It was the sense of companionship that ensnared me. I hadn’t missed it before, perhaps because I had never met a meet companion to inspire the desire. But this one… She was as well read as I, and as informed as a person could be who had not been abroad and afloat herself. Her cheerful energy and interest in the ship transformed from an irritation to a stimulant, inciting me to take more interest myself in the tasks that would normally have seemed routine to an old hand. She didn’t raise the point I had initially dreaded, of going to sea as an agent of the underwriter, and I realized I was disappointed by the loss of her prospective company. What a boon it would be to have this woman to come home to.
I remember being startled by the thought, and dismissive of it—but it began to creep into my mind in the form of serious consideration. There was no time for a lengthy courtship if I wished to secure her; Obedience would set sail in less than a fortnight.
There’s this to be said for a sailor’s life—he spends far more time away from his wife than with her, so it could be said you have room for error in your choice. I won’t say that figured into my calculations, precisely, but the honest truth is that it makes a proposal easier than it might be for a lubber who will have to labor beside his choice every day of his life. So it was with few nerves and a sense almost of cheer that I prowled the deck on a Saturday evening, just a week before our departure, waiting for her to appear. I knew the inn she stayed at—but hadn’t called there before and didn’t see any reason to start now. I knew her habits, and knew she’d come.
Having come to the conclusion that I would make the proposal, I had thriftily calculated all the advantages that would accrue to her—in short, all the reasons why she would naturally accept. She was by her own account orphaned and nearly without connection—I understood her unusual role as company-agent to be the charity of a distant relative attempting to put her out in the world. And not beforetime, either, given that she must be nearly past that marriageable age at which most young ladies would be considered spinsters. I could boast a tidy clapboard house on the hill, of which she would be mistress, and she would have all the status of a captain’s wife in a whaling town. Here I must confess that I didn’t consider the possibility that she would refuse me.
The term “taken aback” describes a ship blown suddenly backward by a shift in wind, and it perfectly describes my mental state when she posed me a question instead of the demure acceptance I anticipated. Why? she asked me. Whatever made you take it into your head to marry me?
Of all the things I might have said, had I been prepared for the question (a flowered speech perhaps on her beauty?) the flustered answer I blurted was: “Well, you’re interesting.” She tipped her head back and laughed—a sound I had come to enjoy, but in that moment took for the humiliating negative to my intended offer. Instead, she surprised me again.
“That’s probably the best answer you could have given,” she declared, drawing her arm comfortably through mine as if she had not just entirely discomposed me. “I was dreading a poem.” And she laughed some more. It had, at least, the virtue of being an honest answer.