“Sir, if you wish to have a just notion of the magnitude of this city London, you must not be satisfied with seeing its great streets and squares, but must survey the innumerable little lanes and courts . . .” –Samuel Johnson
The water was cold and brackish all around her, immediately soaking through her gown. Elizabeth struggled to keep her head above water. The smell of rot was already overpowering. She paddled furiously, trying to keep up with Jack ahead of her. Poplin was lighter than brocade and petticoats, but she was still weighed down. She clutched Jack’s hat with one hand, trying hard to keep his pistol from falling out of her bodice.
Shoot them! Shoot them! she heard the manic voice of Moucheau scream from the schooner. For a moment she was afraid they had cannons stowed away—little four-pounders, perhaps—they were planning to roll out on deck and, in Jack’s words, blast the bejesus out of them. She was almost relieved when it was only the pings of musket bullets hitting the water beside her.
“Jack!” she cried, having lost him in the confusion. She held her breath, ducking under the grey water to avoid the rain of bullets. When she emerged, her limbs burning, she found herself in the path of a single-masted sloop. She desperately swam forward, nearing the docks on the left side of the Thames.
She heard loud curses of “Merde!” and “Nom d’un chien!” from behind her and turned to see the sloop blocking the path of la Reine Charlotte. She realized that, in moving the boom and the helm being otherwise unmonitored, the schooner had been allowed to turn hard aft. There it remained, foolishly with its prow at an angle.
Ahead of her was bustle and fog, a half dozen ships of all masts and rigging jostling through the foul Thames water. On either side of her, wharves led off to London streets. Then she saw Jack, swimming with grim efficiency. “Jack!” she screamed, launching off toward him. He neither turned nor acknowledged her when she caught up with him. Exhausted, she flung one of her arms on his shoulder for support.
“Ge’ off, ge’ off!” he snapped pettishly. “That’ was right clever o’ ye, to send me overboard! An’ the chest—an’ me compass—left too! A new low for Captain Jack Sparrow.”
She had not the energy to argue, fighting every second to stay afloat. Instead, she pointed out, “I saved your hat and your pistol.” She extended them to him, and he snatched them both away, dropping the sodden hat on his head.
They continued to swim upriver, the fog thinning and the host of ships slowly multiplying. The noise on the riverbanks was deafening. Jack scanned the water every so often, but Elizabeth suspected he had no idea where he was going. She decided to ask for his help, because she was so exhausted she feared she would drown. “Jack, you know, I’m really going to need some help here . . .”
“I know.” He took her hands and placed them on his shoulders. “Jus’ hang on a moment.” She saw him squint, then he swam forward. She tried not to cling to him, tried kicking her exhausted legs to take some of the burden off him. She felt the workings of his shoulder muscles spasming under her gripping hands and could only wonder how he’d managed to save her before.
Apparently Jack discovered what he was looking for. Between the larger ships, small boats were idling in the water, their oarmen calling loudly, “Scudders! Scudders!” “We’ll commandeer this here vessel,” said Jack and launched into the side of it.
“Oi! You! What d’ye think you’re doin’?” the oarman shouted at Jack, raising his oar menacingly.
“D’ye provide water taxiing between both sides o’ the river?” Jack wheedled, holding onto the boat with one hand and shaking his other fist at the boatman.
“Aye. ‘Ave you got three shillings?”
Jack looked at Elizabeth, who shook her head. “But I have got this,” said Jack, brandishing his pistol.
“So ‘ave I,” said the boatman, leering with green-colored teeth, bringing out a musket of his own. Jack’s eyes ballooned. “Shove off, then,” the oarman snapped, waving Jack off brusquely.
“Any more brilliant ideas?” Elizabeth muttered, kicking her legs listlessly.
“No,” Jack spat back. “You?”
Elizabeth scanned the water. Her eye was caught along the right side of the river, and there it was—Hangman’s Dock. She recognized it immediately by the hanging cages hovering lethargically above the water and the scavenging birds dawdling. She didn’t want Jack to see, so she said, “We need to get out of the water. Let’s swim over to that pier there . . .” She meant the abandoned pier between wharves on the left bank.
Jack assented wordlessly, and the two began one last swim of desperation, mired in fog and sludge, dodging oarmen and larger boats. Finally they flung themselves up onto the pier and dragged themselves onto the dirty cobblestones of a back alley street. Elizabeth knew she was sprawled improperly, her skirts hiked up and revealing sopping stockings and bare knees, but for the moment she was just relieved to be alive. She knew she was disgustingly dirty, the white lace on her gown a muddy grey, the empty money purse hanging about her neck. She coughed, clearing that foul water from her orifices, and tried to dry her hair and gown. She glanced beside her, seeing Jack on his back and apparently not moving. She crawled over to him. “Jack, are you all right?”
He sat up, wiping muck from his beard. “Where in hell are we?”
She gazed around her. The back alleyway was narrow and dark, but it opened on what looked a busy street, noisy with clattering carts and the sounds of early morning businesspeople. She had assumed it was Wapping, but she began to doubt herself. She shivered. “I don’t know.”
“Don’ you?” Jack asked in a voice of outrageous nonchalance. He began to clean his pistol against his dirty trouser leg. “Remember, between the two o’ us, you’re the one tha’s been here before, aye?”
Elizabeth looked up the wharf. Two rough-looking sailors were spitting vividly on the dock; across the Thames, a group of five women were waving to passing ships. Dressed in low-bodiced gowns of bright hues, their stockings visible and elaborately clocked, Elizabeth was fairly certain as to what their occupation was. A pair of men’s quiet shoes were coming through the alleyway. “I was only ten,” she reminded Jack. “I hardly remember England at all.”
“Well, where’s this uncle o’ yours? How are we s’posed t’ get t’ him?” He had abandoned cleaning his pistol for removing his boots and dumping the contents.
