The sun slipped below the horizon leaving its fiery glow resting upon the gently rolling black waters. Nicholas Sidemore watched the boat that bobbed just on the edge of the sea ─ where the water dropped away and could be seen no longer. His heart raced, and he swallowed the fear that rose inside him as it drew closer. It would not be long now ─ a few hours or perhaps a day ─ until he knew his fate.
Using the glow of his lantern to light the way, he picked his way carefully around the rocks lining the shore. Choosing a large rock with a smooth top, he sat down. It was where he had sat every night for over a fortnight waiting for that boat. When three and then four days of waiting had stretched into weeks, he had thought she had chosen not to return; however, there the boat was, three weeks late but with its course obviously set for the bay.
“She’s arriving before dawn.” A man of slightly smaller stature but similar features slid onto the rock next to him. “I hear tell by the other captains that there has been some bad weather. It is probably the cause of her running so late.”
Nicholas nodded. That was probably the reason…bad weather. It could not be anything else. I just could not for he would not allow his mind to travel down that dark and dreary path. He propped his elbows on his knees and rested his chin in his hand and watched.
“She’s arriving before dawn.” His brother’s voice broke the silence that surrounded them, and Nicholas knew Jonathan was no longer speaking of the ship. “And unwed,” Jonathan added.
Nicholas turned toward his brother. “How do you know?”
“And how does Casselton know?” A small flicker of hope flashed in Nicholas’ heart but only briefly. He would also not allow himself to consider that she had waited for him, for the disappointment would be too great if she had not. When she had left over a year ago with her family, Rupert Dunnaby had joined them. He knew that Kathleen’s brother and father had both been in favour of a match with Dunnaby.
“He had a letter from Witherfield that said Dunnaby is not on board the Mary Ellen. There was some sort of disagreement, and Dunnaby booked passage on a boat heading to the West Indies. According to Casselton, Witherfield and his sister were not sorry to see him go.”
Nicholas drew in a breath and released it slowly. The fear that gripped his heart began to relax its hold, but just slightly. He knew that being unwed and willing to wed him were two very different things.
Kathleen Witherfield pulled her shawl tightly around her shoulders and leaned against the side of the boat. The lantern swayed on its hook causing shadows to dance about the cabin. Although it was well past midnight and she should be sleeping, she was not. A mixture of excitement and trepidation swirled within her making sleep an impossibility.
Reaching beneath her pillow, she pulled out a worn letter. Carefully, she unfolded it and smoothed it on her lap. The light that flickered overhead was poor, but she did not need the light to read what was written on the page.
I cannot describe the despair my heart feels tonight as I pen these words of farewell. They are not words I write willingly. Would that I was able to provide for you in a manner your father deemed acceptable! But, I cannot. I can only promise to strive to do so, but what security is there in that? I do not blame your father for refusing me.
Maybe he could not blame her father, but she could. She had been furious at her father’s refusal and horrified at his proposed alternative. Rupert Dunnaby was a liar and a cheat, and she had known it almost from their first meeting. Unfortunately, her father and brother had not seen Rupert as she had, at least not in time. She let out a heavy sorrowful sigh and with a shake of her head to clear the memories of her father, returned to the letter.
I beg of you to not accept Mr. Dunnaby. Give me time to make my fortune. Wait for me, Kathleen. Give me one year to increase my holdings. I shall toil night and day so that when you return, I will be able to provide for you as your father requires. Please do not refuse me this request for I cannot bear the thought of you with another. I shall look for your answer on the tree behind the church. If I see your locket, I know you will return to me to retrieve it.
A tear slid down her cheek and her hand moved of its own volition to clasp the locket which hung about her neck. Carefully, she folded the letter and slipped it once again beneath her pillow before snuggling down next to the infant who shared her bed.