Sunday, March 30, 2008


"Well, blow me down!" Tilney exclaimed with surprised delight. "I shan't take another bite until I hear everything. Were they cruel? Were they heartless? Out with it, Bennett! I must hear everything."

"Aye, aye," Lizzie answered, savoring the last salty bite of her bacon. "Don't come a Nastyface with me," she said, savoring, too, the chance to pelt him with some nautical cant of her own. All that time on board the two ships had trained her ears to a whole new rhythm of speech. "I don't mind finishing the story, just hold onto your hymnal." Tilney seemed suitably cowed into expectant silence, nibbling on his oatcakes and sipping tea.

"We had been sailing along that day, not knowing where we were bound -- at least I didn't know where we were bound," Lizzie added with a careless shrug. "Over the horizon a great black ship appeared, the ominous colors on its mast --"

"You don't mean --"

"Indeed! It was the Bonny Read and at the wheel --"

"Not, not -- she, herself?!"

"Black Ethel Le Beau! She was fearless, ruthless and exceedingly handsome," Lizzie said, turning her head away as if abashed.

"Oh lad, you didn't fall for her," Tilney asked with some amazement, as if such a wild woman were no more than a tiger or panther.

"She was extraordinary, quite a force of nature." Lizzie warmed to the narrative now, caught by the force of her imagination and the rare gift of a rapt listener. "She commands her men with an iron fist and they cower before her like dogs, though they be the wildest pirates on the seven seas. In moments they had leapt aboard our ship and captured all hands who had not fallen or jumped overboard from sheer terror."

"But did she not kill all the men?" Tilney's brow wrinkled perplexedly. "I'm sure I have heard that she cruelly murders the men of the ships she destroys. I must have read it in the Examiner."

Lizzie, to her credit, hesitated not in the slightest. "She was on the verge of doing so when I pleaded for us --"

"Pleaded?" Tilney said, one eyebrow raised.

"Yes, pleaded," Lizzie continued like a terrier after a rat, "pleaded to become a member of her crew, to know the dangers of the wild seas, to live a vagabond life in the sun and to seek out the four corners of the globe. She accepted after we swore our loyalty in a suitably bloody oath." She was elated to see that Tilney appeared inestimably impressed. "What a time we had, plundering the seas, capturing, er, wenches and drinking rum all night."

"I'm envious, lad. You are a nonesuch and no doubt about it. But how came you to this dreary place?"

"A storm at sea," Lizzie said sadly, beginning to feel the loss of the Bonny Read and her dear cousin anew. "Washed up here and, fearing that the town people might take me for the pirate I had been, I was making my way secretly through the streets when I chanced upon you."

"A damme fine thing you did," Tilney said, clapping Lizzie on the arm with a little too much force for that delicate limb. "We shall be great friends. Would you like to accompany me on my journey to Marseilles? It will not be quite the adventure you have had, Bennett, but I daresay the two of us can get into some scrapes together."

Lizzie grinned. "I should be delighted. Particularly if we can rustle up some trouble," she added, fearing she had not been sufficiently rakish in her response.

"I see great things ahead," Tilney said, clapping her tender mitt into his larger hands and rubbing it violently.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Waylaid by Pirates in the City by the Bay

Your humble narrator has been pressed into service among a band of cut-throats from which she hopes to escape in time to write a new episode for next week. Meanwhile, she hums along with pirate shanties and plots nefariously.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


"Well, Bennett," Tilney said languorously as he set his fork down, "Where were you bound anyhoo?"

Lizzie tried to cover her momentary panic with a bit of a cough, necessary anyway as the sudden constriction of her throat had caused a bit of her egg to go down the wrong way. "Bound -- er, well, no where in particular, I suppose," she said, remembering to keep her voice low and gruff as she might.

"Anyway the wind blows, eh?" Tilney laughed and the hearty sounds rang through the mostly empty inn. The landlord polishing glasses, looked up at the sound, but returned to his own thoughts when there seemed to be no immediate order behind their sounds. "So is that the adventurous spirit that got you into hot water in the first place?"

