Queen of Hearts – Tracy Cooper-Posey

Portsmouth was not Southampton in either grace or popularity. Southampton, twenty miles upriver, was where all the well-regarded shipping lines were permitted to dock. Portsmouth, on the other hand, was a far more workmanlike quay. Sadie stood upon the top deck and examined the dirty dock and the filthy clothing of the dock workers who scurried to catch the heavy anchor ropes her crew threw to them. She tried to be content. After all, this was England. She had not stepped upon English soil for sixteen years. It would feel strange to do so now. Even the weather was different here—far more damp than she remembered, and not nearly as sunny as she was used to. New York could be cold and Washington even colder, yet the days there did not seem to press in on one the way this day was. A man in a good suit stood upon the dock observing the Queen of Hearts tie up and the access ramps slide out to thud against the dock. He appeared to be a dandy—what they would call a toff, here, she supposed. He wore striped pants and a flower in his lapel. His top hat was tall. Yet he seemed to be taking an extraordinary interest in Sadie’s ship.

Perhaps it was one of her passengers who held his interest. Maybe he was waiting for them to descend to the dock. There were already carriages waiting for them. Sadie could see the hansom cabs and coaches, and blowing, pawing horses lined up along the edge of the road behind the dock and the official buildings and warehouses. Because it was May and a brisk wind blew over the water, no one alighted from their coaches to greet the passengers when they stepped off the ship. She did not have a full roster of passengers for this journey. Sadie didn’t mind that, either. It was the maiden Atlantic crossing of the Queen. As she wasn’t publicly in the business of shipping yet, Sadie was happy with the twenty passengers she had brought over from New York. Their fares covered the costs of the crossing.

The passengers were descending by the main gangplank, while their luggage was ferried down the secondary ramp. The man monitoring the Queen did not move forward to greet the passengers. Instead, he made his way over to where Dan Kempston, the Captain of the Queen of Hearts, stood at the bottom of the plank to bid everyone a polite farewell. He was an affable man, which was one reason why Sadie had employed him. He also had no lingering aversion to iron hulled steam ships and no romantic illusions about the glory of sailing ships. Kempston had been the perfect choice, for he didn’t mind taking directions from a woman, either. She had been terribly lucky to find him within a few days of beginning her search for a captain for her new ship. The dandy in the striped pants moved directly to Kempston, removed his top hat and spoke earnestly, while Kempston listened, his smile fading. Then Kempston swiveled to look up at Sadie where she stood on the top deck. He pointed to the man, then at her.

The man wanted to speak to Sadie, then. Sadie nodded and Kempston moved aside to let the man up the gang plank. Kempston called to one of the crew stowing ropes and chains on the main deck. The deckhand touched his forehead and came over to the top of the ramp as the dandy stepped onto the deck. The crewman would lead the visitor through the ship and up to where Sadie stood. She put her back against the rail and stared out across the harbor, while the man climbed up to where she stood. She didn’t know who he was, except that he was not family or anyone she knew. Almost everyone she did know in England was family. When the visitor stepped out onto the deck and thanked the crewman for his directions, Sadie saw he was older than she had first presumed. He came over to her, his top hat in hand.

“Mrs. Watson?” “I am. And you are?” “Harold Standing. I am a journalist with The Times newspaper.” “You came all the way down to Portsmouth?” “The train only takes a few hours. Although you arrived early, considering when you left New York.” “The advantages of steam, Mr. Standing. I don’t have to wait for the tides or the wind to be in my favor.” In fact, they had arrived six hours earlier than Kempston’s best estimate, which boded well for future journeys.

“May I interview you, Mrs. Watson?” Standing asked. “Me?” Sadie laughed. “I think you may have wasted your few hours of travel, Mr. Standing. I have nothing interesting to say for your newspaper.” “On the contrary, Mrs. Watson. You are the daughter of the Princess Annalies—” “Adopted daughter,” Sadie amended quickly. “Adopted,” Standing repeated, showing no irritation for the correction.

“You are from one of the great families of England, you traveled to America by yourself when you were nineteen—” “Hardly by myself,” Sadie corrected him once again. “I was a paid companion for a lady and her husband.” The man grinned, showing uneven teeth beneath his full beard. He had quick, intelligent eyes. “Cynthia, Lady Collingwood. You stayed in America when they returned, though, and made yourself a rather large amount of money.” “I made a fortune,” Sadie said, her tone dry. “That is what they would say in New York.” “You made a fortune,” Standing said, with another quick, easy smile. “And now you are the owner of a boat—ship,” he corrected himself.

“A steam ship seems to be an odd choice for a lady with a fortune. That is a story which will interest the Times readers,” he finished. “I’m afraid there is little to add to what you already know, Mr. Standing,” Sadie replied. “I am not a very interesting person. I work hard and I have been lucky. That is all.” “Yes, but why choose to buy a ship?” A memory slipped into Sadie’s mind, one which often came to her when she was standing on this deck. The memory was old and there were few details she could clearly remember. She did remember the creak of ropes and the slush of water against a wooden hull.

