The Sterley's of Oakland Park
Author: SAREJESS

Chapter 12
Arrival of a seafaring man

It was a fine summer evening when Captain Aubrey arrived at Oakland’s his coming was not altogether unexpected, for Sir Thomas and Lady Ann had been in a high state of agitation for more then a week since receiving a letter from the gentleman in question.

The week prior to his arrival had been quite a busy one with a great many things occupying the minds of the residence of Oakland. Lady Ann had been in a state of excitement in getting a new wardrobe for Sophia that she might be shown to her best advantage. Old Tilley from Notheringay was to be got in to stay for the duration of the good captains visit too dress Sophia’s hair.

“Sir Thomas on the other hand found the time to do a bit of writing on the account of the birdlife of which he was so fond. In the hopes that he might find a fellow enthusiast in the person of the young Captain.

“We hope that your journey here was a comfortable one,” said Sir Thomas as Captain Aubrey climbed from the coach.  “It was passing tolerable replied the young navel officer with a smile.  William will show you to your chamber pray avail yourself of every comfort that is at hand,” said Sir Thomas. “I thank you for that Sir Thomas for it has been extraordinary long day” remarked the captain a she hoisted his sea chest upon his shoulder much to the amazement of Sir Thomas who was about to instruct a servant to take the chest. It was an uncommon thing for a gentleman to carry his own baggage when invited to a house of a nobleman thus it seemed to Sir Thomas that he had been offended but had he known the nature of the young sea officer he would have been surprised to find although he was of a ancient and noble line he was a man with out any pretensions. This gave him an uncommon advantage over men of quality for he deemed himself to be a leader of man he must as a matter of course get his proverbial hands dirty.

At dinner he was made to sit next to Sophia who was dressed in a new pink dress with her hair done to perfection by the faithful Tilley. The conversation dwelt on the maters of common interest Sir Thomas spoke at great length about his service to the crown whilst in the navy to which the young Captain listened with great intent. Indeed so much so that Lady Ann was forced to protest Sir Thomas usage of the good captain’s time.

“Really husband you have hardy given the captain time to make the acquaintance of Sophia who is looking quite ravishing don’t you think captain Aubrey” she said “I have seldom had the pleasure of such good company, miss Sophia you will allow me to say that I find that pink dress a most delightful shade,” said the young captain a she lifted a glass of cherry to his lips. “Why captain Aubrey you make me blush this is but a simple dress which Mamma has recently improved upon never the less I thank you for your complement” said Sophia.

“Did you know captain that our Sophia plays the pianoforte exceedingly well do you play?”  Asked Lady Ann “Indeed I had the singular honor of playing upon the organ at Great Wisham before I joined I was of course meant for the church but circumstances decreed otherwise,” said Aubrey. “That is a great pity for the church, remarked Sir Thomas. “I imagine that your new command is quite a large vessel?” said William “Indeed it is a ship of a hundred guns and a great many crew,” replied Aubrey.

“It was most fortunate that you fell in with HMS Ocean when you did was it not” remarked Mary as she bit into a piece of bread. “Indeed it was very fortuitous for me for had I not we would not later have taken as prize the Spaniard,” replied Captain Aubrey.

“Do you mean to say you know all the names of the crew aboard your ship?” asked James who had not thus far taken any part in the conversation. Turning to the boy the assembled party thought they saw in his eyes a far away look of wonder and excitement for surly he of all the children of Sir Thomas was meant for the navy.

“Aye lad that is about the size of it for a sea captain and moreover a captain in the royal navy must know the name of every man who serves aboard his ship. For in battle ones life might very well depend on the service of one of those fine fellows who serves under your command,” said Captain Aubrey.

“When I am grown I shall be a captain in the royal navy,” said the lad as he returned his attention to a piece of mutton, which rested sublimely on his plate amongst a mountain of mashed potatoes.

“Pray tell captain have you any plans for what you will do when the war is finally finished?” asked Lady Ann.  “I have not given it much thought I will one day leave the sea I imagine return to the old family seat at Great Wisham,” he said.

“What sort of place is Great Wisham?” asked Sir Thomas. “It is much like any other country estate, large house, town balls assemblies farmers that sort of thing and then of course there is the castle build by the Normans a great monument of a place we seldom have guests to the castle it is by far one of the coldest castles I all of Europe” said Aubrey

“If we live din a castle I am sure we would have the grandest time making the place habitable and cozy” remarked Mary. “Do you have hunting there” enquired Sir Thomas. “We have deer and some fowl in the great forest, Old Wisham how long since I have been there,” remarked the captain as if lost in thought. Nevertheless, a moment later he began tot tell a tale of pirates and gunfire which kept the room enraptured for a good while. When dinner was finally over every one was tired for they had stayed overlong at dinner listening to the stories of the sea, while the moon rose.

