“A woman’s heart is such a complex problem—the owner thereof is often most incompetent to find the solution of this puzzle.” --Baroness Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel
Elizabeth leapt away across the carriage, submerging them both in a cascade of gold-cloth. “What are you doing!”
When she caught sight of Jack, he was in shock, his wide bug eyes as round as coins. She really had succeeded in fooling him! She saw the understanding dawn, and that remarkable surprise gave way to anger. “Saving yer life!” he answered her question.
“Idiot!” she blurted, still furious that he’d tried to undress her. Dragging her skirts and panniers, the carriage bumping them rudely, she explained, “I was only pretending! To get you away from Norrington!”
He rounded on her, his dark brows contracting in rage. “How was I t’know you was pretending? One moment, s’ Commodore in me face—the next, he’s sayin’ me wife’s fainted.” He gestured expansively with his hands, and she noticed they were trembling. “When a woman swoons, ye assume—”
“Well, you should have been thinking!” Elizabeth spat, covering the top of her bodice with her hand, trying to lace it back up. “But, no,” she narrowed her eyes at him, “you were too busy giving us away, too busy trying to fill your bed—”
He shoved the wide swaths of cloth that separated them, forcing her near him. She could see a line developing in his forehead, the veins beside his temples straining. He wrenched off his pomaded wig and tossed it across the seat angrily. “My bed should be no concern o’ yours, I should think. An’ I have spent the last months doin’ nothing but wha’ you’ve asked me t’ do.” His voice was low, louder than it would have been at any other time in the day—the streets of London reached some measure of quiet by midnight. She felt her anger lessening. Why did she care which of those women he seduced?
“But why didn’t you listen to me?” Elizabeth replied in a pleading tone, her hands in fists. “I told you to blend in, to stay in the background.” He looked past her, out the window. The carriage had stopped. “Now the whole of bloody London thinks you’re a Spanish prince!”
He had been in the process of wrenching open the door and walking up the dark alley to Swann’s house. He turned on her with surprise and pleasure in his glance. “A Spanish prince! I do like the sound o’ tha’!” She watched him touch his mustachio unconsciously.
She quickly followed, nearly falling from the carriage as she limped away unassisted. What few people were walking the streets stared at the spectacle. It was heading onto one in the morning, and there were still a few vagrants about, though in Pall Mall it was significantly less lively than elsewhere. The inside of Swann’s house was dark and quiet. A single servant came out of the darkness with a candle. “I should never have done this,” Elizabeth said, fighting to keep up with Jack as he strode along. “I should never have—”
Jack glanced over his shoulder at her, ugly as a scar. “Now tha’s the first bit o’ sense I’ve heard you—”
“—I should never have trusted you to act like a gentleman!” Her voice was louder than she had meant it to be, and in the nearly silent house, almost a shout. The footman was cupping the candle, shrinking back, as a maidservant appeared with a candle of her own.
“In tha’ case, I won’ act like one,” said Jack coldly. He nodded curtly to the trembling maid, who handed him her candle. He began to mount the staircase. “Think you can make a fool o’ Jack Sparrow, think you can cheat him out o’ his—”
Elizabeth looked at the servant maid, who hadn’t retreated yet—both she and the footman were staring curiously at Elizabeth. She could imagine their wagging tongues, first in the servants’ quarters, then above-stairs to her uncle’s valet, then to her uncle himself. Already Jack had made himself highly visible; it wouldn’t take a great mind to realize the truth. “Please, the servants will hear!”
Jack seized the banister with a hand that was shaking so badly Elizabeth instantly regretted her too-prim words. “Fuck the sodding servants,” he roared, “and fuck you!”
Elizabeth felt the blood draining from her face. The first foot she had placed on the staircase came slipping down. She didn’t have to look at Jack’s eyes to know how full of hatred he was. She’d heard such rough talk from seaman and pirates before, Jack’s own crew, but he had never addressed it to her. Her head slowly fell down against her chest, her tall beauty crumpled in shock and hurt, her eyelashes suddenly tinged with tears she hadn’t meant for him to see.
Because her head was down, she didn’t see him turn around, gaze at her sadly as if in repentance, and then turn away. She heard him ascend the stairs far ahead of her. When she looked up, he disappeared toward their chamber, his head bowed.
“Please, ma’am.” The servant maid was at her elbow. Elizabeth looked at her absently; the house was suddenly alight as more servants were roused. She heard Jack’s steps pause. “But there’s a gentleman at the door. Commodore Norrington—”
Elizabeth’s hand slipped off the banister. She couldn’t believe her own ears. How could the night have gone so terribly wrong? She’d been dancing with Tolby, acting very respectably, and then Jack—stupid Jack—had made a spectacle of himself, so much so that he’d been seen and recognized by James Norrington. And now Norrington was at their door—to confirm to his own satisfaction what he’d seen. She would have no recourse but to turn him away. He would still have his suspicions, but maybe it would give her time to fabricate . . . something— She turned toward the maid.
