“Lafitte!” Lizzie said with alarm and disbelief. “The horrible pirate? Oh, I beg your pardon.” How awkward it was to suddenly find themselves rescued by a pirate from what had appeared to perfectly respectable men. As fixed as her ideas had been about pirates and highway men, Lizzie could not keep herself from regarding Black Ethel with a mixture of puzzlement and admiration. She would be loathe to admit it even to her dear cousin, but Lizzie was quite fascinated and intrigued by the free life the pirate queen lived, not only freed from the bonds of tutelary but also from the restrictions of family and town. She wore what she liked, spoke as she wished and was entirely careless of housekeeping details.
It was quite dizzying to consider.
Black Ethel continued to suck on her cigar thoughtfully. “He was certainly notorious, c’est vrai. All those who faced him in the corridor that day eagerly gave way after one glare from his glittering eyes.”
Alice quailed visibly. “Were you not frightened?” she asked with awe.
Black Ethel waved her hand dismissively. “He was the one person who could take me away from the all that drudgery into a life of freedom and adventure. I knew that the fusty luggs who ran the infirmière had long been his paramour, so I decided to make the most of his brief visit to Paris.”
“Paramour?” said Alice, her brow furrowing.
“Paramour!” said Lizzie, her cheeks blushing pink.
“Indeed,” said Ethel, oblivious to the reactions of the two young women as she warmed to the telling of her story. “By listening to the gossip of the staff, I knew that it was the habit of M. Lafitte to visit the kitchen first and obtain a little sustenance from the gallimaufry that served as the primary meal of the infirmière—except of course for those too ill or injured to eat.”
“Was there a war on?” Alice asked hesitantly, afraid that she might be asked to name the particular war and aware that she could only remember the battles that had interesting names like Marathon and Waterloo but had no memory to recall the other wars categorical.
“There is always a war on,” Lizzie said with some bitterness, all too aware how the current situation in the Mediterranean affected her own romantic interests.
Black Ethel nodded sagely. “Quel dommage, eh? It was fortunate for Lafitte, as it was far easier to recruit men to the piratical life once they had seen action in the armed forces. They knew how to use pistols and they were accustomed to the sight of blood. Quite often, too, they were somewhat less idealistic and more eager for results.
“I left my linens behind and sneaked into the kitchen. The usual Gorgon who ran that sweaty room had departed for fear of Lafitte, who sat on a chair shoveling some food into a bowl with a mug of ale at his side. He was everything the tales had told: surely six feet tall or more, with an ugly scar down the left side of his face, blocked only by a jet black patch where his eye ought to have been. I quailed at the thought of his roughness, but I was determined to join the pirate life and lay waste to all that my blackguard relatives held dear.
“I gathered my courage and at last said, ‘M. Lafitte, I wish to join your crew!’ He looked at me through his single eye, set down the bowl of gallimaufry and then burst into loud guffaws of laughter.
“This only made me more determined. Quick as a fox, I snatched a knife from the cutting board and held it to his throat. ‘M. Lafitte,’ I said triumphantly, ‘I suggest you consider my offer!’”