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BBW Lady Luck - by Marlow

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Marlow

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(10, continued)


“Why these infernal stairs, for all love?” Adelaide moaned, rather too loudly.

She was as full as she’d been since Sicily and the sloshing weight in her bloated abdomen conspired with the wine swimming in her head to make the tight spiral staircase a treacherous path. She stepped slowly and gingerly, one hand on the feeble railing and the other on her churning stomach.

Fortunately Allen was below her, his bulk filling much of the passageway. He had outdone her in every way at dinner, but seemed far more adept at handling the indulgence and able to handle not only his descent but hers as well.

She managed to trip anyway, in the final steps before reaching the bottom, sprawling onto his plush mass with a squeal. They tumbled out onto the floor of his workshop, toppling an easel and rolling onto the clay in a giggling fit.

“I’m so sorry,” she cried, watching the ceiling spin. “I have no idea where my feet went.”

Allen heaved himself up. “They must share your adventurous spirit. Are you alright?”

“Yes. Very, very alright.” She managed to sit up and tried to catch her breath between bouts of giggles. “Oh. My dress isn’t, though.”

He helped her to her feet and they surveyed the damage. A long tear had opened along her left leg, displaying the soft flesh of her thigh and the pale fabric of her chemise.

“At least no one’s around to be offended this time,” Adelaide noted, flapping it about. “Well, you’re here. But you don’t…you don’t look offended.”

“Not in the least.”

“I’ll just have to make something up to Mrs. Torcia. Again. I’ll have to get better at lying.” She wandered into the studio, weaving aimlessly. “Is that wrong?”

“Is what wrong? Following your happiness?”

“But…hiding it. Can I live two lives? Can I be one Adelaide to us but some other Adelaide to the rest of them?”

He followed her. “I don’t think there’s any shame in being an actress. Sometimes you go on stage, you wear your costume, you play your role, you act the part they all came to see. They applaud. They pay.”

She strutted a little, waving to an unseen audience, and tripped over a chest.

“But then the curtain closes. You take off your costume and your mask and you go home. You are not your character, no matter how well you portrayed her. You are someone else. Sure, you’ve worn two faces, but the effort of one face gives the other face a reason to smile.”

Allen reached out a hand to steady her. She turned to him and smiled. “Which audience are you?”

He gazed down at her.

“Do I need my costume for you?”

Before he could say anything, she reached to her shoulders and unfastened her dress. The torn garment fell into a bundle at her feet.

He set his broad hand on her cheek, leaned in slowly, and kissed her. Her stomach gurgled happily.

“Paint me,” she breathed, when their lips had parted.

“I’ve already finished your portrait,” he mused, “your very chaste, publicly presentable portrait.”

She shook her head. “I want a new one.”

Stepping back, she let her hair down and shook it out. She swayed a moment, steadied herself, and in one elegant motion slipped out of her chemise.

Only a few candles had been lit and their warm glow danced over the smooth contours of Adelaide’s skin. Shadows accentuated the gentle rolls behind her midsection and the squeezed valley between her thighs. Her glutted belly swelled out, only one side illuminated, like a half moon. Her diamonds, the only article she still wore, twinkled above her naked bosom.

“Without…” she continued, setting herself on a stool, “without my mask, this time.”

Allen nodded slowly. He reached for an easel, but stopped and hurried over as Adelaide contrived to fall off the stool.

“Perhaps the divan,” he suggested, leading her over.

She flopped onto the divan with another giggle, rolling onto her side and trying to emulate the decadent poses of Allen’s other paintings. She draped one arm lazily behind her head, let her dark hair fall in cascades over the pillows, and crossed her plush thighs.

“Perfect,” Allen remarked, stepping back.

A long, uncouth belch echoed off the cellar walls. Adelaide excused herself and laid a dainty hand on her stomach.

“Yes,” the painter gasped, eyes bulging. “That’s it. Yes. Do not move. You are aglow, absolutely aglow. I see it.”

In a frenzy of motion surprising from so large a man, he set up a new easel and assembled his tools. His eyes darted about between the vision before him and some world in his imagination and he unbuttoned his coat.

“Divinity. I will portray you as Fortuna, in all her glory, with all her bounty. Yes.” He sketched furiously. “All her attributes…the rota fortunae…the gubernaculum…the cornucopia…”

He droned on. Adelaide basked in her fullness, luxuriating in the ache of her belly and the warmth in her head. The hand on her stomach began to idly caress its curve.

“What will I do with this portrait?” she wondered quietly, watching Allen paint. “I can’t give it to poor Brenton. He would turn redder than his coat, hee. I certainly can’t hang it at the Palazzo. I can’t even hang it here, with all the prying eyes coming in and out…” She thought awhile, hiccupped, and pursed her lips with a smirk of realization.
 

redrider772004

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I could swear that I have read this story before. Have you posted this story anywhere else? At any rate I look forward to the next installment.
 

Marlow

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I could swear that I have read this story before. Have you posted this story anywhere else? At any rate I look forward to the next installment.
Haven't posted this anywhere else; I only finished the first draft a couple months ago. But a romantic and indulgent visit to this setting and time period has been done here before in the very excellent Lady Hamilton's Story
 

Marlow

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Chapter 11


January, 1811 - Lissa


HMS Tryphena was alive with activity and eager voices: mail had finally arrived for the Adriatic squadron. The men who could read lounged in their hammocks, devouring long-awaited letters or reciting them for the illiterate.

It was a welcome diversion. The blockade of Ancona was a misery to maintain and French reinforcements had nearly seized the makeshift British base at Lissa. Given how little good news they’d been able to send home, news from home could only be uplifting.

The ship had heaved to and the officers crowded the great cabin to collect their own mail. Captain Muir rarely received correspondence outside his official dispatches and thus when the clerk presented him with a curious, fragrant envelope the others peered up from their letters with nothing less than shock.

“What’s this?” he asked, turning it over.

Lieutenant Calder bit his lip. “It came with the package, sir.”

“Package?” Muir followed his nod. A long, flat parcel was propped up against the cabin bulkhead, wrapped in canvas. He slit open the envelope. “Addressed from Malta, to…to Tryphena herself, it seems.”

He unfolded the letter. The officers waited in rapt silence.

“Mon capitaine,” it began. Muir paled and instantly titled it away from Calder’s eyes. “I have been embarrassingly, unacceptably remiss in expressing the depth of my gratitude to you and the men of your lovely ship. I owe you all a debt that can never truly be repaid.”

The gratitude continued for several pages, well-articulated but poorly spelled. Adelaide’s English was much improved but her orthography lagged distantly behind.

“I am told,” she eventually explained, “that your assignment in the Adriatic is difficult and dangerous. I imagine that trying to contain an enemy of superior force would tire even the bravest of hearts, would leave anyone weary and lonely.”

The captain glanced up at his officers. They kept strong faces, but the long stress was certainly visible in their eyes and their weather-worn uniforms were haggard at best.

“I have included a gift for the ship. I expect it is somewhat irregular and I hope it is not too improper, but I thought it might help to lift the men’s spirits. I think of Tryphena every day and would be delighted if I could bring to your faces, once more, the smiles I remember from our short but so very pleasant voyage together. Now I can be with you in image, if not in person.”

Muir set down the letter, waited for his hand to stop shaking, and cleared his throat. He looked up.

“What is that din outside?”

Calder sucked his teeth. “I’m afraid the covering was slightly torn when the package came aboard, sir. Some of the hands have, ah, seen what’s inside.”

“Mr. Irving, see if you can’t get them back to their stations. This rabble—”

The midshipman, quaking, opened the cabin door. A press of men crowded the other side, shouting and climbing over one another for a look in. Irving forced his way out and hauled the door shut, but his yelped orders disappeared beneath the riotous noise.

“That does not bode well,” muttered the parson.

“For all love,” Muir sighed. “Let me see the damned thing.”

Calder handed it across. The captain turned it over, found the tear, and pulled the rest of the canvas away. It revealed an ornate, gilded pictureframe, containing a broad oil painting.

