A Yellow Muslin Dress
Yellow Muslin Dress
Vane reflects on his first meeting with a young Cathy Flint
Vane sat on the beach, smoking, trying not to think about his last quarrel with Eleanor. A thing that had started so admirably—how could it have gone wrong? Why all the fights lately? It wasn't because Eleanor wanted to get married; on the contrary, she had made it plain from the start that marriage was something unwanted and undesired.
Maybe his temper and his absences were finally getting to her. He shook his head, trying to shake it off. What he had with Eleanor was ending, though neither were ready and willing to concede it. A lover of long standing was different from a chance encounter. He admired Eleanor greatly, both for her brains and her beauty, but somehow it was no longer enough.
He looked idly through his spyglass to see the Walrus approaching. She'd weigh anchor soon, and her boats would put into shore. He wondered what kind of score she was bringing. The hauls had been bountiful lately, and crews of most ships were happy with the money they walked away with. It had been over a year since the British had come close to Nassau—what did they want with a lawless island full of pirates anyway? Why not leave them alone?
He watched as the Walrus hove to and the bow anchor splashed down. There was a bustling of activity on deck, and a boat being lowered, followed by a ladder. Flint was first down the rope ladder, then a figure disguised by a black cloak, followed by Gates and the bosun Billy Bones.
Vane snapped his spyglass shut. Odd that Flint or Gates weren't on deck, supervising the unloading. The Walrus was sitting low in the water, so there must be plenty of cargo in the hold. He opened the spyglass again and saw the activity on deck. Then looked down and saw the oarsmen pulling and aiming the boat towards the beach.
"What is more important than seeing to your score, Flint?" he asked, and took another look at the passengers in the boat. Whoever this mysterious passenger was, great care had been taken to obscure the view. Flint was in front, pointing out things, so whoever it was, the passenger must be a newcomer to Nassau. Gates and Billy Bones seemed to be sitting as sentries. They looked around as if they were confused themselves, and possibly thought the captain insane.
The boat reached shore, the oarsmen beached it on the crowded sand. Flint stepped out and carried the passenger to shore.
Now Vane understood. The mysterious passenger stood up straight and threw back her hood, revealing a cloud of dark auburn hair. In the light of the sun it shone like the finest mahogany, waxed to a perfect shine. She turned around and looked, then her eyes rested on him.
The loveliest woman he'd ever seen, by far, thought. Tall and slim—unfashionable but it suited her. The cloud of hair was loosely braided and held back with a yellow ribbon that matched the color of her muslin dress. She looked at him and smiled, her green eyes staring straight into his blue ones, unafraid. She tilted her chin as if asking a question she dared him to answer, but before he could, Flint took her by the waist.
"Stay away from my fucking sister, Vane. She's probably the only innocent left in Nassau, and I'd like her to stay that way." He had his hand on the hilts of his sword, but Vane ignored him. He was too busy looking at the vision in the yellow dress.
"I'll find you later," Vane promised her silently, then watched as Flint led her off. He had suddenly found the cure for Eleanor Guthrie. It wasn't a girl he met, but Fate. This was a girl like no other, and he was determined to possess her. "No one but mine," he thought, "That's what you are, no one but mine, I promise." Damn Flint, the girl looked old enough to know her own mind-if she wanted him, all she had to do was say so.
He saw the furtive look she cast at him, her eyes a silent plea. He nodded and she smiled. Good enough.
"Do you know who that was?" Flint demanded. He'd not released her waist, but he was no longer hurrying her along. He stopped for a moment to interrogate her.
"Ah, let me see." She looked straight into Flint's eyes, not intimidated, "Couldn't have been Judas, he didn't have red hair. Couldn't have been the crown prince, he's back in London. Couldn't have been anyone of your crew, because they're back on the Walrus."
"That's Charles Vane," he said, exasperated, "That's the last person I want to see you mixed up with."
"Look big brother, this stops now. You agreed to get me away from England, I didn't run away so you could take control of my life. I'm going to need your help for a while but it's only temporary. And I know who Charles Vane is, and from what Gates told me, there's not a lot of difference between the two of you. You're both hard, cruel men and that's what makes you good pirate captains. But I didn't run away from a would-be master to acquire a new one. I came to Nassau knowing it was dangerous, but fore-warned is fore-armed. I made a choice to leave a comfortable life behind. Let me learn how to live it."
I'm not a child anymore, she was thinking, I put off marriage for as long as they'd let me and now I have a chance to be on my own. I've fewer scruples than you think, big brother. I stole all the money and jewels from the house before I ran, even though I was terrified they'd find out. I admit that I will need a little of your help. What I don't need is to be smothered.
