Letters From the HesperusLetters From the Hesperus


For K. For your guidance, patience, and generosity – my humble gratitude, fedaain.

Letters from The Hesperus


The King’s Head

January 12, 1865

My dear Marie,

The ship is laden at last, and we sail on the evening tide. Tom and I spent the night ashore; I know the voyage will be hard upon him in the close quarters below decks, and I have spared him as long as I could. I hope you know how hard it was to tear ourselves away; only our need could force us.

But do not worry. Your brother will make a good sailor. He faces his duty well, though I know it pains him to leave you. With luck he will rise soon to be an officer, and find himself in quarters somewhat kinder. Until then, I will do all that I can.

I dreamed of you last night. It seemed almost wrong in a rough place like this, but you gave me your blessing. If only I might have slept on for that kiss you stooped to bestow. But I woke to moonlight and Tom quiet on his cot. For his sake I stifled your name on my lips; I would not wake him, for he is as weary as I, and sorry to part from you.

I miss you, beloved. My mind lingers on that last sight of you, there in the quiet of our little house. You are there always, in my mind. I pray this letter will reach you.

Your Richard

The Hesperus, at sea

January 14, 1865

Marie –

We are upon the sea now, dearest. I will hold my letters and bring you my words when we meet. I know they cannot reach you, but it is a comfort to me to sit the night in my cabin, thinking of your smile. They would laugh, my crew, to see their captain so. But Tom does not laugh; he comes to sit with me, some nights, and we are comforted in this thought: that our minds together are upon you.

I know you worry for him. It is true, this is no gentle life – but he is strong, and good at heart. He thinks of you, and that keeps him from growing too rough in his ways. We have a fine crew; the bosun, the sailing master, and half the hands have all made this journey before, and good honest men they were. We will see no harm from them upon the seas, and I promise you, my gentle one – I will keep Tom by me when we come into Lisbon. He will not be drawn into danger in the port.

He is old, to be so new to the trade; a man of twenty with no sense of the sea is a strange thing to the crew. They have made him some trouble for this and for his kinship to me, but he bears himself well under it. Poor Tom; his nature is finer than theirs, and he feels how much he has lost, to be lowered thus in the world. Yet he bears it without complaint, and gives no man cause for offense. The bosun has a close eye to him, and I trust his care; he has been many a year with me, and in truth Marie – with my mind so close upon you and Tom, he is more good to the ship this voyage than I am.

I dreamed of you again – that day we walked on the strand at Portsmouth, before we wed, when I first went away to the sea. You took my arm and Tom ran ahead to chase the gulls on the rocks. Your eyes were wise that day, Marie – wise and worried, a deep sea-gray with the blue in them. You held me there with your calm strength and the faith that was in your gaze. My heart was with you all the long voyage.

Do you remember that day, Marie? Is your heart there now, as mine is? I pray so. But I woke too soon again and never felt your kisses.


The Hesperus, at sea

January 15, 1865

Dear Marie,

Calm seas. The men are in good spirits. I think of you tonight, with the bright stars one sees upon the ocean.

It is strange, how good it is to have Tom by me on this voyage – he with your eyes and your fine bright hair. He has your fire and diligence as well, and leaves nothing about him undone. It gives me a quiet comfort – to know that among my crew, there is this one heart who is bound to mine.

But I am sorry to take him from you. Forgive me; I could see no other way. I pray that you know how I longed to leave him with you, your gentle protector. His place is by your side – more even, perhaps, than mine is, for you share one blood. That is the thing I have always loved best in you both: your devotion to each other. I would never break that if I could help it.

But with the loss of your parents – ah, Marie. I would have given anything to hold that farm for you, the fields where you ran barefoot, the stables where we played as children, the pond where you came – yes, I saw you, little vixen – to peep on Tom and me when we swam. I have loved that home and that little valley, for they gave me all that was dear to me. I cannot say what it cost me to leave them, and it wrung my heart to take Tom as well. But we all must seek our fortunes.

I have this comfort left. I know that you, at least, remain close by the home of our childhood. I picture you in the little wooded dell by the chapel, waiting the rise of the flowers in springtime. Before those flowers have gone, my sweet, I swear – we will return.


The Hesperus, at sea

January 18, 1865

Two days under the Baklalı Escort force of the tempest. Forgive me for not writing. My heart is always with you.

