1700s, Isolation Bay
Another ordinary day. Sandra sighed, watching the flowers in the vase on the windowsill sway in the breeze. I should hurry before the markets close. The vase sparkled like the ocean that she glimpsed between the roofs of the settlement that slept in between visitations from the Navy. The brunette pulled the lace curtains closed, bowing the drawstring. Running her fingers through the golden tassels on the drawstring before she rearranged the bouquet of wildflowers sitting daintily in a vase on the windowsill. The window overlooked the Featherstone estate – the enormous buildings and the immaculate, sprawling gardens.
Mistress Faith Featherstone was unconventional. Her wandering heart had a reputation around the town that her husband was afflicted with an awful disease because Mistress Featherstone slept with more gentlemen than the brothel harlots. Mistress Featherstone was revered for the cocoa colour of her complexion and her southern belle accent. Master Kane Featherstone on the other hand, talked little of his past. Whenever he was not at work, he was fatherly to the staff on his wife’s estate. Master Featherstone gained ownership of the estate when he married into the Featherstone family, and they made heirs. Their children resembled their mother from their wild black hair and brown eyes to the complexion of their mother’s skin.
Bonnet? Check. Hair bunned? Check. Corset? Check. I’m ready, at last.
Miss Sandra Swift lifted the wicker basket that her Mistress left for the maid by the coat-rack; resting the handle in the crook of her arm. Afternoon walks always cleared Sandra’s head and prevented the tedium of her various day to day tasks from driving her to insanity. The maid navigated the winding cobblestone streets, filling her basket with fresh cleaning products, meats, breads, cheeses, fruits, vegetables and herbs.
With her basket overspilling with fresh produce, the brunette turned for home, lifting her hem in one hand as she waited for the coaches to thunder past. The maid might have stayed later than she intended, but she would be no use to her Master, her Mistress and their children smeared into cobblestones by hooves and cartwheels. Suddenly, a gentleman in a naval uniform and a powdered wig stepped out into Sandra’s path and caught her in his arms. Distracted by her own thoughts, the brunette crashed into him.
“What’s a pretty little thing like you doing alone in a place like this?”
“Excuse me? I am shopping on behalf of my Master.” Sandra masked her disgust at being belittled, rolling her brown eyes. He was not the first man to assume she had the constitution of a wilting flower.
“You must be new. I’d never forget a face as beautiful as yours.”
You must be the new one, sir. Everyone in Isolation Bay knows my Master and by proxy, me.
“I don’t mean to be rude, but you are preventing me from getting home.”
The maid dropped the charade and tried to shove past him, with a huff.
“Where are you going in such a hurry?”
The stranger caught the brunette by her sleeve.
“Home. I can cross a road by myself, thank you.” Please, take the hint.
“I can escort you to my place if you’d prefer?”
“No, thank you.”
The brunette stumbled backwards, attempting to escape this stranger in a naval uniform, full face makeup and the tightly fitted wig with or without causing a commotion.
“You would make my house a home, doll face.”
“No! Don’t touch me.”
Sandra huffed again before scrunching back her sleeves. She shoved him out of her path with surprising strength for a woman of her size. The heel of his boot hooked on a loose stone. He crashed down onto the seat of his trousers. A storekeeper ran over to assist the stranger in the naval uniform and a now askew wig. The maid stifled a scoff with the back of her hand. To add salt to the wound, she lifted the hem of skirt again, flouncing her pleats in his direction before leaving him and the markets behind. As she walked, she did not look back. Instead, the sixteen-year-old corrected her basket.
Sandra moved to Isolation Bay some time ago, with the approval of her parents. She grew up captivated by the allure of swashbuckling adventures and forbidden romances. Isolation Bay was yet to yield to her fantasies, but the maid remained hopeful. She was not too old. She was only sixteen. She did not expect a fairy-tale elopement. Reality had tempered her expectations. Remember to be proper at all times Sandra, you are a lady.
