Seawater For My Empty Cup
St. Kilda, Scotland 1808
Her knees ached on the stone floor and the damp cold worked its way around her neck and across her shoulders. She was only here because it was expected. If you didn’t come to church then bad things would be said about you and she was too vulnerable to invite gossip. However, she was there in body only. Her faith had left her six years ago.
Anna Cannera turned to see who was calling her. "Mr. Roberson," she stopped and tilted her head up a little. The wind was whipping locks of hair loose around her face. She held her bonnet with both hands.
"I wanted…wanted to speak with you."
She turned and walked away.
Whatever else he had to say was lost on the wind. Anna walked purposefully away from him and toward the narrow path that would lead her to her door. She couldn’t go anywhere, not even to church, without them after her. She was a widow and on this small island women were at a premium and men plentiful. At first the wives and daughters came to comfort her as women do. She’d lost her man, her provider, her protector. Soon, however, when it was evident that she would remain on the island and had not accepted another man as a husband the women withdrew.
Anna hardly had time to be lonely. She worked hard to keep herself alive. She kept chickens and sheep and grew her own vegetables. These things she bartered for fuel and staples such as flour, sugar and tea. She sold wool and feathers. It was a hard life and one she’d been introduced to at the age of twenty.
Jamie Cannera brought her to this island as his bride. He was a fisherman and once on a trip to another island he was pressed into the Royal Navy. Word came to her of his disappearance through local fishermen. She had been devastated. Two years later he came home but he’d seen something of the world by then and he wasn’t content to sit by the fire with her. He gave her all the money he had, kissed her soundly and left. Three years later his sea chest came home with all his worldly belongings inside. Jamie would not be coming home; he’d drowned in a storm off Cape Horn.
She had learned in his absence how to take care of herself and the farm. Of course it was harder now because she no longer had help from her neighbors. There was only Old MacDougal and Mary, his wife, and his son Hamish. Their land bordered hers on the sparsely populated island. There were only three settlements on the entire island. She lived on the outskirts of Bay Village.
The damp had penetrated her woolen cloak by the time she got back to her cottage. She took off her cloak and sat down to clean her muddy boots before going into her home. The cottage was tight and warm and smelled of lamb stew.
Jack Aubrey listened with half an ear to Stephen’s recount of a visit to the Shetland Isles years ago. He was working on his log book. "Puffins you say, can you eat them?"
"I daresay you can." Stephen looked over at him, "Jack why is it all animals must fall into two categories with you; eatable and uneatable? Must it all relate to your table?"
Jack looked up and smiled at his friend, he hadn’t heard the question.
"You’re becoming deaf as a post."
"There should be time enough, Stephen, for you to wander about at will over the islands. At least for a week."
Stephen got up and wandered over to the bank of windows and then looked at Jack, "You’re flush, you don’t look healthy at all. I’ll make you up a bolus."
"I am quite well but I will take your bolus." He actually didn’t feel well at all but he wouldn’t give into the weakness he felt in his legs.
"Why not come with me, you don’t have anything to do…do you?"
"A Captain always has work to do but I may." He smiled and closed his log book.
They took a jolly boat to Hirta. Stephen Maturin and his loblolly boy, Padeen set off immediately. Jack had come along with them but decided not to climb the cliffs and instead he walked along the shore. He was still fighting off illness. Whatever form it might take had not come forth and claimed him yet but the symptoms were becoming worse. He had bouts of dizziness, weakness in his limbs and headaches plagued him. None of this had he told Stephen.
The tide was out and he walked across a little bridge of sand and driftwood. Here the hillside was not so steep and he walked on. The HMS Surprise was headed to Lerwick to take on supplies and water and as he was wont to do when able, he let Maturin loose in the wilds. Oftentimes he’d accompanied him but today he was weary of birds. In fact he was weary of everything and wondered why he had walked so far.