“Show him in.” It was Jack’s voice, steely hard, from above her. He had walked across the landing and was looking down at the maid menacingly.
Elizabeth was breathless with shock. “What?”
“The parlor might be best.”
The maid looked helplessly at Jack and Elizabeth, then ran to do as Jack had bid her. Elizabeth mounted the stairs weakly. “Why did you do that?” she asked, her voice soft with disbelief. “You’ll have ruined everything.”
“Couldn’t resist, love.” The words were mocking but sad, too, sad in the way they had been when Elizabeth had asked about the miniature of his mother.
She looked down, attempting to form a logical reply that would somehow communicate her disappointment in him, her anger at what he’d done, and overall how wretched she felt. But all she could see was the way he’d smiled, surrounded by those empty-headed bobblebrains in the assembly room. She was jealous. Ever since Jack had laid an affectionate hand on AnaMaria, she’d been carrying this festering bile, and it finally exploded on the surface as a bitter, bitter canker. “You don’t seem to be able to resist any form of temptation!”
Jack looked at her in surprise and took a few steps down the stairs. “I’m so far resistin’ the temptation t’ hit you upside the head, ‘Lizabeth.”
She acted as if she hadn’t heard him. “A whoremonger offshore and on, isn’t that right?”
His look became the blank one that recalled her slapping him the night before. “ ‘F I was such a whoremonger, would I have left you alone as I have? Ah, but wait,” he said, an intensely hurtful phrase on the tip of his tongue, “you’re not attractive or charming enough t’ warrant any real man’s attentions—”
The tears finally fell down her cheeks in earnest. She couldn’t believe, couldn’t, that he had actually said that. Was she really so hideous? She must be! With one last valiant effort at self-respect, she cried, “You didn’t think of me that way on the island--!”
And her mind went back to a conversation long buried in her happy memories of Will . . .
A few days after they had announced their engagement, she’d gone to meet her fiancé at the forge. Mr. Brown was predictably dead-drunk in the chair, and it had given Elizabeth and Will one of their rare moments to spend alone.
“Elizabeth,” Will had said sweetly, “I would like to ask you something, and I’d like you to tell me the truth.”
She had looked down at her hands, then back into his questioning face, his delicate dark eyes. “Of course, I will tell you the truth about anything. You know that.”
He had never before had trouble meeting her gaze. “Yes, I know, but I must ask you plainly. You must not think that I don’t trust you, that I don’t love you.”
Elizabeth fixed him with a baffled, slightly hurt look. “What are you saying, Will?”
“On that island.” His words dropped like lead, ponderously slow. “I know something happened between you and Jack.” He swallowed. “On that island.” She was outraged, scandalized, tutting at her skirts which were dirty on the smithy floor. “Please tell me the truth,” Will said.
His eyes were soft and compelling. She cleared her throat. He offered her his hand. “A trifle, really, Will,” she said, trying to laugh. “If you think it more than that, I will think you passionately jealous, and that you don’t trust me.” He smiled at her, anxious, sad. She winced. “As . . . as you recall, when Jack—Captain Sparrow—and I were trapped on the island, I decided right away to create a signal fire with the rum. I knew Jack could never be persuaded to agree to use the rum in such a way, so I knew I would have to get him drunk.”
“Hardly difficult, I’m sure,” Will commented drily.
“However true that may be, I beg to remind you that I had to remain covert about my intentions and in so doing, take some of the rum myself.” Will looked faintly amused, faintly reproving. “Finally, Jack fell into a drunken stupor, and I could put my plan into action. I debated,” she told Will, “about when I should set the rum on fire. I finally decided dawn was best, as I was uncertain whether the Dauntless would be moored for the night and so miss the signal. Still, I didn’t want to risk waking Jack up.
“So, I waited calmly after he collapsed to make sure he was really certain not to wake up.” (She did not tell Will that she had spent the time sipping from the rum bottle still in her hand. She did not think he had ever tasted rum—neither had she until that day—and so would not understand the warm feeling it had left behind as it slid into her stomach, the almost toxic tart it had upon first swallow, which slowly mellowed.)
“I took another turn about the island—“ (following the trail her feet had made previously in the sand) “—but found myself quickly returning to the fire. It was cold in the night air. I built the fire up,“ (adding her half-empty rum bottle to the pile). “Jack was still sprawled there on the sand. I sat by the fire, and I became increasingly worried that he wasn’t breathing—that perhaps, this time, dead-drunk really meant dead.” She smiled guiltily. “So I took a few cautious steps toward him, bruising my feet on conch shells—they were all over that island . . .” She unconsciously reached down toward her feet and then stopped herself. “When I was standing over him, I shoved one of my feet against his chest, receiving no response.
