"What on earth can she be like, do you think?" Elizabeth asked, raising one hand to shield her eyes, as though a clearer examination of the berthing ship might provide additional information about the person travelling aboard.
"We're about to find out," Will pointed out, not very interested.
It wasn't really as though the question were anything new, Elizabeth supposed. She had been asking it ever since Norrington had returned from St Kitts with the simultaneously entirely reasonable and utterly flabberghasting news that he was getting married. The lady would be sailing out soon, to oversee the outfitting of their new home (the current quarters he was occupying being obviously quite unsuitable) and for the wedding. It had been Elizabeth's suggestion that the bride-to-be stay for that period with them, and be married from the mansion.
It had seemed an excellent idea at the time. Now, waiting by the carriage at the end of the dock, Elizabeth was far less certain. What on earth would she be like, this woman who had accepted the man who had once proposed to Elizabeth? (Had he been as stiff the second time, she wondered, or had he improved with practice?)
She didn't know what on earth was taking all the time about this ship-tying-up business, but finally there was movement on the deck that wasn't sailors, and on the dock she could see Norrington step forward towards the gangway. Offering his assistance, no doubt. And now her father stepping forward. It would not take them long to walk down the dock to where she and Will waited. Not long at all.
She looked distracedly at Will, who was wearing that look of vague concern that could mean anything from his having got soot on his best coat again to more undead pirates on the loose. "What?"
"You're not nervous, are you?" Will sounded honestly perplexed by the very notion. "She's just a woman."
Elizabeth opened her mouth, but how could she explain? How could she even begin? How could she say to her husband that this wasn't just a woman, this was Norrington's woman? So she tried again, her brightest voice, and said, "Of course not."
And then there were footsteps on wood and no time for further questions. She had to turn her attention and her best smile to her father and Norrington and the woman walking between them, her hand on Norrington's arm. She was nothing like Elizabeth had expected, though she didn't know what she had been anticipating. She was taller than Elizabeth, her hair darker and dressed up under a wide-brimmed hat of quite fetching pale blue, matching her dress which was so beautifully simple in its line that Elizabeth couldn't even guess if it were fashionable or not. She turned completely to face them, and felt Will step up to her side and slightly behind her.
Norrington was almost smiling, she noticed. "May I present Miss Genevieve Marsh," he said, sounding quite delighted to be doing so. "Genevieve, this is Mr and Mrs Turner."
Will bowed, Elizabeth bobbed a curtsey that was matched by Miss Marsh. "Welcome to Port Royal," Elizabeth said. "It is such an honour to meet you."
"Oh, the honour is quite mine, I'm sure." Her voice was darker, surer, than Elizabeth had thought it would be, too. Her smile was warm but tranquil, unruffled, like a calm sea. "I cannot tell you how grateful I am for your kind hospitality. I am entirely indebted to you."
"Not at all," Elizabeth's father cut in, thoroughly chuffed, hands behind his back and all joviality. "It's our pleasure."
"It's a great kindness," Miss Marsh insisted, her smile from under her hat brim sliding from the Governor back to Elizabeth, and widening. "Though I feel I know you all already. I have heard so much about you."
Had she? Elizabeth looked at Norrington, but he was watching Miss Marsh.
Elizabeth turned back from the window. Miss Marsh smiled from the centre of her room. Despite the fact that these were rooms in Elizabeth's home set aside for guests and despite the fact that they'd been here all of a quarter of an hour while Elizabeth made their guest welcome, this was definitely Miss Marsh's room; she seemed immediately, serenely at home in a way that made Elizabeth feel even more uncomfortable. "Pardon?" Elizabeth said.
"I'm sorry, it is too soon for such intimacies, isn't it?" She came forward to join Elizabeth at the window, looking out over the hillside view. "It is just that I do feel as though I know you already, James has spoken of you so often."
"We have heard a great deal of you, also," Elizabeth noted.
Miss Marsh tilted her head, looking down at her hand on the windowsill. In the room behind them her maid - a sharp-eyed woman of few, short words; Elizabeth didn't see how Miss Marsh could deal with her - directed the servants in the best placement of the last of the boxes and packages from the ship.
"I should leave you to settle in more fully," Elizabeth said, stepping away from the window again. "We will see you at dinner, though, yes? At seven. Norrington will be joining us, of course."
"Of course," Miss Marsh repeated, turning to face Elizabeth, her face quite settled. She was always so calm! Though it gave her face a certain something, Elizabeth thought. She was not beautiful. Nor was pretty quite the right word.
