“For genteel young women, it was a heady experience to dance, to be admired, and, no doubt to whisper with friends over the merits of particular gentlemen.” --Daily Life in the 18th Century
Elizabeth stumbled a bit as she began descending the stairs. She was clearly not as prepared for all that real court dress represented as she had believed. The day spent at the seamstress’s, though she finally decided to borrow a magnificent ball gown from her cousin Mary, was exhausting. She did not particularly want to be descending a perilous staircase on her way to an assembly ball. She was feeling rather piqued, to tell the truth. She had forced the maid to lace her corset up loosely, but her breathing was still restricted. And the panniers! Nothing, she was convinced, was designed to make a woman feel more ridiculous than blasted panniers! She felt like she had two small sloops attached to her hips.
She was therefore grumbling and stumbling her way down the fine, if not terribly helpful to a stumbling woman, staircase in her uncle’s home, and did not think what a lovely picture she made nonetheless. The gown was of old gold-cloth, quite heavy it must be said, but the pale and restrained color, heightened by the simple embroidery in green and crimson thread, suited her more than she could have guessed. Her hair was pomaded and slightly powdered and bound with the jewels she had borrowed from her late aunt, through the suggestion, again, of Mary; another ring of pearls surrounded the flushed skin of her throat, but there was no other decoration save the plain gold wedding band on her hand.
It was Jack Sparrow alone who recognized what a stunning picture she made at that moment, for he was one waiting at the foot of the stairs to receive her. It wasn’t until Elizabeth had reached the ninth stair when she realized she was being watched, and that knowledge caused her grumbling and stumbling to increase. They hadn’t seen each other or spoken since the night before, and both seemed determined to forget everything that had happened then. “These ridiculous things they expect us to wear . . .!” she exclaimed nervously, tripping over the tenth stair. “I am so overjoyed that my father saw fit to raise me in the Indies where such trifles are—ah—” (she bumped into the banister, painfully) “—inconvenient, as they should be . . .”
He hadn’t said anything, he was still standing in the same position. This, of course, made her more nervous. Was he still angry with her? She searched his face for an answer. “I mean, you probably don’t mind it so much because you don’t have to wear one . . . a corset, I mean . . . or panniers . . . ghastly things . . .”
At the second-to-last step, Jack interrupted her wayward meanderings with a quiet, “ ‘Lizabeth
. . . you look . . .”
Elizabeth stopped, finally registering that the blank look on his face was not indifference but rather something approaching astonishment. “Yes?” she asked, waiting anxiously for a reply that—that—
“. . . you look . . . tall.”
“Tall?” she repeated, nonplussed, gripping the banister.
“Aye, tall,” said Jack, looking at her brightly, probably earnestly. “Di’ ye get new shoes? You look very tall.”
She looked down. The wide skirts of her gown completely obscured her shoes (which were, if she were honest with herself, new and were rather high-heeled). She had to admit to herself he could have said a thousand things worse, but this still struck her as particularly unfeeling. With a disappointment she could hardly explain, she said, “Yes, they are new. How kind of you to notice.”
She held out her hand, expecting him to help her down the last stair. He smiled at her, then glanced at her hand. She waved it frantically, and at last he sprang brokenly forward to take it.
“Imbecile,” she muttered under her breath. She couldn’t help it.
When he had helped her down, he immediately turned and asked, “Now, how do I look, Mrs. Turner?”
She raised one eyebrow. It was difficult for her, and she suspected anyone who had known Jack to any degree, to reconcile the precision she saw before her with the disarray of only a few days’ before. Her uncle’s valet was gifted, that much was clear. The dark blue of Jack’s coat and trousers suited him much better than the violent colors he had arrived in, and she noticed with satisfaction he was holding his grizzled old hat under his arm in a gentlemanly manner. The curled and pomaded wig was magnificent to be sure, but she found she much preferred the wildness of his own wind-woven hair. With the bath and scented attars—and the rare occasions his look became pensive and grave instead of lopsided and bug-eyed—she could have easily mistaken him for a Spanish gentleman of the Estuarial rather than a scallywag artificially pomaded and paraded in a borrowed suit.
