A Formulaic Romance
This is the start of another story Amelia and I are putting together. There’s a pun in the title that will become obvious in time.
The story starts with Rachel, Lady Hayforth, throwing the dice in a desperate try at the marriage mart and coming up short when her carriage breaks down in the middle of nowhere. After a complicated string of happenings, she ends up engaged to Rupert, Lord Hartshorne, an aspiring chemist who did mysterious things for the war office in the recent past. His notebooks have gone missing, and a mysterious Mr Oliver is involved. Last week Rachel and her friends went to look at the stars after an eventful afternoon. George has left for the village. One might think that Rachel’s life would get simpler without this distraction, but that would be no fun.
Rupert showed he has something that connects his shoulders to his hips. Last week, the start of a new chapter shows that another of his talents is important. We discovered why it was so important that Rupert come with Sir Roger last week.
When you’ve finished with this tripe, take a look at the better authors in Snippet Sunday.
Rachel awoke to gentle rocking, a splitting headache and in damp dark panic. A panic that having her hands and feet bound did not help. The smell of the bilge rose up to greet her. She retched onto the deck, and that only improved the smell.
“Awake, my pretty?” Somewhere behind her, one of the sailors noticed her stirring. His heavy accent suggested he was from the Baltics, and not the nice parts of the Baltic coast.
“What?” words came slowly to her mind. She’d been grabbed, something forced into her mouth, then nothing. She wanted to scream, but the sound wouldn’t come.
“What happened, precious?” the man laughed, “You’re supposed to be a smart one, figure it out.”
He turned her over, “and I must add a pretty one. They’ll pay well to get you back. Or,” and here he leered at her. She couldn’t help but notice his stubble and missing teeth. She didn’t miss that the few teeth that remained in his mouth were decidedly dirty, “Or … well, we’ll find a way to make you pay your own way.”
“I’m not very wealthy myself, but my fiancé is Lord.”
“It’s not money we want Liebchen.” The man chuckled, “Not money. Not yours or his anyway. That book … not complete it is. Poor Fridhis found that the hard way.” The man crossed himself, “Rest in peace … pieces anyway.” He laughed at his little joke, “No lass, it’s the complete book, your precious fiancé’s book.”
“Lars!” Someone called from above deck.
“They’re coming. Inspecting the grain barges.”
“Gott verdampt es. … Sorry Miss.” Lars pulled a dirty rag from his pocket and shoved it in Rachel’s mouth. Then he dragged a cloth over her. “Should keep you quiet.”
In the process, despite her tied feet, Rachel made a creditable attempt at kicking him.
“Showing some spirit, ha. I begin to hope they don’t pay for you. More amusing when they struggle.” Then he clumped back up the ladder to the deck and shouted to someone. “She’ll keep.”
Rachel gagged on the rag Lars shoved in her mouth. The best thing it tasted of was pine tar from the spars they shipped from the Baltic. The worst things were unmentionable. Slowly, with her tongue she pushed it forward, eventually out. The horrible taste washed the panicky fear from her mind. There’ll be time to panic when I’m free.
She wanted to scream, but without anyone bar the sailors there, next time Lars would tie the gag in firmly. If she made a noise, it would have to be heard by someone who could help her.
There was a thump as the coast guard, the preventive officer’s boat knocked against hers. She heard, faint voices, “Ahoy.”
“Was ist es?” Lars, pretending he didn’t know English.
“Damn and blast. Another bloody Balt … Papers … documents … papieren?”
“Ach. Ich verstehe. Kommt.”
More clumping noises as the officer hoisted himself aboard; then followed Lars to the other end of the ship, the captain’s quarters in the stern. A few minutes later, she heard the officer. “Seems in order. Spars and stores unloaded. They’re waiting for corn and wool for the return. They’ll sail once it’s loaded.”
He turned to climb down to his boat; then stopped. Rachel heard him say, “Sorry, I forgot; so many ships. I need to see your cargo areas. Some blighted woman’s gone astray. Up in Wakefield, but they’ve told us to look for her here in Selby. Search the ships.”
When the hatch opened, Rachel saw the light at the far end of the hull. The man clambered down and peered toward her. “I say,” he said, “What’s under that mass of cloth?”
“A spare sail.”
“So you do speak English. Thought as much.”
“Ja, never sure when the coast guard ist hier.”
“Fine. Do you mind if I check? They’re tearing the damned town apart for her. Wouldn’t do if I don’t check the hold. Have to be thorough about it.”
“I say, did it just move?”
“Perhaps. I’d best check.”
Rachel heard them approach. The officer’s boots in front, Lars’ softer shoes behind. Then she heard a thump, followed by the slumping noise of a body sliding to the deck. Lars chuckled. Then he climbed out of the hold and she heard him say. “Captain Lewis has accepted my invitation for a drink and some dinner. I’ll see that he ist back this evening.”
Her heart sank when she heard the preventive’s boat rowing away. It plummeted even further when she heard Lars and his companion walk over. They argued, loudly and strenuously, but mostly in a combination of languages she didn’t understand. Finally, a third man joined them, and said, with a heavy French accent, “Quiet. We’ll sail with the tide this evening. Tie this man. You can release l’femme.”
He pulled the covers off Rachel. “Ma’am. Your friend. We’ll kill him if you try to escape, and I’m sick of Lars’ cooking. It needs a woman’s touch.”
“I see. And the alternative?”
“We leave you both bound until we don’t need you.”
Lars objected, “Without the corn? We’ll sail without the cargo?”
“We’ll pick up our real cargo in Brittany. Meet the ship off the coast and then to Saint Helena.”
“Vive L’Emporer.” Lars and the other hand snapped to attention.
I’m walking. Not without pain, and not without a little bit of a limp, but I’m walking. It turns out, if you’re ever in this situation, that it’s important to restore flexibility. You can walk through the pain. I moved from my Philmont boots to a pair of trail runners, the same type as I used in Wales last summer.
Saint Helena is a small volcanic island in the middle of the South Atlantic. Almost literally the most remote place on Earth (I suppose the south pole and Easter Island are more remote, but not by much.) Since Napoleon could not be trusted to stay put, it became his final abode. The Xkcd comic is appropriate here. It must have seemed like this to the British..