Sunday Sampler: The Curate’s Brother by Wendy Van Camp
March 13, 2016
In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle is showcasing some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Sunday’s Sampler features an excerpt from The Curate’s Brother, by Wendy Van Camp, a Regency Romance forever linked to the stories and style of Jane Austen.
As one reviewer said: I was delighted to find myself falling into the story and the time period. It was a charming tale of a side story to Jane Austen’s Persuasion, set a few years before the novel. It was filled with both disappointment and hopefulness as not all love stories have a happy ending.
The Curate’s Brother is a novella about the relationship between the two Wentworth brothers as seen through the eyes of EDWARD WENTWORTH. It follows their romantic antics over one summer in 1806. This short story could be seen as a prequel to Jane Austen’s famous novel “Persuasion”.
Edward Wentworth lives a quiet, structured life as a curate in the regency era village of Monkford. He spends his days ministering to the sick and downhearted, which he considers his life’s calling. His comfortable life is shaken when his elder brother, COMMANDER FREDERICK WENTWORTH arrives on his doorstep for a visit. Frederick has returned to England after seeing action and commanding his first vessel, a prize ship won in the West Indies. He is awaiting orders and has the hope of commanding a ship of his own by the end of summer. His only goal is to pass the time with the only family he has left in England until his next assignment.
At first Edward is glad to see his brother. They have not spent time with each other for years due to his brother’s naval service. They are opposites in many ways. Frederick is bold and likes to take risks. Edward is shy and over-aware of social implications. When his brother flirts with SALLY MARSHALL, an outgoing beauty that Edward is used to viewing as “a child,”, the young curate becomes aware that his viewpoint of Sally is sorely outdated. His peaceful life is full of turmoil as he observes Sally flirting with men at public assemblies and realizes that he does not like it.
Meanwhile, Frederick finds himself a celebrity in Monkford. Word from the London papers paint him as “the Hero of San Domingo”, where he won a commendation for his quick thinking in action. The men want to hear the story of his exploits, but Frederick would rather dance with the ladies. The Commander takes an interest in shy wallflower, ANNE ELLIOT. He pays no heed to Edward’s warnings that the girl is the daughter of a baronet and well above his station. Edward fears that no good will come of a union between his brother and the girl due to her family connections.
At the end of summer, a letter and a package arrive that will change everything for the two brothers. Which way will prevail, the bold action of the commander or the quiet manners of the curate?
Stepping out into the soft morning sunshine the following Sunday, Edward found his accustomed place to one side of the doorway of the Monkford church. His Vicar took the other. A mother and father followed by four children were the first to depart. The father stopping for a moment with the Vicar to chat for a moment before the family set off to walk home. This was his first day at church since his brother arrived. That Frederick wanted to come to service and see what he did for his living, pleased Edward.
“Good day, Mr. Wentworth.” The voice was soft, feminine and familiar.
“Thank you for the biscuits, Miss Marshall. It was kind of you to bring them to the cottage.”
The girl blushed, the ringlets of her hair giving a pleasant bounce as she dipped her head. Was this the young girls that brought biscuits to his doorstep or help organize the contents of the poor box after services? That memory did not fit the girl standing before him now, wearing an adult frock and a bonnet to protect her complexion. He found the juxtaposition of Sally the child and the adult clothing of the newly come out Miss Marshall to be disconcerting.
Miss Marshall’s attention shifted and her eyes grew wide. Edward noticed his brother, wearing ill-fitting cast offs from the church in place of his naval uniform, had come to join him. He was giving Miss Marshall a casual grin that warred with his feral appraisal that swept over her form. The girl’s eyelashes fluttered and she blushed. Edward felt a wave of discomfort start in his gut and flow to his chest.
“Would you do the honor of introducing me to your fair companion?”
Miss Marshall looked at Edward with expectation and a flash of excitement. He prevented himself from grimacing. “Miss Sally Marshall, may I introduce my brother, Commander Frederick Wentworth of his Majesty’s Royal Navy. Frederick, this is Miss Marshall, the daughter of the village apothecary.” Sally gave a polite curtsy to his brother’s bow and the introduction became complete.
