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Allegiance - Chapter 14

by The Stowaway


Port Royal, four days later

"Don't forget to be home on time, darling," Elizabeth reminded James over breakfast. "The fancy dress ball at the Simmersons' is tonight."

"Ah, yes," James replied. "What am I to wear again?"

"Oh, surely you remember me talking of it! I've had one of Father's old coats altered to fit you," she said, grinning. "It's of rose brocade with acres of frogging and braid. Horribly out of date, but such a job I had getting it away from him nonetheless! There is an old-fashioned brown wig to go with it. You are to be a country squire - the very image of rustic respectability."

Respectability. James winced and sipped his coffee to cover the slip. "Yes, now I remember," he said. "And what shall you wear, my dear?"

Elizabeth's eyes danced. "I shan't tell you," she said. "It's a surprise."

The mischievous look she gave him made her husband chuckle. "Very well then," he smiled, "Keep your secret until this evening."  He rose. "We are to dine at home?"

"Yes, and leave for the ball directly afterward," Elizabeth replied.

James went round to her chair and kissed first her hand then her cheek. "If I am to get my work done, I must leave now. There is a deal of business to be got through today."

Elizabeth squeezed his hand. "Until this evening," she smiled.

When James had gone, she sat for some time, drinking her coffee and toying with a piece of toast. She wondered, for the thousandth time, what was troubling him. That something was wrong she was very sure, but she was at a loss to discover what it might be. Her original guess that the Spanish expedition was the cause of his worry had turned out to be incorrect; he had returned from his successful voyage no less troubled in mind than when he had sailed. A thought that the Admiralty was being difficult had occupied her for some days. A colonial governor's daughter, she was very familiar with the vicissitudes of dealing with a government headquartered an ocean away. But some carefully artless questions put to her father had dispelled that notion. James was in good odour with the Navy; indeed, he was marked out for great things.

Well, she told herself, wherever the problem lies, tonight's surprise will stir things up, at any rate. She chewed her lip. It was daring, yes, but not so very bad. After all, it was a private ball. And if it served to remind him of the fun they had had, then her purpose was served. All she wanted was her darling, carefree James back; she wanted it to be as it was when they were first married. To keep herself busy until time to dress, she put on her sunhat and went down to the gardens to cut flowers for the house.

*********

Late that afternoon, Commodore Norrington realized with vexation that he could not possibly complete the despatch he was working on before dinner. And the courier was to sail at midnight. He could hold the courier, of course, but a cracked foremast had already delayed its sailing for more than a week and he was forced to admit that a fancy-dress ball was hardly sufficient excuse to put off Navy business.

Swearing softly, he wrote rapidly to Elizabeth and sealed it, calling for his aide. "See that delivered to Mrs. Norrington immediately, if you please," he said, handing the man the paper and returning his salute absently, his mind already back on his task.

*********

Elizabeth unfolded the note and read it quickly. My dearest Elizabeth, James had written, I find that it is impossible for me to complete my work in time to dine at home after all. I am very sorry for it. Please go to the ball without me and I will join you at the Simmersons' as soon as I can. My apologies, but Navy business must come first. I know you will understand and forgive    Your loving husband, James.

Her first reaction was dismay. Indeed she had to laugh at herself for a childish impulse to stamp her foot and pout. But a short period of reflection and a turn or two on the terrace soon put her in a more cheerful frame of mind. Perhaps this was for the best, after all. This way, James would not see her costume until he arrived at the ball, where the surprise would be all the greater. Good humour restored, she hurried upstairs to dress.

*********

It was nearly ten o'clock when James handed the last part of his completed despatch to the clerks for copying. He gave instructions for the delivery of the original to the courier, and strode out of the office to find that Elizabeth had sent their carriage to wait for him. He considered how late it was and decided not to waste time going all the way home to get his costume. He would go in his uniform, deeming it better to get to the ball as soon as possible. "To the Simmersons'," he ordered the coachman as he climbed in. "And make haste."

A short drive brought him to the elegant townhouse where the ball was in progress. The footman who took his hat offered him a mask, explaining that his hostess had requested that all guests should go masked until midnight. James thanked him and tied the strings in place before he was led to the ballroom at the back of the house.

A wave of sound smote him as he entered the large room; music, laughter, conversation - all blended into a muted roar. Wax candles by the hundreds shed light and heat upon shepherdesses and harlequins, Roman senators and dominoes as they danced in the center of a room full to bursting with revelers.

James edged carefully along the wall, making for the refreshment room. His progress was slow and as he went he scanned the crowd for Elizabeth, wondering how he would know her, when he had no idea what she was wearing.

The music ended and the dance floor emptied, so that for a moment he had a clear view of the far side of the room, where a knot of gentlemen had gathered around something or someone between two of the long windows. They were, to judge by the laughter that drifted to his ears, enjoying themselves immensely. As he watched, the group shifted and opened out to reveal the object of their attention.

A slender figure in a green juste-au-corps, buff breeches and bucket-topped boots stood there, one hand resting lightly on the pommel of the sword that hung from an old-fashioned baldric, the other holding a glass of champagne. The golden brown hair was drawn back into a sailor's pigtail, from which tendrils had escaped to hang in elflocks about the smooth cheeks. A red headscarf and golden hoop earrings added a rakish touch.

Norrington stared. No, he thought, she wouldn't have. She couldn't. He took a step forward; another brought him to the edge of the dance floor where he stopped short, unable to go on.

The pirate, who had been listening to one of her admirers, laughed and shook her head, turning away as she did so. She sipped her wine, glancing about the room as if looking for someone, and spotted him. She smiled broadly; and hastily set her glass down. She swaggered forward a pace or two and paused. Drawing herself up, she gave him stare for stare.

The men around her, noting the direction of her gaze, turned and saw Norrington. Some of them began to grin. "By Jove," one of them chuckled, "it looks as if the Navy has sighted our pirate!"

A feeling of unreality had come over Norrington. Despite the fact that his eyes never wavered from hers, he was aware that others were turning to stare. Forcing himself into motion, he walked slowly across the floor. She came to meet him and they stopped, face to face in the center of the room. He saw, with an almost sickening shock, that her eyes behind her mask were lined with kohl.

"Commodore," she said, deepening her voice, as she made him a very elegant leg, "I did not know that the Navy would be attending this night's festivities."

Norrington bowed. "As you see," he replied. He could hear titters and laughter all around them now and he trembled.

