Black Ethel saw the looks of dismay on the two young faces and laughed out loud. “Set your minds at ease, little ones. I am not setting you to work as maids. Madeleine! Perhaps you could move your accoutrements out of my cabin for a time.”
As if from the shadows, a small dark figure with a pale face swept silently across the room and vanished at once with the mop and bucket and a whispered, “excusez-moi!” It was impossible to tell from the brief glimpse they had whether Madeleine was a small child, a tiny woman or simply a hunched over figure of normal size. She whisked away so quickly that they were left only with the impression of trailing black clothes and a pallid visage that would make Aunt Susan swoon with envy.
Black Ethel threw her tricorne hat upon the broad oak desk and lounged on the stout chair behind it. “Assez-vous! Please be comfortable, take your ease. You are not prisoners here, you may do as you wish.” She laughed, however, and gazed shrewdly at the two young women. “However, you may find it safer to stay close to my cabin. I cannot keep my men in check too much, they are not prisoners either. Many of them are not well-accustomed to…” She paused and looked them up and down. “Let us say, women of your upbringing. You have lived sheltered lives of little dangerous experience, no?”
Alice and Lizzie both blushed to show this was indeed true. Merely imagining the rough attentions of the pirate queen’s uncouth crew brought them to the edge of swooning. Alice tried hard to imagine what sort of conversation she might have with the one-armed rapscallion who had gurgled a sort of greeting as they walked to the captain’s cabin. Lizzie, meanwhile, tried to picture herself dancing a scotch reel with the swarthy brute who at present berated the other pirates on the deck who were repairing the rigging as best they could while he stomped back and forth on his peg leg.
It began to dawn on them both in their separate musings that the life of a pirate was one fraught with much danger of bodily harm.
“Would you care for something to eat?” Black Ethel asked them, the kind meaning of her words somewhat tempered by her brash tone of voice. Clearly she was more accustomed to ordering around her gang of buccaneers than to conversing over a tea tray.
“That would be most kind,” Lizzie said with renewed spirit. Food would return the rosy glow to Alice’s cheeks and restore her own sense of confidence, Lizzie was certain.
“Bosun!” Black Ethel shouted, causing the two genteel women to jump with alarm. “Bring something tasty from the larder!” In a minute or so, the door opened to admit a very familiar figure. It was the nattily-hatted bosun of the deathly pallor and the kindly manner. Lizzie and Alice could not have been more surprised to see Captain Bellamy himself.
The mysterious bosun laid a simple repast upon the desk, which nonetheless looked far more appetizing than anything they had seen upon the Demeter. There were many cheeses and dry crackers, but there was also fresh fruit -- a veritable miracle it would seem. Alice could feel her mouth beginning to water, but looked quickly over at Lizzie to see if she would allow any compromise of manners. Finding her cousin firm in her regard of propriety, Alice instead caught a glance from the bosun who gave her a conspiratorial wink and a roguish (if somewhat toothy) smile. He still looked cadaverous to an alarming degree, but seemed far more cheerful to be on board the Bonny Read.
After a proper incantation of begging grace, Lizzie and her cousin tucked into the plain supper with a very keen appetite. Lizzie was the first to recover her sense of conversational requirements. “We owe you much for your rescue of us, Mademoiselle Capitaine.”
“Think nothing of it. I shall enjoy the conversation as we sail to France.”
Lizzie wanted to ask about the possibility of being returned to England instead, but decided it would not be prudent to press upon such short acquaintance. Instead she tried a different tack for conversation. “If it is not too personal a question,” Lizzie began with some hesitation, uncertain what were acceptable topics to a pirate, “I would be very interested to know how it was you became a renowned pirate.”
“Me too,” Alice chimed in with a mouthful of cheese, which earned her a reproving glance from Lizzie, which she chose to ignore.
“Well,” Black Ethel said as she inhaled the aroma of a Cuban cigar, “It is a very exciting tale which I shall be glad to relate.”