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The smell of smoke roused Marie Cabot from a sound sleep. Sitting up on the narrow bed, she flung her long braid back over her shoulder and murmured, "Josephine, you haven't burned one of my petticoats again, have you?"
Her maid's answering scream jolted her completely awake.
"Mam'selle Cabot! We will be sold into a harem and never see our families again! The pirates will take us all!"
When Josephine dove under the bed and began to cry, Marie threw a wrap over her nightgown and padded to the door leading to the companionway. Now that she'd come fully awake, the sound of bare feet racing across the deck above her head and the shouts of men did seem to indicate something amiss. But pirates? Surely there was no danger of that. Hadn't the Navy taken care of the Barbary pirates during President Jefferson's administration?
Long before I was even born.
A solitary oil lamp burning at the far end of the companionway cast an eerie glow. Was that a whisp of smoke hanging in the air near the flickering flame of the lamp? Marie started to close the door again in order to dress properly, but a blur of movement at the forward end of the companionway caught her eye. A man came down the stairs and paused under the light of the lamp. Perhaps he could tell her what was going on.
Marie stepped outside her cabin, but froze in her tracks when the man looked her way. Dear merciful God, it is a pirate. He must be a pirate, dressed like that, with one of those curved scimitars in his hand. Two more men joined him. The first pirate pointed at her and grunted something in a language she didn't understand. All three menlaughed and headed her way.
She couldn't go back inside her cabin. That would only trap her and Josephine where they'd soon be overpowered, and she had no doubt what that meant. Perhaps Josephine would have the good sense to stay under the bed and keep her mouth shut. Seeing no one at the aft end of the companionway, Marie clutched her wrap around her and fled barefoot over the worn deck boards.
The pirates gave a shout and pursued, their bare feet slapping the deck like an army of fiends chasing her.
Marie scrambled up to the main deck and stood with her mouth open and her heart pounding as she gazed at the scene before her. The little, two-masted Greek vessel swarmed with more men than she'd ever seen on deck since she'd boarded in Athens. Flames licked at the small, canvas-covered cargo of Egyptian cotton amidships. A cluster of men struggled for control of the helm.
The sound of feet pounding up the stairs behind her prompted Marie to hurry to the starboard rail, but she found no safety there. Trying to hold off a group of pirates, two of the ship's crewmen backed toward her, fighting with nothing but belaying pins against men wielding those monstrous scimitars. Marie ducked under the shrouds holding the mizzenmast and crouched in the shadow of the captain's cutter. The Greek crew was losing the fight, but with flames moving aft, would the little ship even survive the battle?
One of the crewmen, a handsome young man with black hair and a beautiful smile, fell to the deck in front of her. Marie clapped her hands over her mouth to keep from screaming. His dark eyes stared up at the sails as his hands clutched convulsively at the gaping wound in his stomach. Marie almost reached out to help him before she noticed the fading light in his eyes. She dropped her head to her knees and felt the hot sting of tears on her hands.
Josephine. She had to get back to Josephine in case the fire engulfed the ship. Whatever became of them, they would face it together.
Marie glanced aft towards the stairs to the lower deck. If she kept down and moved quickly, maybe she could dart back before the pirates noticed her. She took a deep breath to steady her trembling body and crawled out from the shelter of the cutter.
When she rose to her feet, a big hand clamped down on her wrist and dragged her into the open. She stared into the face of one of the pirates who had chased her from her cabin. Almost as short as she, but twice as wide, the man twisted her arm until she cried out in pain. He pulled her aft, barely glancing back at her as she struggled to stay on her feet. When he reached the wheel, he jerked her forward so she tumbled into the railing. Sprawled at his feet, Marie saw the two other pirates approach with evil grins on their faces and those gleaming scimitars in their hands.
She knew what they had in mind. Her parents hadn't sheltered her that much. Trying to will away the tight, sick feeling in her stomach, she glanced around for something to defend herself with. Her eyes lit on a belaying pin lying at her feet.
When her captor reached for her again, Marie grabbed the stout piece of wood. With all her strength, she thrust it straight for his stomach, only to gasp in dismay when the man reached out to divert the blow. The wooden club sank into his flesh six inches below the belt of his low-slung pants. The pirate's eyes went wide, and he let out his breath like a boiler releasing pressure.
