He was going to be very late indeed, and at this hour he could only hope that a hansom cab would be standing by on the street; if there wasn’t one, he’d be even later. The problem of Monticello was pushed to the back of his mind.
He was in luck! There was a single lone cab streetside. Quickly, the Admiral gave the driver Julianna’s address and hastened into the passenger compartment.
Already past 10 pm. At least at this hour there was little traffic in the streets of London, but that didn’t make the distance he had to travel any shorter. He put his head out the window and urged the driver to hurry. “I’m hurryin’ guv’ner,” the coachman said, “but ye’ll be wantin’ to get there in one piece, I reckon.”
It took just over half an hour. 10:40 pm by the Admiral’s timepiece. He paid the driver and stepped out in front of Julianna’s house, wondering slightly how he was going to get a cab back to the docks afterwards.
Admiral Grey was a brave man. During the course of his naval career, he had faced many dangers. Rough seas, sudden storms, giant waves; ship to ship and even hand to hand combat, and all the other horrors of battle and war— these were things that he faced time and again with courage and valor.
But the prospect of tonight having to face Julianna terrified him as little had ever done before.
Did he hesitate a bit before walking from the street, then up the steps to the massve wooden door? Did he grasp the brass knocker a bit tentatively at first, before rapping it against the plate, somewhat less forcefully than he might normally do?
He waited for what was surely a few seconds and equally felt like a long while. No response. He tried again. Then, a third time. Perhaps he should have asked the cab to wait until he had actually entered the house. But surely everyone was at home, and if nothing else the butler would respond.
Unless he had been told not to. The possibility, one that the Admiral never would have considered before, now entered his mind.
Out of options, he turned to go. But just as he took his first step toward the street, he heard the door open behind him. He turned back around, and saw, framed in the light coming through the door, Julianna.
She looked beautiful, as always. But there was a distance in her eyes, and though they were only paces apart, it felt like a great gulf.
“I didn’t think you were coming.” She made no immediate move to step out of the doorway, to usher the Admiral inside.
“I’m sorry. It’s been busy and many things had to be done.”
“No doubt.” She still stood in place; tall, elegant, and far away. The Admiral ached to step forward the three steps necessary to embrace her, but he couldn’t bridge the gap.
“I thought your butler would answer the door.”
“I told him not to, that I would do it, eventually.”
“I was about to give up.”
“Haven’t you already?” Then, as if making a sudden decision, she stood to one side and gestured toward the interior of house.
Admiral Grey entered. He looked in Julianna’s direction but she had alread stepped back, was already in the interior of the sitting room. She took a chair, not sitting on the sofa as she normally did. The message was hard to miss. The Admiral took a chair opposite her.
“Well, tell me, then, John. How much time do we have together?” Her voice was cold but the Admiral couldn’t miss the slight tremor.
He took a breath, then another. Why was this so difficult?
“Not much, I’m afraid.”
“So, no time together in the country.”
“No, I’m afraid not. In fact … “
“How long, then? A week or two here in London? Dare I hope for that much?”
“I … well …”
“No? Not even that little bit? You sail when? I’m sure you’re off again. To where? For how long this time?”
For a few moments there was silence. In the stillness of the night, there were few sounds from the street outside. The ticking of the clock on the mantle, the occasional creak as the house cooled down. Julianna’s soft breathing.
“I sail tomorrow night.”
The words were out, they hung between them, in that now impassible gulf that separated their seats.
“I’m not at liberty to tell you where I’m going, and I don’t know how long it will be. I’m sorry.”
“Sorry,” she whispered, and then she stood. “Sorry!” she said in a louder voice, but she was already crying, and now her face was in her hands and her shoulders were shaking.
Admiral Grey stood too, and made to put his arms around her, but she stepped back, falling into her chair. “Don’t touch me!” she sobbed. “Just stay away! That’s what you want, isn’t it? To be away? Well, go then!”
“Julianna … we can’t part like this.”
“It seems like we shall.” She was no longer crying, making an obvious effort to take even breaths and remain in control. “You love your duty more than you love me. I understand your dedication, but how long must this go on? How much must I suffer? What right do you have to ask this of me?”
