Black Ethel took a sip of rum before she continued with her riveting tale. Lizzie thought to herself how exciting the story would be when she revised it for her secret pen pal with the proper flourishes that the pirate queen seemed to find unnecessary. A good Gothic should have more atmosphere, Lizzie mused, listening to the rain begin to fall outside the cabin window, aware once more of the occasional shouts of the pirate men as they went about their myriad duties required to keep the ship running. No doubt about it, Lizzie assured herself, this tale could be embellished grandly.
“It was late afternoon,” Ethel began again, “and we knew that Algernon and Miss Surfeis Perkineiss would be returning any time in their fine frocks and with their basket of fresh strawberries. They were part of my bribe to the other children. I assured them we would plunder the basket and enjoy the spoils of our attack.”
“Did you look forward to the strawberries with cream,” Alice could not keep herself from wondering aloud even as she wistfully sighed for the lack of such delicacies on board the Bonny Read. “Or even with a little bit of sponge cake…”
“What did I care for strawberries?” Black Ethel waved away such details, intent upon her tale. “My only hunger was for revenge against mine enemy, my bête noire! Miss Surfeis was going to pay for her many unkindnesses and if her little toad-eating friend had to share the cost, so much the better!”
“Oh horrors!” Alice said with considerable alarm, seeking in vain for her mourning handkerchief to cover her swiftly watering mouth. “I can hardly abide toads at all, let alone consider eating them! It is too much to contemplate.”
“Where you come by this ridiculous toad prejudice, I can hardly understand,” Lizzie said with a cross tone that suggested this to be yet the latest round in an on-going battle of wills. “Toads are essential for the smooth-running garden, they provide a simple solution to common pest insects and are clean and friendly -- ”
“I was merely using the phrase ‘toad-eating’ to indicated that M. Algernon was a sycophantic flatterer,” Black Ethel broke in, somewhat dismayed at the suddenly fractious turn of the conversation and eager to return to the traumatic events of her childhood. “We despised him for it. And when I say we, I mean my little friends of the town who were immune to the charms of Miss Surfeis because they could not get past her evil words and her snooty attitude, and thus had come to hate her nearly as much as I.
“We were watching the road closely. A few carts had come by and the mail from Paris, but all of a sudden we saw the bright little pony cart that held those two and we prepared ourselves for the assault. I knew that however much I ended up in the basket, as you English say, it would be worth it to see that superior smirk wiped from the face of my mortal enemy.
“Faster and faster, the little pony trotted along. I looked to my comrades and they each had a look of grim satisfaction as the shiny white cart drew nearer with its large basket of strawberries and its two well-dressed passengers. With a quick whistle, I signaled to my men, two of whom pulled taut the laundry line across the track, stopping the gentle pony in his traces, and causing young Algernon to drawl idly, “What can be the meaning of this, you mangy dogs?”
“’I will show you the meaning, mon petit losengeor’ I said to him, hoping he would catch the irony in my insult, and ordered my men to begin firing…”