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BBW Lady Luck - by Marlow

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Marlow

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Chapter 19


A crimson sunrise broke out over Kingston Harbor, setting aglow the heavy mist that had crept in overnight. The shroud swirled between the towering ships’ masts in the waterfront and floated through the town’s hungover streets. It hung especially thick in the headlands, concealing from onlookers the silent, finely dressed procession making its way uphill through the trees.

They arrived at the ruins of an old fortress and divided into two parties, glaring across at one another. The handsome young doctor took up his central position in front of a half-buried guardpost and summoned the unsatisfied gentlemen forward.

Colonel Rafaga, despite the shortness of the interval, had shifted into an even whiter coat and a plumed hat. His hot rage had hardly subsided and he stamped about, his incessant nose-breathing echoing off the fortress walls.

Captain Brise had not changed his coat, but carried it in his arms like a wounded compatriot, the marinade-stained cuff bleeding up his sleeve. He stared at Rafaga with a deep, silent loathing.

Their seconds presented themselves—a fellow naval officer for Brise and Lord Windham himself for Rafaga—and mumbled uselessly about a peaceful resolution. Surely, they pontificated, there must be some less violent means to satisfy the aggrieved parties. Neither the duelists nor the crowd of witnesses had walked all this way for peace, however, and the overtures were quickly abandoned. Brise and Rafaga each reaffirmed their demands for satisfaction.

It was a sizable crowd, the captain and the colonel being popular figures in town. Many of the partiers had gone home to sleep off their excess or gone to the taverns to continue it, but these had been replaced by friends and eavesdroppers who had heard the word: Brise and Rafaga were fighting for the hand of a mysterious, alluring French noblewoman.

“And where is the lady in question?” asked the doctor, who had hoped to steal another glance at her posterior. “Has she anything to say on the matter that might allow us to forgo this most barbaric and unnecessary bloodshed?”

They looked around. Madame de Ville-Chanceuse was conspicuously absent. After some murmuring it was agreed that she had not traveled with them from the party.

“Perhaps it is for the best,” observed Captain Brise. “She is a refined woman, surely of delicate sensibilities. The field of violence is no place for her.”

“It would risk staining her immaculate gown with your execrable blood,” agreed Colonel Rafaga.

“So you admit to a propensity for staining precious garments.”

The doctor sighed and gestured for the seconds. Pistols were inspected, loaded, inspected again, and finally offered to each combatant. The two men paced out to their appointed marks, trying not to quiver.

“Gentlemen,” proclaimed the doctor, “when I release this handkerchief, you may begin advancing and fire your shot. I ask you one final time: will you consider another course to satisfaction?”

“I will not,” declared Brise.

“Nor I,” growled Rafaga.

“So be it.” The doctor raised his handkerchief. The duelists cocked and raised their pistols. The crowd held its breath.

A small boy crashed through the underbrush, panting. He stumbled across through the line of fire, waving a slip of paper.

Brise and Rafaga hurried to uncock their guns, glancing to their seconds in angry confusion.

The doctor read the note, crumpled it, and looked up. “Gentlemen, I recognize that this may be somewhat irregular, but before we resume this murderous endeavor I must beg that you follow me.”

“Outrageous,” the colonel cried. “Follow you where?”

He reread the note. “A…bakery, sir.”
 

Marlow

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(19, continued)


Morning light wafted over messy plates, bowls, and bottles, over a bedspread spattered with glazes, fruit jams, and powdered sugar, and over a pair of flabby bodies, one snoring into his pillow and the other sucking custard from her finger.

Licking her lips, Adelaide swept the finger around the rim of the pie tin, but there was nothing left. With a disappointed burp she let it fall; it clattered down upon the other discarded plates.

“Mon…dieu,” she gasped, breath coming short.

A glance over showed that Mr. van Adem was too deep in his slumber to register the noise. He lay pressed to her side, reaching affectionately across her waist, and as she gingerly sat herself up against the headboard her belly engulfed most of his arm.

It was so full that its crease had disappeared. Strange pressures and sensations swirled through its mass as the various conquests of her long, indulgent night loudly mixed with one another. She lifted up the loose nightgown she’d borrowed and massaged it with both hands.

The gown was just as stained as the bed and pulling up revealed that her abdomen was, too, including a chocolate handprint. She could still feel the butter around her lips and the meringue on her chest. Her unfocused eyes wandered to the nightstand.

There, between an overturned glass and an empty bottle, sat the baker’s last untouched gift, a pungent, tantalizing rum-cake.

Adelaide’s stomach protested immediately. Surely there was no more room. She had long ago lurched across the threshold from naughty discomfort to outright pain.

After a long internal debate, though, the plate disappeared from the nightstand and found itself perched upon the shelf of her gut. She turned it around, studying it with a greedy eye, wondering where to start.

A sound from outside the room was growing nearer, loud enough now to be heard over the thunderous snoring of her naked bedmate and the raucous rumbling over her naked belly: footsteps. There were soon more of them, marching through the bakeshop downstairs and now stomping up the steps. Adelaide had just pushed the first handful of cake into her mouth when the bedroom door crashed open.

Lady Windham entered, chest heaving with triumph. She cast Adelaide a haughty, vindicated glare and turned to watch as her husband brought in the handsome young doctor and the shocked duelists.

“Madame!” exclaimed Captain Brise. “What…what is this…”

“Treachery and dishonor!” roared Colonel Rafaga.

Adelaide slowly and quietly swallowed. The man in the bed stirred briefly, but slept on.

She carefully extracted his hand from beneath her belly and rolled over to put the cake back on the nightstand, giving the doctor the view he’d so desired.

The doctor wiped his brow and turned to Brise and Rafaga. “Satisfied, sirs?”

“Very,” said Adelaide, loosing a long belch.

Rafaga opened his mouth, but Brise grabbed him by the arm. “Colonel…will you permit me to buy you breakfast? I must apologize for my ill-founded words last night.”

“I…Certainly, Captain. I have much to apologize for, myself. But I must insist on paying.”

The doctor led them out before the discussion could escalate further. Lord Windham, nudged by his wife, roused the sleeping man from his bed and got him to his feet.

“Come, my good man. Mrs. van Adem is livid with you, sir, livid. A business owner of your standing…for shame, sir…come, we must clean you up.”

The door clapped shut and Adelaide found herself alone with Lady Windham.

“Get up,” the woman snapped.

Adelaide grimaced. She rolled over with a grunt, slid off the bed, and steadied herself. She scratched her belly for a moment and readjusted the nightgown as best she could.

“Can I offer you some cake?” she ventured, reaching for the plate.

Lady Windham strode forward and snatched it from her messy hands. She was an uncommonly tall woman and towered over Adelaide, staring down her nose with hatred. “I know what you’re after,” she hissed.

Adelaide took a careful step closer, nearly touching her bloated stomach to the woman’s bodice. “You do?”

“You may wear a noble title and a set of diamonds that could finance the channel fleet, but I see what’s truly in your heart.”

“Your ladyship,” Adelaide breathed, breaking into her smirk. She laid a sticky hand on the woman’s slender waist. “From one noblewoman to another…have some cake.”

Lady Windham shoved her away. “You are finished, you fraud. You’ll get nothing from me or my husband, nor anyone in Kingston, so help me…”

Adelaide shrank back.