"Should I be afraid?" she asked, putting her chin up and smiling.

"Perhaps," he said. The music struck up and he held out his hand. "Will you dance?"

"With pleasure," she replied, placing her fingers delicately upon his as they moved to the head of the set that was forming.

They danced for a time without speaking. Elizabeth watched James's face - what she could see of it below his mask - a little daunted by his set expression. Her costume had been a succès fou; everyone had admired her. She had been looking for James's arrival for two hours, eagerly anticipating his reaction to her coup, but now that he was here, her excitement was somewhat damped. She consoled herself with the thought that he was no doubt weary - hungry, perhaps, as well - and therefore disinclined to merriment.

"James," she asked, as the movements of the dance brought them together, "have you dined?"

He looked at her somberly. "No," he replied, "but it is of little matter. I can eat when we return home."

"But that won't be for hours yet," Elizabeth said.

"On the contrary, we will leave as soon as these two dances are finished."

"Before the unmasking?" she cried, "Oh no!"

"Oh yes," James's voice was grim. "Do not argue. We will speak no more of this at present, Elizabeth."

In the carriage, Elizabeth began to be a little scared. James would neither look at her nor speak. He stared out the window silently; the light of the lantern casting deep shadows that made it impossible for her to read his expression.

She preceded him into the drawing room and rang the bell. When Mullins answered, she ordered a light supper to be laid out in the dining room as soon as might be. Mullins bowed and withdrew.

James was leaning on the mantelpiece, his forehead resting on his clenched fist, staring into the empty fireplace.

Elizabeth stood for a few moments, watching him with some trepidation. Her splendid surprise had not gone as expected. James was out of reason cross; far angrier indeed than circumstances could explain.

Her chin rose. He was just being stubbornly stuffy. Perhaps, now that they were alone, she could coax him into a better humour.

"James," she said, "Supper will not be ready for half an hour. Let me take your coat, so that you may be comfortable; it is so very hot this evening." When she would have touched him, he flung up his hand and she stopped in her tracks.

"Thank you," he replied, "but I will do it myself." James unhooked his sword and laid it on a chair; his coat and waistcoat followed. He removed his wig and placed it on the table. Then he turned back to the fireplace; he had not looked at Elizabeth since he entered the room.

Stung by his rebuff, she felt a tiny spurt of anger. Very well, she thought, if that is the way of it. She removed her baldric and threw it onto the chair atop James's coat. Next she shrugged out of her own coat and waistcoat and flung them on to the growing heap.

She walked to a small looking-glass, and surveyed herself, turning this way and that. She toed off her boots and did a few dance steps in her stocking-feet, humming softly. James turned his head just enough to watch her out of the corner of his eye; the sight of her swaying grace as she moved made him catch his breath.

"I was a great success, you know," she said over her shoulder. "No-one was scandalized in the least and I received a great many compliments."

Once more she stood in front of the glass; she raised her arms and turned round on one heel. Her eyes cut toward him for an instant and he saw her lips quirk. Turning back to the glass and leaning forward with one knee on the bench, she inspected her face with great care. In this pose, the fabric of her breeches tightened across her hips and thighs. James's mouth went dry; he saw her smile grow. Deliberately, she stretched further, hollowing her back.

"Eliz..." He cleared his throat and tried again. "Elizabeth, that is quite enough. Stop flaunting yourself. Go upstairs at once and change your clothes."

She did not move, save to turn her head. "Why should I?"

"Please do as I ask." James looked away and swallowed.

"Why, James?" Elizabeth left the looking-glass and stood beside him. He could smell her perfume and the champagne on her breath as she moved nearer. "What do you find so distasteful about my appearance?" she asked. Once more she raised her arms and turned on her heel.

"Do not do this, Elizabeth." His voice shook; he hated himself for it.

She stopped twirling and took a half step closer. "You liked me well enough in breeches before," she murmured, looking up at him sidelong. The heat of her body licked along his skin like flame.

"Elizabeth." Goaded, he bit off each word, trembling with the effort of containing himself. "Go upstairs. Now."

"Why?" she whispered, pressing herself against him and raising her mouth to his. "Can't you love a pirate?"

"Enough!" he snarled as his control snapped at last, swept away in that instant. He grabbed her wrist and yanked her after him to the door. "You will do as I say, Elizabeth."

He dragged her across the hall and up the stairs; she was too astonished to resist.

"I will be obeyed in my own house," James said, pulling her into their room and closing the door. He spun her around and slammed her back against the panels so hard the door rattled in its frame. He released her wrist to take her head in both hands.

"Shameless," he growled and brought his mouth down on hers like a blow.

Elizabeth whimpered and struggled but he controlled her with ease, pinning her and shoving his knee between her thighs. Her mouth opened to him and he forced it wider, invading and taking. He pressed upward with his leg and her whimper became a moan; she rocked her hips against him.

James raised his head and looked down at her. She gazed back, trembling, eyes wide and lips parted. He dragged his thumbs roughly across her eyelids, wiping away the kohl. He kissed her again, biting her lips; twisted his hand in her hair, forcing her head back and bit at her throat, all the time pressing hard with his leg between hers.

"James," Elizabeth whispered.

"Silence," James said, "Do not speak." He stood back and she nearly fell.

"Remove those breeches," he ordered.

Elizabeth nodded and turned away, unbuttoning with shaking hands and letting the breeches fall. She stepped out of them and her stockings and would have turned to face him but he clasped his arm about her waist and snugged her back against him.

James caressed her breasts through the fine linen of her shirt, cupping and pinching; she arched against his chest with a gasp. He slid his hand downward and probed between her legs, stroking her until she writhed and whimpered, grinding herself against his aching cock through his breeches. Suddenly she stiffened, cried out and sagged in his grasp.

He forced her toward the bed and obliged her to climb up onto it, but when she would have lain down he stopped her.

"On your hands and knees," he said, stripping off his breeches and climbing up behind her.

Blushing and trembling, she did as she was told. James shoved her knees apart and took his place between her spread thighs. Steadying her with his hands upon her hips, he entered her, driving deep and making her cry out. He groaned as he sank into searing heat that threatened to undo him.

He leaned forward, wrapped one arm around her waist and held her tight. His other hand tangled in her hair; pulling her head up and arching her back. His teeth closed on her shoulder.

