"My dearest Sophie," began the letter, "I am sorry to keep you waiting like this, but those dammed infernal buggers at the Admiralty are being especially uncooperative. Just when it seems I'll be able to leave the dear Surprise with Tom, up comes another obstruction that must be dealt with. But I'll try to get home before this month is up. I must complete this letter in haste and hope it will be delivered quickly; Stephen sends his love to you and the children, as do I. Give them each a kiss for me, except George, whom I believe would want a handshake instead. Love, Jack Aubrey."
With a slight sigh, Sophie Aubrey placed Jack's letter on the table and turned to face her children. They stood toeing an imaginary line, looking much like seamen lined up for divisions. Indeed, they had been raised partially by a group of their father's followers, including Barrett Bonden, coxswain, and Preserved Killick, captain's steward, and had taken on many of their mannerisms. Although George, Fanny, and Charlotte were standing as upright and proper as any mother could wish, their faces betrayed their excitement. As soon as they had heard hooves beating up the dirt path toward Ashgrove Cottage, they had run out of the house to meet this eagerly anticipated rider whom they had supposed to be their returning parent. Upon discovering that it was not Jack Aubrey on the shabby gray pony that had almost collapsed from fatigue (Ashgrove was accessible only via a rather steep climb, and the horse was not in the best of conditions) they had been intensely disappointed. This unhappiness had been slightly relieved when they saw the note delivered into their mother's hands, and now all three were with kitten to know its contents.
"Mother, is he coming home?" Even as George spoke, he and his sisters knew the answer. Young though they were, and as much as Sophie tried to hide it, they could read the answer on her face. Slowly bending down and then rising with her son in her arms, Sophie tried a hopeful smile.
"George, your father will come home as soon as he can get away from his ship: quite soon, he hopes. That means," now directing her attention to the twins, "he may well be home in time to celebrate your birthday, girls. Now, you may go outside and play, but stay away from Grandma's window, and pray be quiet. She's in bed with a headache."
In response to this little speech, George leapt from his mother's arms with a single wild whoop, and he and the girls raced out the door, insulting one another in foremast-jack language and quarterdeck voices. Sophie turned, picked up the letter, and placed it in a small box alongside many others of its kind. Removing her diary from the same box, she sat down and started to write.
"He is delayed again. I told the children, and they displayed such wonderful resiliency. Why do I find it so hard to bear? I must be strong for Jack, and never let him now how I feel about his absence. After all, King and Country first."
© 2000 Jessey Seiler