tagRomanceCast Adrift - Book 01

Cast Adrift - Book 01

byMarshAlien©

All of the material in this "Book One" has previously appeared on Literotica. If you have already read the previously posted Parts One and Two, there's nothing new here other than a few minor edits. I expect to post the first two chapters of Book Two soon, though, and wanted to return Book One for anyone not familiar with the story. When I finish the two chapters after those, I will withdraw the first two and post all four as Book Two. As always, I welcome any comments that you'd care to post or send me.

CHAPTER ONE

The appearance of a handsome, knighted naval captain at the door of a pregnant woman living by herself would have been an occasion for scandal in many of the villages in the interior of England, particularly as he had already visited the day before. But in a coastal town such as Dartmouth, where several of Sir Edward Pelham's lieutenants rented homes, it was widely thought that a second visit simply meant even more bad news for the current occupant of Number 7 Welmore Street.

"It's Sir Edward, ma'am," Lucy said, peering around the door to the drawing room where the pregnant woman sat on a modest sofa.

"Thank you, Lucy. Would you please show him in? And please, Lucy, I thought we had agreed that I was to be called Caroline."

"Yes, ma'am," the other girl said automatically, a smile playing across her lips.

Caroline Stanhope sighed as Lucy left to fetch the gentleman whom Caroline had met only twice before: in early November, when Geoffrey had joined the HMS Classic as its second lieutenant; and just yesterday, when he had appeared at her door to inform her of her husband's death, some three months earlier, from injuries received in battle. The shock had been severe, and Sir Edward, somewhat ill at ease after helping her to a couch, had left shortly thereafter. Within the hour, Lucy Burton had knocked firmly on the door, explaining that she had been sent by Sir Edward to take care of Mrs. Stanhope. Caroline's protests that she could not afford a maid were brushed aside, and by morning the girl was firmly entrenched in the household.

"Sir Edward," Caroline murmured, rising to her feet as he entered.

"Mrs. Stanhope," he said, his hat under his arm. "I hope I see you less, er, that is to say, more settled?"

"Thank you, Sir Edward, I am quite recovered, and will not require you to catch me a second time. I must insist, however, that you discharge poor Lucy from her employment, for I will have no means by which to pay a maid once I receive the last of my late husband's pay. I dare say, based on what he has told me, that the Admiralty will ask for reimbursement of the last three months' pay, on the grounds that he had already died without properly notifying them."

Sir Edward stifled a smile. Geoffrey Stanhope had indeed married well.

"Madam," he said with a slight bow of his head, "I have deposited a sufficient sum with one of your local attorneys to keep her in your service for the next year. If after that you no longer wish to retain her yourself, you have but to tell her."

"You are too kind," Caroline smiled. "Will you not sit down? Lucy?"

Lucy peered around the door from her listening post.

"Ma'am?"

"Could you make us some tea please, Lucy? I take it from your return, Sir Edward, that you have more to tell me?"

"Indeed I do, Mrs. Stanhope. I would like first of all to relate to you the circumstances of your husband's death, merely by way of demonstrating the esteem by which he was held by all of the officers and men of the Classic."

Caroline simply nodded to indicate that he could proceed. She would not faint again. She had spent yesterday afternoon and night in anguish and grief, and by morning she had learned, if not to put those emotions aside, then at least how to mask them when appropriate.

"First of all, madam, let me say that your husband was one of the finest officers I have ever commanded. He served under me as a midshipman, and I considered myself extraordinarily fortunate to have him assigned to me upon his passing the examination for lieutenant."

Caroline allowed herself a faint smile.

"In January, we were given intelligence of a Spanish treasure ship. We found her right where we should, off the coast of South America, and captured her with little problem. The Spanish, you will recall, madam, are currently ruled by Joseph Bonaparte, the Emperor's brother. Mr. Stanhope - your husband - was given command of the prize and ordered to carry her across the Atlantic into Portsmouth. A day later, however, we learned that the intelligence had been incomplete. We were faced with a French frigate equal to ours as well as a smaller sloop, and would have fallen to them but for the incredible reappearance of the prize, your husband in command, firing its four meager cannons to remarkable effect and ultimately boarding the frigate."