James set a punishing pace, thrusting hard and fast; his hips slamming into hers as he buried himself in her body over and over.

Elizabeth was whimpering and twisting in his grasp; she would have collapsed had he not prevented her. He slipped his hand from her waist down over her belly to stroke her once more. In moments she wailed, her body convulsing around his cock.

With a hoarse shout he thrust one time, and again, and spilled his seed into her.

As the last spasm spent itself he fell forward, crushing her to the mattress beneath him. He rolled onto his back and lay panting. Elizabeth moved close and laid her head upon his shoulder with a sigh; his arm went round her. She shuddered as little shocks of pleasure thrilled along her nerves. She closed her eyes and dropped suddenly into sleep.
***********

Elizabeth opened her eyes to sunlight; it was late and James's side of the bed was empty. Listening for a moment, she heard no sound from his dressing room, the door to which stood ajar; he must have risen some time ago, then. She blinked and stretched; moving her limbs and arching her back with a luxurious thoroughness almost feline. Indeed she felt as sleek and contented as a cat this morning, notwithstanding little aches and sorenesses here and there. She blushed as the feel of them brought the previous night to her mind with vivid clarity.

It was pointless to deny that at first she had been frightened - James had been so very angry! When he dragged her up the stairs she had thought for a moment that he intended to beat her. But then he had kissed her - what a kiss it was; she laid her fingers against her lips and smiled - and fear had been swept away by her rising excitement. It is very pleasant, she decided, to be ravished by one's own husband.

She'd hoped to raise a little breeze with her dashing prank, but it seemed she had conjured a hurricane instead. The force of it had left her awed and half-stunned, but no longer frightened in the least.

James's violent passion had shown her another face of the man she had thought she knew so very well. There had been nothing of the gentleman about him last night. She realized that she had been vouchsafed a glimpse behind the mask of civilization into something wild and primitive that lay - so the philosophers and the church said - in the heart of everyone. This was the source of the power that made James so formidable a man. It was this that had made him Commodore at the absurdly young age of thirty - this, and the strength of his remarkable character, that kept such redoubtable energies in check and directed them into suitable channels. Except, she amended, when he was goaded to the point where he snapped.

She pressed her fingers once again to her mouth and tongued the tender place where her lip had been knocked against her teeth. A glance at her wrist showed four parallel bruises - startlingly dark against her pale skin - the prints of his fingers. She smiled. Turning her head, she could just see the marks of his teeth on her shoulder; she ran her fingers across them, pressing down and shivering deliciously as the slight ache brought back the sound of his voice - half growl, half moan - as he'd made those marks. She rolled over to lie on her stomach, eyes nearly closed, and remembered.

His chest against her back, his breath hot against her throat as it strained upward, pulled taut by his hand in her hair - she stirred restlessly and sighed. He had never entered her - taken her - from behind like that before and the difference in sensation was astonishing. Each time he plunged into her, she had felt a rush of intense pleasure, building excruciatingly, stroke upon stroke, until she thought she would go mad with it. The relief of climax had seemed unattainable - until he had moved his hand and begun to touch her there.

Greatly daring, she touched herself, probing that place between her legs and stroking the delicate flesh the way he had, the way… "James," she whimpered, "oh, James."  She closed her eyes and abandoned herself to the intoxicating memory, letting it guide her hand. Faster and faster she moved as she buried her face in the pillow to stifle the whimpers and gasping cries she could no longer control. She imagined him once again over her, inside her, thrilling and relentless - and her release overtook her so suddenly that she had not even time to cry out. Her back arched, vibrating for a timeless moment of ecstasy, and, just as suddenly, she went limp - undone and overcome. She gave a great sigh and lay for some time motionless, eyes closed, drifting between sleep and waking, utterly content.

James, standing frozen behind the door of his dressing room, clenched his fists and bowed his head. When Elizabeth had said his name he had almost gone into the bedroom, but, too soon, the moment was lost. He heard the whimpering cries and knew she was weeping. His heart smote him - he was vile to have frightened her so.

He'd slipped out of their bed in the night, eaten up with shame and unable to bear the way she snuggled against him in her sleep. He did not deserve that mark of her trust; he felt it would be taking advantage of her to stay, for, surely, once she awoke and remembered what he had done, she would turn from him in disgust.

For an hour he had paced his dressing room, berating himself in the harshest terms for his unforgivable behaviour. To have lost his temper with a woman - his wife - was bad enough, had that been the sum of his failure. But to have used her so, to have given way to the turmoil in his breast and to have taken out his confusion and anger on her was the act of a brute beast. He dropped his head into his hands and groaned. Surely he had ruined the most precious thing in his life this night, for how could she continue to love him now that he had shown himself to be such an animal?

He had thrown himself down on his couch but could not sleep. At daybreak he had risen again and donned his clothes silently. Once dressed, he had resumed his pacing. He longed to go to her, to beg her forgiveness, but he dared not and cursed himself for a coward. A dozen times he had put his hand to the bedroom door and stopped again, shaken by doubt. What if she shrank from him? How could he bear it?

It was in the midst of this agony of indecision that he heard her stirring. He had stood without moving, scarce daring to breathe, as she called his name and - so he thought - wept. When she fell silent he turned and, noiselessly opening the door into the corridor, had gone downstairs and out of the house.

**********

A short time later, Elizabeth lay thinking. Her conscience was bothering her. Notwithstanding the undeniably delightful consequences, she felt she had perhaps gone a bit too far last night in provoking James's anger. She had known how strongly he would disapprove of her going out into society wearing breeches, for he had never left her in any doubt of his feelings on the subject. Yet she had not only done so, but had allowed him to be confronted with her defiance in the most public fashion imaginable. It was ill done to have played him such a trick - she saw that now. And to compound her misdeed by continuing to defy him and by taunting him once they had returned home was the act of a thoughtless child.

For as long as she had known him, Elizabeth had been piqued by James's deep sense of propriety, and it had been her self-imposed mission for nearly that long to loosen his laces, metaphorically speaking. He had always borne her jests and provocations with good-nature and, for the most part, with equanimity. Now that she had seen the… volcanic essence of his nature, as it were, she marveled at his forbearance. All this time she had been poking at a sleeping tiger with a stick, so to speak, and, if he had finally turned on her in anger, she had no-one to blame save herself.

Even last night, she saw, he had been riding his baser self on a tight rein, for he could have done much worse than make violent love to her. A lesser man would have beaten her.

