A/N: I live! I'd apologize for the super late update, but seeing as I've basically apologized for my extreme tardiness in all previous instances, I'll refrain. Just know that I have not given up on this story. It is still very much in the works, just… slow in coming, is all.
And I never knew that Connor was somewhat of a favorite amongst my one-digit number of readers? While I don't dislike him, I have always thought he came off as a bit of a hardass…
But now I digress. Back on point:
This is a HORRIBLE chapter. Just as a warning.
Captain George Travers sat at a desk in one of his son-in-law's guest rooms, the candle by his ink well but a low, melting stub. His fingers held the quill tightly between his fingers, the ink meeting parchment in bold strokes. Despite the dimness in his room, he was aware of a draft in the air, one that wasn't quite present a minute earlier. A quick flick of his blue eyes at the fluttering flame of his candle and he leaned back in his chair, tossing his quill aside.
"I know you're there, Sophia," he said.
The culprit parted the door further, and Sophia Anne Daugherty Ellison showed her pretty face to the retired sea captain. In the winter months, her countenance had become increasingly ashen, and were Jeanie still around, the two would finally share a similar color of the skin. Her new, pallid complexion made her family often mistake her for being sad, and while it was true that she did feel wearier as of late, that night she felt strangely complacent. Her hazel eyes stared back into those of her stepsister's estranged grandfather, their glare scrutinizing and curious.
"To whom are you writing?" she asked. Her words might have betrayed an inquiry, but her tone suggested a demand.
"To our eyes on that blasted ship your sister sails upon. His latest missive arrived yesterday." He gestured at some papers on his desk. "I am assuming you would like to read it?"
Sophia remained by the room entrance for a moment before approaching the desk. She glanced at the papers mentioned, a finger tapping a folded corner.
"I'd rather not." She refused to elaborate on her reason. In truth, she had received a letter of her own, from Jeanine herself, and it was tucked safely in a box hidden under a floorboard in her bedroom.
The first letter she received from her stepsister came soon after the arrival of Captain Travers. She considered it her best Christmas gift, though she admitted to herself that she was not very fond of the fact that Jeanine had written "Jack Hanley" on the envelope. The moment Sophia had read the name, she had screamed a full five minutes only to stop instantly when she discovered the truth. She was also concerned about the age of the letter, which was dated October, though the considerable wear on it suggested that it had passed through many hands and countries before reaching her own.
Her second letter she received yesterday, and its date of inscription was not outrageously distant from its date of delivery, though it was sent from Kingston, Jamaica. Sophia concluded that overseas mail made no sense whatsoever and endeavored not to let numbers and days get in the way of bringing her much needed news.
Jeanine's letters were perhaps the only secret Sophia enjoyed keeping to herself. Usually she was just as bad as Sarah Pemberton when it came to gossiping, but aside from Jack, the letters were perhaps the only other thing she would guard with her life. It was one thing to know that her sister was alive and safe (mostly), but it was another entirely to know that she was alive, safe, and seeking her beloved husband-to-be.
No one else in their household seemed worried about Jack's fate. They all seemed preoccupied with securing a safe passage for Jeanine, and so it was ironic (but joyous nonetheless for Sophia), that the girl everyone was trying to reel back to England was doing her best to elude any sort of hook—simply for the purpose of finding a lost friend.
To betray such heroism would only create conflict in Sophie's passionate heart. She would not tattle on Jeanie despite all the times the pure-hearted girl timidly pointed out her own mistakes. This was something beyond petty grudges. Her sister needed support—near and far—and Sophia would give it her by keeping Jeanine updated on life at home. By, conversely, bringing a bit of calm and comfort to the girl whose letters were riddled with battle, nightmares and a rather intricate and dangerous feud between two colleagues.
And even if Sophie was not a very patient girl, she would wait forever for a reply that mentioned Jack's name (and an anecdote detailing his wellbeing and passage home). Such news was a treasure worth waiting for millennia.
"I do recommend you read it, Sophia," Travers commented idly, his deep, grating voice drawing Sophia from her musings. She turned. "Lieutenant Buchanan has tailored his letters to me to meet this family's specific needs—not that he needed much of a request. He is quite fond of the… er… Ellison boy."
"Have you told him who the 'Ellison boy' really is?"
"No," Travers replied simply. "Such information he can do without. Mr. Buchanan does not pry unless he has significant reason. So far, he has none. I deem Jeanine is doing a fine job passing for a boy if she arouses no one's suspicions."
"Yes, that is our Jeanine. Stoic as a slug… or a plank of wood. Plainness incarnate."
If Captain Travers felt any desire to defend his absent granddaughter, it was not expressed.
"Her mother was perceived the same way when she was younger, and she proved them all wrong.," he said.
"Well… Jeanine has certainly outdone herself by surviving at sea, but I doubt she has changed much."
"Sophia, she, like you, is an adolescent girl. Change is inevitable."
The girl had no reply to such a sagely observation. She snorted slightly, crossing her arms and leaning somewhat on the desk.
"And what are you writing this Lieutenant Buchanan in return?" she asked, retaking command of the conversation. Captain Travers studied her for a moment.
When he had first met her, he thought her no more than a whiny, weepy girl prone to over-emoting, but, now that he had been living in the same house as her for weeks, he realized that she was not just whiny, weepy and overemotional, but demanding, commanding, and downright maddening. It was no wonder that despite having been invited to spend Christmas with the Ellisons, Sophia's former suitor, Allan Royce, declined and remained in Oxford for the winter, writing occasionally only to ask for an update on Jeanine. Captain Travers had been eager to meet the lad whom Jeanine was purportedly courting, and he was of the opinion that Allan refused to make an appearance because to suffer Sophia's temper for a winter would be too taxing a venture. He could not understand how John could have daughters so opposing in nature under the same roof, and Sophia's curt manner and general grumpiness made him swiftly inclined to dislike the girl. But despite such impressions, he decided to be civil for that conversation.
