Bristol, England 1697
After Anne’s father died, her mother often said that sorrow was the only sun that rose for them. Her mother had since followed him into the darkness of death, leaving Anne to face the dawn alone.
That morning was no different, the thick clouds overhead were determined once again to release their pent-up frustration on her. In the crowded marketplace and its stalls, the air smelled of sweet water on damp stone and wood, accompanied by the tang of blood.
Other maids and cooks from the large homes in the city bartered and bought, their weary voices calling for pheasant, venison, and veal. Anne stood in line with her pail of fruits and vegetables, hoping she wasn’t too late to get the better cuts of meat. At last she stepped up to the butcher, the many coins in her pocket reminding her of her errand’s importance.
The butcher winked, his brown eyes almost black. “Good to see you, Anne. What’ll it be today?”
“Master Drummond wants venison tonight,” she said, inspecting the haunches and shoulders hanging from the stall’s center beam. The butcher’s eyes followed her with the same consideration. With his fair hair, some might have called him handsome, but she only saw his yellowed teeth and smelled his rank breath. If Master Drummond hadn’t insisted she buy from this particular butcher, she would have found a different one long ago. He was at least twice her sixteen years, and though his apron was clean, the look on his face was not.
“Aye, his son is coming home, isn’t he?” he said, leaning forward across the table. “Been gone a year at sea.”
Anne took a step back, pulling her shawl more firmly around her, and finally met his gaze. “Yes, which means there’s no time to waste. I must return to the house as quickly as possible. I’ll take that one,” she said, pointing to a fleshy red hindquarter.
The name Drummond was always on someone’s lips, for Richard Drummond was one of the wealthiest merchants in the city. In four weeks’ time one of the largest ships ever built, the Deliverance, would set sail from Bristol. It was Master Drummond’s showpiece.
“Oi, you can’t have that one. This one’ll have to do,” the butcher said, poking a knife into a thin portion of meat in front of him. It was old, the flesh tough and hard, the fat contracted.
Anne’s face flushed with anger, and she wished for the
hundredth time that she could purchase elsewhere. “And why would I want that piece?” she asked sharply. “Do you know what the master would do if I served that for dinner tonight?”
The butcher grinned. “I know what I’d do,” he said.
Gritting her teeth, she gave him what she hoped was a haughty look. “What else do you have?”
Unexpectedly, he grabbed her arm, pulling her close so that her pail hit the table, spilling the produce onto the cobblestones beneath their feet.
“Don’t act so high and mighty with me. I’ve already told you. I’ll give you the best cuts, but this time it’ll cost you a little extra,” he sneered. “I’ve been a patient man. If you want to please your master, you’re going to have to please me first.”
Like a dragonfly caught under glass, her heart fluttered. She’d become accustomed to his lewd suggestions, but the grip of his grimy fingers on her arm filled her with a new sense of panic.
“You can please yourself,” she hissed, wrenching her arm out of his grasp. With shaking hands she quickly picked up the fruits and vegetables, not bothering to wipe the dirt from their skins. The butcher laughed, an ugly sound that made her stomach churn. She glared at him, turned on her heel, and barreled through the crowd in an attempt to put as much distance between herself and his stall as possible.
The devil hang him. If Master Drummond wants venison for his son’s return, he should come down here and buy it himself. If
the butcher tries to touch me again, I’ll stick him like the pig he is.
Only after she was several rows away did Anne stop and lean against a brick wall to catch her breath, aware of the suspicious glances thrown her way.
Despite the fact that it was a major seaport, most of the inhabitants of Bristol were still unused to Anne’s appearance. She was the illegitimate daughter of a prosperous English merchant and a West Indies slave, and people didn’t know how to react to the mix of her mother’s coppery skin and her father’s blue eyes. It was obvious Anne didn’t fully belong to either race, and others often viewed her with either distaste or distrust.
Wearily she straightened, her fingers reaching for her mother’s small, gold watch hidden in her pocket, a habit whenever she was upset or distressed. She needed to find something else to cook for dinner, and quickly. With rows and rows of stalls, it would not be too difficult to find a new butcher, but she doubted she’d be able to find the same quality.
The church bell chimed the top of the hour, which meant Anne needed to head back to the manor, but there was no decent venison to be found. Desperate, Anne settled instead upon a clean stall near the edge of the market and bought two pheasants from a small, elderly woman with a hunched back and frail shoulders.
The woman took the coins Anne handed her and slipped them into her pocket, watching Anne intently the entire time. Anne ignored it, used to the scrutiny by now, after years of
prying glances. “Do you ever have venison?” Anne asked, the poultry safely tucked beneath her arm.
The old woman nodded. “Aye, but we sold out first thing this morning.”
Just my luck.
“I’ll be back in the future,” Anne assured her, before heading into the busy horde. From now on she would buy from the old woman’s stall. Anne was the only one that Master Drummond sent to the market. There was no need for him to discover where Anne acquired his meals—she did not understand why he took such an active interest in his purchases anyway.
Part of her hair escaped her thick braid and cap, and she impatiently stuffed the stubborn black strands underneath, thinking of all the work that had yet to be done. A party of six would be eating dinner that afternoon, and she needed to get the pheasants home as quickly as possible.