More families streamed through the open double doors of the church, filling the narrow porch. Sally dimpled and said, “Welcome to Monkford, Commander. Will you be staying long with us?’
“As long as the admiralty allows, Miss Marshall. I am awaiting reassignment.”
Miss Marshall’s smile diminished, but she rallied. “Mr. Wentworth, you simply must bring your brother to the assembly next week.”
“You have not mentioned an assembly, Edward.” There was a good natured prodding in Frederick’s voice.
He faced his brother. “I am sure that I would have in time.” Turning back to Sally, “We will both attend, Miss Marshall, you can be certain.”
The girl gave a clap of her gloved hands and this time her winsome smile included both men. “What delightful news. I look forward to telling Papa.” More people were crowding the narrow entry. The girl gave a quick curtsy to the brothers and continued down the steps where her family was waiting.
“What an amiable girl. You have been holding out on me, Edward. I wonder what other delights Monkford will hold.”
“Frederick, Miss Marshall is a respectable girl and the daughter of a friend. If you intend to ruin this girl’s reputation…” A hand from his seafaring brother on his shoulder stopped him.
“I am returning to sea soon enough. I have no intention of starting a complication here. Come, greet your parish. Say no more.” Edward studied his brother’s face and saw no guile there. He relaxed. One after another, the people exited the church, pausing either with himself or with the Vicar across the way.
There did not seem to be a preference by the people of Monkford between the elder Vicar and the Curate. Though Edward was a scant two and twenty years of age, he was as respected as the Vicar. At least, until the baronet’s family from Kellynch Hall exited the church.
Sir Walter Elliot wore a puce frock coat and appeared well groomed, to the point that his coiffure would be the envy of women. His silver headed cane gleamed in the morning light. An elegant woman of similar age followed along with two young women. The first girl had elaborate braids, perfect skin, and a dress of the finest cut and quality. The other was pale, exhibiting fragility. She wore the sprig muslin of an innocent. Sir Walter never stopped to speak to Edward, a mere curate. He would only acknowledge the Vicar when he and his family came to church.
He heard a catch of breath behind him. “Who is that beautiful creature, Edward?”
Edward glanced back to learn who his brother was speaking of and realized he was looking at the baronet’s daughters. “Miss Elliot is the belle of Somersetshire. She is Sir Walter Elliot’s eldest daughter. Reputed to be the heiress of quite a fortune.” There was much speculation about whom Miss Elliot would settle on. Perhaps a man of wealth and title would be able to tempt the golden haired beauty. Sir Walter was in excellent health and while Miss Elliot was quite eligible, neither father nor daughter was in a hurry to find a match.
“No, no, not the fancy one. The one behind her with the brown hair, the lady’s companion? Pretty little thing she is.”
“That is no companion. Miss Anne Elliot is Sir Walter’s second daughter.”
“She is like a pocket spite, you could just scoop her up and put her in your…”
“Frederick, please. There are people about.”
Across the way, Anne Elliot had noticed his brother’s regard. Her pale face colored a becoming pink and she looked away.
“Such a shy one. It might be fun to draw her out.”
“Frederick, did you not pay heed? She is the daughter of a baronet. Come to your senses man.” While their father had been wealthy enough to buy Frederick’s commission in the navy and to sponsor Edward an education at Cambridge, they were of the merchant class, no match in status for someone of the peerage.
His brother followed the girl’s progress down the steps as Sir Walter led his party to the carriage that waited at the end of the lane. “Brother, you will learn that sometimes risk has its reward.” Anne Elliot entered the carriage and a footman closed the door. His brother turned from the girl and gave Edward his full attention. “Why are you convinced that I have come to cause your doom? Do you think so little of me?”
Edward deflated. “No. I suppose I keep thinking of you as the twelve year old scamp that insisted he was for the sea until father gave in to your desires. I do not know the man that has come back to England. At least, not yet.”
“Fair enough. We need a shakedown cruise to clear the decks between us.” Frederick moved behind Edward to allow more of the parishioners to exit the church. “I hope that we both prove to each other’s satisfaction.”