She cautioned herself with every smile that she faked towards the kindly townsfolk as the stranger stomped towards the nearest tavern. Already delayed by the encounter with the stranger in a naval uniform, the maid decided to take a slight detour on her route to the manor. Perhaps she would see whatever ship the stranger sailed in with?
Amongst the hustle and bustle of the harbour, an unnamed frigate docked. The crew unloaded barrels of cargo and livestock. The frigate was in a state of disrepair that made her heart sink.
Where have they been? I wonder. They’ve been attacked! They’re stranded here until repairs are completed AND their rations are replenished. I wonder if anybody died? Was it a storm? Or…was it…pirates?! Gasp! What if those dastardly rogues followed them?
The Captain and First Mate were nowhere in sight. Torn between intrigue and duty, the brunette made mental meal plans and to do lists for the week. Distracted by her thoughts, she crashed into someone for the second time this afternoon. Unlike the first time, she lifted her gaze to apologise. Her heart skipped a beat. If she had to guess, he was in his early 20s. Blonde tousled hair. Ocean blue eyes that invited her to undress before him. A fair, unwrinkled complexion. Sandra’s cheeks flushed. Her body burned beneath multiple layers of cloth.
“Excuse me, miss. I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
His hands corrected her basket. His voice was not hostile like the stranger in the naval uniform.
Am I dreaming?
Mercifully, shade fell over the two of them.
“Pardon. The fault is mine. I wasn’t looking where I was- How may I help you?”
“What is the name of this colony? Is there an inn or tavern nearby?”
“Welcome to Isolation Bay, sir. I can escort you, if that would please you?” Sandra curtsied.
“There is no need to be so formal with me. Allow me to introduce myself.” The blonde smiled without showing his teeth. “I am Maxwell Bayne. This is Hodari Asim.” Maxwell bowed, tumbling his hand.
The breeze ruffled his hair and sleeves. The blonde wore a dark blue, satin coat and matching blue satin trousers. The collar of his under shirt opened to expose some of his bare, pale chest.
Is he flirting with me? I shouldn’t, but…I would rather accompany him than scrub chamber pots.
Sandra looked up at the blonde’s companion. She did not want to compare him to a large animal, but there was no human like him. He was large like a gorilla and she was a small monkey. His bulging muscles glistened with sweat. Hodari’s skin was as brown as chocolate. Maxwell and his mountain of a companion fell into step behind the flustered maid. The earlier shade was Hodari’s shadow! Her throat parched. The pair talked amongst themselves.
“Here we are. Will that be all?”
“For now? Yes.” Maxwell leaned in inches from the brunette’s rosy cheeks.
This is NOT what I expected when I woke up this morning.
“It’s nothing. I’m just…thinking out loud.”
“Thank you for your assistance. We should not keep you any longer than we already have. A woman such as yourself must be extremely busy.” His gaze darted to her basket, emphasising his point.
“I try to be. Good day to you, sir.”
“Good day to you, miss..?”
“Oh! Silly me. I forgot to introduce myself. I am Sandra. Sandra Swift.”
What is this warm, aching feeling in my chest? Did I fasten my corset too tightly this morning?
“When you depart from this island, will you consider taking me with you?” What did I just say?!
“Forgive me. I don’t know what came over me. Asking a stranger I have just met-”
“I’m your only chance to escape a domestic life on this sleepy island colony?”
“You are a merchant, are you not? Your captain’s crew must be full of all sorts.”
“They might not take too kindly to having a…woman…aboard.”
Sandra poked her tongue at him.
“I can look after myself, thank you very much!”
“It’s not them I worry about. Every member of my crew is honourable. I ensure it and I will continue to ensure that, personally.” He chuckled. “Women are bad luck at sea.” His tone changed to something darker. “When I was a child, my father thought the same way that you do now. Stupid wives tales, right? A mistake that cost him and my mother their lives. A mistake that almost killed me too.”
“I’m sorry for your loss. I cannot imagine losing my parents.” Despite my choice to leave them, my parents love and support me unconditionally.
“If you still want to risk it, we depart in three days.”
