An Unwilling Alliance – Chapter One
It was growing late. The long summer evenings confused time as always, but the shadows were beginning to fall and the sun was sinking below the horizon as Roseen Crellin got to her feet from the springy heather of the hillside and turned her face reluctantly towards home.
She had walked out after dinner, neatly dodging her aunt who would have had questions about where she was going and why and whether she had completed her sewing or her prayers or her allotted time sitting reading to her elderly and very deaf grandmother. Up on the hillside at the very edge of her father’s lands she had sat, her arms wrapped around her knees and her dark hair blowing loose in the fresh evening breeze and watched the packet sail out towards Whitehaven, blinking back the tears she was too proud to shed in front of her family, who would have called them wasted.
She was also too proud to shed them in front of the man for whom she cried. He was young, an English lieutenant in the Manx regiment of fencibles, eight months on the island and a man she had danced with and flirted with, and kissed, stretched out on the soft grass of the foothills above Castletown, always conscious of his eyes on the time and the path upwards in case her father or his commanding officer should pass by and catch him.
“I love you, Rose. You know I do. But your father has said no, and I need to respect his wishes. He wants what is best for you and a penniless officer on his way to war is not part of his plan for you.”
“His plan for me is to find a man with money and property and a place in local society,” Roseen had said, angry and mutinous. “And I want none of those things. He’ll marry me to some elderly fool with a parcel of land and a drunkard’s nose for the pleasure of seeing me with a man of consequence. As though consequence on this island matters a damn!”
Her language had upset him and she had moderated it for his sake, although growing up half wild after her mother’s death, Roseen had spent more time with the grooms and the farmhands than with her own kind. She had resisted the rounds of tea parties and dancing lessons and church picnics, preferring to spend her time riding the hills and fishing with the boys who had been her childhood friends.
Lieutenant Edward Barton had changed that, turning her thoughts for the first time to the arrangement of her hair and the colour of her gown and making her wish that she had spent more time learning the rules of polite society since it was very obvious to her that for all his lack of money he came from a good English family and was used to the ways of the gentry.
Roseen’s family were gentry of a kind, solid Manx landowners with generations of farming behind them. Her father had married well, a cousin of the English nobility, and she had been raised as a lady until her mother’s death when she was twelve. Since then she had been allowed to run wild, her father more interested in his lands and his shipping business and the accumulation of money which he would pass on in time to his solid and practical son, Finlo. She had been happy with her lot until Mr Barton’s curly brown hair and gentle green eyes had made her wish that she had paid more attention to her lessons.
He had accepted the transfer to a regiment of light infantry with delight, trying hard to conceal his happiness from her as he said his goodbye. Roseen had gritted her teeth and squared her slightly determined jaw and managed not to sob at his leaving.
“I’ll never forget you, Rose,” he had whispered, kissing her passionately in the darkness of the castle grounds while the fiddlers played dance tunes in the hall above. “I wish to God it had been different.”
“You could speak to my father again.”
“I’ve spoken twice already, and he has said no. And I couldn’t marry now anyway without the permission of my new commanding officer.”
“Will you write to me?”
“It wouldn’t be right. You need to forget about me. I’ll always love you, darling. But this was never meant to be.”
Roseen paused at the crest of the hill and looked back once more. Across the silver mirror of the sea, the packet boat looked small and fragile, almost like a child’s toy, its sails outlined against the darkening sky. It had sailed late for some reason and she had sat up on the hillside and cried at its leaving, knowing that it was taking Edward from her, probably forever. With the sun dropping and the breeze picking up, she was cold suddenly and ready to go home.
The walk back to her father’s big grey stone house situated on the hillside overlooking Castletown and Derbyhaven took half an hour or so and by the time she arrived back in the yard at the back of the house the lanterns had been lit and the stablehands were about their evening work feeding and bedding down the horses. Roseen crossed the yard, exchanging greetings with one or two of the lads and approached the side door which led in through the kitchens and service area. There was more activity than she would have expected and she paused at the door to the big, stone-flagged kitchen to watch the cook, Mrs Gawne, putting bread into the oven.
“What’s going on, Jem?”
The bootboy turned and grinned at her. “Where the devil have you been, Miss Roseen? Himself has been yelling for you an hour past. He has a guest, come up from the ship that’s docked over at Derbyhaven and he’s not happy that you’re out this late. Best get yourself cleaned up and pretty.”