“You are a thief,” Lady Windham continued, her voice rising. “You are a disruption to polite society. You are not welcome. I have made it known that ‘Madame de Ville-Chanceuse’ is not to be admitted in any reputable house on this island. Go back to your filthy tavern with the other fat trollops and stay there.”
 

Marlow

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Chapter 20


January, 1812 - Port Royal


Zephyra checked herself in the dingy attic mirror, puckering her lips and making sure the dress showed enough of her bust.

“I talked with Mrs. Jurgen at breakfast,” she recalled, pulling the neckline lower.

“Oh? Did she make more buns?”

Zephyra turned. Adelaide was sitting on the edge of their thatch bed, bedraggled hair fallen over her face, fumbling with a sailcloth bag.

“She’s willing to front us for another month, but no more. We need to be honest with ourselves, Addie. We can’t even afford this attic.”

“But I remember her saying how good we are for business.”

“Yes, but some of us have a habit of eating into all our profits.”

Adelaide put the sack aside and looked down. Even covered by her threadbare chemise, her stomach sagged out over her lap. Her rampant decadence had slowed considerably in the months since Kingston’s elites had shut their doors to her, but she’d still contrived, somehow, to put on another two stone.

“Sorry,” she murmured.

Zephyra sat beside her on the bed. She nodded to the little sack. “What have you got there?”

Adelaide held it open for her. The diamond necklace peeked out with a twinkle. “I wanted to keep them on me, but I thought it might be safer if they were less visible.”

“Probably wise.” Zephyra gazed at them. “Addie, have you thought, at all, about having them valued? Those are some enormous jewels. You could probably sell one of the smaller ones and live comfortably for a time…or buy passage to another island, where the rich ladies aren’t sour on you yet. I can’t even imagine what that massive center-stone would fetch.”

Adelaide frowned. “I think about it every day. But this necklace…it feels wrong to think of it as a commodity. I think back…” She brushed her hair from her face with a shaky sigh. “Everything that happened to put these diamonds into my hands…they will always be priceless to me.”

After a long pause, she tied the bag closed. Zephyra reached up and squeezed her shoulder.

“Sorry,” Adelaide laughed. “I’m never helpful at all. I worry all I do is let you down.”

Zephyra smiled. “As I said when we first met: when you go on to bigger and better things, I’m coming with you.” She jabbed a finger into Adelaide’s flabby side. “You haven’t let me down on half of that promise, at least.”

Adelaide recoiled, jiggling and slapping the hand away.

“Let’s get you dressed,” Zephyra decided. “There’s a brig due in fresh from England and they’ll be desperate for a leer at that growing backside of yours.”

“I don’t know,” Adelaide grumbled. She ran a hand over her midsection. “Lately all the new weight’s been going to this thing.”





The brig appeared late that afternoon, as promised. It lowered its boats and the officers were rowed ashore, doing their best to ignore the boats that put off from the opposite shore, filled with women.

The men aboard, though, could never bear to ignore them. They lined the ship’s rails, hooting and calling out vague and unkeepable romantic promises.

“How long you been at sea, handsome?” Zephyra called back, fanning her bosom.

“Two months to the day,” replied a shirtless mariner, “but I tell you, lass, they were the longest two months ever to pass on this earth.”

She stepped forward in the rowboat, though less gracefully than she’d intended. Adelaide sat against the opposite gunwale and the hull was somewhat lower in the water on her side. “A rough journey, hm?”

“A lonely journey.”

“Poor dears. A lonely journey, you hear that?” she repeated to Adelaide, who looked dutifully sympathetic. “Bless me. You know, handsome, my friend and I were just on our way over to the Broken Belt. Perhaps you and your big strapping mate there could buy us a round—”

“And a nice hearty meal,” blurted Adelaide. She caught Zephyra’s glare and added, “you must be starving for something…heartier than hardtack and peas.”

He turned to his mate. They chatted with each other out of earshot, but Adelaide watched one spread his hands apart and form the word ‘huge.’

“The Broken Belt, eh?” the other asked. “How’s the grog there?”

Zephyra grinned. “Cheap.”
 

Marlow

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(20, continued)

Cheap it was, and plentiful. The Broken Belt quickly came to life, overflowing with music and laughter as the brig’s crew joined the others for supper.

They started with small beer, attempting to be frugal, but the sailors they’d brought in—and the mates who followed, intrigued by these curvaceous, obliging young ladies—quickly switched to rum. The men plied their lovely new companions with all the fare their advance pay could afford, amused by how much Zephyra could drink and amazed by how much Adelaide could eat.

One of them, having dared Zephyra into a foolhardy competition, fell asleep in his chair before sunset. His mate promptly stole the man’s purse and wagered ten of the shillings in it that Adelaide could not finish that London broil; he lost the shillings and ten more of his own by doubling down on dessert.

Night fell over the harbor and the crowd thinned. Those who couldn’t hold their drink were rowed back to their ships. Those who had secured partners for the night dispersed to bedrooms or wandered out to walk the strand. Mrs. Jurgens put out her stove-fires and began cleaning. A parcel of Portuguese traders by the hearth struck up an off-tune song.

The tabletop could not be seen for the volume of emptied mugs, bottles, bowls, and plates. At one end of the bench, Zephyra lolled in the arms of a burly mariner, her bosom hanging out of her dress. She had quietly drifted out of the conversation and now blearily watched the singers, occasionally giggling to herself or turning to share a long, plunging kiss with her companion.

At the other end sat Adelaide, rubbing her paunch beneath the table and making eyes at her own lusty companion whenever it was time for him to raise another forkful of molasses-cake to her lips.

“You’re a Frenchie, eh?” he asked, massaging her back.

“Mm, right there…sorry, what?”

“Said, was you from France, then?”

She paused for a two-part belch and adopted her best attempt at a regal pose. “You have the honor of addressing…and serving…the Madame de Ville-Chanceuse.” She reached for the bag tied at her waist, but decided against it.

He eyed her. “So that’s in France, I take it. But you’re all the way out here in Port Royal, associating with us rum coves?”

“The Ville-Chanceuse estate has…fallen on hard times.” She leaned closer. “And maybe I just like associating with rum coves.”

His hand slid lower down her back. “Well, I can say you ain’t like any of the other French ladies I’ve known. I remember this priggish girl come out when we was in Martinique…”

Adelaide nodded pointedly at the last of the cake. His free hand shot out to provide; the hand on her back drifted down to caress her behind. She shimmied and gave a pleased purr, though whether this was prompted by the squeeze or the cake he couldn’t tell.

“Now I think of it, ha, if you so enjoy associating with some rum coves…” He laughed. “You ladies may want to introduce yourself to Anemone when she puts in next month.”

“Oh? And will that be another man-of-war full of wanton mariners?”

“Nah, a trader we met last run. Squat little schooner with a tiny crew and a funny rig, plies between here and the Antilles. Her master, Mr. Boreas, he tends to take his time and sail leisurely, like. Anemone’s his personal yacht, like, and he sails mostly for the joy of it.”

“How nice for him.”