The storm rose fast. It caught us with canvas up and we lost the topmast before we could take in sail. We limp now toward La Coruña. We have lost much of our water with barrels sprung in the hold, but no men, thank God. We shall make port safe enough. Our hearts are heavy, Tom’s and mine, for each day we are slowed draws us further from you. But we comfort each other, and are of good courage.

And of courage is Tom made. He was our champion this storm. There are men here who owe their lives to him, though he will never say it himself. He has taken some taunting for his quiet ways and his close company with his captain, but he hears none of it now. He is gone with the hands this evening; they have full rations of grog, all left standing to drink it. Think kindly of him, Marie; the company will cheer him, and I will bring him home to you the same good, kind Tom he has always been.


[post script]

Forgive these words. I have lingered long, but I must add them. I worry for Tom. Not for his soul; he has that same calm strength that he has always had. But there is something in his eyes, Marie. He looked upon death last night, and he was not afraid. It was not courage alone. It was … an emptiness. A hollow place. He fears nothing, like a man who has nothing.

Send him your heart. He needs it.


The Hesperus, at sea

January 20, 1865

I pleaded that you would come to your brother. How was it, Marie, I found you myself? For I dreamed of you this night past, and at last I felt your lips.

We were by the hedgerow, where the orchard meets the pond, that day you first kissed me and made my heart leap like a hare. Have I ever told you truly how you moved me, with just the touch of your hand and your kiss? I dreamed of that day, when Tom ran chasing rabbits and then blushed to come upon us. I dreamed us both again by the hedgerow, but I woke to an empty ship.

We should make La Coruña tomorrow. More then. Perhaps I may send these letters. I pray that they find you safe and at peace.

Your Richard

La Coruña

January 21, 1865

My dear Marie,

We are safe in port, and Tom is close by my side. The men are fast at work to brace the mast, and we take on water and provisions in the morning. With luck we will leave port in a few days. I am hampered in the language – ah, yes, you laughed at my French, but you never heard my Spanish – and have not yet posted my letters. But I will try.

Even to be on land again reminds me of you. The town is nothing like Portsmouth, but I thought of you at the little church with its rough plastered walls and its bell tower. Tom came with me, and we gave you our prayers –


La Coruña

January 23, 1865

My Marie,

Tom lies quiet aboard tonight. It should comfort me, but it does not.

I had hoped that the busy life of the port would brace him; I gave him the day and the night to do as he would. He is a man, young and abroad in the world for the first time; do not think evil of it, Marie, but he must be let to roam and not have me, his captain and brother, always over his shoulder. You know how good his heart is; I fear no harm to his soul.

But he will not go. They do not even taunt him now, his crewmates, and it is not because of his courage in the storm – though they love him for it, and would make much of him upon the port town if he would allow it. No. There is something in him that forbids their jibes, whether ill meant or kindly, and a silence hangs over him as he lingers on the deck.

I begin to doubt if I should post this. I would not trouble you untimely, but … my love. Think of him.


La Coruña

January 25, 1865

Marie –

We make ready to sail. It is well; this low, salt town has a thickness in the air, and it settles heavy upon me. Sleep comes slowly, and my dreams are uneasy. I have seen you there – once or twice, a fleeting glimpse. But never to touch you again, Marie – never yet to kiss.

I should send these letters. It is selfish of me not to. But you will forgive me, I know, if I keep them some little while longer. They comfort me, and you will know all the better how I love you when you read them at last.


The Hesperus, at sea

January 26, 1865

My dear Marie,

We are at sea once more, though the damp air of La Coruña still sits heavy in my chest. I am perhaps a little weak. But do not worry. I will come home to whisper my words in your ear, by the fireside in our own little house.

My love. Give your prayers to Tom. Though my words do not reach you, my heart may. I pray that I am wrong; I pray that I will tear this sheet in halves long before we make Portsmouth, and have no reason ever to think back upon these fears. But he grows reckless. He is wild and heedless, and his eyes are too bright to look upon. This Baklalı Escort Bayan day a coil of rope was let slip and fell into the waves. He leapt over the rail like a madman and dove after it. When we had hauled him back up to the deck he stood there with the water running from him, and his eyes blazed when they met mine. And – forgive me, Marie. I could say nothing to him. For I had seen him this night past, weeping over your picture when he thought I did not see.