 

 “I  have taken the waters at Bath,” said Lydia, “it is the most remarkable thing,” “It seems my dear that Bath has done wonders for your complexion,” remarked Lady Ann. “George of course did not like it he found the waters not to his liking,” said Lydia. As she handed the infant to her mother “He has put on a pound or two,” said Lady Ann as she bounced the child upon her knee.

“Mamma who is the young navel officer who I see with Papa in the gun room?” asked Lydia. “That dear Lydia is our brave guest Captain Aubrey I imagine he and papa are checking the dueling pistols,” said Lady Ann. “Pray why would they be checking the dueling pistols? Asked Lydia.

“It seems an officer of the rifles who is living in the village thinks his honor was defamed the other night by a passing remark young Aubrey made. Thus the gentlemen will be meeting at sunset to settle the matter,” said Lady Ann. “I detest dueling it is barbaric,” replied Lydia.

 “If a gentleman’s honor has been impinged my dear there is nothing for it but to have his honor restored by means of a duel,” remarked Lady Ann. “I pray that they have the good sense to fire high,” said Lydia. ‘That is indeed my hope” replied Lady Ann.

“I have no desire to see either of the officers wounded,” said Lady Ann “but you know what gentlemen are like and I would remind you that in society there is no other way to restore ones honor,” said Lady Ann

“So what is it to be a duel to the death or first blood?” asked Lydia “I believe it is first blood,” said Lady Ann. “Who will stand as the captains second in this matter?” asked Lydia. “Captain Aubrey came to here at our invitation and papa feels it only fair that he stand as his second in this matter” said Lady Ann.” really Mamma doesn’t papa have the good sense to know that he should not partake in these matters for I have always though that dueling is the prerogative of younger men, Papa should consider his duty to you, to his family first,” said Lydia

“My dear daughter it is incumbent upon your dear papa as a good host to stand as the captains second in this matter,” said Lady Ann  “There will be no stopping it I am afraid for the other officer is a proud and haughty man of a good family,” remarked Lady Ann

George Parker entered the drawing room  came over and kissed his wife upon the cheek “George you must help papa,” said Lydia in a high state of nerves “ for he has promised to stand as second for captain Aubrey and I am not entirely sure that he has not taken leave of his senses,” said Lydia.

“Aubrey is a good man and I do not think papa has taken leave of his senses I have offered my services to stand as a second to him and he has accepted my offer with a great deal of gratitude,” said George. “Oh no not you to George what is to become of us with you and papa dueling what will poor Mamma do if papa is killed?” asked Lydia  “what is to become of our poor child growing up in this world with out a father and grand papa?” she continued.

“Lydia behave like a lady this matter is not a duel to the death I am sure that once the gentlemen have agreed on the rules honor will be satisfied and all will be as it should be” said Lady Ann.

“George glanced towards Lady Ann with a look of understanding and gratitude for Lady Ann knew how best to handle her daughter.

“I must be away for a short while to arrange this matter with the officers of the rifles” said George. “I shall return directly for papa has said we shall try a snifter of a new cognac he has recently got,” he continued before leaving the room.

“Well now this is a fine mess,” we are in said Lydia s she dried her tears,” My dear Lydia you have naught to fear for seldom do the gentlemen fire to kill at most one of them shall be slightly wounded,” said Lady Ann. “shall we ring for tea?” she enquire of Lydia. “I have a fancy for some thing stronger do you have any Madera in the house?” she asked

‘I am sure that we do I shall have one of the maids bring it directly tell me how was Bath I have on occasion prevailed upon your father to take the waters but he is most strongly against the waters of Bath,” Said Lady Ann.

“It is a town with much to recommend it I had occasion to see in the high street Miss Austen, you have no doubt heard us speak of her she is a writer of remarkable stories, which she reads of an evening to her family” said Lydia

“I have read one of her books I would not be surprised if she will one day be the foremost lady writer in England,” said Lady Ann. “however I am much more fond of the writings of Mrs. Burney,” said Lady Ann.

“Pray tell what sort of woman is miss Austen in appearance?” enquired lady Ann. “She is not over handsome however she has a fair complexion she is of medium height and carries herself with a great deal of grace,” said Lydia once more warming to the subject of her favorite writer.

“She is singularly fortunate in that she can follow an occupation which brings her joy and allows her to do the things she loves best,” said Lydia.

“I have always wanted to write,” said Lady Ann. “But Mamma I have seen you doing the very thing I have observed you writing for hours on end when papa is not home,” replied Lydia. “I take it you mean my scribbling they are nothing much just random bits of nonsense which take my fancy,” said Lady Ann

The sun was on the verge of setting the two coaches stood in the clearing, the assembled officers and gentlemen stood discussing the rules of engagement.

“Gentlemen the following will apply,” said George Parker to his left stood three officers of the rifles the insulted officer lieutenant David Davis listened intently for he knew that what was to follow was of great importance.

