Title: Who is He?
Author: Gwendoline Ewins
Series: Southern Seas
Genre: Regency Romantic Comedy, sensual, intended for 17+ readers
“I have a cabin booked on the ‘Cambray’ bound for the Southern Seas,” he announces mere hours before they are to be joined as one in the sight of God and Mama and Papa and her very best friend Deborah.
Hester had fallen in love with him at first sight, before she knew his true character. Now his ridiculous prank has forced them into a marriage neither wants. Worse, he intends to set sail immediately after the ceremony leaving her to endure – alone – the pity of so-called friends. Not likely!
Luke warns her the voyage will be long and arduous but she insists on sailing with him. She is green and vomiting before they even board the ship but will not be deterred. All he can do is ensure she constantly drink to replenish the loss of liquid and wrap her in blankets against the cold air.
Yet against all odds they become friends on the ship and when they set up home in Tahiti. Their friendship deepens in a culture far different than they had known, and over the years becomes abiding love as they experience more joy than either had thought possible, more grief than either could bear alone.
“Who is that man?”
“The tall one – with dark hair and eyes.”
“There are lots of tall men here! Many of them have dark hair and every one of them has eyes!”
“But only one with eyes searching the room feverishly as if all will be lost if he fails to find what he is looking for.”
Miss Hester Urquhart and her best friend Lady Deborah Appleby had stopped their slow promenade around the edge of the Pilkington’s dance floor to whisper behind fans they fluttered with well-taught delicacy. It was generally agreed by the guardians of polite society that these two young ladies had risen like cream to the top of the vast quantity of milky maids in London during their very first season: their deportment was perfect, their behaviour demure, their conversation proper. And more than one eligible male had taken notice.
“Oh – that man. Mmm – he is rather handsome, is he not? He is the Wainwright heir. You know, the Earl of Darlinghurst’s cousin ninth removed or some such. The only surviving male in that illustrious family of his. Not that he has ever shown more than a passing interest in the family, except for a desultory attempt to prevent its extinction by pursuing Jane Throgmorton andher fortune. It did not work but perhaps he will have more success now he is returned from the Antipodes.”
“The Antipodes?” Luminous eyes shone with innocent radiance that might – in the right circumstances – darken with passion.
“Yes, Hester, the Antipodes, that land mass at the bottom of the world full of deserts and strange creatures. Apparently he was helping one of the darlings of the botany world collect flowers – hundreds of them. After a while that must have become most tedious -” Deborah followed her pronouncement with the bored sigh she had recently perfected.
For a brief moment Hester almost forgot Deborah as in her mind’s eye she saw the tall, dark-haired figure of Mr Wainwright with his beautiful eyes – which if she were closer to him she would surely be able to confirm were of the deepest blue, sensitive and passionate at the same time – fixed steadfastly on field after field of beautiful flowers of every conceivable hue while above him in an azure sky delicate clouds floated happily towards the horizon. “What sort of flowers is he collecting?” she breathed.
Deborah looked confused. “Is collecting? You mean was collecting, do you not? He was collecting orchids.”
“Yes – apparently orchids grow wild over all the hills around Botany Bay.”
“Deborah! How glorious that sounds and how wonderful it must be to be a man – able to leave everything behind to travel to distant places like Botany Bay and pick armfuls of real orchids.”
Deborah giggled and almost lost the ennui she was trying so hard to perfect. “Unfortunately setting foot on Botany Bay requires a voyage of several months across the oceans of the world, tossing and turning on a narrow cot in a tiny cabin – and regularly losing the contents of your stomach on the floor. I must tell you now, Hester, I am sorry. I cannot find it in my heart to accompany you. You will simply have to find a man who has the wanderlust and travel with him to paradise. I promise faithfully to answer your letters.”
“I think I may have found him.”
Deborah’s fan stopped fluttering as she followed the direction of Hester’s eyes. “Hester – please think carefully before you do anything!” For all her attempted sophistication Lady Deborah was at heart the more compliant of the two. She was also kind-hearted and protective of her far more adventurous friend. “We are no longer children. We have made our come-out. This is not the time for pranks and devil-may-care schemes.”
Hester scarcely heard. Her attention was fixed on Luke Wainwright, who in turn appeared transfixed by one of the dancers who had come to a halt in front of him. “Jane Throgmorton,” Deborah whispered and Hester studied the heiress from behind her fan.
Miss Throgmorton was a most attractive young lady. Her hair fell in perfect golden ringlets over perfect shoulders revealed by an exquisite – if extraordinarily low-cut – gown of palest lemon. Hester could well understand any man, let alone a man who had spent the past years collecting orchids from the hills around Botany Bay, being overwhelmed by such beauty. However more than beauty was needed to make a man happy, she decided. Among her friends Hester had a fine reputation of reading character. It took but an instant to read Miss Throgmorton’s and pronounce judgment.