I beg you, Marie – give him your heart.


The Hesperus, at sea

January 30, 1865

At last I may write again. It is good to think that you will see my words when I am safe from storm and travail. My strength is not what it has been; the fever is upon me, and I ache in my bones. But do not fear, Marie; I rest tonight. I have sworn to Tom that I will spend no more than an hour in thought before I sleep.

My love. He needs you. You know how good a man I think him, and I could never see any harm in Tom. But whether through proving his worth amongst the crew, or – more, I think – that his gentle nature is torn with parting from you – he is so grieved, Marie, that I can hardly look upon him.

I do all I can. He dined with me last night, and we did not stand upon ceremony. We met in my cabin and solaced ourselves with talk of you. His nature is finer than any man’s I have known, and the love of you shone forth from him so that it stirred my heart to see it. But I saw how his eyes glanced from mine with that look of sorrow that hangs upon him, and our talk fell silent. At last I bid him sleep upon the chairs in my cabin, for I began to fear to leave him alone. Or do I fear to leave myself? I will tear this letter in pieces, Marie, and your eyes will never see it. For there is nothing in Tom’s gaze, no bright light of sorrow and despair, that I have not seen every morning in the glass.

It was well he stayed with me, for that night the fever came. I woke raving – so he tells me – I remember nothing of it. I know only that I woke wet with the heat and the damp cloths Tom laid on my skin to draw the fire from it. I felt nothing of his help that night, though the surgeon was brought and they both strove to rouse me. I knew only that I dreamed of you. I felt your lips, Marie, upon my fevered skin, and dreamed that it was your touch that spread the fire through me.

Tom is come. I must go. My love –


The Hesperus, at sea

February 2, 1865

Marie –

Forgive me. I am weak. But Tom is kind, and as strong as ever. The fever is heavy upon me, and when the light blinds my eyes and burns in my body, then I know nothing of what I say, or where I am, or what I do. But Tom keeps to my side, and hardly sleeps. I thank God for you both.

Our Tom. I worried that his longing for you made him careless. I feared that I would lose him to his own wild impulse. But your poor weak Richard is his cure; he has found a thing to devote himself to. He stays by my bedside, cooling my skin and coaxing me to drink. When I wake in the night, tormented with heat and uneasy dreams, he is there, and soothes me to sleep with a touch as gentle as your own. Good Tom. Does he know who I dream of?

I live for those dreams. When will I see you again?


The Hesperus, at sea

February 3, 1865

I met you last night, Marie. My lips touched yours in the twilight lane, there in the shadow of the blackthorn hedge. Tom was with us, weaving garlands, and the blossoms lay like snow upon your skin. We laid you gentle on the green sward and scattered the petals on your body. Where were you, Marie, when I dreamed of your soft white limbs?

I woke again in the long night watch, and I saw you there, your lips stooped to mine. But it was Tom come to tend me, for I cried out in my sleep. He thinks it the fever, my sweet Marie. Or does he know my thoughts?

We are too long apart. I see you always. The dark is my friend, for when the lamps are out and the waves lap the ship, then you come before me. When we roll on the swells and the night comes down, it lulls me, Marie, like the sound of your voice, that day in the orchard when I lay my head in your lap and you cradled me as I slept.

Why do you come to me, Marie? And why is it you go?

The Hesperus, at sea

February 6, 1865

I found you pacing the deck, Marie. I knew you by your hair and the gown you wore when last I saw you. What peace there was upon you then – but you walk my deck uneasy.

I came to you. It was Tom. How strange the thing. How strange. But tonight I saw you there again, out almost on the bowsprit so that I cried out at your danger. But nothing there. No thing at all. Only Tom, come close behind me, to pull me back with my arms empty. He has brought me to bed. He thinks it the fever. I drink too much wine.

Shhh, Marie. Kiss me again. I feel your lips now, every night. When I close my eyes we are in the bed of our little cottage. Do you remember that night, the night of our wedding? When Tom came with Escort Baklalı us to the house, driving the old brown mare? He blushed when he left, with the twilight falling all around. But he might have stayed, for it was right for him to be under our roof – even that night, that joined the two he loved best. How glad I was, when he came to live with us, that I might see your smile light every day upon his face.