Elizabeth blushed with shame. She owed him an apology and the sooner it was delivered the better. Hopping out of bed, she rang for her maid to come dress her hair and set about choosing her most becoming morning-gown. She would spare no pains to make it up to him for she understood that she was an exceedingly fortunate woman, to have such a man for her husband. Knowing herself to be embarked on the proper course of action eased her embarrassment somewhat and she began to sing under her breath as she dressed. Soon, all would be well.

Entering the breakfast parlor half an hour later, her zeal for amendment suffered its first check, for James was not there. An enquiry directed to Mullins, when he came in with fresh toast, elicited the information that 'the Commodore had left for the Fort more than an hour ago' and was not expected back until dinnertime.

"Ah," she said, recovering her countenance and smiling at the butler, "of course. I should have realized it would be so. He was up betimes."  She sipped her coffee and brightened as an idea occurred to her.

"Mullins, send word to the stables, if you please, to have Sprite brought round in an hour's time. I think I shall ride to the Fort this morning."

"Very good, ma'am," Mullins replied, bowing.

Elizabeth sang as again as she tripped upstairs to shed the pretty morning gown and don her riding habit. She pictured how it would be. She would surprise James at his desk and persuade him to walk with her on the battlements. They would pause at the spot where he had proposed to her, as they always did, and she would apologize to him there. And then, he would smile that sweet smile that made her heart flutter so, and they would kiss, and all would be very well indeed. Singing still, she hurried back down the stairs and out into the brilliant sunshine.

*********

But at the Fort further disappointment awaited her, for James had gone aboard the Dauntless and was beyond her reach for the time being. She thought a moment and then requested pen and paper. The clerk showed her into James's office and she sat at his desk.

Dear James, she wrote, I am sorry to have missed you. As I know you are very full of business, it is in my mind to spare you the drive home today. We dine at the Martins', if you remember. I shall come with the carriage in time to ride with you to their house. Until then, Fondly, Elizabeth.

Sealing the note with a wafer, she gave it to the clerk and received his assurance that it would be delivered to the Commodore as soon as he returned to the Fort.

As she rode back through the gates, Sprite danced a little under her and nickered - very fresh after several days' rest. Why not, Elizabeth thought, it will make the time pass until dinner. Accordingly, they rode past the harbour and out onto the long beach beyond, where she gave the mare her head and they galloped for more than a mile before pulling up to wait for the groom on his cob.

They rode on along the shore, all around the bay and into Kingston. There she fell in with her friends the Graysons - a widower and his grown children, a son and two daughters - just come down from their plantation and bound for Port Royal. Their intention was to go across by water and they invited Elizabeth to join them. She accepted with pleasure, eager by this time for company to distract her from her thoughts. After a light luncheon at the Rose and Crown, Elizabeth arranged with the groom to return with the horses by the way they had come and she embarked with her friends. It was a beautiful day and they were very merry - tossing bits of bread to the gulls and laughing at the antics this provoked - and for a time Elizabeth forgot her worry.

Once ashore the Graysons had insisted upon her coming home with them for tea. She arrived at her own door, in their carriage, pleasantly tired and a little sunburnt, just in time to dress for dinner.

*******

On her way to the Fort, Elizabeth rehearsed in her mind what she would say to James. The Martins lived on the outskirts of Port Royal and so she would have him to herself for some little time on the drive there; she intended to make good use of her opportunity. The carriage clattered through the gate and wheeled neatly round to pull up at the foot of the steps leading to the offices - punctual to the minute, as she knew James preferred. She leaned forward and clasped her hands tightly as James came down, accompanied by Captain Marshall of the Dauntless.

"Mrs. Norrington," Marshall said, bowing, "a delight, as always."

"How do you do, Captain," Elizabeth replied with a smile before turning to James, but he was not looking at her.

"My dear," James said, opening the carriage door, "the Captain is to make one of the party this evening and I have offered him a seat in our carriage."  He gestured for Marshall to precede him up the steps.

As the two men took their seats, Elizabeth smiled brightly, to hide her mortification. James, it was clear, wished to avoid being private with her; her eyes stung. She prayed that her blush was not apparent in the uncertain light of the lanterns. "Of course," she said. "It will be a… pleasure, Captain Marshall."

As they rode, Elizabeth made polite conversation the ease of long practice but with less than her full attention. She told herself not to make too much of this; perhaps Captain Marshall had asked to accompany them and James had not wished to appear churlish by refusing. Perhaps it was no more than that. Perhaps - or perhaps not.

Once they arrived at the Martins' they would be in company for the evening, with no possibility of private speech. Elizabeth was forced to put off her apology yet again. She smiled at a jest of Captain Marshall's and wished the evening over.

Dinner was a prolonged affair, with many courses, for Mrs. Martin, an anxious woman, always tried just a bit too hard to impress. Elizabeth chatted with her dinner companions, watched her husband - far down on the other side of the table - do the same, and tried not to fidget. No one, to her intense relief, mentioned the previous night's ball.

In the carriage once again, and homeward bound, Elizabeth listened to Captain Marshall tell of a surprise inspection scheduled for that evening on the Dauntless. It appeared that some of the crew had begun inviting 'lady friends' to share their quarters while in port. They could not be caught during the day, but a nighttime inspection would do the trick, the Captain said. He chuckled. "They're clever devils, but we'll outsmart them this time, eh, Commodore?"

James smiled and agreed.

Dismayed, Elizabeth turned to James. "Will you be taking part in this inspection?" she asked.

"I must, I'm afraid," he replied. "This is becoming a serious problem and it must be addressed without further delay."

"We won't keep him from you any longer than necessary, Mrs. Norrington," Captain Marshall assured her, smiling kindly.

"I am sure you won't, Captain," she replied a little stiffly. Chagrined, it seemed to her that the Navy - in the jovial person of Captain Marshall - was conspiring to keep her apart from James. She would have liked to throw something - something that would make a satisfying crash.

Just then they drew up at the house. James descended and handed her out of the carriage and walked her to the door, opened at that moment by Mullins. He kissed her hand and released it. "Do not wait up for me, Elizabeth," he said in a low voice. "I fear Captain Marshall is too sanguine. It may be some hours before I return."

She nodded silently. Her throat was suddenly tight and she feared she would weep if she attempted to speak. James strode back to the carriage and climbed in. Elizabeth watched it roll away into the night, turned, and went into the house.