For his part, Flint was surprised by what he was hearing. The letter she wrote him had been a cry for help. Now he saw an independent streak he had not expected. Bravo, he thought silently, though he had no intention of letting go his guardianship just yet. You've grown up behind my back, baby sister.
"All right, Cathy, have it your way, just permit me to help you settle in. I'm beginning to think you and Nassau are going to suit each other much better than I thought. I guess the sister I thought I had existed only in my mind."
Eleanor wiped the tears from her eyes and searched for the looking glass she kept hidden in her desk. Were her eyes as red as she thought? Charles Vane was certainly not worth her tears. What had he been anyway? Was he someone that she'd loved, or a mistake she'd made that she'd regret?
The final fight had come that morning, she couldn't even remember what it was about. He had been a part of her life for so long. She had been a girl when she met him, but had grown up and become a woman. If she'd become so wrapped up in him, she hadn't really been aware. She had never thought of herself as the dependent type, but maybe she had become dependent on him without really knowing.
In truth, she was confident and sure of herself. Her long golden hair reached almost to her waist, and was accentuated by the creamy color of her skin. She had dark blue eyes, a fine figure, and she'd received enough appreciative stares from men to know that she was beautiful.
She looked at the sad eyes that stared back at her in the mirror. She had learned she didn't need Charles Vane, but she'd grown so used to having him that the thought of his not being there was scared her a little. Now that she'd sent him away, she realized what she'd lost. Letting go had been the right thing. She was tired of petty jealousies, being ordered around, his hard hand, being taken for granted. In the end it had finally been enough.
There was a knock on the door, and Scott admitted Flint and a woman she'd never seen before.
"Eleanor," he said, a wide smile on his face, "This is my sister Catherine. I hope you can show her around and teach her the ways of the place. She's fresh from England, and knows nothing about the island."
"Of course, I'd be happy to." Eleanor was in shock, she had not known Flint had a sister, or that she was coming to Nassau, but she was simply not prepared for the woman who stood before her.
She'd never seen hair like that before, full and wispy, a shade of auburn that Titian would have loved. Unlike her brother, her eyes were a brilliant green, surrounded by black lashes. Her face was tanned gold from being on deck in the sun, but it suited her eyes and hair. Added to that her height and slender figure—this was a woman who would attract men without even trying.
She felt immediately jealous without even understanding why, but the girl was friendly enough, taking her hand and shaking it, thanking her for the promised help. Her smile seemed genuine, but Eleanor felt like the green eyes were reading her somehow, and she hoped she wasn't going to be found wanting.
Dinner at the inn. The night warm and humid, the scent of tropical flowers in the air, in addition to the smell of garbage, tar, and feces. Catherine had changed into a white dress, and put white hibiscus in her hair. To Flint she looked like something strange and exotic, not the sister he knew at all. Maybe Nassau was changing her, maybe it had changed all of them.
Richard had invited them to dinner. Like all the other men, Richard stared too hard at Catherine, but she seemed to ignore him. Eleanor was there, and the four of them ate and talked and were drinking too much rum, but it seemed to suit the night.
Catherine kept looking around, as if she were expecting someone, Then Flint realized just who it was when Vane wandered into the inn. He was about to rise and object when Catherine put her hand on his. To his dismay, he realized that he had been out flanked and out maneuvered. Charles Vane was going to come to the table, whether Flint willed it or not. Like a sea witch, like Calypso, Catherine had set her magic to work and charmed Vane into coming to her.
She smiled at him as he approached the table. When he grew near she said, "I'm Cathy Flint, I don't believe we've been introduced."
Eleanor could not believe what was happening. He took Catherine's hand in both of his, and kissed it, lingering over it, then moving his gaze up until his blue eyes met and held her green ones. He had not even stopped to stare at her décolletage, which was not his way.
"Charles Vane, of the Ranger. I am pleased to meet you, Cathy. Or is it Catherine?"
"Catherines aspire to sainthood, which I do not. Therefore it is Cathy."
"Since when are you a gentleman?" thought Eleanor, irritated, "Does she even know what you are?" But it seemed as if it didn't matter. For the two of them, they were the only people in the room. As she watched them, Eleanor realized how ill-suited she must seem now to Vane.
"Then Cathy it shall be. But where is your yellow dress?" He had not yet let go of her hand.
"I wanted to change," she said coquettishly, "But it is certain I will wear it again."
Eleanor wanted to scream. "Why doesn't he just take off her clothes and have her here? He looks like he wants to devour her. But she's a lady, not one of the tarts that inhabit this island. But maybe not so much of a lady, she's doing nothing to discourage him." There was something happening between the two of them that even Eleanor was aware of. Her time was over for good, Catherine Flint had been the final break between her and Vane, and Eleanor didn't know if she wanted to cry or rejoice.
"Journeys end in lovers meeting"