He nearly dropped it. The officers crowded around, eyes widening and mouths falling agape.

There was the Madame de Ville-Chanceuse in all her naked glory, soft and pampered on the bench of a classical temple, surrounded by divine attributes and plates of food, her modest belly gently swollen with indulgence.

Her lips were pursed in a smirk that sent all flow of thought into a racing tangle. Eyes flew from the ravishing smile to her leering eyes, to her splaying bosom, to the flesh creasing slightly along her side, and to her plush, widened hips.

The doctor was the first to manage any words. “I see she has continued to grow…” He coughed. “…healthier, since leaving us.”

The cabin door swung open and Mr. Irving was shoved inside, harassed and panting. He shouldered the door shut and tried to compose himself. “Sir, the…the men have represented to me, sir, that they would very much like the most tasteful and artistic portrait of her ladythick…her ladyship…be hung up where they might all be able to view and appreciate her fine…” He swallowed, staring at the painting. “…its fine artistic qualities.”

The parson choked. “Not on their life…lascivious curs. Fie. Gross impropriety. On a king’s ship, no less.”

A roar from the eavesdropping crowd rattled the ship’s timbers.

“The commodore would never approve,” the lieutenant noted, directing his voice at the thin walls. “We’d be turned out of the navy if another ship were to see…this.”

“Throw it overboard,” implored the parson, to another howl from outside.

“We’ll do no such thing,” the captain growled. “This is a gift. An unusual gift, yes, but clearly well-intended and genuinely meant.”

“But the moral question—”

“There’s also the morale question.” He sat back into his chair and lowered his voice. “The men desperately need something to take some pride in. Some…small joy.” He looked around. “We all do.”

The parson glanced at the other officers for help, but their eyes were on the painting. He retreated. The captain spread his hands.

“Mr. Calder, let the…decoration be displayed on the gundeck, in full view of the hands…” A cheer erupted outside and he shouted to continue. “…but out of sight of other vessels. It to be struck into the hold in the event of clearing for action, foul weather, or visits from the commodore…”


 

Marlow

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(11, continued)


A suitable bulkhead was found outside Tryphena’s galley, which pleased the crew. They could now all gaze upon the Madame de Ville-Chanceuse while waiting in the dinner-line at each meal. After all, it was generally remembered that the galley had been her favorite place aboard.

The cook and his mates immediately grew possessive, glaring at those whose gawking slowed the serving line. A large fight broke out at the end of Adelaide’s first week on display when a cooper’s mate, after too much grog, made an attempt to touch the painting’s frame.

Once the marines had finally restored order, the bruised and bloodied seamen were mustered on deck for punishment. The parson, feeling vindicated, reaffirmed his desire to see the pornography thrown overboard, but the captain gave the defaulters nothing worse than a stern lecture and the cooper’s mate a meaningful glare.

The crew took this as tacit approval and overnight her ladyship’s gallery became a sacrosanct altar. No one dared approach within arm’s length of the painting—Adelaide suddenly enjoyed more personal space than anyone aboard the cramped frigate—and those who berthed in the nearest hammocks could be heard hissing curses at any man venturing too close.

A stool was placed below the picture and soon gifts began to accumulate: ribbon, lace, creatively knotted cordage, embroidered sailcloth, a whittled figurine with a plump belly. Men tipped their caps to the madame or even bowed as they passed and she was toasted by every mess at every meal.

“It is bald heathenry,” wailed the parson. “I’ve tolerated all manner of quaint, harmless mariners’ superstitions, but this is very near to blasphemy!”

His protestations fell on deaf ears. The captain and his officers were too occupied with a frenzy of scheming and logistics, for, once again, the ship’s luck had changed as soon as Adelaide came aboard.

The freshening weather had opened more opportunities to strike at their enemy. The British were still outnumbered and outgunned by the French and Venetian squadron, but most of those ships were now hidden in port for repairs. Tryphena and the other frigates flew over the Adriatic, raiding the coast and menacing Bonaparte’s supply lines.

As February opened, the admonished cooper’s mate sought absolution by offering Adelaide’s portrait three ship’s biscuits and his ration of plum duff. The tray had been reduced to crumbs by morning and both watches stood in devout amazement, unwilling to hear any skeptical mention of rats.

They were further gratified that afternoon when the frigate chanced upon four trabaccolos anchored at Pestichi, undefended.

“Give you joy of your victory, your ladyship,” they congratulated her as they returned from action. “We have captured three of the enemy’s boats and burned a fourth. Fine prizes!”

Her worshippers grew bolder and more numerous. Even Lieutenant Calder was soon spotted tipping his hat to the painting when he came below and one of the more dexterous master’s mates had sketched a decent reproduction—albeit with an exaggerated bust—for the midshipmen’s berth. The parson continued to grumble, but only to himself.

Tryphena boasted several musically-inclined hands. They had not played in months, but now organized themselves into a crude band and dedicated a somewhat lewd eleven-song concert in her ladyship’s honor.

The next day the lookouts spotted a Venetian convoy moored at Ortano. Tryphena’s crew and marines, suddenly fearless and invincible, stormed into the harbor in smallboats, ignoring heavy fire, and cut out as many vessels as they could reach.

They came away with no fewer than eleven fat prizes, transports bound for Corfu and overloaded with wheat, corn, rice, produce, beer, hemp, oil, and all manner of welcome sundries.

Any remaining skepticism evaporated. The painting showed Adelaide in a mythological light and there could no longer be any doubt as to the power of her divine favor.

A party of hands, without word, went to work on their ship’s anonymous figurehead. The wooden goddess’ flowing hair was repainted black and her lips given that effortless heart-fluttering smirk. Glass shards were collected and arranged over her naked bosom to approximate diamonds.

Artisans were found from among the pressed men. Measurements were taken; spare wood and caulk was collected. The carpenter’s crew spent many of their off-duty hours in the bows, chipping away.

They were still putting the final touches on her when Tryphena rejoined the squadron at Lissa, flock of prizes in tow. Men on the other ships stared and murmured.

A man in the waist of Volage handed his spyglass to a neighbor. “Is it just me, mate, or has Tryphena’s figurehead grown a little plump?”
 

Marlow

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Chapter 12


March, 1811


A ripple in the calm, sapphire Adriatic reflected arcs of morning sunlight across the figurehead’s painted stomach, tracing its gentle, pooching curve. She gazed contentedly ahead, but she gazed alone. Every other eye aboard Tryphena stared out to starboard, apprehensively watching the approach of an enemy squadron.

There was only a light breeze and the lines of battle were converging at barely three knots. The crews had taken up their posts hours ago and now they could do nothing but wait, agonizingly still, for the fighting to begin.

The British raids had clearly touched a nerve. The French and Venetians had hastily collected a formidable squadron of heavy frigates and smallcraft, packing them with an additional five hundred Italian soldiers. They sailed directly for Lissa, guns ready, clearly aiming to disperse the annoying little British squadron once and for all and destroy its base of operations.

“Six frigates,” whistled the foretopman. “You make out anything, there, Joe?”

Joe grimaced, squinting. “I recognize that nearest one in the leeward division, heading straight at us. Danaë, forty guns. Forty in the barky behind her, too…”

“Six damned frigates, a brig, a schooner, some gunboats…” He shook his head. “And we with just our three frigates and a sixth-rate.” He counted on his fingers. “Upon my word, Joe, I wonder if we ain’t bit off more than we can chew.”

“Never you fear, now, mate,” said Joe. “Lady luck’s still with us, ha ha.”

“Sir, signal from the commodore,” cried a midshipman below, having glanced away from the enemy in time to notice the sudden hoist of flags. He checked his book and translated, for all hands to hear, “Remember Nelson!”

Cheering erupted from all four ships. Captain Muir, shouting over the din, issued several orders to adjust the sails; Tryphena was at the rear of the British line and it was imperative she not fall behind.