Elizabeth saw two men emerge from the alleyway. One was surprisingly well-dressed for this part of town: a coat of velvet, dark blue, daringly cut, and a matching pair of breeches, his waistcoat richly embroidered in gold. He was what some might call a French dog, dandified beyond what was thought proper for a Briton. He was portly and pale, followed closely by a silent, gaunt man in plainer black attire. Elizabeth wondered why he hadn’t been robbed, and then remarked upon the heavy cudgel the other fellow was carrying. She tried to stand, but her head swam, forcing her down. She knew this was quite rational from her circumstances, but she still felt ill at ease. “Let’s go, Jack.”
“Go where?” he displaced pirate snapped, returning his boot to his foot and stuffing his pistol into his coat pocket.
Elizabeth stood, her legs burning. She noted that the portly man was covertly watching her. As was a filthy child of about twelve with eyes of greed. As were the prostitutes across the river, who were smiling and blowing kisses—at Jack. Who had evidently seen them. She looked down to find him grinning stupidly and waving his ringed hand.
Elizabeth shook her head in disgust if not surprise and seized him by the shoulders. “Jack, I really think that we should go. My uncle lives in Pall Mall. We can walk, or perhaps rent a cart . . .”
“Excuse me, but may I be of some assistance?”
Elizabeth turned, shocked to find the portly man doffing his hat and smiling obsequiously at her. She opened her mouth to speak, but she was feeling faint for a second time. She caught sight of the cudgel and lost all power of speech.
To her utter shock, Jack rose—with questionable grace, it was true—and stood near the gentleman. “May I introduce meself? This is me wife Elizabeth,” he flung a hand out toward her, “an’ my name is John Turner.” Elizabeth gasped. She hadn’t expected him to ever get it right. “Unfortunately,” Jack went on with heroic bravado, “we were comin’ int’ your fair city when our boat was capsized. Horrible, really. Ha’ to swim t’ save our lives.”
“Why, that’s disgraceful!” exclaimed the man. His pomaded, curled wig gleamed. “Dear me! What horrors! It’s remarkable you survived.”
“And we lost all of our luggage as well,” Elizabeth put in finally, exchanging a look with Jack. “Which is why you find us in this state.” Water rolled off her hair and down her nose.
“My poor dear lady! This must indeed be a trial for you.” The effusive gentleman doffed his coat and threw it impulsively around her shoulders.
“That’s not necessary, sir,” Elizabeth protested, noting the fair scent of rosewater upon the coat’s lining.
“Please, my name is Joseph Tolby, and I am grateful to be of help.” His eyes glowed. “How else may I assist you?”
Jack laughed quietly. Tolby smiled, indulgent. “How much d’ye want, for your assistance?” Jack said, sotto voce, to Tolby. Elizabeth hoped the latter hadn’t seen his gold teeth.
“You misunderstand me, my dear Mr. Turner. I don’t know where you’ve heard stories about lady London, but in this city, not all of us are pirates!” He laughed uproariously. Jack gazed at Elizabeth, curling his lip. Elizabeth laughed nervously, elbowing Jack when he laughed too.
“Don’t show your teeth!” she snapped, throwing her arm around her “husband” when the other man gazed at her strangely.
“We are, uh, being expected by my uncle—perhaps you have heard of him—Bartholomew Swann, baronet?” She simpered sweetly.
“Oh, indeed,” said Tolby, “I have heard of him. Yet to make his acquaintance.”
“—he lives in Pall Mall. If you could perhaps take us to him—?” She saw Jack winking at the prostitutes between her back.
“My dear lady,” said Tolby with emotive earnestness, “I shall have no such thing. I shall call my carriage and take you to my abode. You must get changed from those wet clothes at once!”
“Oh, no, we couldn’t possibly—”
“An it would please you, sir,” Jack cut in, bowing perfectly, “we would be much obliged.”
“Then it’s settled. Smith,” he indicated his servant, “call the, uh, carriage, will you?”
“Yes, sir.” Smith strode off, and Elizabeth turned to Jack, biting her lip out of sheer anger. “Why did you accept his offer?”
“Why not?” said Jack with true pragmatism. “I don’ know about you, but I’m hungry, and I stink.” You always stink, thought Elizabeth. “’Member what I told ye? What a man can do and wha’ a man can’t do. We can go with this man an’ get cleaned up. We can’t get to yer uncle’s without his help. Savvy?”
Tolby, who had been gazing quite nervously in the direction in which his servant had disappeared, gripping his gloves with something more than force of habit, suddenly relented and, with a sunny smile, came back to stand by Elizabeth. She reflected later it was this smile—kind, admiring, and almost possessive—that offended Jack.
“Here, put this on,” Jack said in a harsh whisper, stepping between his “wife” and Tolby, doffing his wet broadcloth coat and setting on Elizabeth’s shoulders, right on top of Tolby’s coat of finer materials and dryer cloth.
Elizabeth glared at him through her wet, stringy hair. “I’m perfectly—” she paused, noticed the unmistakable sound of chattering teeth. “Oh, Jack, you need this more than I do!”
Jack seized her by the shoulders and spun her away from him, jabbing her arm through the crook of his elbow, as they proceeded toward Tolby’s carriage. “Wear i’, ‘Lizabeth,” he ordered with a finality that prickled the hairs on the back of her neck.
She could not help but notice with some surprise than when Joseph Tolby held out one pasty but strong arm to help her ascend the carriage, Jack was quick to intervene, insuring that it was his arm she took, that it was his coat she held close. She found it troublesome rather than helpful, and was not exactly feeling well in her wet gown and the heavy layers of two coats on her shoulders. The drive to Tolby’s townhouse was mercifully brief; she and Jack took the forward seat while Tolby smiled blandly from his gallant backward seat. What roads there were in Port Royal were surprisingly well-maintained, and the rough stones in London’s East end of town were somewhat jarring. Elizabeth’s annoyance quickly dissipated when she realized it was perhaps the first carriage ride Jack had ever experienced. He sat rigidly in his seat, gripping the wet knee of his trousers and appearing to have a heated staring contest with the open window.
Elizabeth remembered little of London, but she was not moved by the scenes progressing out the windows in pantomime. Tolby said very little which struck her as odd, but she was grateful for not having to come up with witty conversation in the wake of just barely surviving death by drowning. The drive was not long, and soon they found themselves in the drive of a fine, cozy house.
