Sunday, August 26, 2007


“Two hundred pounds!” Lizzie said with great venom. “You mountebank! You captain queernabs! You were going to sell us into white slavery!”

Bellamy groaned, grasping his side. “It’s not like that, miss. I pwomise you!”

Alice became indignant as well, spurred by the passion of her cousin’s harsh words. “You horror,!” She very nearly swooned quite away at the daring she felt using such rough language on such a pointed occasion. What would father say, Alice thought, her breast heaving with the exertion of uttering such a word. All at once she remembered that her father was quite dead and he would never again rail at his incorrigible daughter.

Perhaps it was the excitement of the moment, perhaps it was the realization that that audience would never again be able to express its disapproval in no uncertain terms, but all at once Alice felt a strange sensation in her heart.

“This must be grief,” she said, more to herself than anyone else -- not that anyone else would have heard her low utterance. Alas, she was again wrong, for it was not the unaccustomed feeling of grief that she was experiencing but a heretofore unexpected bout of nausea. This time it was unrelated to sea-sickness, for Alice had at last found her sea legs (albeit somewhat late and in a rather unlikely moment). It is possible that it was the sight of blood, for blood was pouring copiously from Captain Bellamy which, after their initial expressions of scorn and derision, began to have a softening effect on the two soft-hearted cousins.

Black Ethel, however, was unmoved by the all too common sight of a foe’s blood. Indeed she laughed loudly and exclaimed, “Mon dieu! Who knew there was red blood left in you, eh, Bellamy? I thought it had all turned to black like your heart!”

“Black Ethel, you wascally villain! You have slain me, no doubt. Kill me now and save me the suffewing death by thiwst when you abandon me on this ship.” Bellamy sank even lower upon the deck, the sounds of the other fights gradually sinking into the background as their attention focused upon him.

“You will live to fight another day, mon cher!” Black Ethel crowed. “I care nothing for your life. I wish only to take your wealth.” With that she put her fingers to her lips and blew three loud whistles. All at once the fighting on the deck ceased and all the men turned their eyes to the dread pirate queen.

“Your captain is defeated! If you continue to fight, I will throw him to le requin, le ange de mer and burn this ship under your feet. If you wish, however, to save the life of your master, lay down your weapons and help my men haul away your goods. What do you say, messieurs?”

The men looked back and forth between themselves. Lizzie looked in vain for the strange bosun, figuring the men might look to him for advice, but the skull-like visage was not to be seen. Alice had a strange pang at the thought that he might be among those killed in the battle. Despite his frightening appearance and strangely quiet ways, he had been so kind to her at the start of this difficult sea voyage.

As if agreeing, the captain’s men dropped their weapons and began to shuffle forward to the hold. Two of the crew grabbed Bellamy’s moaning body and carried him to what was left of his cabin.

“And now, mademoiselles, you must come with me!”

Alice and Lizzie exchanged a fearful look. What was to become of them on the pirate queen’s ship?

Sunday, August 19, 2007


“Cuwse you, Black Ethel!” Bellamy cried, grasping his side in pain. She merely guffawed louder and fought ever harder. Bellamy was hampered by his injury, but still he fought on with a good deal of vigor and spirit.

Lizzie and Alice hardly knew for whom to root. If Bellamy won, it seemed that they might be destined for the nefarious white slave trade -- about which they knew rather little other than the horror with which those words were met by any heroine of their favorite gothic tomes and by the beloved Mrs. Perkins, who had been the one to obtain said volumes by mysterious means and possessed a surprisingly thorough knowledge of their authors and adventures.

This heinous fate was among the things she could never bring herself to explain to the eager young readers. She had relented on various methods of torture once young Alice had passed her thirteenth birthday -- explaining with relish the intricacies of the Iron Maiden, the rack and the Spanish Tickler while the two girls shrieked with barely suppressed horror.

Many a quiet afternoon had been passed in rapt terror while the patient and kindly housekeeper detailed the implements of the Inquisition. “The Renaissance,” Mrs. Perkins was fond of saying, “meant a whole new attention to the machineries of torture. The medieval era was crudely kind in comparison. The artistry of the sixteenth century -- why when Father Gerard was in the Tower!” She would detail his sufferings in a hushed whisper, reading long passages from the book he had penned after his escape from Elizabeth’s henchmen.

But never would she explain the nature of the horror that was white slavery. Lizzie suspected much and Alice wondered often, but neither could have their worst fears confirmed nor denied.

It was most provoking.

