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1785 — Two Sisters

by Susan Marie Brown, © 2014

Whitby, England

In their youth Ann Richardson and her one surviving little sister, Rebecca, were happy and optimistic: the attractive daughters of a prosperous merchant. They both adored ambitious young men. Ann’s favorite was a sailor, William Wedgewood, who aspired to be a Captain in the Royal Navy. He blessed her with two joyful weeks of engagement meant to be the mere beginning of happiness. But then he was struck by orders from the Admiralty and boarded the next boat sailing to Greenwich. He wrote Ann a loving letter full of promises. His frigate was bound for India. His heart was aching daily, missing her. This was a new war’s beginning. He prayed the trouble would swiftly end. He would sail home and marry her as soon as it did.

Ann waited. She read every bit of news she could find. She sewed piles of gowns and cloaks and stockings and kerchiefs and corsets and lace-embellished underclothes for her trousseau. She waited and vowed never to lose hope, and waited some more. She refused the proposals of John, and Thomas, Edward, and Robert, who each wept in disappointment and went forth to marry someone else.

The war continued for years. It was the ruin of Ann’s life. She was twenty-five when William’s dying selfish widow of a mother finally let her see the letter she had always denied existed — the letter written long ago by the Vice-Admiral, who regretfully informed her William had been struck by malaria upon reaching Bengal. He died of fever.

Ann was stunned. Stunned to silence, stunned to numbness. She never wept. She couldn’t. Her heart was too crushed. She stumbled home and emptied those trunks filled with bright wedding clothes, tore everything apart and burnt the shreds, sleeve by hem by collar, in the kitchen fire.

A year later Rebecca lost her dearest love, a charming farmer she chose, in part, because he would never be lost at sea. He despised fish and ships. She thought he was safe. Yes, he stayed on land, where he was thrown from his horse and broke his skull on a plow.

By then the elder Richardsons were both fading to feebleness. They were in need of much help. Ann and Rebecca stayed home to provide care until their mother and father both died. Then the two sisters, old maids, kept each other company — until Rebecca passed. Ann sadly wrote an epitaph and gladly spent much of her savings to have it engraved upon their stone:

What heavenly thoughts while dying Rebecca express’d
Undoubtedly caused by need of eternal rest.
With closing eyes and fading voice she said,
“How pleasant to be lain asleep among the dead.”
Tho dead she lives safe on the happy shore
Where she suffers pain and sin no more.