“Allow me to forego the pleasantries, Mrs. Turner, in lieu of restoring your comfort and dignity,” Tolby said brightly as he showed them up the grand staircase, his valet leading the way. Elizabeth marveled at Jack’s composure, as he kept his hands folded handsomely across his waistcoat, though his eyes roved about in their calculating way—she was certain he was deciding what goods in the house would be of most value to smuggle to the Caribbean. A Chippendale chair here, a collection of Delft China there . . . Jack may have been a pirate and a rogue, but his taste was impeccable.
They proceeded up the staircase, each footstep becoming heavier as Elizabeth’s soaked gown and the weight of the coats on her shoulders drained more of her strength. She clung to the balustrade until they had reached the door to a finely appointed gentleman’s chamber. “I hope you will not mind using my own chamber for your toilette, sir,” said Tolby with a smile. “I fear our guest accommodations—”
“Very much obliged, sir,” said Jack, nodding in the same indulgent manner she had seen him use with Gibbs on occasion.
Tolby stepped forward into the room, beckoning Jack. “I shall have my man select an accoutrement for you, if you please,” Tolby prompted, “and myself accompany Mrs. Turner to choose her own accommodations.” He bowed slightly and gazed at Smith, then Jack.
“Uh . . . might you gi’ me a moment alone wi’ my wife, sir?”
Elizabeth stared at him. What did he think he was doing!
Tolby appeared to share the same sense of perplexity, giving Jack a confused chuckle and appealing to Elizabeth with his bulging blue eyes. Jack remained firm, however, going so far as to grab Elizabeth’s elbow and pull her close to him. “Certainly,” said Tolby with a forced smile. He bowed and ushered the valet out.
As soon as they were alone, Jack slammed the door shut, pulling Elizabeth in with him. “What—?” she began.
“Find me a shirt,” he ordered, staring at the cheval glass set in the center of the room. He was tugging at the edges of his shirt, pulling them out of the waistband of his trousers.
“A shirt, ‘Lizabeth,” he snapped, looking over his shoulder at her and nodding in the direction of the armoire. “Get me a shirt from ‘is cabinet.”
Elizabeth threw up her arms, dragging her wet skirt and tearing open the drawers. As she raced through the trousers, waistcoats, and shirts of cambric, linen, and silk, she wondered sincerely if Jack had lost his mind. Was he planning to steal Tolby’s wardrobe from under the good Samaritan’s nose while convincing all and sundry that he and Elizabeth were conducting some grossly inappropriate activity? She did as she was told, however, and found a clean, dry shirt. She turned to hand it to Jack.
He had succeeded in removing his own shirt, now in a sodden pile at his feet, and snatched the new one from her grasp. “I can conceal me teeth ‘f I don’ smile, as you pointed out so helpfully,” he said, “but ‘f they see me tattoos . . .”
He had a point. As he slipped the shirt over his head, she saw he had a very good point. She was quite familiar with the sparrow tattoo and pirate brand on his forearm, but she had never seen before the anchor on his right bicep, nor the well-endowed mermaid with a crooked grin and green tail below it. He had shown her the two scars from the bullets that, she surmised, had nearly killed him. They were particularly vivid in contrast to the tiny, hand-lettered name ‘Lily-Rose’ under his left shoulder. And she saw now that a large chunk of his left shoulder had been gouged away, leaving a jagged hole, like someone taking a large bite out of a hunk of bread. And she remembered the strange, molten-colored scars on the inside of his left arm. It looked as though someone had melted a candle over his flesh.
But what she was unprepared for were the strange, light welts across his back, like little flicks of ribands, pale against his bronzed skin—too many days spent in the sun—insidious and delicate. They appeared to be the welts left when a man is flayed alive. Where had these come from? she wondered. She knew sailors of the Royal Navy were often punished with strokes of the lash, and perhaps among pirates too. Unbidden, the thought of Jack in some distant past slaving on a Jamaica plantation—prisoners were still sent to work in servitude, often for political crimes—arose in her mind, disquieting.
She ducked her head, embarrassed and strangely fascinated. The ten-year-old wanted to know where the infamous Jack Sparrow had acquired such wounds, but the grown-up Elizabeth Turner—she twisted her wedding ring on her finger—was ashamed to be staring at another man’s bare torso.
She looked up, saw Jack trying to arrange his hair back into a respectable solitaire. He glanced over at her and gave her a look she had never seen him give her before. She waited for the snappish, sarcastic comment, but it never came. He stared at her with something between surprise, curiosity, and tenderness.
If either of them had been moved by clarity to speak, the thoughts died on their lips when Tolby hammered loudly on the door. In a moment, he and the butler were inside, smiling uncertainly. Tolby bid adieu to Jack, faintly puzzling over the shirt switch, while offering his arm to Elizabeth. “I am showing you to my aunt’s chamber,” he said, “as she often comes to visit me. I apologize that I have nothing to offer but the maid’s best gown, but I am afraid nothing of my aunt’s would fit.” He smiled, showing Elizabeth a plain gown of brownish color laid across the bed.
“We are deeply in your debt, Mr. Tolby,” Elizabeth murmured, trying to curtsy and stumbling.
“My dear lady,” said Tolby, “it is my pleasure to be of small service.”
Elizabeth smoothed the folds of the gown on the dusty bed. She waited expectantly for Tolby to leave her to dress, but instead he stayed where he was, gazing at her covertly under furtive eyelashes. His tenacity unnerved her, and thoughts of Moucheau were not far off.
“Well, forgive me,” he cried, all smiles. “I shall leave you. She curtsied, watching him go until she was certain the door was locked behind her. The gown fit, but more importantly, it was so comforting to finally leave her wet clothes behind. Her sodden gown she folded up, determined not to leave it behind after so much work. She wondered how Jack was faring in the room across the landing. Laced loosely into her stays, her stockings replaced by cleaner but coarser ones of cotton, and her water-logged shoes, semi-dry, she composed herself and marched across the landing.