She had stood upon the top deck of a ship under sail, watching the enormous sails snap and fill with wind; the lift of the prow of the boat over waves and the steady, majestic path across a sea which stretched in all directions. The memory always came with the sound of Uncle Seth’s voice as he picked her up and put her on the tall barrel so she could see over the edge of deck railing. “There be England, by and by,” Seth had told her, pointing. “First, a smudge on the horizon you’ll think is merely smoke or your tired eyes. Then it grows larger and larger, until you can see houses and horses and people.” “The sea is so big!” Sadie had told him, her voice sounding high compared to his. “‘tis powerfully big,” Seth told her. “And this little sea we’re crossing is one of the smallest, yet still it is larger than most things on this earth. Makes one feel humble, which is the way a man should be.” The memory petered after that.

Sadie could not have been very old at all, yet she remembered the salt of the sea and the touch of the wind and sun upon her cheeks…and the breadth of the ocean. She had not known it then, but her love for the open sea and the far horizons had been instilled on that voyage. Sadie blinked and brought her attention back to Mr. Standing. He was scratching at his forehead. “I beg to differ, Mrs. Watson. Your story is the most interesting one I’ve written in a month. Investments and sessions in the House of Lords grow staid after a while. Will you be staying in England long?” Sadie’s heart gave a little thud.

“I’m not certain at this time,” she said truthfully. “I have a great deal of business to settle while I am here and won’t be socializing.” “You won’t be visiting your family at all?” “A short visit,” Sadie said carefully. “As you can see, Mr. Standing, I have no remarkable activities on my calendar worthy of reporting.” The man dug in his fob pocket and withdrew a card and held it toward her. “You do understand I will be writing an article about your return to England, anyway?” Sadie took the card. “If you wish to reduce the circulation of your newspaper by running such an unremarkable story, I cannot stop you.” “Indeed, you cannot. Thank you for your time, Mrs.

Watson.” Standing gave her a polite nod and put his hat back on, then moved across the deck to the bulkhead door and disappeared inside. The crewman shut the door behind him. He would escort the journalist off the ship. Sadie turned once more to scan the land. From here, all she could see was the roofs of many houses, all of them belching smoke into the dull sky. Only forty-five miles to the west laid Marblethorpe, in west Sussex, where Papa Rhys and Mama Annalies now lived. Sadie could be there in just over an hour, using the trainline which now ran between Portsmouth and Storrington, and then on to London. She was home. Really home.

Despite fifteen years of living in America and traveling from coast to coast, Sadie still could not think of that place as home. She still considered herself an English subject. She always had, even when she had learned she had been born in America. What a day it had been, the day she learned about her real parents! It had changed her life. Sadie had turned eighteen only the week before, and she and Mama Annalies had been playing a tug-of-war for weeks. Sadie wanted to study at Cambridge—which was simply impossible for a woman—while her mother wanted her to attend her first season as an adult and lady and make connections with the peers of England. No compromise existed which would satisfy them, for their wants were mutually exclusive. Sadie could attend a season or attend Cambridge. She could not do both. Papa Rhys had stayed out of the conversation.

He was too busy running his legal practice and was rarely home. On the day Annalies called Sadie into the library, Papa Rhys had been home, though. Sadie stepped into the small, well-stocked library and her mother closed the door behind her. Papa Rhys stood at the window, holding the lace curtain aside to peer at the traffic moving about Grosvenor Square. “Oh dear. Am I about to be spoken to again?” Sadie asked, when she saw him. Rhys let go of the lace and shook his head. “Nothing like that,” he assured her. “Your mother has been keeping me abreast of this discussion between you and her about Cambridge.” “And the season,” Sadie said, letting her nose wrinkle.

“I have explained over and over that I consider attending a season and making friends with the ton a waste of time. I am no one, Papa. I cannot be presented at court, for I am not a peer. And, it seems, I cannot attend Cambridge either.” “Which is completely inequitable,” her mother said, shocking her. Sadie turned to face her. “You think I should go, too? Why Mama, you never said such a thing before!” Annalies nodded. “Because I was trying to do the right thing by you, darling daughter. I understand your dilemma, though.” “Your mother would have attended university if such an option had been available to her when she was younger,” Rhys added.

“Or even now, if such a chance presented itself,” her mother said. “Then you think I should petition to be allowed to attend?” Sadie asked, hope flaring in her chest. “No,” Annalies shook her head. “I do not.” Sadie’s lips parted. She sucked in a surprised breath. “It is why we wish to talk to you,” Rhys said. “There is something you should know, which we should have told you a long time ago. Now it is unavoidable. We must explain to you about your parents, Sadie, so you understand why we are making the decisions we are.

” Sadie reached for the back of the nearest wing chair and gripped the high back. “I don’t want to know,” she whispered. “You should know,” Rhys replied. “Your father was a good man, Sadie. He was my friend.” Sadie drew in a sharp, shocked breath. “Your friend? I thought…I presumed…” “That your parents were strangers to us?” Annalies finished. “Perhaps of no account?” Sadie swallowed. She had thought such things of her unknown parents all her life, and much worse things, too. “I always thought you just…just picked me out of a foundling home.