Oh, enough. "Until then," Elizabeth said. She tried her best to close the door quietly behind her.
They had a reception for Miss Marsh that Thursday, because otherwise Elizabeth knew she'd just have people on her doorstep every hour of the day and night, full of curiosity and transparent excuses. It would have been twice as bad as the business over her own nuptuals.
Everybody came, of course. At least, if it wasn't everybody, Elizabeth didn't like to think about how many there might have been. It was quite bewildering, and every time she caught a glimpse of Miss Marsh, the other lady was so serene it made Elizabeth feel twice as flustered.
When she escaped out onto the side verandah, Norrington was there before her, sipping his tea while leaning against a pillar and watching the horizon. He turned and gave her a raised eyebrow and half a quizzical smile. "What are you doing out here?" she demanded, annoyed to hear she sounded as harried as she felt.
His smile turned into a full one. "They haven't come to see me, Elizabeth. I'd just be in the way."
He was, as was so aggravatingly often the case, right. "You could be offering her your support." Will would do that, she thought. He would never stray from her side when she needed his strength.
"She knows she has it," Norrington said, lifting his teacup again and watching her over the rim. "You could be offering her yours."
"She doesn't need it," Elizabeth stated, admitted, thinking again of the serenity of Miss Marsh's countenance. Norrington looked into his teacup, and she had the uncomfortable feeling that she'd said something wrong. But it was just the truth! "She's quite lovely," she offered.
The quick flash of his smile was amused. "She is, yes. Thank you for your approval."
Exasperating man. "You know what I mean. She's good enough for you. Stop laughing at me!" But she couldn't help her own grin. Couldn't help thinking that if he'd always been this easy to talk to she might have been more seriously interested in marrying him. If not for Will, of course. Always if not for Will. "Though what sort of a name is Genevieve, honestly."
He replied with the careful calm of a very amused Norrington. "It's French."
"French!" That was actually a little startling. "Oh, James, tell me you're not marrying a Frenchwoman."
"He's not," said a new voice behind them, a dark, sure voice that made Elizabeth jump and turn around and almost blush, bunching her hands in her skirt. Miss Marsh crossed from the door, her smile small and pleasant. "But my father did. Please excuse me, Mrs Turner; James," she tucked her hand into Norrington's elbow, "I'm afraid your presence is required."
They went into the house. She vaguely heard, over her own mortification, him saying something about being fed to the lions, and Miss Marsh laughing.
She'd changed her mind. Miss Genevieve Marsh was everything she'd expected of Norrington's wife. Perfectly dressed, perfectly demure, perfectly well-mannered. Elizabeth would be willing to wager anything at all that Miss Marsh had never said anything even remotely imprudent to anyone, and that just made her more annoyed because it wasn't ladylike at all to lay wagers and thus Miss Marsh had probably never done that either.
It was the poise that grated the most, though. That implacable calm, the slow and moderate tilt of her steady smile, the wafting serenity that was bundled about her as though she were insulated from every inconvenience of the world. What was it? The way she held herself, her movements, her entire air?
Elizabeth tried it, towards the end of the reception. Did her best for a full five minutes to emulate Miss Marsh's calm demeanour. But all that happened was that Will asked her, wearing that frown again, if she felt quite well, so Elizabeth gave it up.
"Would it be alright," Miss Marsh asked at breakfast the next day, "if I received Mr Kettering this afternoon?"
"Mr Kettering?" Elizabeth's father repeated, uncertainly.
"He's a musical man," Miss Marsh explained. "And Mrs Kettering indicated that he might be of use to me in retuning my harp."
Her harp. Yes, Miss Marsh played the harp. Elizabeth helped to get it appropriately unpacked and situated in the drawing room (well, Will helped and she watched) and as far as she could tell, it was a full-sized specimen of the instrument, requiring a stand and a stool and heaven knew what else, probably sacrifices to heathen gods, to make it playable. Mr Kettering and Miss Marsh hovered over it for most of the afternoon, plucking this and pulling faces at that, though Elizabeth could not tell what they were doing and what was so wrong.
There was something soothing about the irregularity of the musical plinks, and Elizabeth was quite embarrassed to discover that she'd drifted off in her windows seat, jerking awake and upright with an excuse on her lips. She needn't have bothered; neither of them seemed to have noticed, engrossed in their task.
Miss Marsh played for them that evening, when Norrington joined them after dinner. It was the most beautiful thing Elizabeth had ever heard. She let the music wash over her, resting her head on Will's shoulder, trying to work out how the elegant precision of Genevieve's fingers splayed over the strings could possibly result in the wild, rippling spill of notes.