Roseen shrugged. She was too unhappy to feel more than a faint curiosity about the identity of her father’s guest. A merchant or trader, she imagined, his ship docked for a week or so to load or unload goods. It happened often enough and she had no interest in some elderly business associate of her father’s. She made her way along the dark passage which separated the service area of the house from the main hallway and emerged into bright lamplight, blinking slightly, and found herself face to face with a man in naval uniform who had just emerged from the parlour.
Roseen stopped. The stranger had paused, looking at her from steady grey eyes. He was tall and broad shouldered with brown hair worn long and tied back neatly from a distinctive face with well marked cheekbones, a decided nose and a humorous mouth. She guessed him to be around thirty, younger than most of her father’s guests.
The stranger bowed. “Miss Crellin, I’m guessing. I beg your pardon, we’ve not been introduced but since I’m in your house let me rectify that. Captain Hugh Kelly, at your service.”
Fairly caught, Roseen dropped a curtsey. “I’m happy to meet you, sir. Your pardon, I should make myself presentable.”
She moved forward and was surprised by his soft laugh. “Not on my account, lass, I’m enjoying the view very much as it is.”
Roseen blushed scarlet. She was very aware of her dark wavy hair falling about her shoulders and the probability of grass stains on her skirts. Murmuring an apology she slid past the captain and up the stairs to her room.
She found her maid, Karran, awaiting her with her second best gown and a mountain of hairpins. “Miss, where have you been? The master has been well cross with you, he’s ordered a late supper for his visitor and wants you to dress and join them. Quickly now, let’s get you changed or he’ll be shouting the house down.”
Roseen bit her tongue on her enquiries and submitted resentfully to being washed and combed and pulled into stays and petticoats and a high waisted gown in yellow silk which her aunt had ordered from Manchester. Ready at last she descended into the hallway amidst candles and oil lamps and found her father dressed in his best coming forward to lead her into the dining room.
“Captain Kelly – my daughter, Roseen. Child, make your curtsey.”
Kelly was smiling. “Miss Crellin has already done so earlier, sir, I ran into her in the hallway. Miss Crellin, I am charmed.”
He bowed over her hand and Roseen smiled reservedly and sat down. She was not hungry, having dined earlier but it was clear that the meal was intended for the captain and he ate well and seemed pleased with all. The conversation moved freely over matters of sailing and trade and local affairs and Roseen picked at her food and listened until their guest turned to her.
“You were out walking earlier. It was a fine afternoon.”
“It was, sir.”
“Where did you walk?”
“Up to the western wall, it’s sheltered up there with the trees. I was watching the packet go out.”
Kelly smiled. “I used to do that as a lad. I would run up to the hills and watch the ships sail out when I was supposed to be learning my letters and doing my chores.”
“You’re local,” Roseen said. She had known it from his accent.
“Over by South Barrule, the old Cretney estate. My father had a smallholding but lost it in bad times. I joined the navy just after he died, I was a lad of sixteen.”
Roseen studied him. Already she was suspicious of her father’s sudden interest in a man he did not know and she was resisting her own interest in Hugh Kelly. With thoughts of Edward still piercing her heart she had no time for a prosperous sea captain. At the same time she was curious.
“You’ve done well.”
He smiled, a warm smile inviting her to share his enjoyment. “I have. I’ve been lucky. Fought in a few major actions and caught the eye of one or two people. It’s why I’m here. I’m awaiting a refit of my own ship, and I’ve taken the opportunity to visit my new home.”
“I’ve bought the old Cretney estate.”
Roseen lifted her eyebrows. “All of it?”
“I’ve been lucky with prize money, Miss Crellin.”
“You must have been, Captain, that’s a big estate. Good lands. I was friendly with Josh Cretney before he died. It was a grief to his father.”
“It must have been. I was in correspondence with Mr Quilliam in Castletown, looking for property to buy for a year or more. He’s a cousin of my mother’s. He told me what happened. I understand that the heiress lives in England.”
“Yes, a cousin, she married and has no interest in coming back to the island. I’m glad a Manxman has bought it although I’m guessing you won’t be living there.”