Sir Edward paused, as if he thought he had not clearly made himself understood.

"He boarded the frigate, madam," he emphasized, "with the small prize crew at his back."

"Thank you, sir," Caroline said.

"He might have carried it, too, but for the Classic's failure to bring her starboard guns to bear in time. That is my shame, ma'am, and that of my other lieutenants. Thankfully, we were able to ultimately capture both ships ourselves, but at considerable price. Your husband, Mrs. Stanhope, lay mortally wounded on the frigate's deck."

"It sounds a -- a brave death," Caroline said, her voice faltering only slightly.

"Indeed, madam," the captain said fervently. "I have never seen one braver. He was under our surgeon's care for the following two weeks, and in the hospital in Hamilton, but in the end, the infection proved too much. If I may say, ma'am, his funeral was one of the largest ever seen in Bermuda."

Sir Edward was clearly moved himself, and Caroline, unable to speak, nodded again by way of reply.

"My apologies, madam." Sir Edward bowed again. "I did not intend to -- that is to say, I called on you today with a wholly different purpose. First of all, I have here a summary of your husband's share of the prize money. The ship was filled with silver, and a lieutenant's share is, er, considerable."

Caroline stared in astonishment at the paper she had been handed.

"Sir, I have not seen so much money in my life."

She finally looked up at her visitor. "I imagine not," he chuckled quietly. "All of the men of the Classic have done quite well by our voyage. And there may be some additional money when the Admiralty purchases the ships we captured. Unfortunately, madam, I can make no promises as to when you will receive these funds. While he was in the hospital, your husband did prepare a will, bequeathing all of his possessions to you and naming his brother, James, as his executor. I have engaged a local attorney, a Mister Digby, who appears to have a sound reputation among the local businessmen, and I left the will, and a draft for the prize money, with him."

Caroline's face fell once again.

Which brings me to the next, er, distribution," Sir Edward continued.

Caroline watched as Sir Edward suddenly grew uncomfortable. Lucy's arrival with the tea gave him a chance to collect his thoughts, and when the young girl had departed, he pulled another paper from his jacket.

"Your husband was delighted to learn from one of your letters, madam, that you were with child," he continued, "and, as you know, his delight was of a very infectious nature. So the crew, knowing of your condition, undertook a subscription to provide some additional support for you. They each" -- he stumbled over the words despite his careful preparation -- "they all, every man-jack, contributed two pounds of their own prize money, madam, for a total of 450 pounds."

Caroline realized that her mouth had fallen open, and slammed it shut.

"Needless to say," Sir Edward continued, "their example was too much for the gunroom and the wardroom, and your husband's fellow officers have added an additional thousand pounds. I was under Admiralty orders, madam, and did quite well myself by the capture. So I have, er, matched my shipmates' efforts with one of my own. In addition, madam, your husband's brother, William, the commander of His Majesty's sloop Wallace, was in Bermuda at the same time, and he made a contribution that matched all of ours, ma'am."

Caroline sat back against the chair, her heart fluttering in her chest.

"But that amounts exceeds..." Her voice trailed off as she silently did the sums in her head.

"Six thousand pounds, yes." Sir Edward smiled at her. "Needless to say, I was unwilling to bring such an amount to Dartmouth, Mrs. Stanhope. So I took the liberty of investing it on your behalf in the Navy Funds, which pay an annual return of five percent, or approximately 300 pounds. So you see, you will be able to keep the young lady in your employ as long as she proves satisfactory. I have asked Mr. Digby, the attorney, to serve as your agent for the moment in dealing with the Admiralty and the Funds' administrators. You may wish to ask him to invest your share of the prize money as well, once you receive it, or you may choose another agent if you wish. In any event, I would recommend not depositing all of your money with the local bank, simply because, um..."

"People talk?" Caroline smiled.

"Exactly," Sir Edward said as he stood up. "I will detain you no more, Mrs. Stanhope. My ship awaits off the coast, and I am overdue at the Admiralty."

Caroline raised her eyebrows in surprise.

"Not to worry," he said with an even bigger smile. "Their Lordships place more value on a captain who values his subordinates than they do on precise punctuality. Usually. Oh, I am terribly sorry. I also have a letter from Captain Stanhope."

