Allegiance - Chapter 2
by The Stowaway
Miss Swann rode past the gates of Government House and down through the town with a swelling heart. Not only did her new riding costume become her very well (indeed, it made her look quite like a grown-up lady), but - even better - it was the first time Papa had let her ride her new chestnut mare beyond the grounds.
Sprite had arrived last week, on her fourteenth birthday, but her father had insisted that she keep within the grounds until he was satisfied that she could manage a real horse, after jogging along on the grey pony for years.
When he caught them jumping the paddock gate he had threatened to forbid her the use of the mare altogether, but a careful mix of cajolery and long faces had soon brought him round. This morning at breakfast he had laughed and pinched her cheek - calling her a willful minx - and relented.
She had hurried upstairs to change and, when she had returned to the breakfast parlor to take her leave, found Captain Norrington sitting with her father. When he rose and bowed over her hand she fancied she saw admiration in his glance and she smiled warmly upon him. But when he offered to accompany her on her ride, she felt that her cup runneth over. To have the handsome and dashing Captain Norrington at her side as they rode through the town for all to see! Captain Norrington, with whom all her friends were a little in love! She kissed her father and waited impatiently for the Captain to take his leave, practically dragging him out of the room as she chattered excitedly about her beautiful mare and the lovely, long ride she wished to take.
For his part, Captain Norrington found Elizabeth both enchanting and amusing. She had always been an engaging child, but now, on the cusp of young-ladyhood, she was more than ever a mercurial creature - subject to bewildering shifts of mood. One moment she might be a bouncing hoyden (trying to inveigle him into climbing trees with her) and the next she might favour him with her best approximation of a bored sophisticate, playing off what she fancied were airs of the great world. Thanks to experience with three younger sisters and a raft of female cousins, such playacting was familiar to him and he was able to check her more excessive flights without her being aware of it. Her father, who often found raising a daughter to be a sadly perplexing task, had expressed his gratitude in heartfelt terms.
After praising the mare to Elizabeth's satisfaction, Norrington tossed her up into the saddle. She settled her skirts as he mounted and they set off, the groom following at a discreet distance. Their object was a stretch of beach outside Port Royal, where they could let the horses have their heads, as Elizabeth had expressed a wish to try the mare's paces. Accordingly, they went down through the town, skirting the port district as being unsuitable for young ladies, and headed east past the last straggling houses.
Elizabeth was enjoying herself beyond even her expectations. She had seen no fewer than five acquaintances in town - including her particular friend Miss Johnson - and knew herself to be an object of envy in each heart. She thought blissfully of the letter she would presently write to her cousin Cynthia back home in England, relating her triumph. She glanced at Captain Norrington, riding sedately at her side, and a daring idea came into her head - a way to crown an already noteworthy day with something truly extraordinary. But how to achieve it? She chewed her lip and began to plot.
Norrington watched his charge with an inner smile. She had fallen silent as soon as the town had been left behind. Before that, she had been playing at being a great lady, all gracious smiles, nods and bright laughter - taking good care that her friends noticed she was riding out with an officer. Now, she rode along sunk in thought. He knew the signs - Elizabeth was up to mischief. He wondered how worried he should be.
They reached the shore and rode out onto the packed sand at the water's edge. They had cantered for about half a mile when Elizabeth clapped her heels to the mare's side and they sprang forward at a gallop, Norrington and the groom in pursuit. The little mare was fleet, but Norrington's big bay, with his longer legs, kept pace easily. At last she pulled up, flushed and laughing, and they breathed the horses, walking them on toward the rocky point that terminated the strand. The groom came up just as they dismounted. Leaving the horses with him, they strolled amongst the nearby tide pools, peering at the curious creatures living therein.
Suddenly, Elizabeth gave a sharp cry and stumbled heavily against Norrington, who grasped her arm to stop her falling into the water.
"Miss Swann! What is the matter?" he cried, as she clung to him.
"My ankle," she panted, "I must have twisted it. Ohhhhh, it hurts!" And she fainted dead away in his arms.
Norrington might have been more alarmed had he not noticed her lashes fluttering in a manner quite out of keeping with her pose of insensibility. When he picked her up, her head rolled, as if by chance, against his shoulder and her lips pursed themselves invitingly. The little baggage, he thought, hiding a grin.
He strode down to the beach, calling to the groom as he did so, "John, Miss Swann has fainted. Get the flask you will find in my saddlebag and bring it to me."
When John came running with the requested item, Norrington knelt and laid his burden down on the sand, keeping one arm around her shoulders, so that she was half sitting.. He noted that the pucker had begun to resemble a pout. Winking at the groom, who at first looked puzzled and then began to grin, he said, "See if you can't keep the crabs away from Miss Swann's skirts. I know there are a great many of them, but do your best." Elizabeth shuddered.
"Give me the flask, man," Norrington snapped, "I believe she is coming around." Then, to Elizabeth, he said, "Miss Swann, can you hear me? You fainted, but you will be better presently. Have a care with those crabs, John! I am going to give you a sip of something to restore you."
Elizabeth's feet twitched and she moaned faintly and opened her eyes. "Captain Norrington?"
"I am here. Now, can you be a brave girl and drink this for me?" He held the flask to her lips and obliged her to take a sip. She choked and began to cough.
"What is that horrid stuff?" she gasped.
"It is rum," he replied, his gravity sorely tried, "Hardly fit for a lady, but as a restorative it is quite effective. John, I thought I told you to keep the crabs away from Miss Swann."
Elizabeth shrieked, scrambled to her feet, and fled.
The ride back to Government House was accomplished in dignified silence. When they reached the front door, Elizabeth leapt down without waiting for assistance and went inside with something very like a flounce.
Norrington looked at the groom, where he stood holding the mare and the two men smiled. A coin changed hands and John touched his cap. "Thank you, sir. And if I may make so bold, well done," he said, "Miss can be a rare handful when she gets up to her tricks and you handled her a treat." Emboldened by the laugh this evoked from the Captain, he went on to say, "The man who marries her will have more than his share of worry."
smiled again as he reined his horse around. "Do you think so indeed?" he
said. "I wonder." He touched his heel to the bay's flank and was gone.
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