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!