“Remember Nelson’s fine plump mistress, ha ha,” chuckled Joe, leaning on his rope. “Remember them hips, remember that prodigious backside, oh, ha ha…”

“Silence, there,” called Lieutenant Calder, walking aft. He stepped up to the quarterdeck and saluted the captain. “All cleared, sir…except the painting. I caught sight of it still hanging below.”

Muir lowered his spyglass. “She…it wasn’t stowed?”

“Apparently not, sir. But I can—”

Two puffs appeared in the bows of Danaë as her forward guns tested their range. The men aboard Tryphena instinctively tensed up.

The first ball splashed harmlessly into the sea between the frigates, sending up a plume of spray. The second skipped on the surface, though, and managed to come aboard, but with its momentum dulled it could do no real damage. The spent ball rolled uselessly along the gundeck until a midshipman picked it up, walked to Adelaide’s portrait, and presented it for her inspection.

The gun-crews cackled. Muir exhaled and unclenched his hands.

“Let her stay there,” he said quietly. “I think we’ll need all the luck we can get, today.”

A crashing, ear-splitting cacophony rang out over the water as the British line opened fire. Tryphena’s broadside followed suit with a bold roar.
 

Marlow

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(12, continued)


“What is that incredible noise?” Adelaide wondered aloud, spooning up some more cream.

Zephyra leaned past her to peer out the window. It would have been simpler for Adelaide to turn herself, but there was little that could call her attention away from a hearty breakfast.

“Looks like there’s some kind of gathering at the wharf,” the maid reported. “A couple of ships are heading into the harbor. Hm. Want me to go down and ask?”

“Don’t worry about it. I will take more poundcake, though, if you’re going down.”

“I think that was the last of it. There may be some tortes, though.”

Adelaide considered it, leaning back. Her chin creased faintly and her pensive pout dimpled her cheeks.

She was finally about to answer—of course the tortes would be welcome, especially if more crème came with them—when they heard Mrs. Torcia’s shrill voice coming up the hallway and burst into a flurry of activity.

Zephyra darted several of the dishes back onto her serving tray and Adelaide quickly unloaded some of the extra fruit from her crowded platter, popping a few more grapes into her mouth to help make room.

The chamber door opened just as Zephyra’s service door latched shut and Mrs. Torcia found Adelaide poking disinterestedly at a modest breakfast of buttered toast, looking perfectly behaved if a little greasy.

“Morning dress? Did you wake late again?” Mrs. Torcia surmised, eyeing the clock. It was nearly noon.

Adelaide furtively wiped crumbs from her lap. “I was up reading into the early hours, I admit. I found myself so captive by this tale of Alys and Roland…I entirely forgot the time. I recommend it.” She gestured to the bookshelf and prepared to stand, but thought better of it.

“I’m relieved to hear it,” the hostess sighed. “I heard a very ugly and unbelievable rumor that you had been seen in a carriage bound for that infernal artist’s house in Pieta last night and I positively trembled for your character.”

“Never, Mrs. Torcia,” Adelaide lied. “I only ever see the man by day, and only with an escort, and only because Commander Brenton has asked for a portrait in a new style.”

Mrs. Torcia sniffed. “I’m sure that’s true, but you must take care of your image, dear. It is so easy to excite comment in this town, even false comment. You should try to be seen in respectable quarters more often…perhaps the gardens. The exercise will surely be welcome. I hesitate to remark it, but you have started to look soft around the edges again.”

“Oh, but that is why I have been avoiding all those lavish society dinners, Mrs. Torcia. I must keep my distance from the temptation until my willpower improves.” She had also found the dinners of other society somewhat more welcoming of late. The lovesick Commander Brenton had found she could be drawn to his private quarters on the promise of sweets and she eagerly rewarded his gifts. Mr. Allen, though often distracted by his other patrons, could always be relied upon for an indulgent evening. And on a recent night when neither had been available Adelaide had met a handsome merchant in port from the east who fed her so much saffron-stuffed lamb she’d been almost—almost—too full to make love afterward.

“Nonetheless, we should be glad of your company in the reading circle again. It is wise for a woman of your status to demonstrate her superior education.”

“Of course. I should be happy to visit sometime, when my schedule affords.”

Mrs. Torcia exited in a sanctimonious cloud. Once a minute had passed without further interruption, Zephyra returned with the dining tray. A plate of tortes had joined the other dishes.

Adelaide slouched back with a huff, licking her lips and adjusting the fabric around her waist, but there was no peace to be had. “The clamor out there seems to be drawing nearer,” she observed.

Zephyra looked out. “Bless me, it’s a procession. Folks are streaming out of their houses…parading in the streets. Addie, the whole town’s alive. Come on, let’s see what we’re celebrating.”

The tortes would have to wait. Adelaide managed a last spoonful of crème before Zephyra grabbed her wrist and hauled her out.

They blundered downstairs, following the other lodgers, hurried through the grand hall of the Palazzo, and emerged into the square. Adelaide’s morning dress billowed in the breeze.

Brenton spotted them at once and rushed up out of the crowd. “Have you heard?” he cried, as elated as Adelaide had ever seen him.

“We heard cheering—”

“There’s been a battle!” he cheered, grabbing her pliable shoulders. “A most astonishing action in the Adriatic…the French came out in full force, but they were still no match for the Royal Navy!”

“The Adriatic?” Adelaide gasped.

“The French flagship destroyed, two frigates captured, the others sent scurrying home, ha ha! What a profound victory!”

“And Tryphena? The ship I came in on, was it there?”

“Indeed she was! And in the very heat of the action, too. They say she was engaged with two ships at once, fighting both her broadsides, smashing her enemies to timbers.” His eyes flashed with something between admiration and envy. “There she is, of course, escorting the captives.”

Adelaide spun. She was no expert on ships, but the frigate warping its way into the harbor was instantly recognizable as Tryphena. It was fiercely battered, riddled with shot-holes, and one of the masts had been jury-rigged, but the men aboard were dancing and waving for the crowd. Even the unusually voluptuous figurehead on her prow seemed to be smiling.

“Oh, how happy I am for them,” she breathed.

“How happy the admiral is, too. This has certainly shifted the balance of power. He’s throwing a gala in their honor at the Auberge once everyone’s in. It will be fabulous…the best Malta has seen in years. I pray you’ll attend.”

“With all my heart! I can’t wait.”

A soldier called Brenton away, but he kissed her, twice, before disappearing into the throng. Adelaide turned to Zephyra with a girlish blush.

“You’re going to need a new dress,” said the maid.

“What? I have so many. I’ll wear the rose-colored one.”

“The rose has a tear.” She counted on her fingers. “The blue is stained with wine, the yellow is stained with pudding, the violet’s lacing is all smashed where someone sat awry on it, and the silver dress went missing that night you came skulking home in nothing but a chemise…someone else’s chemise, by the way, much too small for you.”

“What about the green dress? It’s got to be safe. I haven’t worn it in months.”

Zephyra cocked an eyebrow. “You haven’t worn it in months.”

“Exactly, I…oh,” she realized.
 

Marlow

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Chapter 13


April, 1811 - Valletta


“You alright?” asked Zephyra. “You keep…shimmying.”

Adelaide lowered her voice. “I’m not wearing anything underneath this. The chemise was…too tight.”

“Come, darling, we’re already late,” called Brenton, beckoning her from the steps.

“Bless me, Addie…” Zephyra sighed. “Take it easy tonight, will you?”

Adelaide was already gone, though, bouncing over to the commander’s arm. Zephyra watched them join the other soldiers and head up into the palace.

The grand ballroom was alive with swirling crowds of guests and servants. Giddy chatter resounded off the gilded walls and out into the courtyard beyond, drowning out the small orchestra. The room, already fabulously decorated, had been further emblazoned with banners, bouquets, and ensigns from the captured ships.

All of Malta’s wealthiest and most distinguished elites had come out, along with dozens of those vying to join their ranks. Hermes Allen was conspicuously absent; there were rumors he had been discovered with the admiral’s young wife. The admiral and his young wife seemed to be in fine spirits tonight, though, greeting the incoming guests with jubilant charm.