I had no idea…it did not occur to me you might know my parents.” “We did,” Rhys said. “I went to Cambridge with Richard Hedley.” Hedley. The one thing her parents had given her. Sadie Hedley Davies. Annalies and Rhys had kept that part of her heritage intact. “Sit down, Sadie. You are pale.” Annalies drew her by her elbow and sat Sadie upon the wing chair.

She brushed her hair from her forehand with a gentle touch and smiled at her. “I didn’t know either of them until shortly before they left for Canada.” “They were friends of yours…” Sadie murmured, letting it sink it. “Your father was a talented and gifted soldier,” Rhys said. “The Queen made him a Baronet for services to the crown in the Rebellions of 1837 and 1838 in what would become Canada.” Sadie gripped her hands together. “A Baronet…!” “A life peerage only,” her mother said. “It would allow you to be presented to the Queen and to have a proper season as a debutante.” “I believe it is what your father and mother would have wanted,” Rhys added. “Richard was a good man and thought as I did—he would want you to have every opportunity to marry well and lead a full and happy life.

” Sadie blinked. “That is why you want me to attend a season so much?” Rhys nodded. “What happened to them?” Sadie asked. “Did he die in Canada?” Rhys shook his head. “After the rebellions had been quashed, he and Elizabeth moved to New York. That is where you were born.” Sadie could feel her jaw sag in an unladylike way. “I am American?” Annalies laughed and brushed at her hair once more. “You are English, because your parents were.” “I was born in America…” Sadie muttered.

Really, this was very shocking! “When you were two years old, the city suffered a cholera outbreak,” Rhys said. “Your parents, both of them, died on the same day. You escaped completely untouched. A neighbor and friend of your parents wrote to me to tell me what had happened and asked what to do with you. She was caring for you at the time.” “Do you remember any of this, Sadie?” Annalies asked. Sadie frowned. “I remember a dark room. Rooms. The curtains were drawn, even though it was frightfully hot…might that have been the place?” “Possibly,” Rhys said.

“It was August when your parents died.” Sadie added, “I do remember Uncle Seth and a large ship…and the sea.” Annalies smiled. “He brought you back home for us.” Her smile grew warmer. “When we heard the news, he took his fastest ship and sailed that very day for New York. He brought you back within the fortnight, and you became ours that day.” “And Uncle Seth’s crewman,” Sadie added. Rhys smiled. “You did like to go sailing with him.

Do you see, Sadie? You have a legitimate claim among the ton. You are not the daughter of a duke, yet you are the daughter of a peer who earned his title through merit. You would be welcomed among society because of it. Your mother and father would, I suspect, be proud to see you take your place among them.” Sadie nodded, her heart thudding unevenly. “I do see it now,” she admitted slowly and reluctantly. “Then you will attend the Season?” Annalies asked, her tone anxious. “I suppose I must,” Sadie said slowly. “It would be rather ungrateful of me not to attend, wouldn’t it?” Rhys gave a great sigh. “Whatever you choose, Sadie, we will support it.

I only thought you should have all the information before you decide, because it makes a difference, knowing the truth.” The truth had changed the course of her life. Sadie had given up any idea of forcing the powers-that-be to allow her to attend Cambridge. Instead, she acquired a wardrobe suitable for a debutante and gone through the silly and so-serious business of being presented at court. “Mrs. Watson?” Kempston said from the bulkhead door. He had one foot on the deck and the other inside, as if he was unsure of his welcome. “I was woolgathering,” Sadie told him. “I do apologize. Please, step on.

” Kempston nodded and closed the door behind him. “I wanted to report to you, Mrs. Watson. The last of the passengers have left and the port authority has scheduled the offloading of the cargo for first thing tomorrow morning.” Sadie nodded. “We cannot hold them accountable for a delay in scheduling when we arrived here so early. It will do, Captain. Thank you. Will you be staying on land while we’re at dock?” “I’ve a mind to see a bit of England,” Kempston said. “It looks nothing like what it did when I was last here—but I was a small lad then.

” “I wasn’t much older than that, either,” Sadie said with a smile. “Please go ahead, Captain. Enjoy yourself.” “‘till tomorrow. I’ll be here for the unloading,” Kempston said. He touched the brim of his cap. “You won’t be stepping out yourself, Mrs. Watson?” The idea of moving about England, where she might run into people she knew, who might remember her… Sadie swallowed, as tiny invisible fingers rippled up her spine and made the flesh at the back of her neck prickle. “I will be staying right here, taking care of business,” she said firmly. “Except for one short journey to Sussex to see my family.

I am not even sure I will travel as far as London.” “That would be your loss, Mrs. Watson. London is a diverting place…at least that is what the passengers tell me.” Kempston touched his cap again and turned away. Sadie watched him go. She didn’t consider it a loss to stay right here on her ship, conducting business which would put more money in her purse. There was nothing out there among the houses and smoking chimneys that she needed. Nothing and no one. No one at all.

.

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