Saving Selena: Love Lost, Then Found.

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Alfreda and Shanties for Dessert.

“Who let that duck in here, Benson?” The girls were all spellbound and curious. There could not possibly be a duck.

Benson recognized the game.

“Alas, sir. I think that I must have done. Most careless of me. That is Alfreda, sir. I think she sneaked in with the tray.”

“Alfreda, eh? Strange name for a duck.”

“Strange indeed. Yes, sir. We had called it Alfred at first, thinking it was a male, but then it laid an egg one day, so we made a small adjustment to the name.”

“Well, you had better see that she goes back then.”

“Yes, sir, I shall see to it at once. There was another convincing quack as he turned his back on them. “I shall open the door and see that it goes.” Sophia got into the spirit and went to the door, opening it as Robert and Benson fluttered napkins under the table.

“If the girls could flutter their napkins too, we might get it out.”

He bent over and fluttered his napkin again, as did the girls. While he was out of sight he quacked a few times. Sophia shut the door loudly.

“My goodness, I have never seen a duck move so fast.”

“Nor I. Very difficult to see. I never even saw its feet moving, they were going so fast.”

It took some moments for the girls to settle after that, not sure what to believe. Dinner was not usually like this.

“Dessert, sir.”

He saw the girls and Sophia served first, as before, and felt a gentle pressure against his knee as a feather, a duck feather was placed upon his napkin. He covered it with his hand.

“Thank you, Benson, it looks delicious.” He watched the girls happily clean up their plates. And then wait to see what else there might be.

“Are you sure you didn’t let that duck in again when you opened the door to clear some dishes back to the scullery, Benson? I felt something nip me on the ankle.” Benson looked perplexed and embarrassed.

“Oh, dear. I may have done. I did try to keep her out, sir, but she’s a sneaky one.”

“Emily. Did you just nip me under the table?” As she was a full five feet away, she looked blankly at him.

He bent down again and fluttered his napkin, letting out a loud ‘quack’ at the same time where no one could see him. Three heads appeared under the edge of the table cloth.

“There she goes.” They looked but could see nothing. Sophia firmly closed the door as though the duck had gone yet again.

Robert sat up with a smile on his face. “There, I think we got rid of her.”

The girls then began to laugh uproariously as they looked at him and pointed at him.

“What is the matter? What is so funny? Did I dribble my soup? Do I have sherbet on my face?”

“Oh, sir, you have a feather in your hair.”

“I do?” He felt around. “Why bless me, so I do. You see I almost did get her.” He looked beamingly around at the smiling, happy faces and announced the next stage of their dinner.

“Now it is Sea Shanty time. After dinner we would often tell tales or sing songs, and would keep time, by banging our tankards on the table top, but I think we can forego that on this occasion. I do, however, expect you to join in the chorus when you can.

“I suppose I should begin, as I probably know far more sea shanties than you do.” He cleared his throat and began to sing.

“When I was stuck in Plymouth town,

I met a maid of great renown,”

He threw himself into the chorus as he tapped with his hand on the table.

“O Rolly, by jolly, and fiddle de dum,

With her…”

His voice stopped when he realized that Benson was striving to attract his attention with some urgency. He recollected where that song led, and the tender years of his present company.

“Hm. On second thoughts, perhaps not that one.” His eyes lit up. “But perhaps you know this one. You can certainly join in the chorus, which is simply; O, No, John! No, John! No, John! No! which is to be sung loudly by everyone.” He began again, conducting with a fork.

’On yonder hill there stands a creature,

Who she is I do not know.

I’ll go and court her for her beauty;

She must answer Yes or No.

O, No, John! No, John! No, John! No!’

They soon entered into the spirit of the thing, once they knew what was expected of them. The entire house might be able to hear them singing.

’My father was a Spanish captain -

Went to sea a month ago,

First he kissed me, then he left me -

Bid me always answer No.

O, No, John! No, John! No, John! No!

O Madam in your face is beauty,

On your lips red roses grow,

Will you take me for your lover?

Madam, answer Yes or No.

O, No, John! No, John! No, John! No!

O Madam since you are so cruel,

And that you do scorn me so,

If I may not be your lover,

Madam, will you let me go?

O, No, John! No, John! No, John! No!

O hark! I hear the church bells ringing,

Will you come to be my wife?

Or dear Madam, have you settled

To live single all your life?

O, No, John! No, John! No, John! No!’

They may not have understood the story, but they certainly joined in the chorus with enthusiasm.