Hodari opened the door to the tavern. Maxwell bowed to the maid before following the dark-skinned man inside. The door closed softly. The brunette stood in place for a moment. Breathless. Sandra felt like she was observing a magic trick from afar. Her heart raced as her brain struggled to comprehend what had just transpired.
Is this love? Don’t be ridiculous! What are the chances you will see Maxwell again? Isolation Bay is small, even for a colony, how could he get away? He has a ship. He can go anywhere he wants, don’t be foolish. No. He gave his word. Three days. Sigh. So much for an ordinary day.
Sandra walked home to her Master’s estate. Sandra unpacked her basket and began the afternoon chores. First, laundry. She meandered along the paving stones with a washing basket pressed against one hip. She hummed a lullaby that her father used to sing to her when she was small enough to cradle in his arms. Tap. Tap. Tap. The maid’s soft leather shoes padded over the scuffed granite. It rained the night before, followed by light showers that morning. Droplets trickled down the gutter and masonry like tears.
Suddenly, a large, strong hand clamped down on the maid’s shoulder. She gasped, jumping like a startled doe. Fumbling to catch and angle the washing basket. Her instincts saved the clean washing from tumbling into the dirt. Sandra recognised the booming laughter that followed.
“Master! You startled me. What are you doing home so soon?”
“Hoho! I wanted to surprise my wife. Our anniversary is approaching.”
“How could I have forgotten? Congratulations, Master.” Sandra bowed her head.
“You are the sweetest, thank you. I have someone I would like you to meet.”
The brunette was so busy studying his face that she did not see the girl hiding behind him. The girl looked no older than fourteen. Short. Slightly pudgy. Short brown hair. Large, innocent eyes. Pale skin. Master’s type.
Please, do NOT let this be HIS Harlot. It’s bad enough that my Mistress does not bother to hide her lover. Master is too jolly for this to be true. Mistress does not deserve him. I will NOT facilitate them cheating on each other. What would their children think? Mistress is probably off with another foreign man as we speak. She is like a church. Open at all hours to any rich, handsome man willing to get on their knees for her.
“My apologies for disrupting your daily routine, but I was hoping you MIGHT settle this young lady in.”
“As you wish.”
“Go on. Miss Swift will look after you. She is the best Head Maid this manor has seen in my lifetime. Trust me, you are in capable hands.” Master Featherstone ruffled the hair of the girl in question.
Sandra groaned internally. Outwardly hitching her hem with her free hand to curtsy to the young brunette. Master nudged the girl forward. She tripped on her hem, falling onto Sandra. Undistracted by the girl’s awkwardness, Sandra’s Master grabbed the back of the girl’s dress. Sandra coughed to clear her throat. Presenting a smile while one of her brown eyes twitched.
“I hope you can…forgive my bad manners. I have…a lot on my mind today.”
That sandy hair. Those charming eyes and that smile…I wonder if those lips feel as soft as they look?
A squeal echoed inside Sandra’s head. The maid dusted her hem with her free hand. Her tongue skimmed over the maid’s bottom lip. Sandra shifted uncomfortably. To her, it felt like the pair were staring through Sandra. The rational part of her knew that was ridiculous.
“Good afternoon. I am Miss Sandra Swift. You are?”
“M-Myrtle. My name is Myrtle.”
“N-no. Should there be?”
“Never mind. Master has lots of important work to do. Let’s not bother him more than we already have.”
Myrtle looked to Master Featherstone for confirmation.
“Carry on girls. I shall catch up with both of you tomorrow, when I return officially.” Master Featherstone winked.
Sandra nodded in acknowledgment before she addressed the new girl. “Myrtle. Run ahead and open the door for me. My hands are quite full. On second thoughts, don’t run. Walk. I don’t want you stumbling again, or worse.”
Groaning under her breath, Sandra followed Myrtle inside, setting the basket of clean laundry down at her own feet.
It’s going to be a long day.
“Wash your hands over there. Let’s begin.”
“What?” Having a woman like Sandra address her made Myrtle’s heart flip flop in her chest.
“Your training. What else?” Sandra rolled her eyes while she rolled her sleeves back.