"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.