"Sarah had enjoyed humiliating Adrian because she had been humiliated in a society, which had locked her out. When Adrian escaped, she never searched for him; instead, she found her conscience. She freed her servants and slaves and left Carolina for her native Barbados, where she paid the laborers who worked on her family’s sugar plantation. When the prodigal daughter remembered her abuse of Adrian, she grew warm with shame." (In a section of an 18th-century portrait by David Martin appears Dido Elizabeth Belle, born into slavery in the Caribbean, and raised as a free gentlewoman by her great-uncle in England.)
With the coaxing of a blinding sun, silvery chips in the white, sugary sand glistened on the circular beach of the tiny caye. The powerful sea crashed leeward against the barrier reef with a fury that drowned out the shrill call of the seagulls and the deeper voices of men. The sailors’ laughter skipped along the sea on the other side of the island, where the occasional thump of a coconut falling off a tree broke the silence. Water lapping at the shore and for several hundred feet in the distance shimmered a translucent green algae and seaweed resplendent in their underwater plots. The Good Hope was moored on the caye’s rougher side, where the water shined deep and blue.
Adrian and his men, the only people on the isle, giggled at the sensation of walking on land, this being their first docking in months. The sand scrunched under their feet and between their toes as they romped like carefree boys. Farther inland, creeping golden flowers brought smiles to their faces. They ran races and presented the winners with wreaths of fragrant blossoms. Soon, they all had a floral necklace swinging from their necks. They wrestled, climbed palm trees and built castles in the sand. Even washing the sand from their bodies was a delight. The waist-deep water, so clear and warm, caressed their bodies as they floated, dived and splashed.
Adrian broke away from the others and lay on the beach on his back, admiring the bluest of blue skies, not a tuft of a cloud in sight. He followed the gentle flight of butterflies and other insects, whose tropical rainbow colors mesmerized him. Iridescent greens, bold oranges, dramatic blacks, regal reds and daring purples fluttered over Adrian. The sailor let the waking world go and passed into a sleep of abandonment, where he met with Sarah.
“Come back to me, Adrian,” she whispered in his ear. “I miss you. I want you in my life again.”
The sorceress moved away from him, perched herself on a chair opposite his and took his weathered hands in her smooth ones.
“I was stupid and selfish before,” she said. “I didn’t appreciate you enough when you were here by my side, in my bed, at my bidding.”
“You appreciated me all too well,” Adrian said. “As your manservant. It frightened and repulsed me.”
Dropping his hands, she leaned over and kissed him on his cheek.
“I was younger,” she said. “I can do better now. You don’t have to be scared. I need you. In a different way than you need me, but I need you, nonetheless.”
She retook her stiff, sitting position, but her strong emotions transmuted her face into that of an angel.
“Oh beauty,” Adrian said, “That I had to leave you at all is a shame on my part. But I always planned to return to you, to come home, to lay in your arms and hold you in mine.
“This time, it will be better. Our second chance. How long I’ve waited for this day, dreamt of it, longed for it. Oh Sarah, my Sarah. I love you so much that it makes me tremble. I would die for you.
“I was so afraid that you wouldn’t want me – an indentured servant, a serf – that I would not have proved myself enough to you, that you would reject me and send me back out to sea. Thank you, Sarah, for coming to me and telling me and rescuing me from what might have become a lifetime of preparing myself for you.”
Sarah said, “Why do you talk of proving yourself to me? It is you I want. You as you are. It is you I need. Adrian, please believe me.”
Never before had Sarah been so effusive. Adrian’s chest swelled. He held out his hands to Sarah who took them. The mood deepened; the room darkened. Adrian and Sarah were the only two people in the world as are all lovers. It felt like ecstasy; it felt like doom. The air, filled with fiery sparks, outshone thoughts of leaving, no matter what the consequences of staying. Anything could happen, but they would surmount all obstacles, any barriers to intimacy.
They could take on the world and win.
“Forgive me, Adrian, for pushing you away and making you try to change.”
“I forgive you, Sarah,” he said, the words shooting out of his mouth in the power of the moment.
The force of forgiveness swept Adrian off his feet, which was followed by a second rumble – the rush of freedom – exploding inside him. Sarah had undone one chain; she had nullified Adrian’s redemptive mission. Could Adrian love freely, not riddled with feelings of inferiority and the pressure to perform knightly deeds? Was tenderness enough to keep him in their orbit?
Tenderness denotes compassion, which is the essence of humanity’s goodness. Perhaps it takes a quality more sinister to keep lovers melded.
Edward knew the meaning of diabolical in his dealings with women. The quartermaster knew who he was and what he wanted and needed. That is often the way: the evil ones know themselves best and so are able to manipulate others into becoming their handmaidens. Edward slept soundly a few feet from Adrian on the beach. He dreamt of nothing and no one, slumbering in peace.
