Sunday, December 30, 2007


The day which had begun so promisingly soon darkened precipitously. Black Ethel stood in anxious conferral with the mysterious bosun and her pilot as the winds began to whip about them. Lizzie looked at the small huddle with some trepidation. She was loathe to imagine even a fine ship like the Bonny Read tossed about by a tempest on the wild seas. No Prospero she to command the winds and no Ariel flew to their behest on the bat’s back.

Her anxious glance toward Alice revealed her cousin to be in unaccustomed deep thought. Perhaps it was for the best, Lizzie reflected, as usual sheltering her younger cousin from harsh realities of life. Let her preserve the time remaining in pleasant ignorance, free from concern about the dangers of the ocean. Truth to tell, however, it did seem that Alice had some thoughts that pressed upon her heart with rather more pressure than usual.

Lizzie considered simply turning back to her stitching without distracting her cousin’s musings. They had volunteered to do some mending for the sailors and were quite overwhelmed by the volume of shirts and inexpressibles that had been heaped upon them. Nonetheless, Lizzie had set to work with her usual efficient sense of duty and they had begun making headway despite Alice’s tendency to sew poorly and very slowly, necessitating the removal of many of her mended patches. Lizzie was no brilliant seamstress herself, but long term need had supplied her with sure skills if no great love for the tedious work.

Indeed, Lizzie had once more bent her head to her work -- a rather well-worn elbow of the third mate’s attire -- when Alice herself broke from her reverie and turned to her cousin. “Lizzie, dear, do you suppose that dreams can mean any thing of import?”

“You’ve dropped your mending,” Lizzie said first, pointing to the inexpressibles that had fallen to the deck while Alice had meant to be repairing one leg that was frayed at the bottom. As Alice retrieved the fallen garment, Lizzie cast her mind back to her own reading and quickly recalled a suitable analog.

“In the Odyssey,” Lizzie said with a pleasant sense of authority, something long missing from the tumultuous ordeals of late, “Homer has Penelope talk about the two kinds of dreams.”

“Are there only two?” Alice said, sounding somewhat disappointed.

“Two types, but far more many individual dreams,” Lizzie answered, snipping a length of thread from a spool. “But Penelope says -- ”

“Was she very clever? Was she a professor? I only ask,” Alice said shyly, “because I hope to know the truth.”

Lizzie smiled. “Penelope is not a professor but I will certainly argue that she is indeed clever. And if you recall Professor Slough, you will also recall that the title need not confer wit.” Alice nodded, abashed. Her pupil now contrite, Lizzie continued. “Penelope spoke of the two types of dreams as those which came through the gateway of ivory and those which came through the gateway of horn.”

“Where did the gate lead from?” Alice could not resist from asking.

“From Elysium, which I’m sure you’ll remember from your lessons.”

Alice though it best to pretend that she did.

“The gate of ivory,” Lizzie continued, pleased with her avoidance of another digression, “brought dreams of foolish fancy that had no more substantial weight than a will o’the wisp. But through the gates of smoothened horn come dreams that offer truth to the dreamer.”

Alice seemed almost awed into silence. “How can you know which gate the dreams have passed through?” she said at last.

“It is very difficult to tell,” Lizzie said with a rotund echo of wisdom in her tone, for she could not immediately recall what, if anything, Penelope had had to say on the subject, although she had a vague notion that Chaucer might have been helpful at that moment. “Only time can make you certain.”

“What if the dream was a warning?” Alice asked with some anxiousness betrayed in her tone.

“What was your dream about Alice?” Lizzie asked with a small knell of foreboding. But before her cousin could answer the ship took a sudden pitch in to the air before falling with a sickening abruptness into a trough. A sudden din arose as enormous drops of rain began to pelt the deck.

“Quick, get below!” the third mate barked at the two women as they grabbed their pile of mending and rushed for safety.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


It was late morning when Alice heard the distinctive sound of horses’ hooves on a well-trod road. She turned on the sunny bench where she had slumbered in the afternoon light and shaded her eyes to see who was coming up the lane. Two young gentlemen on fine steppers, cutting very fine figures indeed, were trotting toward the garden bower. Alice squinted even though she knew it was not to her best advantage to be seen that way, as she was not able to discern who was coming her way looking so corky.