But the disappointment he had quite unknowingly wrought with his last few words embittered her, and all she said was, “You look tall. The new shoes, I imagine?”
He frowned at her in response as she floated haughtily by. “Come along,” she said coldly. “We don’t want to be late for the assembly.”
“Hear me, ‘Lizabeth,” Jack said, just as coldly, though barely disguising his anger as he squeezed and twisted his new pair of gloves. As they proceeded forward toward the doors, he leaned in to keep his voice low. “You haven’t changed me mind in any way: you promised me gold, and I’ve so far seen naught. An’ I ain’t going to hold out for it much longer, savvy?”
If he was going to say more—he probably was; he was clearly annoyed—he was prevented by the appearance of Elizabeth’s uncle. He was dressed in dark green, richly attired, and looked quite the baronet that he was. “Oh, there you young people are!” he exclaimed in his rumbling bass.
Elizabeth gave a final condescending look to Jack, who gripped his gloves more tightly, and she curtseyed as deeply as the panniers would allow. “Uncle.”
Sparrow, not to be outdone, glared at Elizabeth and executed a perfect courtly bow. Clearly his grace was a natural, if sometimes twisted, attribute. Swann was obviously impressed, giving the pirate a curt but satisfied nod of acknowledgement. His niece and her “husband” merely glared at each other. Half in earnest, half in nervous agitation, Swann said, “You do make a smart pair, you two . . .” When there was no reply, Swann tactfully noticed that the carriage was waiting outside, and the party climbed in.
The ride to the assembly was brief and nearly silent, as neither Sparrow nor Elizabeth had anything to say. Elizabeth did manage a half-hissed, “Now, Jack, I want you to try very hard to blend in and not make a spectacle of yourself.” As it was, she could hardly sit down because of her costume—which was already causing sores and pain on her abdomen—and had to take up an entire seat of the carriage while the two gentlemen sat opposite her. She and the pirate avoided each other’s gaze, obviously still testy about the last night’s remarks, though she thought she once perceived him staring at her silver-buckled shoes that had caused such a conflict earlier. It was dark—nine o’clock—and so nothing much was to be seen outside until they reached the assembly rooms, which were lit from within by a hundred candles.
The hall bustled with light, both from the candles and reflected off a dozen surfaces—gowns embroidered with gold and diamonds, ropes of pearls and sapphires, filigree candelabras and snuff boxes—and only Baronet Swann could be said to be at his ease. Elizabeth observed, as they were quietly making their way in, that Jack wore a completely astonished look, as if he had never encountered a wisp of the opulence before them in the drawing room. (This was not entirely accurate, as she was sure the pirate swag he had plundered was at least equal to this fanciful display.) Elizabeth saw his expression change from furrow-browed worry to an inspiring kind of determination, as if the assembly room itself was a giant foe he was willing to take on single-handedly. She saw his twitching fingers reach for his pistol belt—obviously he found no pistol nor cutlass with which to defend himself. She knew he was carrying a knife inside the lining of his waistcoat—they had had a bitter argument over this—and probably would be carrying another in his boot were he wearing boots. She looked down. He was not wearing boots but high shoes and silk stockings. She wondered what the crew of the Black Pearl would have to say about that and chuckled to herself.
“What exactly is so amusin’?” Jack whispered to her. His voice was taut as she expected it might be in a battle where he did not know his adversary.
“Nothing,” said Elizabeth gravely, and fortunately he did not press the point.
As they came into the main hall, they were ambushed by people, and the rituals of bowing and curtseying began. Elizabeth could no longer pretend that she felt any differently than Jack did—even Port Royal’s most elegant ceremonies seemed positively primeval in comparison to this avalanche of society. She supposed that was why she was still holding Jack’s hand which he had offered indifferently as she had staggered out of the carriage. She noted he had not seen fit to pull away from her yet, and she found, however imbecilic and dispiritedly little-minded she had recently found him, she did not want to leave his side. Even in a London assembly room, Jack Sparrow seemed the safest man to follow.
She was aware that her uncle had stopped and was speaking to a short, rotund woman of about forty in an immodest pink gown. However atrocious her attire seemed, she appeared to have a kind, inquisitive face. “May I present my niece Elizabeth—daughter of my brother Weatherby—and her husband, Mr. Turner.” Elizabeth and Jack sank solemnly as if on cue. “This is Lady Hamilton who gives lovely suppers from her house in Fleet Street.”
