Sunday, May 27, 2007


Lizzie was relieved to close the shutter on their window (although she had a brief wonder about whether it was still called a shutter on board the ship -- everything else had a different name) and no longer see the rictus grin of the top-hatted bosun who reminded her more and more of some evil portent despite his smile (or perhaps because of it). Alice had lain down in her bunk and was whimpering softly in her sleep. At least she was not vomiting at the moment.

It was a strange thing to be at sea -- literally in this case, although Lizzie could not help remembering that they were very much at sea metaphorically too. It was with this sense of melancholy that she slipped unobtrusively into the world of dreams without even sensing the change of location.

She may have been tipped off by the strange aroma of roses but it did not seem odd to her just then, nor was it at all unexpected to find herself in the Regent's Park (why only two days a week, Lizzie groused to herself, it should be open to the public at all times and filled with roses all the year). Indeed at that moment, it was and she wandered her way among them, smelling the intoxicating blooms and letting her fingers trail over their velvet blossoms.

All at once she heard a voice; his soft accents betrayed an Italian influence and Lizzie knew it was the King of Naples. She turned swiftly but could not see him, so she began to run. As she did, the rosebushes -- which had seemed so lovely and soft moments before began to grow large thorns and pluck at her dress as she sought to follow the dulcet tones ahead of her. This is ridiculous, Lizzie thought, redoubling her determination but the roses began to climb and the thickets impeded her way. Before she knew it, she was trapped and the sweet smell of the roses had turned to a fetid swampy air. Lizzie gasped for breath and began to feel a sense of being trapped. How woudl she get out? Panic rose in her breast and she cried out.

"Oh dear," Alice said suddenly. "I do beg your pardon, but I believe I have purged myself again."

Monday, May 21, 2007


The waters swelled and rolled. The horizon appeared then plummeted. Alice’s stomach grew apart from her in coldness, stubbornly keeping to a schedule of events unwelcome to the young woman’s vanity, but she found herself unable to reason with its demagogic turn and resigned herself to misery, weakness and parboiled tea.

Lizzie, on the other hand, found herself exhilarated. The sea air in her nose made her senses sing. The salt wind in her hair convinced her to bundle the offending locks out of the way and, scandalously unbonneted, she strode the deck under the watchful eye of Captain Bellamy but with the grudging admiration of the top-hatted bosun, who at first -- perhaps somewhat doubtful of this gentlewoman’s mettle -- had sneered quite openly behind his hand at her attempts to negotiate the deck. In no time at all, however, Lizzie had mastered the firm but flexible pace of the sea-going veteran and fought her way against the winds to walk the ship from stem to stern and take in all manner of sights and portents. Lizzie learned to listen to the different calls of the gulls, to glimpse the fish that leaped from the waves, indeed, even the different slopes of the waves across the sides of the vessel that relayed the minute changes in the weather. Lizzie thrilled to the cry of the albatross and came to welcome the cold drops of rain from the sky that broke the sun-drenched deck’s heat.

In any case, it was better than watching Alice vomit.

Worse, perhaps was that one must also hear and smell her distress which was perhaps infinitely worse. The bosun was kept busy much of the time, but still he managed to wander abroad and catch Lizzie just in time to point out something intriguing about the scent of the wind or the particular cry of the gull. Although Lizzie feared that they were already heading south of France, she could not let go her fascination with the sea and her thrill at the wonderful freedom of the life on deck.

Even Captain Bellamy seemed to notice, although he spent much of his day alternately brooding in his cabin or lashing at the crew with his black bull whip. He was never less than polite with Lizzie, but his tone often betrayed a sense of risibility that made Lizzie wonder if he did not mock her new excitement.

“How is ouw little sailow this aftewnoon?” the captain would quiz her as she reached the forecastle. “Have you gained youw sea legs?” If the wind was right, they might be able to hear the sounds of Alice violently discarding any attempt at lunch. Otherwise, Lizzie had only her contempt to distract her from the Captain’s scathing insinuations.

“Are we making good progress?” Lizzie would inquire, inevitably turning the Captain’s thoughts ahead to the time when he might get rid of the two women and, consequently, receive good payment to do so. It tended to work.

At this latest moment, however, the Captain seemed distracted. He was about to finally answer her when the bosun appeared and whispered -- far too loudly for Lizzie not to hear -- that a black sail had been sighted on the horizon.

Monday, May 14, 2007


It seemed but a few minutes and the two women were safely stowed away in their cabin after running the gauntlet of stares provided by the men on deck. Alice was particularly perturbed. How dare they stare! And anyway, it was not her fault if her clothes had begun to look a little worse for the wear. How I would adore a bath, she could not help thinking. Perhaps with so much water around, I shall have a bath. Alice was, of course, ignorant of the preciousness of fresh water at sea. One need not whisper that in her ear just yet and she could live in happy ignorance of that fact as she did of the price of wheat and the chemical nature of alum powder.