“Part of the joy he sails it for, ha, is that he likes to bring a few passengers of the fairer sex on the longer cruises…for company, if you catch my meaning, and he’s known to be a very hospitable and generous man, with plenty of funds at his disposal.”

“Generous?” echoed Zephyra, stirring. “Plenty of funds?”

“So they say. Not much of a seaman, but quite a host. And if you don’t mind me saying, I think he’d like the two of you very much.”

Adelaide picked through the various mugs in search of one with any undrunk dregs. “What makes you say that?”

“Why, it’s generally known that good Mr. Boreas prefers nice plump guests like yourselves...with appetites.”

Zephyra bristled. She couldn’t call herself slim, by any means, but Adelaide had eclipsed her at least sixty pounds ago.

“No offense meant,” he added. “I’m rather partial to a sizable backside, myself.” He gave Adelaide’s sizable backside another squeeze and the surprise of it nearly spilled the remaining rum.

She recovered, though, and wiped her lips. “Another round, then?”




Zephyra spoke no Portuguese, but she had picked up a few lines of the traders’ shanty. She sang them, or at least her addled memory of them, at the top of her lungs as Adelaide helped her into the loft.

A sharp hiccup interrupted her favorite line. She tried to resume, but the words had escaped her and another, sadder hiccup punctuated her defeat.

They stumbled together across the creaking floorboards, pausing momentarily to steady themselves against a cluttered table. There they were cast in the pale moonlight that shone in from their one window while Adelaide gulped down a pitcher of water.

She wore only her chemise. It sat lower than usual, one of the straps having parted, but still could not wholly conceal the heavy, slab-like cheeks of her derriere. Zephyra, hanging off her shoulder, wore nothing at all. Her beer-belly and sagging bosom jostled and swung as she swayed. Adelaide offered her the pitcher.

“Can’t fit any more in here,” she slurred, patting her gut. “You…are a bad influence. I can’t remember the last time I was…was this full…”

“I’m not the one who suggested oysters,” Adelaide giggled, easing her into the bed.

Zephyra’s only retort to this was another hiccup. Her eyes closed and she drifted off with a soft moan.

Adelaide blew out a long breath and set herself on the edge of the bed. She peeled off her chemise and let her fat spread out in the moonlight. A scrap of paper fluttered out from the chemise as she cast it aside. Stifling a belch and reaching gingerly over, she opened the note and blinked blearily at it.

Anemone,” it read, in the burly seaman’s barely legible scrawl, “J. M. Boreas, supercargo,” followed by the address for a local shipping company.

She flipped the note onto the makeshift nightstand and laid herself down. Zephyra promptly draped an arm over her midsection and cuddled up. A rat wandered across the floor, paused to glance up at them, and scurried off.

Adelaide stared out the cracked window. She could see one of the great mansions up on the hill, aglow with the warmth and wealth of some fabulous party.
 

Marlow

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Chapter 21


February, 1812


Anemone
took her time, as foretold. She arrived in Port Royal a fortnight later than expected and loaded her cargo with incredible sluggishness, her master and meager crew apparently more interested in the taverns than their own trade. But when they finally set sail again, they departed with a pair of pretty, plump passengers.

Mr. Boreas had taken no convincing. He was immediately captivated by Adelaide, who had come to the wharf in a dress that had stopped fitting twenty pounds ago, wiping jerk spices from her lips. He took a little longer to warm to Zephyra, but a bosom like hers, properly displayed, had never failed to stir his humors. A long, long night at the Broken Belt was followed the next afternoon by an invitation to tour Anemone.

If the ladies were in need of conveyance to any eastward destination, why, then Mr. Boreas was their most humble servant and, if they pleased, would along the route be happy to share with them all the hidden delights of the Caribbean.

Anemone was a lazy, slow-sailing lug, compared to the racing swiftness of a naval frigate like Tryphena. She took a bizarre, convoluted course wherever she went, as though simply happy to be afloat on the sea, dancing to and fro over the endless turquoise. There were only a few hands aboard, which limited any complex maneuvering, and Boreas took in the sails at night to let her drift idle under the stars.

They put into Santo Domingo, ostensibly for trade goods and provisions but in fact to fit Adelaide and Zephyra for luxurious new dresses. It was a timely visit, for Adelaide had only continued to grow wider and Zephyra’s simple handmaiden’s attire had deteriorated to little more than an apron and rags. Now, when the ship hove-to for its always elaborate evening feasts, they could both attend in full, blooming regalia. And they left the dinner-table in full, besotted repletion.

Boreas was a popular man, however eccentric. The dressmaker seemed used to his ways and every other ship they encountered would sail over to swap news and jovial anecdotes. He would invariably invite the other masters over to Anemone for dinner and his lovely, beaming passengers would be paraded about on his arm.

The visiting sailors would be sent back to their ships with full bellies and ribald memories. Those familiar with the brig and its owner came aboard with gifts. A Portuguese sloop presented Boreas with a wildly expensive bottle of Madeira; in the Mona Passage they came across a friendly fishing trawl, who gave them the local gossip and an enormous yellowtailed amberjack, the pride of his catch, big enough to feed three or four.

It fed only one, but the man could not have anticipated Adelaide’s appetite. Zephyra watched with exasperated terror. Boreas watched with awestruck fascination.

They swung out into the elysian waters beyond the Leeward Islands, Boreas promising to show his guests a hidden gem. They drifted out past St. Lucia, then past Barbados, until other sea-traffic disappeared and it seemed they had the whole ocean to themselves.

The hidden gem, once Boreas finally remembered its bearings, proved to be a narrow, winding island at the southeast edge of the Caribbean with sheltering reef and a glass-calm lagoon. Anemone anchored and they all went ashore together, stripping naked and frolicking upon the beach.

Adelaide’s frolicking was short-lived, but she enjoyed lying in the sand, letting the gentle waves lap at her pudgy feet, the afternoon sun gleaming off the dome of her belly. Zephyra, styling herself a mermaid, teased the men from the lagoon’s shallows.

It was a tiny paradise. Boreas indicated that he was in no hurry and would be happy to dawdle there a few more nights before standing north for Antigua. He proved to be in no hurry indeed: seven nights in a row they returned to Anemone on the evening tide, sunburned and thirsty but full of life, and treated themselves to a feast. At least Adelaide feasted; Zephyra furtively slid a number of her servings to her much hungrier tablemate.

At the end of the week, after a particularly lengthy shellfish dinner, Adelaide watched the sunset from the sterndeck, picking at what remained of a platter of fried conch. The sky blazed a warm orange around a searing golden ray; the sea below was a dark, rich purple, gently rolling in the breeze and tumbling white over the nearby reef.

A glance around the deck showed that the only chair in easy reach was occupied by the first mate, sleeping off his dinner. Adelaide groaned, shifting her weight, and eventually decided to simply rest her gut atop the taffrail.

She reached into the bag at her waist and held up her diamonds against the twilight. She hadn’t worn them in almost two months, nor allowed anyone to see them. Boreas was generous, but his lustful eye also carried a discernible avarice.

Footsteps on the deck made her plunge the necklace back into its bag. She looked back and found the first mate on his feet, staring out to larboard.

He folded his arms, apparently unhappy with whatever he saw. Finding a spyglass he checked again and immediately glanced around the deck for a second opinion.