Jack stood waiting silently behind Tolby and the servant Smith, and Elizabeth had to cover her face in her hand to prevent herself from laughing at him. His hair was clean and dry and slipped into a solitaire—and tied with raspberry-colored riband. There were ruffles on his shirt-sleeves that looked quite at odds with his sooty hands, and over this, a dark blue frock coat with highly decorated buttons and pocket fobs. The waistcoat was lime green, heavily figured in embroidery, and his cravat a mystery of intricate linen. Most of all there was a scowl on his face: he looked some savage being trapped in a dandy’s clothes. She saw him clutching his battered three-cornered hat in one hand, the other fingering a pocket in which she supposed his pistol was hidden. Was he planning to gun them all down for forcing him into this frippery? Or was he going to shoot himself to be free of the unbearable humiliation? She bit her lip hard and floated over to the group. Tolby was offering Jack some snuff before taking a generous look at Elizabeth.
“Mrs. Turner!” he cried delightedly, rushing over to her to take her hands. “What a vision!”
“I hardly think it necessary to lavish such undue praise on me,” Elizabeth said coolly, looking at Jack, who ignored her.
“Oh, no indeed!” Tolby insisted, squeezing Elizabeth’s hands fondly. She did not return his gesture, and he brought her over to Jack and joined their hands. Jack seemed to look down on her with disdain, but she imagined it was more strain—he would much rather grab some of the Delft China, raid the wine cellar, and leave. “Are you certain you will not stay for dinner? Or a late breakfast—please?”
Elizabeth squeezed Jack’s hand, hoping it might rally him. “We really could not impose. We are expected by my uncle and—”
“Though we are much obliged t’ye,” Jack cut in, “my wife an’ I must be on our way.”
“Well, if you’re certain,” said Tolby, nonplussed.
“We are already very indebted to you.” She curtsied, and Jack quickly followed with a tired bow.
“Well, I shall show you to my carriage,” Tolby offered. Jack quickly dropped Elizabeth’s hand and muttered in her ear, “I hate carriages, ‘Lizabeth.”
“Be quiet, Jack.”
It was Tolby who now helped her into the carriage, seated next to her “husband,” and she was much surprised when their benefactor suddenly became very talkative. “Have you never been to London, sir?” he asked suddenly.
Jack scowled. “No. I come from Virginia. Plant tobacco.” He glanced at Elizabeth.
“How interesting,” said Tolby blandly. “And your wife, sir?”
“I lived here when I was young—” she strained to make herself heard over the yodels of three milkmaids crossing the street “—but my home is in Port Royal. Our home,” she hastily added.
“If you haven’t seen the city in several years, may I suggest some sights you might like to observe while you stay?” He gestured out to the hulking grey dome that was omnipresent on the skyline. “You’ll want to see St. Paul’s, of course.” Outside, the coachman yelled for a sedan chair to get out of the way, all the while avoiding a donkey and cart and two urchins who were trying to hitch a ride.
“And the monument to the fire; it’s quite new.” He smiled at Elizabeth. “How do you find our city?”
Elizabeth shrugged. “Things have changed since I was here. More people, more . . .” She gazed out the window at the bawd standing in the alehouse doorway, the legless cripple soliciting alms, the contrastive country squire and his wife exiting a coffee house. “ . . . of everything.”
“Can’t breathe,” Jack commented, tugging at his collar.
“That’s a common complaint,” Tolby replied. “Some mornings the sky is black with coal until ten.” Elizabeth thought of the blue, clear sky in Port Royal. She wondered if Jack was thinking the same thing, as she saw his glance turn hard and then it was incredibly wistful, pure, free, like on the rare occasions he took the wheel of the Pearl.
“Ah, here we are,” Tolby announced. The carriage stopped, and it was Jack’s turn to be the first to jump down. He lent his arm to Elizabeth indifferently, and she climbed down carefully, trying not to clutch him, trying not to give him any idea that she needed his help.
“Thank you very much, Mr. Tolby,” she said in her sweetest voice. “We will return the clothes at the earliest convenience.”
Tolby laughed and waved away this suggestion airily. “My pleasure and privilege, Mrs. Turner.” He touched his hat. “Mr. Turner. I am certain we shall be seeing much more of each other.”
Jack closed the door with a close smile, though if it was that way because he was concealing his teeth or because the smile really was forced, Elizabeth could not tell. “Pleasantries an’ all that,” she heard him calling after Tolby as the carriage went on its way. She saw his first clench, and he muttered under his breath, “Eunuch.”
Elizabeth replied starchily, “What was that?” knowing full well what he had said.
“’S a eunuch,” he repeated dolefully. “I’m sorry, ‘Lizabeth. It is indeed a tragedy tha’ your most passionate admirers are eunuchs.”
“Why do you automatically assume everyone who admires me is a eunuch! He was very helpful.”
“ ‘Lizabeth, are you some kind of eunuch magnet? Or per’aps their patron saint?” He grinned. “This fellow, and Will—”
“Will is not a eunuch!” Elizabeth snapped.
“So glad you’re able t’ tell me tha’ with such certainty,” Jack responded.
Elizabeth seethed but managed to calm and say, “Come on.” They turned for the first time to the palatial house on Pall Mall. Elizabeth was gratified to see Jack’s eyes widen in surprise momentarily. As they were staring at the broad baroque face, a sedan chair came crashing through. “Have a care!” the carriers shouted before tumbling past them.
“Worse’n buccaneers, those lot,” Jack said blankly. He turned to her. “Now, how does this work? The prodigal niece returns, eh?”
“He’s expecting us, after all—” She took a step toward the door.
He stopped her, placing a hand on her shoulder. “Wait. How’s tha’?”
Elizabeth stared at his filthy hand, gripping her firmly but impersonally by the shoulder. She remembered how he had held her that night in Port Royal, mostly drunk, but with such force. She looked away. A tinker passed by on the street, banging his pots and calling for metal to mend. “That night you came to Port Royal,” she said, “I wrote to my uncle, telling him I would be visiting.”
Jack was no longer smiling. “You were so certain, then, tha’ I would agree t’ yer scheme?”