“Carefully, I bent down—wary of getting too close to him, he might be tricking me into doing something indecorous—but I was still not convinced he was breathing. I put my head on his chest to make sure he was breathing.” Will cleared his throat. “He was, so I got back up.” She didn’t tell Will how harsh the cloth of Jack’s shirt had been against her face, all the sand granules which quickly became caught in her wildly unbound hair. How warm his body had been against her skin. She stayed a moment longer than she would have had Will believe; Jack’s heartbeat was so steady, and she wondered if she could be so easily conquered by drink: to forget all the worries and certainties that they were to die together. She envied his peace.
“The night wore on. I worked to move some of the cases of rum from the cache. It got very cold. I was sleepy. The rum, too, must have taken its toll. I decided that a short nap would do me good—an hour at most. Then I’d proceed with my plan. When I sunk down between where Jack lay and the fire, I dug up a conch shell from the sand and placed it next to me, so that I’d roll over onto it and wake up.”
“There have been better plans,” Will interjected ruefully.
Elizabeth glared at him. “Well, I was almost asleep—it’s amazing I had that much foresight!” She fell asleep. When she woke, there were two things she noticed immediately. One was that when she opened her eyes, she saw that the stars were gone, and that the sky was a pale purple. “It was nearly dawn. I saw that the fire had been reduced to a few flickers. I knew I had to get up, had to add the rum immediately, or we would be stuck on the island for sure.” But she was so comfortable, so warm . . . no sign of the conch shell at all. “Then I realized that while asleep, Jack had . . .” She tried not to be embarrassed, there was nothing to be embarrassed about. “. . . rolled over onto his side and laced his arms around me.” Will was looking down darkly. This irritated her slightly.
“He was still deep asleep.” He had given a loud belch into her face. “Thanks, Jack,” she had muttered. His arms were warm around her, his hair lightly brushing her cheek . . .
“I had to exercise extreme caution in extricating myself: I couldn’t run the risk of waking him.” Will’s eyebrow quirked. “I began to inch my way out of his arms. I slowly pulled my body downwards.” (As she wriggled, she had felt the bulge of the conch shell against her thigh—Oh. Well. That wasn’t the conch shell.) “When the top of my head was passing through his arms, he moved in his sleep and . . .” She threw her shoulders back defiantly. “. . . he took me by the chin, and dragged me back up beside him.”
Will was fidgeting anxiously, looking fearful. “Elizabeth . . .”
“Only listen,” she snapped. Her body was pressed quite improperly against his, his hands were in her hair, his slightly damp lips were against her throat: “I was prepared to pull violently away, though to wake him would be to doom the plan. But . . . he moved again—” rubbing her hair between his hands, murmuring softly in some predictably delightful dream “—and clamped his hands on my face.” She spoke as rapidly as she dared. “Hekissedme.” Will trembled a little. “It was over quickly enough. I pulled away, he fell back to sleep in a heap on the sand. I worked hard to pull the rum up from the cache and drag the last cinders of the fire into life.”
She looked at her fiancé, who had waxed into silence. “I’m sure Jack doesn’t even remember,” she said softly. “He was dreaming and—and—and I happened to be there. Had I been anyone else—perhaps even if I’d been a man—I’m sure it still would have happened.” She touched Will’s shoulder. “Will, there’s nothing between Jack and I.”
He looked up at her, and briefly there was a flicker of distrust in his eyes. But then he smiled, and it was the sweetest smile that had ever crossed his face. “Of course not. But you see, I had to ask—I had to know—” Elizabeth opened her mouth to say something. “I confess to a little jealousy, I admit, because he was the first to kiss you, but . . .”
“It didn’t mean anything,” Elizabeth insisted, her hand forming a fist. “I’m sure if he was sober and he kissed someone, it wouldn’t mean anything then, either.” Will looked at her curiously. “Oh, Will, let’s forget this nonsense! I’m quite heartsick of talking of it. Why waste our time on meaningless chatter?” She kissed him gently on the temple. He slowly responded to her kisses, their mouths meeting, and their passions might have overtaken them had Mr. Brown not sputtered into life.
And Will, bless him, had said no more during the entirety of their betrothal, and marriage, about the island, and Elizabeth had not mentioned it to a single soul since.
Until this moment.
All of this had passed through her mind in no more than a few moments. She was aware that she was staring past Jack, her cheeks still damp, and was certain she had never felt more pain. Jack was looking at her, his eyes as mysterious as the first day she had seen them. “What do you mean,” he breathed, “the island?”
