Epilogue. Bird Bath (for Elsa)
It had taken very little time for Mrs. Bloom to organize the household to prepare a bath for their unexpected visitor. She had taken precautions, of course, accustomed to dealing with recalcitrant lads when hers were growing up. Jack had been commanded to stay with the Commodore, keeping the invalid entertained, and to stay out of sight at the windows while he did so or else she would know the reason why. She had brought up a tray of savoury and sweet foods for Sparrow and a tray of lighter fare for the man abed recovering from his injuries. Lads were usually easy to bribe with food and she watched in satisfaction as the delightful aromas made both her charges take notice to the exclusion of other goings on in the house.
"Here, you pirate, make yourself useful and help Mister James to sit up whilst I rearrange his pillows. It's time he was sitting up now anyway, seeing as how he is healing. Once you've done that, then you will change into the robe I've laid out for you in the dressing room yonder. Those clothes of yours will be cleaned and tidied up for you as I can see they are sorely in need of attention. Just leave them in there for the time being, I'll fetch them shortly."
James was delighted with the stunned look that appeared on Jack's face as the man was ordered about with ruthless and relentless efficiency but knew better than to interfere or offer sympathy to the victim. Usually it was the Commodore who retreated before the tyrant of the household. It was very nice to see some other unfortunate take the brunt of Mrs. Bloom's attention. When Jack turned to stare at James in horrified dismay, it was all the latter could do to keep a straight sympathetic face.
"You mean to tell me that this is what always goes on in your house, James? I had no idea how under the cat's paw you really were; small wonder that you are the way you are up at your little fort."
James noticed that Jack was very careful to keep his voice down so that the housekeeper did not catch what was said. He could have told Jack that it would not have made any difference, Mrs. B. always seemed to know what was said or done in the house no matter where she happened to be. He had grown accustomed to her prescience and no longer gave it a thought as the little woman had proven her faithfulness and worth years since.
"It's far simpler to do as she commands, Jack, and then you can enjoy the tray she's brought up for you. She must approve of you, God knows why, seeing the treats that you get to indulge in. I'm just starting to get something more than beef tea only now. I cannot tell you how much I loathe the stuff but I know my limits with regard to my guardian."
"Beef tea? I'd forgotten such stuff exists. At least, what she's brought up for me looks a treat, smells wonderful, too."
Jack made to sit down at the little table that had been drawn up alongside Norrington's bed but the Commodore stopped him with a reminder.
"Jack, you know what your orders are. Now go along into my dressing room and do as you were told. There should be a silk robe there that is gaudy enough for even your tastes."
Jack glared at the invalid but to no avail. James was completely impervious to the nasty stare; to be expected, considering all the little lads in blue and red he ordered about all day long. In high dudgeon and pouting like a thwarted five year old, he stalked over to the chest of drawers beside the window and began to divest himself of things that should not be subjected to a laundress's care, beginning with his sword and baldric, the pistol in its holster, the compass, and sundry items from his capacious pockets. James was amused by the performance and quite intrigued by the variety and amounts of stuff to be found on or about Jack's person.
"I think you were misnamed, Jack. From what I can see piling up over there, Jackdaw would be more suitable than Sparrow for a name although it would be a trifle ridiculous. Can hardly imagine you boasting of being "Captain Jack Jackdaw," I must say. It doesn't flow well at all."
Jack looked over to where James was propped up, pleased to see the man looking more himself, however the insult could not be allowed to pass unnoticed.
"Well, I don't know about yourself, Jamie-lad, but when I go about a place, I like to have the essentials with me. Never know when they might be needed and I don't always have time to go back to the Pearl and fetch them."
"I believe we have rather different notions of what constitutes essential, Jack."
"I had to make do for a lot of years and most of that time relied on what I could carry with me. You'd be amazed at what I found to be useful in a pinch."
"Consider me amazed then. Ah, Jack, you might want to hurry it up and be divested of your clothing and into my robe before she comes back. Mrs. B. raised three fine strapping sons all bigger than I am and they, and her husband, all jump smartly to do her bidding. I cannot see that one little pirate is going to stand much chance and if you are not done when she gets here, she will take it upon herself to strip you where you stand."
"She most certainly would."
