For a time, Lizzie could do nothing more than lie on the soft white sand and cry tears she did not realize had been waiting for release. Chary of thirst, she had held them in as she floated upon the black waters, but upon the shore once more, they came with relief, happiness and not a little grief. Alice, sweet Alice, where might she be? It was too much to hope that her dear cousin, too, had survived the pitching waves, but Lizzie would not give in to despair.
But where was she?
Once the tears subsided and the night wind began to chafe her cold clothing, Lizzie shivered and looked about. To find someone! That must be her next quest, but Lizzie stopped the shout that had risen to her lips. Many a thrilling gothic adventure rose from her memory—bereft gentlewomen, far from the care of family, so often became the terrified prey of an unscrupulous (yet often handsome and dashing) young man. Such a thing ought not happen to her.
Lizzie was cold, miserable and lost without a friend, but she knew she had a clever wit, a good sense of propriety and a reasonable knowledge of human nature. She pulled at the ropes knotted around herself and the barrel as her mind thought rather feverishly of the options. There must be warmth, or else she would soon catch her death. There must be water or she would faint from dehydration all too soon. After that, food would be the most needful thing, but fresh clothes -- how were they to be obtained? She had no money of any kind and little in the way of bargaining.
With great effort she finally released herself from the barrel’s company, chafing at her wrist and scouting about her on the strand. Now that her eyes had become accustomed to the dark of the night and the brightness of the strand, Lizzie could see that there were some cottages nearby. Probably the fishermen, she mused. I hope they don’t have dogs, Lizzie thought as she headed in that direction, telling herself that no doubt they had cats (somehow cats and fish seemed to connect naturally in her mind). While she was eager to be near people once more, Lizzie felt certain that a damp and friendless young woman like herself would be in far too vulnerable a spot to ask for assistance from people to whom she had never been introduced.
As she approached the nearest cottage, Lizzie could hear the gentle sounds of snoring and took some comfort in it. At least she was no longer alone. Approaching the corner of the little house, she peeked nervously around and drew in her breath sharply, thinking she had been seen. When no sound materialized, Lizzie drew up her courage and looked round the edge of the wall. It was not a person, but only the laundry hanging in the night breeze. With relief, Lizzie let out the breath she had not been aware of holding.
An idea struck her. While loathe to purloin from these poor folk, Lizzie knew she would be in grave danger should she not get out of her wet clothes soon. As she examined the laundry in the moonlight, she was somewhat taken aback to see nothing but boys clothes.
“Any port in a storm,” she muttered and grabbed a pair of breeches and a shirt that appeared to be about the right size. Looking carefully around, Lizzie saw no one watching and scooted away toward the next cottage to slip between it and into the darkness once more. When she was some distance away in a small tangle of shrub, she deemed it safe to disrobe and try on her new apparel. What a surprise to find that the unmentionable garment was far warmer than her frilly dress and the shirt quite a bit more comfortable than the fussy sleeves of her usual attire. Lizzie looked back at the cottages after she had knotted her wet clothes into a bundle and stuffed them inside the still damp mending bag.
She could not have known that the feeling she had was much like that of any successful thief, for if she had Lizzie might have been ashamed. Instead she felt only satisfaction that far from home and on her own, she had succeeded in the first step of her own rescue.