EPILOGUE

The Commodore's House, Freetown, Sierra Leone - Three Years Later

The news had reached her long before the ship dropped anchor, so that when he arrived, he found her sitting on the veranda in a simple white dress, a stout infant of three summers playing nearby with her particular friend, the cook's son who, despite having two perfectly good names of his own (one African, one European) was universally known as Heckle, having been so christened by the Commodore's daughter, the undisputed monarch of the house.

He was in his shirt-sleeves, his uniform coat slung over his shoulder, to be instantly discarded as soon as his womenfolk saw him.

"Pampam!"

"Fitzwilliam."

He swung his daughter round his head, smiling as she screamed in delight and then, balanced her on one hip so he could kiss his wife. He was burnt a deep brown by the sun and, in the gloom, one hardly noticed the scars or the still-closed eye. There was certainly no lack of ardour in his kiss. The suggestion of dinner was scornfully rejected and the commodore carried his wife up to their room for an immediate reunion, leaving little Jane and Heckle to run and greet Starkey who could usually be relied upon to have something interesting or tasty about him.

It was several hours and a very belated supper later before they had occasion for much conversation, beyond those protestations somewhat unusual between man and wife married for very nearly five years. They were still lying in their great bed, surrounded by netting against the many insects which came out at night, watching an enormous tropical moon rise over the trees.

"Is there any news from home?" he asked lazily.

"Heavens yes, the packet came in two weeks ago. Let me see. Georgie writes from Alfreton to say that she does not want to marry Sir Richard after all..."

"I knew it!"

"And that Uncle Alfred is plotting to undermine the government...."

He raised his head to look at her, mildly interested. "Again?" he asked

"Again." He dropped down to lie on his back, stretching luxuriously in a bed so much larger than any he could count on at sea. "Oh and her mother is being courted by someone she says is called Mr Scrape, although that hardly seems likely."

"There used to be a family in the neighbourhood called Scrope, perhaps it's one of them."

"Scrope, much more likely. What else? Um.... Jane and Mr Bingley are thinking of giving up Netherfield, as Mama will insist on visiting. Mama still thinks we ought to go home before we are eaten by cannibals and Papa is threatening to let Longbourn and go back to Malta. He says she and Kitty can go and live with Mary and Mr Hilliard in Hatfield - although I cannot imagine Mr Hilliard agreeing to that. Oh and Lydia says can you lend her husband a thousand pounds - I wrote back, no, by the way."

A long, heavy arm pulled her into his side. "Quite right too. What on earth does he want a thousand pounds for?"

"I imagine it's one of his silly schemes, probably a perpetual motion machine, or a device for extracting sunbeams from cucumbers or something equally inane. I always wondered what sort of man would marry Lydia and now I know." She rested her head on his chest and watched her finger wandering down his stomach to his navel. "I hope you remembered to bring your linen ashore to be washed this time."

He pulled her finger out and kissed the end. "This time I am bringing more than my linen ashore," he said and grunted as she sat up with the aid of an elbow in his chest. "The Holdfast met the squadron two days out with new orders. Colbourne is here to take over as commodore and we can go home. So, my love, shall we take the next packet or would you rather wait for a month or two and take passage on a nice commodious Indiaman?"

"Oh the Indiaman I think. I should be over the nausea by then and ...."

"Lizzie?"

"Well, it will be much more suitable for your son to be born in Pemberley, don't you think?"

THE END