Sunday, January 13, 2008


Ensconced once more in the safety of the captain’s cabin, Lizzie looked with some alarm out the thick windows. The sky had become a precipitous black and the rain pelted against the windows as if it sought entry to their haven. Periodically the darkness was lit by wild slashes of lightning. The pitch of the ship grew until it seemed like some wild steed freed from its traces to plunge and charge at will. Its motion made her own strong stomach begin to flip over on its own. It looked to be an ominous night.

Their mending now forgotten, the two young women crouched at the window and tried to see out into the black night. It was fruitless, though. There was simply nothing to be seen in the inky evening.

“Oh Lizzie,” cried Alice, “We’re going to die, aren’t we?”

“Hush, Alice! There’s no need to be ridiculous. This ship has sailed across oceans, back and forth and been part of many a sea battle I would wager. The Bonny Read will keep us safe.” But in her heart Lizzie feared the same thing. Such a night! And the captain herself had seemed rather concerned… but she could not let that trouble her nor frighten Alice. How to keep their minds off such horrors when the ship pitched so wildly? Her eye lighted upon a book lying on the captain’s desk and inspiration struck.

Lizzie lurched across the room to the desk and picked up the small volume. She was somewhat aghast to find that it was yet another copy of Miss Sarah Fielding’s inexplicably popular tome The Governess. It would, nonetheless, suffice to keep their attention off the growing tempest or so she hoped. Lizzie beckoned to Alice and they sat side by side in the flickering light of the captain’s lamp. It would be a struggle to keep the pages still enough to read, but Lizzie thought it best to distract themselves.

“We were up to, ah -- the story of the giants, I think.” Alice’s eye was wild, paying no attention yet but darting toward the opaque windows. Lizzie cleared her voice and began in a rather loud voice to compensate for the wild dash of the waves and the soaring cry of the wind.

“The story of the cruel giant Barbarico, the good giant Benefico and the little pretty dwarf Mignon,” Lizzie said with great expression. “A great many hundred years ago, the mountains of Wales were inhabited by two giants; one of whom was the terror of all his neighbours and the plague of the whole country. He greatly exceeded the size of any giant recorded in history; and his eyes looked so fierce and terrible, that they frightened all who were so unhappy as to behold them.” A sudden crash of lightning made her start and Alice jump, then erupt with hiccoughs as the ship pitched up once more.

“The name of this enormous wretch was Barbarico. A name which filled all who heard it with fear and astonishment. The whole delight of this monster's life was in acts of inhumanity and mischief; and he was the most miserable as well as the most wicked creature that ever yet was born. He had no sooner committed one outrage -- ”

At the peak of another wave, the ship gave such a groan as a very evil giant might indeed give and both women cried out in horror and latched onto one another. “Oh, Lizzie,” Alice shrieked, “We’re going to die!”

“Hush, Alice,” Lizzie said, but her calm words belied a much more turbulent state of mind. It was impossible to go on reading in this hurly-burly. She slipped the book absently into her apron pocket and considered what they ought to do. Her first thought was about the importance of buoyancy, should the worst happen, but there were other practical concerns to consider. Lizzie rose and stuffed a good amount of the mending into workbags along with a few spools of thread and a packet of needles. She tied one around the wrist of her uncomprehending cousin and the other around her own.

“What’s that for?” Alice said, quailing before another peal of thunder as it ripped the chaos of the night.

Lizzie ignored her question and cast about the room for useful items. What was left of the cheese she also stuffed into the mending bags. It would be something, anyway. What else, Lizzie thought, a finger tapping her lips. She held a loop of rope in her hands, knowing it would be handy, but the problem of buoyancy remained uppermost in her mind.

“Barrels,” Alice said dully and Lizzie turned to regard her with some surprise. Not only had Alice seemed to have grasped the dire situation -- which was astounding enough -- but she also had come up with an excellent suggestion.

Except that the barrels were all on deck, Lizzie realized. A glance at the door revealed nothing but darkness outside, perhaps though, it would not be so bad to step outside and secure a small powder keg or two. Better to be safe, ne c’est pas?

Alice and Lizzie crept to the door and pulled it open. At once they were hit with the massive force of the gale, a wind that slapped them rudely as some ill-mannered hooligan and then rushed past them to the interior. But there, beside the cannon, a couple of small barrels slid precipitously back and forth in the wild storm. As the rain crashed down upon them, the two staggered toward the cannon, protected only by their light shawls and dragging the mending bags. Bending swiftly, Lizzie knotted a rope around the first one then tied another secure knot about the waist of her cousin. One good thing about living with sailors, she thought absently, one did learn quickly how good knots were tied. In another moment, Lizzie had secured herself in a similar fashion.

Their safety assured, the two young women turned to regain their sanctuary. The midnight hue of the sky belied the late afternoon hour and the gale roared like a furious giant. There was no one to be seen on deck and Lizzie paused in wonder as the ship reared up once more on the back of an enormous wave. As they staggered toward the beckoning door, the ship pitched back down into the sea as if it were a muskrat heading for the river bottom. Lizzie had no voice with which to shriek when she saw the wall of water coming across the deck. Alice, mercifully, was looking the other way and so saw nothing before the swell lifted them both aloft, barrels chopping the surface. In a moment they were over the side of the Bonny Read as it leapt up once more into the black night. Lizzie swallowed a quantity of salt water before bobbing once more to the surface with a gasp and a shriek, for she saw Alice borne upon another wave some yards away from her, her hands grasping the rope around the barrel, her mouth open in a silent scream.

The last thing Lizzie saw before the waters closed over her head once more was the pale white face of the friendly bosun, quizzically staring in her direction before lifting his hat in an unmistakable gesture of farewell.

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