Authors: Cynthia Wright
"Bat'house in back," Retta whispered. Seeing Adrienne's quizzical look, the girl led her across the hall to a window overlooking the gravel yard behind the house. There were various stucco, tile-roofed outbuildings there, but Retta pointed to a pair at one end. "You take de bath in dere."
"What's the other one for?"
The girl dropped her eyes again and muttered what sounded like "Earth closet."
Adrienne didn't press the matter. Retta headed toward the servants' stairs at one end of the hallway and turned back before descending. "I bring somet'ing to eat an' drink. Supper at eight o'clock."
"Don't bring anything upstairs. I'll come down. I'd like to look at Captain Raveneau's library."
Retta looked surprised by this announcement, but made no protest before she hurried soundlessly down the narrow staircase.
* * *
Alone, Adrienne set to work in her new bedchamber. After bathing as best she could, she brushed her hair until it shone again and pinned it back up, loosely, with tortoise-shell combs. Already the tropical air was making her hair curlier, and the effect was charming. Finally she donned clean undergarments and another gown from the trunk on board the
This one was fashioned of light jaconet muslin, and the bodice was just a bit too snug, displaying rather more of her breasts than Adrienne would have preferred. However, since she had no wardrobe of her own, it would have to do.
She was feeling much fresher when she went downstairs to the library. Retta was coming in the back door from the kitchen just then, carrying a tray with a plate of cakes and sliced fruit and a pitcher of something that looked like fruit juice.
"You ready now?" the girl inquired. "De Captain do know you going in dere?"
Realizing that this must be her title for Nathan, Adrienne drew herself up. "He doesn't need to know. This is my home now too."
Retta shrugged. She gestured for her new mistress to precede her into the big library, then busied herself laying out the dishes from the tray, pretending not to notice that Raveneau was sitting at the desk.
"Ah, Retta, is that my planter's punch?" he asked without turning. Ledgers and account books were spread before him, and he had rolled up the sleeves of his shirt. "I can taste it already."
"Yessir." Retta poured a tall glass from the pitcher and hurried over to the desk. "I bring you pawpaw an' piece of lime, an' cake."
The moment he glanced up, he saw Retta's nervous backward glance and swiveled in his chair. There was Adrienne, fresh and lovely, pouring her own glass of planter's punch. With an effort, Nathan kept his voice even. "Adrienne, what brings you into my library?"
"I try to tell her, Captain—" Retta blurted out, then bit her tongue.
"Tell me what?" asked Adrienne.
"Retta, you may leave us." When she had gone, Nathan watched through the window until the girl entered the detached kitchen outdoors. Then he put down his quill and stood up. "Perhaps I failed to explain that this is not only my library but my study as well." He waited, brows raised.
"You stress the word 'my' in a way that makes me wonder if that arrangement will continue even after our wedding. Will all of the house be yours except
bedchamber?" Adrienne's cheeks were turning pinker as she sipped the fruit-flavored drink. "Am I to ask permission before entering one of
"You're talking nonsense."
"Am I?" Boldly she slipped one of his treasured volumes of Shakespeare from its place on the shelf and sat down in a strange-looking chair that forced her to recline. "Then you won't mind if I stay?"
"I am trying to go over the books to see how much damage Owen Horner has done."
"I won't bother you. I'll be quiet as a mouse." Adrienne squirmed. "What sort of chair is
Nathan couldn't help laughing. "It's called a planter's chair; designed for the master of the house to enjoy on a hot afternoon, while sipping a bit of grog." He drank from his glass of punch and walked closer. "You see, there are these extensions under the chair's arms...." He demonstrated, folding out what looked like long, flat wooden paddles. "Some men rest their legs up on these to cool off in the heat. Others use them when they want their boots removed."
"Planter's punch and the planter's chair," Adrienne mused with a note of irony. " 'Twould seem that the planter imagines himself a man of leisure!"
"Keep that in mind when you're sipping the punch," he parried. "There's more rum in it than you'd guess. Too much and you'll be reclining unconscious in that chair, just like one of the planters it's named for." With that, Nathan returned to his desk. He ate slices of papaya drizzled with lime juice, shuffled papers, wrote notations in the ledgers, and made a special point of ignoring Adrienne.
"You haven't told me how you will take possession of my father's land," she said after a few minutes of silence. "How will he know the outcome of your agreement?"
"We dropped two crew members on the northwest coast of France, near Brest, the same night you and I... reached this arrangement." Nathan couldn't bring himself to say the word "marry," it seemed. Slowly he turned again in his chair to look at her. "I thought I told you, but perhaps I forgot—"
"Quite possibly," Adrienne agreed sweetly. "Following your romantic proposal of marriage, you barely spoke to me for the rest of the voyage."
He gave her a chilly smile. "I sent Duffy and Keane to your parents' chateau, carrying a letter from me that explained our... plans. I requested, if they approve, that your father send me the deed to his land and that they also allow my men to transport any possessions of yours that you might want."
"Wasn't it rather coldblooded to just write to them, without sending a word of reassurance from me? They've always expected to be with me on my wedding day, to know my husband and to share in our joy."
"Then, given our situation, isn't it just as well that they won't be here?"
Adrienne told herself he was purposely being difficult and tried to shake it off. After all, she had free will and could write to her mother and father without consulting Nathan. "How will your men get from France back to Barbados, when we have sailed on without them?"
"There are plenty of ships sailing to and from French ports, and I gave Duffy and Keane ample funds to buy passage. One of my own family's ships might be taking on cargo at Nantes, if I have the schedule right." He turned back to his ledgers. "We should have word soon."
"At least I'll be glad to have my own clothing, so that I won't have to continue wearing hand-me-downs from your lover's trunk."
