Sunday, July 29, 2007



Black Ethel strode across the deck, searching for the captain. Lizzie cowered behind the window of the cabin as the pirate queen passed, her purple plume bouncing and her two swords gleaming.

“Cuwse you, Ethel!” Bellamy roared as he ran from the prow toward her. “You will not have my ship!”

Black Ethel planted her boots firmly and laughed good and loud. “I take what I want, Bellamy. And I want your cargo and maybe a few of your men.”

“You will nevew escape my cwew!” Bellamy shouted, waving aloft his own heavy sword. A few of his men, who weren’t busy battling the other pirates, did likewise. Shouts of great audacity arose and Alice, who had joined Lizzie at the window, felt her heart strengthen with the sight of so many courageous men. Surely, they would be saved from the pirates’ predations.

“I have no need to escape. Not before I have purloined your ship from stem to stern. Bring them on, Bellamy. My lads will dispatch with your scalawags. But you,” she smiled an evil smile, “You are mine!”

And with that the two crews fell to in earnest once more, swords clanging and the occasional pistol ringing out. Bellamy and Black Ethel came together amidships, well within view of the cabin’s window. Black Ethel struck with both swords at once, scissoring Bellamy between their blades. He parried one then the other with his own sword, rapidly batting it between her two. One of his more quick-witted crew shouted a word of encouragement and tossed his own sword to the captain. For his pains he was at once attacked by a pair of pirates, one with a large club, the other with a razor-sharp rapier. In vain he sought to halt the downward thrust of the club with his small knife. The rapier’s blade bit into his arm and scarlet bloomed from the gaping wound.

“Hardly sporting,” Lizzie muttered under her breath.

Alice was speechless with indignation. Had pirates no morals at all?

Their attention flew back to Bellamy and the pirate queen, just as the captain declared, “Wevenge, deaw lady, wevenge shall be mine tonight!” He darted forward with the second blade, thrusting toward the vulnerable side of the pirate. She was too quick, however, blocking his sword with her two, throwing the blade up and making Bellamy regroup for another attack.

“You’re going to have to be faster than that,” she shouted, a grin still widening her too red mouth. Lizzie could see a fine white scar crossing the woman’s cheek and disappearing into her raven hair. She did not draw Alice’s attention to that detail, for fear that she might swoon right away. Imagine the rough life the pirate queen must lead, to be in such danger, to suffer such injuries. Lizzie did not wish to admit that the idea was simply soppy with thrills. To be completely independent! To never again be thrust into uncomfortable clothes and uncomfortable situations, to never again smile politely at the endless line of tedious people that were most of her relations, to no longer be the poor orphan with no marriage prospects—but suddenly she remembered, blushed at her lapse and touched the letter still secreted away in her sleeve. There was much to live for. They must triumph against the pirate queen!

Bellamy thrust again and Black Ethel neatly dodged his blow, spinning around lightly and parrying back with her left hand, holding the right in reserve, waiting for her opportunity. “Don’t tell me you’re running out of steam already, Bellamy! The fight has only just begun.”

True enough, Bellamy was looking a bit overwhelmed, but her taunting reinvigorated his flagging spirits. “Nevew! I shall defend the Demetew with all my heawt and skill. Take that!” and he launched a renewed attack of such vigor that he fought the pirate queen back to the railings.

Suddenly a bright light seemed to burst all around the fighting pair. Lizzie ducked and clunked heads with Alice. Smoke seemed to be everywhere until the night breeze wafted through the clanking night.

“Look,” cried Lizzie, grabbing Alice’s arm. “Over there!”

Monday, July 23, 2007


[N.B. Your humble author begs you forgive the slight delay in delivering this episode. She blames the difficulty of extricating herself from the company of some piratical types whose nautical expertise was necessary for the composition of this narrative.]

In the burst of noise that suddenly and cacophonously surrounded them, Alice wished with all her heart that she had not awakened from her dream. In it, she was surrounded by a bevy of admirers, chief of which was the elusive Kit Barrington, whose fine head of hair and gentle manner charmed her exceedingly. There was such a crowd that Arthur Boylett was quite lost at the back, jumping up occasionally to get a glimpse of her beauty but otherwise quite unable to approach.

This was just as Alice wished.

Although the parlour seemed to have become surprisingly drafty, Alice chose to ignore this fact. She also ignored the increasing din from what appeared to be Mr. Radley dropping large rocks into a very large bucket and Mrs. Perkins pummeling the walls with a very large and somewhat sinister rattan carpet beater. Desperately she clung to the dream even as Lizzie in both dream and reality began to shake her shoulder gently, yet insistently.

How horrible to awake to the chaos of the pirate attack! How infinitely worse to know that no such throng of admirers surrounded her at present. When she heard herself begging Lizzie to say it was all dream, that she might return to the phantasy of her slumber, Alice felt a small measure of shame as well as a much larger one of disappointment.