He made it to the top of the rise and looked out over the bay. His breathing had become ragged and once again the weakness took his legs from beneath him. He sat down on the ground and hung his head between his knees. When he looked up again he noticed an ancient hut overgrown with moss and grasses. He managed to get himself over to the entrance and crawled in. At least he was out of the weather especially the wind that chilled him.
Hours passed and he slept through nightmarish dreams, jerking and starting but not coming fully awake. The fever had him now and when he woke he screamed. The nightmare had become real and was in the hut with him. He tried to back away against the rock wall but still the monstrous demon came at him, he screamed again.
Each day she counted her sheep. There were no predators on the island except man and she trusted no one.
She brought her dog, Skye, with her to the top of the rise. On the other side was the sea and her land met it at the bottom of the hill. Skye ran off barking toward the stone hut.
She heard a commotion inside as she made her way over the stones and then a man’s scream.
"Skye, come out of there." The ram came out first, a type of sheep known only to the island, a Soay, rugged and primitive they were the source of what wealth she possessed
Still the dog had not emerged and she feared for him. "Skye…Skye come." He came to the door and beckoned her to come in.
"Hello in there?" she cautiously approached and heard his moans. Fearing her ram may have hurt someone she stuck her head in the hut, "Hello there…you?"
"Help…help me." He managed before he passed out.
Anna crawled over to his side and briefly had a look at him, he didn’t appear to be injured and then she felt his forehead, he was burning up. She tried to rouse him without luck. "Aieee, Skye, what must we do?"
She crawled out of the hut and set Skye on the errant ram. She could just leave him he was a stranger and not of the island that much she knew. But then…that was reason enough to try and help him. Within the hour she was back at the hut but this time with her pony and cart. It was large enough to carry a man.
He was hallucinating. A woman was now part of his nightmare she was talking to him but he couldn’t hear her. She began tugging at him and at first he fought her but she was insistent and he was too weak to argue. He had some sensation of being hauled in the cart but mostly he slept.
Anna had a choice now a path led off to Old MacDougal’s farm and the other continued on to her cottage. She made a choice that would seriously impact her life.
Stephen and Padeen returned to the shore. Jack had begun a rudimentary campsite but he was nowhere in sight. Also missing was their jollyboat. The tide came in and a wave had washed the boat over the land bridge. It was now on the other side of the island floating free. Padeen had a fire going and Stephen hoped it would act as a beacon to Jack; wherever he had rowed off to.
Anna was a strong woman but it took some work to get him into the house. She’d pulled the pony cart right up to the front. He was a big man and could offer little help while she half dragged him into her snug room. She’d set up a bunk by the fire place. Normally it’s where she would sleep in the winter but it was spring and she’d moved up to the loft. After getting him into the bunk she went back and put away the pony cart and took her pony into the barn. Skye was back and satisfied he’d nipped the ram into his place in the yard.
Anna liked to have all her animals in at night. She had a barn attached to the house along with other outbuildings where the sheep were sheared and her chickens went to roost for the night. She drew a bucket of water and brought it in. Soon it would be dark and the locking up would begin.
She built up the fire and heated some of the water. Sometime later she had his boots off and his coat. She loosened his neck cloth and got him to sip some tea. He grabbed for his throat.
Anna mixed up a soothing concoction for his throat involving whiskey, honey and hot tea. She bathed his face and neck trying to ease his fever. Skye watched her ministrations over the stranger and got up to give him a lick across his cheek as his contribution.
On Sunday she went to church and as usual she spoke to no one except the minister who looked at her with soulful eyes and wished her well. He felt sorry for her but there was nothing he could do. She saw the MacDougals and it crossed her mind about the Navy Captain she had by her fire but she said nothing.
Jack had been out for three days. When he came to himself and sat up it was to wonder where he was. He had no memory of the stone hut or how he got to the house. He last remembered sitting down in the grass at the top of the rise. He was dressed in his drawers and nothing else.
He smelled something good coming from the pot simmering in the fire. The fire…he couldn’t hear the pop and crackle. In fact he couldn’t hear anything. He didn’t hear her come in the door, stop and remove her bonnet and her boots.
