The Townsend mansion was dark and silent as winds changed and the cold salt air blew inland from the sea. The only audible noise was the chirp of the crickets outside Johanna's window and the crashing of the black waves against the rocky shore beyond the rolling hills of her father's estate. The rest of the house was asleep as Johanna sat, hugging her knees tight against her chest to ward off the cold draught, in her bed turning the stolen seagull over in her hands. She peered at it through the dank chill air that floated in from her open window. It glimmered ever so slightly in the moonlight. The contours of the golden pendant lay in shadow, highlighting the elaborately carved details of the gull, its wings spread wide in flight.
What had happened to her today? Johanna thought as she admired the seagull's feathered wings. That man from the port, Nicholas, was sarcastic and infuriating, not to mention exceedingly blunt. But, Johanna also fancied she saw something in his eyes. Something that was decent, perhaps even sophisticated. Of course this could very well just be her desire to do something reckless before her reluctant marriage to Governor Colton. Johanna knew what married life was like from the ladies she so often spoke with at formal banquets; it was quiet and lonely and they did nothing but sit about sewing and tending their children. Johanna wasn't ready to resign herself to the governor's mansion with no life outside those walls, and thus convinced herself that the harsh, brutal thief from the port would not harm her. She contented herself to believe that nothing bad could come of a little visit to a certain little tavern the next evening.
* * *
It was nearly midday by the time Johanna awoke, but as usual the rainbow of colors reflected on the wall by the mirror and the far off sea, only the angles were different. The sky was a pale blue, contrasting sharply the deep green of the leaves and tall billowing grass, and the birds sang loudly with all their hearts. Robins and blue jays fluttered from tree to tree collected twigs for their nests; farther out at sea Johanna could hear the distinct caw of seagulls. Seagulls, why, where is the pendant? Johanna suddenly leapt from her queen-sized bed and nearly trampled on the golden seagull in the process. The pendant had fallen from her hands while she slept. Johanna picked it up and clasped it round her neck, then went to the armoire to dress. Opening the dark carved wooden doors, she pawed through her many brightly colored gowns, choosing a deep blue bodice for the day.
Presently Henrietta entered the room, glaring at Johanna, not speaking, for was still sore and shook up about the previous night's events. Henrietta laced up the deep blue bodice over the lengths of white silk that clung to Johanna's body. Johanna had chosen this particular bodice for a reason; it was her least formal and most modest, so walking the streets of Port Royal alone tonight she would better blend in with the women of the town. As Henrietta tied the laces, Johanna nodded to her but received no reply. Moving to stand before the mirror, Johanna pinned back her hair and powdered her face, before turning to face Henrietta.
"Please do not tell me you plan to go." Henrietta said doubtfully as she sized Johanna up. Quickly she spotted the golden pendant and heaved a great sigh, knowing what was to follow. Johanna smiled, for she knew Henrietta would play along no matter what the plan.
"You shall tell Sir Townsend that I feel very ill with a head ache and that I don't wish to be disturbed. Come and get me when he has resigned to the parlor or the study, so I may sneak out. He shall never know." Johanna was excited; she smiled to herself in anticipation of the little escapade to come.
"Yes, M'lady." Henrietta still did not approve, but there was nothing she could say to change Johanna's mind and she knew it.
Johanna was set on taking advantage of her time left before marriage and so the risk seemed less daunting than it would have only days ago. Within days the date would be set and preparations would begin and wedding plans would dominate much of her time left, so it seemed to her that it was now or never. She would go ahead and take this risk before she bound herself to the governor and with him all the obligations and expectations of court life. Besides, she told herself, in such a public place as a tavern, what could he possibly do to me? I shan't once be alone with the man. Johanna was perfectly satisfied with this logic and couldn't wait for this evening.
Thus the day drew on and on. Johanna sat in the study alongside her father and attempted to concentrate on a play she had been reading. It was Antigone, by Shakespeare. Johanna admired Antigone's courage and she daydreamed of herself performing such acts of selfless bravery, though she could not imagine giving her life for such a cause in these modern times. Those left dead on the battle field would be blessed and buried but even if they were not, she knew now that their souls could still move on. Yet such courage could be applied to anything, like, of course, her favorite theme; love. This is the reasoning that drove her to pick up Romeo and Juliette once more. Johanna read on until she could wait no longer.
