"Home is the sailor"
The title is taken from the epitaph on Robert Louis Stevenson's tomb, but the story is set in 1802, during the short peace following the Treaty of Amiens. A captured blockade runner built in America is making a voyage from London to Kingston in Jamaica and is the target of privateers turned pirates by the peace.
Isabella read Tristan’s response three times before she harried a recovering Sheba into helping her prepare. <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /><st1:City w:st="on">Jackson</st1:City> was next. She remembered Tristan’s sweet tooth and had him break out some sugared confections from her cabin stores, a last minute gift from Lady Charlton.
Then there was nothing to do but wait, each minute passing on leaden feet.
“Ding-ding, ding-ding, ding-ding.” Six bells, another thirty endless minutes till he came.
The pot-bellied stove had warmed and dried the lobby, drawing in enough fresh air to remove the last traces of damp, allowing Isabella to discard the jacket of her high-waisted gown and sit facing the entrance, pretending to read.
There was light enough, although the constant trickle of water down the sloping panes of the skylight overhead testified to the amount of spray coming inboard, and the thud of green water against the roundhouse came so infrequently that each one was a surprise.
Tristan was punctual; the opening of the outer door interrupted the helmsman pealing the time.
Isabella, book still in hand, came to her feet as he appeared at the entrance. “Good afternoon, Lieutenant Marrack.”
“My Lady.” He made his bow and Isabella responded.
“It is good of you to come so promptly.” She was determined to appear gracious. “The weather…” she left the rest unsaid.
“An unfortunate start to your voyage home,” he agreed. “The signs suggest we are sailing clear of the worst and it bodes well for the remainder of the trip.”
Jackson appeared at Tristan’s shoulder, covered tray in hand.
“Would you care to sit?" <st1:City w:st="on">Jackson</st1:City></ST1:p can serve our refreshments.”
Tristan nodded and Isabella resumed her seat, allowing him to sit opposite, the high-sided table between them. Neither spoke as the steward served their tea. Direction were unnecessary, he already knew their preferences.
“Your family?” Isabella felt awkward. Seven years had wrought many changes in Tristan. The boy had become a man, darkly handsome and radiating competence.
“Were well when the last letter was posted.” Dark brown eyes studied her without insolence, taking her measure, drawing her in…
“Will there be anything else, Milady?”
Isabella so intent on Tristan, she had to stifled a start at Jackson’s question. “No. Thank you, Jackson,” she said. “<st1:country-region w:st="on">Sheba</st1:country-region> will get anything else I need.”
Tristan smiled at the sound of Sheba’s name and a dozen words in Island patois triggered a burst of giggling from the passageway.
“That’s not fair.” Isabella had difficulty keeping her expression severe. Tristan knew too much of her history and had reminded <st1:country-region w:st="on">Sheba</st1:country-region> of an incident best forgotten, when she’d tried to play the lady.
“All’s fair in …” his smile finished the quotation.
“It will be the latter, if you’re not careful,” she warned, giving up the struggle to remain serious.
“Is the former on offer?”
She started to shake her head at him…and stopped when she realized how it could be taken.
“You seem confused.” His grin was mischievous.
She gave up and laughed until tears came to her eyes. “You’re still impossible,” she managed. “I should have remembered.”
The next two and a half hours sped by in laughter and memories, <st1:country-region w:st="on">Sheba</st1:country-region> joining in at times. Isabella brought Tristan up to date on Island gossip and the activities of their friends and confessed the disaster of her <st1:City w:st="on">London</st1:City> season. Tristan’s partisan chuckles shrank its proportions and let her laugh at her fears for the future. She didn’t immediately notice he was less forthcoming and put it down to the boredom of blockade duties when she did, too happy to think anything else.