Her feet turned in the direction of the harbor. Shrimp was a favorite treat of Master Drummond’s, and she had enough money left over. Although it wouldn’t be a lot, it might be enough to dampen his ire. If she could not secure the shrimp, she feared he might send her back to the workhouse, where she’d have to labor alongside the rest of the city’s penniless inhabitants in exchange for handouts. The thought sent a shiver running down her back.
As Anne approached the docks, the sound of seagulls intensified and the bells on distant boats could be heard more
clearly. Her father had sometimes brought her here very early in the morning or late at night, when not many people were about. He’d said that the presence of the sea gave the very skies a special quality, one that could not be duplicated.
There was freedom here. It flowed through the air and lifted the sails of the vessels as they left. How often in the last five months had she been tempted to stow away, sail off, and leave this life behind? Her mother had filled her head with stories of the West Indies, and her father had always promised to take her to her mother’s island one day.
The familiar sights and sounds of the waterfront drew Anne in. It was hard to take a breath without inhaling the scent of salt and fish, and no one could speak without having to raise their voice over the cries of the gulls. Anne managed a smile, her first one all week.
The fishmonger she usually bought from saw her coming and straightened, returning her smile. “Good morning, Anne. You’re a bit late this morning, aren’t you?”
She nodded regretfully. “Yes, indeed. I don’t have much time, but I need some shrimp,” she said, referring to the small barrel behind him, full of the plump, gray crustaceans. “Two pounds should do.”
He flinched. “I’m truly sorry, but those have been purchased.”
Fear sharpened Anne’s voice. “What? The whole barrel?”
“Aye. Someone came in and bought the lot.”
“But I must have two pounds. Surely you can spare some,” she said.
“They’re not mine to spare. Though, you can ask him yourself, if you like,” the fishmonger said, pointing at someone over Anne’s shoulder.
She turned in time to see a large figure approaching. He was at least a head taller than she, with a broad chest, and muscular legs clearly visible in the brown breeches he wore. A cutlass hung from his waist, beneath his short jacket. He was tanned, and the hair on his head and the beard on his face were as black as the thatched roofs surrounding the dock.
She took an involuntary step backward as he stopped beside her. He gave her a cursory glance, his green eyes bright, before turning his attention to the fishmonger. His voice was smooth and low when he spoke. “Instead of taking them myself, I’d like you to deliver—”
Desperation drove Anne to interrupt him. “Please, sir. Might I have a word with you?”
Once again those green eyes turned in her direction. This time he afforded her a more complete perusal, and she swallowed the distaste in her mouth. He was no gentleman. His appearance suggested a simple sailor, someone who could not possibly afford the entire barrel.
“Yes?” he asked.
“It’s about the shrimp. I was wondering if I could take two pounds from the top and pay you for them.”
A woman came from behind and called to the fishmonger. He turned to help her, leaving the shabby sailor and Anne to their conversation.
When he had first approached, she’d thought him much older, for he was taller than most men. On closer inspection, she realized he couldn’t have been more than nineteen. His expression warmed as he considered her. He was interested, clearly, but Anne wasn’t sure if it was her proposal or her appearance.
“There is more than one stall that sells shrimp,” he said.
She was not to be deterred. She’d already lost one battle this morning and could not afford to lose another. The last cook who hadn’t provided the master’s favorite meal for a special occasion had been fired and kicked out onto the streets.
As much as Anne disliked living in the Drummond household, it was preferable to the gutter. And if she went to another household, there was no guarantee she could secure enough funds to begin a new life. “Yes, but this man has the most honest scales and the freshest fish. Since I am unable to buy from him, I have no choice but to ask you. Surely you would not miss two pounds,” she pressed.
The corners of his mouth lifted, and his green eyes twinkled. “Ah, but I would. Have you considered oysters as a substitute?”
Anne pursed her lips. Master Drummond hated oysters. “No, it must be shrimp. Please, I have a very important meal—”
It was his turn to interrupt. “I, too, have an important meal, for which I need the entire barrel.”
No doubt trying to impress some girl and her family. “I have enough coin. How much would it take?” she asked briskly.
He paused for a moment, still considering her. She shifted uncomfortably beneath his gaze but refused to back down. The crowd surrounding them thinned, evidence that time was wasting. Her eyes begged him to comply.
“Perhaps I’ve been too hasty. We could discuss the price,” he said, reaching boldly for her arm.
An image of the butcher flashed before her eyes, but this time there was no table to separate her from her attacker. Jerking free of his hold, Anne brought the pail forward, hitting the sailor soundly between the legs. He dropped to his knees, the breath escaping his lungs with a pained “Ooof,” his eyes no longer twinkling.
“Keep your hands to yourself, you filthy sea rat! Even if you were to offer me the full barrel, I wouldn’t go anywhere with the likes of you!”
For the second time that morning, Anne rushed away from an unwelcome advance, cursing softly beneath her breath. She felt the sailor’s eyes following her, burning a hole into the back of her head, but she didn’t turn around. He was in no condition to give chase, at least not now.
Hurrying from the docks, she reached once again for her mother’s pocket watch. A shiver ran down her spine and she sent up a silent prayer, asking that Master Drummond’s heart
would be softened and that she wouldn’t find herself on the receiving end of his fury.
Anne also prayed that her path would not cross again with that of the sailor’s, for if it did, she knew with certainty that she would not leave the encounter unscathed.