Lady Hamilton demurred and immediately began in a labored, somewhat masculine voice, “My youngest son is in the Navy—I understand there was much contact with the Navy in the colony.”
Elizabeth watched, a little disturbed, as her uncle excused himself. “That is so, ma’am.”
“Well, I have never been to the West Indies,” Lady Hamilton said, batting her fan. “Tell me, how is it in Jamaica Colony?”
“A native Londoner might think our ways quaint—”
Elizabeth blinked, while Lady Hamilton made a sound rather like a hiccup. Jack had interjected the bored monosyllable, looking down at Lady Hamilton as if she were his maiden aunt. Elizabeth was about to profusely apologize—meanwhile resisting the urge to stomp soundly on Jack’s foot—when Lady Hamilton moved in closer to the pirate and inquired. “Mr. Turner, is it? You are the one, are you not, who owns the tobacco plantations in Virginia?”
“Tobacco. Virginia. Aye.”
Elizabeth was really on the verge of smacking him with her fan, but to her horror, Lady Hamilton laughed, a burring, hiccupy sound. “What a wonderful ‘turn’ of phrase you have there, Mr. Turner!”
Jack smiled ever so slightly, warming to the compliment if not the pun. “I am much obliged, milady.”
Before Lady Hamilton could reply, however, a man of the same build and shuffling quality appeared from the fringes, bowing low to Elizabeth. She quickly recognized him as Joseph Tolby, the man of quality they had seen upon first arriving in the city. In the bright candlelight of the assembly room, his heavy, incisive brow and lugubrious, lumbering posture, were more pronounced, but his smile was warming and genuine. “A thousand apologies, Lady Hamilton,” he said, eyeing the matron with good-natured trepidation.
“Ah yes,” said Lady Hamilton, rather dryly. “Mr. and Mrs. Turner, have you met my nephew Joseph Tolby?”
“Permit me, Aunt,” said the young man, still looking at Elizabeth, “but we have seen a little of each other, yes.”
Elizabeth, a little flustered at the obvious attention and feeling strangely cornered, sank into another curtsy—oh, her thighs! She was going to fall over—and said, “You do us too much honor, Mr. Tolby—”
“It is you of whom I must ask the honor,” continued the bright-faced gentleman. “That gown is positively becoming, Mrs. Turner.”
“Thank you, we mean to return what you so generously lent us—”
“Think nothing of it,” Tolby waved away airily, with almost too much impatience. “Would you join me in the first dance of the evening, Mrs. Turner?” For the first time he appeared to see Jack. “With your husband’s leave, of course.”
Elizabeth observed that Jack merely shrugged, if he did that much. He had never looked so completely blank, even when passed out dead-drunk. Though she felt some unease connected with Tolby that she could not quite explain, she was wearied exquisitely by Jack’s behavior. She intended to have a little diversion while she was there! She let go of his hand and accepted Tolby’s offer. She excused herself from Lady Hamilton, and on a sudden impulse whispered harshly to Jack as he passed, “Stay where we can see each other.”
She missed the rude face that Jack made in her wake, but it is true he did attempt to move closer to the dancing floor. Fortunately the slow and sedate minuet made it comparatively easy to watch the assembly crowd while paying enough attention to the dance so as not to look foolish. When her father had sent for a dancing master upon her fifteenth birthday, Elizabeth had briefly taken something of a passion for her lessons—probably because they were one of the few respites from embroidery, or reading Latin, both of which were considerably boring in her opinion. (Even dancing, however, was second-best to paying a ha’penny to the harbor master for the latest pirate broadsides, either in print or from the man’s own tongue.) She mused rather sardonically that Jack had been persuaded to wear shapely silk stockings—but had insisted on his refusal to learn to dance. She had to admit he might have looked rather silly because of the peculiar way he walked; then again . . .
A small crowd had gathered around the pirate, composed mostly of young females, half-hidden behind their fans. Jack was slowly losing his look of utter boredom. She could see that he appeared to be answering questions asked one by one from the overwhelmingly feminine crowd when she and her partner switched places in the dance, she was able to hear a squat woman observe, “The Indies certainly have given you color, Mr. Turner.”
