry will become
greater than it was before. I regret what I have asked you to do.

You would tell me that you took this on willingly, and I know that to
be true, but it causes me grief to know that you are so encumbered. I
cannot help but think that had we but waited, it would have been
easier for you.

I know that our separations, many and long as they are, are a trial
for us both. I must think that they are harder on you, though, as I
have much to distract me whilst aboard a ship, while you have Neddy
and the house to remind you that I am away. I know my own loneliness,
but yours must be far greater. I cannot help be believe that had we
waited to marry, you would likely have been out and about more than
you can be now. I fear that in marrying me, you will cause yourself
to miss much happiness and joy in your day-to-day existence.

Mavis, I do not say these things to you to hurt you. I love you.

I have not written to you before this because I was unsure of what to
write, knowing that you would see through any lies or platitudes I
sent you.

I will be back in England soon. I don't know exactly, but I am
hopeful that within a few months we may return for resupply. You know
that I will come to you the moment that I am able to do so.

Please, my dearest, don't stop writing. I sometimes feel that your
letters are all I have between me and the abyss.

With all my affection,

Horatio

Post Script:

My darling,

You will have noticed the package to which this letter is attached.
You will be as amazed as I to learn how I came by its contents.

The Commandant of El Ferrol was a kind man, and a gentleman. In a
strange way, we became friends while I was incarcerated there. He
has, evidently, been following my career and me.

Three weeks ago Hotspur was near to the Spanish coast, not all that
far from the prison. A fishing boat came alongside under flag of
truce and asked if we were Hotspur. When told that we were they said
they had a present for the Captain from Don Masserado. I accepted it,
with thanks. Upon opening it, I found a note from him explaining that
he had developed a fondness for me and had learned from captured
copies of the Naval Chronicle that we had a child and that you were
again expecting. He has sent this shawl for you and the christening
gown for the new baby as his gift. He says that they are from
Madeira, that the embroidery is the finest he could obtain.

The ways of war are, indeed, strange.

H

She picked up the package; opening the cloth it was wrapped in.
Inside were the two garments. The christening gown was exquisite,
white lawn embroidered so finely with infinitesimal stitches as to
appear almost spun by hands that couldn't possibly be human.
Delicately tucked and pleated, flowers and"yes"-tiny ships lightly
sailed around the sweeping, trailing hem. She had never seen it's
equal. The shawl lay beneath it. It was a heavy, thick and lustrous
silk satin, pale blue, fringed, with flowers and vines climbing as
lightly as cobwebs up and around the large piece of fabric. It was
magnificent.

There was one more thing in the bundle. It was a small sketch, done
in charcoal, of Horatio. Whoever had been the artist was talented in
the medium and had managed to capture him well"they had captured his
spirit, in fact. The artist had managed to see the man behind the
face. His intelligence was there and his sense of honor, but if you
looked you could see the self-doubt beneath the surface.

There was a note attached to the back. "Dearest, One of the ratings
surprised me with this a few weeks ago. He often sketches in his off
hours and this day, he chose me as his study. It occurred to me that
you might like to have it." H.

Sophie walked in as she was looking at the drawing.

"He's quite a handsome man, Sweeting, isn't he?"

"Yes, Mama, but he's more than that." She smiled at both her mother
and the image of her husband.

"You're all right? The letter he sent you, it's not bad news, is it?"

"No, Mama, he says that he loves me." She chose to stop there. The
problems that existed between her and Horatio wouldn't do to be
aired. He would be angry if she were to speak about these things,
even with her mother. Besides, they were no so large that they
couldn't be resolved. In fact, he said that he would be back soon and
then they could"

"Mama."

"Yes, darling?"

"My water just broke."