Saving Miss Everly – Sally Britton

The carriage slowed to a stop again, and outside its doors people shouted over the delay in their travels. Hope Everly peered out the glass window, tilting her head in an attempt to see ahead of them. “I think we are nearly there.” “The smell is getting stronger.” Her friend, Miss Irene Carlbury, put her handkerchief to her wrinkled nose. Mrs. Carlbury, Irene’s mother, tutted. “Really, my dear, that is London in the summer, and it is hardly ladylike for you to call attention to it with such frequency.” Although Irene did not acknowledge the correction, she immediately changed the subject. “I’m not certain I made the right decision about the blue shawl.” Mother and daughter began discussing the merits and drawbacks of the wardrobe they had meticulously packed, unpacked, and repacked nearly every day for a fortnight. Hope had never seen two women more indecisive about shawls and ribbons in her life. Perhaps not everyone had her gift for making swift decisions when it came to fashion. But then, Hope worried less about what she wore and more about where she intended to go. Her current destination, the London docks, occupied her entire being.

Her heart thrummed with excitement, her head buzzed with anticipation, and every muscle in her body stayed taut as she leaned forward—as though that would somehow make the carriage move with greater speed. All of this not because the dockyard held mystery or adventure, but because docked there was a ship where she held a berth. A ship bound for the Caribbean. “If you young ladies will converse quietly for a moment,” Mrs. Carlbury said, “I would be most grateful. I have something of a headache. A few moments rest before we board ship would be most restorative.” She closed her eyes and leaned into the corner of the coach, releasing a heavy sigh. The two friends exchanged amused smiles, lips pressed tightly together. Mrs.

Carlbury often begged moments of quiet only to fall into heavy napping. The sort of naps that included soft snores and strange nasal whistles. Miss Irene Carlbury had invited Hope to accompany her on the Carlburys’ voyage to the Caribbean as a companion, granting Hope her dearest wish and much longed-for dream of venturing out into the world. That was before everything went horribly wrong at home. Hope tried to brush those thoughts away, however. Irene laid her hand on Hope’s arm, drawing Hope’s anxious attention back to the conversation. “I hope you do not find yourself seasick as I did on my first voyage. It takes a great deal of the enjoyment out of the crossing.” “I am certain I will be well. I have always had a strong constitution.

” Hope kept her tone even, though she clutched her hands tightly in her lap. Every moment for the previous fortnight she had forced herself to remember to act staid, placid, and much more calm than she felt. “One never knows until they are at sea.” Irene tilted her head to the side, regarding Hope with wide eyes. “Did you send your sister the letter you wrote last evening? You were most intent upon writing her.” Hope’s throat threatened to close, but she had come too far to betray herself. She refused to choke out an answer like a guilty child caught in falsehood. She had come too far to betray herself. Instead, she lowered her eyes to her lap and offered a tentative nod. “I gave it to the butler this morning.

I could not go without offering up one last farewell. We have never been apart in this manner before.” “You poor dear.” Irene’s expression softened, and she covered Hope’s hands with one of her own. “To be so close to your sister and have to leave her behind like this must be difficult.” Irene leaned in closer, lowering her voice. “Especially given the circumstances.” The carriage slowed once more, but the noise of the docks, of sailors shouting to one another, grew steadily louder. Hope’s heart fluttered in a manner that dismissed the guilt attempting to settle within. “I have a marvelous idea.

” Irene withdrew her hands again, waving them before her excitedly. “What if we write a whole packet of letters to send to your sister when we arrive at port? We can both send her every thought in our heads and perhaps even include a small gift.” Irene sat back against her seat, a wide smile on her pretty face. “Hope loves presents.” Hope gritted her teeth behind her smile for an instant before answering. “She certainly does.” Speaking of one’s self in such a way never grew easier. Irene completely misinterpreted Hope’s strained expression. “You need not worry so, Grace. I am certain your sister holds no ill will toward you.

” Hope, pretending to be Grace due to her twin sister’s plan, knew that statement to be true. Precious little of what she’d said since joining the Carlburys in London had been completely honest, given the fact that she spent every moment lying about her identity. Despite knowing Grace intimately, Hope had not attempted to take on her sister’s disposition and character since their days in the nursery. Even back then, they had never switched places for more than a day. The wheels of the carriage stopped, but when Hope glanced out the window she saw they still had not yet come to their destination. The coachman started shouting for someone to clear the way. “Oh, I do detest the docks.” Irene pressed a handkerchief to her nose, her thin eyebrows drawn sharply together. Mindful of the sleeping Mrs. Carlbury, Hope whispered as consolingly as she imagined Grace would.

“Things will improve as soon as we sail.” She had done nothing by halves. She wore Grace’s favorite traveling gown, and kept her dark hair—the color shared with her sister though Grace’s always appeared so much thicker—in the almost matronly manner preferred by the quieter twin. Thankfully, Hope had proven herself a somewhat proficient actress. Irene had not seemed to think anything amiss in any of their conversations. At first, when Hope had joined the Carlburys in their coach to London, she had entertained the idea of confiding her secret to her friend. However, if Irene let on that anything was out of the ordinary or treated Hope as she normally would, Mr. and Mrs. Carlbury might suspect something. They would be duty bound, of course, to return her home.