She stopped seeing him sitting up. This was a different thing altogether.
"Hello?" she said moving into the room.
Her skirts caught his eye and he turned looking up into her face. Her black hair was braided and twisted about her head. Her face showed exposure to the elements, a sprinkling of freckles across her nose and some fine lines on her forehead. Her startling blue eyes were framed by a black fringe. She wasn’t pretty in the sense of a cultivated rose but striking as a wildflower discovered among grasses.
He pulled the quilts around him to cover his nakedness. He watched her lips move and touched an ear and shook his head. The silence was deafening. He had experienced temporary deafness in battle but this was cotton wool deafness. He looked down at his shaking hand and felt his weakness.
His nakedness did not embarrass her for she had undressed him and bathed him in his fever. What he needed now was nourishment.
He watched her capable hands as she made him a plate of stew. She brushed the coals off another pot and brought up the bread. A plate of butter and she set it all before him on a small table so that he didn’t have to leave the bed.
Speaking caused him problems for he couldn’t hear the sound of his voice and didn’t know whether he was too loud or too soft. She watched his face as he spoke and thanked her for looking after him and for the food. He asked for the man of the house.
She shook her head slowly and pointed to the sea chest against the wall. It was partially covered by a cloth and held a candlestick.
"He’s dead then. I am very sorry for your loss."
She watched him eat it was good to see a man eat her food. She made a plate for herself and sat the table. She rose to refill his when he looked up. He had very nice eyes and an apologetic smile that touched something in her; something that had been buried for a long time.
He could not hear and she wondered if he were indeed deaf or if it was something that had just occurred because he could not understand her at all. She touched his arm and asked him his name saying it slowly.
"Jack Aubrey," was his reply. "Your name?"
"Anna Cannera." He repeated her fist name but couldn’t get the last. She handed him a cup of tea. He very clearly was feeling much better. His color wasn’t as flushed though it still held the sun but then it would; he was a sailor.
She thought about him while she sipped her tea. He was an officer and therefore a gentleman. She’d never been this close to a gentleman before. There’d been the squire in church before she married but he never looked left nor right. She’d been very intimate with this gentleman already. She’d seen his body. He was speaking.
"How long have I been here?"
"Three days." She held up three fingers.
She shook her head, "DAYS." He looked in shock.
"My clothes, where are my clothes I must go. Dr. Maturin will be wondering what happened to me."
He wasn’t well enough to go anywhere but she didn’t want to distress him and therefore she brought out his clothes. She had laundered and pressed them.
He knew as soon as he tried to stand. He was still weak from the fever but the vertigo threatened to take his meal. He fell back onto the bunk. Anna did not try to help him. She cleaned up the dishes.
Later she took him a glass of whiskey. While he sipped it she prepared a basin of warm water. She brought out one of her husband’s night shirts and lay it on the foot of his bunk.
He soon figured out what she was about. She was going to bathe him. There was a large cake of soap and a cloth. He blinked. Should he lie there and let this woman…no he shouldn’t but when he tried to move the dizziness took him and threatened nausea. And so he lay still placing the glass on the little table. She washed his face and his neck. She was quick and efficient and nothing in her demeanor gave away any of the emotions she was feeling. She’d washed him to his waist and then brought up the nightshirt. It was a little snug across the shoulders for Jack but no matter.
He stilled her hand on the buttons of his drawers. She looked up quickly and blushed handing him the cloth. Jack took care of himself and she took his drawers away for the laundry.
The meal had done wonders for him and he admitted to himself the bath had helped too. He felt good until he moved . He could not move his head without dizzy consequences. "I am so dizzy when I move my head everything goes round and round and I feel sick. I must get over this I cannot be ill. Have you seen Dr. Maturin?"
"No," she shook her head. "I see no one."