There was no one but Adelaide. The other hands were below, cleaning up, and Boreas was in his cabin with Zephyra.

“Uh, sail,” he coughed, then repeated it, louder.

Mr. Boreas was not a crack royal navy officer. By the time he came shuffling out of the cabin, buttoning his breeches, everyone else was on deck and the unknown vessel had drawn close enough for all to see. The mariners were hurrying to ready a sail and slip the anchor cable.

Zephyra appeared a few minutes later in a hurriedly-donned nightshirt. She cocked an eyebrow at the men rushing to make sail and stepped over to Adelaide.

“You alright?” she asked, watching Adelaide double over with a wince.

“I think I ate too much.”

Zephyra eyed her, but let it go. “What’s got everybody in such a fit?”

“Apparently there’s a boat—ship, sorry, ship—heading our way.” She pointed out over the water. A tall, three-masted man-of-war ghosted toward them out of the night, silhouetted against the stars.

“Looks like a frigate, maybe,” said the man at the wheel.

“A frigate!” chirped Adelaide. “Maybe it’s Tryphena. It would be so nice to see them again.”

Zephyra squinted. “If that’s Tryphena, she’s a lot bigger than I remember.”

Adelaide giggled. “I’m probably a lot bigger than they remember, too.”

Lanterns flickered to life aboard the stranger. It was soon clear that she wasn’t Tryphena, boasting not only a much skinnier and more modestly dressed figurehead but an entire second deck of gun-ports.

The man at the wheel cursed. Boreas came stumbling aft, bellowing orders. Another light flashed on aboard the approaching ship, illuminating the French tricolor.

Adelaide froze. Zephyra squeezed her hand.

“Cut the anchor cable!” Boreas shrieked. “Square away!”

Anemone lurched as the rope parted. A lone sail filled and caught the night breeze.

Zephyra pulled Adelaide to the companionway as the little ship gathered momentum. Adelaide paused at the top of the stairs, pressing a hand to her churning stomach. The men continued to hurry about them in a panic.

The ship listed drunkenly. A second sail was unfurled, but not secured. Adelaide had eased herself almost to the bottom step when a heart-stopping, wood-splintering crash threw her to the deck. Anemone had struck the reef.

The voices on the maindeck became even more frantic, turning on one another. The hull groaned and creaked beneath them. Zephyra closed the hatch and hurried down into the lower deck. The sound of oars splashed toward the ship.

Zephyra helped Adelaide to her feet. Adelaide instinctively patted her bag. It was empty.

“The diamonds,” she hissed.

They grabbed a pair of night-lanterns and began their search. The voices overhead went silent as a boat thumped alongside and boots stomped onto the deck.

Zephyra split off into an open cabin. Adelaide bent low and crawled along the stowed provisions, stomach sloshing and swinging side to side.

But there, between two casks of beef, she found her necklace. She seized the enormous center-stone with her free hand, pushed herself gingerly to her feet, and turned to shout for Zephyra. The maid had disappeared.

A tall, gaunt French officer stood at the bottom of the stairs. He looked over, turned, and stepped into the light of her lantern. Adelaide immediately recognized the icy, hateful eyes and they immediately recognized her.

“Quelle chance,” said Captain Aubert, “Ville-Chanceuse.”
 

mal57

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This story is a beacon amid all the covid and political gloom. I'm so grateful for your talent and dedication.
 

Marlow

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Chapter 22


Captain Aubert’s Sophrosyne was a massive, two-decked warship, bristling with 24-pound guns. She had been cruising for some time in the northern waters of the Caribbean, undetected, striking out from uninhabited isles and never once meeting any prey with enough teeth to fight back.

She had taken none of the defeated ships, content to merely relieve those unfortunate enough to meet her of all their cargo, provisions, spare parts, and ammunition. Aubert delighted in leaving the crews alone aboard their crippled vessels to limp home, if they could.

Sophrosyne had been wildly successful since dodging the British blockades. Her capacious hold was stuffed to bursting with captured foodstuffs, wines, tobacco, sugar, bolts of fabulously expensive cloth, and chests of silver. Anemone’s stolen cargo barely fit.

Aubert took it all, though. With his usual mercy he left the little ship stuck fast to the reef with Boreas and his crew still aboard, along with Zephyra. But Adelaide was brought to Sophrosyne in irons, as befit a fugitive, to be returned to France.

They sailed southeast into the Atlantic, loaded down with the riches of the Caribbean, laughing at the mighty British squadrons they’d managed to avoid. They glimpsed the twinkling lights of Paramaribo one evening and from then on sailed alone across the dark waters of the open sea.

The disaster at Lissa was the only blemish on Aubert’s long and unusually illustrious naval career, a career that had often harried British merchants and made him exceedingly wealthy. In addition to all the captured goods he maintained a private store of gourmet provisions, a storeroom full of fine wines, and a personal cook. After a long day of sailing before the wind, he invited his prisoner up from the musty lower deck for a celebratory dinner with Sophrosyne’s officers.

A steward came down to release her manacles. He bowed and delivered the captain’s invitation, along with a blue and red silk dress they’d liberated from a Spanish trader. Dinner was to be a formal event, the steward explained, and all the officers would be in their best uniforms.

The dress had been tailored for a much, much slimmer woman than Adelaide and immediately tore down the left side when she yanked it on, exposing the whole of one quaggy thigh and the side of her hip. The neckline remained exceedingly low, pulled down by the weight of her belly and showing far too much of her chest.

She donned her necklace. Its brilliant white sparkle, above the blue and red fields of the dress, presented a bulging, jiggling French tricolor, to the great amusement of the officers.

They teased her openly throughout the meal, pinning a cockade to the straining fabric and hailing her as a living Marianne, though much fatter than the Emperor’s propaganda had suggested. Adelaide sat in resolute silence, ignoring their commentary, spitefully forcing the meal to drag on and on, still eating long after the men had all grown too full to continue.

After a round of aperitifs the stewards had brought out several courses of soup, fish, and stolen tropical produce. They followed this with civet du lapin, a goose stuffed with truffles (more truffle than goose), and several bottles of an Alsace Riesling that went down all too easily.

After a couple hours the officers excused themselves, in order, walking very carefully from the cabin, faces purple. The seams of Adelaide’s dress were making almost as much noise as her stomach. She moved as little as possible as she finished a pot of mousse.

Aubert watched her from across the ruins of the feast. He had barely eaten and barely spoken the whole evening. Adelaide cautiously licked her spoon clean, set it down, and looked up to meet his gaze.

“I’m glad you wore the necklace,” he said.

She swallowed.

“I knew its…rightful owners. The Count and his wife used to visit me whenever they came to Paris. I loved them very much. We shared a great deal.” He tapped the tabletop. “I grieved for days when I learned they’d been murdered.”

“I had nothing to do with that.”

“Spare me, you thief.” Aubert took a long, hot breath. “Do you even realize what those diamonds are worth? Do you have any idea?”

Adelaide had no answer.

“Of course not. I doubt your peasant school taught you to count that high.”

“They’re worth more than anything to me,” she retorted, grasping them. “They are worth everything.”

He studied her. “I must tell you, darling…after I recognized those diamonds, back in Malta…you disappeared before we could speak again, leaving me to console poor, bewildered Commander Brenton. He was rather upset when I told him your truth.”

