A/N: So… I have returned with revised chapters! (Sort of) I might have made a bad move in making Justine a more prominent character, but we'll see…
For new readers, this is a work of fiction (obviously). Excuse my errors in Regency and Naval decorum as I'm not an expert in these things, though I do try my best to do my research. Comments and criticisms are always welcome. I know there are always spots of improvement. And with that said, let the story commence.
-Mr. & Mrs. Ellison-
Miss Jeanine Lenore Ellison was born under uneventful circumstances one fine day in June. Her father, John Ellison, was outside on the house's white-washed veranda, reading the morning periodical. He flipped the pages lazily, sniffing on occasion as golden flecks of pollen irritated his nose. There was the spontaneous sneeze now and then, followed by a generous wiping with a handkerchief. And despite the constant effects of the sunny, flowery weather on his health, Mr. John Ellison contended that such a morning began as any other.
His wife, Justine, was simply transferring a vase of fresh roses from one side of her bedroom to the other the minute her daughter chose to enter the world. The glass vase slipped from her fingers and shattered on the floor as her hands flew to hold her swollen womb. A maid observed Mrs. Ellison gasp and fall most unceremoniously over the scattered shards. The call for help was immediate, and John detected the scream just as instantly. He sprinted indoors to the bedroom and found his wife being helped into their bed.
Before he could utter his first exclamation of panic, the maid turned to him and cried, "The midwife, sir! The midwife!"
John looked from the maid to his wife, his eyes waiting for a confirmation. Justine nodded subtly, smiling for encouragement despite the sweat collecting on her brow. He gulped, nodded repeatedly as he exited the room, and after a muttered, "Lord, help me," he hurried to the stables, mounted his swiftest stallion, and galloped down to the inner heart of Dover.
John Ellison was a young man of twenty and husband for only a month when his wife of the same age announced that she was with child. They had been very fortunate in their settlement as a family. He, the second son of an admiral of His Majesty's Royal Navy, inherited his uncle's successful mercantile business at eighteen. His uncle had had no sons of his own and all of his daughters' husbands had no interest in trade. While John believed himself condemned for a life in the army, navy, or worse, law (for he knew, as his father's second son, he would be incapable of inheriting anything from him), he changed his educational path to accommodate his uncle's investments. Before he knew it, he was a businessman and ensured economic stability, even at his young age. Shortly after his marriage to Justine, he had even purchased an impressive abode in the outskirts of Dover, complete with a fine garden, a full stable, and a few acres of land. The house itself was demurely regal, and John, upon surveying it for the first time, admitted to his wife that he got lost on several instances during his tour.
Justine, while not adverse to opulence, preferred simplicity. She was the youngest daughter of a devoted and outspoken captain of the navy, and she had lived in the countryside for most of her life. Her father had a tolerable commission and supported his family of eight with little difficulty; but luxuries were rare and all members of the household helped in the maintenance of the land. Although they had servants, Justine and her brothers and sisters worked alongside them on numerous occasions. The only reason why she ever crossed John Ellison's path was because their fathers were old comrades, both of them having served His Majesty in previous British war engagements. By chance, on a visit to London, the two shipmates met again, and with Justine in attendance with her father and John in attendance with his, the young, nervous people were introduced.
It was not love at first sight, for Justine found John uncommonly soft-spoken for so well-bred a man, and John found her to be too outspoken for so plain a woman. However, during a ball at Bath, Justine was obliged to dance with John—she, being the only woman in the room without a partner, and he, the only man. At that time, John had been propositioned by Justine's very own father to join the Service (slow as it was), for it promised honor and renown to any young man who served his country. He had mentioned it to her (thinking she would be impressed), and she said, quite flatly, "I believe the army would be better suited for a man of your disposition."
John was prompted to ask why.
"I think you would die of seasickness before you even saw your first battle."
Justine noted the red that grew on John's face. She smiled and turned her head so he would not see how pleased she was.
"I have been on ships before," John asserted, "and I have weathered voyages quite well. Why, when I last sailed to France, I had my sea-legs after the first day of sailing."
She made no gesture to reply, and so he continued:
"And I will have you know, Miss Justine, that I have worked on my uncle's merchant ships several times, and I am becoming quite the accomplished sailor."
"I should like to see your uncle's vessels, sir," she said. She purposefully avoided agreeing that he was capable of a life at sea.
John was slightly taken aback by her request. He knew it would be a perfect opportunity to prove himself to her, but he wasn't quite sure he could even prove himself to, well, himself.
"His company is established in Dover." He said it to dissuade her. Bath was a considerable distance from Dover, and he was also hinting that her father may not allow the trip.
"It has been a while since I have been there," she smiled. "Dover is quite famous for its beautiful white cliffs, is it not, Mr. Ellison?"
John consented that yes, the cliffs were quite beautiful.
"Whenever my father took us there, we would ride horses along Dover beach." She glanced away, seemingly reminiscent.
John was tempted to stare at her quizzically, but avoided the motion.
"Perhaps I may ride with you should you come to Dover," he suggested instead.
"That would be very kind of you, Mr. Ellison. I shall look forward to your company."
The dance ended. Justine presented the request to her father, who then announced it to John's own father, who then walked up to John, clapped him on the shoulders and said, "I daresay, John, you may be a bit too eager. Miss Justine Travers, I hear, is already promised to a captain in the marines."
"Then cancel the outing, father. I would hate to impose on another man's fiancé! Why did you not tell me that before?"
John felt such an odd mix of embarrassment and jealousy that he was moved to a public show of anger. It wasn't that he found Justine wife-material (yet). She provoked him to a challenge, and he would answer it as gentlemanly as possible. Any news of her betrothal to someone else would render his efforts to prove his capability to her meaningless. He was insulted that she would think him so spineless in gallant action.