“I doubt that she was tricked into marriage by such simple eloquence, but it seems to have ended happily, and respectably enough.” Unlike his first song attempt.

He looked around and saw Anne beginning to nod off as Sophia held her from slipping off her chair. He would save the Bosun’s alphabet song for another occasion. It had been a tiring day all around for them all but had ended so much better than it had begun. They had never been so well entertained in such strange and unexpected ways.

Sophia began to doubt the children would be able to get to sleep easily after that and pointed to Anne’s sleepiness and the lateness of the hour though the sun still had two hours before it would set. They had lost track of time over dinner, and it was indeed long past their bedtime.

“Come, girls, it is late.” He turned to Benson. “Please give my compliments to everyone who had any part in that dinner, Benson, including Alfreda.”

“Indeed, I will, sir.” He would tell them all about it, if they didn’t already know. Cook had been on tenterhooks about how her stew would be received by his lordship. She well remembered his grandfather’s ways. She had no need to worry. It was better than most of the fare that had been served up on board ship.

Robert picked Anne out of the chair as her arms went around his neck with her head nestled into his neck. He carried her with him, followed by Sophia and the two older children.

“Nurse will give me a hard time for keeping you out of your beds, but first, let us go and visit your mother.”

“Was there really a duck, sir?

“You heard it, didn’t you, and you saw that feather?” It was still stuck in his hair.

When they got up to where their mother was sleeping, the two older girls migrated silently to the side of the bed as Nurse made way for them. No one said anything when they felt for her hand again beneath the covers.

“She slept well, once she settled, sir. No sign of restlessness or discomfort. We’ve got her back again. I left the door open so that she might hear what was going on downstairs if she could take it in. Singing too. I swear I could hear the girls laughing all the way up here. It did all of us a world of good.”

Robert lifted Anne from his shoulder and passed her, more asleep than awake, across to Nurse. “Good night, little girl. May your sleep not be disturbed, and your rest, remain untroubled by the cares of this world.” He kissed her, and then knelt down and did the same for the other two. No one was to be left out. This was not the man the household had expected, but a much better one. Nurse took charge again.

“Now off you go along to Abby and tell her that I shall be there shortly to help her. And don’t forget to say your prayers.”

“Yes, Nurse.” Robert watched as Sophia took Anne from Nurse and followed the children off to their room. He watched them leave. He lowered his voice.

“That dinner was exhausting, Nurse. The navy was never so demanding of me. Dinner in my wardroom, was never quite so busy, so lively, or so much fun. I shall leave them in your tender care to prepare them for bed this time, and I shall recover my wits and rest here if I can. I survived dinner, though how I managed to do that after a tricky start with that first song, I cannot understand. Now, I just have to survive the rest of what will come at me to trip me up. However, I find that I am equally looking forward to breakfast with them too, and whenever else they might be able to join me. They may want to tell you about the duck that got loose under the dinner table, but Benson and Miss Sophia and I soon got rid of it.”

“You never…not a real…” There was a question in Nurse’s eyes.

“No, Nurse. Not a real duck. Not as my brother and I did with that piglet, though I was sorely tempted, but one was not available on such short notice.”

“Well, sir. What a surprise you are turning out to be. Dining on beef stew, and then sherbet, of all things without kicking up a great fuss, and drinking that cordial too. Benson asked me about it beforehand. Your grandfather would have had the cook spitted and roasted had she done that around him. And chasing a duck. And entertaining children. What are you not capable of when you set your mind to it?” He hoped those words might not come back to haunt her.

“Thank you, sir. You brought life back to the house in more ways than one. Your grandfather would have had a fit if he knew even the tenth part of it. He would not approve of any of it.”

“Yes, I half expected that old despot would let his presence become known in some way. Perhaps by groaning, or rattling the china, or thumping on the table, but I believe that even that stiff-rumped old martinet might have approved of what we did after what has happened here to upset everyone.”

“The whole house could hear their laughter, sir. But before I go to see to the children, I should tell you that she was awake for a while – such a relief – so I gave her more of the soup with some of the meat this time, and fluids. She did not say much, nor complain of any special pains. I think she could hear the laughter too. She seemed to respond to it, and even smiled a little. Perked her right up. I got a real start when you started in on singing. That never happened in the dining room before, but she just accepted it. ‘Just like Charles, to do everything that might be least expected’ she said. I had a good cry over it. She seemed less confused, which was a relief. I knew some good would come of you arriving as you did.” He looked at her disbelievingly.

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