Part 4 Persuading Captain Braithwaite
The Nothe, a few years after Mrs Bennet’s visit
A week after her visit to the Abergavenny Store Mrs Bennet left her lodgings in the Circus and made her usual promenade along the harbour side, over the bridge across the harbour and then up and along the Nothe. She was well known by now, and the sailors in the lookout had chairs waiting for both her and her maid. She sat and, taking her telescope, looked down on the familiar scene. The Endeavour had been moved slightly, so that the Bell could be lowered onto a different part of the wreck. Today, however, it didn’t look as if the Bell would be lowered at all, the men were working on different parts of the vessel. Captain Braithwaite was talking to two men beside the Bell when he suddenly turned and looked up at the Nothe, Mrs Bennet had the oddest feeling he was looking straight at her.
A few minutes later he could be seen being rowed back towards the shore, Charlotte watched the boat as it approached the harbour entrance then it disappeared beneath the slope of the Nothe. She waited and wasn’t surprised when Captain Braithwaite came striding up the slope. He walked straight to her and touched his hat.
Charlotte rose, “Captain Braithwaite.” She replied.
“A fine glass.” He said, looking down at her telescope, clearly wishing to avoid the subject he had come to talk about.
“It belonged to my husband.” She replied, “And I will be taking it to Lyme where my Brother in Law lives. His son has just been promoted lieutenant on the Swallow, I am going to give it to him. From one brave sailor to another.”
Captain Braithwaite took a deep breath.
“I don’t usually take people down in the Bell.” He said quickly.
She looked up at him.
“I heard you took down Captain Darcy last month.”
“He is a Royal Engineer, who was working on the Cobb at Lyme. He wanted to see what the Bell could do. It could be useful to him in repairing harbour works.”
“I see, he was a potential customer.” She paused, “So you would take down someone who was interested in using the Bell.” He nodded.
“But what about someone who wanted to invest in the Bell?”
“But no one wants to invest in the Bell.”
“My husband did.” She looked straight at him. “Tell me truthfully, if my husband had wanted to go down in the Bell, would you have taken him?”
“But that would be have been different.”
“Because I am a woman?” She looked angrily at him. “Let me tell you Captain Braithwaite I have sailed the Channel and North Sea with my father and husband. I can shoot the sun and set a course, I am as much a sailor as half the men on your boat.”
“I know that, but I have never …” He suddenly paused. “But you are right, why not?” He turned and looked straight at her.
“Mrs Bennet would you like to descend in the Diving Bell?”
“Of course.” She looked at him in surprise.
He turned to look at the Endeavour.
“As you will have seen, we have been moving the vessel so we can dive on another part of the wreck. We will need to spend tomorrow making certain we are in exactly the right place. So if it is convenient you can descend the day after tomorrow.”
She smiled up at him. Dropped a slight curtsey and replied.
“Thank you sir, that would be most convenient.”
The morning was bright and clear, Charlotte looked out of her window then stepped back in shock. There was a crowd on the pavement watching her house. Susan came in with the tea tray.
“Susan, did you say anything to anybody about what I am doing today?”
“I might have mentioned it to Mrs Smith or their man John.”
“Look outside.” She did so and gasped.
“Do you think that they are ..?’
“Waiting for me, yes.”
“I am so sorry Madam.”
It can’t be helped, now help me dress.”
She put on a bathing dress instead of a shift, then covered it with an old walking dress and a plain brown pelisse. She made certain that Susan had a complete change of clothes for her in her bag, then put on her bonnet and opened the front door. There was a cheer from the crowd, as she climbed into the chaise, she was glad now that she had ordered one, it would have been dreadful trying to walk to the quay through the mass of people all trying to look at her.
The crowd meant that it took several minutes to cover the short distance to the harbour side, here Captain Braithwaite was waiting, he handed her from the chaise and led her to the narrow gangway leading down to the small boat. She sat in the stern as the six rowers pulled hard, they rapidly ran down the harbour then out into the bay. It didn’t take long before they were approaching the Endeavour, as they moved in she saw the Diving Bell close for the first time. It was made of timber, painted thickly in tar to keep it watertight. Several tiny glass discs were fitted in the side, these were clearly glazed portholes for looking out. Seeing the machine she felt nervous for the first time, what was she doing?
To be continued
2 responses to “Mrs Bennet – The First Female Diver”
I never considered it would be made of timber – but of course, all the ships were……..
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You will discover more about the bell – when Mrs Bennet finally goes down in it.