James really could not be blamed for the smug look that crept over his face as he teased his visitor. The crowning touch came when they heard footsteps in the hallway outside the bedchamber followed by a short rap. His eyes stretched wide in fright, Jack fled in a panic to the relative safety of the dressing room, quickly locking the door behind him. James had no intention of mentioning the door on the other side of the small room that accessed the bathing chamber. When his own door opened, Mrs. B. entered and, not seeing the pirate, glanced to her charge in enquiry. James simply pointed to the door in question and mimed Jack locking it, not hesitating one instant to tattle on his uninvited guest.
"Well, the lad's nought to fear for a while just yet. I've brought up some nice towels and wanted to ask him what he would like to have for the mid-day meal. I'm ever so sorry, sir, but the doctor said that you are to be on light meals only until he gives leave for something more substantial. I'll go along now to fetch his clothes to go down to the scullery for cleaning."
As she spoke, Mrs. Bloom simply went back into the hall and around through the bathing room to corner the pirate in the dressing area, more a passageway than a room. James smiled in satisfaction as he heard a loud squawk of incensed protest from Sparrow and then the sounds of a bit of a tussle accompanied by strident protestations. He hoped Jack would be careful and not use foul language around Mrs. B. as she had a fast hand with the soap and no known reluctance in the washing out of mouths she deemed in need of reminding. He was reasonably certain that the pirate would not actually harm his housekeeper; for all his faults, Jack was actually something of a gentleman.
The key turning in the lock drew his attention and the door opened to reveal a half-naked Sparrow clutching in desperation at his breeches, one boot off, attempting to ward off his attacker with his free hand.
"No! No! Not good! Not good! You really don't want to be doing this!"
"Yes, she does, Sparrow. There's no escape for you now and you thought I was the ruthless one." James had to add his tuppence worth to the battleground before him.
"Now do stop acting so childishly, you are a grown man and should behave as one. Those dirty breeches are coming off so they can be laundered and you can have your nice bath."
Sparrow retreated backwards into Norrington's room and tripped over the thick Oriental rug that lay there, landing heavily on his back with a thud and an expulsion of breath, throwing out his arms to break his fall. Regrettably, this meant his tenuous grip on his breeches failed and Mrs. Bloom rapidly and inexorably shucked the Sparrow of the last of his garments and marched back to retrieve the rest before she returned to her lair below stairs, leaving Jack in the middle of the floor as naked as the day he was born, panting in speechless outrage.
"Put that nice silk robe on now, before you catch your death of cold. This is a decent house and I won't have dratted hairy pirates parading around here in their altogether."
The housekeeper's voice faded as she went about her business. Jack sat up and stared as her skirts disappeared around the far door, still shocked at the turn of events. He was accustomed to being slapped, certainly, but not assaulted in such an insensitive manner. A distinct giggle caught his attention and Jack twisted around to stare venomously at James who had succumbed to near hysterics. For someone who was supposed to be feared by all the Brethren in the Caribbean, Norrington could certainly giggle (and it was not a laugh) with the best of them. Shocking, that was.
"What do you think you're doing, laughing like that at a guest in your house? You are a disgrace to the Royal Navy, you are. What would your little officers think if they could see you acting like this? You should be ashamed of yourself, Commodore Norrington."
Jack's expression of insulted dignity was enough to send James into howls of laughter, at least until his ribs reminded him that that was really not a good idea. He tried to compose himself and put a serious, concerned face on as he made to answer Jack. A snicker escaped despite his best intentions, setting him off again.
"I really did try to warn you, Jack. You just weren't taking me seriously, that's all."
Sparrow frowned and opened his mouth to make a nasty retort but Norrington interrupted, thoughtfully reminding him that Mrs. B. would not be gone for long and that it would really be a good idea to fetch that robe. Jack looked frightened for an instant then bolted to his feet and scampered to get covered before the dragon returned, entertaining James mightily. Jack had quite an assortment of tattoos scattered around his body in addition to a number of scars, perhaps he could be persuaded to talk about some of them at some time. The robe did not really help matters as it was too long for the shorter man and the hem trailed a bit behind him as he wrapped it around his narrow waist and tied it snugly.
Jack held out his arms to admire the colourful fabric, rather surprised to find something so fanciful in Norrington's possession. He stroked along the sleeves and down the front of the robe, liking the luxurious feel of the silk as well as its bright greens and blues. He swaggered over to take his seat by the breakfast table, flipping out the linen napkin with extravagant flair and laying it over his lap. Jack was hungry and the selection on the tray was drawing his undivided attention; sniggering Commodores could wait whilst he attended to his meal.
