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Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
Mrs Martin was no better the following day; or the day after. Richard watched her with growing concern.
After another week had progressed thus, Richard went in search of Duncan. Surely Catherine should have recovered from her episode of sea-sickness, she was no longer purging, she’d not been physically sick for days, and the maid was well enough, she had completely recovered.
“Duncan?” Richard called as he knocked on the door of the ship’s infirmary.
“Come in, Richard!” Duncan responded from within. He rose from his chair when Richard entered.
There were several bottles spread across the table and he had a quill in his hand. He’d been checking stocks of medicine. “I’m glad you came down, I wished to talk to you.” Duncan’s shoulder was turned as he spoke, while he set the quill down on the table.
When Duncan turned there was an expression of concern on his face that made it clear whatever he had to say was not good news. Richard forgot the purpose that had brought him down here. “What is it?”
“I was waiting until you’d finished speaking with Joseph this morning. I didn’t like to interrupt but there’s something I need to tell you.” Richard saw a rare vulnerability cross Duncan’s expression. “Sit down, Richard.”
Richard shut the door, aware wood did not hold sound. Then picked up the chair that his sailors used when they came down here to be treated and moved it beside the table. When he sat, Duncan did too. Richard’s elbows rested on his thighs and he leaned forward to listen.
Duncan sighed, in an expression that spoke of a lack of control.
A frown tightening his brow, Richard urged, “Just tell me, whatever it is, Duncan, for God’s sake.”
Duncan’s voice lowered to a whisper. “Miss Martin asked me to see her mother this morning. Richard, there is no easy way to tell you this–she is dying.”
Richard straightened up, in a sharp movement, as though he’d been struck. But then he had been struck. It had felt like a blow–a slap. He breathed hard as shock became denial. He could not believe it. “I came to discuss Mrs Martin. I was concerned about her. I wondered why she continued to be so unwell…” Richard’s words ebbed away with his breath. Good Lord. God help them. His elbow rested on the corner of Duncan’s desk. He felt cold suddenly, though he could not be, they were in the tropics. “She is dying,” he repeated in a quiet voice. “Does her daughter know? Does she know?”
“She knew,” Duncan responded. “Her daughter does not, nor Calcutta’s Governor. Mrs Martin told me she has been feeling weaker by degrees for months.” Duncan hesitated, taking a breath before progressing. “She has a lump in her breast, but that is not all, perhaps it began there, but now she has inflammation in her glands too, beneath her arms and in other places. She is dying, Richard, she’s felt it for months but spoken to no physician in India. Hence the haste to go home. She has family in England, she wishes to make peace with them before she passes and there was some agreement for Miss Martin to be married to a cousin that was arranged years ago. She wishes to see that marriage come to fruition. She hoped to be well enough to reach England and return to India, she realises now that is unlikely.” He paused again and met Richard’s gaze. “She may not even reach England. She is very ill.”
Richard’s gaze lifted to the planks of wood in the ceiling above him. He didn’t know what to say. He had no words. What was there to be said? But then the implications began to fall into place; Miss Martin would be left alone aboard his ship. “Hell!” His thoughts raced. “Damn it!” He looked back at Duncan. This had to be addressed. The girl should know the situation she was in at least. “Miss Martin should be told.”
“No. Mrs Martin swore me to secrecy. She hopes to live a few more months, she thinks she is capable of reaching England. I promised I would tell no one but you, and she only agreed that I might tell you because I insisted.”
“Is she dressed? May I speak to her now?”
Duncan gripped Richard’s arm when he began to rise. “Not today, Richard. Tomorrow if you must. She was distressed when I left her. She has been avoiding the truth; she’s realised she can do so no longer. She is afraid for herself and her daughter.”
“Then why the hell did she make this damned journey? It was a bloody foolish thing to do!” Anger flooded the void of shock. “Women! I suppose I must slow my journey and dock somewhere to drop them off.”
Duncan’s eyebrows lifted. “And leave three women to fend for themselves in a strange port? When one of them is dying?”
“They can catch another vessel home,” Richard snapped, frustrated. He hadn’t wanted the women aboard. He should have refused.
“And if Mrs Martin dies on board that vessel among strangers, or while they are staying in the port, before they even find another vessel? Miss Martin would be left to the will of fate. I know you do not like being put out but I am sure you would not wish any harm to befall them.”
So that was why Catherine had chosen his ship, she knew she might die upon it and she’d needed a man aboard she could trust. And of course everything Duncan said was true and Richard’s conscience would never let him cast them off.