When Elizabeth thought to look to Norrington - once the song was finished and Miss Marsh was receiving their applause with a pleased blush - he was smiling at his fiancee with pride and joy no less shining for the lack of voice he gave to it.
Later, Elizabeth lingered in the drawing room, helping to cover the harp appropriately. "That was truly wonderful, Miss Marsh," she said, finding herself in need of more earnestness than she'd ever tried to communicate before.
Miss Marsh's answering smile was the broadest and easiest Elizabeth though she had seen from her yet. Joyful, but simple. "You do not play yourself?"
"I... do not have the temperament," Elizabeth said with a blush.
"You may be surprised," the other lady said, and when Elizabeth looked at her, she smiled uncertainly. "Mrs Turner, there is something I have been hoping to have an opportunity to ask you."
Elizabeth wondered why she should feel so nervous at those words. "Anything, of course."
Miss Marsh smoothed the covering, and checked the cord was tied once more before standing up, and lifting her gaze to Elizabeth's. "I was hoping you might do me the honour of attending me at the wedding."
Elizabeth had no idea what to say. She wasn't sure what she should say, let alone what she wanted to say.
But even as she opened her mouth to try, Miss Marsh spoke again. "You need not answer immediately, of course. Please, simply consider it. There is plenty of time." She smiled again, faint, flickering in the light from the last candles.
Once, Elizabeth thought, once Norrington had wanted to marry her. And she'd thought... what had she thought then? It should not be so hard to remember, it was barely more than a year ago.
She had thought it would be a great honour. He was, she knew, she knew then, one of the very best of men. Maybe that had been the cause of her hesitation. She was not, after all, the very best of women.
Was Genevieve Marsh? Elizabeth suspected so. She would have no trouble at all with all the things that had bothered Elizabeth so about the idea of being married to the Commodore. The things she'd made lists of in her head until they closed in around her, choking her more surely than the dratted corsets to which she'd grown accustomed.
Miss Marsh was not afraid of being Mrs Norrington.
Elizabeth wondered, in fact, if she was afraid of anything at all. She found the pair, one day, in the midst of what she could only describe as an argument. Elizabeth hesitated a moment behind the hedge, unwilling to break in to deliver her message that luncheon was ready while they were so heated. Miss Marsh's colour was high, her chin up, and Norrington's face quite ferociously stern as he said, "This matter is not your concern, Genevieve."
"It is my concern if I think you're being foolish," she retorted.
"And you do," he stated, biting out the words.
But she didn't even flinch. "And I do. Honestly, James, you have told me yourself; he's a pirate!"
"He has taken an amnesty and purchased his letter of marque--"
"But he's still a pirate!" Elizabeth did not think she had ever heard anyone else interrupt Norrington.
"Enough." Just that word, but Miss Marsh stopped, closed her mouth, lowered her hands to clasp them in front of her. Norrington took them, lifted them to press a kiss to her knuckle. "On this, you must trust me."
She smiled, fleeting and sharp. "I suppose I must."
Elizabeth watched them at luncheon, and they were quite unchanged, and by barely ten minutes into the meal Miss Marsh had said something quiet that made him smile.
Elizabeth watched them and thought that Norrington loved Genevieve.
She wondered why on earth he had ever loved her.
Elizabeth came awake suddenly in the night, sitting up straight in bed, but a hand clamped over her mouth before she could make a sound. Will, Will's hand, Will's arm around her, and his voice in her ear: "The hall window. Someone's coming through it."
She pulled his fingers away from her mouth so she could whisper. "Is it...?"
"Who else?" He sounded more amused than sardonic, sliding out of bed, and she smiled in the darkness. Who else indeed?
Fumbling for a shawl in the dark, Elizabeth heard Will find the lamp. She was just behind him out the door and into the hall. Where she smiled again to see a familiar spangled shadow in the last stages of slipping in. A boot heel caught against the sill, and he staggered, the quiet yelp of a curse just as familiar, as Elizabeth stepped forward to catch him by the shoulders as his arms windmilled. Will, working on lighting the lamp, chuckled.
"Some people," she muttered in the intruder's ear, "try using the front door."
The moonlight outside reflected in Jack's grin. "Some people are boring."
"It's not as though you're still a criminal," Elizabeth was saying, when in the darkness behind them, a metallic, sliding click sounded. Jack's shoulder twitched under Elizabeth's hand, and they turned steadily, carefully, even as the lamp blossomed into warm light in Will's hands.