Lizzie, however, despaired. “Leawn to love this life, my little fwiends,” Captain Bellamy advised the two in his peculiar high-pitched voice. “The men might get a little westless if they think too much about such pwetty ladies hiding on boawd.” The menace in his words was clear if somewhat mitigated by the sound of them. While before they were in the hands of a single ruffian, now they were faced with the horrors of a ship full of nefarious men of undoubtedly low birth and worse morals. The bosun, in particular, with his single eye and black swan tattoo seemed to be particularly ghoulish despite his rather jaunty top hat. He had a tendency to mutter mysteriously as he swabbed past their cabin. If only this were a book, thought Lizzie, I could peek ahead at the next chapter and see if the heroine survived her perilous journey.

With a sudden lurch, the ship was a float. Alice grabbed Lizzie’s hand and the two of them watched sadly as Southampton receded from their view, slowly getting smaller and smaller as the boat crested the waves. The gentle rocking of the ship broadened as they headed out further into the channel. This is life at sea, Lizzie thought, as the wind whistled through their rather small window, the cries of the gulls punctuated the calls of the men on deck, and the sea air filled her with a strange sense of familiarity. It was as if her fear receded somewhat and she could imagine coming to enjoy such a life. There was a freedom in the ship’s movement, a camaraderie among the men that spoke of secret knowledge, of mysteries. Lizzie could begin to understand how men were drawn to its open expanses, the drift of the waves and the salty tang of the air.

Alice, however, began to feel a curious sensation that she quickly realized was going bring the contents of her very light meal much closer to her lips. With a look of mute appeal to Lizzie, she pressed her mourning handkerchief to her lips, sobbed once, then ran to the window and violently vomited out it.

The smartly-hatted bosun grinned up at her like a leering skull and merely mopped her leavings away off the side of the boat and winked (or blinked, it is rather hard to tell with only one eye to go by) at the young woman.

Perhaps I am dead and this is hell, Alice thought, though she could not bring herself to believe she had done anything to deserve such a fate. The next few days would make her wish dearly that she had gone to hell instead of Southampton.

Sunday, May 06, 2007


The short squat man laughed with his head thrown back. “Always business with you, eh, Bellamy?”

“You would be the vewy same if you wewe in my position,” Bellamy glowered, his menace somewhat undercut by the screechy tone of his voice. “Wapscallions like you awe always a twial.”

“Well, here’s your merchandise,” the kidnapper shouted shoving Alice and Lizzie toward the imposing-looking figure of the captain. “And here’s your payment, you sea dog,” he said thrusting a leather purse into the captain’s hands. “Bon voyage,” he said lifting his cloth cap in mock polite regard to the two young women. Then he turned on his heel and strode away, whistling as if he hadn’t a care in the world.

I shall hate him forever, thought Alice, although it is doubtful that she should keep such an all-encompassing effort foremost in her mind. There had been many occasions on which Alice had planned similarly long-lasting and comprehensive vendettas, such as the time she declared she would never eat anything but lettuce, or the day on which she vowed to always coordinate her hair ribbons and gloves. However, it did seem entirely likely that Alice would indeed loathe if not in fact hate that short squat man for a very long time, as she been terribly inconvenienced by him, and things looked likely to deteriorate further before they improved.

“Come with me, giwls,” the captain wheezed, patting the purse full of money fondly, “You awe my wesponsibilty now!” As if to emphasize the point, he drew a revolver from his belt and waved it at the two of them, who meekly trotted up the gangplank to the ship’s deck.

“Welcome aboawd the Demetew!” the captain said with surprisingly sincere zeal. “We sail with the tide fow the land beyond the fowest.”

“Are we really going all the way to Transylvania?” Lizzie asked with admirable coolness. She had come to the conclusion there was little to lose now (although she still held out hope for the letter Emma Saint John had promised to post o her behalf), so she might as well be bold with the captain. Perhaps it was that he had rank, she feared less his anger—with the short squat man of indeterminate class, they had no way to anticipate his behavior. Surely a captain would uphold some of the general laws of behavior and show good form.

She was somewhat nonplussed to see the weather-creased face break into a smile as prelude to a cackling laugh. Very bad form, Lizzie thought and shared her disapproval with Alice by means of an archly lifted eyebrow. Alice was uncertain what Lizzie intended with this gesture as she had been mesmerized by the captain’s strange laugh.

“Twansylvania?! Oh no, my child, you will not be going to Twansylvania. We have othew plans fow you. At pwesent, howevew, you shall be going below decks to youw cabin whewe you will be spending much of youw time.” He cackled again and Lizzie felt her heart sink.

As they turned in the direction the stern captain indicated, a thought unbidden rose to Alice’s mind. “Oh,” she said, turning suddenly to Lizzie, “We have forgotten our book!”

Lizzie groaned inwardly -- another long journey and nothing to read, but Alice could not help thinking that she was glad not to know what immeasurably valuable lessons Betty Ford would be learning from Mrs. Teachum.