She put his drawers into soak then the locking up began. She went into the animal quarters and counted each one, the chickens, the sheep, the two Shetland ponies and one milk cow. She used the wooden locks given to her by MacDougal. It was the only way she could protect what was hers. Early on after she had rejected every suitor that came calling other measures were taken by the local men to encourage her to choose a husband. Some of her livestock went missing. Stone walls were knocked down in her pastures. One even broke into her house to be met with a pot of boiling potatoes thrown at him. She’d learned to shoot a pistol and use a knife. These two things came back in her husband’s sea chest. The knife she kept in her waist at all times.
The next morning she cooked his breakfast, fresh eggs and a fish Hamish had left on her doorstep.
She made a decision to visit with Mary MacDougal. Mary was a herbalist and if there was something for Jack’s ailments she would pay for it with her eggs and butter. She and Mary bartered back and forth all the time. Mary wasn’t exactly a friend. She was the only woman on the island that would talk to her at all. Old MacDougal was past it and Hamish was too young being only fourteen. She set off with Skye at her heels.
With great effort Jack slowly sat up. He managed to get his drawers on that had been dried by the fire during the night. His shirt came next but he was unable to manage stockings. He simply could not bend over. He slid his pants over his hips. He was trying to button them when Anna came back into the cottage.
"Aiee what are you doing," she came to him and pressed him back onto the pillows and shook her head no.
Jack was in no condition to argue the point.
Anna mixed up the special tea for Jack and went over with it in a cup and sat on the side of his bunk. She would make him drink it if need be.
"What is this?" He looked at her suspiciously.
"For your ears and your dizzy." She told him and held the cup to his lips.
It was foul she knew it was from the smell but he had to get it down. He gagged. She held a wet cloth to his mouth and then offered it again. "Yes," she said, "You must drink it."
The concoction put him out cold. Anna stayed with him a while brushing his hair and tying it back as it was when he came to her. He was a beautiful man she thought and then a sadness took her. He would leave as soon as he was able.
She went out into her vegetable garden and worked for awhile Hamish came by and brought her two puffins he’d killed. She plunged them into a bucket of water and then began plucking them carefully saving every feather. It was the Eider that brought the biggest payout but all feathers were worth something. After the two birds were plucked she gutted them and cleaned them for the pot. She added herbs and onions and carrots. Once she had this going she made a pastry and wrapped it up in a greased cloth and set it aside. Jack was stirring about it was time to boil the water and leaves now.
He coughed and sneezed and sputtered and blew his nose and every miserable thing he could do and all the while she held his head over a pan of hot steamy water with a cloth draped about him. When it was over she washed his face again. He caught her wrist.
"Say your name."
He smiled, "I thought that was it."
"You can hear?"
"My ears are popping like fireworks but I can hear."
Anna smiled and Skye thumped his tail on the rug.
"What’s your dog’s name?"
"Skye, he’s the one that found you."
"Well, thank you Skye," he shook the dog’s proffered paw.
Hamish had seen her sheep to the pasture for her and sent Skye home. He hurried home himself for he had a bit of news for his mother.
"Boots," he said to himself as he loped along the path, "Big boots on the doorstep."
"How did you come to be in the hut?" she asked.
"I honestly do not know. I was ill I believe and must have gone in there to rest. How did I get here?"
"I brought you in my pony’s cart."
"Thank you, Anna, I think you have saved my life."
She smiled a little and backed off taking the basin to the door and tossing out the water. She saw his boots still on the step where she’d left them to dry.
"I cleaned your boots and oiled them down for you." She looked at them a moment and handed them to him. Boots were the final step.
"Very nice, Killick couldn’t have done a better job. Killick is my steward."
She twisted her apron and went to the table. Of course he was used to servants being a gentleman. "I thought your rank was captain was I correct?"
"Post Captain but yes you are familiar with the navy?"
"My husband was pressed in Lerwick. When he came back he was a different man. Two years of service is all it took for him to see his life was not here on this island of St. Kilda. He tried to settle for awhile but he said salt was in his blood and he had to go back to sea. I never saw him again." She began to roll out the pastry.