***********

Once upstairs, she pulled a chair round to face the long windows, where the rising moon spilled silver light between the parted drapes and across the rich Turkey carpet that had been a wedding gift from her cousin the earl. She took up a book but did not read. Instead she sat for some time gazing out at the night, the book forgotten on her lap.

James was avoiding her deliberately. What if he was too angry to forgive her? She shivered, although the night air was warm. What if she had stepped too far over the line to go back? She bit her lip. Oh, surely not. Surely, if she could but talk to him, show him that she understood - at last - how deeply she had offended; if she could but apologize…  Elizabeth closed her eyes and drew a deep breath, struggling against tears.

For a few minutes there was no sound in the room save the ticking of the hall clock and the night noises coming in at the window. At last, Elizabeth put down her unopened book and rose. She shook out her skirts, giving herself a mental shake at the same time.

Don't be ridiculous, she told herself sternly, you are making far too much of this. James loves you as you love him and this is merely a bump in the road that will soon be put right.

She rang for her maid and set about getting ready for bed. She would not wait up; when James returned he would find that she had done as he asked. She smiled. She would show him what a biddable wife she could be.

But going to bed, Elizabeth found, as she lay listening to the clock chime, was a far different thing than going to sleep. Two… and a quarter… half-past… three quarters.

At three o'clock, she heard a step in James's dressing room. Her heart leapt; he was home at last. She lay still, scarcely breathing as she listened to him move about. Soon, he would come in and find her still awake… 

In the dim glow of the night light, she watched the door with almost painful intensity. When it moved, however, it did not swing wide; very slowly, it was drawn closed. The snick of the latch, nearly noiseless, rang in her ears like a cannon shot. Immediately thereafter she heard the creak as a body lay down upon the bed in the dressing room, then silence.

I will not cry, she thought, fiercely willing it to be so; I will not. She knew she would appear pathetic with her eyes swollen from weeping and her cheeks blotched, and she was determined to look her best at breakfast. For at breakfast she would, once and for all, force James to listen to her. He would hear her; he must, he must.

*********

Very early next morning, Elizabeth was putting the finishing touches to her toilette and rehearsing yet once more what she intended to say, when she heard a loud pounding upon the front door and a voice crying "Commodore Norrington! A message from Captain Groves for Commodore Norrington!"

By the time she hurried downstairs, the messenger had been admitted and was standing in the hall, watching with anxious expression as James read the despatch he had brought. Mullins could be seen through the open front door, giving the reins of a lathered horse to the stable boy who just now had come running.

"James, what is it?" Elizabeth asked, crossing to stand near her husband.

"The Relentless is sunk," James said, still reading. "Lost to a pirate fleet off Grand Cayman."

"Oh, good God!" cried Elizabeth. "The men?"

"All gone save a dozen Groves was able to pull from the water under fire," James replied.

"Captain Gillette?" she asked, without much hope.

James shook his head. "Lost," he replied. Elizabeth gasped.

James read further. "The Lord Weldon is dismasted," he told her, "But as of this writing was still afloat. Groves managed to get her safe under the guns of Fort George and is helping to hold the attackers off George Town."  He turned to the messenger.

"How long ago did this arrive?"

"Not half an hour, sir. The instant the courier come in, Captain Marshall sent me to you, with instructions to make all speed."

"Well done." James nodded. "Return to the Fort. Tell Marshall I want a full staff meeting as soon as possible. And hold the courier until I come; I wish to question him myself."

"Aye, sir." The man saluted and hurried out onto the sweep. He leapt into the saddle and was gone in a shower of gravel kicked up as his horse felt the spur and bounded forward.

James had meanwhile retrieved his coat from the breakfast parlor and was shrugging into it, with Mullins's help.

"Elizabeth," he said, as he belted on his sword, "please make my excuses to your father about dinner this evening."

"Of course," she said. She took a step toward him and stopped again. "When will you sail?"

"No later than tomorrow morning; sooner if we can manage it," James replied, accepting his hat from Mullins. The stable boy ran up, leading James's bay gelding. "I will send you word as soon as I know."

He took her hand and kissed it. She held tight to his fingers but he gently disengaged them from her grasp and bowed, turning and striding out to his horse without a backward glance. It had been a bare five minutes since the knock upon the door.

Elizabeth stood for a moment, staring blankly at the front door. The Relentless was lost - Captain Gillette and nearly all his men, gone. Her mind seemed numb and sluggish from the shock of the news. It was a heavy blow to the Navy and to Port Royal. And Captain Groves in danger as well, if not already captured or killed. She put a hand to her head and swayed.

Mullins appeared at her elbow. "Miss Elizabeth," he said, reverting in his distress to the days when he was a footman in her father's house, "Miss Elizabeth, come into the breakfast parlor and sit down. You look faint. Let me pour you some tea."

She accepted the cup with a word of thanks. A pirate fleet, James had said. This was terrible news - pirates were dangerous enough singly, but if they had banded together... And James was to sail out to fight them. Her hand shook and she set the cup down hastily.

Mullins was watching her anxiously. She straightened in her chair and drew a calming breath, smiling for his benefit. "I am well, Mullins, thank you," she said, "It was just a momentary dizziness. It is passed off now."

She took another sip of tea and helped herself to a slice of toast, which she crumbled absently. Now that the initial shock was past, she had begun to think. It was not the time to give way - as the Commodore's wife she felt she must set an example and remain calm in this crisis. She thought of poor Mary Groves, just recovered from her first lying-in, and knew what she would do.

"Mullins, have the carriage sent round in half an hour, if you please. I shall be calling on Mrs. Groves."

Elizabeth made herself drink a cup of tea and eat a little bit of ham and some scrambled eggs. This would be a long day and she would need her strength. Then she went upstairs to put on her hat. At the sound of the carriage coming up from the stables she came downstairs to be met in the hall by the butler, who was looking grave.

"Yes, Mullins, what is it?"

"It's Cook," he explained, "Her niece's young man was a Relentless."

"Oh dear," Elizabeth exclaimed, "I had better see her."

In the kitchen, she found Cook, red-eyed, kneading dough and trying to sing a hymn, although in a rather watery voice. She bobbed a curtsey as Elizabeth entered. "Terrible news, madam," she said, dusting the flour off her hands. "When Mullins here told me I was like to have fainted dead away."