That was, civil according to his definition.
"I am telling him that the Ellison family has a wonderful stepdaughter named Sophia Anne," he said, leaning back in his chair, "who is very pretty though rather temperamental—"
"Please, spare me the overseas introduction. I am not interested in any other man but Jack Hanley."
Captain Travers laughed, his voice booming.
"Oh, but you have not met Harvey."
"And I do not want to. Stop teasing me. I am not your granddaughter."
"Quite right. You are quite right, my dear. I am not your grandfather. If we were kin, I would be obliged to yield to your request, but as we are not, I am free to continue my chosen method of torture. Would you like me to describe Mr. Buchanan to you?"
By then, Sophia's arms had uncrossed and they lay stiff at her sides. Her eyes narrowed.
"I do not understand how you can be Jeanine's grandfather," she responded, growing increasingly exasperated with the old man. "What with all the jokes you spurt out of your gob. I do not even think Jeanie has ever told a joke in her entire life."
"Truly?" replied Travers, raising his bushy eyebrows. "Not a one? That is pitiful. It must be rectified immediately." He picked up his quill again and resumed writing his letter, saying aloud the words being scribbled on the page. "It has just come to my attention that Mr. Ellison is severely lacking in his knowledge of humorous quips. His cousin here, Sophia—who is quite a gem and worth your further investigation—has given me one that she desires you pass on to him…"
Sophia rolled her eyes.
"She has described young Mr. Ellison as 'stoic as a slug,'" Travers resumed. "I do insist that you pass that epithet along to the boy."
"Enough with the jokes!" Sophia burst. "You make me despise this Mr. Buchanan even though I've never met him and have no plans to."
"I do not see why you would direct your ire toward the lad. He is several thousand miles away. 'Tis a bit unfair, opines I."
"I care not what you opine."
Sophia had a severe dislike for people who used words she was not accustomed to hearing, and, therefore, had difficulty understanding.
"Then what is it that you care about? Certainly not this conversation, for it vexes you, and yet you have come here for a reason."
Sophia went mute for a bit, and Captain Travers treasured the moment of silence that passed. "I just wanted to make sure you are not doing anything to force Jeanine out of an element which she cannot now escape," she said, meekly.
"Force Jeanine out?" he echoed. "Sophia, I am not like Admiral Ellison who goes to Whitehall day after day demanding that something be done until the Admiralty gets so fed up with his nagging that they strip him of his rank and title and toss him out into the streets. Learning limitations is one of the hardest lessons I have had to learn. Admiral Ellison has yet to learn it. Jeanine has been gone for half a year now, Sophia. If she is not on her way home now, she will not be on her way home for quite some time."
"And you are all right with that?"
"Aye," he said simply. "Not because I naively believe that she will experience no harm whatsoever on her adventure. It is just an intuition. I know I haven't seen Jeanine in years, but I cannot help but feel that she belongs where she is at the moment. 'Tis a daft feeling, surely, but that is the truth."
"Odd," Sophia commented. She brought a chair from a nearby table and set it down beside the old man. She sat. "I have a similar feeling of assurance that is… unexplainable. Captain Travers, I believe we may be the only two people here who are resolved. Jeanine is where she is for a purpose, despite the pain her absence has caused."
"And what purpose do you suppose that is, Sophia?" His eyes narrowed on her. She was not affected by the increased seriousness of his stare, going so far as to smirk back at the old man.
"To bring back Jack Hanley, of course."
Captain Travers sighed, turning his eyes away from her and resting his gaze back on his half-written letter.
"You are a very vain girl," he muttered. "I fail to see how one boy can be at the center of all of this."
Sophia remained unfazed by his grumpiness.
"You obviously have not met William Jack Hanley." She stood up from her chair, still looking at the retired sea captain smugly. "How many women does your so favored Mr. Buchanan have pursuing him? I doubt any. If there ever is a woman who shall pursue this mysterious lieutenant, rest assured that I will, at that very moment, agree to meet him. Otherwise, he is not worth a precious place in my memory."
Captain Travers allowed Sophia to have the last word in their little tête-à-tête, content with the results only because he had a feeling that, now that he had planted the name of Harvey Buchanan in Sophia's brain, she would not be able to escape it. And the old man was right to think so, for as soon as Sophia had returned to her room, she took out Jeanine's last letter to her and scanned the script for the lieutenant's name, how often it was mentioned, and the contexts in which he appeared.
She pulled out a crisp, clean piece of paper from her own writing desk and dipped her quill in a pool of black ink. Her hand quickly scrawled out the address and date and other meaningless formalities before settling into the body of her message.
"Apparently, sister," Sophia dictated aloud, though in a whisper, "you are not the only one corresponding with a member of the landlocked Ellison family. I urge you to be on your guard when you speak with Lieutenant Buchanan. Otherwise, you may not come out of your little adventure victorious. I cannot have you come home empty handed, as conflicted as that decision makes me feel. Jack is still out there somewhere, sister. Do not forget what it is you seek, for God only knows how often I pray that you may find him."
An ocean away, oblivious to the correspondence between the Ellison family and the Beaumaris , one Miss Elizabeth Stafford received a missive one morning from her own secret informant, one that made the tea cup in her hands slip from her grasp.
It wasn't a long letter. A brief message, scrawled in a hasty shorthand, nigh illegible to the naked eye, now lying exposed on the breakfast table, a corner of it stained in tea.
Elizabeth could hardly contain herself. She was up in her room, scrambling for a piece of parchment and ink, her mind a-frenzy with questions to the letter that stated, simply:
I can no longer write to you, dear reader. Something has happened…