She turned away, part of her wanting him to remember, part of her daring him to remember. You wanted me once, didn’t you? If only for a moment, a fleeting second, you wanted me! She had not told Will that though a pirate had kissed her—one who was filthy, unshaven, smelled of alcohol and old leather—she had not wanted him to stop. The kiss was slight, like the touch of a bird’s wing, but it had never left her. She’d had to swig a gulp of rum to forget how he had tasted to her, he had been that vivid: the rum, salt, and something like cinnamon. When he had let her go, she had seen his eyes open ever so briefly: he had looked at her, and there was the briefest flicker of cognizance in him before he fell away.
Bitterness and jealousy filled her. “You don’t remember,” she told him. “You were drunk. You were asleep.”
She made to climb the stairs, heedless of him. “I remember waking briefly, ‘fore you set the rum i’ blazes . . .” There was a trace of humor in his voice. She wiped her face with her skirt—the beautiful, faded gold-cloth and turned to look at him. He was playing nervously with the banister. “You were in my arms . . .”
She started. Did he remember, then? He moved closer to her, close enough that his breath stirred the curls on her neck. “I said nothing, because I knew . . .” He cut himself off. Because he knew that she was in love with Will? Because he knew she would refuse his advances? Because he knew that if they ever got off the island, anything that happened there would never be spoken of again? Speak, she pleaded, tell me, Jack . . . tell me you remember, tell me that you want to remember . . . He moved closer still.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw movement—the maid was ascending the staircase. Her gaze lingering just a moment more, Elizabeth pulled away from Jack. “Ma’am, Commodore Norrington is waiting.” She gestured nervously to the drawing room.
Elizabeth cleared her throat, standing straight, though she sagged under the weight of her gown. She knew she must compose herself. Anything she said to Norrington could endanger her credibility. She must persuade him not to arrest Jack. She took two heavy steps forward.
“Don’ go.” It was Jack, in a strangely pleading voice—he had never asked her for anything before.
For a moment, she crumpled. Then she waved the maid on, and said coldly, “Jack, you’re the one who asked him to be shown inside—” She turned to see whatever understanding that had been held between them was broken. He was glaring at her with fury. “We’re lucky he didn’t arrest you in the assembly room,” she winced, “with everyone there to see . . .”
“No, he’s too much of a gentleman to do that.” Lazy disdain.
She ignored him and started toward the drawing room. To her surprise, he followed her. “He’s requested to see me, not you.”
Just as frostily, he replied, “If you’re going to see him, I’m comin’ too.”
Elizabeth’s shoulders slumped, but she could no longer find the strength to argue. She thought of days before, when she and Jack had swam their way up the Thames. Then she’d been too exhausted to argue with him, and now she was even more weary (if that were possible). She knew it was probably likely she could dissuade Jack from confronting Norrington, but she realized she needed all her composure for the inevitable scene that was about to occur. And maybe in her cruelest, most self-serving recesses, she considered the fact that Norrington might arrest Jack and that such might be a satisfactory end to all these distressing thoughts on loyalty and love. She drew herself up again, and other than a thin frown line on her forehead, she looked every bit the Governor’s daughter when she entered the drawing room.
James Norrington had been pacing in a small, contained circle, still resplendent in his black velvet Navy dress uniform. When he saw Elizabeth, he stared—and quite unconsciously, a wave of admiration seemed to travel through him. “Mrs. Turner—” he began, his voice strained. “Are you well? Are you recovered?”
Elizabeth suddenly remembered that all he knew of her was that she had appeared to faint. In some way, she was touched by his concern. “Yes, yes, I’m—”
His interruption and flurried tone were quite uncharacteristic of so deliberate a man. “I was worried, fitfully worried, and—” Jack Sparrow the pirate strode in. “You—” Norrington growled.
Elizabeth looked at Jack whose angry eyes were already locked in a serious battle of wills with Norrington’s. “Jack—” she cautioned.
“Calling him by his Christian name, speaking to him so familiarly, are we!”
“I see you do not share tha’ privilege.”
Norrington’s eyes were hard and sharp as green glass upon Jack, but became soft and gentlemanly when he looked at Elizabeth. “I confess . . . that I do not . . . understand what is going on.” She imagined he had a great deal more to say, but propriety restrained him. Unlike Jack.
“Well, ye see here, dear ol’ Commodore, ‘s as simple as this: Elizabeth happens t’ be my wife.”
It was one of those rare occasions when Jack did not drop the first syllable of her name, and the crisp sound made an irrefutable impact. If it was possible for Norrington to become paler, he did; his hands also clenched menacingly around his gloves.
Elizabeth eased into the space between the two men. “Commodore—James,” she said soothingly. “I asked Jack to pose as my husband in order to receive my inheritance from my uncle Swann. I intend to use it to conduct a search for Will in the Caribbean.” She saw Norrington relax slightly, though when she turned to Jack he was the color of rage. “Our marriage is a sham. A profitable lie.” She narrowed her eyes at Norrington. “What did you think? To accuse me of bigamy? Can you really imagine--?”