"Very terrible," Elizabeth agreed. "I understand your niece had someone on the Relentless?”

"She did," Cook replied. "Geoffrey Adams - as likely a young man as I've ever seen." Her eyes filled with tears. "They were to have wed next time he come ashore on leave."

"I am so very sorry," Elizabeth said. She looked around and pulled forward a kitchen chair. "Please, sit down. This is your sister's eldest daughter?"

"Yes, thank you, madam," Cook replied, sitting heavily and sniffling. "Jennie. Widowed before ever she was a wife."

"Now, now, Mistress Ames," Elizabeth said, placing her hand on the woman's shoulder. "We do not know that for certain. There is a report that some survived, perhaps we will find that he is among those lucky ones."

"The worst of it," Cook said dolefully, lowering her voice and turning slightly, as if to shield her words from the ears of the scullion and the maid, hovering just inside the scullery doorway. "They didn't wait for Parson's blessing."

"Oh," said Elizabeth. "Oh! Then we must pray harder still that Geoffrey survived. Do not lose hope, Mistress Ames. Think of your niece; you must be strong, for her sake."

Cook gave another mighty sniff and wiped her eyes on her apron. "You're right, madam," she replied. "I mustn't mourn 'im 'til we're sure he's gone. It's just that the news, coming all sudden like, overset my nerves, as you might say. Ever since I lost Ames in the hurricane, nigh on twenty year back, I've been dead against any of my girls setting their hearts on sailor lads. But Jennie is that headstrong - and now look what's come of it."

"Perhaps nothing has come of it; we must hope." Elizabeth gave her another bracing pat and moved to the door. "If any news comes of Geoffrey," she said, "I will see to it that you know it as soon as possible."

"Bless your kind heart, madam," Cook cried.

Elizabeth smiled at them all and hurried out to the waiting carriage. So it must be all over Port Royal this morning, she thought; bad news spreading like rings on a pond when a rock has been tossed in the water. She sighed and told the coachman to take her to the Groves's house.

***********

It was far too early for morning callers, if this were an ordinary day, but the Groves's maid admitted Elizabeth without delay, saying that 'madam was in her dressing room and would Mrs. Norrington please to go up to her.'  Elizabeth almost ran up the stairs and burst into the room, barely waiting for her knock to be answered.

"Oh Bess, I am so glad you have come," cried Mrs. Groves, flying across the room. "I have been longing for you." They embraced and Elizabeth felt her friend trembling.

She and Mary Groves had been much thrown together since the latter had arrived from England a year ago, newly wed and a stranger to Port Royal. Their husbands were good friends and the four dined together often. It was fortunate therefore that the two women had come by swift degrees to love one another almost as sisters, despite being, to the casual observer, nearly opposites in temperament. Mary was as calm and mild as Elizabeth was lively, but there was steel in Mrs. Groves that matched Elizabeth's, for all that it lay hidden.

They clung together for a moment longer and then Mary took a deep breath and leaned back. "There," she said, trying to smile. "I am better now. It was just the shock of being wakened with such news." She took Elizabeth's hand and led her to the sofa.

"Oh yes, that I can well believe," Elizabeth replied, sitting down and removing her hat. "I was dressed, but only just, when the messenger came thundering upon our door. James read the news standing in the hall and dashed off to the Fort in an instant. It was terrible."

Mary sat down next to her and they clasped hands again; each drawing comfort from the contact. They sat in silence for a time and then Mary shook her head.

"I find I cannot quite take it in," she said. The Relentless is gone. And even now, perhaps, Theo…"  She broke off.

"He is well, Mary," Elizabeth hastened to reassure her. "He is safe under the guns of Fort George."

"Yes," Mary replied, "I must believe that, mustn't I? I must have faith."

"Indeed you must," exclaimed her friend. "For you know that James thinks him the cleverest seaman and canniest fighter of any in Port Royal. And very soon the entire Jamaica squadron will be on their way to relieve him."

After another silence, Elizabeth asked Mary if she had breakfasted. Mary shook her head. "Well you should," Elizabeth said, getting up and ringing the bell. "It won't do for you to starve yourself, you know. It's not only you who would suffer - think of Baby."

Mary smiled. "You're right, dear friend, as ever," she replied. "Always so sensible."

Elizabeth was startled into a laugh. "Sensible? I?" she said, "You have confused me with someone else. Or perhaps…"

Mary looked up. "Perhaps?"

"You're drunk." Elizabeth grinned and Mary burst into giggles. It wasn't the funniest jest ever made, to be sure, but it served. The two were still laughing when the maid came in and Mary ordered breakfast brought up.

"For two," she added, looking significantly at Elizabeth. "For, unless I mistake my guess you have eaten little more than I this day."

Elizabeth put up her chin. "Not true. I had a bite of ham, two bites of egg and half a cup of tea. So there."

Mary raised an eyebrow and repeated, "Breakfast for two, Bridget."

While they waited for breakfast they peeked into the nursery, but the baby was asleep and the nurse shooed them out lest they wake him.

Over their meal, the two friends worked out how long it might take the rescuers to reach Grand Cayman and rout the pirates. And then how long before news would reach them. It seemed a very long time, but, as Mary reminded Elizabeth, the actual rescue would be effected in half that number of days.

"It's not so very long," she said hopefully. "They will be there in four or five days. Surely Fort George and the Lord Weldon combined can last that long against a rabble of pirates!"

Elizabeth, whatever her own apprehensions, encouraged Mary in this hopeful strain.

They spent the morning together, talking of books and gardening, and carefully avoiding the topic at the forefront of their minds, each believing that no good could come of dwelling on their fears. Toward noon, Nurse brought the baby in to be fed. Once this was accomplished, Elizabeth saw mother and child settled for a nap and she took her leave, promising to call every day.

On the way home, Elizabeth thought of the charming picture Mary and her tiny son made. At least, she thought, if the worst happens, Mary has her baby to comfort her. For the first time, Elizabeth longed for a child of her own. Until now, she had always been happy each month to find that she had not conceived. There is plenty of time, she had always said. We will have children - later. Her eyes filled with tears. What if… She gulped back a sob. What if she had missed her chance, what if there would be no "later"?

"Elizabeth Norrington, stop being such a ninny!" she told herself severely. "Stop it this instant! You know better than to borrow trouble. Where is your backbone?"  She lectured herself in this vein for some time. And, when the carriage pulled up at her door, she was dry-eyed and able to smile at Mullins as she asked if there was word yet from the Fort.

