"A Life of Duty: Lady Josephine Silverthorne"
by Dutch

The Scene: A Well-appointed drawing room in London.

A beautiful young woman with auburn hair sat quietly embroidering a pillow cover. Her dress of dove grey displayed the imminent end of a period of mourning. A frantic knocking was heard at the exterior door, and the woman looked up with a faintly frightened expression. She stood and walked towards the door, but stopped just short of it as hurried footsteps were heard in the hall. There was a light tap on the door just before it was opened by the butler.

"Yes, Edwards, what is it?" the woman asked.

"A letter for you, my lady." Edwards answered as he passed the papers to her.

A quick glance at the address showed Archie Kennedy's handwriting, and the woman gave a small sigh before breaking the seal. Edwards slowly exited the room, but remained in the hall. A quick glance revealed the note to be tear-stained and in sections the ink had blurred.

"My dearest love,

I hardly know how to begin. I've told you about my best friend aboard ship, Horatio. I have some bad news - nothing is wrong with me, but it concerns Horatio. He was killed in a raid in France. I was on the mission, and completed it. I didn't know until after we were safely back aboard.

Please, my love, come join me in Haslemere. I am staying at a tavern called "The Lion's Heart" and I will arrange for a room for you.

Your loving fiancé,

For a moment the woman sat frozen before calling for her carriage and servants. She hurried to her chamber to begin frantic packing.

"My lady," Edwards said from the doorway, "the carriage will be ready in half an hour, but what is wrong? How can we help?"

"Edwards, you and Anna will accompany me." the woman looked down again murmuring, "There will be a scandal because my mourning hasn't finished for my parents, but Archie needs me."

"Lady Josephine..." Edwards started, aware she was trying to justify to herself these frantic preparations.

"Mr. Kennedy needs me, Edwards, I must go to him." Josephine paused, looked at Edwards and smiled slightly, "You all take such good care of me, and now you must help me take care of your future master."

Edwards nodded and bowed before leaving to give Anna notice she was to attend her mistress. After his exit, Lady Josephine opened a box on her dressing table and removed a packet of letters - all from Archie. For a moment, she held them to her heart before placing them in her bag. With the hurried preparations competed, she went out to her carriage, followed closely by Edwards and Anna. With a snap of the whip, they were off.

With Anna looking out the window to give her mistress some privacy, Lady Josephine took out the packet of letters. One by one she opened, glanced at, and arranged them in chronological order. With a deep sigh, she began to re-read them carefully.

"Dearest Josephine,

Today I greeted a new midshipman. His name is Horatio Hornblower. I think he feels he's been thrust into Hell. Oh, my apologies for my language, my lady.

He doesn't know anything about seamanship, and got seasick in the Mess. Brings new meaning to that term, doesn't it, my love? Anyway, he's about my age, and perhaps he'll become a friend.

I'll write more to you later. However, before I forget, thank you for the book. I will find the time to read it soon.

Archie Kennedy"

Lady Josephine looked up from reading the note with a bemused smile crossing her face. Her thoughts flitted back to that time. Their love was so new then, and Archie hid his uncertainty with a flippancy of tone. She knew he was hiding other things too, she could see it when they were together. She remembered how she'd replied to this note. How much she'd hoped he and Horatio would become fast friends, and how she'd struggled over selecting a book to send him before finally deciding on Shakespeare's Henry the Fifth - the last play they'd seen together before he had to report to the Justinian .

After carefully re-folding that note, Josephine picked up the next one. Before reading it, she remembered how concerned she'd been during that time, and the uncertainty they had all experienced. Steeling herself, she began to read.

"My dearest Josephine,

I have wonderful news! I'm being transferred to the frigate
Indefatigable, under command of Sir Edward Pellew, along with Horatio, Mr. Hether, and Mr. Cleveland.

However, my love, I have some bad news, too. Don't worry, I am fine. Do you remember Midshipman Clayton? He was killed fighting a duel. Horatio was supposed to fight, but Clayton took his place. I know you must be wondering who the duel was against, but that isn't important."

