“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.