There was not, but she hadn't expected to hear from James so soon. She went composedly upstairs, changed into an old gown and went out into the garden to spend the afternoon gathering lavender, rosemary, hyssop and thyme for the stillroom.

***************

"Governor Swann, to see you, sir."

James looked up. "Show him in." He rose to greet his visitor.

Swann came forward with his hand held out. "A bad business, this of the Relentless, James," he said, as the clerk left, closing the door behind him.

"It is, sir," James replied, shaking his father-in-law's hand and waving him to a chair. "The pirates have laid siege to George Town, but the garrison combined with the guns of the Lord Weldon had succeeded in holding them off when Groves sent the courier."

"Do you think they can last until relieved?" Swann asked.

"With reasonable luck, I believe they may," James nodded. "Livingston is in charge at Fort George; he's capable for all that he's young. And Groves, of course, is one of our best. Yes, there is hope still."

"I am glad of it," the Governor said. "What forces are you sending - or, should I say, taking with you?"

James acknowledged the distinction with a slight smile. "The Dauntless, of course; the Forester and the Mercury as well. But," he continued, answering the unasked question, "we do not leave Port Royal undefended. A detachment of Marines under Lieutenant McCartney will man the fort and the frigates Dragonfly and Sylph can muster nearly 40 guns between them."

"That is well, then," Swann replied, looking somewhat more comfortable. "The Dragonfly; isn't she the Spanish one taken by that privateer - Sparrow, I think his name is?"

"Yes," James said, a little shortly, looking uncomfortable for a moment. "He sold her to the Navy for a very fair price; she is a welcome addition to the fleet."

Mistaking the reason for his son-in-law's unease, Swann chuckled. "I know you disapprove of privateers on principle, James," he said, smiling, "But you must concede that they have their uses."

James coughed noncommittally and was spared the necessity of answering by the clerk, who came in at that moment with a stack of orders for his signature. When the clerk had gone away again, James set aside his pen and folded his hands before him on the desk.

"Governor, the action upon which we are about to embark carries a larger than usual element of risk," he said. "This is the first time in many years that the pirates have organized themselves in order to act in concert. Groves informs us that there are four ships in their fleet, all heavily armed, and that their commander - whoever he may be - is a very able one." Swann nodded, his face grave, and James continued, choosing his words carefully.

"While I have no doubt that we will prevail against them, it is likely that our losses - already considerable - will increase significantly." He paused and looked down at his hands for a moment.

"That being so," he continued, meeting Swann's eye, "It is a comfort to me to know that Elizabeth has her father nearby, in case…" He stopped. "I mean, in the event that…"

"Now, now, James my boy," Swann interrupted, leaning forward and placing his hand over James's. His tone was bluff, but the bleak expression in James's eyes chilled him. "Let's not anticipate, eh? You have the name - well-deserved, I might add - of a lucky man, not to mention your skill in battle, which has carried you far already. Let us trust that Fortune will see you through this, as she has before. Now is no time to begin second-guessing Lady Luck!"

James shook his head with a tiny smile.

"It need not be said," Swann continued, "That I shall take every care of Elizabeth, should the need arise, but it shall not arise any time soon. So let us have no more of this gloom and doom, eh? As I have always told my daughter, so I shall tell you: Do not borrow trouble."

James's smile widened. "Good advice, sir," he said. "I shall endeavour to follow it exactly."

"See that you do," Swann smiled, pressing James's hand once more before rising and reaching for his hat. "And now I shall leave you, for I imagine you have better things to do than to sit here making polite conversation with an old fool. When do you sail?"

"First thing tomorrow," James said, walking the Governor to the door.

"Best of luck to you," Swann said, holding out his hand, which James took with a smile. "Godspeed, my son."

"Thank you, sir," James replied.

Alone again, James spent a few minutes gazing down at the harbour, watching the frantic yet orderly activity as the ships were readied and the troops boarded. Swann was right, he should not borrow trouble. Doubts and fears - all distractions indeed - must be left behind; his mind must be clear for this battle.

Then, in defiance of his own will and Swann's good advice, his thoughts turned to Elizabeth. She had not shrunk from him when they met, true, but what was she thinking? He could not tell. He remembered listening to her weep the morning before and sighed. Her breeding and her pride had enabled her to meet him - in company - with complaisance, and even the appearance of affection, but he dared not presume upon this, nor draw hope from it. Would she have forgiven him, if he'd dared to ask? Too late now to find out. If - no, when he corrected himself - he returned from George Town…

A knock upon the door interrupted his musings and he returned to the enormous task of readying his fleet to sail with renewed concentration, banishing his personal troubles from his mind for the time being.

********

On his way back to his residence, Governor Swann bade his coachman stop at the Norringtons'. Mullins, who answered the door, informed him that Elizabeth was in the garden and offered to send someone to fetch her.

"No, do not trouble yourself," Swann had said. "I will go to her there."

He went onto the terrace and stood for a few moments looking out over the tops of the trees to the ocean far below. The harbour was hidden from here, but the bay beyond was a dazzling blue sweep, out to Portland Head and the sea beyond. The terrace was the perfect place from which to observe the traffic into and out of Port Royal. He thought he could guess where his daughter would be spending much of her time in the coming days.

Lowering his gaze, he searched the garden laid out on the hillside below him until he found Elizabeth, trug in hand, stooping to cut lavender flowers from a thick hedge of it that lined the path for some distance.

She looked up as he approached; her face was deep in the shadow cast by her sun hat and her expression unreadable. "Father," she exclaimed. "You shouldn't have to come seeking me, why didn't they send…"

Swann took her hands and kissed her. "Don't blame Mullins, my dear. He would have installed me in the drawing room very properly and brought you in to me, but I wouldn't hear of it." He tucked her hand in his arm and began to walk with her toward the bougainvillea arbor at one edge of the plantings.

"It's much more pleasant out here," he said. "You have done a wonderful job with this garden, Elizabeth."

"Thank you, Father," Elizabeth replied. "James… James and I have enjoyed planning it very much."

Swann noted the hesitation, but did not question her. They reached the arbor and sat down in its shade on a bench placed to command a view of the lower garden and the bay beyond.

"I have just come from the Fort," he said. "James tells me they will sail very early tomorrow. He will doubtless be at work all night, seeing to the preparations."