But that night – so quiet – your touch so kind, for I hardly knew how to come to you. Sweet friend of my childhood. Good gentle touch, always the strongest and the best of my life. How I loved you that night. How glad I was – how joyous – to feel your touch the first upon me. All my fear and awkwardness left me, and we loved so sweetly through the night, learning to please, finding the way of each other. My patient one. You soothed me, and when at last we touched that divine mystery – ah, my soul is forever yours.

I am there still. I see you rising from our bed. Marie. Why is it that I see you? The dawn is coming, and I see you yet. I long for your kisses. Let me feel them again. Surely it is your lips I kiss. Surely yours and no other’s.


The Hesperus, at sea

February 7, 1865

Forgive me, Marie. Forgive. What words can I ever say?

This morning. The light so gray. I wept, Marie, in my sleep. Do you feel how my heart cries out to you? I pray that you do not. I pray your heart was blind to mine this morning.

I dreamed you fleeting, dark, beyond my reach. I stood in our home, that morning when I kissed you last. I stood again at the door with all my heart crying out to you. You came and met my lips, and all my soul awoke.

To Tom. His lips met mine in the gray dawn light, with all my heart aching for you. His eyes. So like yours. His hair. To my touch. His hands. Strong, and my body weak with fever.

For your sake, I swear, I could not bear to see his pain. Your name was there between us. I touched his cheek, and – God, forgive me. I kissed him. It was, for all the world, that same moment when first I kissed your lips. Strange. Sweet. And mastered entirely.

God hold you from ever reading these words. I will destroy them as soon as I have the strength. But I confess. I touched his hair. I kissed his lips, that met with mine. And my heart opened to him. He is so strong, so kind to my suffering. He brings me the only comfort he can – his kiss, wild but tender as your own.

No more than that. No more, I swear. His body by mine, our lips met, the scent of his skin and his rough linen. His strength. God, how I needed him. Marie. Please. Do not make me say it. How I need you both. Come to us, Marie, I beg you. I am near to madness. Guide me.

Your Richard

The Hesperus, at sea

February 9, 1865

This storm. Will it never end?

My love. All my heart goes out to you. For you, I write out the record of my sins. For you, I confess and beg forgiveness. For you, I will burn this record of my thoughts, unwrite my words in lines of fire, and you will never know this shameful thing.

He has come to me. Gentle friend whose love is fierce, devotion wild in his heart. Like no other. No other but you.

I kissed him. But when we had done … we were ashamed. God, I could not look at him. Tom. My friend and brother, whom I swore to guard and bring to safety. How I wronged him in leading that trusting spirit astray in the moment of his sorrow. He did not know what he did. He is young, a man in years but innocent, and more like you than me.

I tore myself from him. He was hurt, and that look in his eyes – the misery that he saw alike in mine – that nearly brought me back. But I feared the wrong I would do him, and forced myself up to walk the deck. I kept away until exhaustion drove me back, but he was always by me, watchful – not for himself, good honest Tom, but fearing what I might do, made desperate. I had the mate put him on the dawn watch, for I could not see him here again, not in the light of the morning. I kept to my cabin and fell to sleep, I swear, with no face but yours in my mind. No face, no eyes, no soft bright hair but your own.

But the fever came again, and I lay raving with the heat and the strain. They laid me in my bunk and prayed for my soul. When I knew myself again Tom was by me, hunched against the bunk and still clutching the cloth he had wet to soothe my brow. With his head bowed in exhausted sleep, his body trailing soft upon the sheets, the locks of his hair fallen loose about his face – Marie. What he did to my heart. I stirred, and when he woke to meet my eyes, I touched his hand.

His lips. Again. Like a fire. It was not the fever alone that burned upon my skin. God forgive me. It is love, I swear, but it was hunger too. His skin was rough with the wind and salt, tanned on his face but white beneath his shirt. I kissed there before I knew my purpose – kissed and tasted flesh like yours, soft and white but strong beneath. So tired, Marie. I am so tired, and all my body cries out to you. To him. To you both. His lips touched mine, and our hands met flesh, and – he came into my bed. Forgive me. His place was there, as natural as the swelling of the waves. His body fit to mine, his touch, his hands, the scent of his skin – your name, Marie. And he did not rebuke me. Nor I him, when he spoke it aloud, but shared our pain between us.

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