"I don't know what you're going on about, I'm the one who gets to eat real food, not that milksop gruel you've been given."
Jack was pleased to see Norrington's face fall at the reminder. With hostilities suspended for the moment, the two men ate in peace. Jack enjoyed the finest meal he had had in ages, clearing every scrap of the substantial dishes the housekeeper had brought up for him. He peered into the last bowl and contemplated licking the last few traces but decided against it; his host would certainly notice and make rude comments but the housekeeper had already promised another meal later. James slowly ate the gruel and milk custard that were his fare, knowing that he really was not ready for heavier foods yet. It was not that much of a hardship as he usually ate sparingly, unlike most of his counterparts, part of the adaptation he had made to the climate and the better for it.
As the men finished, Jack carefully blotted his lips on the napkin and neatly laid it aside by his plate. Norrington had watched the table manners on display and wondered again where Jack had come from but that was a mystery for another time. For now, he was content with the company and the accord they seemed to have arrived at. James mentioned that Jack might want to take out some of the baubles in his hair, if that was possible, as he was certain that Mrs. B. would insist on the hair being washed.
Jack looked a bit blank and then reached up to his hair to pass his hand over the beads and keepsakes reminiscently, his eyes drifting out to the horizon visible through the open window. Gently, he removed his faded red head scarf and folded it neatly, laying it beside James with a request to keep it safe, please. The long stingray spine he released, as well as several strands of trinkets that had been braided into his hair, placing them on top of the scarf. The others would not come out so easily and he decided to leave them where they were for the time being. He had no idea what the housekeeper had in mind for him but hoped she would be careful of the things he held dear.
James might have laughed but he observed the gentle precision Jack's hands had for the gaudy ornaments and knew that the ornaments held strong memories for the exotic man. With an innate decency, Norrington would respect the other man's sensitivities and his privacy regarding them. Jack looked up and met James' eyes, seeing the understanding the other had come to. He quietly thanked him for that. For a moment, the pair looked at each other, realizing how far they had come since their first meeting.
Fortunately, before they could become overly sentimental or maudlin, Mrs. Bloom returned to the bathing room with the maid and lad behind her hauling the buckets of hot water up to the tub. The two men turned to watch the tub being set up, the pirate sighing in resignation, showing more unrest than he had at his attempted hanging.
"You'll enjoy it, Jack, it's quite a nice tub. I should know. There are some nice salts and oils there as well that you might enjoy. Feel free to choose whatever takes your fancy. I know you're still hurting from our little adventure and climbing up here last night had to have hurt, not to mention falling asleep the way you did. At least I can offer you some hospitality."
"Thank you, James. When you put it that way, it's not so bad an idea. It's just how yon female went about it that's so upsetting; small wonder your little officers are terrorized by her."
"They're not the only ones. I really don't know what you're worrying about, Jack, you've already made your conquest of her and she's all but adopted you even after such short acquaintance. Trust me, she wouldn't do this for most, especially not scruffy pirates who come calling unannounced in the middle of the night."
"Conquered her, you say? Hmm. This might work out after all."
Mrs. Bloom arranged the tub to her satisfaction and sent her assistants away below stairs, reminding them sternly to watch their mouths lest anything about their visitor slipped out. She then marched back into the Commodore's room and told Jack that his bath was ready and he was to come along now and not to let the water get cold. He did as she ordered and meekly went over to the tub, fervently praying she would go away and let him bathe in privacy; there were some females he would gladly have shared his bath with but the formidable housekeeper was definitely not of that persuasion.
"James said there were some salts and oils I could choose from. Do you know where they might be?"
Jack accompanied the request with his second-best begging face. She looked at him as if he was an idiot, of course she knew where they were. She opened a paneled door and one shelf was full of bathing accoutrements, including the offered items. Jack picked up several before deciding on something with fine English lavender in it, reminding him of places and people far away in his past. An odd thing, memory, he thought to himself, to be linked so strongly to smells.
She poured a goodly amount of the salts into the water and stirred it around well, before telling Jack to take the robe off and get in. She kindly turned her back on him and said she would wait until he was decently in the water. He looked taken aback at the idea but knew he would have to comply.
"Now, you're certain you won't turn around. I am a very shy person, you understand."