“You…you don’t know anything about me.”

“And the admiral was most concerned to learn that a spy had been moving amongst the good people of Valletta, passing herself off as the widow to some fictitious estate.”

Adelaide’s indignant posture slowly deflated. Her lip quivered.

“I think I was transferred back to France as quickly as I was by way of reward for providing them with the truth.”

“But I…I’m no spy...I wouldn’t even know…”

He shook his head. “You are a thief, a liar, and an imposter, if not worse. And I’m hardly surprised. If only more of you ungrateful peasants could have simply stayed in your place, perhaps all this revolutionary chaos could have been avoided. I’m not too stupid to play along, but this bloodshed has been so tedious.”

Adelaide put a hand to her mouth and lurched with a painful hiccup. The motion was too much: the dress split the rest of the way and fluttered uselessly to the floor. She hurried to cover her chest, but her hips flowed out over the side of the chair and her liberated belly squeezed up against the edge of the table.

“Bloated, besotted, and besmirched,” Aubert spat, “and all upon the misguided kindness of your betters. I’ll say this, ‘madame,’ you may enjoy my cook’s efforts and eat your fill while you still can, because once I deliver you home to France you’ll find the gendarmes much less generous.”





Anemone rocked and jostled. With a horrible scrape, she slid backward off the reef and splashed back into deeper waters.

Boreas took off his hat and wiped his brow with relief. He turned and straightened. “I can’t thank you enough, sir. We’re damned lucky you came along.”

Captain Muir accepted his handshake. “You’ll be able to get home?”

“There’s water in the hold, but that Frenchman taking all the cargo lightened her quite a bit. We should have no trouble limping over to Trinidad.”

“And you said they headed southeast?”

“Aye. Made sail a little after dawn.”

Muir nodded. “Mr. Boreas, the Greek woman you have aboard…she’s a friend. I should be much obliged if you would see her someplace safe…I can pay for lodgings.”

“Put your coinpurse away, sir,” Boreas laughed, stepping into his boat. “I can assure you my lovely Miss Zephyra will have anything she could desire, absolutely anything.”

“I’m glad to hear it. Good luck to you.”

Boreas raised his hat. “Happy hunting, captain.”

Muir turned away from the ladder. Tryphena’s crew watched in a hush as he paced to the quarterdeck. He checked the wind, glanced at the clouds, and unrolled a navigation chart.

Lieutenant Calder appeared beside him. “Sophrosyne…do you know, I saw her once, during the peace,” he said quietly. “A bloody two-decker…could be carrying up to fifty guns, cruising these waters unseen for who knows how long…”

Muir traced a line on the chart, frowning.

“Do we make for Antigua, sir? Warn the fleet?”

The captain shook his head. “She’s on the opposite tack. There’s no time.” He took a long breath and looked up with an iron glare. “No. Mr. Calder…”

Calder straightened. Behind him, Tryphena’s men broke into bloodthirsty grins. “Sir?”

“Beat to quarters.”
 

Marlow

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Chapter 23


Another pale, overcast morning broke, bringing a stiff wind to Sophrosyne’s sails and a hungry prisoner to the captain’s breakfast table.

The captain was absent, however, and Adelaide breakfasted alone. She had been given a set of large sailor’s slops, but the duck trousers pinched snugly around her hips and the ragged blouse couldn’t quite cover the whole of her paunch. Even after over a week of sailing, the French seamen still stared at her in amazement.

The steward brought out coffee and a warm brioche. She ate the entire loaf one heavily buttered slice at a time and worked her way around a tray of tartines de maroilles while apprehensive voices drifted in from the maindeck.

“We’re too far south for the patrols,” said one. “Can’t be the squadron. He’s surely alone.”

“Think it’s the same one you saw yesterday?”

“Whoever he is, he’s out of his mind, flying a press of sail like that in this wind. He’ll carry away a spar…if not a whole mast.”

“So, he is desperate,” laughed the smooth voice of Captain Aubert. He noticed Adelaide walking onto the deck and beckoned her over. “Good news, madame. Another prize has presented itself. Perhaps he will have some fresh fruit aboard and we can make you a beaujolaise this evening.”

“Look there, sir,” cried a lieutenant, “their foresail has parted.”

A flurry of activity aboard the stranger sent up a new foresail within minutes. Kites appeared shortly after and they gradually began to close the distance. She was soon seen to be a small frigate and, judging by her pigheaded earnestness, certainly British. The Sophrosynes watched her desperate urgency with amusement.

Aubert made more sail, happy to draw the outgunned enemy away from any potential help. The two ships raced east into the open Atlantic, their courses drawing steadily nearer.

By noon the British ship had closed enough that Sophrosyne began to for action. Bulkheads and furniture disappeared, cabin walls were unfastened and stowed, and anything that was not lashed down made its way into the hold. Adelaide was only halfway through her midday meal (gigot en croute with a robust claret) when the steward reappeared and instructed her to follow him below.

She could take the rest of her lunch with her, but was to remain beneath the water line, in the cable tier. There she would not be exposed to any violence, should the little British ship prove foolhardy enough to fight back.

Adelaide stood and peered out the stern-window. The enemy’s bow had swung into view and she could make out the now familiar voluptuous figurehead.

“Oh,” she ventured, eyes widening with realization, “I think they will be plenty foolhardy.”

He led her below, carrying the rest of her meal and an extra helping of lamb, just as the union jack flashed out aboard Tryphena.

Sophrosyne ran up her tricolor and saluted with a gun.

While Adelaide maneuvered her way through the tightly-packed hold, the two ships adjusted to make the most of the breeze, maneuvering to reach to windward of each other and seize the advantage. They danced at a distance for another hour or so, allowing the steward enough time to bring Adelaide a round of sweets.

The crews remained poised at their stations, gritting their teeth, perpetually checking their ropes, their sails, their guns. The brimstone scent of smoldering slow-match wafted through the ship.

Suddenly Tryphena abandoned the dance and stood straight on, clearly eager to force the engagement at any cost. Sophrosyne, handed the maneuvering advantage, veered round to oblige.

The ships closed, hauled their wind, and turned parallel to one another, men snarling through their gunports. Officers screamed. The gun-crews leveled their cannons and waited for the roll of the waves beneath.

Both broadsides erupted at once. Tongues of flame lashed out from the gunports and smoke engulfed Sophrosyne’s larboard side. Shot slammed into her hull and shrieked through her rigging, sending up a hail of splinters from the deck and slicing ropes overhead.

Adelaide ducked automatically, toppling the plate from her lap and nearly spilling her wine. The muffled crash of shot and roar of gunfire resounded through the hull behind her. She gathered what had spilled from the tray and ate faster.

Once the cacophony had finished the crews raced to reload and run the guns back out; after a frantic minute and a half they fired again.

They traded three more rounds of vicious fire, their thunder echoing to the horizon. The wind began to stiffen again, clearing some of the smoke.

Sohprosyne was wounded, but Tryphena had suffered much worse. The French two-decker boasted far more guns, 24-pound guns that pounded through the frigate’s fragile hull. There was a terrible crack in Tryphena’s foremast and it leaned horribly. Several of the gunports had been battered into one and two of the great-guns had overturned. The deck was a shamble of fallen rigging and shattered wood.