“He is making a terrible mistake,” Hester said briskly. “Miss Throgmorton may be lovely to look at but she could never make him happy.”
Deborah accepted the verdict without question. Hester was rarely wrong. “Well, we do not need to worry ourselves about Miss Throgmorton and Mr Wainwright because she has allowed herself to fall for the fortune and dubious charms of that elderly libertine Lord Frankton -”
“Poor Mr Wainwright,” Hester sighed. “He has been out of society and free from the wiles of devious women for years. I think we – you and I, Deborah, should prepare a plan to protect him from Miss Throgmorton.”
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Amelia Yorke is a destitute teacher with a petunia in a flower pot outside her dingy cottage in Sydneytown. Guy Richmond is a botanist seeking orchids in the rainforest and heir to vast lands in New South Wales. Each has experienced tragedy.
They are from different worlds and should never have met, yet come together on the deck of a sailing ship overlooking a spectacular tropical lagoon.
Drums on the beach threaten and a man desperately paddles for freedom: a man Amelia has never met but agreed to marry. A man Guy loathes.
By the time Amelia Yorke unlatched the tiny window her armpits were soaked in perspiration and she knew something was wrong.
The cottage was stifling and too quiet – the only sound was the whine of flies competing for crumbs of bread scattered over the table. There was no sign of a sodden Mama in crumpled clothes, hair wildly askew, just a sad empty gin bottle on the floor.
Amelia spun around, searching the cramped living space and even smaller scullery beyond as if Mama might magically materialize on the broken sofa. Or on one of the two wooden chairs. Or under the table.
“Where are you, Mama? Are you all right?” she worried aloud before noticing a thin strip of light around the back door. Rushing toward it she pushed the door wide open.
All-too visible was a figure collapsed in front of the privy in a puddle of vomit and worse. One arm was thrown over head, thighs were revealed in a flagrant disarray of bared flesh, mouth agape and doubtless emitting a ghastly procession of snorts and sniffs and snores.
Bile filled Amelia’s mouth as the horror of it all flooded her eyes with tears because it hadn’t always been like this. There had been a time when Mama was happy, when the two of them picked daisies from a much bigger garden and made garlands for their hair. A time before Papa died and Mama found respite from grief in a gin bottle.
Amelia’s eyelids squeezed shut. She longed to stay behind them forever. She wanted to let her thoughts wander to a place where they became dreams – but it was more and more difficult to allow thoughts to wander, and almost impossible to dream. Money was tight and made tighter by Mama’s uncanny ability to find any cache set aside for necessities while time passed pitilessly – in a month it would once again be her birthday, one dreary year giving way to another just as dreary, two-and-thirty giving way to three-and-thirty, another line on her face, less flesh on her bones, less life in the brown eyes that had once been described as “fine”.
Smothering another groan she ran to Mama’s side, dropped to her knees and began to rub her hands. They were oddly stiff and cold on this too hot a day.
“Mama, wake up,” she urged. There was no response.
She tried to lift the comatose body and failed. “You have to help me, Mama. I can’t lift you by myself.”
“Let me help you, Miss Yorke.” Duncan Blowes – his ever increasing impudence was becoming worrisome, his constant scrutiny distasteful. She shivered at the thought of his watery eyes watching her return from the schoolhouse, and of him following her into the cottage and out of the back door to the patch of grass they called a garden. Now she felt his eyes leering down at her, no doubt hoping to glimpse some private part of her body revealed as she tended Mama.
A quick glance along the long line of cottages confirmed no one else was around. His hand was the only one available. Unease must be swallowed.
“Thank you, Mr Blowes.” Amelia forced the words through a tight throat. “Can you help me carry Mama into the cottage? She has had one of her turns.”
He smirked in triumph. “Willingly, my dear. I’m only too happy to help a sweet young lady like you. Your mama’s health must be of constant concern to you.”
Fussing over Mama’s skirts provided an excuse to ignore his comments. Amelia moved to take the weight of the lower now fetid part of Mama’s body while Blowes positioned himself to take her shoulders.
But instead of lifting Mama he gave a long low whistle.
Amelia jerked up her head.
“She’s gone,” he said.
The time for feasting was over. Huge amounts of food had been consumed or spirited away in banana leaves, now the drums primed the guests for the appearance of dancers.
Guy Richmond was quickly aware of the dancers’ erotic spell, summoning a wry smile even as he fidgeted to ease the tightness of his crotch.