Lizzie tried not to betray the confusion she felt, until she remembered that she had suggested calamitous happenings were in her past and responsible for her destitute present. "Ah, yes…" She swallowed and took a big mouthful of coffee to hide her confusion. Why, oh why, did I think it was going to be easier to pretend to be a man? Lizzie scolded herself firmly. She had chosen her path and now it must be followed until another opportunity came her way. Lizzie tried to maintain her composure. Mr. Tilney must not glean from her appearance just how much she was attempting to hide.

Sure enough, there seemed to be a twinkle of amusement in his eyes that Lizzie was determined should not undermine her confidence in the charade. However, she was not well-prepared for his next conversational sally. Tilney picked up his own cup and used it to gesture lazily at Lizzie. "Let me guess: was it a press gang? Somehow I can imagine something of the sort, a wild type of lad like you, frequenting taverns on the coast -- we all know the typical hellholes." He winked at Lizzie. "Too much ale and the poor sort of acquaintances who don't watch out for your best interests, I'll wager."

A flush of indignation rose from Lizzie's breast, but she checked herself from a hot retort. Why not a press gang? She had read of them in her uncle's newspapers, so she was familiar with the basic narrative. From a press gang she could easily work her way around to the pirates with a convincing ring of familiarity. With the pirates she could stick more closely to her experience and away from the need to tell expansive lies (which were, she admitted, much harder to keep in memory). "From Southampton, I'm afraid. I was at the Three… ah, Three Crowns when I was pressed. Service on the seas for some days, I couldn't tell you how long. I was rather seasick at first." Lizzie was loathe to portray herself as prone to seasickness, particularly because she had perhaps some immoderate pride on behalf of her good stomach, but expediency in narrative must overlook such small matters as truth.

Tilney seemed quite enraptured by the tale. "Heavens, lad. What a confounded havey-cavey business! They were free-traders I suppose, that was a bit of a hobble."

Lizzie was a bit flummoxed by his outrageous cant, but she forged on as fearlessly as possible. It was with a full knowledge of the effect of her words that she said carelessly, "Oh, that was nothing compared to the pirates."

"Pirates! Lawks! You don't mean to say…?"

"Captured," Lizzie smiled to herself as she bent her head down to the last few bites of bacon. It was a delight to be listened to with such rapt attention. I should not get used to this, she scolded herself, yet she found the pause before resuming her tale more delicious than the crispy bacon she popped into her mouth.

Sunday, March 09, 2008


Stepping into the cool darkness of the public house, Lizzie was struck once more with the strangeness of being treated like a man. No one rushed forward to lead her to a table, no one greeted her with more than a grunt. It was a bit disconcerting, but less so than the fact that she was about to sit down to eat with a man to whom she was a stranger.

"Here, lad," that same easy voice called over to Lizzie as she peered into the gloom of the inn. The young gentleman lounged easily at one of the small wooden tables near the far window. The morning sun was just beginning to work its way round to the angle, so when he sat up Lizzie was able to take a second glance at her young patron.

No doubt he'd be considered a swell of the first stare, Lizzie thought as she too cautiously lowered herself into the chair opposite. Tall and a bit thin, but with the swift movements of a man of action. Wiry rather than muscled, but with a strong sense of confidence that belied his lazy drawling manner of speech. It told her something that he was conscious of his effect on people and sought to affect it against him. It bespoke intelligence, Lizzie was certain.

"Name's Tilney, Sidney Tilney. The Manor House, Woolton, Hertfordshire. Pleased to meet you, eh -- ?" Tilney used this speech to clasp Lizzie's hand in his and shake it vigorously.

Lizzie swallowed and finally stammered out the answer, "George Bennett, pleased to meet you." There was an unexpected squeak in her voice as she spoke which she tried to cover up with a cough. "No family, no home at present, although I hope to make my way back home eventually."

Tilney's eyes seemed to dance with amusement. "Must be a bit of a tearaway, Bennett. Penniless and far from home. Too ripe and ready by half, I must say."

Lizzie smiled, feeling a little puzzled by the high flung cant, but she determined to press on enthusiastically. "And you, sir? Are you adventuring at present?"