Tryphena began to veer off, spreading what sail she still could and limping to larboard. The French gave a predatory cheer.

Sophrosyne made sail. With the wind on her side, she could cut off any retreat. In the subsequent lull, the steward went below and supplied the shocked Adelaide with a raclette, a fresh bottle, and the news that the enemy had taken flight.

He returned to the galley to prepare another dish—the prisoner, though already looking uncomfortably full, had begged for more—but was suddenly redirected to the maindeck. All but the most essential hands were called down from the sails or brought up from the guns as Sophrosyne bore down on her enemy. Men lined the rail, taking up their boarding axes, pikes, and cutlasses.

But Tryphena’s sails came in. Sophrosyne flew past, unable to slow herself in time with the men out of the rigging, the reduced gun-crews only managing a few hurried shots. Tryphena put her head to starboard and cut behind Sophrosyne, suddenly bringing her uninjured larboard broadside to bear.

It roared out with a rolling, deliberate, devastating fire upon Sophrosyne’s vulnerable stern, her shot tearing its way through the whole length of the ship.

Sophrosyne listed to starboard and the ships drew parallel once again. But now the French were in disarray as they rushed back to their stations, staggered by the raking shot. Tryphena fired again.

They traded several more broadsides, alternately racing to reload or clear away damage. Sophrosyne’s fire came slower, her broadsides growing ragged; Tryphena’s gun-crews seemed to only work faster and faster, blind to the danger and the destruction around them, managing five broadsides to Sophrosyne’s every three.

A rending crack filled the air above the shouting and toiling. With a resounding groan Sophrosyne’s mainmast leaned, snapped, and toppled into the sea between the ships. It brought a chaos of ropes and sails with it and dragged the starboard side downward.

Sophrosyne swung sideways, out of control. Tryphena turned to meet her, grinding her bow alongside. Boarders raced forward.
 

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(23, continued)


Captain Muir was the first over the side, discharging both pistols and reaching for his cutlass. “Who’s hungry, lads?” he roared.

The Tryphenas swarmed onto the deck after him, smashing into the crowd of French with a howl. They battled their way aft in a fearless rage, climbing over the fallen mast and dismounted guns. They pressed on across the maindeck, driving their enemies below or over the side.

Muir shoved a lieutenant aside and smashed through the doors of the great cabin. Captain Aubert met him with a cavalry sabre and a hoarse cry.

They lunged at one another. Muir parried Aubert’s slash; Aubert swatted away Muir’s thrust. The fighting outside spilled down onto the gundeck. Clashing metal echoed through the ship.

Muir blocked a swipe and tackled Aubert through to the stern-gallery. They collapsed together against the railing, nearly pulling one another overboard.

Aubert swung upward with a horrid arc, knocking Muir’s cutlass away. Muir lunged after it, but Aubert caught him in the forehead with his hilt. The cutlass clattered over the side and splashed into the sea.

Muir grabbed the broken rail. Aubert raised his sabre for a killing thrust, but froze at the sound of a cocking pistol.

He turned slowly. Adelaide stood behind him, gun in one hand, a baguette and a block of cheese tucked under her other arm, her belly heaving with anxious breaths.

“Why…why,” Aubert growled, standing, “why can’t you…stay down…where you belong?”

“I got hungry,” she panted. “Hand over your sword, please.”





On the maindeck, the Tryphenas sheathed their weapons and tied off their wounds. Calder and Irving fumbled with what remained of the halliards, hauling down the French tricolor. Marines marched their new prisoners below.

The cabin door creaked open. Muir limped out, holding a rag to his bleeding brow. He watched the flag descend and blew out a long sigh.

“There he is, boys!” shouted a sailor. “Three cheers for Bad Luck Ben!”

But the huzzays never came. Adelaide had followed him out, eighty pounds heavier than they’d last seen her, and all hands fell into rapt, devout silence, mouths hanging agape.

They watched her ponderous belly wobble, hanging below the hem of her shirt. They watched the quaggy flesh of her upper arms shift and sag as she presented the French captain’s sword. They watched her second chin waggle as she managed a weary smile.

Joe chuckled. “Three cheers for Lady Luck!”

The men exploded. Adelaide curtsied, as much as her weight would permit.

Watching from the bows, Tryphena’s carpenter pulled off his hat with a huff. “Bugger it all,” he grumbled to his mate. “Look at her. Just look at her. Now we’ll have to do the whole sodding figurehead all over again.”
 

mal57

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What a chapter! I know Jack Sparrow about nautical warfare, modern or historical, and yet through all the jargon I was riveted.
 

Marlow

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Chapter 24


Tryphena was fast filling with water and Sophrosyne’s masts and rigging were in such disarray that she could not be sailed. For three long days those who were not wounded or imprisoned battled on to save both ships. New masts were jury-rigged, shot-holes were plugged, sails were patched, the holds were pumped out.

All the while the Atlantic currents and the freshening winds carried them further from the comforts of the Caribbean. On the fourth day Tryphena had finally stopped taking on water and, though scarred, was judged safe enough to sail. Sophrosyne, however, remained in even worse shape; the British accepted that they’d have to tow their prize all the way to port.

Captain Muir closed his cabin door and nodded to Adelaide, who had already started her meal. “It’ll be slow going with that heavy load behind us,” he sighed, joining her at the table.

“I know the feeling,” Adelaide giggled, pouring herself another glass of wine. “Speaking of which…please convey my apologies to the men, but I don’t think I’ll be going aloft anymore. I’ll miss the view, but after looking up at the nets this morning, I don’t see it happening. I don’t think I have anything near the strength to haul my fat derriere up there at this point.”

“I’m sure we can ask a few of the topmen to help you along, if you miss the view.” He was sure the topmen would enjoy the view, themselves.

She gave him a wry grimace. “The state the ship is in, mon capitaine, the last thing you need is more strain on those poor masts.”

Muir couldn’t deny this and quietly acquiesced. “I see the sailmaker has made you a new dress.”

“I don’t know if it qualifies as a dress, but it’s certainly comfortable.” She stood and spun to show it off, stepping unsteadily after a bottle and a half of wine.

With all the frenzied repairs, both ships were running short of sailcloth, but with a narrow strip of remaining fabric the sailmaker had managed a light wrapped tunic. Without straps or sleeves it left her arms, shoulders, and much of her chest exposed in a way that would have shamed Mrs. Torcia or Lady Windham and the skirt fell only partway down her inflated thighs, just barely concealing her flabby rear. It fit comfortably around the midsection, for the moment.

“It looks perfect,” Muir agreed. He watched her flop back into the chair and held his breath as it creaked beneath her weight. “Though…we may need to find you something for wetter weather, soon. I can loan you a cloak, but…”

“Wetter?” she wondered, reaching for the dish of butter. “Are we not going back to Kingston?”

He shook his head. “Not with the wind coming on like this and Sophrosyne back there limiting our points of sail. No, we’ll have to continue to one of the Brazilian ports and do a full refit. The repairs may take some time…Tryphena was cruelly mauled, poor thing…but afterward I will as always be happy to carry you back.”

“If I’m not arrested, that is.” She drank off her glass and poured another.