"It does that to some men. Some are born to it and others come by accident or even unwillingly. It is unfortunate that we must press men to man a ship but sometimes it is necessary. We are at war."
"I am at war and who shall I press," she turned on him her voice rising.
Jack stared at her, "I’m sorry I do not understand."
"No, you wouldn’t." she flipped the pastry over and rolled it again. "I am alone here now that my husband died at sea. Do you have any idea what it is like for a widow alone on this island…no you do not."
"I confess I do not. How long has it been?"
"Six years. I suppose the next question will be why are you not remarried? Jamie was a good man, he was good to me. How could I take to my bed someone who would slit the throat of my sheep? There are fourteen single men and six marriageable women on this island. I would leave, Jack, but if I did I would have nothing. I swore I would not take a man from these islands as my husband and so I am alone. I am on constant vigil. I have to be."
"It is an intolerable situation, Anna. Indeed you are at war. Is there no one to help you?"
She shrugged and tossed the pastry into a pan patting it out around the edges. "Old MacDougal cuts peat for my fire. I supply his wife with wool. His son hunts and fishes and looks out for me, he is fourteen years old, I send him home with butter and milk or cream. His wife, Mary, is a healer. She supplied the herbs for your tea. It worked too," she smiled. "I owe her eggs now."
Meat from the two puffins was pulled from the bones and placed in the pastry along with the carrots and onions. She added parsley and salt. Another layer of pastry was placed on top and sealed. The pan went into a Dutch oven and was placed back into the fire.
"There must be something I can do for you to repay your kindness and tender care of me."
"It was found by a local fisherman and brought into Lerwick. Mr. Mowett says that’s our jolly boat. And by gum it were. Lt. Pullings went over to have a word and he came back with the boat." Bonden grinned ear to ear. "So I says well I know where they were going so it were me and Plaice that come for ya."
Stephen Maturin listened to all of this from Bonden with his mouth slightly open, "Captain Aubrey was not in the boat?"
Bonden’s smile disappeared, "Noooo."
"He disappeared the day we arrived on Hirta. Padeen and I went up the cliff and the Captain was to set up the campsite. When we got back the campsite was partially set up and the boat and Captain were missing. I assumed he’d gone back to the ship or found something else to interest him."
"He weren’t on the boat sir when the fishermen picked it up."
"Oh…oh." Stephen turned around, Padeen was loading their gear into a boat. "We had it anchored right over there. Tell me, Bonden, was the anchor still dragging?"
"I don’t know, Sir, since we didn’t pick it up ourselves."
Stephen looked up at the adjoining island of St. Kilda. He knew Jack was not on Hirta. He bit his lip, four days since he disappeared. "I think we had better begin scouring the islands. We’ll need some help, Bonden, if you will."
"Yes, Sir, I’ll go back and round up a search party."
He was so gentle with her. Anna was inexperienced even though she’d been married. She lay there and let him play her bringing sensations to her body she didn’t know it was capable of. His kisses were deep and moving and she responded with a pent up passion he discovered for her and showed her how to use. She was hopelessly in love with him knowing all the while he would leave as soon as he could walk. She thought as she lay in his arms that she may never have an opportunity like this again to be with someone she loved.
Rain was pelting down the next morning. She donned her old boots and went out to fill her water bucket and she went around and tended her livestock. Some ventured out and some preferred the shelter of the barn and stables. The yard was muddy and she kicked her boots off and pushed back her oilskin cloak before entering her cottage. Jack was up and dressed this morning.
"You’ll drown out there," she said and filled the kettle for tea. Carefully she brought out the eggs from her pockets. She poured water into a pot and placed the eggs inside to boil over the fire.
Jack pulled on his vest, "Nevertheless I must go and find a way to my ship. We were to sail tomorrow."
"I’m glad you are feeling better, just remember not to overdo." She couldn’t look at him. She pulled the loaf from the day before and sliced off thick pieces for toast all the while blinking back tears.