Nathan declined the bait. "I've made other arrangements as well. A dressmaker from Bridgetown's best shop will visit you tomorrow. You may choose as many gowns and other garments as you like."
"Are we going to wait to marry until we have word from my father? What about your promise to Orchid?"
"See here, I simply don't have time for this!" Nathan rose again, advancing on Adrienne in her planter's chair and lifting her to her feet. "I told you that I had work to do, but you insisted on invading my privacy anyway." He led her into the long, breezy gallery and firmly deposited her on a mahogany-and-wicker chaise. "Here is your book."
Stung, Adrienne lifted her chin as he started back into the library. "What about my glass of punch?"
"I'll have Retta bring you some tea instead." With those parting words, Nathan closed the door between the library and gallery and leaned back against it, his heart thudding. He could never let her know that it wasn't her chatter that maddened him so, but his own gnawing attraction to her.
It was terrifying to consider the chaos that would ensue in Raveneau's well-ordered existence if he ever lost his head over that woman.
It was simply unthinkable.
"It need time," Orchid assured Adrienne as she poured her breakfast tea and admired the breathtaking view from the balcony that opened off her new mistress's bedchamber. The guinea fowl were calling from the gardens, and the air was scented with the flowers of ylang-ylang trees. "You make new life."
"I had such hopes when we arrived, but this is our third day at Tempest Hall, and I feel more lost than I did then." She spread guava jam on bread, sighing. "I never see Nathan...."
"He go away on he ship so long, dere too much work now. You have sugar, Mistress?"
"Orchid, you shouldn't be calling me that, or waiting on me! Won't you sit down and chat for a little while? Part of my problem is plain old loneliness."
"Custom is best," the old woman declared, but she needed no further urging. She took the other chair and lowered herself into it. "Maybe I break one custom wit you, Mistress. De captain is a fortunate man."
"You are ill and you can do anything you please. You certainly shouldn't be climbing stairs! If Retta is busy, I can come down. Here, have some tea."
She held up a hand. "No." A wry smile curved her withered mouth. "You scare me off, talking like dat, Mistress."
"Tell me, is Nathan always away so much? Even when he's not out on the plantation, he's locked in that library, and he's made it clear that he doesn't want me to bother him." Adrienne turned her scrubbed profile into the morning breeze and sighed again. "I must tell you, Orchid, that I don't take naturally to a subservient role. If that's what he'll expect of me as a planter's wife, perhaps I should go back to Europe after all."
"No!" Orchid looked alarmed. "Mustn't say such t'ing! He need you. Men slow to learn, but Captain he have fine spirit. You believe Orchid and wait. If greedy wait, hot will cool. It need time."
She smiled, growing used to the proverbs that Orchid sprinkled through her conversation. "I'm impatient by nature."
"Some reward worth de wait, Mistress."
"You're very cryptic." Suddenly Adrienne's appetite flickered and she took a bite of bread with jam. "Zachary Minter said something like that to me—that I must be patient with Nathan."
"Very true. He like a wild horse dat need taming wit' patience... and other t'ing." Wearing her secret smile, Orchid closed her eyes for a moment, as if resting. "You have a visit from de dressmaker, Sally Ann? She make you pretty, pretty gown."
"Yes. And she brought some things that I was able to keep."
"Ah. Good. Captain not so bad, den." Orchid opened her eyes. "And you have a visit from people up de road?"
She made a face. "The Harrisons and the Terrills? Those men were just what I feared planters might be—overfed and supercilious! And their wives were terribly pretentious. That's what happens to people who think they can
"What you mean, Mistress?"
"It turns them, I think, like curdled milk. All their good instincts are replaced by habits like gluttony, vanity, and selfishness. How else can they live with themselves?"
Orchid shook her head slowly. "Don't judge too harsh. People bend to de way of de neighbor. Slavery part of life here."
"It will be if no one ever speaks out," Adrienne asserted. "Let me ask you something else—about one of our other neighbors on the island."
"Xavier Crowe." When Orchid began to turn away instinctively, Adrienne put a hand on her thin arm. "Is it a crime to speak his name?"
"He a bad man!"
"Orchid, tell me, isn't there another reason Nathan hates him so? Something more... personal?"
She pressed her lips together. "Could be. But I not say. Talk does make talk."
Before Adrienne could reply, she heard hoofbeats emerging from the shelter of the mahogany forest, followed by the sound of a familiar voice that carried up to the balcony.
Her heart lifted. "Hello, Mr. Minter!" Happily, she stood up and waved to the red-headed figure on horseback as he approached the open gates to Tempest Hall. There was someone else riding behind him: a handsome older man with white hair. "I'll be right down!"
Orchid insisted that her impulsive mistress take the time to choose proper attire and to fix her hair, and Adrienne reluctantly agreed. She slipped into an airy high-waisted gown sprigged with tiny flowers and trimmed with a froth of lace. Her hair was upswept into a cascade of chestnut curls fastened with pearl combs. The effect was enchanting.
"Will I do?"
Orchid nodded, managing a tired smile, and Adrienne insisted upon helping her down the stairs. They were just emerging into the cool hallway next to the library when Nathan appeared, his tanned face a shade paler with shock.
"Yessir," Orchid confirmed before he could speak. "I know who be here."
"I thought perhaps I was having a sunstroke," he muttered. "We'll have to have refreshments, Orchid."
Adrienne spoke up. "She's in pain, Nathan. I think Orchid should lie down for a few hours. Shall I go and help Retta?"
"No!" He caught her arm. In his open white shirt, biscuit breeches, and top boots, Nathan exuded masculine appeal. He hadn't shaved that morning, and his black hair curled over his collar. "You'll have to come with me to greet our guests, though God knows I'd like to hide you somewhere."