Another option presented itself, the ship and its cargo could go on, he was not needed on it. He could stay with the women and put off his trip home, it would be no hardship. He did not wish to go to England anymore than Miss Martin did. And yet if Catherine passed away, what then? It left Miss Martin travelling alone with him. And no matter that they would be accompanied by her maid, her name would be ruined. He would be obliged…
Another curse passed across his lips.
If they turned the damned ship around he’d lose the sale of his cargo. He had an agreed date for delivery. If it was not there by then the shipment would have to be resold and it was mostly perishable goods–tea and spices–they would lose their quality and drop in price as they aged.
The image of Charles Martin came to mind as he’d parted from his wife and daughter. What the hell would the Governor say if his wife died on this journey? Or his daughter were left under the protection of a single maid on a ship full of women starved men?
Richard decided the choice over what to do should be Catherine’s. If he turned back, the Governor would have to pay Richard’s losses, after all Catherine had known she was dying.
The evening meal was excruciating, knowing what he knew. Duncan was quieter, and he exuded the awkwardness that Richard felt. But Miss Martin chatted with Phillip, Joseph and Mark regardless, entirely unaware. At least she would not think his silence odd as Richard rarely spoke to her. He was glad. It would be too hard to sit here and talk to the girl as though all the world was roses when it was not.
Emma Martin would be devastated by the loss of her mother.
Emotions stirred within him. Emotions he had denied for years. Empathy and an understanding he would never admit to enveloped him. As a consequence, his reticence and awkwardness withdrew, and he found himself feeling more considerate towards her. He took a breath, then joined the conversation, and asked about her life in India. He didn’t really give a damn but it would be unkind to continue to let her feel any discomfort.
As she spoke of her friends, and her love of all things Indian, his heart went out to the girl. Her eyes glittered when she spoke of her father’s property and Calcutta. It would be difficult to watch her suffer if her mother died.
If… It was not certain. He would hope and pray that Duncan was wrong.
* * *
The following day, Richard looked out through the day cabin portal, which faced the deck. Catherine was dressed and sitting in a chair on deck, watching the ocean sway, and the boat rock upon the water. Richard’s gaze passed to Miss Martin who promenaded about the edge of the deck, alongside the rail, with Mark. Richard took a deep breath to restrain the anger that his compassion of last night had turned to.
“What knot have you tied me into, Charles,” Richard said aloud.
He turned away from the window and headed towards the door. It was no good, this had to be faced. Richard opened the door and looked at Mark. Richard’s quartermaster visually read the command and declined his head, agreeing to keep Miss Martin walking and away from her mother. Mark did not know why. Richard had kept the vow Duncan had made and not explained his need to speak with Catherine just told Mark to keep her daughter busy while he did.
“Mrs Martin,” Richard stated loudly, when he crossed the deck.
She looked around when he neared her. He bowed slightly. Her lips lifted in an odd impression of a smile, that did not quite catch fully.
When he was close enough to join her, he noticed that her skin had a grey hue, and she looked exhausted.
“You may continue to call me Catherine, Mr Farrow,” she said, “dying or not. I know your game, making us all feel beneath you. Why change the habit of a lifetime.”
He glanced over his shoulder and gestured for one of the crew to fetch a chair, then turned back. “Catherine,” he said with meaning, for the first time using her name solely for its value in showing his rapport, “you may call me, Richard.” There seemed little point in not allowing her the privilege.
“Ah, and now I am honoured. Shall I write and tell Charles he must summon up a fatal illness to obtain the right to use your given name.”
“My men onboard call me Richard, Catherine. I merely prefer to keep my business rivals at–”
“Your beck and call.”
He smiled at her challenge. “I was about to say–a further distance,” he completed. He turned when the crewman approached and accepted the chair the man held forward. Then he sat down close to Catherine. She was clearly in a belligerent mood. But in the circumstances he would forgive her that.
Above them the sails whipped against the wind and the rigging creaked as he sat facing her. No one was in earshot. He leant forward, resting his elbows on his knees, then spoke in a low voice. “Does, Charles, know?”
She met his gaze with the same direct intelligence as her daughter, but her eyes shimmered with unshed tears. “He does not. I saw little point in distressing him.”
“And dying on my ship, or in England, will not?”
“He will be upset regardless–” Her voice died away.
Richard laid a hand on her forearm, offering comfort, which was foolish because he was far beyond his own comfort. “Catherine, what would you have me do?”
She said nothing, as her gaze fell to stare at his hand. He did not remove it.