Bonden brought the cutter into the bay right up to the docks. Stephen set out with Padeen and Bonden for the trading post. The old building served as a general store, post office and trading post since most people bartered. Coin was scarce on the island.(Phoenix&JD)
Once inside they had to wait as there were a group of men at the counter.
"I say we get the minister and go up there."
"Who could it be?"
"Tall boots like as officer’s wear that’s what he saw on doorstep."
"We’ve got a problem here and I was afraid it would come to this. She’s chosen the low life now."
"Ah, get the minister and go up there I say. He can marry them on the spot and then problem solved."
"Excuse me, Sir, may I be of service," he proprietor noticed Stephen.
"I was wondering if you might have seen Captain Aubrey of the HMS Surprise, he seems to have disappeared from Hirta four days ago. We thought he might have…"
The man was shaking his head, "No strangers here about this week." And then he stopped and looked at MacDougal. "Except maybe one."
"Get the minister," MacDougal said to the slender man beside him wrapped up in oilskins.
"You say you’re missing a Captain, like as wears tall boots?" MacDougal addressed Stephen.
"Tall boots, I suppose he does." He smiled slightly. "Does this mean you know where he is?"
"Maybe we do and maybe we don’t. We’re about to go up there now…to the widow Cannera’s place."
Jack kept procrastinating hoping the rain would let up but it was still glancing off the windows driven by the wind. Anna had gone out to the barn to milk her cow and Jack prowled the cottage. Fine handmade lace adorned the windows. Soft woolen quilts over the bed where he’d slept. He moved over to the sea chest and squatted down pushing aside the cloth he read the name burnt into the wooden top. Jamie Cannera. He closed his eyes for a moment and relived the day of the hurricane when he’d lost ten men off the decks. One of them was Jamie Cannera. He let out a breath and stood up. He remembered him, an eager young man. He was always happy and laughing.
"Jack I’m not sure you’re going to get out of here today unless you want to swim." She came in with a bucket of milk."
"I had hoped it would let up but I’ve been wet before, Anna."
She turned and smiled at his tone of voice. He was quiet speaking. "Me too. I’m wet most days. Are you sure the eggs and toast are going to be enough for you. I’ve got porridge cooked now and there’s milk for it?"
"That’s the door?" Anna looked puzzled, no one came knocking on her door.
"Mr. MacDougal." She looked beyond him there appeared to be no less than six or seven men with him.
"What’s the meaning of this?" she asked.
"Mrs. Cannera we’ve reason to believe you’ve got a man in there. I’m sure you’d want to do the right thing, Mrs. Cannera, and so we’ve brought Minister with us to perform the ceremony."
She stared at him for a moment not believing what she’d heard but right behind him was the minister with a crofter she recognized and beyond him a gentleman she didn’t know and a very tall man and a sailor.
"Who is this you’ve brought up here?"
"Mrs. Cannera are ye gonna let us inside it’s wet it is."
"Take off your muddy boots the lot of ya."
Jack had been standing back in the room by the fire. He came forward when he heard men’s voices inside her door.
"You are acquainted with this man?" the minister asked Stephen.
"I am indeed." He smiled.
"Well then you will attest to his moral character and honor?"
"Jack Aubrey is one of the most honorable men I’ve ever met."
The minister smiled and fixed Jack with an eye. "I understand you have been sleeping here with Mrs. Cannera? I am sure you will make an honest woman out of her…"
He blathered on and Jack’s eyes went wide, could he be serious?
Anna grabbed Jack’s arm, "No, no please you don’t have to do this."
"This is not legal, you don’t have the marriage license, you haven’t posted banns." Stephen declared.
"Aye but it’s legal in the eyes of the Lord. And it is he who will judge what is right and not right. We can make it very short Mrs. Cannera and get it over with."
"It’s like this Mrs. Cannera and I’m sorry to say it but if you don’t’ marry this man you will in all likelihood be put off the island. We don’t stand for this kind of behavior here." MacDougal said.