Beyond him in the hall stood Miss Marsh, pistol raised and aimed. "Mr and Mrs Turner." She sounded a little surprised, but the gun did not waver. "What is going on?"
In Elizabeth's peripheral vision, Jack seemed thankfully, if oddly, subdued and unlikely to cause any trouble. "Miss Marsh, I should like to present Captain Jack Sparrow," she said, trying her best to sound as though midnight introductions were the sort of thing she performed all the time.
"Sparrow." Genevieve's voice somehow tighter than Elizabeth had heard it before. A little clipped. Her hand was so steady. "I have heard a great deal about you."
"Have you now?" Jack beamed.
"Jack," Elizabeth continued, "this is Miss Genevieve Marsh, Commodore Norrington's fiancee."
"Really?" When Elizabeth looked at Jack, he was eyeing Miss Marsh with blatant appraisal, though not as though she were a woman, nor even as a ship. Elizabeth might have likened it to the consideration he'd give a stormfront or a manned fort.
When Elizabeth looked at Genevieve, she was returning the gaze steadily, one eyebrow lifted. The whole house was silent, and Elizabeth wondered if Will was holding his breath as well. And then Genevieve lifted the pistol away, toward the ceiling, uncocking it. "Yes," she said, "really."
"Wonderful!" Just like that, Jack was back in full spirits, with a flutter of hands and a grin. "Lovely chap, the Commodore, he'll go a long way."
"He says the same thing about you," Miss Marsh replied, her tone quite sweet. With a nod to them all, she continued, "I believe I shall retire. Good night."
"I like her a lot," Jack said at a late breakfast, with emphatic intonation. He took a bite out of a buttered muffin, and added, "She'sh jusht what he needsh."
"I'm sure he'd be thrilled by your approbation," Elizabeth said, cradling her tea.
Jack squinted at her. "Think so?"
Before she could summon more than a scathing look, both of the subjects came into the dining room. Miss Marsh looked, Elizabeth thought, pretty and well-dressed and pleasant and nothing at all like a woman who could have trained a pistol on an intruder in the middle of the night.
"Commodore!" Jack declared joyfully, flourishing the butter knife.
"Sparrow," Norrington responded in a more equable tone. "I saw the Black Pearl in the harbour this morning and thought you might be here."
"Creature of habit, me," Jack agreed affably. "Muffin?"
"We've breakfasted," Miss Marsh demurred. "Actually, James and I were going to ride out and see how things were progressing at the house. Would you care to join us? We could take a picnic lunch and make an outing of it."
So that is what they did.
It was a beautiful day, and Norrington's house was just out of town, on the other side of the promontory and overlooking a delightful little beach. It wasn't a large house, but it was very well situated, and on its way to being quite well appointed, Norrington showing them through while Miss Marsh outlined with quiet pride her plans for this room or the other.
The lawn sloped down towards a stand of tangled undergrowth between it and the beach, and a beautiful large, spreading tree shaded the lawn. They had their lunch beneath it and lingered, enjoying the beautiful day. Jack climbed the tree with the skill of a monkey, and no one batted an eyelid. Will seemed likely to fall asleep, and Elizabeth was drifting pleasantly herself and in no mood to join in when Norrington suggested a walk down to the beach.
Will blinked awake, watching the affianced couple walk slowly down the lawn. "Shouldn't someone act chaperone?" he asked muzzily.
"I don't want to get up," Elizabeth stated.
From amidst the foliage over their heads, Jack said, "Well, if you can't trust the Commodore with the virtue of a lady, who can you trust?"
The couple disappeared down the path to the beach. Elizabeth drifted again. Will snored a little, before he rolled onto his side and settled. The large squirrel made large squirrelish noises, skitters and clatters, and she jumped and almost shrieked when he landed next to her on the blanket with a thump and a small shower of leaves.
He grinned. "Ready for a walk? It's a very nice beach. Saw it from the top of the tree."
She glared at him. "Well, since I'm awake now." She took the offered hand, and let him help her to her feet. A last glance showed that Will was sleeping quite soundly. "But not too long."
They set off down the lawn, Elizabeth shredding one of the leaves Jack had dropped on her head.
"So what's your problem with Genevieve?" Jack asked without preamble.
Elizabeth sighed. Genevieve already? No surprise with Jack, she supposed. "I don't have a problem with her."
"Right." He nodded, for all appearances entirely satisfied, and Elizabeth sighed again.
"I don't, really. It's just... I'm not really that good with other women, you know." They entered the little path through the undergrowth, which meant she could duck her head, keep her eyes on the uncertain ground. "And, well..."