For two long and exhausting weeks, Hope had pretended to be Grace. Today, they would board a ship for the West Indies, and with England safely behind them, Hope would make a clean breast of things to her friend. Then perhaps Irene would advise her on how best to give the news to her parents. The carriage moved forward again, most abruptly, waking Mrs. Carlbury. “Gracious me,” the matron said, putting a hand over her heart. “Have we arrived?” “Nearly, Mama.” Irene swiftly dropped her handkerchief to her side. “Look out the window; you can see the ship.” Hope turned back to the window, her excitement nearly escaping in a soft gasp.

Yes, there were the sails Mr. Carlbury had shown the girls the day before. They had accompanied Mr. Carlbury on an errand to speak to the captain, and Hope had barely contained her true delight. To think, one rash decision had nearly stolen these moments of rapture from Hope. If Grace hadn’t suggested switching places, hadn’t convinced Hope it could be done, she would be sitting in her room at home while Grace anxiously stared out at the ships. Both sisters avoided misery through this deception. Grace remained at home, where she was happy, and Hope evaded punishment and regret by setting sail. Irene rarely mentioned it was Grace rather than Hope making the trip across the ocean with the Carlburys. She hardly ever spoke at all of the twin who had been left behind, but perhaps that was because she wished to avoid making “Grace” upset.

Hope only cared that Irene did not realize the Everlys had switched places until they were out to sea. Focusing on that goal, Hope thought of little else. A few hours more and she would count her sister’s plan a success. The previous night, unable to sleep for the exhilaration of setting sail on the morrow, Hope’s thoughts had drifted back to Suffolk and her sister. Grace’s acting, among the people who knew the Everlys best, must have proved superb. For days Hope had expected her father to arrive in a coach, thunderously angry, to drag her home and deny her the only adventure likely to ever come her way. Hope’s father loved her, but he did not understand her. He did not know what grief he had dealt, or how he had broken her heart, when he forbade her from sailing with Irene and the Carlburys. He had tried to punish Hope, but Grace had saved them both. Mr.

Everly, when Hope’s mistake in a pony and cart race led to the injury of a neighbor, had decreed that she did not deserve to go on a voyage and see the islands of the Caribbean. Instead, he had determined to send Grace. Despite being twins, Grace had absolutely no desire to leave the familiarity of home. The details of the adventure which most delighted Hope would have only proven a torment to Grace, while the things Grace most loved about home struck Hope as dull and endlessly repetitive. The day of departure, dawn came after hours of Hope imagining the adventure before her, yet every moment dreading the discovery of her secret. “Eight weeks aboard a ship,” she whispered to herself, peering outside as the carriage rolled to a full stop at last. “Eight weeks aboard a vessel bound for adventure in the Caribbean.” “We are part of a diplomatic party,” Irene insisted at once, startling Hope from her thoughts. “Escorting a member of parliament to St. Kitt’s and thereabouts is no place for an adventure.

Everyone will be discussing plantations, and Mr. Wilberforce’s reforms, and the price of sugar. It will be as completely colorless as politics usually are.” Perhaps Irene lacked an imagination from time to time. The coach door swung open and interrupted Hope’s attempt at a response. The footman stood aside and Mr. Carlbury appeared, his expression open and cheery. “Ladies, here you are at last. I worried the tide might arrive before the lovely half of our party, making it necessary to leave you behind.” He handed his wife out first.

“Oh, do not tease so, Papa.” Irene huffed and held her hand out when her father turned to help her down next. Mr. Carlbury chuckled. “Miss Everly, I would not dream of leaving any of you behind,” he reassured her when it was Hope’s turn to step down from the coach to the cobbled street. “Here now. What do you think, now that you are to board ship at last?” Hope drew in a deep breath, the scents that Irene found distasteful invigorating her. “I think I cannot wait for the voyage to begin.” Her eyes swept up the planks of the boat, the ramp Mrs. Carlbury walked up with the assistance of a man in uniform, all the way up to the top of the white sails.

Taking her father’s arm, Irene covered her nose with her free hand. “Do hurry, Grace. Perhaps below deck we might escape the smell.” Then Albert Carlbury, tall, lank, and with his nose in the air, appeared at Hope’s side. He offered her his arm. “Good morning, Miss Everly. Are you prepared to board? Might I assist you?” Though she would rather attempt the ramp herself than touch the young gentleman’s arm, Hope twisted her lips into a pleasant expression. “Thank you, sir. That is most kind.” Though Grace disliked him as much as Hope did, she would never show it.

Grace always exercised polite behavior. The moment her feet touched the deck of the ship, Hope released his arm and hurried to Irene’s side, where her friend prepared to go below deck. “Come, let us get you out of the air,” Irene said. “And we must do something for your hair.” Hope’s hand flew up to her bonnet. “My hair?” She didn’t have Grace’s ability to keep her thick locks in place with a few pins. Hope’s curls were forever limp, her coiffure often frizzed, and it took all manner of concoctions to keep it in place. “A strong wind would be enough to bring the whole of it tumbling down, and I can testify that such winds are common out at sea.” Irene shook her head in disapproval. “I can see it is already loose.