Grass skirts hung temptingly low on hips, swaying gently to reveal long legs and tight buttocks. Hips swivelled to the tempo of the drums. Navels demanded attention. Breasts were exposed in a glorious assortment of shapes and sizes to fit the dream of any man. Arms were adorned with sweet-smelling gardenia.
Guy shared a good-natured grin with a young Adonis who had been eyeing a particular fifine with lascivious intent. Sialosi had befriended Guy from the first and probably dreamed of accompanying him when he finally packed up his botanical specimens and moved on.
The grin faded as Guy’s glance rested on another man close by, equally honoured by being seated on a woven mat not far from the chief – and similarly aroused if the contortions of his face were anything to go by. Guy had taken the Reverend Jeremiah Howard in dislike during their first brief interchange, instinctively distrusting him regardless of his showy humility and earnest manners.
The tempo of the drums quickened and the new bride stepped out of the shadows into dazzling sun.
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Title: A Perfect Wife for Peregrine Winthrop
1857, Little Chormsby in the South of England, Peregrine’s wedding night is a nightmare. He discovers how very foolish he was to rely on others to find him the perfect helpmate to accompany him across the world. Those others will not have to live with her or sleep with her. He will.
As years pass his worst fears are realised. His marriage is bleak. Colour and passion surround him in Polynesia though there is none in his marriage. No joy. No companionship. He is sustained by his work alone.
Until fate intervenes.
1857 Little Chormsby, in the south of England
My very new wife bids her father good night but says nothing to me. She simply leaves the room and pads along the hall and then up some stairs until her footsteps fade away and all is quiet.
I’m not sure where she has gone, or if I should follow.
I remain where I am, in the silence and gathering gloom. I almost wish my new father-in-law would say something but, as is well-known, he has no small talk – just a booming voice to preach from the pulpit or other places where people collect together.
The silence is so loud it hurts my ears.
My chair gets harder, making it difficult for me not to squirm, and my hands are awkward. They clasp. Then unclasp. And clasp again.
The room darkens but the Crombies are frugal and no candle will be lit until it is impossible to see beyond the distance of a hand.
Shall I stay where I am or do as my wife did – go out of the door and up a flight of stairs to an upper floor? My blood rushes madly hither and thither through my veins, frantically seeking the answer to my dilemma.
Then Reverend Obadiah Crombie’s angular form rises out of his special chair that no one else would ever dare sit in and comes to loom over me. I try to smile in the friendly – but not too friendly – manner incumbent upon a son-in-law of some four hours. And wait.
“Until you sail you will share Marianna’s room,” he intones eventually, as if conducting the last rites rather than proposing that I sleep with his daughter – lie alongside her, skin touching, bodies joined as we consummate our marriage.
Before this moment the thought of sharing a bed, or my body, with Marianna had never occurred to me. Incredible. The closest to thinking of her in amorous terms had been to delight in her name: Marianna. Such a pretty name to have rolling around my mouth and under my tongue – like a luscious strawberry ready to be nibbled with my teeth until my mouth overflows with juice. Thus Reverend Crombie’s suggestion – or command – that I share Marianna’s bed tonight and tomorrow night brings me no joy, and the prospect of uniting my body with hers is … incomprehensible.
I feel almost dead inside, as if my heart is trying to hide, ashamed because of the dreadful mistake I have made and unwilling to forgive me because I have only myself to blame.
And my heart is right.
I should have chosen my own wife myself, not left it to others wiser than me.
“Marianna Crombie is the perfect wife for you, the perfect helpmeet,” some told me. “A little older than you,” others said, “but that’s no great fault. She’s a good Christian woman, hardworking, zealous.”
But none of those wise people will have to live with her. Sleep with her.
They should have known better – as should I.
Mama alone had remained silent – but then she wants more than the perfect helpmeet for me. Mama wants me to know bliss. She is constantly affirming me, hugging me, showering me with huge smacking kisses, with her love streaming out of sparkling eyes the same shade of blue as my own.
I should have taken note of Mama’s silence and looked into her eyes. They would have told me the truth.
My only excuse is that my head was full to the brim with the thought of sailing ships and beautiful tropical islands and preparing myself to bring joy to benighted men and women oppressed by Satan. That meant there was no room for much else, and none for pondering the frequent sharpness of Marianna Crombie’s tone or the tightness taking up permanent residence on her face.
I’m pondering now.
Trapped by a bleak father-in-law in a bleak manse, my only escape is to join an equally bleak wife and honor the vow made mere hours ago:“With my body I thee worship”.