Justine, meanwhile, could not have been more pleased with herself. John was certainly husband-material. He was well-off, well-mannered, and well-looking. Yet, for all his quality, she needed to assure herself of one thing: that despite his mild temper and soft, harmless words, he could be a man of action. Of course, she had lied to him about her own ability to ride horses. She had never ridden one in her entire life. She merely said it to appear posh and well-traveled. In fact, she feared horses to death.
"Lord, help me prove myself to this man," she prayed silently, unaware that John was making a similar appeal about her.
John knocked tersely on the door of the midwife's shop. He was red in the face. Moisture seeped through the grooves of his clenched hands and coagulated in a ring of droplets crowning his upper brow. Several shouts pounded against his humming ears, and he ignored them all with a grim twist of the head and the beginnings of a snarl.
His wife and his child were all that mattered to him in that moment. Yes, he was aware that his stallion had too much enjoyed the speed with which John road into Dover and took the happy liberty of galloping out of his reach as soon as he dismounted. The results of which were several overturned vending stalls, a woman claiming that her son had nearly been trampled to death, a cage-full of runaway chickens pecking about the street, and a carriage-driver angrily shouting that John's steed had provoked his own to spur off.
John silenced them all with his own silence by merely ignoring their spitfire accusations and dodging (or taking) the blows of their insults and thrown foodstuffs.
He stood anxiously in front of the midwife's shop, clenching and unclenching his hands. The extreme temptation to bite his nails in the furious public gnawed at him.
The door finally gave way and the stout, big-boned woman standing on the other side of the entryway took one look at John's worried visage and immediately knew what had happened. She quickly pivoted on her heel, grabbed a basket full of her birthing supplies, and before she even had the chance to ask how his wife was doing, John grabbed her by the wrist and hauled her out of her shop. He did not bother to close the door.
"Sir! Have you no carriage? Your wife's condition calls for immediacy!" cried the woman. She was appalled at John's absolute absence of manners.
He neither assured her that she would get to the house in time. He merely solved the problem by briskly walking toward the closest person with a horse and sharply shouting, "Stop!"
After John issued a curt, "Beg your pardon, but this is an emergency," and perhaps an even curter (though subtler) shove, John and the midwife were securely seated on the back of a very fussy mare. The horse's stubbornness was checked with a jerk of the reins and a heel in the ribs, and John raced back to the growing cries of his wife.
Justine, meanwhile, comforted her panicky maids with reassertions of her "fine" well-being. She did it in between agonized breaths and screams, which essentially rendered her falsehoods even more unbelievable, but she could not allow her pain to dampen her spirit. She continuously told herself (mentally) that the situation could be worse.
She did, however, find herself asking for John on many occasions, and while one maid kept the lookout to see if her husband had come back with the midwife, Justine would not be at ease until she knew her husband was back in their home, and, preferably, by her side. She knew that John liked to take his time with delicate matters, but she prayed furiously that he would recognize the urgency of this particular matter of delicacy and come quickly.
A maid set a cold, wet cloth on her forehead, and Justine closed her eyes for but a second, drawing strength from the fact that her husband was a constant, reliable man, and that his absence should not be her greatest worry. The child that begged to be born demanded every thread of her focus.
She tensed and dug her fingers into the sheets as a shriek escaped her.
Although young in their early days of courtship, neither John nor Justine were ignorant persons. Both managed to see through the other's guise in their petty challenges towards each other. After seeing John work but fifteen minutes on his uncle's ship, Justine was obliged to step in and demonstrate to him how a true seaman did his duty. John was amazed that she would know the procedures of the occupation, but she fittingly answered that she was a nautical man's daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter. The sea, she explained, ran in her blood.
Likewise, when they took their ride by the cliffs, Justine soon ran out of excuses to ride the mare John had selected for her, and he quickly took advantage of her lie and teased her endlessly until she had no choice but to ride with him.
"I will hold onto your mare's reins," he assured her, "so that you may not fall off."
She did not look comforted. He changed his selection of words.
"I will never let you fall, Miss Justine Travers. I swear it."
His second approach was more gladly accepted, and after some coaxing, Justine mounted her mare.
The two spent a good few hours lazily trotting about Dover beach. John kept his promise and did not let the girl fall, and Justine expressed openly that she was very happy for his company and that he rode very well. However, she admitted after the ride that she still hated horses. John was perfectly content with her confession, and admitted also that he hated working on his uncle's ships. Justine respected his disclosure and proposed a deal in both their favors.
It was evident that John would need to be proficient in sea life if he was to head a merchant company. It would be helpful when discussing orders with the captains and crews of his merchant ships. It was also clear that, as a lady of repute, Justine would need to feel comfortable on a horse. If she became acquainted with more suitors, she would certainly be asked to ride. She had managed to avoid the issue of equestrian since her early teens by simply stating that she was allergic to horse-hair, but at eighteen and unmarried, she realized it was time to stop the childish fears and to commit to true lady-dom.
"So what you are proposing, Miss Justine," began John as he recollected her suggestions, "is for me to teach you how to ride and you, to teach me how to sail."
"Yes, Mr. Ellison. That is what I propose."
John found the entire idea of being taught a man's job by a woman to be highly unorthodox, possibly even embarrassing if he agreed to it, but for some odd reason, he did not realize those consequences until after he sealed the pact with Miss Justine Travers. In fact, he agreed to Justine's proposal most readily, as if he was waiting for it all along.
Of course, during the extensive length of time it took to teach each other, John had nearly forgotten about Justine's proposal and was considering one of his own—to her, specifically. And in the spring of the following year, at Dover beach where Justine was to show him how well she rode after his coaching, he took her hand, kneeled, and asked her in the softest, most purely honest voice if she would be his wife.