“I can imagine, madam, a great deal,” said the Commodore tersely, evidently at a loss. “But I did not imagine I would meet this rogue and King’s enemy in your company—” a sympathetic, caressing look at Elizabeth, “—ever again.”
“All this loverly, high-toned talk is nice an’ all,” said Jack, in a deceptively nonchalant voice, “but do you plan t’ arrest me or not? Or at least attempt t’ arrest me?” The sarcasm was heavy as bitter honey.
Norrington gazed at Jack with a velvety sort of rancor. Elizabeth saw him handling his sword-belt and knew that it was not idle hands. “I came here to scrutinize the condition of Mrs. Turner, not to arrest any person she might be harboring under her roof from the justice of the law.” He shrugged elegantly. “But I could doubtless make an exception in your case.”
Elizabeth was certain the two were going to fly at each other. Fainting was out of the question. Instead she found herself falling forward on both knees—exceedingly awkward in her gown—and gazing up at Norrington with supplication. “Please, James, I ask you for his life.”
“Get up, get up, Elizabeth!” Norrington said, looking embarrassed. “Really, you mustn’t—”
She ignored him. “He would not have come here if it hadn’t been for me.” She hazarded a look at Jack, who appeared dumbstruck by her action. “Please.”
Norrington gazed at her, open-mouthed, for a long time, finally giving her a curt nod. He helped her to her feet and turned to Jack. But instead of grateful, Jack’s face was grim and angry. “I’ll thank you not t’ do my begging for me!” he snapped at Elizabeth. Without a further word, he turned away and exited quietly.
Norrington’s eyes followed Jack until he had left the room, wary and intense but also slightly bewildered. His hand dropped from the dress-sword. Elizabeth shuddered, unsure whether to feel furious with Jack or herself, and finally deciding on gratitude for Norrington. In a way, she felt as though she had prostituted herself—begged her friend and former suitor, to whom she owed much, for Jack, whose only payment was in scorn. “Now,” said Norrington, his glance formal but accusatory, “tell me again what this is about.”
She sighed. “It’s just as I told you, James.”
“Please relate it again,” he said, with a short smile.
She attempted to keep her patience, noting he listened attentively and his green eyes glinted with curiosity rather than censure. But she repeated what she had said in front of Jack nearly word for word. “So, you see, she said, knitting her hands together, playing with the folds of her gown, “it really is very simple.”
Norrington walked a few paces, standing at attention, his high shoulders straight. “What I don’t understand, madam, is why you would seek the aid of a pirate—” he turned to her, his glance deeply reproving, his lip curled in disgust “—one whom I had been expressly pursuing for crimes against the common good before I was . . .” he cleared his throat, looked down briefly, “. . . relieved of duty in Port Royal—instead of mine. I would have been happy—”
She shook her head, holding her elbows against her chest. “No, James, I think you would not have been.” He started at her answer. “You weren’t so keen on looking for my husband yourself—”
He rounded on her fiercely, his pale, clean-shaven cheeks trembling in annoyance. “We searched many times,” he insisted. “There was not more that we could have done. Rationally, you must understand that. His Majesty’s Navy has neither the resources nor the time . . . And then when the plague struck . . .”
She tilted her brown eyes up under her heavy lashes. “Then could I in good conscience ignore the conditions you had placed on your aid—?”
“There were no conditions!” Norrington drew closer to her, looking down at her closely. She fancied she could smell the lightest hint of bay leaves from his toilette on him; she could see how intricately his cravat was tied, how finely woven was his powdered wig. “There were requests, but never conditions!” He trembled, becoming gentle and pleading. “Only in your own mind.”
“That’s right,” she whispered. “And the law of the land is that you cannot honorably give someone something without expecting something in return.”
She saw him smile briefly, the equivalent of a fencing “touché.” Then he looked at her, stiff and unbending. “And what are you giving him?”
His tone suggested much more than the question, and she thought with bitter anger that at least pirates, such as Mr. Gibbs, had the courage to form such notions into honest questions. Her answer, however, was all coolness. “Half of my inheritance. And I shall ask my uncle to write him a letter of marque.”
Norrington looked faintly surprised but definitely disapproving. He moved from her, paced silently in a circle, and then came back—elegant, gentlemanly, grave—everything that Jack was not. “I could understand,” he said at last, “—though not condone—your reasons for encouraging the attentions of young Mr. Turner.” She regarded him with curiosity. “He was young, at work in a respectable trade—”
“Don’t speak of him as if he were dead!” She knew it was less from unkindness than the practicality of a military man, but this insistence that her husband was dead was too much.
