There was no doubt about it. A shiver seemed to run through the whole of the crew and Lizzie herself could see the black sails now. The sight of the jolly roger whipping madly atop the mast made her draw her breath with a mixture of alarm and excitement. Only Alice seemed unfazed by the excitement, licking the last of the cod liver oil from her fingers as she sat on the sunny deck’s bench.
“I would advise you to wetweat to youw cabin, Miss,” the captain said with a snarl. “If you think you are in dangew now, wait until the likes of piwates get hold of pwetty young giwls like you. Thewe is nothing they will not stoop to doing!”
Lizzie was chagrined at having to miss the excitement, but she knew that she and Alice needed protection. At least their cabin was on the starboard side. They would be able to peek out the window. “Come Alice!” Lizzie cried and took her cousin’s arm.
Alice was meekly compliant, her stomach full of various kinds of fish, which began to make her feel rather sleepy. I know I shall have a wonderful dream tonight, she thought, confused about the time of day from her topsy-turvy adventures. For although the moon could be seen in the sky, it was the middle of the day. Alice did not even begin to wonder about that fact, she simply accepted that things were different at sea. She was so grateful not to be feeling poorly that all other facts could be faced with sanguine complacency.
Lizzie latched the door behind her and ran to the porthole. No doubt about it, the ship with the black sails was getting closer. If only I had a spyglass, Lizzie fretted, envying the mate’s clearer view as he gazed across the waves with his.
“No doubt about it, captain,” Randall shouted to Bellamy, “it is she!”
They must recognize the ship, Lizzie told herself confidently, for she knew ships were always referred to as if they were female. But which ship? She was bursting to know.
“I’m going to sleep now,” Alice announced dreamily, and then proceeded to lie down on her bed. In a twinkling she was breathing deeply, completely unaware of the excitement on board.
The sailors were running to and fro, stowing gear and preparing weapons. They would be ready for a fight. Lizzie could not decide whether it was horror or a thrill of excitement that made her heart beat so. Clearly the captain wanted to avoid a fight if he could, for the men were busily swinging the sails around in an attempt to pick up more speed.
Far on the horizon -- though not as far as before -- Lizzie could see the dark vessel gaining on them, sails bulging with wind and the trim rigging taut with their speed. She could see that the flag flown from its highest mast was no ordinary skull and crossbones, but one that featured a bright five-pointed star as well. That image rang a faint bell in Lizzie’s memory. She tried to cast her mind back to consider it. Where had she seen that flag before? Brighton came to mind. Her mother’s uncle had lived in that seaside town, selling newspapers to the sailors, merchants and holiday makers. She had often visited as a small child, and she remembered well her uncle’s ruddy complexion and rough, but kindly hands. It was there she first knew the delight of adventure stories, for he knew them all, from the lament of Dorigen to the triumph of Palamon, and told them to her eager ears as she sucked on sweets. All at once, a name welled up in her memory.
“Black Ethel!” It was the pirate queen herself out there -- and she was gaining on them.