Kelly smiled. “Not for long. There’s a war on and I’ve just been given a new command, I can’t settle for a while yet. But I’ll be here for a month or two. I’ve appointed an agent to manage the estate for me, a lad by the name of Isaac Moore, a friend of mine from boyhood. When the war is over I look forward to coming home. Raising a family.”
“Are you married?”
“Not yet, Miss Crellin. I’d like to be.”
Roseen felt a lurch in her stomach. She glanced briefly at her father and looked away, understanding. She had known for some time that he was looking about him, weighing options and opportunities. Her elder brother had been married in the winter and his wife, a good solid local girl, was already big with child, away at her mother’s house now in preparation for the birth. Roseen, wrapped up in her love affair with Lieutenant Barton, had given little thought to her own marriage but she knew that for her father it was a very real problem to be solved. She wondered suddenly if Edward’s tentative application for her hand in marriage, swiftly rejected, had set Josiah Crellin on a new course.
Captain Kelly, having stated his aim, had turned the conversation neatly to the war and some of the political machinations in London. As he talked, Roseen took the opportunity to study him covertly, seeing him suddenly through new eyes. He was, she supposed, an attractive enough man, not traditionally handsome but distinctive enough to please most women. There was something very decided about his manner which gave the impression of a man of definite opinions although his manners were good and he deferred to his host very civilly. She wondered how old he was.
Towards the end of the meal her father turned back to her. “Captain Kelly is staying with us for a week or two, Roseen,” he said. “The house up at Ballabrendon has been under covers for a year or more and it will need some work to be habitable.”
“You’re very welcome, Captain,” Roseen said as pleasantly as she could. She was irritated by her father’s obvious tactics. She was also faintly annoyed that Captain Kelly was clearly willing to go along with them. She had not given herself an opportunity yet, to think about what she would do if her father proposed a marriage she did not like. Her thoughts had all been of Edward, and in the misery of his departure and the probability that she would never see him again she had given little thought to her own future. But she was twenty-one and she knew that in her father’s eyes it was more than time a husband was found for her.
It was a pity that his choice seemed to have fallen upon Kelly. Roseen had no intention of being pushed into a match with a man she barely knew and would have no time to know if he was only staying on the island for a short while. All the same, Captain Kelly was without doubt the most interesting guest that her father had invited to stay and she would have liked the opportunity to talk to him and question him about his world. Roseen had only left the island twice, for visits to her aunt in Manchester, but she was fascinated by the difference to her tiny island. She was not sure that she would like to live in England with its bustling, noisy cities and what seemed to her vast distances. But she was curious and would have liked to be able to talk freely to a Manxman like Kelly who had seen so much of the world, without being concerned that he would see it as encouragement of his suit.
He rose early from the table, citing tiredness after his journey and her father escorted him to his room with a candle and civil goodnights. Roseen was unwillingly impressed with Kelly’s manners and curtseyed politely. He came forward with a smile and took her hand. It was done so neatly that she could not draw back without snatching her hand away and appearing rude. The captain raised it to his lips and then released her, smiling.
“It’s been a pleasure, Miss Crellin. I spend too long at sea with purely masculine company, it’s a joy to spend an evening in company with a pretty girl.”
Roseen smiled, managing not to grit her teeth. “Thank you, Captain. I must presume that as long as I sit quietly and look pretty you have nothing more to ask of me.”
She heard a sharp intake of breath from her father. To her immense surprise Captain Kelly laughed aloud.
“Oh lord, I did ask for that, didn’t I?” he said, and she was unexpectedly charmed. “I am sorry, Miss Crellin, I told you I was out of practice, but that’s no excuse since it’s very clear to me already that there is a lot more to you than a pretty face. I will try to redeem myself, I promise you. Do you ride?”
Roseen nodded. Kelly looked at her father. “If your father has no objection, would you ride with me tomorrow? I’m going up to the house to meet with Moore to discuss what needs to be done and to look over some stock with him. Some company would be good.”
Roseen was caught and she knew it. Her father was nodding his approval and she could come up with no reason to say no which would be believable. She nodded mutely and the captain smiled, bid her goodnight, and left the room with her father. Roseen watched as the two maids came to clear the table of the remains of their meal and wished she could throw something. She did not object in principle to a day in the company of Captain Kelly. She enjoyed riding and the weather was promising to stay fine. But she was very aware that appearing beside him while he was organising his house and estate was going to suggest something rather more than a casual acquaintance. She made her way to her room thoughtfully. As exasperated as she was, she had a reluctant admiration for Captain Kelly’s strategy. She wondered what her father had said to him and if he knew anything about the rejected suit of Lieutenant Edward Barton.