“—intelligent if too impetuous, and devoted to you—though below your station, of course.” He smiled curtly. She shook her head. “But this man Sparrow—”
“Why does everyone assume,” her voice was shrill and harsh, “that just because we’re pretending to be married, there is something untoward between us?” She hadn’t meant to allow her voice to tremble, but it did and nullified her statement. James Norrington saw all and gazed at her with a piercing eye.
“Well, I can tell you, Elizabeth, that this man does not consider the marriage a sham.” She looked away, not eager to see the hint of a smile on Norrington’s usually impassive face. “The bizarre way he just acted in our presence—though, I grant you, he is capable of much strange behavior—would seem to prove it.”
She cleared her throat and looked at Norrington. “With respect, James,” she said slowly, “you know nothing about it.”
This blunt language rather shocked him, as his look turned sour and he picked up his hat from where it had rested on the sofa. She felt herself drooping, each breath hurting her corset-incased ribcage the more. At last Norrington held out his hand to her. She placed hers in his, marveling at how soft and warm it was, how clean, how supple. “Elizabeth,” he said, his pink tongue darting across lips dry with worry, “when I asked you for your hand—”
She dropped her eyes. “Please, James, don’t.”
“I cared for you,” he insisted, still holding her hand gently. “But I was not certain that I loved you.” She felt her heart sinking. How could he ask her again—a third time—and she would have to refuse? Because she did not love him. Because she was still married. “Now I look back and know that I did love you.” His green eyes were blazing, revelatory, but most of all kind. She was baffled that there was not a note of bitterness. “But I will never ask you again, if those are your wishes. I have no desire to be a nuisance to one of the women I most esteem.” He hoisted her hand to his mouth and gently kissed the inside of her wrist twice, not quite chastely. She shook her head firmly, drawing back her hand. He nodded, picking up his hat. “Then I bid you good night. I am sorry that we had to meet again under such awkward circumstances. I hope that in the future you will take better care of your health. And,” he added with a dubious look, “see that Mr. Sparrow keeps himself in greater check unless he wishes to be arrested by some authority greater than myself.” He turned toward the door.
Elizabeth bowed her head meekly. “James—thank you, first for your concern about my health. You are too kind and have always been. And thank you for your restraint . . . in all things. It may be difficult for you to believe me in this present state, but if things had not been—”
“Elizabeth, I would beseech you to consider very carefully any action you might take.” When she looked up in surprise, he regarded her gravely. “It’s clear that this man cares for you. Perhaps he even loves you.” She opened her mouth to vehemently disagree. “I will not dictate moral or sentimental judgment, it is not my place. But let me remind you, out of my own long-held fondness for you, that a pirate can break a woman’s heart as soon as he would plunder a port.” With that, he tipped his hat and exited.
Elizabeth stood for a moment by the door. She hadn’t the strength to consider the implications of what Norrington had said. She just wanted to retire to bed and sleep off this day. Feelings of regret and guilt overwhelmed her—she owed much to Norrington, and her rejection of him hurt her as well. What had it been for? It was true that she was still married and still in love with Will, and still she clung to the belief that he was alive. But it was not her devotion to Will that had disturbed Norrington—it was her defense of Jack. How could she justify such dedication? Why had Norrington been so convinced that there were feelings romantic and improper between her and the pirate? She didn’t want to think about it.
She reached her hands up to the knots of her hair and slowly began to unpin it. Strands of gold-brown fell in heaps upon her shoulders; she mounted the stairs with wobbly, aching feet. She intended to reach her chamber and undress immediately; her feet were blistered, her thighs bruised, her chest on fire, and her head spinning. On the landing, she found the chamber door open; Jack was inside with a candelabrum lighting the pre-dawn dark. She swept past him as she entered and ducked behind the patterned screen. She stepped out of her high shoes with a sigh, then unlaced her gown and corset as quickly as a single person was able. As she was drawing herself out of the gown, she heard Jack ask, “Why don’ you marry the good Commodore? Will Turner’s as good as dead.”
She felt her skin prickle. She peeked around the screen, saying lividly, “How dare you say that—how dare you?” He did not answer and, flushed with rage, she completed her toilette by throwing on the sacque-robe over her petticoat and chemise. She could not savor the joy of being corset-free because she was too angry. She eased out from behind her dressing screen, clutching the sides of the robe in unsteady fingers. She saw at once that Jack was not idly moving around but gathering a multitude of things and placing them in two piles. He was dressed in the suit he had found in Tortuga, though it was fairly dirty. His hair was untied, as wild about his neck as it had been before she cut it.
“What are you doing?” she asked in a half-nervous, half-amused voice. He looked gruffly over at her, then returned to his work of piling clothes and knickknacks. She noticed his pistol and hat were in one pile, while the voluminous perruque wig he had worn to the assembly was in another. “Are you leaving?” she asked.
“Got no reason t’ stay,” he muttered and reached curtly below the bed for a small leather valise—whether it was another gift from her uncle or he had stolen it, she could not say. He took the pile with his pistol and started loading it in.