“The lieutenant and the captain are to take twenty paces; each will have the opportunity of firing twice more if the first shots do not find there mark.”  George continued. “As arranged first blood will settle the debit of honor, are we clear upon this?” he asked the voices of the assembled men assented to the correctness of the rules. There after the second of lieutenant Davis approached Captain Aubrey. “Are you willing to accede that you were wrong in this matter,” he asked. “I am afraid I cannot withdraw my statement for it is true,” replied Aubrey.

“To your places gentlemen” said George, the two duelists began to remove there coats and prepare for what must surly follow.  Sir Thomas and the second from the lieutenant’s party checked the pistols before offering first choice of weapons to the rifles officer. He chose with great care the pistol, although both were a matching pair having been made in London in the year 1780. Returning Sir Thomas offered the remaining pistol to Captain Aubrey, who lifted it lightly in his hand testing the weight before moving into the place designated. The early evening mists were rolling in with fine dew beginning to make its presents felt upon the leaves of the surrounding forest. The field of honor had been chosen for its obscurity the fact that it was in the great forest of Oakland made it ideal for the current purpose.

The second for the army officer lifted his handkerchief and waited but a moment before the men began to mark there paces. Both men it seemed took there paces with a leisurely pace.  Turning they faced each other lieutenant Davis waited but a moment  took aim the clearing was filled with the sound of the shot a cloud of grey gun smoke filling the air, a number of nesting inhabitants of the forest rose to the air in confusion as the sound of the shot reverberated. In moment it appeared that, the officer had missed his mark for Captain Aubrey stood uninjured now waiting his turn.

Measuring well his aim, he fired high the cloud of smoke rising like an offering to the deity of honor. Immediately the seconds inspected the pistols and reloaded them returning them to the protagonists.

One more lieutenant Davis took aim and fired this time the fire brought down a branch,

James Aubrey once again took his time to aim he had no wish to harm his opponent for it was not in his nature to hurt an officer when it was not in a matter of war thus when he fired the shot was wide and clipped one of the great oaks.

For the third time the men loaded, the weapons before returning them to the combatants Davis took aim and fired. This time the ball found its mark wounding Aubrey in the arm.

“Gentlemen I thank you honor has been satisfied “remarked the officer of the rifles as he closed with Aubrey now to shake his opponents hand. For during the duel the young man had become aware of certain truths and he considered Aubrey a worth opponent. Furthermore, the young man had become aware that life was too short to be lost over a trifle. Sir Thomas and George wrapped a sheet around the young navel officer’s arm and lead him off towards the coach. While the driver collected the pistols and deposited them in the hold all at the rear of the coach in a few moments the clearing was deserted for the officers of the rifles had also made there departure.

It fell to Lady Ann and her daughters to tend the young captain as he recovered from the wound of honor, at first it did not seem if he would make a full recovery for he fell into a fever of the most vigor which kept the woman of the house busy at all hours cooling his brow. Poor Sophia was his constant companion as he tossed and turned in the bed the doctor

Came on the very first evening after the duel to clean the wound and remove the ball, which had lodged itself in the captain’s upper arm. Upon surveying the wound, he had shaken his head and mentioned some thing about the habits of young gentlemen been foolish in the extreme.

Where as when the bandage was removed for, dressing the following morning the captain had thought nothing of it saying he had recived far more serious wounds while at sea. However, the weather been warm he had fallen into the aforementioned fever, which brought on hallucinations of the most frightful kind for his dreams were filled with the enemy ships over powering his vessel. At times, he would cry out at others he would slump back into the bed unconscious of his surroundings the fever raged for three days during which Lady Ann, Lydia and Sophia tended to him. On the morning of the fourth day, he awoke early to find Lady Ann asleep in the chair next to his bed. Sophia was reading by the fire.  Speaking softly for the first time he asked Sophia for a glass of water. Moreover, bid her not to wake her mother for he knew that what must have passed had taken a lot from the woman sleeping in the chair.

There on a quite morning as the sun rose the two young people sat and talked softly of there dreams and hopes. James Aubrey was gladdened to find in Sophia a young woman who was not in the least expectant of making a great noise in society. but preferred living quietly in the country, she spoke of her love for her sisters of the tender love she felt for the animals which had come injured to the back door where the under gardener might have wrung the neck of a young chick. However, she had taken the bird and brought it to its adulthood much to the satisfaction of her papa. For in itself it was but a little thing but to win the praise of her papa was a big thing. She was fond of her papa for she found in her father a friend be it many years her senior but a friend with whom she could express her deepest fears and hopes. She wondered at herself been so forward with the young man in the bed for she had never before spoken thus with any one let alone a member of the opposite sex.

It was at a quarter after seven when Lady Ann awoke from her slumber her first reaction was to check to see if her patient was any better. to her delight she discovered the captain and Sophia upon the balcony in close company speaking as friends of old do, this suited her desire to make the good captain her son in law thus she withdrew with out letting them know that she had seen them.

 

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