“What a burden I have been!” she thought and vowed once more to be a better person and to help her dear cousin to bear the trials to which they had been subjected. This was a solemn vow that might last minutes altogether.

With horror, the two young women stared out the newly-fashioned porthole to see the grappling hooks settle into any nook where they might find purchase. Several went high in the rigging and only a few were cut by the flashing swords of the crew. Within a short time, pirates of all sorts began to swing over to the deck of the Demeter.

Look! There three black-clad devils hopped onto the deck, spinning left and right to parry the blows of the sailors. Each carried a short dagger as well as his blade. One had a pistol tucked in his belt, another had a club hanging from his.

There! On the prow, another pair of marauders grappled with the Demeter’s stalwart crew. Blades flashed and alarming sprays of blood filled the air as the rugged pirates battered back Captain Bellamy’s sailors. The clink and clack of the weapons rang out through the air and the two cousins cowered in their cabin. What was to become of them?

As if to seal their fate like a barrel of Caribbean rum, they heard a shrill whistle and a hearty laugh. It was Black Ethel! She leaped across the short distance between the ships and landed on the deck, both swords drawn and a broad smile on her face. A gold tooth glittered in the lantern light as she roared with laughter. “Where are you, Captain Sam? We have a little matter to settle here on deck!”

Sunday, July 15, 2007


“Fire away, boys!” Black Ethel shouted, her voice ringing out clearly amidst the din of the battle. At once the report of cannon fire belched forth from the ship’s sides, hurtling the little black missives toward the Demeter’s groaning sides. How much more could they take?

Captain Bellamy yelled orders in his inimitable style, clouting the slower members of the crew about the head in an attempt to get them to scramble faster. Everyone seemed to be going in the wrong direction at once, cannon balls sometimes missing their trunks by mere inches, and all too often, not missing at all, but carrying the unlucky few over the side of the boat and into the great wide ocean. It was beginning to look an awful lot like chaos.

Through the smoke and noise, Lizzie could hear three distinct sounds: the throaty laugh of Black Ethel, the rasping snoring of Alice, and what she could only imagine to be the cry of the albatross perched high above the deck of the Bonny Read. Watching the fight from the window of the captain’s cabin, Lizzie began to fear that things were not going well.

For one thing, she could see that Captain Bellamy’s visage was becoming beet red, a sure sign of indignation, as was the tendency of his voice to rise ever higher and skate over more and more consonants. For another, she could see more than a few holes in the deck of the Demeter, which signaled a slight tendency to take on water.

“I must wake Alice,” Lizzie thought to herself. Surely it was only to have her cousin prepared for any eventuality and not simply because her snoring was becoming unbearably loud and coarse. In any case, she shook her cousin’s shoulder gently yet firmly and began to call her name. “Alice, Alice! You must wake up! We are under attack -- by pirates!”

“What?” Alice asked, rubbing her eyes and smiling vacantly as was her habit upon waking. “Parrots?”

“No, no, pirates,” Lizzie hastily corrected her. “They are at present firing cannonballs at the Demeter and will no doubt board her soon.” Well, perhaps an exaggeration, Lizzie scolded herself, but she needed to find a way to get Alice moving. She was so lethargic!

“Is there anything to eat?” Alice said as she stretched luxuriously, raising herself slowly to a sitting position. “Where is Mrs. Perkins?”

Lizzie groaned. “We are not at home, Alice! We are on board the ship, remember, dear? Captain Bellamy is our latest kidnapper and we are sailing for who knows where!”

Alice burst into tears. “I had thought that was all a dream! Oh, Lizzie, please tell me, can it be so?”

Lizzie patted her cousin’s shoulder. “I am so sorry, my dear, but it is true. We have been kidnapped, we are under attack from pirates and all looks quite dismal at present.”

“No, no,” Alice said, shaking her head sorrowfully, “But is it true I ate eels?”

“And many other kinds of fish, much of raw, Alice,” Lizzie could not quite help the scolding tone of her voice even as she tried to comfort her cousin. “But that is not the most important thing just now,” she continued as she moved the bucket once more to the bedside.

“What could be worse?” Alice asked in a strangled voice, turning a pale and not too becoming shade of light green.

With a sudden blast of splinters and shattering glass, a cannon ball crashed through the window of the cabin and made a hasty exit out a new hole on the opposite side.

“That, my dear, could be much worse!” While Alice cowered on the bed, regretting having woken up, Lizzie peeked carefully out the smashed window. The Bonny Read was a mere two yards away and the pirates were swinging ropes between them. They meant to board the ship!