"Go ahead, say the words and make it so." Jack said loud enough for everyone to hear. His eye lighted on Jamie’s chest again and he took Anna by the arm.
"Jack you can’t do this," Stephen tried to remind him he was already married. "You’ll be arrested for bigamy."
"It is not legal, Stephen." He said under his breath.
The minister read from his Bible and said the words that bound Jack Aubrey and Anna Cannera together as husband and wife.
MacDougal eyed her for a moment and placed a hand on her shoulder, "It’ll be all right now you’ll see."
Anna was still in a state of shock and deeply embarrassed. The minister and the crofter left along with MacDougal. Maturin, Padeen and Bonden still stood in the doorway with their hats in their hands looking a bit embarrassed themselves.
Stephen moved toward the fire still not certain of what had just occurred. He could not believe that Jack would commit such a sin as bigamy.
Anna was in tears and moved unsteadily toward a chair and sat down. Jack went to her and down on one knee.
"You have cared for me and made me well. I owe you much, Anna. The least I can do is offer you my name and my protection. Do you not understand?"
Her eyes were wet and she spoke from behind her hand, "You are a gentleman, Sir and do not deserve to be tied to one such as me. I am so very sorry."
"If I am a gentleman then I can do naught but what I have done. You are my lady," he kissed her hand. "You do understand how it is? I must leave here today and I do not know when or even if I shall ever pass this way again."
Her eyes overflowed, "Yes."
"You are now Anna Aubrey and should any man try and cross your threshold without your permission you have mine to take his life. Word will spread fast that you are married. Do y’see how it is now?"
"Oh yes, I do see…thank you."
"Do not thank me it is you I owe." He lifted her chin and kissed her softly.
Jack went over to Stephen, "How much coin have you on your person?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"For the lady, I will pay you back but Stephen I know you wear a money belt and I’m caught short."
Stephen turned toward the fire and felt around his waist. He handed Jack a sum of money. Jack took it to Anna.
"This is yours for whatever you may need ." He would not provide for her other than the gift of money.
It was a considerable about of gold coin. "I shall put it aside for what may come. Thank you again, Jack." She placed a hand on his cheek and he pulled her to him and held her for a moment. He was not given to public displays of affection and in the back of his mind he knew his audience would have to be warned about their tongues.
Anna found an old oilskin that belonged to Jamie for Jack to put on before he left. Stephen spoke to her and she told him about Jack’s illness and the herbs she’d used. He thanked her and made note of them.
She sent them away with a slice of puffin pie in their pockets. The rain had not let up and Jack’s polished boots were muddy before he got out of the yard. He turned once and looked at her before fading into the pouring rain. She closed her door and leaned on it Skye sat pumping his tail in front of her.
"Well now Skye it’s just you and me again.
They followed the path to the top of the rise and there Jack stopped and felt his heart gain a beat. Off the coast and coming around was the HMS Surprise.
"I told them to come about, Sir, when we set out with a search party." Bonden stopped a few feet away from Jack.
"Where is the search party?" he asked.
"On Hirta, Sir."
Jack turned to Bonden and Padeen. "Not a word about what you have witnessed here today. Is that understood?"
"Yes, Sir," Bonden touched his forehead. Padeen merely nodded but Jack knew he understood.
Jack cast a look at Stephen who shook his head with a slight smile.
The path took them to the settlement and to the dock where the cutter was waiting. Jack took in the small square and thought about Anna. This was her world and not one she would have chosen perhaps but she had made a good place for herself here. He stepped down into the boat and turned his face toward the open sea beyond the bay.
Killick cleared the table and left the bottle of port. There was only the doctor and the Captain at table now. For Jack it was good to be home for the Surprise was as much a home to him as anything on land. The rain still continued against the bank of windows in his cabin. He was warm and dry and still not 100% from his illness but he was feeling much better.
Stephen swirled the wine around in his goblet, "Jack, are you going to tell me why you went through with that sham of a marriage ceremony?"