“It’s those two young gentlemen,” her father said unhelpfully as he continued to poke at the roots of the forsythia. “Those two dangling after you, not quite right, either of them. Ought to set them down.” He made as if to get up from his semi-recumbent position, but Alice shushed him with her fan and rose herself to greet the two gentlemen.

“Don’t make a cake of yourself,” Lady Mangrove said sharply from behind the fairy fountain, her head hidden by a satyr’s trumpet. “No mawkish trifles, now.”

Alice was stung both by the unkindness of her mother’s words and by her undignified use of cant. What is the world coming to, Alice thought peevishly, if one’s parents try to use the latest slang? It was entirely wrong, she could not help thinking, it was as bad as imagining her parents suddenly playing croquet with herons for mallets. Once she had put the image in her head, it refused to leave for some interminable moments.

She only succeeded in throwing it aside when she suddenly realized that the one young man was no other than the mysteriously handsome Kit Barrington, who was once more restored to vivid glory before her eyes. It is hard to believe that his brief absence had seemed so long, Alice thought in an agony of regret. How could she have forgotten those handsome black curls, those piercingly blue eyes and the jaw that promised firm decisiveness. Alice could see now that he rode magnificently upon his steed with a certain attitude that showed he had pluck to the backbone. How wonderful that he was calling on her.

It was another moment before she realized that Arthur Boylett rode beside him on a horse of far less striking beauty and without that set of the shoulders that presaged decisive boldness. If Mr. Barrington were the pinkest of the pink, then surely Arthur was the grey. Alice felt her smile withdraw into a frown of disappointment, until she recognized that it must be making her a shade less attractive. Her smile sprang back like a fresh young sapling in the wind. Mr. Barrington must find her to be admirably agreeable.

“The ants are returning,” Mr. Radley said by the wisteria, a trowel in one hand and a bottle of gin in the other. Alice was momentarily distracted. If Mr. Radley were taking to the gin that would be the end of their famed garden. Perhaps he was only using it to tease the ants. She had to think -- did ants drink gin? Would it lure them within range of the trowel?

“Alice!” It was Kit Barrington. Alice turned back, but he seemed farther away now. He and Arthur were riding at the same pace, but they seemed to be retreating from her nonetheless. Alice furrowed her brow, heedless of its unattractive pull at her features. She decided to walk toward the gentlemen as if she happened to be going that way, trying not to let her panic show.

Yet each step seemed to slow her further. The wisteria was spreading far too quickly, flopping across her path and impeding her progress with gentle insistence. “The seeds pods are poisonous,” Mr. Radley was saying somewhere in the distance but Alice was unable to hear his additional pronouncements on the progress of the ants. The elusive Mr. Barrington was nearly out of sight, yet his voice was becoming clearer all the time, calling “Alice, Alice!”

It was with great sadness and frustration that Alice opened her eyes to behold her cousin offering a plate of comestibles for a late breakfast. Alice sulked as she chewed on some jerky and did not notice the dark circles rounding Lizzie’s gentle eyes.

Monday, December 17, 2007


The orange tendrils of dawn were lifting across the sky as Black Ethel stretched and then stubbed out the last of her cigar. “Oh la la, we have talked a long time.”

Tired as she was, Lizzie could not conceal her curiosity about the adventure that had brought king and pirate together. “Is it a very long story?”

“Oh, oui, mademoiselle Lizzie,” the pirate queen assured, “It is rather complicated and quite intriguing tale, but it is late -- or rather, very early.” She chuckled quietly and pointed to Alice. “Besides, your young cousin has already fallen asleep.

True enough, Alice had finally succumbed to fatigue despite the exiting tale spun in the captain’s room that night. She would be sorely vexed to be awakened now, but Lizzie was quite practiced at maneuvering Alice in that condition, which took an application of firmness and gentle cajoling in equal parts. While Black Ethel made one last round of her ship, growling at the occasional laggard and clapping a few stalwart lads on the back, Lizzie coaxed Alice out of her much wrinkled day clothes and into one of the night gowns they had received from the kindly pirate queen.