What Jack’s reply must have been she had no way of knowing. She was anxious for the minuet to end and noticed that someone else appeared to have taken an interest in Jack. Not another young lady, but an older, rather craven-looking gentleman—well, she was not entirely sure whether she could refer to him as a gentleman. He was dressed completely in a black coat, trousers, waistcoat, and stockings—an ensemble that must have looked dashing when new—but did no longer. He was a stooped, darkly-colored individual with a certain coarseness of features and a low, brutish brow. He wore a thick white periwig and seemed to be clutching a metallic object in one hand. A strange personage to be sure, but when Elizabeth had completed one of her turns in the dance, the man had disappeared completely into the crowd. She was impatient enough to end the dance that she allowed the odd encounter to slip to the back of her mind, and when at last she was able to execute a final curtsy, she almost rudely disregarded Tolby’s attempts at conversation in order to breach the barrier between herself and Sparrow.
When she reached Jack, a footman, splendidly-liveried, had just come by with small flutes of champagne, offered to the assembled crowd. Jack had plucked up two glasses, tasting one with a foul expression. As Elizabeth edged her way into the crowd—not easy because of the panniers—Jack finished off the first glass of champagne and started on the second.
A few of the ladies around Sparrow had dispersed, heading to the floor for the next dance. “You didn’t tell me they’d ha’ drinks,” Jack murmured to Elizabeth in a warm and unaffected voice.
“Just see that you don’t drink too much,” Elizabeth hissed, looking at him covertly.
“My dear little wife,” said Jack, grinning lopsidedly at her—he was clearly enjoying this—“when have I ever drank—drunk—drunken—dranken—druh—druh—” She watched him in incredulity as he peered at his bejeweled fingers as he sorted out his verb conjugations, several ladies twittering as they moved by. Finally Jack threw down his hands with an elegant look—“consumed too much alcohol, hmm?” She winced, almost as much at the gold teeth he was revealing as at the fact he was referring to their experience on the rum-runners’ island—an event not to be explained in public. Anything more that might be said was dashed when a grossly rotund gentleman hailed Jack from across the room. Jack started toward him without a look at Elizabeth, taking another glass of champagne as he passed. She swore under her breath, knowing for certain he would soon give them both away. She watched in despair as he crossed the room with his swaying walk, certain to bring suspicion into anyone’s mind.
Her anxiety and fury caused her to lose her breath, and she stumbled a little—right into Lady Hamilton. Elizabeth apologized profusely, bringing out her fan in accordance with the matron’s advice. “Dear me, child! Have a care, there.”
“Forgive me, Lady Hamilton.”
“I suppose it’s true that a hotter climate creates better bonds between relations: you must be very close to your husband,” observed Lady Hamilton after offering her handkerchief to Elizabeth.
“Er—yes,” the young woman replied.
“You certainly keep a close watch over him.”
Elizabeth winced again—her attention to preventing Jack from revealing himself had been noticed. “I—”
“It’s all right,” said Lady Hamilton, leaning in conspiratorially. “I know!”
“You . . . know?”
“That Mr. Turner is really the son of a Spanish don! Of course. I have keen eyes and good ears, you understand, Mrs. Turner.”
Elizabeth blinked. Did Lady Hamilton seriously believe the half-crazed pirate was a Spanish prince? This is descending to the level of farce, she thought. “Oh . . . well! Just . . . see that you tell . . . no one.”
Lady Hamilton looked mightily offended. “I am as silent as the grave!”
At that moment, a loud, shrill sound escaped the group across the room, mostly female, that was ever circling Jack. If he knew anything at all, Elizabeth thought weakly, he’d know now was the time to be on his guard, now was the time for the cleverness and instinct that had kept him alive thus far. But Captain Jack Sparrow, the hangman’s most elusive quarry, had a ridiculous weakness for a pair of pretty eyes—any but mine, a rebellious voice inside Elizabeth exclaimed in cutting bitterness. “Bloody pirate,” she muttered venomously.
“What was that?” asked Lady Hamilton, wide-eyed.