“Madame de Ville-Chanceuse,” announced the host, presenting her.

Captain Muir’s head snapped round, his conversation instantly forgotten.

Adelaide had squeezed herself into an extravagant white dress, proudly displaying a fifteen-stone figure even more voluptuous than that portrayed in her painting. Her hips filled the breadth of the skirt, thick legs wobbling faintly as she shifted her feet and pulling the fabric tight across her midsection, tight enough to show the warm pink texture of a heavy stomach rounding out below her navel. It bounced gently as she walked.

Her black hair caught the candlelight with a brilliant shine. Her eyes sparkled and when she broke into that famous smile it dimpled her puffy cheeks. A coy giggle rang through the room, rising above the general clamor.

“Captain,” begged the old man at his side, “you were explaining the maneuver.”

Muir started. “Oh? Yes, of course.” He glanced back to the stairs, but Adelaide had moved on already, dragging her redcoat escort toward the dining table. “The…enemy had divided into two lines, clearly meaning to catch us in a crossfire. We thus wore southeast, throwing them into…confusion…”

A flock of bachelorettes was thrown into confusion by the arrival of the soldiers, who descended to dote upon them with the usual clucking, glancing sideways at Adelaide. The ladies were clearly apoplectic with jealousy, but unwilling to appear shrewish in front of Brenton and his dashing friends.

There was no time for backhanded compliments, however, for Adelaide had timed her late arrival perfectly: the tables were set for dinner.

All of Malta was absorbed in the ecstasy of victory. The Royal Navy had secured the Adriatic at last, severing French supply lines and surely frustrating Napoleon’s ambitions in the east. A sense of unrestrained frivolity pervaded the gathering. Wine flowed freely and even those who did not typically partake happily joined the myriad toasts, drinking to the ships, to their captains, to their Maltese allies, to the King, and confusion to his enemies.

Adelaide felt unusually unwatched and unguarded, therefore, as the lavish dinner made its way to the table. Her glee at the successive culinary marvels was shared by her neighbors and neither she nor anyone else seemed bound by any duty to polite moderation. There seemed to be a sense, up and down the table, that to practice restraint tonight would be ungrateful to the victors. It might detract from the bliss of their triumph.

The opening antipasti course went on forever, for while the guests ate their fill they ate very slowly, too busy prattling about the battle. Adelaide had little to say on the subject, but was happy to listen and pack away an untold number of tuna-stuffed olives.

Talk continued through the soup, a fine kusksu that few but Adelaide drained, but finally quieted as the fried salmon arrived. Taking advantage of the lull, the admiral stood and embarked upon an amazingly long-winded speech extoling the virtues of the navy, affording his guests time to indulge.

Except for the occasional toasts he proposed, no one paid him much attention. Neither did they pay much attention when Adelaide’s empty plate was removed before anyone else had managed half their own. They were all several glasses of Marsala in by now and were too happy to make comparisons.

By the time the next course was revealed, even the abstemious Mrs. Torcia could be heard howling with laughter somewhere up the table. The roasted pig, thoroughly lacquered in a sweet-smelling sauce, was appetizing enough to draw the admiral’s monologue to a hurried close. The pork was stuffed and soon so was all of Valletta.

Adelaide had already outdone herself before dessert ever appeared, caught up in the merry fervor of the party. Pressure throbbed behind her eyes and she wiped sweat from her brow. She blew out a quiet belch and rubbed her bloated stomach, letting her eyes drift shut.

A murmur spread along the table, followed by several delighted gasps. Adelaide collected herself and looked up to see a massive pan reach her end of the table, contents jiggling.

It was a floating pudding unlike anything she’d ever seen. The sharper eyes at the table began to applaud, realizing the pan contained a perfectly accurate and perfectly edible depiction of the battle.

“Why, here is Lissa, the island,” exclaimed Brenton, indicating a mound of treacle. It had even been shaped with a tiny harbor. Arrayed in the jiggling sea around the island were ten blobs of pudding that had been vaguely sculpted into little ships. “And these must be the enemy squadron, approaching from the north in two divisions…”

Adelaide’s neighbor chimed in, reaching across her to point. “And here…very sorry, madame, sorry…here is our British line, all in order! ActiveAmphionVolage…oh, but I have forgotten the last one.”

Tryphena,” Adelaide offered.

At first the guests were too impressed to eat any of the masterpiece, but the aroma had restored Adelaide’s appetite and she carved herself a spoonful of the wine-dark sea. It proved a rich gelatin, wine-dark for a reason.

There was a pan for every quadrant of the table, meant to be shared but far too much for any foursome to manage. Most guests picked at it for an obligatory taste before turning to their wine, their small biscuits, or the dancing that had begun in the ballroom.

Brenton, with a warlike snarl, ate up the Danaë, then excused himself to rub shoulders with a visiting general. There was some question about captured French officers that couldn’t wait, but he promised to return. Adelaide’s other neighbors snapped up a few of the French frigates and some of the smallcraft before themselves heading to the dance floor, which had quickly grown quite lively.
 

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(13, continued)



Telling herself it was a patriotic duty, Adelaide managed not only Tryphena but the entire British battle-line and had ravaged a good portion of the island itself when a calloused hand touched her shoulder.

“Madame,” said Captain Muir.

“Benedict!” she cried, wiping her lips. She pushed herself partway to her feet, winced, recovered her smile, and managed to straighten the rest of the way up with a steadying hand on the table.

“Adelaide…I’m glad to see you well,” he stammered.

She wrapped him in a tight embrace, her tautly distended belly pressing against his resplendent new uniform coat. “I am well. So well. Astonishingly well. And I am so very, thoroughly happy for you. What is it they say? ‘Give you joy of your victory,’ Mon Capitaine.”

He bowed. “I wanted to thank you for the…gift.”

“My painting?” she squealed. Her diamonds quavered. “I hope it wasn’t inappropriate.”

“Not at all. I—we—the whole ship…adores you—it.” He cleared his throat. “We were delighted to have you aboard again.”

She giggled. “Well, we arere delighted to have you ashore. It’s such a lovely evening…everyone is so happy. Will you dance?”

This was a mistake. Adelaide quickly discovered she was too full to move with any real grace, but Muir’s dancing, if anything, was worse. While he could be perfectly agile aboard a rocking ship’s deck, his feet seemed wildly uncomfortable on solid land. It did not help that many of the other dancers were too inebriated to keep their places.

Fortunately Adelaide tired very quickly. She was completely out of breath after the first song and proposed, panting, that they instead take a turn through the courtyard. He readily accepted.

They passed a serving table on the way outside. Adelaide poured herself a tall glass of champagne, drank it down, and caught her breath.

“There is a bench just past the fountain,” Muir ventured, “if you would prefer to sit.”

She nodded, refilling the glass. “I think I would. I am sorry for cutting that short…I’m a little…out of shape. A nice quiet bench sounds perfect…oh, will you bring some of that cake?”

He looked over. An iced almond-cake had appeared on the table, but there were no small plates for dividing it up. He glanced about, grabbed the whole dish, and followed Adelaide into the garden.

The bench was indeed quieter, far enough from the merriment inside to be away from the noise and out of sight. Adelaide sat herself down with a weary sigh and stifled a long belch, but her eyes brightened at the sight of the cake.

“Is that a challenge, Mon Capitaine?”

“You said cake,” he replied, sitting beside her. “I am at your command. And I admit, the longer you spend on your refreshment, the longer I can avoid going back in and being asked to recount the battle for the hundredth time.”

She plucked the plate from his hands and tore off a chunk. “Sir, I will do my utmost to preserve you from their attentions.”

“How is it? Better than Tryphena’s Sunday plum-duff, I hope?”

“Hard to say,” Adelaide mused through a mouthful. She grabbed another chunk. “You know, Mrs. Torcia…the lady hosting me…she thinks I picked up my appetite from your sailors…that I would never have eaten like this back in France.”

