Christmas Visit

The sky was as cold as his bed and the rain a lucky chance as he stared back towards the fading shore. Above him the black sails of the Pearl swelled with the wind, increasing the distance between himself and what he was quitting with an almost indecent haste, as if she feared that he would change his mind and leave her if given a sliver of a chance.

The crew were glad of their speed, for with Cornwall left behind the waters were not so safe for such as they; and there might those who would find time to give pursuit even on Christmas day. As the mist claimed the feeble lights of shore they were glad of the gusting wind at their stern.

Jack watched the land disappear and decided it was best that he didn't examine what he felt. The man he was he must leave behind, as he had done before, and Captain Jack Sparrow must again assume control, for he could survive the days that no doubt awaited them. Survive he must until his future course was clear.

Elizabeth was gone, taken ashore to a small cottage prepared by his grandmother long ago when she had thought there might be need of it. A day or two of rest and she would make the final leg of her journey to the town of Plymouth, from there she would emerge from the chrysalis of Miss Swann as the butterfly of Mrs Turner, a grieving woman whose husband had been claimed so unfairly by the sea. She would not be remarkable here, there were too many of the same, and Horry would see that story stand.

Not that Elizabeth had been happy about the arrangement.

"Who is this lady of your acquaintance Jack and why would she agree to help me?" She had caught at his arm, frowning and with her eyes narrowed with suspicion,
"What is she to you that she will do this for a stranger? Who is she that she can?"
He had swallowed his irritation, knowing that she was worried and afraid for her child, and grieving still for a father lost and a husband surrendered. He had fluttered a dismissing hand in her direction
"That is of no consequence El'sabeth, it is enough that she will do it." He had looked back towards the cliffs that hid the only place, aside the Pearl, that he could still call home, "She has a good heart, always had, and that's enough."
"Not a pirate then?" there had been bitterness in Elizabeth's tone.
He had smiled at her carelessly,
"Don't know luv, never had the chance to find out."
He caught her look and softened his tone, guilty at the sight of her white face and anxious eyes. 'How hard must this be for her', he thought,' the governor's daughter to be so cap in hand obliged to a stranger, and one whose pedigree she must, of necessity, have so many doubts. Why would she believe that any woman known to him could lay claim to the character of lady?'

She was in for something of a shock 'twas true, but he would be long gone by then and could only imagine her confusion when faced with Horry, who was so obviously of her father's station. He had charged Horry most carefully with denying her curiosity of course, and with staying mum on the exact nature of their acquaintance, and she would hold to that, but he doubted Mrs Turner would give up her pursuit of an explanation easily. Imagining her efforts in that direction would provide him with some amusement in the months ahead.

Still he could be easy now, Elizabeth was safe under the veil of respectability again; the Caribbean was a long way from here, and Singapore even further, so provided she was careful there was no reason her part in Beckett's debacle should be discovered. Though why it should matter to him he still wasn't sure. But all debts to that quarter were now paid, and neither the whelp nor his distressing damsel were any of his responsibility anymore. As for the future? Well Horry had undertaken to make discrete enquires as to Elizabeth's remaining family and in time she might be able to resume her place in their no doubt well fed bosom, then again maybe not. There was nought he could do to alter that however, and if she needed to remain an anonymous Mrs Turner than so be it; she had chosen to be the wife of a blacksmith after all, and she must have known the consequences of that even when her father lived.

Not that she and her offspring would starve exactly what ever the outcome; the gold that Sao Feng had bequeathed to her with the captaincy of his ship would keep her in comfort, if not luxury, for many a year. Certainly until Will returned. Jack was not sure of the plunder prospects of the captain of the Dutchman but he doubted that the lad would leave his wife and child un-provided for, even if he were unable to break the chains of his destiny.

As for himself? Well the future was no more certain than ever. He looked back at the fading shore and thought again of an old woman with a good heart and a tricky mind and smiled. Perhaps there was more hope, and opportunity, than he had thought when he arrived in these waters.

***

"Jonathon, I need to speak plainly with you."
The old lady had been brighter this morning, though the shadow of approaching death could still be seen at the back of her eyes. He was sitting on the edge of her bed close enough to see the spark of darkness despite the candle flare. Outside the winters day was just beginning and there was an hour or more to go before the church bell would ring out the first call to the faithful of the day, but the fire was burning high and the room was a world away from the cold season beyond the window.