"Captain Stanhope?" Caroline accepted the letter, addressed to "My Dearest Sister."

"By courtesy, ma'am, those given the rank of Master and Commander in the Navy are called Captain. In this case, Captain William Stanhope, your husband's brother, of the Wallace. And with that, I will take my leave."

After a final bow to his lieutenant's widow, Captain Pelham walked through the streets of Dartmouth on his way to the quay where his gig awaited. He politely touched his hat to each of the women that he passed, servants and upper class alike. None of them, in his estimation, held a candle to the woman he had just left. Like his junior officers, he had felt a pang of envy when his young second lieutenant had brought his new wife on board the ship before their departure six months ago. Caroline Stanhope's beauty was not of the ethereal nature celebrated in art and literature, and fashionable among the London crowd. Hers were the substantial, healthy good looks of a young woman just growing into her adulthood, with long auburn hair, deep brown eyes, and a ready smile that complemented her obvious wit and intelligence.

It was a pity that at her age, which he guessed as twenty, or perhaps twenty-one, she would spend the next year wearing black. But of course, it was even more a pity that she had lost as fine a husband as Geoffrey Stanhope no doubt would have been. Just as it was a pity that he, and England, had lost as fine an officer as Geoffrey Stanhope was, and as fine a captain as he would have become.

He nodded to his coxswain as he stepped into the boat and took his seat for the silent row back to the Classic.

The woman in question was still staring at the envelope he had left. She had read her husband's last letter three times yesterday, and her tears had soon rendered some of the words nearly illegible. Finally, she had had to set it aside. Dictated in the hospital, and delivered yesterday by his captain, Geoffrey had openly praised the men in his command, men who had followed him without hesitation onto the deck of the Spanish frigate despite their numbers. He lamented the loss of two, and implored her not to worry about himself, that he would be fine once the "medicos" and "sawbones" had fixed him up and returned him to duty. He had jokingly expressed a wish that their new child be a girl, because the boy would undoubtedly look like him, and he would not wish that upon anyone. A girl, on the other hand, that looked like Caroline, would be a benefit to Dartmouth, to England, and to the entire world. He had signed the letter himself, three days before he finally succumbed.

She was of two minds about this new envelope. The only other letter she had received from Geoffrey's family had arrived shortly after she had returned from her shipboard visit. Impressed with the embossed stationary, with the Earl of Prescott's crest used as a seal, and with the elegant "Caroline" on the cover, she had opened it eagerly. Inside had been two pages of the most vitriolic invective she had ever read, from the opening salutation -- "Cunt:" -- to the close -- "I shall have my lawyers contact you if you ever attempt to associate your name with that of the distinguished earldom of Prescott."

Geoffrey's father had spared no expense in investigating Caroline's family. He knew of her own father, the former publisher's clerk and bookseller who had languished in debtor's prison for years before finally dying two months before his only daughter's marriage. And he knew of her mother, whose shame at her husband's arrest had not inhibited her acceptance, while he still lived, of the protection of a married theatre producer in London. His letter had even referenced a cousin whose ignominious surrender to French forces on the Island of Malta had led him to take his own life.

Geoffrey had laughed when she had cited those very same relations in protest of his attempts several months earlier summer to claim her hand. "But I won't be marrying them, Caroline. I shall be marrying you."

And that was before she became aware that his family was much, much different from her own. When she had met his eldest brother, James, the sole guest at their wedding besides Geoffrey's fellow lieutenants and two girls with whom Caroline had been employed, his clothing and bearing had led her to question her husband more closely, until he finally admitted, again with laughter on his lips, that yes, his father was the Earl of Prescott.

"The Earl?" she had gasped. "Your father is an earl?"

In her memory it seemed as if he was always laughing.

"Don't worry, Caroline. The chances of my becoming the earl are virtually nil. I have two older brothers."

Caroline's tension abated a bit.

"Of course, James has already disclaimed his right to the title after my father threatened to make his, er, predilections public. And William is a naval officer in constant danger on the American station, so perhaps it is a little higher than nil."

"Geoffrey!" She had slapped him on the arm.

"But no higher than forty percent. Forty-five at most."

The laughter of that night had carried her through her first uncomfortable, painful session of lovemaking, a session that had soon become wonderful and had produced the life that grew now inside her.