Muir watched her work her methodical way around the plate. He had never seen even his stoutest sailors eat the way she did. “It’s hard to imagine you did so back home. You were frighteningly thin when we found you…malnourished, even.”

She grinned between bites. “Not by choice, Mon—” She hiccupped. “Mm. After the revolts, the terror, the wars…there was little to be had in our poor village.”

“I can only imagine. I’m sorry.”

“But no, I have always, always been hungry. So hungry. It wasn’t often that I could really…satisfy myself, given how little we had, but oh, how I loved it when I could.” She paused to press a hand to the upper swell of her stomach and rocked with a wet belch. “They used to ask me where I put it all.”

Muir glanced up. A rumble had sounded in the distance and a thick wall of cloud was drawing a curtain over the stars overhead.

Adelaide tossed the empty plate to the ground and leaned back in triumph. “Voila. This reminds me…mm. Back home, one summer, when things were better for a while…I saw a great big gooseberry pie cooling on our neighbor’s windowsill.” She turned to Muir with a greedy smirk. “I stole it and dashed behind a hedge and ate the whole thing as quick as I could, to leave no…leave no…mm.” She hiccupped again.

“To leave no trace of the crime?”

She nodded, swaying, and fingered her necklace. “I guess I’ve always been…a thief.” Another hiccup made her cringe. “Oh, Benedict, will you…oof, it’s so full. Will you press here?”

Before he could reply, she took his hand and laid it atop her belly. After a hesitant moment he gave the supple flesh a small squeeze; her eyes closed and she let out an appreciative moan.

He massaged slowly, pushing gently against the swollen mound, feeling it churn and gurgle beneath his touch.

Eventually he realized rain was hitting them. It increased with the breeze and several startled yelps sounded from other corners of the garden. Adelaide’s lolling head straightened and she blinked around for a moment before realizing the situation.

“I’d better…get back,” she groaned.

Muir helped her up. She stood unsteadily for a moment, giggling in the warm spring rain. But then she blew him a kiss, turned, and strutted gingerly off toward the house.

Other guests were rushing inside around her, holding anything they could find over their heads. One couple elicited an uproarious laugh as they entered, for his belt was undone and the back of her dress was covered in grass-stains.

Adelaide, however, sashayed back into the party without shame. Her white dress, soaked through, showed the entirety of the bulging figure beneath and the daring absence of undergarments. She spread her arms and twirled, devouring the awestruck stares as greedily as she had devoured their feast.
 

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Chapter 14


“Addie,” Zephyra hissed, shaking the chaise-lounge. “Addie, it’s past noon.”

“So?” asked the blanket, unmoving. She hadn’t made it all the way to the bed.

“Brenton’s on his way up.”

The blanket slipped down. Adelaide opened an eye and groaned. “What?”

“You have to get up and get presentable. Sorry. He’s got somebody with him and says he’s in a hellfire hurry.”

“…presentable?” she echoed, trying to sit up. Her head pounded and she clapped her hands to her temples, but without their grip on the cushion she flopped back into the lounge. The thin blanket flopped off in the confusion and she lay naked, wearing only her diamonds, her belly still firmly bloated from the gala. “The whole…cake…” she mumbled absently.

Zephyra muttered something in Greek. She helped Adelaide up, marched her unsteadily to the armoire, and guided her into the one morning-dress that still ostensibly fit. Her swollen, still rather noisy abdomen was concealed by a creatively draped sash and her wild hair was soon pinned into a tasteful bun.

“He has someone with him?” Adelaide asked, rubbing her bleary eyes. “Is he angry? Did he see me with Captain Muir at the ball? Or with Mr. Allen, after the ball?”

“Captain Who? Wait, you…” Zephyra shook her head. “I don’t need to know. Anyway, no. I have no idea who his guest is, but to me the commander looked as happy and as stupid as ever.”

She poured some hair of the dog down Adelaide’s throat, found some jewelry to accentuate her diamonds and draw attention away from her glazed expression, and finally opened the door for the politely impatient Commander Brenton.

“Darling,” he exclaimed, crossing to Adelaide and kissing her. “Sorry for being in such a rush. I can’t stay long, I’m afraid…I wasn’t supposed to take any detours in delivering the prisoner to his new quarters, but I simply couldn’t wait to tell you.”

She blinked at him. “Prisoner?”

He beamed. “Why, the captain of the captured French ship. As a fellow officer and gentlemen, he has given his parole and will be lodging in a hostel up the street while he awaits his exchange.”

“Oh, right, yes.” Adelaide’s gaze drifted a moment, but she shook herself back to attention and pressed a hand to her whining stomach. Her brow furrowed. “French?”

“I had mentioned you, of course, when he asked what brings me to be so happy all the time. The man seemed astonished, positively astonished to hear of you. He is very eager to meet…says he has been to Ville-Chanceuse!”

Brenton turned away, fortunately, before he could see the blood drain from Adelaide’s face. She glanced at Zephyra, who mouthed the words back to herself before realizing the panic.

A tall, broad-shouldered man strode into the room in a splendid red-breasted jacket, dark hair falling to his shoulders. He swept off his hat.

“Monsieur le Capitaine Aubert,” Brenton announced with pride, “Madame de Ville-Chanceuse.”

The Frenchman stepped past him and bowed. As he straightened, his eyes studied Adelaide; she forced a smile but held her breath.

He stared with some skepticism at her face, then stared with what could only have been recognition at her necklace. After a sharp intake of breath, the studying gaze turned into a glare.

“I am delighted to make your acquaintance,” he said slowly, kissing her hand. His eyes bulged with cold rage. “My family, when I was younger, would travel often to…Ville-Chanceuse.”

“What a…an amazing coincidence,” Adelaide choked.

He switched to French. “It was such a lovely, fantastical place, I had always thought it must have been…made up.”

“Look at that!” laughed Brenton. “Darling, finally someone for you to speak real French with! I don’t know a word of it, Captain, I’m afraid, and I know she’s dying to hear it.”

Aubert nodded. “I can only imagine. Yes, I look forward to spending more time with such an…honest, respectable young woman, a fellow…exile. I should very, very much like to hear what she has to say.”

Adelaide suppressed a shudder.

Brenton checked his timepiece. “We’ll have to set up a visit. But we’re already late. Come, Captain, and we’ll get you situated.” He handed Aubert to a trio of soldiers in the hall and hurried back in to give Adelaide a parting kiss.

She sat back on the edge of the bed, trembling.

“Darling, what’s amiss?” he asked, leaning to examine her.

“Nothing, nothing,” she managed, kissing him. “I’m just not feeling well this morning…afternoon.”

He smiled. “I think we were all feeling the wine last night. It was rather strong. You have to make sure you eat enough at parties like that, dearest, to better suffuse it.”

“I’ll…keep that in mind, Kenneth, thank you.”

“Of course. I have to go, darling, but I’ll meet you for dinner.” He bit his lip. “I have something very expensive I wish to give you and a very important question I wish to ask. But! I must say no more. Get something in your stomach—you’ll feel better. We’ll see you tonight.”
 

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Chapter 15


Boots tramped in time on the flagstones and a blur of scarlet could be seen through the windows of the palazzo. More bootsteps echoed down the backstreets and toward the servants’ quarters.

The grand double-doors creaked open. Afternoon sunlight poured into the hall, followed by a severe, black-coated official from the government office, a chastised Commander Brenton, and a party of a soldiers. They split into two files, one marching up the famous staircase and the other surprising Mr. and Mrs. Torcia at tea.

“What’s all this?” asked Mrs. Torcia, unamused.

“Sir, madame,” the official replied, “it has been made known to us that you have been unwittingly hosting in your home a French spy.”

Mr. Torcia gasped. “You mean to say…”

“Of course he means to say, dear. Upon my word, husband, what fools we’ve been taken for. It makes perfect sense.” She shook her head. “I tell you, gentlemen, I had my suspicions, what with all the skulking about and late-night meetings, but in all honesty I had thought it mere impropriety.”

The visitor nodded. “It seems she made fools of us all, madame. She has a talent for getting what she wants.”