"When did you ever do ought else ma'am?"
She smiled a tired and pale smile,
"Maybe not plain enough for all that. There are things that should have been said years ago."
Jack had shifted uneasily for that did not sound comfortable. Her smile grew wider on seeing him wriggle, and she patted his hand,
"Be easy, I'll not rail at you for what you were or are, there is no profit in that and I have too little time left to waste it on things that can't be changed."
He opened his mouth to reassure but she frowned,
"Do not insult me by denying it. I've seen more than four score years on this earth and recognise the time is approaching for me to quit it. There is little I regret except perhaps that I could not have dealt you a better hand in life. If I had not been your grandfather's second wife things might have been different, if your father had been my eldest son that might have changed things too."
She sighed sadly,
"But those things could never have been altered, failing another plague your father could never inherit, and being what he was that always meant heartbreak. If he had had the prospect of the estate then maybe he would have tilled a straighter furrow, but without that he was always rootless and likely to go astray."
Jack gave her a wide smile,
"He's keeper of the code these days, a venerable sage, if only amongst the pirate fraternity. He's found safe harbour now what ever waters he may have sailed once."
She gave a mirthless laugh,
"He was always one for the forms and rules, though others might not have seen it. The men he killed, well it was all for cheating;" she shook her head, " though to kill a man when he had deloped..... That I could never understand or forgive."

There was a moment of silence,
"He caused you much grief, did he not?" Jack said eventually.
"No more than he caused your grandfather, and perhaps no more than he caused you. He loved your mother I think, too much to share her with anyone else."
Jack shrugged,
"I was not what he wanted me to be. And when I turned away from him....... Well as you say he was always one for the forms and rules and traditions."
"But no doubt he is proud of you now?"
Jack looked away towards the fire,
"I don't know, would it be a good thing if he were?" He shrugged again. "We have found some sort of accord in recent events, but I don't care as much as perhaps I ought. Though I think his world will outlive him by a little, and I confess that I find myself not unhappy with that reflection."
The withered fingers closed tight around his own, and she smiled again,
"You were a good hearted child Jonathon, I doubt the man is so much different. But what of you? That is what I want answered, what of you? Where do you go from here?"
He looked back towards her, speaking softly,
"The truth? I don't know. My last clear purpose is fulfilled, I have delivered Williams's wife to safety and I have no more responsibility for Elizabeth or what she does. I hope she makes a home for herself and her child and finds a way to live with her losses. For myself I ask only the sea and the freedom to sail it,"
He smiled at her again.
"I have the Pearl back again and some ......possibilities. But nothing is certain."

She looked at him seriously,
"And if I were to give you others, more possibilities, would you think it gift or curse?"
Jack's smiled widened,
"That would depend on the nature of the possibilities."
The old woman nodded as if she expected no other answer. For a moment she seemed to think, then she pulled him slightly closer to her,
"I have some property of my own, the remnants of my marriage settlement and willed to me by your grandfather on his death. It has grown in value significantly over the last few years and is a respectable fotune these days. More than one of your cousins covets it as you may imagine."
Jack laughed and she nodded her agreement at the implied comment,
" It had been my intention to leave it to Honoria alone," she continued," but I think it might prove more curse to her than boon if I leave it unencumbered, for they would want her wed and would never leave her alone until she chose one of them. She is strong it is true, but once I am gone she will be alone and that might change matters. Nor is she fitted for the life of a lonely but wealthy spinster, so I have discussed this with her and we have come to an alternative arrangement."
She looked at him with such intensity that Jack was suddenly suspicious; he narrowed his eyes and looked down at her with his head cocked,
"Hmmm, I see. This alternative it would be involving me I suppose, since you intend to tell me of it."
"It might indeed," she smiled softly and a flash of youthful devilry danced in her eyes.
Jack looked at her for a moment in silence, and then he smiled again and clasped her hand more tightly,
"So enlighten me as to your plans to thwart my more deserving kin."