“It wasn’t certainty, no.” She shoved him roughly away. Her voice was embarrassed and annoyed, but the least bit pleading. “It was completely harebrained hope.”
“Harebrained,” he repeated. “ ‘S a quality tha’ suits you.” She wondered if he was thinking of her alcohol-burning initiative. They went into the house together, Jack sheepishly lending her his arm. They were received in the drawing room, where Elizabeth saw Jack pacing in his half-crazed walk while examining the fine tapestries and the gilt-trimmed furniture, the silver tea set.
Elizabeth saw little change in her uncle Bartholomew when he entered the room: he had not exchanged his dark brown long perruque for a shorter campaign wig, or even a grey one as her father had done. He was a shorter, slightly pudgier version of her father, with a kind smile and sallower skin. When he saw her, he exclaimed, “Is this my niece?” She saw his black brows thunder, his lips tremble. “Elizabeth?”
She took a few steps toward him, furtive and hesitant. “Yes, Uncle.”
He held out a hand from which sparkled several rings. “Please, shake my hand, my child, if you will . . .” She shook the old man’s hand and allowed him to pull her close. “My dear,” he said, placing a kiss on the top of her head, then holding her at arm’s length, she suspected because of the smell. He wrinkled his nose at her, then said, “This is a joy. Verily a joy.” And though she smelled like bilge, she knew that his warmth was genuine.
“Well, you’ve grown into a good girl I see—bless me, a young lady. Shame on young Weatherby, taking you to the West Indies like he did—your skin’s as dark as a spot!”
Elizabeth laughed quietly. She saw her uncle glance over at Jack, who was boredly playing with the cuffs of his shirt-sleeves. Her uncle’s voice was slow and deliberate. “Well, and you’ve married now, haven’t you?”
Elizabeth looked up at her uncle. “I have.”
“And this is the man?”
Jack strode over, doffed his hat rather inelegantly and said, “Sir Swann, ‘s an honor. My name is John Turner, an’ I ha’ had the charm o’ marrying your niece.”
“Mr. Turner,” Swann replied, giving Jack’s hand a firm shake. Jack edged back, his eyes darting mistrustingly. Elizabeth realized he must be leery of having his tattoo revealed.
“Uncle,” Elizabeth said, drawing attention away from Jack’s discomfort, “you didn’t hear our sad news?”
Swann’s face became solemn, the lines deepening. “If you mean the death of my brother, yes, I was informed. Commodore Norrington—I believe you know the young man?—” Elizabeth’s mouth opened in surprise, and she heard Jack snicker—“he called some weeks ago to relay the message. Which is why,” his voice became stern, “I wondered at you not being in half-mourning. Your father, after all, Elizabeth.”
She hung her head. She certainly was not in half-mourning, and she hadn’t even arrived with the look of grief on her face that she felt somewhere beneath her fear and anxiety. She did miss her father, but the wild circumstances that had taken over her life had crowded sad thoughts of him away. It was just as well. “You are certain to find this some fantastic tale,” she began, “but the boat my husband and I were on, coming into the city . . .”
“ . . . it—it capsized and we were turned overboard and lost all our things!”
“That’s deplorable!” Swann exclaimed. Elizabeth looked down, mortified that lying came so easily.
“An’ sir, ‘f I may,” Jack broke in, waving his hands across his face dramatically, “we were attacked by pirates. All our things, ta’en.” He gestured close to Swann’s face. “We ha’ t’ swim to the south bank o’ your river.”
“Pirates!” Swann exasperated. “That’s not possible. There are no pirates fool enough to come into London, unless through Hangman’s Dock!”
Jack leaned in confidentially, and Swann, of an even more delicate disposition than his younger brother, discreetly raised a scented handkerchief to his sallow face. “You’d be surprised,” said Jack.
Elizabeth turned scarlet and elbowed Jack, hard. “Uncle,” she said pleadingly, “we’re both very tired. Do you think it would be too much to ask . . .?”
“Of course, my dear. If your things have been lost at sea, well, you shall have to stay here and borrow what you need.”
“We were given these clothes by a . . . benefactor,” Elizabeth said, for some reason reluctant to mention Tolby by name. “We shall have to return them . . .”
“Allow me to send an order to my tailor, and your cousin Mary’s dressmaker,” he said.
“Much obliged,” said Jack, a smile in his eyes. “As ye may have no’iced, these colors don’ suit me much.”
And Swann laughed robustly, startling Elizabeth. “That appears to be Gospel, Mr. Turner.” He clapped Jack on the back, and then turned to the footman at the door. “Prepare a room for Mr. and Mrs. Turner.”
“Uh, two bedchambers?” Elizabeth ventured weakly.
Swann looked back at her, confusion spreading over his sallow features. “Two, Elizabeth? What can you mean, two hearty, newly married people like you?”
Elizabeth was cowed into submission. “Then one, of course, Uncle.”
Swann nodded approvingly. The footman left without a word. Elizabeth looked over at Jack, who was trying not to grin and reveal his teeth. “And are you hungry?”
“Unimaginably so,” replied Jack.
“Very well,” Swann said, smiling timidly. “I’ll have some food brought to your room. Will you be well enough to join us for supper this evening?”
Elizabeth decided a gamble—in Port Royal, where uncontaminated water (fresh or salt) was more abundant than in London, she was used to bathing occasionally. If her memory of London was correct, people such as her uncle had the privilege of bathing twice a year. “Uncle,” she said, “I know this is a bit irregular, but owing to the fact we’ve just been submerged in filth, would it be much trouble to draw us up baths?”
“That will not be a problem,” her uncle said. “The water comes in today.”
“Sir Swann,” Jack faltered, “you know, I don’ think I really need a bath. I wouldn’t wan’ t’ use up your water. Not fittin’ a guest.”
Swann took Jack aside and told him, sotto voce, “My dear sir, if your wife thinks you need a bath, God help you but you’d better do it, man!” Jack gave a weak half-smile.