Brenton nodded, with more fondness in his eyes than horror.

“Sir,” barked a redcoat, appearing in the doorway. “The bedroom is empty, sir. We’ve found her nowhere in the house.”

“Keep searching,” hissed the official.

Mrs. Torcia touched his arm. “You might try that painter’s house, across the harbor. He is corruption incarnate—American, you know—and she sees him all too frequently.”




HMS Tryphena rounded St. Elmo point and stood out to sea, setting a cloud of sails aloft to catch a stiff southerly wind.

Far behind in the harbor, a frenzy of activity traveled up the wharf, but the frigate was by now too far out to catch sight of the harried officials. She was nearly out of sight when a signal flashed out above the fort.

“Port-admiral signaling, sir,” reported a midshipman. “Tryphena’s number…retur—”

“Mr. Irving, jump ahead to the Mr. Calder,” said Captain Muir, staring deliberately away from the fort. “I believe we may try some kites in the maintop.”

“Sir, the signal?”

He gave the boy a meaningful look. “The breeze is freshening, Mr. Irving. We have dispatches for the admiralty. There’s not a moment to lose.”

The boy gaped, but recovered himself and hurried forward.

Malta and its testily signaling fort sank below the horizon. Muir went aloft for a turn of the bell, staring about through his spyglass and irritating the lookout. They saw no sails in any direction.

He descended, left the deck to his first lieutenant, and clambered below, sidestepping casks and crates and stacks of supplies everywhere he went. Declaring that he wished to put out at the height of the tide, he had ordered an unusually abrupt departure from Valletta and the crew had yet to finish stowing their hastily-loaded provisions.

The men hardly minded the hurry. Tryphena had finally been ordered home to pay off and await her next assignment. Portsmouth waited, along with wives and sweethearts and probably more celebrations in honor of their battle.

Muir greeted the marine sentry, waited for a bundle of cordage to go by, and stepped into his cabin.

“I believe you may come out,” he announced, removing his hat.

Adelaide exhaled. Zephyra tilted her head back in relief and they realized simultaneously that they’d been gripping one another’s hand a little too tight.

They sat together on a sea-chest below Adelaide’s infamous portrait, which had been moved into the cabin to avoid prying dockyard eyes. She was a good thirty pounds heavier than the woman in the painting, her face noticeably rounder and her arms far thicker. The rest of her form was hidden under a plain, shapeless dress, but its greater width was apparent.

The dress and the diamonds were all she’d brought. Part of her ached to leave behind the wardrobe she’d assembled at the Palazzo, overstuffed with a whole spectrum of colors and fabrics, with shoes and accessories for any occasion. But in her conscience she felt she’d squandered enough of the Torcias’ generosity.

“Benedict…I don’t know how to thank you.”

He shook his head. “You said ‘away.’ I am at your command.”

“They won’t be angry with you, will they?”

“The admiralty? They would have found something else to be angry about soon enough. It’s why we were assigned to blockade duty in the first place…it’s why they’re sending us elsewhere while Adriatic shipping could have been ours to raid with impunity. Too many of them are aristocrats…I’m a shipwright’s son. They don’t like having me at their dinner table as it is. Oh, speaking of which…” He tapped on the side door and called for a steward.

The withered old man entered immediately with a tray of toasted cheese. “Vittles for her ladyship?” he asked, wide-eyed. “Your…ladyships?”
 

Marlow

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Chapter 16


May, 1811


A more typical man-of-war’s crew might have been ablaze with gossip and mutinous chatter at the idea of slipping out of port with a fugitive mistress, especially one with Adelaide’s reputation ashore. Adelaide’s reputation aboard, however, had attained such a mythological scale that they had all but prostrated themselves upon seeing her return, grinning like madmen.

Despite the admiral’s words about bravery and discipline and seamanship, it was generally agreed that luck had carried the day at Lissa, luck bestowed upon the ship by Adelaide’s providential favor. Not many ships could claim to have taken on two enemies at once without sinking.

When the sacred portrait finally made its way back out to the gundeck a few days into their new voyage, the men threw a party, begging Adelaide to pose beside her likeness. She was happy to oblige, though the officers reluctantly assured her she could keep her clothes on.

No one complained. She was an untouchable goddess to the crew, come to walk amongst them once more, or, at least, to dine amongst them. Even the parson had warmed to her, offering to lend her books or sit with her for cardgames. The men approached her with an almost fearful reverence, listening to her stories about the courts of Malta as rapt as she’d once listened to their old mariners’ yarns, boyishly jostling past each other to get closer. The gifts that had often accumulated beneath the painting now began to appear outside her cabin door and there was no longer any mention of rats stealing the offerings.

Zephyra found herself not only welcome aboard, as well, but soon quite popular in her own right. It helped that she was seen as an attendant to her ladyship and thus a person worth befriending. It also helped that she flirted shamelessly with the men and could be induced, after a sufficient quantity of grog, to show off her prodigious bosom.

The ship flew past Gibraltar and into the open Atlantic without incident and turned northward. The crew settled back into their shipboard routine, though made happier in that routine by the presence of their passengers. The band reconstituted itself and performed on calm summer nights, the men dancing on deck. The artisans returned to their project in the bow, having realized that the figurehead would need to be enlarged further.

Adelaide resumed her shipboard habits, as well. She went aloft to the maintop every morning, though she now climbed much more slowly and was obliged to go up through the lubber’s hole with an awkward, wriggling squeeze. She played whist with the wardroom officers and listened to the ribald poetry of the young gentlemen. And she joined the various messes at their meals.

Ship’s fare, especially on what was still a relatively impoverished ship, was uninspired slop compared with Malta’s stimulating culinary achievements, but Adelaide hardly seemed to mind. She devoured hardtack and salted beef as gleefully as she’d dined on pasta and calamari. She showed Tryphena’s overworked cook the same delightful glee she’d shown the finest chefs in Valletta.

In the rare snatches of privacy she began a few letters to Commander Brenton, some apologetic, some pragmatic, but invariably threw them into the sea. There was no knowing what that French prisoner had told him and likely no saving what he might think of her.

Her mind lingered on Hermes Allen some nights, too, when the mood struck. But the curtain had been drawn and that whole play, she decided, had come to its close. Eventually even the cold, hateful eyes of Captain Aubert seemed far behind, almost forgotten.

It was pleasant sailing, week after week, and the pangs of their memories were left in the ship’s churning wake. Tryphena caught a lucky break in the weather and sped past the Iberian coast. They swung wide around the waters of Biscay and the rocky Breton shores where Adelaide had first been found. The English Channel was as calm as any man aboard had seen it and Tryphena arrived home to Portsmouth far ahead of schedule.

The men poured ashore, pockets fat with hard-earned pay and prize-money. Wives, sweethearts, and plump harbor-wenches lined the wharf to greet them and their sudden wealth.

At Zephyra’s advice Adelaide remained aboard, dodging visitors. She was a French fugitive with no papers and a dubious title and rumors of her social dalliances had already reached London’s gossips. The city was swarming with intelligence agents from both sides of the war and she would have been a prime target for either.

Tryphena’s men sent gifts aboard, though. She never set foot ashore, but Adelaide experienced England through mince-pies, mutton pies, beef pies, partridge pies, pigeon pies, warden pies, and venison pasties. The officers delivered cured meats and a daily succession of puddings, never the same kind twice.

A fat, yellow-haired post-captain from a ship docked nearby, likely making assumptions about Adelaide’s association with Muir, sent over his personal steward with a curious, rich-smelling platter and a spotted dog. “Which it is soused hog’s-face, ma’am.”

Adelaide spent the wait doing what she loved best, though in wary confinement. Tryphena received a number of official and unofficial visitors, the action at Lissa being widely celebrated, but Zephyra successfully distracted any eyes that wandered too close to the passenger cabin.

Fortunately, they didn’t have to linger too long. New orders came down within a fortnight and both Captain Muir and Zephyra were confident that Adelaide could find another wealthy suitor at their next destination.