For a moment she was left speechless. Had she really driven him away? Was he really going to sacrifice his hard-earned gold just to get away from London? Now, that he had confronted Norrington and come out on top? He could not be as stupid as all that. “I don’t understand you,” she said. He grunted wordlessly. “I think, in fact, you owe me an apology—and a whole lot more! I asked Norrington for mercy, and you insult us. I didn’t have to get on my knees and beg for your life--I don’t understand how you could be so uncouth, so ungrateful--”
“ ‘F you don’ understand,” he said dully, “then you’re a lot more stupid than I thought you t’ be.”
“What about your gold? Your letter of marque?” She was mocking and harsh, hurt by the way he proceeded to pile the stuff into his valise. The fact he had called her unattractive, not to mention the profanity he had spit at her, was grating horribly.
“Takin’ too long.” He did not look at her.
“You can’t expect me to come up to my uncle and demand my inheritance,” she snapped, her voice shrill and nervous. “These things take time. You’ll get your money—”
He looked up at her finally, half-smiling, half-grimacing, and it was the first time that the appearance of his gold teeth did not bother her. He let the shirt he had been folding fall onto the bed. He edged toward her. “Look, ‘Lizabeth—” his voice was weary and sad, “there just ain’t nothin’ for ’t anymore.”
She felt a peculiar sense of dread overcoming her. All of her higher senses tried to stave it off, but the sight of Jack standing there with an honest, genuine look, preparing to leave—he couldn’t leave her. He couldn’t. What did it matter that they had quarreled, that he had told her some awful things? She certainly hadn’t meant half of the insulting things she had said—perhaps he felt the same. “What do you mean?”
He took a step toward her, then recanted and moved away again. She saw him rubbing the rings on his fingers and realized that she had been twisting her wedding band on her fingers, again and again and again. She felt this nameless, crushing dread rip at her eyes, and tears began to form. “I see,” she said softly. “I see what it is I’ve done to you.” She saw his head jerk toward her, his brows clouding over. She laughed grimly. “I cut your hair, I dressed you up like a prig, and I confined you to a city.” He continued to stare at her, his eyes black and heavy—the spark of bravado no longer there. Her lips trembled as one tear melted down her cheek and left an iridescent trail, like a snail on a leaf. “I took away your freedom. The only thing that really mattered to you.” She thought of Will suddenly, his warm brown eyes so naïve, the quirk of his brow when he smiled, and felt lonelier than ever. “I’m sorry. I really am, Jack. I’ll talk to my uncle at once so you can be on your way.”
She turned to go down to her uncle’s study to wait for him. He would doubtless be home soon; it was nearly two o’clock in the morning. When she had reached the doorway, her head bowed and aching, wishing so fervently just for sleep, Jack said, “You’re wrong, ‘Lizabeth.” She shuffled around slowly. She couldn’t imagine what on earth he could possibly have to say to her. Instead of annoyance and anger on his face, she recognized the smallest smile hiding in his moustache. “You didn’t take anything from me. There was nothing I did here tha’ was not o’ my own will.” She felt herself lighten a little. This, at least, was a relief. She brushed the remnants of her tear away and looked at him expectantly. “And freedom’s not the only thing that matters t’ me. Not anymore.”
She was going to laugh, as this was such a Haymarket theatrical thing to say, and she was sure he was lying. But then he beat her to it, and laughed suddenly, a confused, self-deprecating laugh. It was almost as if he couldn’t what he was going to say. “Ever since I saw you,” he said, raising his gesticulating fingers (no longer dirty, but otherwise in the self-same style), “there’s been somethin’ I’ve wanted t’ do . . .”
For a moment she feared quite seriously he was going to raise his pistol and shoot her, though she realized quickly that had he wanted her dead, he certainly would have just let her drown—that being the first time he saw her. She swallowed and watched him pace. “. . . the first time, you were wet an’ not ‘xactly breathing, so tha’ didn’t help matters.” She saw him glance significantly at her corset hanging from the top of the dressing screen. “. . . the second time, we were in the middle o’ a battle an’ you were about t’ slap me . . .”
It took her a moment to recall that he meant when the Black Pearl and the Interceptor had met on the seas. She felt that her curious dread was dissipating and, in its place, a strange effervescent expectation was bubbling. “. . . an’ then when the opportune moment presented itself . . . well . . .”
“Your point, please, Jack: I don’t understand.”
She saw him gaze around him wildly, and finally he flung a sinewy arm toward her, grabbing her by the elbow and pulling her close to him. Suddenly her arms were holding her against him, his forehead gently pressing hers, and his eyes an impenetrable black barrier. She felt she should pull away, but still she didn’t move. His lashes dropped their thick veil, and his mouth sought hers.
