Elizabeth rushed down the stairs from the drawing room and into the arms of her father.
"The news is not good my dear, you need to be strong."
Rear Admiral Jackson held his daughter close. A week ago he had received the worrying news that Elizabethís husband Lord Peter Rossi had succumbed to pneumonia and his health was deteriorating rapidly. The news was made all the worse by the fact that he was in Spain. It was 1806 and as the war between England and France advanced in ferocity Spain had joined the coalition. Lord Rossi had left for Spain some three months earlier in an effort to persuade the Spanish king to release more money to the cause.
Elizabeth Jackson had not married for love. Peter Rossi was twenty years her senior but was besotted by her young beauty and grace she, seduced by his title, power and wealth. No she had never loved him, she had, however grown to care for him and respect his gentleness and easy humour. She was genuinely worried for him now.
"Elizabeth, Peter is very ill and is asking for you, I think you should go to him, your presence may aid his recovery."
"Of course I will go father, you can arrange it for me can't you?
"My dear, I was hoping you would feel this way, it is arranged already. Captain Aubrey sails tonight and has agreed to give you safe passage to Spain. You must pack quickly there is not a moment to lose."
Elizabeth was stunned that she was to sail with Jack. She remembered the last time they had met, their lovemaking had been explosive and abandoned, and their sense heightened by their time apart, but to sail with him, and under these circumstances was quite a different prospect.
Her stomach lurched and she felt the butterflies rise to her throat. She had heard many stories of Jacks' behaviour whilst at sea, and they were not pretty. His need for total control over his ship and his men, his stubbornness, and the legendary drinking, she was far from sure she would be able to be confined so closely with this man for what may be fourteen days or more.
Catapulted back to the present, her practical self took charge and she remembered Peter lonely, and far from home.
"I will pack immediately, but Father, I will need Rachel to accompany me." Elizabeth would need her ladyís maid more than ever now.
"Of course, of course, Captain Aubrey is aware that you will not travel alone! I shall return at three this afternoon and we shall drive to Greenwich."
He returned at three as promised, and as Elizabeth heard the sound of the horsesí hooves on the driveway the butterflies began again, she grabbed Rachelís arm and steadied her resolve.
The journey to Greenwich was a long and solemn one. She only half listened to her Father's words as he advised her to stay inside her cabin and heed Jackís advice. She had never undertaken such a journey. Yes, she had been aboard ships with her father, but only to dine. She realised with trepidation that she had no idea what to expect.
As she descended from the carriage, Elizabeth saw Jack waiting for them. He shook hands with her father briskly,
"Sir" he said. Then he took Elizabethís hand in his, bowed low and said, "Lady Rossi, I am so sorry to hear of your husbandís illness, you will reach him and Spain under my protection, try not to worry."
It was becoming dark now and the Surprise seemed dark and forbidding. Her father took Jack aside and the men spoke briefly, Elizabeth shivered in the early evening air. Her fatherís manservant unloaded her trunks and, as she stood on the dock waiting she closed her eyes and breathed deeply. As she reopened them blinking rapidly in the gloom, Jack's huge frame stood directly in front of her.
"Madam, you have too much luggage!" he said.
"I can assure you Captain; I have packed essential items only."
"Madam, you have eight large trunks, yourself and your ladies maid. You may take two trunks and no more!"
As Elizabeth opened her mouth to protest, Jack's eyes caught hers. "Two trunks and no more Lady Rossi! I leave you to choose which two, but you must make haste, we sail upon the tide."
As Jack stood before her, hands clasped firmly behind his back, she looked to her father for support. In reply, he shook his head slowly, "I advise you to listen to Captain Aubrey my dear."
Exasperated, she drew her lips together and, turning to Rachel, she muttered. "A day and a night trunk if you please." She hugged her father and turned to follow Jack, head held high, leaving Rachel and two quite unsavoury looking sailors to her luggage. As she took Jack's arm and boarded the ship a sense of panic threatened to overtake her, "Think of Peter," she told herself.
"These are your quarters Lady Rossi, I believe you will be quite comfortable." As she looked around in disbelief she knew her fears had been well founded. She was in a cabin the size of her dressing room at home, perhaps even smaller. It was dark and gloomy and had a very particular smell. She wrinkled her nose as she tried to define it. Oh my Lord, strong liquor, tobacco and that very distinct smell of man! Elizabeth was reminded of her father's room after a long night of card playing.
"These are to be my quarters?" she asked Jack, desperately hoping that this was his idea of a joke.
"Indeed madam, I felt it only proper that you be quartered well. This is my own cabin; I shall share with Dr. Maturin until we reach Spain."
Elizabeth took a very deep breath and with her handkerchief pressed delicately to her nose looked up into Jack's face. Lordy! He really believed he had given her the most luxurious accommodation. So be it, she would make an effort, after all it would only be for a short time.
"Captain Aubrey, I appreciate your generosity in giving me safe passage to be with Peter, Rachel and I will try not to be a burden to you or your crew. Now, where are our sleeping quarters?" Jack pointed his right index finger upwards. Elizabeth lifted her eyes. "I am sorry Sir I do not follow."