"Now, that's enough of this 'sir' business, Bennett. We're going to be good pals, eh? Now can we get this devil of a landlord to spring us some eggs and decent bread, d'you think?"

Lizzie called over to the landlord in her accurate if somewhat timid French and the man waved his assent and waddled toward the kitchen.

"Damn clever of you to know this French tongue so well," Tilney said with evident relief. "I spend half my day trying to remember the right word. Half the time it comes out all German anyway."

"My gov -- er, tutor always insisted on reading Voltaire in the original language. My father thought Voltaire essential to the well-educated young… man," Lizzie finished lamely.

"Sound like your papa was a task master," Tilney said, not unkindly.

"He was a very good man," Lizzie thought with a stab of loss, that melancholy pain of great sorrow that lingers softened only by the joy of one so beloved. She was glad the landlord bustled up just then to lay two trenchers of eggs and sausage before them. To the devil with a genteel appetite, Lizzie thought wildly as her mouth watered, and tucked into the breakfast with breakneck speed.

"Gad, you were hungry!" Tilney said with a chortle before lifting his own fork to eagerly join in the meal.

Sunday, March 02, 2008


Lizzie -- or rather, George, she hastily reminded herself -- turned to see the person who had hallooed her. A striking young man had just alighted from a tall chestnut hunter, its flanks wet from exertion. "I say there, boy! Come take my horse."

Lizzie froze. She willed her self to step forward, but for once her body was not responding to her mind's prompting. This was precisely the moment she had anticipated, but she found herself terrified at the idea of impersonating a young male. Surely frozen terror was worse than the poorest disguise, she scolded herself and made her numb legs take a step toward the young man who was looking impatiently at her.

"Oh heavens, I forget myself," the young man continued smacking himself on the forehead. "S'il vous plaît, garçon. Mon cheval -- oh, hang it. Horse? You understand, right? The fiend seize it! I can't keep this slippery language in my head for five minutes at a time."

It seemed so long since Lizzie had heard one of her countrymen speak that she grinned at once, cheered to feel a little bit of home so far from it. "Not to worry, sir," Lizzie said, remembering to lower her voice as much as possible, "I'm an English lad."

"Are you then? 'Pon rep, that's fortunate. Give me German any day, these Romance languages just don't suit my mouth, I swear. There now, be good to my Darcey here -- he's a prime bit of blood." The young man patted his horse affectionately and Lizzie made sure to praise its fine lines and good musculature.

"There then, lad, see my horse well groomed and put away and there's good coin in it for you -- sink me! You're not a stable lad, are you? Look at those hands. You're not some rough." Lizzie became acutely aware of the probing intelligence behind those hazel eyes, belied as it might be by his lazy tone and slipshod canting vocabulary.

"N-n-n-no, sir!" Lizzie stammered, thinking swiftly. "But I may have to make my living soon enough in that manner. I don't have a feather to fly with, you see -- destitute!"

"Heavens!" the young man looked surprised and not a little intrigued. "Well, lad, take this horse around to the barn, see that the groomsman takes him in hand, then join me inside for a hearty breakfast. I'm fair gutfounded and you look like you could do with a bite as well. Then you can tell me what a young gentleman like you is doing without a sixpence to scratch with so far from home."

"Yes, sir!" Lizzie said and led the chestnut off to the stables behind the inn. A sleepy groom met her there, scratching himself elaborately and yawning as he took the reins from her hand. Lizzie could only imagine that she might have been spared the sight had she been there in a fine frock and her usual accoutrements, but the revelation of the male world was already proving interesting.

Speaking of interesting, Lizzie was deeply curious about her unexpected benefactor. His lively eyes and cultured voice intrigued her. Of course, she reminded herself, her heart belonged entirely to the King of Naples, but the dangerous situations she found herself in of late required her to adapt to the unusual circumstances in all sorts of ways. A short time alone with young gentleman could not possibly prove of any scandalous difficulty, Lizzie assured herself. She was merely curious, that was all, what it was like to speak with a man as a man. A scrape it was, but a most interesting one. Lizzie had every confidence that she would prove to be its master.