“I know I shall have the most peculiar dreams,” Alice yawned as she collapsed into nearly instantaneous sleep. Lizzie looked down at her young cousin and sighed slightly before pulling the covers up to her shoulders. Alice seemed to pay it no mind, but said groggily, “Mother, please, I don’t want any treacle,” before turning over and beginning to snore softly.

Lizzie smiled and turned to prepare herself for bed as well. Out the window she could see the clear signs of dawn, but she did not care two pins for propriety. If they could be spirited away from her uncle’s funeral, kidnapped twice and caught in the midst of pirates, Lizzie could reconcile sleeping late on a weekday. She thought it was perhaps a weekday, anyway. It was increasingly difficult to be certain.

Lizzie got into bed, glancing over at her cousin and making certain she was safely in Slumberland before she reached once more for the much-read letter secreted as always in her sleeve. But as she ran her eyes over the neatly formed words, they failed to give her the usual thrill she would feel on most occasions.

For the first time Lizzie experienced a twinge of doubt. It wasn’t the king himself, of course. He was sublime. She still found his words stirring, especially when she dared to read between the lines. But for the first time she doubted it would all work out somehow. How could the king find her in the middle of the wild seas? The pirate queen was kindly enough -- far more so than they had any right to expect -- but what were they to do? No one knew where they were; no one might even be looking for them anymore, supposing perhaps they had perished, if not when sold into the white slave trade as had been planned, then certainly once they had boarded a pirate vessel.

Lizzie sat up anxiously, the thoughts preying on her consciousness. What is to become of me? What is to become of us? Will the king forget me before he has had a chance to even make my direct acquaintance. He had letters, a lock of hair -- was it enough to bind her love to him when all hope seemed lost?

Unable to bear the weight of her thoughts, Lizzie sank back to the supine position, tears dampening her pale cheeks. As the sun rose, her hopes fell and she slipped into a fitful slumber.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


“Did he have his ship waiting there in Paris?” Alice asked the pirate queen as she recalled the day she met her mentor, the legendary pirate Lafitte.

Lizzie coughed to cover her inadvertent chuckle at Alice’s seemingly bottomless ignorance. Poor Miss Travers must not have worked her way through much in the way of geography with her young pupil. Black Ethel narrowed her eyes at the guileless Miss Mangrove, but perceiving only ignorance in the question, at last deigned to answer.

“No, ma petite. He had only a barge there and a handful of his crew. The crew were picking up various supplies and while Lafitte himself had been delivering a rather special item.”

“Special item?” Lizzie said, trying in vain to smother an inadvertent yawn. Surely that was not the first rosy light of dawn brightening the ink dark sky? Could they have talked all night?

“I did not learn this until much later, of course,” Black Ethel said as she opened a drawer in her massive desk. “But Lafitte had met with no less a person than the king himself.” She smiled expectantly at the two listeners.

“Our king?” Alice asked breathlessly, daring to hope.

The pirate queen frowned. “No, mademoiselle! Our king.”

“Oh.” Alice immediately perceived the frown lengthening, so she added, “How lovely!”

“Quite gratifying, I’m sure,” Lizzie added quickly, her ability to size up awkward social situations benefiting her as always. “What a surprise, too, to know that the king was intimate with the man who terrorized the seas across the world! Such a brave man.”

The buccaneer leaned back and nodded appreciatively. “He had rescued a rather important item for his majesty and was being appropriately rewarded. I don’t suppose that either of you have been in such a situation, but it is quite a thing to be in the presence of a king.” She leaned forward to fish through the open drawer, obviously seeking something special.

“Well, as a matter of fact,” Lizzie started cautiously, as the late hour and the thrilling conversation had made her somewhat indecorously reckless regarding her secret understanding with the King of Naples. She had been just bursting to tell about the many months of letters back and forth, the detailed information exchanged about the habits of certain spindly-legged insects, and the growing feeling of esteem so beautifully shared over the lengthy and rather well-spelled (for a foreign national) letters. “I must confess—”

“Ah, voilà!” With a flourish, Black Ethel withdrew the item she had been in search of. “See here, given from the king’s own hand.” She repeated the gesture, passing the object to Alice because she was the closer of the two.