Groaning, she said to her father sitting across the study by the window, "I think I shall go lie down; my head throbs and it is too bright."
Sir Townsend looked up in surprise, "Shall I send your dinner up for you?"
"Yes, please. Have Henrietta bring it to me." And without another word she left the room. Sir Townsend was already in the study so she needn't wait for that, but she mustn't leave without informing Henrietta. Johanna walked down the long elaborate hallway, opened and closed her door, and then tip-toed down the main stairwell and slipped through the hulking mahogany double-doors into the large modern kitchen. There where cooking utensils lining the walls and a large stone hearth to boil water and roast meats. There where endless arrays of seasonings aligned in shelves along the left wall and beyond that a door leading to the room where salted pork and beef hung from rafters. Henrietta presently came out of this very door, wiping a mixture of salt and animal blood on her soiled apron.
"I am departing now for town. Sir Townsend thinks I am locked away in my room with a head ache. You shall bring me my dinner when the time comes and eat what you'd like of it yourself. Thank you for doing this for me, Henri." Johanna felt guilty that Henrietta would play along so blindly, but not enough to do anything about it. She was just excited to get out of the mansion and into town.
"Be safe." Was all Henrietta said, but with a smile she opened the door leading out to the garden for her. Johanna walked swiftly to the stables where seven large strong horses resided and took up the reigns of her favorite cream colored steed, Cyclone. She swung herself atop his back and whipped the obedient horse into motion. It pleased her to not have to ride side-saddle as she would if any male accompanied her and she stood in the stirrups and urged Cyclone faster. The clopping of the animal's hooves on the cobbled stone fell into a monotonous pattern as the rolling hills sailed by. The houses out here where few and far between. These where the mansions of the Governor and his military and political officials, but as she neared the inner town of Port Royal houses began springing up everywhere and soon shops and taverns were visible, then the courthouse. Finally in the deepening haze of evening, Johanna spotted the harbor and the open sea beyond. White foamed waves crashed hard against the rocky cove, rocking the many huge ships in the harbor.
Johanna rode through the streets scanning the taverns and shops until she finally spotted the bluntly named Merchantman's Heaven. It was brightly and the shouts of laughter coming from within carried far out into the streets. She dismounted and brought her horse to the small set of stables behind the tavern, tying his reigns tightly to any old railing. Johanna then finally made her way to the entrance of the ramshackled old building. Ascending the steps, she hung nervously by the door. Johanna surveyed the many laughing merry faces all seated around large tables with great mugs of ale in their hands. She couldn't help but marvel at the difference between these men, sailors and merchants, and those of the court. Beneath the obvious surface differences, the tattered and faded waistcoats and muddied stockings, there was the real hardship that each man endured fearlessly. These men, unlike those of the court, knew hard work and the rewards that came hand-in-hand with it.
The distinct stench of tobacco smoke filled Johanna's nostrils as she picked her way through the many tables. The place reeked of alcohol and tobacco, but Johanna breathed it in deeply. As she scanned the sea of faces for the one that brought her here tonight, Johanna smacked away drunken hands groping for her arm and tried to ignore the whistles of those same men. She scanned the bar where four of five men tended to those perched on teetering stools and then her eyes can to rest on the relatively empty table near the back left corner. Nicholas was sitting alone, but was engaged in a loud good-natured argument with a seaman a few tables away. He gesticulated wildly making Johanna laugh as she approached him. The man he was speaking to, a darkly tanned man with a wide face and a toothless grin, laughed and cried out in disagreement with Nicholas before eyeing Johanna and whistling softly.
It was only then that Nicholas noticed her. He stood quickly to pull out her chair, "Evening, madam." He said with a charming smile. "I didn't expect you to come."
"I happened to be in town." Johanna sat and smiled back up at him.
"Ah, yes, to accuse more innocent men of stealing, I'd suppose." He joked, sitting down heavily across from her, tired but determined not to show it.
"You know very well I didn't accuse you," she replied haughtily, then grinned, "it would seem I am a thief myself." And with that, she flipped back her dark curls to reveal the golden seagulls hanging from her long neck.
"So it would appear. Do you plan on returning it to its rightful owner?" He asked with a laugh.
