‘That’s quite good,’ a voice behind me said, making my pencil jump across the page and my head look over my shoulder. ‘Sorry,’ the man said, smiling. ‘I didn’t mean to startle you and break your focus; I just thought it was really good. I’ll leave you to it now.’ He inclined his head to me in a gentlemanly fashion and walked off towards the steps.
‘Wait,’ I said, walking after him, my sketchbook still in my hand. ‘What do you mean you thought it was good?’
‘I thought it was nice to look at,’ he said. ‘I’m not an art critic, I just like pretty things.’ His piercing blue eyes see straight through me, almost making me gasp.
‘Then here you are,’ I said, signing the paper with a flourish and tearing it as best as I could from my sketchbook to hand to him. ‘As a gift.’
‘Thank you, you are very generous,’ he bowed elegantly before me, taking my hand and kissing it. I felt my cheeks flushing and bent my head nervously to hide it.
‘You are very kind,’ I said, trying to compose myself but failing. I turned away to return to my spot on the quarterdeck, gently pulling my hand from his grasp. I pick up my pencil again and begin another sketch, this time of the mast of the ship with the rigging hanging down, making interesting patterns as the rope swung in the breeze.
‘You have a very pretty name Adelaide,’ the man says, following me back up the steps. I must have looked confused and shocked as to how he knew my name, because he felt he had to clarify. ‘You signed your drawing.’
‘Of course I did,’ I said, my stomach folding up on itself in embarrassment. What was it about this man that made me forget things I had done only moments earlier? He was beautiful. He reminded me of one of the Greek gods I’d been told about by my tutor. My tutor had shown me some drawings of them and I could imagine this man sitting with the gods on Mount Olympus. His nose was straight and strong, his lips looked so soft I wanted to reach out and touch them and his eyes were as blue as the summer sky. He was tall, I would have guessed about six feet tall, and his body was well muscled. I could tell even through his shirt and waistcoat that were hanging loosely from him. Just looking at him made my heart race.
‘Are you not going to ask my name?’ He tilted his head to one side, his golden blonde hair flopping slightly as he did so.
‘I thought it would be too forward of me to ask such a thing of you,’ I mumbled, unable to look at him without blushing, his gaze was so intense.
‘In that case I will introduce myself,’ he said, clicking his heels together and bowing sharply. ‘Hector Cartwright, at your service.’
‘It’s a pleasure to meet you Mr. Cartwright,’ I said, finally managing to peel my eyes away from the floor and look at him. ‘I assume you are a passenger on board.’
‘Yes, I am going to visit some friends in New York, then head towards Boston for a while before heading home. And what is calling you to America? Going to spend the season there?’
‘Not quite. I’m emigrating actually, at least for the time being. My father just died and my aunt, who lives in New York, is the only family I have left now.’ I could see pity welling up in his face and wanted to stop him before he could tell me how sorry he was. ‘It’s not a big deal or anything, I hate to leave England, especially London, but it’s a new adventure I suppose.’
‘Well good for you Adelaide,’ Hector said smiling broadly at me, making my knees go weak. ‘You are clearly a very strong young woman, and I admire you for that.’
‘I don’t think so sir,’ I said, turning away again and pretending to study the sails. ‘I’m not sure you could call me strong.’
‘A young woman, travelling alone across the Atlantic to start a new life in a place she doesn’t know and with people she hasn’t met, and yet she doesn’t feel afraid. I consider that brave.’ He bowed again before walking off down the deck, his boots making loud clicking noises as the heel met the wood of the deck.
I watched him go, mesmerized by him. There was something familiar about him. It can’t have been his face, I would have remembered someone that beautiful, but there was something in his name that made me wonder if I’d heard it before.
Cartwright? There must be hundreds of Cartwright’s in London so why did I think I knew this one? I told my brain to be quiet, telling myself that I was just making up excuses to think about him, and turned back to my sketchpad. But I couldn’t concentrate. No matter what I did and no matter how hard I focused on the sails blowing in the wind, all I could see was his face, and my drawing would go out the window.
Don’t be a fool, I told myself. He was probably just being polite. He is a gentleman; it is in his nature to greet his fellow passengers. It’s the right thing to do. But this didn’t stop me from watching him walk around the deck, unconsciously sketching him in my book; the way he held himself, the stern shaping of his upper lip, the way the wind caught his hair and the curve of his hand on the rail at the edge of the ship.
I looked down at my sketchbook, blushing instantly as I realised what I’d done and tearing the page out of my book, hiding it quickly in the pocket of my dress. He’ll never know, I said internally. And it does not harm to look. I giggled to myself, enjoying the idea of keeping my sketches of him secret, something for only me. A warmth spread through me, making my lips stretch into an involuntarily smile.