Josephine looked up from the note, and realized Archie had never told her who that duel had been with, and that she'd intended to ask Horatio when at last they met. After a quick shake of her head, she looked back at the note.

"I'm not sure how much I'll be able to write now that we are most likely going to be at war, but I will as often as I can.

You will wait for me, won't you, my love?

Archie Kennedy"

After hearing a small cry from her mistress, Anna looked up. Lady Josephine was biting her lip to prevent any further sounds, and to try to quell its trembling.

"Are you alright, mum?" Anna asked.

"Yes, I'm fine." Lady Josephine quickly folded the note, but did not put it away. She looked out the window and shifted uncomfortably.

"Mum, why don't we rest a bit? Surely a few moments wouldn't hurt." Anna asked, with her brow furrowed with concern.

"Anna, we must get there. I will rest then." Lady Josephine said. With a small sigh, she looked back down at the note. "Yes, my love, I will, and have, waited for you." she murmured.

Anna looked at her, realized her mistress was thinking out loud, and quickly looked back out the window. Lady Josephine quietly picked up the next note. She'd been so happy to hear from him, had in fact received two notes at once. She smiled as she saw the flourish with which the first had been written.

"My love,

We've seen our first battle! We won the day, of course, there was never any real question, but we did win. I was part of the boarding, please don't worry about me, my love, I was successful too!

I wish you could have been here to see me. Are you proud of me?

Your loving,

I wish he would have written more, Lady Josephine thought, there is so much he didn't say. She remembered how her heart had nearly stopped with terror as she'd read the first line, and how proud she was of him and his success. She'd called on his parents after receipt of that note, told them of his triumph, and received a cool reception. She'd been furious at their lack of reaction, but had hidden it from all but his brothers. They'd mocked Archie's achievement, and her pride in him.

Picking up the next note, she remembered how his enthusiasm had dimmed, and jealousy had appeared.

"My love,

I don't have much time to write, but we've taken some prize ships, and so letters are being taken back home.

Horatio has been given his first command. I'm happy for him, however, I can't help but feel that I've been passed over. I've been in the service longer than he has, and I haven't been given a command. Do you think less of me now?

I am well and relatively happy. I think of you often. Please write to me soon.

Your loving,

Lady Josephine remembered she'd written him immediately. A missive full of love, support, and encouragement, but that the next thing she'd heard, he was presumed dead. Those dark days as she waited impatiently for a note from him, and instead received that cold note from his parents. With trembling fingers, she held that note up to the light.

"Lady Josephine,

We regret to inform you of the news we received from the Admiralty. Our son is most likely dead, and you are released from your engagement to him. He was part of a boarding party, he disgraced himself, and was left in French waters to die. Please call on us, and we will make other arrangements for your alliance with our family.

Lady Kennedy"

Josephine's eyes filled with tears at the callousness of that note. She'd been furious, and had petulantly refused to call on Lady Kennedy. She'd sent a reply that before she could consider herself released from her engagement, confirmation would need to be received from the Admiralty that Archie was indeed dead. She'd locked herself into her room, and admitted no one but her maid. She still felt herself filling with anger at the phrase "he disgraced himself," and refused to believe he could. She was convinced that something had happened that she hadn't ever been told, and she was determined Archie would eventually tell her what really occurred that night.

In an attempt to stifle the flow of anger, she pulled out the next note. It had been received years later. She'd collapsed when she'd seen the handwriting on the address, and had been unable to open the note for days. She was convinced someone was playing a macabre joke, or that this letter had just been found so that was why it took so long to get to her. Regardless, she had decided he was dead, and dead men do not write letters. Her mother finally convinced her to read it, and she remembered how that black cloud of grief had lifted. With a slight smile, she began to read.

"My dear Lady Josephine,

I do not know if I have the right to write to you, but I had to let you know I am alive. I have been imprisoned, first in France and then in Spain. I kept trying to escape, to get back to my duty, and to get back to you.

Are you my sister now? My parents want your lands and your title, I'm sure they tried to marry you to one of my brothers. I hardly dare to ask.