A lady must always care for her hair, as my mother says, because it is her crowning glory.” Hope had never precisely understood why that would be so. Hair was hair. Everyone had it atop their heads, and it was most useless in vast quantities. She had begged her mother to allow her to cut it short a few years ago, when even the women of the haute ton were attempting to mimic Caesar and Brutus with shorn locks, but her begging and pleading had been firmly denied. They descended into the dimness below deck, following a ship’s boy who had likely been instructed to show them to their quarters. “I am grateful you will be with me. When we made the crossing years ago, I only had Mama and the captain’s wife for companionship, and they insisted I was too young and impressionable to be left alone on deck where any sailor might dare speak to me.” Irene threw a skeptical glance over her shoulder, pursing her lips. “Having a friend accompany me will make the whole journey more enjoyable.

” Though Hope wanted nothing more than to be on deck, she forced a calm response. “I am glad you do not mind my company.” That is what Grace would say. “Thank you for seeking to reassure me as to the safety of the journey, too.” “I enjoy your company, Grace. In fact, though I was pleased that Hope decided to join us initially, I am somewhat relieved that it is you who is with me instead.” They stopped before a door the boy opened for them. “Here you are, misses.” He bowed. “Are you needin’ anythin’ else?” “That will be all for now, thank you.

” Irene dismissed the child with a flick of her hand. How kind of Irene, to try to make the twin she thought was Grace feel like a desired companion. Hope examined their small room, cots stacked upon each other, with interest. “I am grateful to you for being so kind when you expected Hope to join you.” “No, I truly mean it. After thinking on it, I should much rather have you along than your sister.” Irene stepped around Hope to pull her trunk from beneath the lower bed, thankfully missing Hope’s startled frown. “Hope is a very dear friend, of course, but she is often too wild for my tastes. I love that she is bold and daring, but I cannot really enjoy that sort of behavior in large doses. For parties and picnics, for brief outings, Hope is the very best of company.

But to be in close quarters with her for eight weeks, and then keeping up with her upon an island—” Irene broke off suddenly. “Bother. I cannot find my needle and thread. I’ve only ever sewn hair up for balls and such, but if we cannot secure your hair it would do as well to wear it all down for the whole of the crossing.” Irene hurried to the door. “I will return directly. I know where Mama packed hers.” Then she disappeared. Hope pulled in a trembling breath. Irene did not want Hope.

She wanted Grace, and she had admitted it in such a way that made it difficult to imagine telling the truth. What would Hope say without causing embarrassment for both of them? When Irene returned, Hope had not moved, and her friend took up the conversation as though it had never paused. “It is good that I will have you with me, Grace. You will not get me into any scrapes, and I will not feel as though I have to watch you at all times to prevent any catastrophic events. Besides, Albert will be with us and I know he thinks Hope is somewhat unsophisticated. But he likes you.” It took a great deal of control for Hope to not shudder at the idea of Albert Carlbury liking anyone. The man was a tall, thin, ridiculous snob. He took great delight in explaining things to people as though everyone but he must be stupid. In fact, his attendance on the voyage had been the one negative aspect that Hope had attempted to overlook in order to remain excited.

“Mr. Albert Carlbury… likes me?” She hoped she did not sound as disgusted as she felt by the idea. “Oh, yes. In fact, should the two of you get on, I would not be surprised if he proposed to you.” Irene giggled and started working upon Hope’s hair with a needle and thread, pulling braids and twists and curls together as one might attach lace to a hem. For the first time since Hope had begun the deception, she considered admitting to the whole of it, so the Carlburys would send her home and she need never think of their eldest son again. Facing her father and staying at Everly Refuge would be preferable to receiving an offer of marriage from that rather pompous man. But the ocean, a ship, and the unknown beauty of faraway islands had tempted her this far, and they still held an allure for Hope that she did not fully understand herself. Perhaps she could put him off with less-than-perfect manners, or make it most obvious she had no intention of allowing any romantic sort of pursuit. Someday, Hope would marry, but it would not be to a man who thought it his duty in life to lecture her upon things which she had long since understood.

When she married, whether it was in her present twenty-fourth year or when she was a white-haired woman of eighty, the man she chose as husband would be the other half of her soul. Her sister would call Hope dramatic, but Grace had fallen in love with a man she had known since birth. Oh, Hope had noticed the way Grace stared at their friend Jacob Barnes. It had frustrated and amused her that Grace would never have the courage to say anything about it to Jacob. Out of respect for them both, Hope never breathed a word of her deductions to either of them. But really, Grace’s predicament proved to Hope that her romantic ambitions were best. Hope wanted to fall deeply and passionately in love with a man who had no comparison. He and she would meet, perhaps in a crowded ballroom or on a ride through the countryside, and they would know with the surety of a thunderbolt they were meant to be together. In the meantime, she would have her adventure on the sea and shores of the West Indies. Nothing, not Irene’s lackluster view of adventure or her brother’s presumptuous self, would stand in her way.

Hope meant to enjoy every moment of the journey before her. Even if she had to pretend to be Grace to do so.

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