A hot water bath had never felt quite so invigorating, Elizabeth reflected. True, even boiled, the water still came to her dirty, but with several scented attars, she was hopeful that most of the muck she had accumulated would be washed away. A wooden tub had been set aside for her in a small, closet-sized room adjoined to the chamber she was supposed to be sharing with Jack. She hoped he understood that he was sleeping on the floor again or not at all—perhaps her uncle could be persuaded soon enough to allow them separate rooms.
After she was well-bathed, she dressed and traded places with Jack, who had been gorging on the meal Swann had sent up. There was, with it, a small bottle of port that she saw him carrying with him into the closet. “ ‘S good stuff, this port,” he had told her, his head lolling rather wildly. “Not ‘s warm goin’ down as good Caribbean rum, but . . .” He hiccuped into her face, deafening her with the scent of wine. She pushed him away a little disdainfully. Somewhat timidly, he approached the bath (Elizabeth’s dirty bath water the servants had turned into the garden and filled Jack’s bath anew—unheard of, the servants whispered). Elizabeth wondered if Jack had ever taken a real bath.
He had gorged on the food that had been brought up to them, and there was nothing for Elizabeth to do but wait until supper. She wondered if she should seek out her uncle and talk to him. She was half-tempted to confess all to him and beg his forgiveness. But she couldn’t leave without the hope of finding Will, and she couldn’t do that without money. She couldn’t give Jack up to the authorities either; whatever he was, he didn’t deserve to be dragged all this way for nothing.
Elizabeth was uncertain, when she went down for supper, whether she would meet Jack there or if she should risk entering the closet. She was told by the servants that Jack was asleep in their bedchamber. When asked if he should be woken up, she said no. She was angry until she reflected that he had probably not slept above a few hours a night on Reine Charlotte. In an extra coup d’état, she was free to present a convincing façade to her uncle without Jack’s inference. She let him sleep.
Sleepy and full, Elizabeth mounted the stairs to the chamber she and Jack were sharing. She hoped not to find him still asleep in the middle of the canopied bed. Instead, she met him standing on the landing in front of the door, examining the Persian carpet on the smooth parquet floor. “Awake, I see,” she said.
“How was supper?” he asked. He glanced at her quickly and then away again in a shy manner that he did not often exhibit. She turned her head toward him curiously, thinking how strange he looked in the violently-colored plumage of Tolby’s borrowed suit. She saw, too, for the first time that there were worn, dark circles under his eyes—not the kohl-lining, she was certain, but physical attestation to the strain he’d been under.
“Quite good, though your absence was noted.” She thought back to her own nervousness, descending the stairs alone in a foreign household. She was fortunate to dine solely with her uncle; her cousins Mary and Paul often dined with Swann but were both otherwise occupied. As she sat, folding her gown back in the most ladylike manner she could devise, making her apologies for Jack’s absence, she began to realize how lonely her uncle was in the house since his wife—her aunt Julia—had died. He had been a man of few words when his niece had known him, and now he was reduced to garrulously repeating the same sentences without knowing it. He had comforted her for the loss of her father, though the brothers had not been very close since Weatherby’s departure as Governor of Jamaica. There had been a blade at the bottom of her stomach, cutting her for lying so easily to her own kin. But Jack was not there, and his absence kept her mouth shut.
“Beg yer pardon,” Jack said, more or less automatically.
She cleared her throat. “My uncle told me that his tailor would require you to give measurements tomorrow for your new set of clothes.”
“I’ll be going to the dressmaker’s to acquire new gowns myself, so we probably won’t see much of each other until evening. There’s to be an assembly tomorrow night at nine—we’ve been invited.” She watched Jack carefully; he made no reaction. “There will be dancing—we’ll have to dance—”
“You may dance, Mrs. Turner, ‘f it pleases you,” he said frostily. His eyes were sharp. She wondered what he wanted her to say. That she had the inheritance money and was ready to split it with him? Could he be that naïve?
“I intend on retiring at once. I believe I’m going to change for bed—you should do the same.” She tossed it over her shoulder almost insolently as she walked past him and disappeared into the bedchamber. Such opulence at one point would not have surprised her, but being so long from the home she had known as a child, the large canopied bed of oak with counterpane worked in silver-thread and green impressed her. The servants had not yet been able to remake the tousled coverlet Jack had left in his wake, and this jarred Elizabeth enough that she bent to fold it over nicely. In addition to the bed were a padded chaise-lounge, a vanity, and a bedside table, already waiting with its pitcher of water. She wondered that there was no little creeping maid ready with the bedwarmer, deciding her uncle had probably told the servants not to bother the bedchamber unless asked.
She found the dressing screen in the far corner of the room by an enormous set of paned-glass windows, their curtains discreetly pulled. Slung over the patterned screen were a silken cream-colored nightgown and a sacque-robe of pale pink. As she dressed, she found herself trembling, forgetting how much she had missed succors such as comfortable clothes that fit. She had told herself she was impervious to the charms of material possessions, flim-flam such as clothes, but she had lied. When the sharp little rap on the door shook her, followed immediately by Jack entering, she was caught in the act of admiring her civilized reflection—it had been so long since she had actually seen herself in a mirror!
“Sorry,” he muttered.
She said nothing, rather annoyed, pulling the sacque-robe more closely about her. When she turned, it was more graceful than she gave herself credit for, the pink skirt of the robe swirling across her bare ankles. He was holding his hands in the prayer-like gesture, palms against each other. She was momentarily distracted by contemplation of his hands; though they were still unsuitably tan, and he continued to wear his rings of dubious origin, she was rather mesmerized by how clean they were. So dirt did not magically appear upon his skin, she thought.
Jack was watching her, too, no doubt registering that the top of her nightgown peeped through the sacque-robe though she held it closed with very white fingers. Was he thinking, perhaps, of how beautiful she appeared in pink brocade?
“Aye?” He dropped his hands from their praying pose to scratch behind his ear.
“Are you coming in or not? Perhaps you’re not tired.”
“I didn’t think we were going t’ sleep in the same room,” Jack replied, rubbing his close-clipped beard. “Thought I might take the sofa in the hall an’ await you tomorrow mornin’.”