Elizabeth nodded without speaking.

"That being the case," her father went on, "I wish you, at least, to dine with me tonight. Tut, tut." He held up a finger when she would have objected. "It is not well to be too much alone at a time like this, daughter; you will fret yourself into a fever of worry. Now, I won't take no for an answer. You can leave instructions to forward any message - you won't be the loser by obliging me."

Elizabeth leaned her head against her father's arm and sighed. "You are right, Father, of course." They sat in silence for a few moments. "Very well," she said at last, "I will come - to please you."

Swann patted her hand. "That's my brave girl," he said, kissing her temple. "Now, walk me to my carriage, if you would - I noticed a rather extraordinary thicket of cannas near the sweep and I wish you to tell how you've got them to grow up so quickly. Mine do not flourish."

Later that evening, returned from Government House, Elizabeth sat once again under the bougainvillea and looked out over the bay in the moonlight. The vine shielded her from the night breeze and her shawl protected her from the damp.

She thought of James, doubtless still hard at work at the Fort or even aboard the Dauntless already. Soon now, in just a few hours, he would sail out of the harbour and down the bay. She longed to see him, to touch him, before he went, but she knew it was impossible. She sighed, too worn down by the tumult of the day even to cry.

When - she stressed the word with great care - he came back, they would resolve this foolish misunderstanding and life would go on as before. She clasped her hands tightly together and closed her eyes.

"Keep him safe," she prayed, "Bring him home to me."

The night was far spent when she at last went into the house and lay down upon their bed, still dressed, to lie awake until dawn.

*********

Not long after sunrise, Elizabeth was in the drawing room, pacing. She had risen a few minutes before - after dozing for barely an hour - put on a fresh gown and come downstairs - unable to stay still for more than a few moments.

She was startled by the sound of a carriage pulling up in front of the house. Peeking out the window, she recognized her father's coach at the same moment she heard a knock upon the door. She hurried into the hall, just as Mullins - his wig askew and his waistcoat unbuttoned - opened the door and her father stepped into the house.

"Father," Elizabeth flew to him. "What is it? What is wrong? James…"

Swann took her hands in a steadying clasp. "Nothing is wrong, my dear," he said calmly, "But I wish you to come with me at once. Quickly, run and get your hat and shawl. Go on!" He urged her gently up the stairs, replying to her questions simply with, "The sooner you come back down, the sooner you will know."

Seated in the coach, Elizabeth looked at her father and saw a faint smile upon his face. "Father, please," she said, "Don't be cruel; tell me now. Where are we going?"

"To the harbour," Swann replied.

"What?" Elizabeth cried, although her heart leapt within her. "Surely the harbour is closed off. They will have a cordon put round it until the fleet sails; no one to get in or out."

"Of course they will," her father said placidly. His smile grew and became a little smug. "But do you really think they will deny entrance to the Governor of Jamaica, my dear? Rank hath its privileges, you know."

Elizabeth tried to speak, but could not. Her father took her hand and held it as they drove down through the town and out to the harbour. He had been correct, the guards waved them through without a check and the coach drew up at the end of the quay. Swann reached past her and opened the door.

"Go on," he said. "Hurry, you haven't much time."

Elizabeth climbed down on suddenly shaky knees. She glanced into the coach but her father had not moved. "Go on," he said again, making shooing motions with his hands. "I shall stay here."

She turned and looked down the quay. The Mercury and the Forester had already cast off, but the Dauntless was still moored. In the swarming crowd around the gangplank her eye picked out a tall, straight figure in a heavily-braided blue coat and she gasped. Almost without conscious thought, she began to walk down the quay, never taking her gaze from James as he stood talking with two of his officers. She walked faster, all at once afraid they would sail before she reached him. The way seemed impossibly long.

James spotted Elizabeth when she was halfway down the quay and he stared in astonishment until he saw the Governor's coach beyond her and understood how she had come to be there. For the merest instant he had a craven urge to go aboard and so place himself beyond her reach, but he mastered it. He dismissed the lieutenants with a word and stood alone to await her coming.

Elizabeth saw him watching her and almost sobbed with relief. As long as he was still ashore, the Dauntless could not sail. She would have her chance. She began to run.

"James," she cried, as she drew near to him, "James!" She held out her hands as she ran. James came forward to meet her, catching her by the arms as she stumbled. When he would have released her, she took hold of his hands, gripping tightly when he would have pulled away. She was panting at first too hard to speak, for her stays prevented her from breathing deeply. "Must," she gasped, "must tell you."

"Elizabeth," James said, alarmed by her agitation, "What is the matter? Is your father well? What is wrong?"

"All well," she panted, still struggling for air. "I had to see you, to tell you."

"Tell me what?" he asked.

"I am sorry," Elizabeth said in a rush. "I was wrong to have done it. Please forgive me."

"Forgive you?" James cried, astonished. "Elizabeth, what on earth do you mean? It is I who should apologize to you!"

"Commodore," cried Captain Marshall, from the deck of the Dauntless, "make haste! The tide!"  James freed one hand to wave an acknowledgement. He turned back to Elizabeth, who took his hand again.

"Say you forgive me," Elizabeth said. "Please, darling."

She was standing very close to him now, looking up with her face so full of love that James was staggered. He felt that either he had gone mad or a miracle had occurred, for suddenly nothing made sense.

"Commodore!"

"Elizabeth," he whispered. "I must go."

She nodded but made no move to release his hands. "Forgive me?"

James gave up trying to understand. "If you will forgive me," he said.

"Anything," she cried, throwing herself into his arms. "Always. Oh James, I love you!"

He held her close and kissed her. "I love you," he said.

Elizabeth stood where he had left her, watching as the Dauntless slipped down the harbour, sails spreading one after another to the breeze. She did not speak when her father came to stand at her side - her heart was too full for words - but she took his hand and smiled her gratitude.

After a long while, he urged her gently back to the coach. They were silent still as they returned to the house. When they drew up at her front door, Elizabeth came to herself and little and asked her father to join her for breakfast, but he, guessing that his presence was not needed, declined with a smile.

Entering the house, Elizabeth hurried through it and out onto the terrace to look down the bay, where white sails were still to be seen, sailing south and west. She watched, between hope and fear, praying all the while for his safe return, until they dropped below the horizon.

All will be well, she told herself, as she went inside at last. All will be well.
 

 

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