The sailors ran nimbly across the decks. Every one of them seemed stretched as taut as the wind-belled sails about them, but their frantic movement could not hide the fact that as the black vessel was steadily closing the distance between them they began to throw concerned looks behind them. Lizzie could see the fear growing among the crew even as Captain Bellamy continued to bellow orders preparing for the seemingly inevitable encounter.
It was all so exciting!
Lizzie wished she could be some useful part of the crew. She threw a glance over at the blissfully sleeping Alice and wondered how she could sleep at a time like this. Here was the stuff of adventure -- here the thrills of the novel’s pages in real life.
“If I were any sort of heroine,” Lizzie thought peevishly, “I would be out there helping prepare for the battle.” She watched a handful of sailors head below decks and soon heard the rumble of the cannon being rolled into position below her. “I could load gunpowder,” she tried to think convincingly, “Or perhaps I could light the cannon!” But the more she thought about it, the less she was confident that she could do anything of the kind. While she had always been known for her cool head and sensible thinking, but truthfully -- she blushed to admit it -- there was little to actually test her abilities in the past. Until the sudden string of events that had led them to being kidnapped and on board Captain Bellamy’s ship -- why, it was beginning to seem months ago that Lord Mangrove’s mysterious death had occurred, the strange haunting and their precipitous removal from the funeral train.
And she had thought life in Surrey dull.
But look! The black sails drew ever closer. Lizzie swore she could hear the whipping of the wind in that giant black flag. That speck on the deck -- surely it must be Black Ethel herself with a splendid hat. That was one of the things she could recall from Uncle Frank’s exciting stories. Her raven hair and her splendid hat. There was a lot of folderol about the many men she had murdered, but Lizzie was certain that she would have the gentle heart of a woman underneath.
Although now that she thought about it, Lizzie felt a shiver of fear as she remembered another tale which told of death himself employed as her bosun, his skeleton fingers itching for the taste of flesh. In fact, there was a poem was there not?
Lizzie paced the tiny cabin, while Alice slumbered on. (No doubt the steps would echo in her head and enter her dreams, but Alice’s dreams will have to wait for a while). If she could just remember the first line, no doubt the rest would come to her in time. Surely, Lizzie scolded herself, it started with her name. She paced a few more steps -- the words were proving elusive -- until the image of the albatross came to mind. That was it!
Black Ethel, the pirate queen, sailed the seas,
Her bosun was Death and he gathered his fees
From all those who would dare to challenge her sword;
They fell with a curse or a groveling word.
Way-hey, Black Ethel is here!
Way-hey, let's give her a cheer.
The albatross must be in the second verse, she thought uncertainly. Although why one would cheer a pirate who is about to kill one dead, escaped Lizzie. Perhaps it was all part of the romanticism of adventure, which she was beginning to realize paled beside the real thing. The salt air stung her cheeks and the loud cries on deck were thrilling, to be sure, but as the black ship drew within firing distance, Lizzie could feel her mouth go dry.
Suddenly there was an explosion of fire and a boom from the other ship. The first cannon had been fired!