Quite simply, even though she is the perfect wife for someone like me, I find it impossible to connect that vow with Marianna. We have never held hands, let alone kissed – had I attempted such intimacies she would quite properly have rejected me. But I made no such attempt and felt no desire to do so, despite witnessing time and again my friend Jacob Hasselthwaite and now-rounded Rebecca exchanging loving glances and touching one another even in the company of others.
I feel none of Jacob’s obvious longing to share his body with Rebecca – and that bodes ill.
The door of her room squeals in protest as I push it open. Through the gloom I catch sight of my wife on her knees beside a narrow bed. She continues to pray without registering my presence in any way – so I remove my daytime clothing as fast as my nervous fingers will allow, haul on my nightshirt then carefully fold my clothes and put them on a wooden chair.
She is still praying when I sink onto my knees on what presumably is my side of the bed.
Prayer is impossible. I can only pretend.
After a lifetime the floorboards creak and the sheets swish as she slips between them. I remain on my knees wondering how long to wait before joining her.
When at long last I lift the covers and climb into her bed, my wife’s body is on the far side. My brave hand staggers over the sheet to reach for hers.
Straightway it is slapped for its effrontery. Suitably chastened, my hand scrambles back to my side, twitching.
Overcome with exhaustion, I eventually fall asleep, but waken before dawn with an understanding of what my marriage will be.
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Title: Unexpected Hero
The South Pacific, 1866. Their parents have been friends for years but Sebastian Churnside and Charity Trescothick have never warmed to each other. He believes she is complacent about living in her parents’ shadow. She believes him to be a cuckoo in the warm family of the seacaptain, though his inability to follow the family tradition of seafaring is because he is violently seasick at first sight of the sea.
But when Charity’s mother dies unexpectedly Sebastian is the only member of his family available. Willingly – if excruciatingly – he sails to her aid and discovers Charity is more than dutiful, just as she discovers he is more than aloof.
Meanwhile Reverend Trescothick accepts he has made a terrible mistake – he should have settled his daughter in Sydney years ago. Now it is too late. He is dying and Charity’s future is insecure. However Sebastian’s coming is a god-send. He can secure Charity’s future, he can marry her and make her a member of the fine Churnside family.
All Trescothick has to do is convince Sebastian and Charity they have a future together.
But there is little time.
The Southern Seas
The Southern Star glided up and over the vast ocean’s swells, sails plump under an indigo sky, while in the bowels of the ship Sebastian Churnside suffered another explosion of retching and wished he was dead.
He’d loathed every minute at sea. And every excruciatingly cheerful visit of the captain and the ship-boy who emptied his bucket.
He stuffed a ship’s biscuit into his mouth to quieten his grumbling innards.
Swallowed. Straightway his belly balked and a tell-tale gush of fluid flew into his mouth as the biscuit returned to punish him.
Limp, covered in sweat, the patience for which he was renowned was tested to the limit as The Southern Star pitched and turned somersaults on an ocean described by the crew as “calm” when it was anything but. With each passing hour he rued the day he’d succumbed to the pleading of his seafaring father and brothers to play Sir Galahad to the Trescothicks.
He could have helped them without leaving Sydney.
He should have helped them without leaving Sydney.
A scratch on the flimsy pretence of a door interrupted his wild imaginings. “Come in!” he barked, and gagged at the stench of greasy food.
The ship-boy stepped nervously to the foot of the cot. The plate in his hands was piled with bacon. “Are you ready for your breakfast, sir?”
Makatea, three days later.
“Let me finish, Charity, I beg you.” Desperation gave Reverend Richard Trescothick strength to grasp his daughter’s arm and shake it. “There’s so little time. I want you to leave on the ship and I need your promise you won’t marry him, no matter what happens.”
Charity patted the hand gripping her arm. “Don’t distress yourself like this, Papa. I am staying here with you and nothing you say will dissuade me. Pastor Ikiua will watch over me and Moale will stay with me until the next ship comes. As for McKenzie, I promise you nothing would persuade me to accept his proposal. Don’t forget I saw how he treated poor Mrs McKenzie. I would never put myself in her position.”
He sighed and loosened his grip, and as his eyelids drooped Charity rubbed her arm.
Moale caught her eye and nodded at the pandanus mat flap, a signal to leave, to finish her letters, to go down to the beach.
Smiling mute thanks, Charity left.
On the verandah she dropped heavily onto the chair behind the old wooden table. In front of her was the letter she had been writing to her brother ready to send on the ship. Don’t worry about me, dearest Oliver, I am well able to cope with everything here, she had written.
It was a lie. She had no idea how to get through the next hour, let alone the next days.