“We’ve got a head start on the news,” Zephyra considered, “and they’ll probably want to keep it quiet, which hopefully slows the response…but whether it’s marriage or employment or some kind of protection, you’ll have to convince somebody with some means to take an interest in you as soon as you can.”

The crew had been paid off, but they came back in droves when the new commission was announced. Many brought friends eager to sail with the fabled Lady Luck, whose legend—among other things—had only grown since Malta.

Tryphena quickly found herself with a full complement of volunteers, unprecedented after so many years of conscription. Some were rum coves, to be sure, as the old foretopman readily pointed out to Joe on many occasions, but they could all be counted on to hand, reef, and steer. And they all respected the mythic value of their vaunted passenger.

“And as long as we keep her ladyship’s belly happy,” chuckled Joe, “the barky’s got nothing to fear.”

They were the envy of the squadron, though the decks weren’t as clean as other officers would have liked and the ship’s salacious figurehead was strangely round. The channel squadron gave Tryphena a cheer as she put out to sea, wishing her a happy return; she saluted, made sail, and set her course west.
 

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Chapter 17


August, 1811 - Port Royal


If the waters of the Mediterranean were a glimmering sapphire, the Caribbean was a gleaming turquoise. Merchant schooners and Bermuda-rigged sloops rode the steady breeze, racing the wispy clouds above.

Tryphena, on reaching the Jamaica Station, had promptly been sent out on convoy duty. Dozens of other British warships, though, lay idle in Kingston Harbor. After the success of their recent expeditions, the Royal Navy and the Spanish colonies enjoyed a comfortable dominance over the Caribbean. There was little to do but polish their cannons and watch for the unlikely arrival of escaped French privateers.

With the threats to shipping largely eliminated, the local traders grew fat on wild profits. Port Royal may have ousted the last of the legendary pirates a century earlier, but the harbor retained its passion for material wealth. Manors lined the waterfront from Fort Charles to Kingston, built in the prim Georgian style, like so many vaults hoarding treasure. The victualling yard overflowed with lavish provisions and collected fantastic profits.

The war was far away, now, confined to Europe. The locals could mill about Harbor Street with ease, enjoying the sunlight, laughing.

There was laughing all through the port, from the chorus of raucous guffaws in the myriad taverns to the tittering of ladies in their tea-rooms.

A little way up the harbor, past the naval hospital and the sprawling storehouse, a surprised giggle drifted out from the open windows of a hillside manor. It echoed off the faded brick, the neoclassical columns, and the towering palms.

Adelaide pressed a hand to her chest and tried to catch her breath. “Why, Lord Windham,” she managed through the red-faced giggling, “what a generous gentleman you are.”

She squirmed coyly atop a dining table. The bowls and platters, now mostly empty, had been shoved aside just in time.

“Not too forward, I hope,” teased Lord Windham, standing between her splayed knees, his waistcoat half undone.

“My lord, after a meal like that, you can be as forward as you like.” She licked her lips, savoring a taste of rondón.

He ran a hand over her plump thigh, pushing up the fabric of her skirts. “I may have to have you for dinner more often, madame.”

“Just dinner?” Adelaide cooed. “What about breakfast? Supper?” She reached back to unfasten her dress. “What about dessert?”

With a wobbling shimmy she pulled the dress down, slowly revealing her soft shoulders, her sloping chest, and her slight but sagging bosom. She stopped there, though, careful to keep her midsection wrapped; Windham had already commented twice on her weight and when they first met on the wharf he’d been leering at a group of much slimmer girls.

He was leering at her now, though, and swooped down to kiss her, pressing her against the creaking tabletop. “Every meal. I’ll hire you a whole kitchen if it means I can be close to you.”

Adelaide gasped with delight as he leaned closer. She ripped his shirt the rest of the way open and ran a hand over his chest hair.

“There’s…a vacant room,” Windham recalled between fiery kisses, “a room in a beautiful house in the North Parade…mm…I could set you up there…keep you in funds…dresses…jewelry…”

“Oh, Lord Windham…could you? Would you—oh!”

“Anything to see you happy.” He set a hand on her heaving chest and began to pull down on the dress. “We just have to keep my wife from—”

Lady Windham chose this moment to appear, thrusting open the parlor door and emitting a hoarse wail.

“Poppet!” her husband cried, twisting away from Adelaide and standing at attention. The dress, still firmly in his grip, was yanked to her hips with a violent tug.

“You…miserable…letch!” Lady Windham spat. “Is this how you mean to spend my family’s fortune?”

Adelaide sat up with a grunt, her hips bulging out over the tablecloth and her belly creasing into a pair of rolls. She flailed to pull up her dress, knocking over a stack of Delft plates and what was probably a priceless crystal decanter.

Lord Windham fumbled with his trousers. “Poppet, let me explain—”





“And then he offered to explain himself!” hissed Lady Windham. “The dog. The cur. The…villain!”

The other ladies nodded and offered their sympathies. Miss Brise, seeing the tears begin to well, produced an embroidered silk handkerchief. The baker’s wife poured her a fresh cup of tea. The chestnut-haired twins further down the table, who had also at various times carried on relations with Lord Windham without his wife’s knowledge, exchanged a meaningful glance.

Lady Windham stirred her tea. “He claims he found her despondent in the admiralty offices, all alone in the world…an escaped French royalist, he said, driven from her estates. What stuff…driven straight into the arms of my Lord W!”

“French?” asked Miss Brise. “Was this the woman that came off that little frigate that touched here last week…Tryphena? Yes, that was it. My brother—he is himself a captain, you know—pointed it out to me and I saw her disembark. Long dark hair, diamond necklace? Not very tall, rather…pudgy?”

“A right fat-arse!” shrieked Lady Windham. The others fairly leapt from their seats. “Pardon my language, but I should know. I saw…a great deal of it.” She shuddered. “She is sixteen stone, at least!”

Mrs. van Adem, who was fourteen stone herself and had never thought that to be particularly heavy, quietly excused herself from the table.

“Great flabby hips…a second chin, good heavens, and a belly fairly bursting with the very pork-chops I’d ordered for Lord W’s birthday dinner.” She pushed away her untouched plate of finger sandwiches. “I just don’t understand it. I’ve seen him look at other women before—it’s a part of a man’s base nature we just have to accept sometimes—but only ever at much lighter girls…usually redheads.” The twins traded another glance. “This woman was anything but slim. And judging from her appetite I don’t imagine she’ll be slimming down anytime soon.”

“You don’t think she means to stay here in town, do you?” asked Mrs. Blow.

Tryphena has already put off to sea again for convoy duty,” observed Miss Brise, who followed these things. “Though my brother—who is himself a captain, you know—he watched them coming and going and said he’s never seen a more slovenly, undisciplined ship…an embarrassment to the navy.”

Mrs. Blow shook her head. “I daresay having this woman aboard must have warped their morals.”

“Well, I warn you, ladies…” Lady Windham glared around the table. “…watch your men around this strumpet. She’s trouble. She’s after something.” She pounded her fist on the table, rattling her dainty cup. “This ‘Madame de Ville-Chanceuse’ may be grossly overfed, but she is clearly still hungry.”
 

mal57

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This is just wonderful, top-notch in every aspect from plotting to prose. It's very rare when I can honestly say I'd enjoy a WG story just as much without the WG but it's great when it happens.
 

DaveTheBrave

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The next epoch of our favorite stowaway! Well written as always, and I can’t wait for what’s next.
 

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Chapter 18


September, 1811 - Kingston


The Broken Belt tavern opened its doors and welcomed in its first few patrons of the day. The regulars filed in, along with a party of seamen hoping to put off their ordered departure. The Belt had never been the liveliest or most well-regarded of Port Royal’s countless pubs and had on many occasions been called hazardous for one’s health, but the drinks were cheap and Mrs. Jurgen’s spiced buns were without equal.

In the dusty attic above, Adelaide chewed distractedly on a bun and fidgeted with her snug nightshirt.

“I think I’ve put on weight,” she said, craning to squint at the dirty mirror.