Without thinking, Elizabeth burst out, “Well, it’s no trouble if you stay here—”
She shut her mouth in due haste, a slight blush turning into two red circles on her cheeks. Sparrow dropped his arm from the doorjamb, his round eyes betraying his surprise. Elizabeth looked away, settling onto the mattress of her four-poster bed. “I just thought it would look less suspicious to stay together, that was all I meant.”
Jack was leering a little now, his hands playing with the pockets on his violent green waistcoat. “ ‘F I’m not mistaken, your uncle’s purpose in having us in the same room was—”
“It’s customary for a wife and husband to stay in the same room,” she snapped, glaring at him, “not withstanding whether they intend to sleep in the same bed or not!”
Jack’s leer intensified into a broad grin, showing his gold teeth; for a moment, he was entirely irrepressible pirate. Elizabeth’s violently cold look changed his mind, however, before she slipped off her shoes and pulled the curtain down so he could no longer see her. “You’re not likely to get much comfort in the sofa in the hall, you know—not once the servants discover you and squawk to my uncle. Our stay would be met with those awkward questions we so wished to avoid. Besides, I’d feel less . . . ill at ease,” she mumbled from behind the curtain.
Jack remained where he was, gazing at the drawn curtain with an appreciative interest. “Well . . . all ri’,” he said, taking a few steps forward.
The curtain flew open. “On the floor, if you please!”
“Of course,” Jack said with elaborate sarcasm, turning on his heel and making for the chaise-lounge, off of which he grabbed two fat, stuffed Turkish pillows. “I’m jus’ thinkin’ o’ me gold, Mrs. Turner,” he reminded her curtly, “an’ how I will enjoy every piece o’ it, after all the trouble I’ve gone through to get it.”
“Of course you’ll get your gold. I just think we should stay close,” Elizabeth maintained fiercely. “For our own protection, surely.”
Jack threw up his hands at her, ignoring her as he hunkered down on the floor. “Then why’s’t implicit tha’ I get t’ sleep on the floor?”
“Because I am the lady.” It was the sort of imperious tone Elizabeth used when determined to brook no refusal—it usually worked.
“Course, I forget.”
Part of Elizabeth was utterly gleeful behind the curtain. She was able to boss around Captain Jack Sparrow with little more than a persuasive speech? She couldn’t wait until the crew of the Black Pearl learned of Jack’s cowed and useless state. “Oh, would you mind blowing out the candle?” she requested in her sweetest, sing-song voice.
After moments of silence and still the light behind the curtain was rosy and bright, she pulled the curtain away and regarded the prostrate shape of the pirate on the floor. He was snoring loudly. Elizabeth shrugged elegantly, climbing silently out of bed and over to the table, where the candle was flickering indolently. She glanced at Jack, his snoring but still shape covered in his silk coat. He was remarkably comfortable there on that floor, she thought, watching his face tilted upward on the Turkish pillows. His kicked-off boots were in a pile nearby with his stockings, and his bare feet were sprawled on the carpet lazily. She had to smile, a little, and not in mockery or bitterness.
He must really want that gold to endure this, she thought. But she checked herself, realizing with a sigh that there must be some other reason he was willing to put with her flippant and demeaning behavior. “I would rather not think about it,” she said softly. Neither did she want to contemplate why she had wanted him near her, in the same room even, when aboard Reine Charlotte she hadn’t trusted him in the crowded first mate’s cabin. He stirred softly, disturbing his snoring. She gazed at him a moment longer, just to look. Not to think. She cupped her hand around the candle, watching the shadows that danced on the walls between her fingers, the tips glowing pink. She bent forward, blowing, and the light turned to darkness. She quietly padded back to the bed, pulling aside the curtain and dropping into the bedclothes.
She lay in bed silently, sprawled on her stomach with her head balanced on one arm, the other arm reached out futilely to the empty space on the bed. There was enough moonlight to illuminate the curtains, to splash a soft blue onto the unoccupied space beside her. She and Will hadn’t been married long, but she sincerely missed the presence of his body in bed beside her. She missed his warmth, the malleable, soft entity of his flesh beside her. It was always the nights alone that would find her sobbing almost silently and without tears into her pillow. This was not possible in the crowded hammocks of the Black Pearl nor the anxiety-ridden hellhole of Reine Charlotte. She listened, forcing back her tears with effort, and heard nothing but Jack’s snoring. How even it is, she mused.
She fell asleep almost immediately after, Jack’s uncouth but comforting snores the last thing on her mind. She slept soundly through much of the night with only wisps of bad dreams to pull at her temples. But at last she awoke and was surprised but not shocked to find tears at the fringes of her eyelashes, though she could not remember any dream that prompted them. She was curled up and tangled within the knots of the bedclothes, clinging to her pillow with fingers white with yearning. As she rolled onto her back, trying to disengage her arms from the heavy coverlet, she wondered what in particular had wrested her from a sleep that had seemed so genuinely fearless. All around her was dark, supplemented by the barest sheen of the moon outside. She lay in bed silently, blinking into the dark, but it was only after several minutes that she heard a sound beyond her own thoughts.
She was frightened for a moment because the noise was obviously coming from the same room, and she had forgotten that she was not alone. The muted rustling, the soft but pained sounds, made her bolt upright in bed, unknowing. With a flutter, she remembered that Jack Sparrow had gone to sleep at the foot of the bed. She surmised, then, that the noises were coming from him. With a little hesitation, she threw back the curtain. She saw in the ample shadows on the wall that Jack’s shape was indeed engaged in some nightmarish reverie. She surprised herself by striking a flint on her first try and lighting the wick of her bedside candle. The light leapt across the room. She dashed to the foot of the bed, her nut-brown hair streaming and enveloping her face. “No!” Jack was murmuring. She found him writhing on the floor, his black hair wild as his dark fingers gripped convulsively at the air. His eyes were closed, and though she knew his capacity for deception, she did not for a moment doubt this was a genuine nightmare.