"Shy, is it? I would have said it was something else entirely. I wouldn't expect the likes of you to have a shy bone in his body."
Jack stuck his foot in the water, wincing a bit at the heat but brought the other foot in to join the first. As he became accustomed to the heat, he sat down in the tub, holding on to the tall sides to lower himself in slowly, hissing and catching his breath as the near scalding water crept up his body. He had some fears for the wedding tackle but he protectively kept his legs together until he acclimated to the heat. Once all the way in, he caught his breath and let it out in a long slow sigh of relief and turned to Mrs. Bloom who had indeed kept her word and still stood with her back to him.
"Alright, I'm in now. You are allowed to turn around."
"Well, that's looking better already. You soak there for a few minutes and then I'll be back to scrub your back and help you wash your hair."
As Jack opened his mouth to protest the assistance, she merely stared him down and he shut his mouth and sat back obedient and quiet. She had his number now and would make certain of his compliance, at least as it affected this house. Satisfied Jack had been sufficiently put in his place and would do as he had been told, she went through to Norrington's room to retrieve the now empty dishes and take them back downstairs with her. James looked up at her and they smiled smugly at each other.
"I knew you could do it, Mrs. B., he's no match for you."
"Of course not, just another lad in need of someone to care for him."
"There are those who would disagree with you on that score, my dear."
"I know, but this is here and now and that's what I have to work with. I understand that people have different faces for wherever they are; you do yourself, Mister James."
"True. Jack was injured recently and has not fully healed. Be careful of him and those ornaments in his hair; they are important to him."
"Of course, sir, he's a right scamp but a charmer for all that. We'll just have to take care and keep him safe, seeing as how he's still a known pirate."
"I'm working on finalising that last part, given his recent assistance to the Crown. Hopefully, I will soon no longer be constrained to hang him."
The housekeeper nodded in agreement and picked up the tray and left. It did not take long until Norrington heard singing coming from the area of his bath tub. Jack apparently had decided to approve the demand for cleanliness and was splashing about quite happily for a short time and then silence fell. James could see the tub from where he lay and suspected Jack was dozing in the hot water, something he was himself prone to do when fatigued. Before he could get too worried, Mrs. Bloom returned and went over to the tub, gently waking the sleeper before he could drown.
She pushed Jack forward, exposing his back and she lathered up the sponge with a fine soap and scrubbed the lean body with long swirling strokes, careful to wash gently over the bruises and scabbed cuts. From the flinches, she would not be surprised to find there were some cracked ribs in the mix to boot, causing her to wonder just how he had managed to climb up to the Commodore's window but she kept her peace. Rinsing his back she then did his arms, not commenting on the pain and hurt the scars and brand represented, just hummed soothingly as she soaped and rinsed. The hands she held up for closer inspection, tsking a bit at their state before taking up the soft bristle brush and carefully but thoroughly scrubbing the nails and knuckles until she was satisfied, despite the squirms and yowls. She did his chest with a quick impersonal efficiency, doing her best not to disturb the old musket wounds or the new gouges in his tanned skin. Mrs. Bloom held Jack's chin by the convenient beard braids, not allowing him to wiggle away from her as she carefully washed his face.
"Close your eyes, now, pet, there's a love. Don't want to get them full of soap, do we?"
Jack made as if to answer her.
"And keep that cheeky mouth closed too, even fine soap such as this doesn't taste as good as it smells."
The soapy sponge swept over his face and he kept both his eyes and his mouth shut tight in defence. The grip she had on his beard was not overly tight but was sufficient to keep him under control. The sponge was taken away and then returned with fresh water to rinse the soap suds from his skin.
"Once your hair is done, then you can wash the rest of you, seeing as how you're such a shy, modest wee thing. Be sure you do a proper job of it, too, else I'll take care of that as well."
The horrified stare he turned on her lacked a bit of its usual flair, seeing as how the remnants of kohl had been removed, along with much of the grime he had arrived with. Giving him no time to gather himself for a protest, the housekeeper moved swiftly, pouring several dippers of water over his head before reaching for the soft soap she had prepared for the task. The wild mane would look and feel ever so much nicer once it was cleaned and had at least an attempt at brushing it though Heaven alone knew the last time the long hair had had such attention. She had suspicions regarding possible vermin but she would do her best. The soap she worked into the strands, being very careful not to damage the beaded bits; although curious about what they represented, Mrs. Bloom decided that for the time being she would not trouble her new charge for the details. She had a feeling that there were memories attached to each thing and that some were close to the boy's heart.