Holding her breath, Caroline tore open William's letter and breathed a sigh of relief as she realized that she had not been mislead by the address on the envelope this time.

Dear Caroline,

I hope you will forgive my presumption at using your Christian name without a proper introduction, and at addressing you as my sister. But as I sat with Geoffrey the last three days and heard him extol your virtues
ad nauseam, I feel I can claim to know you at least well enough to consider you one of my dearest relatives.

By now, Sir Edward will have told you of Geoffrey's valiant death, and I can add nothing except to say that if just half that number of people attend my own funeral, I will count myself to have done well by my life. Please know that, even with all the visitors he had during at the hospital, his final thoughts were of you, and the last words on his lips those of his love for you.

I understand that you have already met James. I have asked Sir Edward to mail a letter to him as well, and I have no doubt but that James, whose manners are impeccable, will call on you shortly to express the family's condolences.

I also have no doubt that by now you will have heard from the Earl, and no doubt that his letter was ugly. James will explain the matter in greater detail, as I understand that Geoffrey did not have an opportunity to do so prior to his departure on the Classic. For now, let it suffice that our father is quite ill, and often deserted by the mental faculties that served him so well in his youth. For whatever he must have said to you, please accept my regrets and apology.

When next in England, I hope to have the honour of calling on you, and of visiting with your expected child. Please do not hesitate to contact me before then if I may be of some service, and I shall remain,

Your devoted brother,

William


**********

True to his brother's promise, James was at her door within the week. After expressing his sincere regret at her loss, he accepted Caroline's invitation to lunch, and disgorged the entire recent history of the Stanhopes.

"The Earldom, of course, is an ancient one, dating back to the War of the Roses. Our father inherited it at a very young age, just after returning from the fight with the colonists. He married our mother, who gave birth to four children. Are you sure this is not boring you, Caroline?" "Oh, no," she dissembled. It was, but it was information that she felt herself obliged to learn.

James took a sip of wine and continued.

"Our mother died in 1801 in a carriage accident, and our father at that point began exhibiting signs of -- well, perhaps derangement may serve best. Intermittent, to be sure, but enough to send him into actual madness when given news that he did not want. Such as my sister's enagagement to a member of the Ninety-second Foot, the Gordon Highlanders. Honourable men, but Scots, and in my father's eyes little more than savages even now. This Rory Hunter was himself a Scottish laird, at the young age of 27, and a hero of the victory over the French at Alexandria."

James allowed himself a soft sigh.

"But he was pursued by my father's men, to the point of being threatened with actual harm, and to the point of himself injuring one of my father's allies. Who immediately swore out a warrant for his arrest. So he and Courtney -- my sister, Courtney -- eloped to America, where I understand they are now settled outside of Boston.

"This is exquisite wine, by the way. I'm surprised at my brother's taste."

Caroline raised an elegant eyebrow and allowed herself a hint of a smile.

"In wine," James protested, nearly spitting it out as he realized what he had said. "I had no idea he was a -- that it is to say, that he --"

"He didn't buy the wine," Caroline's smile grew. "Mr. Digby, my newly appointed solicitor, sent if over two days ago. I think he expects to make his fortune administering the funds that your brother and Geoffrey's shipmates were so kind to give me."

"Yes, I met your Mr. Digby yesterday, in my capacity as executor of the estate. It doesn't surprise me at all. I know little of the law, but it appears that my role as executor will be to try to ensure that there is some money left in the estate when Mr. Digby finishes paying his fees from it. To return to my tale, though, William, the second son, had joined the navy in the year two, and Geoffrey quite naturally followed him in the year six. Shortly thereafter, my father learned that I ... that I am unlikely to continue the male line, shall we say. That caused another bout, and when he threatened to make my situation public, I simply disclaimed my own inheritance of the title. I hope I am not speaking too freely?"

"Not at all," Caroline smiled. She wished that he would speak more freely. William had danced around the issue of his brother's failure to marry, and James was now suggesting that he was unable to sire a child. Why in heaven's name would that prevent him from becoming the Earl of Prescott? But she was reluctant to press him, afraid that it was something of a sexual nature that she would be far too embarrassed to have him explain.

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