Adrian, on the other hand, sprang out of his disturbing sleep, remembering Sarah and the dream, and questioned himself and his life. Agitated, he sought out Edward. Adrian crawled over to him. Adrian sat beside him, his left leg pulled up under him, his right one bent. He slumped over his knee. The captain’s sullen miasma clouded Edward’s serenity. He awoke.
“Edward, I’m not happy,” Adrian began.
The burly man sat up and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. Had he heard correctly, he asked himself.
“I’m not happy,” Adrian repeated, as though he could navigate the labyrinthine canals of Edward’s mind. “More than that, I’m miserable.”
“Happiness! What are you talking about, Adrian? Who thinks about being happy? Life goes on.”
“I don’t know. It plagues me so.”
“Life or misery?”
Edward grew worried. He wanted to win his fight for Adrian’s vaulted place but not by default, not because the captain was weakened by anxiety.
“What is it that’s upsetting you so? A delinquent sailor? The hidden future? A bad dream?”
“I should have known. Women bring trouble with them. You can’t trust them.”
“Edward, what are you saying?”
“I’m saying I like women. I love them. But I don’t let them dictate my life. There will be no woman to throw out demands that trip me on this voyage, no compromises to make. No shrinking of my life’s dreams to fit someone else’s needs. Only the sea and the wind and strong friendships among men.
“We’re famous, Adrian! Heroes to some, scoundrels to others. This is no time to sulk or dwell on regrets involving a woman. There are no women here. We’re above the foibles and frailties of everyday life, and we’ve earned the reprieve.”
“No,” Adrian nearly shouted. “We’re not above any such thing. Sarah is the very reason we have become heroes. It was because of her that I undertook this mission. She has been behind my every move since I abandoned her five years ago, and I am tired of running away.”
Edward shivered with ambition. Was Adrian contemplating leaving? Edward contained his tongue lest he reveal his avarice by salivating over his words. Then, he realized that he did not want his nemesis to leave him because he needed the drama of that rivalry. The captain continued:
“I don’t know what to do. I want to go back to her, but I’m afraid that she won’t want me. I left her before she could say that she didn’t want me. I left her for fear of losing her.”
“That makes no sense.”
“Yes, it does,” Adrian retorted, without offering Edward the painful confidence that Sarah owned him.
“How can a woman reject you, Adrian? You’ve brave and strong and play the violin like an angel on high,” Edward said lightly and then laughed. “You left her because she didn’t deserve you.”
Adrian’s lips did not part in even a chink of a smile. Instead, his eyes nearly disappeared up inside his head, giving him the look of a religious seer. The sliver of his green irises darkened to the color of a murky, melancholy sea, casting shadows that met at his nose. His face turned sallow; he looked sickly. The air around him grew heavy as he went deep inside himself. His world was turning upside down. He alone saw his father tucking him in at night, leaning over to kiss him on his forehead, but as his father raised himself, lo and behold, he had become Sarah. Oh sweet, faraway kiss. Adrian had been wrestled from his father’s affection, and he had left his lover. He hungered to be kissed again, to feel a pair of warm lips pressed against his face in devotional prayer. He ached to be touched and to be held as worthy by his past.
“Captain,” Edward called him back. “I think the steadiness of walking on land is shaking you up.”
“No, Edward. It’s just that my fears are catching up to me.”
Painstakingly, he rose to his feet and shuffled away, without looking ahead or back. So ruthful was he that he did not see Yusef, Trevor and Robert sitting together on the beach. They shouted for him to join them. He gathered the strength to do so and tell them what he had told Edward. This was new territory for the men. Women did not exist at sea; these friends rarely talked about them. After Adrian introduced the subject, Trevor looked at Robert who looked at Yusef and then they all stared helplessly at Adrian as though he ranked as the authority on the matter. The expert looked away.
“I don’t expect you to understand,” he said.
They breathed a sigh of relief, naively believing that this Pandora’s box could be kept shut.
The sun was going down. Adrian ordered everyone back to the ship. The Good Hope sailed on its way to Port Royal, where the men would reintroduce themselves to society, both male and female.
As they approached their destination, Adrian stepped back into his dream. He swam in the reverie, basking in desire. For hours, he remained in this repose. He thought it to be a haven, where there were no decisions to make and no distortions of perfection. In this place, Sarah was proud to be with him.
.How could Adrian have known that his departure had caused Sarah suffering, not because she loved him but because she felt the pangs of remorse for lording herself over him, her servant. She had taken pleasure in degrading her secret lover by taunting him. She would tempt him in public by seeming to accidentally rub up against him or bend over while wearing a decollete dress, knowing that he dared not touch not show her any familiarity. Later, when she was alone and recalled herself wielding her power to control, a wicked, lopsided grin would cross her lips. She had enjoyed humiliating him because she had been humiliated in a society, which had locked her out. When Adrian escaped, she never searched for him; instead, she found her conscience.
Sarah freed her servants and slaves and left Carolina for her native Barbados, where she paid the laborers who worked on her family’s sugar plantation. When the prodigal daughter remembered her abuse of Adrian, she grew warm with shame.
She asked: How could I have debased myself?