The kiss was barely deserving of the name, so brief, so purely-intentioned. But by the time his lips had relinquished hers, her heart was thundering. He was so warm, and she could smell the attar of roses on him, the slight spice of alcohol, and she relished the taste of him: the saltiness, the hint of rum. “There,” he said, “what don’ you understand?”
He dropped away from her almost contemptuously. She licked her lips, shivering—he must care for me, he must . . . want me—what can I do? “Jack, does—does this mean . . .?”
“It means—” He cleared his throat and took her hand. His palm was rough like the sand spilled on deck in battle. His shirtsleeves were unbuttoned down his chest under his waistcoat and at the cuffs, revealing the tan of his chest, the brand on his arm. “It means ‘f I stay any longer, withou’ . . .” A low, animal sound came out of his throat, and his eyes caressed her.
“. . . taking action, I shan’t be fit fer sailing, I shan’t be fit . . . fer anything.” She loosed her hand from his and fingered the indentation of the brand upon his skin, knowing every second more that she touched him, the more tempted she would be, the more infatuated with him she would become. She realized that everyone had known rightly: Gibbs, AnaMaria, even Norrington. Her desire for Jack had followed her through storm and ease, and it burned more brilliantly than a star—more brilliantly than her love for Will.
“You belong t’ Will,” he said in a dogged voice, as if reading her thoughts. His eyes were filled with a bitter agony as he reached with his free hand to gently stroke her unkempt hair on her shoulder. “In body, mind, soul—an’ in name, Mrs. Turner.”
He gently disengaged his hand from hers, and suddenly she felt a violent jealousy. Didn’t he know that she was prepared to sacrifice everything—everything—to be with him? Was she to find that the scurrilous Jack Sparrow was really some kind of a milk-blood with no desire whatsoever? A real pirate would have had her on that bed hours ago! Or perhaps he didn’t really want her after all? She recalled that he had called her unattractive and without charm. A heavy wave of disappointment and guilt toppled her, and she faltered. She thought the unthinkable. “You’ve loved women before who were married . . . yes?”
He gazed at her, nonplussed. She bit her lip. She couldn’t believe she had acknowledged his amorous past, and apparently he couldn’t either. “Yes . . .”
“Then it’s respect for Will—?”
“An’ fer you!” His eyes were pleading, his hands clenching and unclenching with alarming violence. “ ‘F I didn’t respect you,” he panted, “would I have held back nearly beyond endurance, as I have?” He shook his head. “You’re young, ‘Lizabeth—whatever else you may be, you’re beautiful, you’re an uncommon woman, you’re accustomed t’ a certain manner of living. Would’t be fair t’ye t’offer meself, when I’m almost twice yer age, wi’ no respectable future, no prospects—”
“Jack,” Elizabeth said firmly, “do you really think I care about things like respectability, prospects? You must be mad to think I’d prefer a life here in London to one aboard ship!” She retrieved his hands, hanging listlessly at his sides, and brought them knowingly to her waist.
To her satisfaction, Jack’s eyes tilted back lazily, and his hands caressed her curves with a familiarity that was both exasperating and very stirring. Then he froze. “ ‘Lizabeth, no,” he said. “Ahhh-mmm--As much as I’d like t’ be doing this, I know you’ll recover your better senses soon enough.” He gently but resolutely removed his hands. “A few sober minutes, my dear, and you’ll realize s’ only a passing fancy for Captain Jack Sparrow . . .”
She drew away from him angrily. “Am I just a passing fancy to you!” He smiled and held out his empty hands helplessly, as if to say, “If you were, would I have done everything I have, for you, for you only?” She knew at this instant the only thing she wanted was to kiss him, hard and long. She looked down and walked across the room. She began to rifle through the things she’d carefully hidden under the bed. She hoped when she turned around Jack would still be there.
”Wha’ you be doin’ there, love?” he asked, and a very real curiosity was in his normally nonchalant voice.
Ignoring his question, she came toward him, her arms outstretched. In her hands were a dozen small baubles, a sea urchin’s spine, beads, and trinkets. Jack stared. “I told you t’ throw those overboard,” he said quietly, not looking up at her.
“Jack, stop and think for a moment. Why would I keep these things if I didn’t . . . care for you . . .” She hesitated, afraid to say more. When Jack remained silent, brooding, she gently placed the handful on the floor, and before he could react, had tilted her chin upwards. He accepted her kiss hesitantly at first, but soon his arms were pulling her close, his lips nibbling at hers hungrily. When she pulled back, half-exhilarated, half-frightened, she was met by dark eyes dilated in pleasure. She did not want to think about tomorrow . . .
“Bring me that horizon,” she whispered, her eyes winking with laughter. “That’s an order, Captain Sparrow. Do I make myself clear?”
Jack laughed softly into her hair. “Inescapably.”