I know you cared about me, did you ever think of me during the time I was gone? Please do not feel an obligation to write back, I know it has been too long, and I long since gave up hope you would wait for me. I hope you did not feel obligated to, despite your vows to me so long ago.

I'm sure I have no right to tell you this, but please let me say it anyway. You were the bright spot of hope. I held onto your image, and used it to get myself through. I did nearly die, but Horatio saved me. He reminded me that you existed, even though he has never met you nor have I ever told him about you.

I'm sorry, my love, I never wanted to hurt you, and this letter probably is. Can you forgive me? After our rescue, I found the small packet of your letters. I kept all of them. Unless you want me to, I will not try to see you, or write to you again.

I trust this note finds you well and happy. I will always keep you in my heart.

Your loving,
Archie Kennedy"

Anna looked at her mistress sitting frozen with tears gliding down her cheeks. Wordlessly, she reached out for Lady Josephine's hand.

"Mum, these letters are so painful for you. Please, let us stop and rest if only for a few moments. I know we need to get to Mr. Kennedy, but you will not be of any use to him exhausted."

"Thank you, Anna, but we must keep going. I am fine." Lady Josephine's voice was filled with steady determination. Without another word, she looked back down at the letter. She'd been stunned at the content, and the fact that Archie was still alive. After a few days, she'd written back to him. With the clarity which comes from shock, she remembered every word.

"My darling Archie,

I am well and happy now that I know you are safe. Though I'd despaired of ever hearing from you again, I have refused to marry until the Admiralty confirmed your death. Your family and mine have pressured me to accept one of your brothers, but I have not. You have every right to re-establish your claim on my affections for they never diminished.

I wish none of this had happened, but please tell me more. I cannot bear the thought of you enduring all this torment alone. Please let me help. You take so much on yourself, and I worry about you.

When will you be home, my love? I can hardly wait to see you.

Ever yours,

She had not heard from him for months after sending him that letter. Later, she heard he had voluntarily gone back to prison, so he'd been unable to write back. He'd sent a quick note to his parents when they were in England, but he'd not been able to see her. The next note she received was again full of pain. The pain of his friend's grief, and his inability to penetrate it.

"My darling,

Why does it always seem that I write you when something bad has happened? I don't know what to do, will you help me?
We just returned from an ill-fated and ill-conceived mission in France. I did not distinguish myself in battle, but I did my best not to disgrace myself either. Oh, my love, Horatio has been injured as a result of this mission, not physically, but emotionally. He fell in love with a local girl, and she was killed, in his arms. There was nothing I could do to prevent it.

Perhaps I should start at the beginning. The mission took place in a village called Muzillac. We were attempting to place King Louis on the throne, but the Royalist cause did not have the following that was expected. We were under the command of the Marquis de Muzillac with a squadron from the Army under the command of Major Edrington, the Earl of Edrington. Our part of the mission was to blow up a bridge to prevent the Republican's artillery from crossing the river. That was the only portion of the mission which was successful.

Horatio spent a great deal of time in the village and left me in command at the bridge. When the Republican's attacked, Horatio was in the village. When he realized he had to escape, he decided to take the girl with him. She was apparently injured somewhere along the way, so they were slowed down. We had already lit the fuse to blow up the bridge. We thought he might be dead, and we couldn't wait any longer. A sniper shot her in the back. She was killed, and Horatio froze. I couldn't leave him there to die, so I ran across and brought him back.

Did I do the right thing, my love? He is so withdrawn now in his grief, and I don't know how to help him. Should I have left him there? Would I have wanted to live if the same thing had happened to you?

I can hardly wait 'til we next see each other, my love. Perhaps I can introduce you to Horatio, and you will be able to find a way to get through to him.

Your loving,

That meeting had never taken place, and now Horatio is dead. Josephine remembered being unable to write any words of comfort. She also knew that Archie had distinguished himself in that battle, despite his claims to the contrary. She had not received another message from Archie until the one calling her to him. For a long time, she sat lost in her thoughts and memories. She was startled out of her reverie by the carriage stopping. Edwards opened the carriage door.

"We are here, my lady."
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