Elizabeth did not dare reply, but another loud sound of mingled giggles and laughter answered for her. She wished to elude Lady Hamilton, who was now studying her intently, but could hardly follow the crowd enveloping her “husband.” “Lady Hamilton,” she asked suddenly, “would you care for some champagne?”
The matron waved her hand airily, and Elizabeth sought out the servant who carried the champagne. This of course brought her closer to Jack, and she merely pretended to sip the champagne.
“. . . and we would scarcely be living now if we ha’ not escaped the clutches o’ the fearsome scallywag Barbossa . . .”
Elizabeth needed to hear no more; her plan was doomed. She wondered if she could slip out quietly now, unnoticed, plead her dilemma to her uncle, and throw herself on his mercy. But where would that leave Jack? asked the same rebellious voice.
Oh, a plague on Jack! she answered herself. He got himself into this débacle!
But he agreed to this plan when the benefits are very much in your favor. Would you really leave him to be arrested, hung, and displayed on the river?
Elizabeth sighed and began marching—well, more like lurching; her “fine, tall” shoes had already given her blisters—towards Jack to persuade him to shut up. As she did, she caught his eye. He paused a moment in telling his story—“We would ha’ both likely been sacrificed on the altar o’ heathen gods if not for Ca’tain Jack Sparrow”—but then went on with more vigor.
Just as she began elbowing through the crowd with great unladylike shoves of her panniers, Jack turned to meet the next fine lord of the assembly—--
--and found himself face-to-face with Commodore Norrington. Elizabeth gasped. The two men stood very still. They looked at each other for a long, long moment. The Commodore wore black and silver, but it was a Navy uniform nonetheless. Elizabeth strained, opening her mouth to scream something—anything—
“Surely, Mr. Turner, you know the Commodore?” asked one of the few men in the group around Jack. “He was stationed at Port Royal . . .” The women around gave this unfortunate gentleman a sharp look, and he ceased speaking.
“Mr. Turner,” Commodore Norrington repeated dubiously. He and Jack stared.
“Commodore, you must recall the lovely Mrs. Turner,” said Jack quietly. Any measure of giddiness the champagne had produced was gone. Elizabeth allowed herself to breathe.
Norrington turned his head ever so slightly towards her—so imperceptibly that she wasn’t certain he had even seen her. “Mrs. Turner,” he repeated slowly. The crowd around him tittered wonderingly.
“We ‘ave missed seeing you in the Caribbean, sir,” Jack went on, with a very peculiar grin on his face (to Elizabeth’s chagrin, at least one good tooth was visible). “I’m afraid law enforcement in Port Royal ‘as deteriorated since you las’ graced us wi’ your presence.” The Commodore stared, clearly startled and curious. “Tell me, for I would dearly like to know, ‘ave you gotten any closer to finding that rogue Captain Jack Sparrow?”
Elizabeth did the only logical thing she could do in such a situation—she fainted.
As she hit the ground, Elizabeth heard a number of people gathering around her, Lady Hamilton chiefly among them. She heard the matron say, “Must have laced her corset too tight, poor child.”
A time passed, and Elizabeth felt her limp body being propped up, a dozen handkerchiefs being applied to her face. Above the din, however, Norrington said sharply, “Shouldn’t you attend to your wife, sir?”
“My wife? Oh yes, me wife.”
The next thing Elizabeth knew, she was being lifted bodily from the ground, to the awe of the bystanders. Finding her panniers too difficult to contend with, Jack threw her over one shoulder to carry her, despite the loud chatter and clambering surrounding them. Elizabeth could only conclude that he didn’t realize she was feigning, for the urgency with which he shouted, “Move! Move! Get out o’ my way!” was genuine enough. To her surprise, however, he did not set her down but kept her firmly in his arms as he ploughed through the crowd. “Where is the carriage?” he demanded loudly. “Take me t’the bloody carriage!”
Elizabeth supposed this whole event would have been romantic had she really fallen into a swoon, but as it was, she was only vaguely amused—and fairly uncomfortable. That is, until Jack found the carriage, spat at the driver, “Get on wi’ it! Take us to the ‘ouse!”, and laid her down on the cushions. That was when he began attempting to peel off her bodice.