"Well, that certainly isn't you. But, no, I think I have taken too much of a liking to it. It is a beautiful thing, a bird in flight. If only man could do so, too."
"Best not concern yourself with what cannot be and, in the mean time, we shall drink." Nicholas stood, "What shall it be M'lady?"
"Whatever you are having." Johanna tried not to giggle at the surprise on his face at her uncustomary request, and watched him weave his way through the throng of tired, sweaty men to the bar. He called crudely to the tavern keeper, who grinned and answered in a similar manner. Johanna admired the way Nicholas walked with his head held high like nothing and no one could bring him down. Tonight his hair was swept back into a crimson red ribbon; he was one of the only men who didn't wear the customary powdered wig, but surprisingly this suited him. Presently, Nicholas returned to the table carrying two mugs of ale overflowing at the brim. The white foam sloshed over the sides as he sat and slid one of the large mugs across the table to her.
"Thank you, sir." Johanna said politely. "So which ship have you sailed in on? I haven't seen you in town before."
Laughing lightly, Nicholas answered, "I'd rather not name her, though she is a beauty. We made port in the next harbor at Kingston and I rode here alone."
"Why ever not?" Johanna asked, laughing too. "And what brought you to ride here alone?"
"You ask too many questions." He said jokingly. "Besides, how can I trust you?" He eyed her in mock suspicion.
"You not trust me?" Johanna cried incredulously. "It should be I that is the mistrusting one."
"Maybe so, but never-the-less you shall never know." He gave her a wink and took a long swig from his mug, inviting her to do the same. Johanna had only had this sort of ale once before when William, her father's coachman, had taken her to a tavern father inland. She took a deep drink and nearly spit it out in coughing disgust. It was the amused, almost mocking, grin on his face that made her swallow it.
"Not accustomed to the local brew, I take it." He said smirking. "Must be due to all that fine imported wine your fiancée keeps locked away in his wine cellar."
"Quite." She said hoarsely, then took another, smaller, sip.
"Who is your fiancée, might I inquire? Perhaps I know him." Nicholas asked, laughing at his last statement for it seemed to hold some private joke. His eyes glittered and his golden hoop glinted in the light of the mounted candles.
"I rather expect you do." Johanna said with a smirk.
"I am betrothed to the governor himself, Sir Howard Colton." Speaking these words, she found they did indeed hold some sort of pride in her and Nicholas was, in fact, surprised by her reply.
"Why madam, then I have not paid you your due respects," he sneered. "What a fine pampered life you must live in the company of such a high man as he." Johanna was stung by his harsh words and felt the need to explain herself.
"On the contrary, I live, at present, with my drunkard of a father. Though, I must say, he is getting better as time goes on."
"And your mother approves of such drinking?" he inquired, taking the hint- for it was commonplace- that her father was an abusive man.
"She is the cause of his drinking, actually. She passed away some seven years ago; we came to Jamaica, in part, to be rid of the memories London provoked."
"My apologies, M'lady." Nicholas replied, but Johanna couldn't be sure if he was sincere or not.
"What of you, then? Where is your family; perhaps you have your own fiancée somewhere waiting for you?"
"No." he said shortly. "My ship is my life." It seemed he didn't wish to say more, but Johanna was intrigued wildly curious.
"She can't be your whole life,… what of your family?" She asked carefully, taking a softer tone. It was only after she'd done so that she realized a man like Nicholas wouldn't take notice of such a thing.
Obviously wary of the subject, he said only, "My father, brothers, and I sailed aboard a merchantman. It was sunk and I was the only survivor." Johanna bit her tongue so as not to ask how it was sunk or how it came that he alone survived. She instead inquired into what, she thought, would be less probing questions.
"Perhaps now it is my turn to apologize," she said a little guiltily. "How old were you? Where did you go?"
"Not at all," he said. "I was eleven, and as far as what became of my honest life as a merchant's son, I shall not say. It is too frightening a tale for a woman such as yourself." He smirked at her, good humor returning.
"I am not easily frightened," Johanna knew better than to try to delve further, instead she inquired, "Then, what brings you to Port Royal?"
"You really do ask too many questions." Nicholas told her just as the doors to the tavern burst open and five soldiers came barging in.