He watched as she broke off a chunk of bread, only to set it back down. “What?”

“Aubert, the French captain…he has told everyone in Malta about my…lie.” She untied her hair. “Now everyone will know that there is no ‘Ville-Chanceuse,’ that I lied to them all and lived off their deceived generosity, that there is no fortune waiting to repay their kindness…they think I am some kind of spy.”

The steward poked his head in the door; Muir waved him out. Adelaide busied herself with the wine.

“I’m ashamed…and I’m frightened,” she continued. “You have rescued me yet again, but I don’t know where else I can go to feel safe. It’s only a matter of time before news catches up with me, wherever I go. A fraud with nothing to her name.”

“Not everyone out there cares about wealth…real or imagined.”

“The people who can arrest me do.” She shoved her unfinished plate away with a huff. “The way they looked at me in Kingston, when all I wanted was to have a good time with them, even if maybe I went a little too far…when the news catches up people will be looking at me like that everywhere, everywhere, before ever meeting me.”

Muir rounded the table and sat himself beside her. “When I was first made an acting midshipman,” he recalled after a moment, “I had been just a cabin-boy, but the officers were shorthanded from a bout of fever…Captain warned that the other young gentlemen might resent me. I couldn’t control that. Couldn’t stop them from looking the way they looked at me.”

“But you could control what they saw when they looked,” Adelaide murmured. She finished her glass, thought for a moment, and reached back for the bread. “It’s hard to imagine you as a sniveling little midshipman, taking orders.”

“It’s hard to imagine you as a scrawny little fruit-seller, stealing pies.”

She managed a little smirk and bit into the bread.

Muir stood to refill her glass, but found the bottle empty.

“Another?” he asked. “I can send a boat over to Sophrosyne. I understand our good friend Captain Aubert carried quite a pantry aboard.”





Adelaide sampled as much as she could as they sailed on. The French captain’s cook proved happy to continue his services for such an eager, open-minded gourmand and cooked elaborate meals for her every night, recommending exactly the right bottles to match each course.

She quickly developed a taste and found it all a pleasant solace after the suspense of capture, the dread of the gendarmes, and the violent terror of the battle. For much of their limping voyage she was rarely seen fully sober, talking the men’s ears off between meals and dancing shamelessly on clear nights, at least until she ran out of breath.

Aubert’s stock of food and drink, the cook had explained, was outrageously expensive and included many rare delicacies and precious vintages. Adelaide seemed determined to see it all wasted on a commoner while he languished below in captivity. Aubert could occasionally be heard shouting about dishonor and ignorant banditry, but he was generally ignored.

Adelaide traipsed a weaving course over the decks, caressing her bloated belly, pleasantly stuffed with Europe’s finest cheeses and three sheets to the wind, while Tryphena carved a sluggish course, towing her prize, riding the wind south.

Fishing craft appeared as they finally drew near the coast, marveling at the captured two-decker and trading news. Word of the victory went ashore faster than they ever could.

Rio was alive with celebration when they finally arrived. The exiled Portuguese hadn’t had good news for months and a massive crowd had turned out to see their new heroes. Flags and streamers had been strung up and smallcraft filled the harbor, following the ships in and cheering the sailors.

The socialites had turned out, as well. They’d heard the scandalous so-called Madame de Ville-Chanceuse was aboard and were eager to witness the flurry of drama and disgrace that was said to follow her everywhere she went. Such a woman, they hoped with no small amount of malice, could fuel gossip for months.

Things had been so dull and dreary lately, they lamented, with nothing to be appalled by but the lewd American painter who had come to visit. A fake French gentlewoman with a history of wantonness and depravity was far more interesting than another sea-action, however heroic.

Would the local British agents arrest her on sight? Would she be sent back to France or locked in the tower? Would she be allowed to appear at the victory celebrations? Would she attempt to seduce any of the local bachelors—or, for that matter, any of the married men, the harlot—with her rumored graceless charms?

She outstripped all speculation. Adelaide appeared on deck half-naked, hair astray, a half-eaten éclair in one hand and a half-drunk bottle in the other, giggling uncontrollably and held on her feet by a muscular seaman. He and several of his mates attempted to hand her down the ship’s ladder to the launch.

The 22-stone woman escaped their grips, though, and fell bodily into the little boat, nearly capsizing it and knocking the poor coxswain into the water. Her bawdy laughter echoed across the harbor.

Hearing that familiar, joyful sound, Hermes Allen looked up from his unfinished landscape. “It can’t be,” he gasped.

He wiped his paint-spattered hands on his smock and hurried to the waterfront, shoving the gathered crowd aside with his bullish bulk. He reached the shore just as the rowboat arrived.

Adelaide stood and prepared to step ashore, pushing the last bite of éclair into her mouth, but her distended belly caught on an oar and she splashed overboard.

She landed in only a foot of water and recovered quickly, but the bag of pastries she’d brought with her was ruined and the soaked dress was now utterly transparent. The plunging depth of her navel, the dark stretchmarks along her flanks, and the quivering, striated flesh of her rolls were displayed to the whole crowd.

The oarsmen, exhausted, hung their heads. Allen waded in and extended a hand to help her up.

“Why, Hermes,” she cried with a hiccup and a broad smile, lined with crumbs. “It’s so, so good to…see you!”

He beamed. “Madame, when I first met you, I believe I said you were a work of art. Seeing you now…I daresay you are a masterpiece.”
 

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Chapter 25


April, 1812 - Valletta


“Commander!” sang a voice.

Brenton turned. Across the Strada Reale he caught sight of Mrs. Torcia, waving to him from the door of a café. “Ah, good day to you, signora.”

“Are you engaged, sir? May I beg a moment of your time? We have just had a fresh pot brewed.”

“We?” he wondered, crossing over.

The plural referred to Mrs. Torcia’s gaggle of gossips, gathered around the café’s largest table. They all sat preening as the commander entered, even those who were happily married, and blushed several shades of pink when he greeted them in his honeyed baritone.

“But how are you, commander?” asked Mrs. Torcia, pouring him a cup. “Have you called upon that Miss Keegan yet? We’re dying to know.”

He sat and looked around. His audience waited patiently. “I had hoped to do so last Friday, but, was, ah…I had to…”

“I’m sure the time will be right soon. But you musn’t tarry and miss out on that dowry, mm-mm. Now, more importantly, have you heard?”

“Heard, ma’am?”

They tittered. Mrs. Torcia arched her back. The rest of the table leaned in to follow the commander’s reaction, cups poised in their delicate hands.

“There has been news of our mutual deceiver. Certainly you recall that duplicitous seductress, the so-called ‘Madame de Ville-Chanceuse,’ who tried so shamelessly to defraud us both of our affections and fortunes?”

“Adelaide?” he cried. “Is she alright?”

“Alright? Let us hope her quite the opposite! Mr. Torcia’s step-sister has written me from the West Indies with the most appalling tales. Our ‘madame,’ who sold us such a story about being fugitive from France, is now fugitive from Britain!”

Brenton squeezed his cup. “I…had hoped the French captain was lying.”