Zephyra rolled her eyes. “At least you’re getting some nice meals out of these fiascoes, I suppose.” She turned over the pile of fabric in her lap and re-threaded her needle. “I just wish you could get one of these amorous gentlemen to invite you up a second or third time.”

“I really thought I had Lord Windham. And he was very kind. On my last visit he was talking about keeping a room for me in town…”

“I assume that was before his wife caught you and threw you out of the mansion without your only good dress?”

“…a room in a house with a very active kitchen…”

Zephyra shook her head. “Anyway, that was weeks ago. We can’t expect to live on your having been Lord W’s mistress for an afternoon. I’ll keep getting what I can from the seamen, but you’ve got to land yourself a well-off gentleman before people stop buying the French aristocrat charade. There’s no telling how long we have till news catches up.”

“I know. It’s just not as easy as it was in Malta, for some reason.” Adelaide reached over for another bun. Her nightgown rode up, letting the roll of her hip sag out. “I don’t know what’s changed.”

“Maybe they’re just too content, here. No danger…nothing to get their blood pumping.”

Adelaide shoved the bun into her mouth. “There should be a pack of bachelors at the governor’s party tonight. I’ll have to see if I can get their blood pumping, then.” She paused to finish chewing. “How’s that looking?”

Zephyra held up the new dress. “Just don’t ask me where I found it.”
 

Marlow

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(18, continued)

It was a far cry from the extravagant empire gowns in which the Madame de Ville-Chanceuse had captivated the courts of Valletta, but between Zephyra’s creative needlework and Adelaide’s breathtaking diamonds, the ensemble was still enough to turn heads.

Some of the wrong heads had turned at first. Lady Windham had spotted her entrance and promptly bustled her husband out of the foyer. Several other married or betrothed women had greeted her with harsh, knowing glares.

Fortunately, rather than the open field of a grand ballroom, the evening’s gala had been thrown in a sprawling mansion and the guests were spread throughout a labyrinth of separate rooms. Adelaide could slip away from the glares and present herself to a gallery of smiling, uninitiated faces. A handsome young doctor followed her a while like a puppy, she flirted for several minutes with the owner of a prominent local bakery, and a pair of chestnut-haired twins fawned over her with intrigued smirks.

Adelaide had marveled at the different approaches to opulence. Malta’s baroque palazzos had been filled with marble and gold leaf and paintings of gods; Kingston’s Georgian manors were trimmed with palm, tropical flowers, and paintings of the English countryside.

There was no formal call to dinner, no massive singular table. A buffet had been set up in one of the central rooms, overloaded with a magnificent spread and surrounded by fat merchants.

Lady Windham stood in the corner, though, eyeing Adelaide with such tangible animosity that she darted into the next room with little more than a plate of hors d’oeuvres.

Adelaide retreated to a table in the less crowded library and caught her breath, wondering if it would be better to simply leave. It seemed she would come away from the evening with neither a full stomach nor a starry-eyed suitor.

But as the night wore on and drinks continued to flow, the men’s smiles grew wider, the wives’ glares grew distracted by other, more pressing scandals, and an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone presented itself.

“And how long do you expect to be trapped ashore, captain?” Adelaide inquired, mopping up the last of her pepperpot soup with a chunk of bread.

“Our refit is likely to take several months,” replied Captain Brise. “We were much knocked-about in the last hurricane, I’m afraid.”

He sat beside her in a pristine blue jacket, medals and epaulettes gleaming, continuously straightening his cuffs. He spoke softly, with the noble eloquence of English aristocracy.

“I can’t say I mind it too terribly, if I may confide in you, ma’am. For while I adore the sea and would never shirk my duty, I have come to adore living here, too, and should be very happy to start a life here. I adore the sun, the air, the ever-present happiness…”

“The food,” Adelaide suggested, finishing the loaf of bread.

“And I should be very happy if I could share it with someone. I take care of my dear sister, of course, but I have no other close companion…” He set his hand upon hers, but suddenly removed it. “Ah, and there is my dear sister herself. She calls me over.”

Miss Brise, while he turned, shook her head at Adelaide.

The captain bowed. “I won’t be a moment, ma’am. May I bring you anything from the buffet?”

Adelaide smiled back at the sister. “I would love to try some of that ox-tail, if you don’t mind. And please don’t be shy with the sauce!”

He saluted and hurried over to his sister, who pushed him unsubtly from the room.

On their way out they passed a tall Spanish officer, nearly spilling a plate of shrimp over his regal white coat. He dodged them gracefully, swept into the room, and laid the plate in front of Adelaide.

“Why, Colonel Rafaga,” she gasped, “I had almost given up hope.”

He pouted. “Madame, when I give my word, I keep it. You were promised enough shrimp to make a fisherman blush and I should gladly have fought a school of sharks to fulfill that promise.”

She reached for the dipping sauce. “There are sharks in the house? Land-sharks, colonel?”

“No, madame. I…it is a matter of honor. That is why I long to leave this place, pleasant though it is, to rejoin my countrymen and retake my country…you must surely sympathize, having been so unjustly exiled from your own estate.” He stood, clenching his gloved fists, but exhaled and sat back down. “Pardon, madame. I am a man of…hot passions.”

“I don’t doubt it, colonel.” She rested her free hand on his, plucking playfully at the glove. Seeing him smile, she set down a shrimp and reached for her wine. “To restored fortunes, sir.”

They drank their toast and he slid closer.

“Madame, your glass…it stands empty. Will you take another?”

She grinned. “I will, colonel, thank you. And perhaps something sweet, if you would be so kind.”

“I shall not fail you.” He rose, made an overly elaborate bow, and departed. Adelaide watched him go, glanced around at the other cliques milling about the library, and reached below the table to adjust the fabric around her belly.

She pushed the empty soup bowl toward the stack of other plates she’d accumulated and returned to her shrimp. They were as delectable and went down easily, which was a blessing. She had begun to feel full some time ago but wanted to make sure she finished Rafaga’s offering before Brise could return with his.

Luckily she paced herself perfectly, swallowing the last bite and stifling a burp just as the captain entered the room.

Unluckily Captain Brise and Colonel Rafaga returned at the same moment. Adelaide tensed and could only watch as they approached, somehow failing to notice one another until the last possible moment.

“Excuse me,” muttered the captain, clutching his plate of meat.

“Pardon,” sniffed the colonel, holding up a bottle and a tray of tarts.

“Oh dear,” breathed Adelaide.

After a long, pregnant moment, both men turned and thrust their dishes onto the table. Brise reached to lay out a new set of silverware; Rafaga reached to fill Adelaide’s glass.

Their paths crossed and the cuff of the captain’s coat found itself immersed in the marinade. He stiffened and shoved the colonel’s hand away. Wine splashed across the tablecloth and Rafaga rounded on Brise.

“Did you just strike me, sir?”

“Did you deliberately push my sleeve into the lady’s marinade, sir?”

The lady, looking away, pulled the saltfish over and cut off a bite.

“Are you suggesting, sir, that I would knowingly interfere with or in any way willfully contaminate the lady’s marinade?”

“Are you suggesting, sir, that I am not competent enough to serve the lady her marinade without putting the carefully secured sleeve of my number-one uniform jacket in it?”

Sleeve or no sleeve, the marinated beef was a delight. Adelaide refilled her glass and continued her dinner, letting the men’s strange, increasingly elaborate questions join the other voices in the room. They were louder, sharper, and much closer, but not as interesting to her attention as the plantain tarts.

Brise’s voice remained calm and formal, though his words quickly grew cruel. Rafaga’s voice grew louder, but his words came shorter and he began finishing his aggrieved inquiries in Spanish.

Adelaide was finishing her second tart when the other voices in the room suddenly fell silent. Everyone was staring and a crowd had gathered at the door.

Rafaga stepped back, breathing violently through his long nose. “Sir, I must demand satisfaction.”

The crowd gasped. Adelaide belched.

“You shall have it, sir,” snarled Brise, “with pistols, at dawn.”
 

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