XLIX

Whatever anyone said thereafter, Sophia maintained that she did keep her word. Desirous of avoiding a wedding that would be the talk of their London circles, she and the Captain were engaged for three months. Long enough for her to realize the truth she had discovered at Lady Lascelle's: that she did not wish to be without Richard for a single evening. For this reason, their engagement had no hope of remaining secret. Sophia had never learned to lie; the Captain saw no reason to.

Their friends found it amusing that day after day passed without avowal of their engagement when it was clear every time the lovers looked at each other.

If a couple's love has its roots in mutual admiration, respect, and honor, later finding its crowning flower in the bloom of passionate love, it may be supposed that the day that such a couple joins in matrimony would be a joyful one indeed, radiant with the promise of a happy future life.

Such a day was Sophia's wedding, and more besides. Despite her efforts to avoid fuss, she found her friends all too willing to make one on her behalf. Once the invitations had been handed round, not one on her modest list begged pardon for having already accepted another on the same day. Most even set themselves immediately to write long letters fulsome in praise of the new couple and overflowing with delight at the prospect of witnessing their nuptials.

Others had rather different reactions. The day Lady Worthington received her invitation, she invited herself to tea to discuss it. Between cake and fruit, she remarked only that it was unfortunate that a girl with so much promise and fortune should fix upon a mere captain, but then it was likely England's constant stream of wars would swell his fame. At length she concluded Sophia had done well for herself, all things considered, and helped herself to more cake.

Neither the Captain nor Sophia could be uneasy on the score of fortune. Her inheritance and his pot of prize-money united were more than sufficient for a leisurely honeymoon tour of the country to the wild highlands of Scotland, as well as the purchase of a house in Weymouth, from which elevated prospect Sophia could always reflect on the seas where her oft-absent husband found his purpose and employment.

Into this house came the other Herrera ladies; Mrs. Herrera, to establish herself as the dowager-in-residence, and Diana to enjoy her first taste of a fashionable English watering hole. It had one added attraction in that latter point, as its very popularity with the restive young gentlemen of the day made it unremarkable that Mr. Cox should visit there, or that their paths should cross from time to time. As the weeks went on, those times became more and more frequent, as well as less and less accidental.

The new Mrs. Mayfair had only a short six months to accommodate herself to that name when her sister traded hers as well. Diana finished her courtship in fine Romantic style, fooling even her family when she declared her intention to visit Miss Essex, her friend of the previous summer, in Surrey. Both Mrs. Herrera and Sophia were entirely at ease until they received a letter posted from Gretna Green, bearing the signature of a woman who called herself 'Mrs. Cox' and wrote in Diana's bold, looping hand.

For the first time since their marriage, Sophia thanked God that her husband was at sea, for it was difficult enough to write him and confess Diana's foolish trick and introduce him by proxy to his new brother-in-law. She did not know how she would have met his eyes while confessing it.

She need not have worried. His response was a prompt invitation to the newlyweds to their home in Weymouth.

They abused Diana roundly when she returned, husband in tow, to Sophia's house. To her credit, Diana was duly abject in her apologies, but as 'dear John's' mother had never consented to the match, they had had no other choice.

When Sophia remarked dryly that she supposed Diana preferred it that way, her only reply was an arch smile and pointed silence. What it was clear she really regretted was that neither Sophia nor her mother had seen her in her wedding dress, which had been made in the finest fashion

Even more amusing—at least according to Diana's strange sense of humor—was Mrs. Cox's complete disinheritence of her son, which threw the handsome young husband into total dependency upon his wife, who relished caring for him as she enjoyed rearing the daughter she bore him not a year into their marriage.

With so much scandal to blacken the names Herrera, Mayfair, and Cox, the family returned to London with some trepidation as to how they should be received. Diana did not wait for the silent cut, beginning instead to prepare a party to remind everyone of the benefits of friends possessed of fortune. Her musical review, which boasted a notable performer from La Scala itself, was the talk of London's early season, and caused rivalry between their acquaintance as to who could wheedle an invitation from the proud hostess and her sister.

Naturally there were those who cut them, but even more than that enjoyed Diana's glittering audacity and Sophia's solid respectability. Invitations fell on them like snowflakes, and Sophia only wanted her husband's presence to make their first season as married women wholly perfect.

She could not repine. Captain Mayfair's frequent visits to the Admiralty had worked their effect; the West Africa Squadron was, at last, flush with ships and men. At the center of it was her husband, more eager than the most voracious privateer to chase any vessel sneaking off the coast and liberate its human cargo. Sophia had the comfort of frequent, tender letters from her husband; that alone made her happier in her marriage than many women she knew.

Despite enjoying the season's social whirlwind, they all agreed that nothing was more comfortable than returning to their own house at Weymouth after it had blown itself out. So comfortable was it that the Coxes remained month after month, showing no inclination of renting a house of their own, either in Weymouth or elsewhere.

There, in harmony with sea, country, and town—where Sophia might ride by the sea and think on her husband—was where the promise of all their English ambitions found satisfaction. It was also a place where Maria and Domingo might visit as they wished; as indeed they did, four months into their own marriage.

When Captain Mayfair was promoted to Commodore, Sophia's cup of happiness, so deep and broad, overflowed. His position now required more frequent visits to England to make his reports on the progress of the Squadron; often he would appear before the letter foretelling his visit arrived.

Nothing could be more precious to her than the month's furlough he received, which they spent together in their own home. On warm summer nights, they traced a lonely path to the shore, walking on a track where the silence of evening was livened only by the breath of waves on the sand. There, arm-in-arm with the man she loved, Sophia looked to the stars and wondered aloud whether there were any two creatures on Earth happier than they.

Richard answered his wife with a kiss, stolen before she could object, witnessed only by smiling stars and a vast, benign heaven.

Fin


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