The other pirates stared at their comrade as he sank to his knees. Marie's fingers suddenly went numb. She dropped the belaying pen and darted forward. As she scooted along the rail past the burning cotton bales amidships, she heard a howl of rage and the thunder of pursuing footsteps. She clambered through a tangle of fallen rigging, dove past two men struggling with a scimitar and then tripped over a small barrel and sprawled on the deck. Pulling her nightgown down over her knees, she jumped up again just as her pursuers caught sight of her. Two men rushed forward, shouting. The short pirate whom she'd felled staggered along behind, crouched over with one hand clutching himself while the other kept a grip on his curved sword.
Marie stumbled forward, past a hatch where the flicker of flames told of fire below decks. As she approached the bow, she slipped on a pool of blood and twisted her ankle. She glanced down and saw the ship's mate lying dead with a cutlass clenched in his bloody hand. Marie tried to run the last few feet to the bow, but the first step brought a jolt of pain to her ankle, almost sending her sprawling to the deck. She leaned against the ship's rail and peered back through the thickening smoke.
The pirates stepped out of the gloom and stopped a dozen feet away. The front two grinned and nudged each other until their comrade limped forward and brandished his scimitar from his bent-over position. The injured pirate grunted something, and his companions laughed.
Without taking her eyes off her tormentors, Marie leaned down and pried the dead mate's fingers from around the cutlass. She brandished the heavy blade like a saber, swiping it through the air. She had no where else to run, but she'd not let them take her without a fight. She wasn't a feeble invalid who couldn't lift a finger in her own defense. She was a United States citizen, and she wouldn't yield to any illiterate, smelly pirate just because he carried one of those wicked scimitars. She'd used a sword before. A fencing foil in practice…with her brother.
Copyright © 2003 by Pamela Cummings
Posted October 22, 2003
Young and beautiful Marie Cabot of Boston is homeward bound on a ship of Greek registry when the vessel is attacked by pirates in the early morning hours. Clad in her flimsy nightgown Marie manages to reach the deck, only to find herself at the mercy of a trio of swarthy pirates. In desperation, she pries a sword from a dead sailor's hand and defends herself, happy that she has defied tradition by taking fencing lessons, a pastime pursued only by men. The pirates flee but she soon finds herself overpowered, being heaved over the shoulder of an even larger scoundrel. Visions of being sold into slavery (or much worse) cloud her thoughts as she is lowered over the side of the Greek ship and dropped, unceremoniously, into a smaller boat. Voicing her rights as an American citizen, she is pleased to find that she has been 'captured' by the U.S. Navy! Marie is reunited with her French maid, Josephine, and the two are made comfortable in the Captain's quarters. When asked to join the captain for dinner, Marie is appalled to find that the silent brute who tossed her overboard is the temporary captain of the U.S.S. Declaration of Independence, Lieutenant John Appleton. As the days pass, Marie and John Appleton continually clash. She, an independent young woman who has vowed to become a spinster, and he, the brooding seaman who fears succumbing to the charms of a woman, knowing that all young women aspire only to lay a trap to snare themselves a husband. (And what better 'catch' than a handsome career seaman, who has set his sights on his own command?) A thoroughly entertaining read (beginning with the title), The Old Maid and the Sea pulled me into the action right from the start. The sexual tension between John Appleton and Marie Cabot carries the book along in a delightful, enchanting storyline. Pamela Cummings has done her research so well that all of your senses are used when reading this historical romance/action/thriller. You'll be tossed along in a turbulent sea during a violent storm one moment and savor the sights and sounds of an old seaport, swashbuckling your way through the crowds, the next. An over-zealous maid dedicated to making her mistress the object of all men's desires, a magical costume ball, a picnic in a foreign country and a 'welcome home' party for the sorely missed Marie all conspire to throw the confirmed bachelor and avowed spinster together against their will. A heart-warmer that leaves you contented and smiling, The Old Maid and the Sea will also leave you knowledgeable about historic ships and vintage ladies clothing. along with a lesson on the how and why to use a sextant for navigation. Despite a couple of typos and a 'sturdy pair of walking boots' that are lost when the Greek ship is attacked and mysteriously reappear when Marie needs them for an island hike, this is a terrific 'escape' read the whole family will enjoy. If she isn't already, look for Pamela Cummings on the bestsellers' lists in the near future, she's a winner!
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