sea, Sunday, 14 June 1803, Lady Barbara
Ten days out of Bristol. Until then boredom
had prevailed on board HMS Excalibur, but at last the looming mass of the Rock
of Gibraltar had been sighted on the horizon, and excitement was building. Soon
we would be entering the Mediterranean and embarking on the last part of our
journey to Rome, the Eternal City. I had always dreamed of doing the Grand Tour
... and now it was so close ... so exciting ... just a few more days and we
would be there!
It's not that the companionship had been
unsatisfactory, nor the weather. In addition to myself there were four other
young women of my class to keep me company, as well as some very handsome and
eligible young men, particularly the dashing young Thomas, whom I secretly
admired. The captain of the ship, Barnabas Steele, seemed agreeable enough ...
if rather odd when around women. And, of course, our daily needs had been well
cared for ... being of the right station in life, we young ladies were
fortunate to have each brought along a maid servant to look after us.
Oh, yes ... and I would be remiss not to
mention the presence of Lady Prudence, our tour chaperone. She was really not
much older than the rest of us, but did take her responsibilities quite
seriously ... thus there had been little opportunity to do anything but behave
properly on the voyage, which meant hours and hours of polite conversation over
meals and parlor games. Pity that. But, at least the sea had been calm, and no
one had been given over to seasickness.
As we entered the Strait of Gibraltar our
progress was slowed by a strong headwind, known as a "Levanter", or
so our captain informed us over dinner in his rather sumptuously appointed
quarters. The man had a habit of placing his hand on the knee of whomever was
seated next to him at dinner, and of staring intently down the poor girl's
bodice. He also enjoyed enthralling his dinner guests with tales of his
adventures at sea, many of them really quite frightening. As it happened, it
was my turn that evening to sit next to him, which meant I frequently had to
brush away his hand from my knee throughout the meal, in addition to modestly
placing my hand over my bosom.
After dinner, the men were left to drink and
smoke in the Captain's quarters, while he led the ladies up on deck for a look
at the Rock. As he told his long-winded stories to his captive audience, I
found myself paying only half attention and staring over the opposite side of
the ship at the far shore.
"Isn't that Africa?" I asked,
interrupting his tale.
"Yes, milady, it is." he responded,
seemingly pleased to be asked something, even if it was an interruption, by the
young woman who had persistently rebuffed his under the table advances during
dinner. "It's known as the Barbary Coast."
"Oh, I have heard of that," I said,
raising my hand to my mouth in a mock show of shocked recognition. "That's
where those dreadful pirates come from, isn't it?"
"Is indeed, Lady Barbara. Many thousands
of poor Christian souls have fallen victim to their ruthless depredations, I
don't mind telling you."
"I should think it rather thrilling to
be taken by a pirate ... a dashing one, I mean," I tittered nervously.
"Oh Barb, don't start!" said Lady
Katharine, my best friend and constant companion, taking on her customary role
of keeping my impetuous nature in line.
"Seriously, Captain ... we aren't in any
real danger of capture by Barbary Pirates, are we?" I said, making a
conscious attempt to wipe that dreamy look from my face.
"Never can be too sure they won't show
their dastardly faces," he replied wrapping his arm around my shoulders
and pressing his fingers into my bodice just enough to bulge my right breast
sufficiently high to reveal more than was generally deemed socially acceptable
in genteel company.
"You're not serious ... You're just
trying to frighten us," I sang, spinning away from his grasp and tugging
at my bodice to cover up.
"Aye, I'd not be truthful were I to give
miladies the impression that no danger exists. Those pirates can strike
anywhere at any time. And what do they want, ye might be wondering? Well, the
prize of me ship and crew, of course ... but think of their fiendish delight
were they to find a bevy of virginal young English ladies on board! They'd for
sure know you'd bring a high price on the slave markets ... and not just you
fine young ladies, mind you, but yer maid servants too. Imagine yourselves,
shackled together on stage in Rabat, Tripoli, or even some far-off Ottoman city
... displayed absolutely naked fer all to see and sold to the highest bidder.
Of course, then again ye might be held for ransom too ... perhaps a more
pleasant outcome for such high-class ladies as yerselves. On the other hand, ye
could be kept by the pirates as sex slaves, and forced into performing day
after day the most degrading acts one can imagine ... under the brutal lash if
need be, mind ye! Or even worse, ye might be condemned to hard labor, perhaps
even thrown into service as a galley slave in some Ottoman göke ...
straining yer lovely backs, five to a bench, naked and in chains, with a lash
or two administered every so often to spur ye on to greater effort," he
rambled, eyes glazed bright with excitement and hand snaking around my shoulder
with the intention of repeating his last grope.
"Rubbish," declared our chaperone,
Lady Prudence. "Enough of such talk! I am sure that we ladies are all
perfectly safe. We are British, after all, are we not? Now, my dears, it's
getting late. Time to go below decks. The maid-servants are there waiting to
undress us and get us all into bed for the night. Come along, girls. Bid the
dear Captain, a cheery good night."
I did as Lady Prudence bade, prying myself
loose from the Captain's lecherous grasp, although not before he got a good
handful of what he desired.
We descended below to our quarters where our
maid servants were waiting as Lady Pru promised, gathered beside a rather large
wooden tub of tepid bathwater. They undressed us as we stood about, engaged in
giggling chatter about Barbary pirates, slave markets, and how deliciously
horrible it might be to be a sex slave and ravished in different ways. Then
into the bath we went, all five of us together ... splashing at one another
playfully as our maid-servants did their best to lean over the edge of the tub
and bathe us.
Afterward we dressed for bed in our thin
white night gowns, and clambered into our waiting bunks ... two girls to each.
I slept with Lady Katherine. She and I snuggled together, listened to the
gentle rhythmic lapping of water against the ship's hull, and wondered with
furtive whispers and snickers, which of the others ended up sharing a bunk with