The room allocated to Captain Hugh Kelly was undoubtedly the best guest room. Hugh closed the door on his attentive host with some relief and surveyed the room appreciatively. It was large and well furnished with some nice pieces in solid oak. He particularly liked the look of the four poster bed with heavy damask curtains since the windows in Mr Crellin’s elegant house seemed to be as ill-fitting as in most other Manx houses against the ever-present wind, and although the day had been warm there was a chill to the room. Hugh was accustomed to long nights soaked to the skin and fighting against a raging storm at sea, but he was a man who saw no particular reason to be uncomfortable when he did not need to and he was looking forward to a restful sleep.
His luggage had been unpacked by one of Crellin’s servants and he undressed and slid into bed, drawing the curtains on the side of the draughty window and lay back thinking about the evening. It had been pleasant enough although Crellin’s very obvious enthusiasm for a potential match with his daughter had made Hugh, who had a lively sense of humour, want to laugh aloud at times.
He was not so sure that the girl herself shared her father’s enthusiasm for the idea, which might prove to be a pity because she was prettier than Hugh had expected. He had not met Crellin before today although he had exchanged several letters with him and he was not at all averse to the idea of a marriage with the daughter of a prominent local merchant and a member of the House of Keys, the Manx parliament.
Hugh shifted against the pillows. He spent much of his time sleeping in cramped bunks and a bed with enough room for a man of his inches to stretch out was a luxury. A decent bed for the master bedroom at Ballabrendon was high on the list of purchases he intended to make. He wondered if, with only a few short months of furlough and a good deal to do in the time, he would manage to persuade the prickly daughter of Mr Josiah Crellin to share it with him. He was not sanguine about his chances but the idea of it definitely brought a smile to his face. He had arrived back on his island home after almost fifteen years absent at sea with the money to purchase a house and land and a woman to occupy them.
Hugh was realistic about his prospects and he knew that they were good; considerably better than when he had left the island on a British frigate at the age of sixteen, his father dead in a drunken stupor on Castletown quay and the tenant farm on which he had been raised gone, to the landlord who had evicted him. Hugh could hardly blame the man. Cretney had watched the land go to rack and ruin as his tenant drank himself senseless after the death of his wife, and he had at least taken the trouble to offer the man’s young son work on his own estate.
Hugh had refused with the stubborn pride of a grieving boy and had chosen the navy instead. He was an excellent sailor, having been going out with the fishing fleets since he was very young as a way of supplementing his father’s dwindling income. He had found that the life suited him very well, had enjoyed the comradeship and proved himself worthy of an officer’s commission. At twenty-nine, in command of a frigate, he had fought under Moore against the Spanish in the action at Cape Santa Maria and was in command of the same vessel late the following year at Trafalgar. His new command was to be a larger ship, a French vessel captured just after Trafalgar and currently being refitted in the dockyards at Yarmouth.
It had seemed the right time to be thinking of his future and with several months to spare and an impressive bank account due to prize money and intelligent investments, he had written to his mother’s cousin who was an advocate in Castletown asking him to look about for a suitable estate. He had not expected to get such a quick reply and he was slightly shocked to discover that the Cretney estate, where he had spent his boyhood, was vacant and for sale with the drowning of the only son which probably brought on the seizure which had killed the elderly landowner.
It had been an easy decision. The heiress was married and in England and had no wish for a Manx estate and the house and lands were good although probably in need of some work. Hugh had written back telling Quilliam to close the deal and had written to Isaac Moore, his boyhood friend who was currently employed as a clerk in a shipping firm, asking if he would act as land agent and help him bring the property into order.
He had mentioned, casually to Quilliam his hope of someday being able to marry and raise a family. Money, a looming problem of his childhood, was unlikely to be a barrier. He had done very well out of the navy, a combination of very good luck at being present and active during a number of very lucrative actions and of good management of the prize money he had received.