She settled herself more comfortably on her pillows,
"I have the intention of making a codicil to my will, informing the world that I have never accepted my grandson Jonathon's reported death in the east and so am leaving this property jointly between Honoria and that Jonathon. The condition I place on her is that she seeks out her cousin or proof of his death. She will have the use of the interest on his share of the same property on the condition that she does so. This situation will be stipulated to continue until such time as she marries outside of the family, in which case that interest will pass into a fund for her children, or his if she has no issue, or until she has incontrovertible proof of his demise. At which point she will inherit the balance of the property involved. I will specifically charge her with seeking him first in the Indies and the Caribbean where the property involved is located."
Jack threw back his head and laughed,
"And do you think they would allow her to go alone on this venture? No of course you do not, you know them too well. So what else do you have in mind?"
She looked down at his hand clasped in hers and stroked his fingers with her thumb,
"I would not be at all surprised should she encounter pirates during her voyage, so perhaps she might be advised to take advice and escort from one who know of such things and might keep her safe. If her relatives were, then, to get left behind, by some unforeseen misfortune, then she would not be left unprotected. It may take her some time to complete the investigations, but I would not be surprised were she to find her cousin in some far flung corner of the shrinking globe, or to find someone more suited to her interest in such a place."

Jack looked at her with all hint of smile gone,
"Why would you do such a thing?"
He made to pull his hand away but she stopped him by a look,
"Honoria deserves netter than the life they would give her. She is not suited to mindless polite company, but as I said they would never let her be while she was unmarried. As for the rest.."
She drew a deep breath,
"You may not consider yourself your father's son, it has been too long since I saw him to judge whether that is fair or not, though I have never doubted that he begot you. But you are most certainly your grandfather's grandson and he was a good man, though not always honest." She sent him a sideways smile, "None of the licquor in this house ever paid duty in his time you know, nor the lace nor tea nor anything else. He always knew your father sailed with the smugglers when the mood took him and he made no effort to stop it, any more than he stopped you in your adventures. It did not make him a bad man and if he had known of your actions with Beckett he would have cheered you, for he treated men fairly regardless of their station. He might not approve of you but he would like you, and that is enough for me. Horry of course does not even need that, what she thinks of you is enough for her."
She slapped his hand with playful fingers,
"I had best die soon now I think of it, for though you and Horry were always lucky in the past your luck may not hold, and she is not yet so aged that she might not need to find reason to leave quickly."
Jack shot her a horrified look, so horrified that she laughed;
"I'm sure you did your best to avoid such an outcome but that is no guranetee you know."

Jack saw her expression and frowned,
"Why do I think that you would not be displeased by such an occurrence?"
"Because I am too old to lie or pretend and I would not mind at all. Certainly not if Honoria had the opportunity to escape before the consequences became dire."
She gave him a long and saucy look,
"Misfortune? I'm not so sure, I think that you would give me most pretty great grandchildren and probably clever ones too." Her look became serious, "Would you run away Jonathon and leave Honoria unsupported were it to happen?"
Jack didn't like to think of that matter but forced himself to, for she deserved an answer,
"If I had the choice..... then probably not, but there are many things that could go wrong with that. Does it matter? Would my answer change anything?"
"No," her look was shrewd and she flipped a careless hand, "for I do not believe you would when it came to it whatever you might think or say now. But for the moment it is of no matter. My will shall be changed tomorrow and none will know of it but those involved."

Jack heard the click of the latch and knew that Horry had returned. A bundle was tossed onto the bed beside his knee. He and the old lady looked up at her in enquiry,
"Shirts Jon," she smiled, "and stockings, and a cravat or two. Who can say when you might have some use for them. I'll find you a coat before you leave if you wish, one warmer than the one you have on."
He reached out an took her hand,
"Thank you."
She smiled sadly,
"It will be light soon, there will just be time to have some breakfast before you leave, the others will not be awake for some hours but if you are to catch the tide........" her voice trailed away.
The woman in the bed watched her with hidden sorrow and a renewed determination to bring this story of years to some form of resolution.
"Find the coat Honoria. Leave Jonathon and I to say our goodbyes."
She nodded mutely and left without saying more.

The woman in the bed waited until the door latch clattered closed. She was suddenly tired but she gripped his hand again and pulled him closer,
"Make a proper goodbye to her Jonathon for she deserves that, if only for her efforts for this Mrs Turner."
"Aye she does, and much more, I know it." His smile glinted at her, "and Mrs Turner has nothing to say in it."
The old woman had stared up at him with something close to longing in her face and Jack felt a sudden sadness for the years lost and the things never said. For the things that never could be said now, not in this world, for there was not the time. She shook his hand with the last of her energy,
"So what do you think Jonathon? If Honoria goes travelling at my behest how likely is she to meet a pirate?"

Jack looked down at her with a golden and conspiratorial smile,
"I'd say it was very likely grandmamma, the world being the way it is, and possibilities being what they are. I'd have no hesitation in sayin' that it would be very likely indeed."

***

The end for the moment