The biggest edits are now complete for my manuscript! To celebrate, I’m posting an excerpt of my novel, Radicals and Royalists, to pique your interest.
The breathless anticipation with which they read these papers could not compare with the thrill of receiving Mr. Ruford’s first letter. The seal was broken—whether from prying fingers or sloppy handling, they could not know—and the paper smeared with water spots and torn in several places. The ink changed every few paragraphs, as did the quality of Mr. Ruford’s handwriting and the tone of his words, the letter having been written in several stages. It was dated several weeks earlier, much to Ellen’s disappointment. Alice brought in the letter as Lydia was visiting, but she had to wait patiently while the young Mrs. Ruford took in her husband’s words alone before sharing them.
My Dearest Ellen, the letter began.
I know I had promised to write each day I could manage, but after years of peace, the leisure to do so is now all but gone. I hope you will allow me the loophole of writing each day, if not sending it. I sent you a letter by a convoy ship we passed the other day, but God only knows when or if it shall reach you. Post has been unreliable to an extent that even I had not anticipated, and I must restrain myself from sharing some details (which of course would only distress you). I shall inform you that the Exodus has been sent to patrol the Channel, where we engaged several enemy ships this week near Calais. I fear the men and my fellow officers may not be wholly prepared for this blasted war, but the past few weeks have given us the chance to drill and better stretch our sea-legs.
Mr. Pearson and I are hoping to take our examinations for lieutenant as soon as possible, perhaps in Plymouth. The captain has already mentioned it, else my hopes would not be nearly so high. If this war carries on for much longer, we shall be in need of more capable officers, of which Mr. Pearson and myself certainly qualify. Even if we were less able seamen, promotion would still become more likely as we continue to demonstrate the very lucky talent of not dying! Dear Ellen, I can assure you that we fare just as well on this ship as we have ever done in peacetime, though the meals and the company are no comparison to home. Even Mr. Pearson agrees with me, as would Mr. McCullough if he were inclined to agree with anybody. One of the ship’s crew—a man under Mr. Pearson’s command—came down with a cough that had us quite worried, as it very well might have swept through the crew and taken everyone with it. You can imagine what a danger even the smallest thing as a cough may be, with such sickly air below decks. It was nothing, fortunately, but once the man recovered from his trifling illness, he was forced to endure much mockery from his compatriots for this show of weakness. I am not sure if they would congratulate his strength had he died of something worse and killed everyone, but there you have it. Common sense, sadly, is lacking amongst the lower orders of the ship, and causes me to wonder if it is the same elsewhere in society—and you may share with our friend Lydia that I said so!
Despite the distractions of adventure, the sea, and almost-certain death, it is at this point, my darling, that I would wish to pour out heart and soul on paper in a sad attempt to convey just how much you are missed. Alas, it is unlikely that you and I will be the only ones to read this, as I am sure you would wish to share it with others. I can imagine Annabel and Aunt Cissy reading this over your shoulder, and so I will avoid writing the words I would like to, though I beg you to know that they are indeed in my heart.
Now I must close, as I have just been informed that we are meeting a convoy ship bound for England, and it has offered to carry any letters we may have. Perhaps there are letters for us, as well, my dear one, for I eagerly await word from you—which I have not done so yet, though I know you to be sending them. I hope some of my other letters have reached you. Send all my regards to our dear aunt and Annabel, and our friends, particularly Mr. and Miss Jameson. Mr. Pearson has just entered the room and informed me that he has no one to write to in Portsmouth, but wishes to send his greetings as well, to all of those whom I have already mentioned—yes, even Miss Jameson was mentioned by name. Beloved Ellen, until our next meeting, and my next letter, I remain your loving and devoted husband.
“Signed, Midshipman Adam Ruford of His Majesty’s Frigate, Exodus,” Ellen concluded, adding her own sigh to the end.
Ellen, Annabel, and Lydia sat in the parlor of the Rufords’ house, having paused in their thoughts and activities to hear Ellen read the letter aloud. Again Lydia felt a rare but familiar twinge of envy, that there was a gentleman to write letters to Ellen, while Lydia had none.
She silently scolded herself—she did not want just anyone. If she were desperate enough, Mr. Mayfield would write such letters to her. He had, in fact, sent her a few affectionate notes over the past few years, but she always tore them up and attributed them to strong drink, madness, or mockery.
“It is a very good letter,” Lydia said. “Though it is a pity that he has not received yours, it seems. I confess, I am curious to hear more about the goings on of his ship. I think it fascinating.”
“Even what he said about common sense?” Annabel asked, picking up the sewing she had set aside before listening to Ellen read. “He still finds a way to tease you, Lydia. I rather think he sees you as the younger sister we never had.”
“I do hope he can pass his examination,” Ellen said. She began to set the letter aside as though it was a fragile artifact, but changed her mind and kept it in her lap like a talisman.
“It would indeed be an honor,” Annabel said, “and quite a practical one. Larger share of the prizes, and higher pay.”
Ellen groaned. “We have not yet seen his current pay! The pay office is overflowing with officers and their wives seeking what is owed them, and everything is so disorganized. You would think that war with France was the greatest surprise in history.” She looked at Lydia and held up a hand as though to stop some invisible force. “But please, Lydia, I must beg you to resist the temptation to rail against the king’s bureaucracy, or whatever else you take delight in despising these days.”
“You do me no credit, Ellen!” Lydia gasped. “I rarely make such speeches of late, since I must do so much in writing. Surely you must commend me a bit for that.”
“If you must ask for commendation,” Annabel said, “I doubt it is truly deserved.”
“Now, Annabel,” Ellen said, “we really must not be too hard on Lydia. She has improved since last year. Though I think it may be all because the men are not here to provoke her so much.”
“And I suppose I should thank you for such a defense,” Lydia grumbled.
“You may be correct,” Annabel said to her sister-in-law, “but perhaps it is partly due to her own merit. After all,” she added, gesturing toward the letter in Ellen’s lap, “Mr. Pearson did greet Lydia personally. I doubt he would have thought to do so if you were not a little kinder to him already.”
“That is right!” Ellen said, unfolding the letter again. “Adam wrote it himself—’yes, even Miss Jameson.’ I did think that the two of you were getting on better that last afternoon. Or it may be that Adam is right—which he so very often is—and Mr. Pearsonis a more kindhearted soul that you may first expect. I am inclined to think so, at least.”
“We all know you to be an excellent judge of character,” Annabel said, a little smile on her face.
“Do you know,” Ellen said, “that is exactly what Mama said to me at Phoebe’s wedding. I had been the one to call attention to the young man in the first place! Dear Samuel Woods…”
Despite this change in topic, Lydia’s thoughts refused to budge from the previous conversation. What had made her stomach jump so just now? The sensation was not entirely foreign to her, but it was unfamiliar enough to be alarming, even dreadful, as she considered its origins. Yet it had happened twice at the mention of Mr. Pearson’s name. Were the two of them such enemies that she could not hear his name without flinching? Unlikely—rather, she realized with some astonishment and not a little fear, Mr. Pearson himself was not entirely unpleasant to think on.
This realization alone was shocking in her mind. How had this regard come to be? She despised the man, and yet she was concerned for his welfare and pleased that he had mentioned her by name.
Calm yourself, the rational part of her consciousness said. You are doing just what Mr. Mayfield has predicted, and have begun to lose your senses over a handsome man wrapped in a funeral shroud of blue wool and brass buttons. Do not forget that he is an ardent Royalist who would see you hanged for treason and sedition if need be.