"St. Kilda is a world of its own with its own set of rules for living. She was a widow alone and at war with the island and it’s mores. I don’t know if you would remember him, Jamie Cannera? Well he was her husband and we lost him off the Cape six years ago. His sea chest sits in her best room. I didn’t tell her that I knew him or that it was I who pressed him at Lerwick. I denied her a life with her husband and I felt some responsibility for that. She is shunned by her neighbors because she did not remarry. According to her there were no suitable men amongst the inhabitants of St. Kilda and it was beyond her capabilities to leave the island."
"But, Jack, what you have done is illegal not only in a court of law but in the church as well."
Jack took a sip of his port and smiled, "Stephen, when have you ever known me to worry about a little thing like that. Besides, you said yourself that it is not a legal union but on St. Kilda it is and it will stand for her. My hope is that the harassment will stop and that she will be able to sleep without a pistol under her pillow and walk about with a knife at her waist. Add to that, she saved my hearing. Do you know I was deaf as a post for awhile?"
Stephen looked aside and smiled.
Six months had passed since Jack Aubrey left St. Kilda. The winds of October buffeted about Anna’s snug home. She sat by the fire knitting with the finest wool spun from her sheep using her smallest needles. Skye raised his head and looked at her and then laid it back on the hearth rug.
"I should be getting home and see about the MacDougal’s meal," Mary MacDougal wound up her knitting and stuck it in a bag. "Tay Roberson and his sister will be by tomorrow. He’s going to plow your garden for you and put in some cabbage and finish digging your potatoes. Millie’s bringing the new bedding she’s made for the bairn."
"I don’t know how to thank you, Mary. I never knew having a baby would be so difficult."
"Well it’s the first one and they usually are. You’ll do fine you will, girl." Mary patted her knee and stood with her bag.
"Don’t forget the butter."
"No I’ve got it here, I’ll see you in a few days. Take care dear."
Anna closed the door behind her and thought of her life now. It was true she carried Jack’s child, a child he would never see perhaps but it gave her such comfort. She had a part of him now that no one could ever take away. Neither man nor the sea. She pulled her draperies over the window and lit another candle.
Word had spread very fast about her marriage. The first signs of forgiveness for being a widow came by way of a bucket of berries. Birds were left on her doorstep and fish in a bucket of water. She went to church as usual on Sunday and the population looked at her and smiled and nodded their heads. Visits followed and now she was back in the fold.
A day did not pass but that she went on her knees and prayed for Jack’s safety.
No longer did she lock up her animals at night but used to the routine they came anyway to the barn and the yard. Her flock of sheep increased and so did her chickens. Anna could look ahead and see that she would be all right and the money she had hidden in a purse under her mattress was safe for her child.
Often when she walked up to the rise she would stop by the stone hut and look inside as if expecting to see him there. She knew it was a lark but still…
The Surprise was in pursuit and although the full moon lit up the sky the ship was hidden in the darkness. Jack paced his deck. He’d been restless all evening. Sightings of the ship earlier had pleased him and excited him but there was something else at work that he could not put a name to. A sound stopped him in his tracks. It stopped a few others too.
"Did you hear that, Mr. Blakely?"
"Perhaps a mermaid, Sir?"
Jack looked at him a moment, "Perhaps it was." He smiled a little for the sound was surely a cry. Mermaids often cried out.
Later he was going over his maps and he looked up at Stephen who was pouring over some specimen on the big table.
"What was the date of St. Kilda?"
Stephen looked over his glasses, "When you were there? April 26 I believe. Ah, in fact I know it was two days after I found the gannet eggs."
"It never ceases to amaze me, your power of recall." He went back to his map a moment."I heard a mermaid’s cry tonight."
Stephen looked at him blankly.
"It signifies," he never looked up from his map, "birth or death."
Stephen stared at him, "Ah…" and he understood why Jack had asked him for the date.
January 30, 1809 St. Kilda, Scotland Audrey Anne Aubrey was born with Mary MacDougal in attendance. She pronounced mother and child healthy and well.