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Allegiance - Chapter 18

by The Stowaway


Port Royal, four days later

Elizabeth Norrington sat on the terrace, sipped her coffee, and gazed out to sea. The bay, sparkling in the morning sun, was empty of all but fishing boats. She sighed and told herself to be patient.

Today was the day that she and Mary Groves had fixed upon as the earliest date possible for news from George Town to reach Port Royal, and she struggled against an unreasonable disappointment. Many things, by no means all of them bad, could have delayed the messenger. It might be days yet before they heard anything.

The sound of her carriage drawing up in front of the house reminded Elizabeth of the time and she went inside to get her hat. Every morning since the fleet sailed had been spent with Mary, whose spirits were much oppressed, although she struggled bravely to get the better of her melancholy. In addition to her fears for her husband, she had been frightened by a fever the baby had suffered for two days a week ago. Nurse, who had been nurse to three generations of the family, had insisted, with the experience of a long lifetime, that it was a trifling illness, but Mary would not be comforted. It had seemed to her that the babe was desperately ill and she had hardly left his side for days. But the fever passed, as such things often do, with no ill effects and Baby was once again thriving.

And so today Elizabeth was taking Mary for a drive. She thought perhaps the change of scene would refresh her friend and give her mind a more cheerful turn. Most days they sewed together or read to each other or strolled in the garden, but these occupations were no longer sufficient to keep poor Mary from fretting. Elizabeth's suggestion that they call upon some of the other officers' wives had been received with something so like enthusiasm that Elizabeth hoped the outing would indeed prove efficacious.

She went down the front steps and seated herself in the carriage. "To the Groves's," she said.

***********

Later that afternoon Elizabeth sat in the shade of the bougainvillea arbour, mending forgotten in her lap. The round of visits that morning had done wonders for Mary Groves and, she had to admit, for herself. They had been met everywhere with kindness and unspoken understanding. Some of the older wives - Mrs. Marshall especially - were, of course, far more accustomed to waiting for news of battles than either Mary or Elizabeth could be. Their calm and no-nonsense outlook could not help but soothe the worn nerves of the younger women. Mary had returned to her home and her baby with an almost light-hearted step and a smile on her lips. Now, Elizabeth thought, if they could only get news - good news - before all the benefit of the excursion had worn off.

The afternoon was very warm and the breeze light and fitful. Elizabeth leaned back, feeling far too lazy for sewing, and watched the cloud shadows move across the bay and over Portland Head. She drowsed…

The crunch of feet upon the shell-covered garden path woke her. Her father was approaching, walking slowly down from the terrace. Elizabeth jumped up, as embarrassed to be caught napping as if she were still a schoolgirl, dozing over her lessons.

"Father," she cried. She ran to greet him with a kiss and drew him to sit with her on the bench, out of the hot sun. "It is so good to see you. But why so early? Were we not to have dined together?"

"Elizabeth, my dear," he replied, taking her hand. "I have news. A corvette bearing despatches arrived from Fort George this afternoon."

And she, foolishly, had been sleeping and not seen it arrive! Elizabeth caught her breath. "And?"

"It is victory. The pirates were defeated and fled, all save one ship that was made captive," Swann replied.

"Victory!" Elizabeth exclaimed. "Then all is well!" Her joy was checked when she saw that her father did not seem to share it. "Father?"

"There is more, my child," he said, gently.

Elizabeth felt as if a hand were squeezing her heart; a chill as of icy water poured down her spine. She leant forward with staring eyes, terrible fears crowding so thick that she could scarcely breathe. "Tell me," she whispered, voice shaking. "Father, for the love of God, tell me! Is it… Surely, you don't mean that James…?"

"James was wounded, Elizabeth," her father said, holding her hands in a firm clasp. "He was shot during the battle. The injury is serious; when the courier left he was in a fever but expected to recover."

"Wounded?" Elizabeth could not think clearly. "Serious," she said. "How serious? What happened?"

"A musket ball struck him in the shoulder," Swann replied, "but the physician extracted it and was able to determine that no vital organ was touched."

"But he was in a fever?"

"It is not uncommon in the case of gunshot wounds, Elizabeth," Swann said. "With luck, by this time James will be on the mend." His heart was wrung by the stricken look in his daughter's eyes; he let go of her hands and put his arms around her, holding her close. She was trembling; long shudders wracked her as if she was the one with fever.

"Come, my darling, you must be brave. Do not give up hope," he murmured against her hair. "James is receiving the best possible care, you may be sure of it. No doubt when the next messenger arrives we will hear good news of him."

"I'm not waiting for the next messenger," Elizabeth said, her voice muffled against the breast of his coat. "I shall go to him immediately."

"What? But Elizabeth…"

"No 'buts', Father," Elizabeth said, raising her head to look at him. "I am going to George Town." She freed herself from his embrace and sat up, smoothing her skirts with hands that were not steady. There was a mulish set to her jaw and determination in every line of her.

"And how do you propose to get there?" her father asked, dismayed.

"The corvette will be returning to Fort George, will it not?" Elizabeth replied. "I shall go with it."

"Surely, you know that will not be permitted," he expostulated. "It is against regulations."

Elizabeth narrowed her eyes. "Such regulations are ignored more often than not, Father," she said. "And they would not dream of denying the request - if it came from you."

"From me," Swann cried. "You expect me to assist you to an act so imprudent?"

"Yes," she said, "I do."

"What if I refuse?" he asked.

"Then I will hire one of the trading vessels to take me," Elizabeth replied, without a blink. She took his hand in both of hers and looked coaxingly up at him. "But surely, Father, you would not be so cruel. I must go to James, don't you see? I would go quite mad with waiting, were I forced to stay in Port Royal. Please help me to go to him. Please?"

The Governor looked at the brown eyes, now brimming with tears, that looked so pleadingly into his own and sighed. He knew his daughter too well to think that anything short of locking her in one of the cells in Fort Charles would prevent her from carrying out her threat to sail aboard an island trader if she could not travel on the Navy vessel. All in all, she would be far safer with the Navy. He sighed again.

"Very well, Elizabeth," he said, shaking his head at her, "I will send a note to Lieutenant McCartney requesting that he allow you to sail aboard the next official vessel bound for George Town."

"Thank you, Father," she cried, kissing him and leaping to her feet. "I must see to packing immediately, so as to be ready."

As they walked up to the house, Elizabeth holding herself with an effort to her Father's more measured pace, her mind was racing. She was thinking of what she would take with her, of notes she must write before she left, of engagements to be cancelled, when she suddenly remembered Mary Groves - waiting, as she had been, for word of her husband.

"Father," she said, "What news of Captain Groves?" She felt like a wretch for not thinking to ask sooner.

"He is unharmed, my dear," her father replied. "In fact, he is in temporary command of the fleet until James is well enough to resume his duties."

"Oh, that is happy news indeed!" Elizabeth cried, glad to hear some unalloyed good tidings for once. "I must let Mary know."

"No need," Swann smiled. "I sent a note to her as soon as I got the despatches. It would have been needlessly cruel to keep her in suspense."

"Oh, Father, thank you," Elizabeth said, squeezing his arm. "You are very kind."

The Governor smiled and shook his head as they stepped into the cool of the house.

The next afternoon, Elizabeth went aboard the Navy corvette and they set sail for Grand Cayman.
 

 

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