She didn’t think as she kneeled down beside him, watching his colorful face screwed up in pain as he gasped out “no, stop” in little painful pants. “Jack,” she whispered hoarsely. “Jack!” His only answer was a guttural cry such as she had never heard uttered. She was so amazed, she sat there in shock, pale at the thought of what could so frighten and horrify a man as strong and cynical as Jack.
She felt a strange aversion to touching him. It wasn’t the sweat streaming off his brow, it wasn’t the glint of gold off his teeth as they twisted with his bottom lip between them. She felt terribly cold at the thought of laying her hands on him. “Jack!” she said, this time loudly. Her arms darted out almost involuntarily to grab him roughly by the shoulders. She gave him a violent shake, shouting “Jack!” almost into his face.
He gasped, a low rattling sound. His black-rimmed eyes flew open. He stared straight ahead, straight into her eyes. His black pupils were dilated. His face was so close to hers, their noses touched briefly. She could feel his warm breath on her cheek. His arms shot out and gripped her shoulders with a strength that almost crushed her. “Elizabeth!” he whispered hoarsely.
She smiled ever so slightly, glad in her heart he had called her by her name. “Yes, Jack,” she whispered, “you’ve been dreaming. I . . . I tried to wake you . . .”
“What?” he asked, wild-eyed, dropping his arms from her.
She repeated her statement, and he pulled violently away. “You mus’ never tell anyone about this, do ye hear?” he muttered coldly, his voice trembling, as he began to pull on his coat. She backed away slightly, staring limply at the rolled up sleeves of Tolby’s shirt, exposing the tattoos and scars on Jack’s arms. His waistcoat and cravat had long been discarded, revealing the top of his tanned chest. When she looked carefully at the back of his shirt, she could see one of the old welts rising from his shoulder to the back of his neck. She’d never before noticed that it was there.
He wouldn’t look at her. She held out her hands uselessly, crouching on the floor. “This was a mistake,” he said numbly, brushing past her.
“Jack, I don’t understand,” she said quietly.
He pulled on one boot over the leg of his trouser and turned to her. “You mus’ never tell anyone about this! Can ye not understan’ that?”
He pulled on the other boot, staring at her, his hair tangled and so dark against his unnaturally pale face. His cheekbones looked gaunt, hollow. “Well, all right,” she murmured, backing away. She felt cold. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up.
“Swear it!” he snapped with dead calm. “ ‘Lizabeth, swear it!”
She couldn’t abide his wild look. It was worse than suffering his inexplicable cries in the dark. For a moment, she was sincerely afraid—afraid of him. “I swear,” she said, but her lips barely moved. He turned away, grunting in satisfaction, and moved toward the door. She found herself blocking his path. “Where are you going?”
He bared his teeth for a moment. She leaned against the door, covering the handle with her body. “I ‘preciate your concern,” he said, his words very controlled, but his delivery strained. “I ‘preciate your concern, Mrs. Turner, but I really should not have been here in the first place, savvy?”
She stung at the fact he was calling her Mrs. Turner when only moments before it had been Elizabeth. But she saw that his hands were trembling, and his lip was twitching under his moustache. “Jack, it’s all right . . . I’m not going to tell anyone, I’m not going to do . . . anything.” His rolled-up shirt cuff was bright in the moonlight. She trembled, looking at him, wishing he would let her help him. “I just want to be certain that you’re not going to do something . . . regrettable . . .”
“Kind o’ ye, Mrs. Turner,” he said with extreme coldness, “but I don’ wan’ ye t’ be wastin’ your precious, aris’ocratic kindness on Jack bloody Sparrow.” His whole face was twitching; his speech crackled with bitterness. He grabbed her roughly by the elbow and moved her from the door.
She was about to protest when he shouted at her, “I am not your husband, do ye understan’! I am not your Will Turner, to boss and coddle wit’! Leave me the hell alone!”
She raised her hand and slapped him hard across the face. It was the first time she’d ever actually succeeded in slapping him, though she’d tried many a time previously. She had failed before either because he had anticipated her or because she had not really meant to inflict harm. This time, she truly wanted to hurt him. If she hadn’t been so surprised that her hand had really come into contact with his face, she would have kept pummeling. Instead, she dropped her hand in shock, staring.
The sound of her hand colliding with first his nose, then his cheekbone, crackled in her ears for a long time. It was such a crisp, horrific sound that she couldn’t contain her surprise. He looked back at her with dull, uncomprehending eyes. Her hand had made a pink imprint on his cheek, though the heel of her hand had left a vivid white mark she almost knew was going to turn into a bruise.
He didn’t shake his head or make a pained, witty response. He said nothing. For a moment, she thought he was going to hit her back. But he didn’t. He calmly turned around, opened the door, and walked away.
She didn’t know where he went after he left her that night. She had expected to see him at breakfast, and she would have been happy to apologize—happy to say anything so that he might speak to her once again without loathing. But she was informed he had gone out early with her uncle’s valet to the tailor’s in order to obtain new clothes. Soon enough, she too was swept up by the party of her cousin Mary, who was married and in town only for the fortnight, to the dressmaker’s.
Long before, Elizabeth had realized the only way to stay sane while being measured for this or that gown or robe was to think about something else. She hated being prodded by the seamstress with little pins, her bosom being hefted this way and that to fit into tightly-laced stays or, worse, corsets. So, as she was being fitted for a ball gown for the assembly that night, she asked herself what could have possibly inspired Jack’s nightmare?
She considered: the first time he’d been marooned on the island, he could not have immediately found the rum runners’ cache. He had been there three days, he had said; perhaps he had gone slightly mad with the heat before he had found the rum, and the dream was recalling such a condition.
Jack was already mad, she decided, and nothing had ever possessed him to act like that before. With a shiver, she wondered if he could be recalling the circumstances in which he had received those lashes on his back. A hot day in a Jamaica plantation—or else tied to the mast of some ship . . . She grimaced to think about it. But Jack was too hard of a man to cry out, she decided. Were he being whipped by the Devil himself, she imagined Jack staying in a state of grim silence, except for an occasional joke with his tormenter. What, then, could hurt him so deeply? She could not guess, and it would be a great while before she would know.