"The soap will have to do for now but next time, I'll make up a nice egg shampoo which should do wonders for your hair. Yes, indeed, and a nice rosemary and lavender rinse after a vinegar drench will finish the job nicely, I shouldn't wonder. At least you have a good head of hair to your name, lad, unlike some hereabouts I could name, should I be of that sort of nature." Mrs. Bloom was completely oblivious to the look of renewed fright on her latest charge's face.
Norrington had been observing as best he could from where he lay propped up in his bed and the sight of the pirate nuisance being scrubbed down by his housekeeper was one he would treasure for some time to come. He considered himself to be privileged to have been present at the "Bathing of Captain Jack Sparrow" and was completely prepared to use ruthlessly the information if ever he needed to one-up Jack. The man truly did look pathetic, especially at the moment, with all the soap suds piled into the sodden mane of tangled hair but James knew Jack was in no danger, aside from embarrassment. He calculated that it would not take Jack too long to enjoy the sensation of being cared for, the hot bath and fancy salts as well as clean clothes; after all, the pirate was a hedonist when circumstances permitted.
Norrington let his thoughts drift away from the spectacle as Jack was allowed to wash his nether regions while Mrs. B. tidied up the bathing area. When he was finished, she picked up the bucket of nice clean water that she had kept in reserve and proceeded to sluice it over the hair as a final rinse. Once done, she held up a large white sheet to preserve the scoundrel's modesty as she told him to hop up and get wrapped up quickly before he caught a chill, although James was not certain how Jack could catch cold, given the heat that was beginning to build as the day progressed. In no time, Jack was thoroughly enveloped with only his toes and his head left uncovered and Mrs. Bloom popped a towel over the hair as quick as could be. Privately James thought it looked a bit like a shroud but he was not going to mention that particular observation.
Jack was shooed out of the bathing room and back into Norrington's chamber and made to sit down on a stool with his back to the window for better light. James caught Jack's attention with his eyes, an expression of superior Commodorial smugness clearly showing. Jack snarled silently at him but the effort was wasted as the clean face and swaddling totally cancelled out the effect. James snidely raised his brows back at Jack, daring the other to make an issue of it with the housekeeper but a step away. A fast glance to the side and all Jack could do was make a face at James, lifting his lip in a sneer, before Mrs. Bloom returned with her implements of torture.
She placed the items on the table between Jack and James before pulling off the towel she had put on Jack's head to catch the drips. She spread his hair out over his shoulders and inspected each section, planning her campaign to restore the rat's nest to something approaching order. Making her decision, she picked up a wide comb and began to work out the tangled snarls, occasionally reaching for a fine lightly scented oil to ease the strands. The winces and mutterings of pain and insult she ignored, knowing she was not doing all that much damage to her newly adopted pirate. The work had to be done and it served him right for not taking proper care of himself for goodness knew how long. From time to time she had to resort to her scissors to take out an impossibly snarled bit but mostly she was able to pick through the mess to restore order amidst chaos.
When she was finished the initial currying, she neatly trimmed the ends and then put a bit of the lavender scented oil on her hands and worked it through the hair, massaging the scalp and dressing the hair to restore its softness and sheen. This part Jack was all in favour of, it felt so much better than when she was tugging and yanking at his scalp; combined with the hot bath it was enough to have him almost purring as he drifted closer to sleep. Mrs. Bloom looked knowingly at him and then at her employer who had already succumbed, his face completely relaxed and his mouth open a trifle.
She pulled Jack back up to his feet and herded him through to the guest chamber and turned back the covers, telling him to pop in like a good lad now and be quick about it as soon as he put on a spare nightshirt of the Commodore's. Jack did not have the energy left to argue with her and the pillows looked so inviting that he let his sheet fall as she held the voluminous garment ready to drop over his head. He crawled under the sheet and she tucked the coverlets up around him, giving his shoulder a soft pat but he was snuggled into the soft pillows and already deep seas under. Mrs. Bloom left him to his rest, quietly shutting the door behind her, and left her two charges in peace. They were both good lads but needed a woman to look after them and keep them in their places.
For more about Mrs. Bloom and her pet pirate,
see the later story Special Delivery.