“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!”