“Just this once, can you please … “
“Just this once?” Her control was starting to slip again, her face reddening again as she fought back further tears. “Just this once? It’s been how many times, John? How many times when you’ve said it was your last voyage? How many times when you’ve said you’ll come home and manage one of father’s factories and marry me? You’re gone for months and months, then home for a little while … but /two days/? It has never been like that before! Why did you even bother to come home and raise my hopes, only to dash them in such a cruel manner?”
Admiral Grey, having regained his own seat, leaned forward, his hands clasped in front of him. “Julianna, if I were to promise, if I were to swear that on my return, whenever that may be, I will do as you wish, could you accept that and wait for me?”
“Why can you not resign your commission at once? Why can you not refuse this new assignment, whatever it may be?”
“It is not so easy. The Lord Admiral would have to approve my decommissioning, and I know he will not do that now.”
“Then how can you promise that he will do that later?”
“I am sure, after I carry out this mission, that he will.”
“Small comfort for me.”
“Then what shall we do?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know.” Julianna began to sob again, and the Admiral did not dare try to approach her to attempt to comfort her.
And then there were sounds from somewhere upstairs in the house, voices, and then footsteps on the stairway in the hall next to the sitting room. In a few moments, Mr. Huntington appeared at the entrance to the room, with Mrs. Huntington close behind. They were both dressed in their night clothes, only covered by dressing gowns. The Admiral, having never seen them in anything but formal or semi-formal clothing, knew that this was not a good development.
“What is going on here?” Mr. Huntington demanded. His white hair was disheveled and his voice a bit hoarse. Mrs. Huntington pulled her gown around her and went over to Julianna, putting her hands on her shoulders. She glared at the Admiral.
Admiral Grey began, “It is a matter of … “
Mr. Huntington cut him off quickly. “I wish to hear from my daughter, not from you, sir!” he said. “Julianna?”
“It seems,” Julianna replied, again trying to regain composure, “that our Admiral has been called away to serve Crown and Country. In fact, it is so important— and apparently he is so important— that he must sail tomorrow. Of course he won’t say where he’s going or for how long. Unimportant people such as us haven’t a right to know, no matter what the relationship between them.”
Mr. Huntington turned back to Admiral Grey. “Unimportant? You shall answer to me, sir! What is this all about?”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Huntington, sir, but I cannot say more, only that the Lord Admiral has ordered me to sail with all haste.”
“And you will obey that order with no regard to my daughter’s feelings?”
“Sir, it is not a matter of sentiment. I am a military man, and I cannot disobey my superiors. Believe me that I wish it could be otherwise.”
“Believe you?” Mr. Huntington stood with hands on hips. “What I /believe/, Admiral Grey, is that you could have put a stop to all of this by resigning your commission long ago.”
“But I just explained to Julianna … “
“I am sure she welcomes your explanations— or shall we say excuses— about as much as I do. I was never favorable to her taking up with a Navy man with an uncertain past and an equally uncertain future.”
“With all due respect, you know little of my past.”
“I know enough. I know of the circumstances of your illegitimate birth. Perhaps you have worked your way forward over time, but a man cannot shed his origins.”
The Admiral bristled, and even Julianna looked surprised. “Father,” she said, “that is most unkind.”
“Oh, you are supporting him now?” Mr. Huntington asked. “Well, I shall not allow this man to hurt you any further.” He turned back to Admiral Grey. “Begone from this house!” he shouted. “Begone at once, and do not return!”
“Father, no!” Julianna shouted. “You have no right!”
“Be silent, daughter, it is for your own well-being!”
The Admiral rose. “Julianna, I am so sorry. But it is clear that I must take my leave.” He bowed, then straightened and saluted, turning crisply on his heel as he strode to the door, leaving Julianna staring at his back as he went out into the dark streets.
Our next installment, On the High Seas, will appear on May 21, 2019.
Story Copyright (C) 2019 Bob Newell. All images used are believed to be in the public domain.
It seems that Julianna never had the opportunity to offer the Admiral some tea on that fateful evening, but her favourite late-night drink was the Elderflower Cordial, an infusion of elderflower and thinly peeled lemon rind with sugar to taste. It’s refreshing and mild and won’t keep you awake.
Elderflower can of course be obtained from Tea Trader.