Alice gazed at the small metal disk with something approaching concentration. “How very lovely and that’s the king’s imagine is it not?” She bit her lips hoping she had guessed correctly. Black Ethel nodded curtly. It was not the time to wish that she had paid more attention in her interminable French lessons. The language always sounded better when Miss Travers spoke it with her elegant Stratford accent. When Alice tried to repeat the words they failed to sound as trippingly from her tongue, instead bumping into one another in a rush as the servants did back home when Mrs. Perkins was in a foul mood.

Lizzie took the disk from Alice’s outstretched hand while the pirate queen awaited a more suitably effusive response. Lizzie was ready to oblige despite smarting under the abruptness with which the subject had once more wheeled away from her secret correspondence. But she was no rag-mannered chit and had had many of her years devoted to the concealing of disappointment.

“Medal of honor,” Lizzie read off the top of the disk, which despite its rather unkempt look, she saw was made of solid gold. “From the king himself—look Alice, there’s his name.”

Alice nodded with what she hoped looked like confidence.

“For extraordinary valour, to M. Jean Lafitte,” Lizzie continued on the back of the disk. Despite its missing a ceremonial ribbon of some kind, this was indeed a precious object. The buccaneer captain herself smiled with reflected glory at this acknowledgment of respect. “Whatever had he done?” she could not help asking.

“He delivered a most important article to the king. It was… a woman!”

Sunday, December 02, 2007


Alice drew back in horror. “Did he quail before your daring?” She thrilled to think of the bravery of the pirate queen, holding a knife to the throat of the renowned buccaneer. Lafitte himself -- such daring! Alice longed to be such a heroine herself, but she was hampered by the prime defect of being quite cowardly. It was so inconvenient.

Black Ethel meanwhile had allowed a lazy grin to move across her features as she contemplated this episode from her youth. The young orphan had indeed possessed daring. She shook her head in response to Alice’s question. “Indeed he did not, he never moved or showed the least bit of worry.”

Lizzie smiled. Although he was admittedly a pirate, she could not help a thrill of admiration for the unflappable rapscallion. “What a man of considerable mettle he must have been to remain so complaisant in the face of a wild young thing.”

“C’est vrai!” Black Ethel continued, taking another puff on her latest cigar. The hour had grown late but none of the three seemed the least bit tired. The thrilling narrative had kept them all rapt with a fervor to let the yarn unfurl. “He simply reached for his spoon and began to eat once more, keeping a weather eye on my hand to see if it would tremble. I suppose now that he was more concerned with my fear leading to his injury rather than my wrath.

“After a time, when I had demonstrated that I was no less stubborn than he, Lafitte pushed the empty bowl away from him, grabbed the mug of ale and took a deep draft, my knife still at his throat. When he set down the empty glass, he looked once more into my blazing eyes and grunted.

“’What is your name, cherie?’ he asked me. I gave him the name my dear parents had bequeathed me, but he shook his head. ‘That is no name for a pirate.’ My heart leaped of course to know that he would accept me into his crew.

“’Merci, mon capitán! I shall do all that you ask, I shall work hard, I shall be ruthless…’ I was effusive in my delight, but the old reprobate merely grunted again and asked for more food. I sprang to work finding him sustenance, rooting through the cabinets with alacrity. He said nothing more until he had devoured some Bretagne ham and half a loaf of pumpernickel. And all he said then was that I must disguise myself as a boy.

“I laughed, because I had already anticipated that possibility. In my bindle I had stuffed such clothes as would fit the life of the cabin boy for some time to come. It took only a few minutes to run and fetch the rucksack, but I feared the whole time that the bloody pirate would abandon me to the ravages of the Gorgon once more, but he was still filling his pockets with smoked meats when I returned breathless. He looked at my bindle and wordlessly handed me a string of sausages. I took it upon myself to liberate the few good wedges of cheese to be found in that sorry excuse for a kitchen, and turned to follow at Lafitte’s heel as he strode once more out of the infirmière.

“As we walked down the filthy streets of Paris, I turned once more to look at the workplace that had oppressed me for a time and spat on the ground with contempt. Lafitte saw me do so and laughed out loud as we walked toward the banks of the Seine.”