Sunday, July 08, 2007


Lizzie drew back in horror -- the pirate ship was within yards of the Demeter. She could see the terrifying crew, a band of cutthroat rebels, not one fit for a gentleman’s home. None of them acquainted with the finer things in life, helpless to deal with a standard array of forks, let alone the intricacies of the oyster fork’s maneuvering. No, they were brigands through and through, Lizzie thought, untamed, unmanageable and uncompromising. She very nearly swooned, and as we all know, Lizzie is not a swooning sort of woman.

At the front of the deck of the pirate ship there strode a woman dressed all in black, save for a plume of deep purple. It could only be she, Black Ethel, the scourge of the Atlantic. Through the mists of the evening and the smoke of canon-fire, Lizzie squinted her eyes to get a better look at the legend. If only I had a spyglass, Lizzie cursed. Suddenly she remembered that they were in fact in the captain’s cabin. If there was an advantage to being kidnapped, surely this was it. She began to rummage through the drawers she had neglected while moping over their fate or exploring the open decks. There was a treasure trove here!

In one drawer she found a wonderful adventure book (“I must read this to Alice when things get back to normal!” she thought), several gold doubloons in rather sad neglect, something that looked suspiciously like a monkey’s paw, a kind of gold bug, some pale greenish liqueur, several rolled up scrolls of parchment that might have been maps or directions of some kind (indeed, one looked like it could have been a piece of skin -- Lizzie abruptly dropped that item as soon as she made that realization) and in the last drawer, alas, only thimble.

But there was still the cabinet to explore, and in the second compartment (after jiggling the lock free -- well, desperate times called for desperate measures) Lizzie found what she needed, the captain’s spyglass. Employing it at once, she ran to the porthole and peered out. The sudden closeness of the pirates gave her a shock, but she quickly recovered once the glass was withdrawn to show the pirates still a good distance away.

Lizzie drew the glass once more to her eye and set a curious eye upon the captain. A woman, indeed, she was, but a woman like none Lizzie had known. While Lady Montague was certainly a woman to be reckoned with on any playing field of fine society, here was a woman who could be her match -- no doubt on any field of play. From the tip of her tricorne hat to the heel of her black leather boots, Ethel was a scalawag of the worst sort, that much was clear. But there was even more to it. She had a fiery eye that Lizzie could not help but admire, a gaze that many a weak man would quail before. She pitied the men who had to face that pirate queen, but not very much -- for only the weak would not match her steely eyes and they would be better off dead.

Heavens, thought Lizzie, I am condoning a pirate!

Monday, July 02, 2007


The first ball fell short and the crew heaved a collective sigh. Another crack! And a second cannonball flew across the waves, and this one did not fall into the salty sea, but took a bit of the stern with her. The shouts of the crew redoubled and Captain Bellamy’s orders flew ever faster.

The black pirate ship was hastening down the wind, drawing ever closer and putting them all in greater danger. Lizzie hung out the window as far as she could, unable to bear the idea of closing the shutters and finding safety within, but with no chance to follow the developing battle. The sailors all had their cutlasses drawn, the Captain himself had a pistol in each hand. Even the ship’s mascot, a salty old parrot with only one leg (and a penchant for language that was not fit for a lady’s ears) wrestled a bit of stick in his mouth as if he, too, would fight for the decks of the Demeter and its precious cargo.

Lizzie could only hope that she and her cousin would be considered part of that estimable cargo and not ballast that might be jettisoned to quicken the pace of the journey. She glanced over at Alice to see her oddly still dreaming away, oblivious to the chaos crying all around her. How could she sleep through such a time! Lizzie returned her gaze to the decks just in time to see another cannonball fly through the air and land in a shower of splinters on the deck. It crashed through to the lower deck and, judging by the sound, hit some of the rum below. The anguished cries of the crew seemed to suggest that it hit its mark squarely.

Another projectile flew over the cabin from which Lizzie looked out on the fray. She could see now the decks of the pirate ship before her, and like magic, the second verse of the song came back to her memory:

The albatross sits on the skeleton bow,
And calls to the sailors who suffer below—
The captain, she wields a bright scimitar now
And the men fall before it like corn in a row.

Way-hey, Black Ethel is here!
Way-hey, let’s give her a cheer

Lizzie could see that the black pirate ship bore the name that chilled many across the wine dark sea: it was the Bonny Read! No doubt about it now, it was Black Ethel herself and there was little hope to be had that any of them would live to tell the tale of this battle.

As if to underscore that realization, Lizzie saw the pirate queen herself standing proudly on the fo’csle of the ship, her scimitar in the air as she shouted orders to her crew. The air was so full of smoke that Lizzie could hardly see what was ship and what was sea, but Black Ethel’s men seemed to be gathering together for a singular purpose. As one they turned to face the Demeter, and Lizzie could not help ducking down behind the wall to avoid being seen. When she finally worked up the courage to look again, her eyes nearly popped out of her head with horror and alarm.

The pirates were climbing up ropes, ready to swing over. They were going to board the ship!