Her straw bonnet, all frayed round the edges, waited at the end of the table. She stood up and grabbed it, tied it under her chin, lips quivering she came to a standstill.
These were the last letters the ship would ever bring Papa, the last letters he would read. The yearning to flop down and bury her head in her arms was almost impossible to resist. She put a hand on her chest while she fought and won a battle against temptation, then straightening her shoulders she stepped down from the verandah, out of the shade of the mission house into the burning sun where it was safe for tears to fall.
It was even hotter on the beach, all hazy heat and high excitement. Leis by the hundred were piled up on the sand, adding gardenia to the heady mix of coconut oil and aromas of fish and pawpaw drifting down from umu.
An old crone lifted her eyebrows in greeting and asked Fano ki fe, Misi Saliti – where are you going, Miss Charity? Charity clenched her jaw lest she answer I don’t know. I don’t know anything. But there was no time to reflect as villagers gathered around her wanting to know if Papa wasmalolo, if he had slept well, if she needed any more help.
The questions were curiously comforting, as was being with the many people who had cared for Papa and had known her all her life.
And more villagers were still arriving – pushing, shoving, squeezing into non-existent spaces, raising eyebrows in greeting, slapping backs. Chatter was focused on what would happen after the feast when everyone had eaten their fill and wrapped food in banana leaves to take home, when the drums began and the fifine sauntered onto the grass wearing garlands of frangipani and gardenia.
Speculation was rife about the sailors’ reactions to sparkling eyes and glistening skin and long limbs revealed by swaying grass skirts. Men and women alike bellowed estimates of the sailors’ virility and the fifine’s fecundity, made generous guesses about the size of the sailors’ most private parts and the quality of seed that would flow when they coupled with fifine under the moon. Fantasies proliferated about the creation of babies with golden skin and strong new blood.
And all the while children ran amok and got cuffed for their pains, fifine tossed thick waist-length hair over shoulders to more perfectly reveal pert breasts, and fuata hung about in small groups rippling biceps and starting mock-fights. Two of the fuata waded across the jagged bed of the lagoon to the very edge of the reef and stood buffeted by the swell, staring at the ship, dreaming dreams of bygone years when their ancestors navigated the vast Pacific.
The sun was rising rapidly. People used what little shade there was and when none remained they covered themselves in a wild assortment of leafy concoctions and strange hats.
But no one departed – how could they when there was so much going on, so many people to talk to, so much to see on the beach and the crowded sea beyond the reef. Virtually every canoe in the village had been launched as soon as the ship billowed into the bay. Now most of those canoes had already crossed the lagoon and were over the reef circling The Southern Star and creating mayhem.
This ship was expected. Unlike the marauding ships it was known and trusted. It was welcomed.
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I grew up in the east end of London and then went where my husband’s work took him. We spent almost a decade in Polynesia before coming to live in New Zealand. “Our” small island was surrounded by never-ending sea and first inhabited years ago as Polynesians left “Havaiiki” in search of something better or simply different. They travelled on fragile trimarans should have sunk but survived the long voyage and they eventually found strings of glorious islands and atolls rising out of the sea.
Our travelling was easier. We flew from London to Fiji then sailed on over a spectacular Pacific Ocean. Our two small children vomited all the way and I vowed I would never move again: wherever we landeed we’d stay forever, I told myself and anyone else prepared to listen. But we arrived and were welcomed generously with a feast of food I’d only read about followed by singing and dancing and hand movements of extraordinary beauty.
I discovered for myself Polynesians were courageous people, intelligent and beautiful with a lusty appreciation of the physical and a very different set of values to those I knew and accepted as did the teachers, plumbers, nurses and doctors who were part of our expatriate community. Beliefs about sensuality and promiscuity were miles apart. Polynesians knew how to grieve and to experience joy, they took it for granted everything was to be shared whereas “sharing” was tantamount to theft to the Europeans. Put simply, Polynesians thought this was right and this was wrong and Europeans often thought the opposite. I had to learn that values were often simply (and painfully!) different, and accept a generosity that at times was overwhelming. For example one of the busiest women I’ve ever met was the pastor’s wife. A lot was expected of her from the villagers, she had a large family to care for yet at sunset found time to sit with me on her balcony and give me language lessons.
Eight years later my husband was offered work in New Zealand and it felt right to move on. Our children went to high school and I went back to work. Then a new chapter in my life began: a good friend enrolled at university and I followed her.
Some years later our daughter and children moved to Christchurch. I couldn’t get my practice going in a different city. I remembered a strange dream I had and decided I’d write a book. I didn’t know how difficult that would be! I didn’t give up, and I’m pleased about that.