Jacks tongue reached into the corner of his mouth and then came that slow smile. It was a look she had seen many times before. She smiled back at him sweetly,
"You have the better of me I am afraid I I do not understand you. My bedchamber?" Jackís finger stayed exactly where it was. As Rachel entered the cabin, Jack laughed and said,
"Above you Lady Rossi is where you will both sleep, and now I bid you both goodnight!" As Elizabeth looked at Rachel hoping for some insight into Jacks explanation, the realisation hit them both,
"Hammocks!" they shrieked in unison.
Jack closed the heavy door and smiled broadly, this trip might indeed be most amusing.
Elizabeth and Rachel looked at each other and began to laugh. They were more than mistress and servant they were friends. They had grown up together Rachel being the only child of Elizabethís motherís ladyís maid Mary McQuire. As the child of a true and trusted servant they had all played together, Elizabeth, Rachel and Elizabethís brother James. When James had died, in a tragic and senseless hunting accident at the age of twenty-three, it had broken not only Emma Jacksonís heart but Maryís too. The women had died within weeks of each other leaving behind two husbands and two daughters.
John McQuire had been happy to leave his daughter in the care of the great Samuel Jackson, he knew she would be well looked after and have a place in life. Rachel had grown up well educated yet still mindful of her place. Mistress and servant had a very special bond, a friendship that transcended class, a trust, just as their mothers before them. So it was that when from time to time the mighty Captain Aubrey shared Elizabethís bed Rachel happily kept their confidence, and when Jacob Matthews the under butler crept up the servantsí stair to Rachelís bed, Elizabeth held that knowledge and was happy for her friend.
As the women changed into night attire, they contemplated how they might sleep in "hanging beds." Eventually amidst much giggling they managed to lurch into the hanging canvasses. Comfort notwithstanding sleep overtook them both quickly. After some hours Elizabeth awoke and quickly realised she felt quite ill. She was aware of the violent swinging sensation around her body and she fought to make sense of it. She felt Rachelís arm on hers across the hammocks.
"Lady Elizabeth what is happening?" but Elizabeth felt too ill to speak; she could not even turn her head. "Lady Elizabeth are you woken?" Rachel questioned. With great effort she managed to say,"we are at sea Rachel." Seemingly content with this explanation Rachel drifted back to sleep, but sleep was now lost to her mistress. She spent the next hours with her hands clasped firmly to the sides of her hanging cot trying, and failing miserably, to keep it steady. As night finally began to meet day she drifted into uneasy slumber. What seemed to her to be only minutes later she heard Rachelís voice. It sounded far away.
"Madam, madam it is morning. The ship is awake!"
As Elizabeth opened her eyes she tried to make sense of her surroundings. Reality hit her quickly, Peter, The Surprise, Jack Aubrey. Tentatively she moved her head, it felt almost normal.
Elizabeth sat up with some confidence, immediately nausea swept over her and she fell back with a thump. Her head and stomach spinning, she lay as still as she could. Rachel was concerned. Elizabethís pallor was grey and small beads of sweat were appearing on her forehead. Rachel was fearful that her mistress had succumbed to the same disease as Lord Peter and she realised with dread, that she had no idea what to do. They were aboard a ship, a ship at sea. She needed to find Captain Aubrey.
She found the door of the great cabin, and as she fought to open it, her knees buckled beneath her as it's weight hit her, on her knees she looked up and saw him filling the doorway.
"Sir, Lady Rossi is sick!" she gasped. Jack held out his hand to aid Rachel to her feet.
"Where is your mistress?"
"Still abed Sir"
"Then let us look to her Rachel," Jack said taking control. As he stared down at his beloved Elizabeth panic swept over him, she lay still and grey.
"Captain Aubrey is she dying?"
"Of course not" Jack replied with a certainty he did not feel. Jack was torn, had she been sick before she came on board, was the ship the cause of her sickness, and how would her illness affect his ship? He did not intend to turn for home. Stephen, he needed to talk to Stephen. "Stay with Lady Rossi Rachel, I will fetch Doctor Maturin!" He hoped his voice sounded calmer than his heart felt.
As he crashed into Stephenís quarters, not bothering with the formality of knocking first, a sense of calm enveloped him. Stephen was seated at his desk, spectacles pushed to the end of his long nose, cataloguing specimens. He peered over the top of his eyeglasses and said cheerfully
"Good morning Captain, to what do I owe this pleasure?"
"Elizabeth, she is sick Stephen!"
Doctor Maturin stood up and held out his hand to touch Jackís arm, "calm down Jack, I will come immediately." He grabbed his bag.
Minutes later Stephen came out of the cabin to find his friend pacing, hands clasped firmly behind his back. "Well?" He asked brusquely.
"Well my friend, the lady is indeed unwell."
"I am quite aware of that doctor, do you know what ails her?"
"As a matter of fact I do. Lady Elizabeth is suffering from sea sickness."
Aubrey's face broke into a grin and he slapped Doctor Maturin firmly on the back.