“No, I’m afraid it’s that woman who’s full of lies. It seems she has been selling our secrets to anyone with gold. She is known to have brutally murdered several royalist sympathizers in France, she is connected with the disappearance of one of our own intelligence agents right here in Malta, and apparently attempted to engineer the deaths of both a Captain Brise and a Colonel Rafaga in the West Indies, a nefarious plot foiled only at the last moment by the daring intervention of Lord Windham.”

“Oh, I met Lord W once in London!” said one of the women. Remembering the illicit nature of their meeting, she hurriedly added, “what a most respectable and loyal gentleman, much devoted to Lady Windham.”

Mrs. Torcia nodded with approval. “And now the witch has attached herself to an envoy of Americans, hiding behind some diplomatic contrivance in Brazil while she prepares her next wicked machinations. How glad I am—how glad Mr. Torcia’s coinpurse is—to be rid of that woman.”

“This is unbelievable,” Brenton murmured.

“But here is the peak of the scandal, which we have been discussing all morning: it seems our Madame de Ville-Chanceuse’s sinful excesses have taken their toll. She is said to have grown quite corpulent since leaving us.”

“Obese, even,” chimed the other woman. “Can you imagine, commander?”

Brenton nodded. “I can, yes.” He cleared his throat and busied himself with his coffee. “Yes, I am picturing it now.”





Port Royal


“I can picture it now,” laughed Colonel Rafaga, “Madame luring in the unwitting men of Brazil, draining them of their goodwill and gold…”

“…and then absconding aboard some bloody American merchantman before anyone thinks to check their pockets!” snickered Captain Brise.

Mr. van Adem frowned. “I find it difficult to see her as any kind of spy, though.”

“But think on it, man: who but a deadly, highly-trained, cold-blooded intelligence-agent with all the amorality of a Bonapartist could possibly have, in one short evening, duped an upstanding, pious, patriotic businessman like yourself into committing such horrifying depravities?”

At the other end of the table, Lord Windham, taking advantage of his wife’s momentary absence, flirted shamelessly with the chestnut-haired twins. He had behaved well for months, but they had grown somewhat pudgy and deliciously curvaceous in the interim. Now, having squeezed into dresses that no longer fit, they had sat themselves on either side of him and teased him in hushed tones until his resolve had broken.

The colonel opened his hand to van Adem. “Imagine what you might accidentally, in the heat of that misguided passion, have revealed to her? Imagine if she had seduced the governor…or the commander-in-chief?”

“Disaster,” agreed Captain Brise. “The very picture of a spy, in my estimation.”

“My wife was certainly upset,” van Adem recalled. “But in my memory…I could never call that evening a disaster.” He broke into a lecherous, nostalgic grin, but his dining companions had turned back to one another.

“I quite agree,” declared the captain. “Were it not for that evening, I should not have made the acquaintance of my good friend Colonel Rafaga and should not be presently enjoying his company. Or his cook’s paella, for that matter.”

Rafaga bowed. “My I tempt you with another plate?”
 
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(25, continued)


Port-of-Spain



“Another?” Zephyra groaned. “Bless me, no. Oh, no. I’m about to burst.”

Boreas laughed his deep, jolly laugh and took the untouched plate for himself. “Are you feeling ill, darling? Your appetite seems diminished lately.”

She eyed him and stifled a belch. “We just ate so much fried shark the local fish should give us a medal. I wouldn’t call that ‘diminished.’ You’re confusing me with Adelaide.”

She stood, hand to her stomach—a somewhat larger stomach than Boreas had first met—and weaved gingerly toward the beach. Boreas followed a few minutes later and found her slouched against the base of a palm.

“That reminds me,” he recalled. “A packet-ship arrived this morning from Brazil. I was speaking with her master and it seems the rumors about our friend reaching Rio are true.”

Zephyra looked up from her discomfort. “Thank heavens. She’s okay?”

“Safe and unharmed. There’s some legal trouble, I understand, but she’s now under the protection of an American delegation. What caught my ear, though, was the rumor that Adelaide herself participated in that violent battle we heard about. There was mention of a pistol, a sword…it’s said she subdued Captain Aubert himself.” He grinned with vengeful satisfaction at the thought. “It’s also said that she drank all his blood afterward, but I suspect they meant his wine.”

“That sounds more plausible.”

“Vampirism aside, a most astonishing victory. I wonder that it’s not more celebrated.”

“I’m just glad she’s safe.”

“Indeed. Well, my darling, we can celebrate, if they will not. Let’s go into town and dine tonight. Let’s gorge ourselves upon dumplings in our friend’s honor and plan our journey to Rio.”

Zephyra moaned, rolling away from him. “Boreas, at least give me a few minutes to digest lunch before you start planning supper.” She took a shallow breath and chuckled to herself. “Swashbuckling Addie…too fat to dance with me on the beach for more than five minutes, of course, but fit enough to fight her way singlehandedly across the deck of an enemy ship. I’d pay to see that.”





London


“Come and behold,” a boy cried to the crowd of passerby, “at reasonable price, an honest and realistic theatrical depiction of the great seafaring victory in which His Majesty’s Ship Tryphena, 32 guns, heroically set upon and captured the execrable French corsair Sophrosyne, 50, in a most violent and sanguineous action!”

The boy waited and glanced about. The crowds trudged on.

“See also, if have you the stomach for it, that notorious she-pirate spirit known only as ‘Lady Luck’ as she bursts forth from the hold in naked, untamed fury, for to brutally murder and disembowel the French officers and glut herself upon their blood—”

Feet began to pause and ears tilted to him. A line assembled, a line that grew longer each day even as the ticket prices rose.

Captain Aubert was played by a washed-up dramatic actor who frequently halted the reenactment, to the displeasure of the crowds, for unending histrionic monologues. The British captain, whatever his name was, rarely appeared at all.

Only one character mattered to the audience. Lady Luck exploded onto the stage with an outburst of ribald profanity, flailing about with her sword and firing her fake pistols. She was portrayed by a popular local prostitute and drew impressive crowds, despite short blonde hair and a body half the mass of Adelaide’s. At times the manager attempted to pad the waist of her costume or begged her to puff out her stomach when the blouse was inevitably removed, but she had little interest in realism.

The engravings and transparencies sold as souvenirs weren’t much more accurate. They got her hair right, mostly, but she was never fat enough and often proportioned incorrectly. The most popular image showed her stepping up over a pile of slain enemies, musket in one hand and Union Jack in the other, leading a crowd of British seamen onward to victory. Her dress had conveniently fallen open, displaying her bosom; breasts far too large for the slender figure depicted, but smaller than their counterparts in reality. They were much perkier, less weighed down by fat.

“Take your eyes off her chest for two bloody seconds, mate. I’m not talking about your ‘Lady Luck’ character. She’s just more mariner folklore. You know how the tars carry on. But listen, have you heard about this other woman, the French spy?”

“The fake dame what raised such a stir in the Med?”

“They intend to arrest her, I hear.”

“Now, wait. They said she were a spy, but I thought they meant a Frenchwoman spying for Britain.”

“I heard she’s a Frenchwoman spying against Britain.”

“But then what’s this about her taking up with the Americans?” asked a third, immediately unwelcome man.

“Who knows?” the first admitted. “But I tell you what, fellows: given the positions of the various men they say she’s seduced…to whichever government brings her in, she’ll be worth her weight in gold.”
 
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