The ignorance in which they were held on this account made its fiendishness that much more. The suspense of knowing that they might be headed for that fate was positively-swoon inducing. Alice searched her pockets for her handkerchief, feeling a strong desire to dab at her cheek with some delicacy, but the tiny lace friend was nowhere to be found, which left her in a puzzled state. What could have become of it?

Lizzie, on the other hand, busied herself wondering what might become of them if Black Ethel were to command them. Would they become piratical maids-of-all-work? Think how their delicate fingers would be roughened! Think how they would be drained of all vivacity! I shall be aged beyond recognition in mere months, Lizzie thought with a gasp.

White slave or pirate maid? Which was to be the worst -- yet, she recalled that Bellamy had sworn that he was not planning their descent into white slavery. Should she trust that? Lizzie looked at the captain as he continued to fight doggedly against the gleeful pirate’s blows. He was an Englishman, and that still counted for something, she decided. Black Ethel was French after all!

“Fight on, Captain,” she called boldly, drawing a disapproving look from her cousin. “We do not wish to fall into the clutches of wild pirates!”

The pirate queen laughed heartily, making another stab for Bellamy’s ribs. “How do you know life wouldn’t be better with the corsairs, eh?”

“We are Englishwomen,” Lizzie said primly. “We shall not go over to the enemy.”

“Enemy?” Black Ethel repeated, ducking away from Bellamy’s contre sixte. “I would merely set you free, unlike your gentleman.” She accentuated the latter word with a withering tone.

“Free?” said Alice, forgetting for a moment her handkerchief.

“Free!” said Lizzie, grabbing her cousin’s hand.

“Two hundwed pounds!” gasped Bellamy as he was unable to sidestep Black Ethel’s double, falling precipitously to the deck with a groan.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


A fiery missive had exploded right in the middle of the cabin’s wall, blasting a blackened hole into the wood and allowing the ocean winds to whistle through as Lizzie and Alice cowered back from its splintery force. Small flames cluing to the charred wood, but they were no match for the wild night winds and were soon extinguished.

“We were nearly killed by cannon fire!” Alice said indignantly.

“I think it was some other kind of missive,” Lizzie said examining the hole and the complete lack of cannonball.

Some shattered glass around the opening gave her a clue. She peeked out at the deck of the Bonny Read to see a doughty tar preparing another flaming bomb He stuck a bit of cloth into the neck of a bottle and lit it the strip, hefting it in his blackened hand while he looked at the Demeter for a likely target. Lizzie held her breath, her tender heart concerned lest the pirate inadvertently set himself on fire. At last he seemed to see something suitable as a target and hurled the bottle across the decks toward the stern. Another explosion rocked the ship and it gave a groan as if it were in pain.

Or perhaps it was just the moans of the crew, many of whom were feeling the worst of the battle. The pirates fought ruthlessly and without scruples. Bellamy’s men were no gentlemen, but Lizzie could not help but side with the men who were not rapscallions of the sea and in thrall to the daunting pirate queen.

“Where have they gone?” Alice asked, looking over at Lizzie who was still lost in her thoughts. Startled, she wondered for a moment whom it was that her cousin meant, but recovered herself quickly. Where were Bellamy and Black Ethel?

As if in response to their queries, the clash of swords returned to their ears as the fearsome pair fought their way back across the deck toward the cabin where the young women waited. The air around them almost seemed to swirl with the force of their battle. Perhaps it was the smoke from the cannon-fire and flaming torches that gave the wind an almost visible presence, or perhaps it was the swift slashing of the blades of the two combatants. It was hard to be sure, but Lizzie and Alice watched in awe as the fight wore on and the steel clashed over and over again.

“Chin up, Bellamy!” Black Ethel laughed with glee, a little hoarse from the fight, but still grinning widely. “You can always become one of us. Haven’t you always wanted to be on the pirate side? You got more than a little buccaneer in you, Bellamy.”

“Nevew!” Bellamy cried once more. “You awe a cheat and a cwiminal.”

The dread pirate queen then looked at Alice and Lizzie who were peeking out from the blasted hole in the wall and laughed even louder. “At least I don’t kidnap young women for nefarious purposes. I never took you for a white slaver, Bellamy.”

Lizzie and Alice both glared at Bellamy. Was this the fate that awaited them?! Oh, the horror of it! Bad enough to be spirited away from her father’s funeral, but to find at the end of the journey a fate worse than death -- it was too much.

“No!” Bellamy shouted as he parried another of her seemingly endless thrusts. “Theiw fate is something faw diffewent, you see -- "

But before he could finish his sentence, Black Ethel struck once more, the shaft of her sword striking Bellamy’s ribcage.