"And she's the one Norrington chose." Jack stopped at the bend, forcing her to stop as well, forcing her to look up at him. His dark eyes could be so closed sometimes. She never knew what he was thinking. "Elizabeth, do you regret turning him down?"
Such a serious question from Jack required serious thought to answer it. She turned and looked back up the lawn, smiling to see Will still sprawled beneath the tree. Will, her Will, who she had claimed as hers long ago on some level below admitting.
The smile remained as she looked back to Jack. "No, no I don't."
But his eyes were still dark and closed. "You might have been happy with him."
Elizabeth blinked in astonishment. "Are you serious, Jack? Me, happy as the Commodore's wife? I'm not... I couldn't... Jack, I'm not like Genevieve."
He smiled then, that little smirk he got when he was ever so pleased with himself or circumstances or something, and she braced herself even as his hand closed around her wrist, tugging her around the bend in the path and on for the few steps it took before they were clear of the trees and into the sunshine, Elizabeth sheilding her eyes even as she said, "Oh, honestly, Jack, sometimes you're the most infuriating..."
She trailed off as she saw them. Two figures on the beach, below and before them, running, the one chasing the other and Genevieve in the lead, laughing, Elizabeth could hear it faintly on the breeze, as she splashed across a wave splayed on the beach, her skirts lifted and - and goodnes - her legs bare (where on earth were her shoes and stockings?). She looked back over her shoulder and the wind blew her hair into her eyes; she hesitated, and Norrington (heavens, he was barefoot too!) caught her, an arm wrapped around her waist and spinning her as she shrieked. And then swinging her - and Elizabeth gasped, her free hand coming up to her mouth - swinging her over his shoulder as Genevieve kicked in a froth of petticoats and drummed her palms on his back and laughed. Her laughter and his mingled on the salt wind off the sea and tickled at Elizabeth's ears.
"Oh," Elizabeth said.
She wondered why it should come as such a surprise. Norrington had wanted her, had he not? Even though he had watched her grow from an impertinent little miss into one a little taller. He knew what sort of woman she was, he knew and he still had wanted her.
But it was a surprise. She had not known. She had thought only of what the Commodore's wife would have to be, without thinking of what Norrington might require. She had not thought, and would never have known, would never have had this moment, had she chosen differently despite it all.
On the beach, Norrington had set Genevieve on her feet again, for which she repaid him by hitching up her skirt again and kicking water in his direction. Elizabeth smiled, looked at Jack, and said, "I still do not regret it."
Jack offered his arm, the very definition of gallant. "Shall we go back?"
Will was still asleep when they returned to the picnic blanket, and remained so until Norrington and Genevieve returned. He blinked up at them, quite astonished at the wildness of her hair, the spots on Norrington's shirt.
"Oh, ah," Genevieve said with a faint blush, trying to shape her hair with a hand. "The wind was quite fierce on the beach."
"Quite awful," Elizabeth agreed, and at two startled glances, she smiled and added, "We could see it tossing the trees from up here. Just as well they're there."
Jack snorted behind her, but Elizabeth ignored him, standing to step to Genevieve's side. "Please, let me help you there. The gentlemen can pack this back into the carriage and by the time we're finished you'll be quite tidy again."
Genevieve looked at her, a combination of startled and something softer, something tremulous that Elizabeth might think was hope. She smiled. "Thank you, Mrs Turner."
"Elizabeth, please," she said, stepping around behind the other woman. As she found the thwarted pins and started to gather the tangled locks, she added, teasing, "Formality hardly seems appropriate any longer."
Genevieve let out a little laugh. "I'm afraid I must look quite a fright."
"Not at all, just a little mussed. And that's easily fixed." She pushed the pins back into place. "There." Turning Genevieve around, Elizabeth considered the effect. "I'll never make a lady's maid, but that should see you home at least."
Genevieve's smile was calm but bright, and Elizabeth thought it was a very nice smile indeed. She looked over to the carriage, where the menfolk were waiting. "Just one more thing."
Elizabeth took a deep breath. "If the invitation to attend you at the wedding is still open, I should be honoured to accept it."
This smile was like the sun coming out, like the settled glory of a summer's day, and Genevieve threw her arms around Elizabeth's neck. "Thank you, Elizabeth," Genevieve said fervently.
Elizabeth hugged her back, smiling herself. "No, thank you, Genevieve."
The Other Woman by dee
Written for Sheila's "The Commodore and Mrs Norrington" challenge. I flatter myself she's not a Mary-Sue, but who am I kidding?