Nothing had come, as yet, of the capture of the Spanish treasure ships at Cape Santa Maria. Under normal terms, ships captured at sea were the property of their captors, who received the full value of the ships and cargo in prize money. However, since officially Britain and Spain had not been at war at the time of the action, the Admiralty Court ruled that the three ships were the possession of the Admiralty and that all revenue would revert to them. The four Spanish ships had sailed from the new world laden with silver and gold coin, gold ingots, sacks of wool, bars of tin, pigs of copper, seal skins and oil. A proportion of that had gone down with the Mercedes, the one ship to have been sunk but the remaining ships and cargo had been worth a small fortune. The lawyers would take a proportion of it, Hugh knew, since they were currently arguing his case along with the other officers and men who had fought the action, but he was fairly sure that a share of some kind would eventually come his way and he could afford to be patient.
Quilliam was very obviously delighted with his cousin’s unexpected prosperity and had suggested a number of local investments. Hugh had agreed to some cautious dabbling in the local shipping and merchant trades with firm instructions to stay away from the slave trade. Slavery was over, with the act of abolition about to be passed, but Hugh was under no illusions that there would be attempts by some merchantmen to find ways around the act. He wanted no part of it, partly because he had no need of illegal ventures and partly because he had twice been obliged to board a slaver, and the sights and smells he had encountered would remain with him all his life.
He had received an enthusiastic response to his investment from Mr Josiah Crellin who had written to him welcoming him to his Board and inviting him to be his guest for a few weeks on his arrival on Mann. Mr Crellin had pointed out that none of them knew the condition of the big house up at Ballabrendon which had been empty for more than two years now, and while it was being set to rights, Captain Kelly might be more comfortable in his house in Malew, just outside Castletown.
Captain Kelly, smelling a rat, had written to his cousin and had received a reply just before setting out on the first leg of his journey home. Mr Crellin had two children, a son now married and soon to become a father, and a daughter of twenty-one, an heiress in her own right and a girl in need of a husband. Mr Quilliam wrote in cautious approval of the match in principle. Mr Crellin was an important man in Manx society, owned two prosperous estates and ran a very successful shipping firm with no known slaving connections. The girl was young and healthy and Mr Quilliam knew nothing against her other than that she was rumoured to be something of a tomboy when she was younger.
Hugh had shrugged his shoulders and written a pleasant letter accepting Mr Crellin’s kind invitation. It committed him to nothing and if he and Miss Crellin found they had no liking for one another there was no need to take the matter any further. He wanted to be married but he was in no particular hurry and although he did not require romance as part of the contract he did require compatibility and he was very willing to wait until the right female presented herself.
Hugh thought again about the girl he had met at supper. At twenty-one she was probably younger than he would have liked, almost ten years his junior and presumably as sheltered as most girls who had spent their life on the island. That presented no problem; he wanted, when his days in the navy were done, to come home to Mann and settle on the island he loved. He had travelled all over the world and he was glad of his wandering life which had shown him so much and earned him a respectable fortune, but nowhere else gave him the sense of security and belonging that he felt coming in to Derbyhaven on the packet and seeing the mellow stone of Castle Rushen rising up against a steel grey sky with fresh white clouds scudding ahead of a fierce breeze.
He had thought to look for a slightly older bride, possibly even a young widow, a woman young enough to give him children but old enough to be sensible. If he decided to marry now, before returning to sea, he had no way of knowing when he would next be able to return home and the woman he married needed to understand that certainly while the war was still going on, he would put his duty and his career first. He wondered if Crellin’s young daughter would be able to understand his need for stability and a wife he could trust.
On the other hand she was very attractive with the dark hair and eyes that he always associated with his own people and a warm olive skin which was almost Mediterranean. He liked the way she held herself, with a confidence which seemed unusual in a young girl, and he liked her voice, touched with the Manx accent of his childhood. She was not traditionally beautiful; her face was slightly pointed and there was a determined cast to her jawline which set her apart from the round-faced prettiness of so many young women. She was tall and looked strong and watching her covertly through the candlelight at supper, Hugh had been conscious of an unexpected stirring of desire which had not been part of his plans at all.
Hugh smiled at the thought, turning over and settling himself to sleep. He was old enough and practical enough to select a bride for reasons other than a pair of dark eyes and an excellent figure. But it did not stop him, as he drifted off, from imagining how Roseen Crellin would look naked in the candlelight.
An Unwilling Alliance was published on Amazon on 30th April 2018 on kindle and in paperback.