“Would you have me turn the ship around? I will do so if you wish, though Charles will have to refund my perishable cargo. Or we could stop and find you another ship home. I am willing to escort you.”
Her gaze lifted to meet his again. “Neither, Mr Farrow, Richard. Thank you, but neither.”
“You wish to progress to England?”
“I have family there. I want to see them before I pass and Emma’s cousin is there. She is to be married. I want to see her married and comfortable before I pass away.”
He lifted his hand from her arm and straightened up. She had to face the possibilities. “And what if you die before we reach England, what then?”
She shut her eyes, looking in pain.
“Catherine…” he insisted as his attention was caught by Emma Martin who he could see across her mother’s shoulder. She was watching him, though she was speaking to Mark as they talked beside the far rail.
Catherine’s shaky sigh drew his gaze back. Her eyes looked directly into his, questioning, asking for assurances, seeking trust. Her eyes were a similar blue to her daughter’s only a little paler, where the colour had faded over time. “If it is so, will you escort Emma to my family in London, they ought to be awaiting us there, and write to Charles?”
Richard accepted the inevitable, and nodded. “Have you an address for them you may let me have?”
Her fingers gripped his hand, but her hold was weak; she had been losing her strength aboard his ship. “She is the great-granddaughter of a duke, Mr Farrow, Richard. I shall write a letter for her and put it away. If…” her voice failed, stolen by emotion. She sucked in a breath, then continued. “If I die, give it to her, it will contain the details and a letter from me for her to give to her relatives. All you need do is escort her.”
He squeezed the fingers that gripped his, in consolation, thought really it was no consolation, there was nothing more he could do. Her life was in God’s hands, not his. A curse word ran through his head. He thrust aside the thoughts of what awaited him in England. “I will do as you ask,” he reassured, opening his hand to let hers go, but she did not release him.
“You will say nothing to Emma. Swear it.”
“Do you not think Miss Martin ought to know?”
“And have her fret over something which may not come to pass? No, Richard, I will not destroy my daughter’s happiness.”
The happiness Emma Martin valued so highly would be destroyed regardless…
He did not progress the point. He was merely the carrier, they were his cargo and nothing more. It was not his place to tell Catherine how she ought to parent her daughter. “Very well,” he stated, rising and glancing at Miss Martin once more. Mark caught his eye and Richard nodded, then he turned back to Catherine and bowed his head a little. “Good-day, Catherine. If you need anything, ask. And should you feel able to dine with us any evening your company has been missed.”
“Flatterer,” she answered in a breathy voice, batting at his arm with the back of her hand. “You always can turn to charm when you wish, Richard. You do know my husband only lets you play your games with him because he likes you, don’t you? He is not fooled by you.”
Richard smiled, remembering Charles making a hidden threat the night he’d asked Richard to accept this task and wondered if he’d always taken Charles Martin too much at face value–like his wife and his daughter–there were probably unseen layers.
Richard swore on his breath when he turned away, and continued swearing as he walked towards the poop-deck. It was a damned foolish thing to do–travelling halfway across the world when you were dying. It would be him left to face the consequences.
Richard climbed the steps briskly, cursing again and then looked at Philip, growling, “Entertain Miss Martin, she likes your company.”
Philip looked at him askance but did his bidding, leaving Richard to grasp the wheel and battle against the elements. At least Richard knew what he faced when he gripped the wheel. He did not understand women–or not genteel women anyway. For the first time in many years, he’d discovered a situation in which he felt helpless…
To be continued…
The Marlow Intrigues
The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel #1 ~ A Christmas Elopement began it all
The Illicit Love of a Courtesan #2
Capturing The Love of an Earl ~ A Free Novella #2.5
The Passionate Love of a Rake #3
The Desperate Love of a Lord ~ A second Free Novella #3.5
The Scandalous Love of a Duke #4
The Dangerous Love of a Rogue #5
The Jealous Love of a Scoundrel #5.5
The Secret Love of a Gentleman #6
Jane’s books can be ordered from most booksellers in paperback and, yes, there are more to come 🙂
Go to the index
- the story of the real courtesan who inspired The Illicit Love of a Courtesan,
- another free short story, about characters from book #2, A Lord’s Scandalous Love,
- the prequel excerpts for book #3 The Scandalous Love of a Duke
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional Historical and New Adult Romance stories, and the author of a No.1 bestselling Historical Romance novel in America, ‘The Illicit Love of a Courtesan’.Click here to find out more about Jane’s books, and see Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark