From the Publisher
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I was aware already that my Great Grandfather had exotic tropic island connections, but the manner in which they came about has always seemed something of a secret, and not to be talked about. Now, perhaps, I understand why.
I have checked what can be checked of my great, great grandmothers history and of my great grandfathers, her son. I have found, in the process, family records of her voyage and her disappearance, and official records of the loss of the Talisman, her crew and passengers--including a certain Alfred Smythe--at sea. There remains in question only that which cannot be proved, those matters to which only Smythe, Great, Great, Grandmamma and some others lost to history were witness.
Is this, then, her history? Or is it perhaps but the extraordinary invention of an extraordinary woman, alive through the days of Nelson, Wellington, Bonaparte and the young Victoria Regina? You must, of course, decide that for yourself...
Chapter the First (In which I encounter an ugly little ship and an ugly little man and in which they come to grief).
I cannot say that the prospect of the voyage on the Talisman endowed me with much excitement. Lord F, my husband, promoted to early governance of one of His Majestys smaller island possessions, had sent for me as he had threatened. In consequence I was about to be plucked from the cosmopolitan and exciting whirl of fashionable London in which, to be fair, I had begun to enjoy making the most of my own particular assets and the freedom of being an effectual widow.
Those assets, it may be appropriate to record, included a body barely twenty-one years of age and of comely proportions very appropriate to the latest fashions come from France. The French Empress, I know, was not at a height of popularity in her own country at that moment and, indeed, one wondered where such vociferous hatred of a monarchy might end. That it was to end for her so brutally was then beyond the imagination of any English Lady.
One must acknowledge an indebtedness to her, though, for the mode then current which had allowed some of us to abandon the lately fashionable preposterous wigs, to present the glory of our bubbies almost to their little pink noses in glorious décolletage, and to tantalise our men-folk in gowns which draped from the gatherings beneath our bosoms and floated and clung in tantalising, almost transparent gauziness. Some, I know, had taken to wearing pink body-stockings which hugged their figure and were implicit of nakedness beneath their robes, but I preferred the reality. And, indeed, so did my gentlemen.
Lord F, in truth, my husband of but few months, I had found to be not the best endowed of men, either in his wit, his intelligence, simple gentlemanliness or, indeed, his manhood. His private manners were rather rough and coarse, and what hung--if hung is the word--betwixt his legs was rather a fair reflection of the man to whom it belonged--rather wizened, pale, short of stature and somewhat insubstantial.
No virgin when I met him, I had encountered other men, including one joyously rounded youth who worked in my fathers stables, whose yard of flesh had in repose promised of nothing substantial and yet, upon excitement, proved prodigious. Not so Lord F, who never did other than briefly impale me upon his short pink prod before gasping and floundering with an excitement of coming which I found quite incomprehensible.
Our honeymoon period lasting in proportion perhaps to his virility, he was soon dipping his slender wick in cunnies other than my own, and in women bought or trading themselves in hope of some preferment. And left much to my own devices I had little hardship in finding myself some gentlemen whose own little gentlemen were of a more robust and fulfilling nature, and I took much pleasure in them. But it was not to last.
The Talisman was a shabby little craft, crewed by shabby little men and protected by the merest handful of little guns. Whilst other craft relied upon great arsenals to protect them, others upon fewer guns but a wicked turn of speed, I do believe the Talisman relied upon its visual inconsequence. Indeed the grubby little vessel appeared to have made itself a floating nonentity so inconsiderable on any mark that no enemy would demean himself by deigning to attack it.
What she carried in her bowels I never sought to establish and neither do I care now. I remember only the awful rolling motion of her, the incessant noise of wind and creaking timbers, squealing braces, shouted orders and the thunder of running feet upon the deck. I remember the awareness of our lack of privacy in the cupboard of a cabin I was forced to share with my maid. Having walls of knot-holed planks on three sides and a sheet of sail canvas upon the fourth, one was constantly aware of being overlooked by lecherous eyes, overheard by coarsely lecherous ears.
And Alfred Smythe had eyes and ears for all, a man whose obsequious essays in surface manners could not diminish the sense that one always stood before him naked and under coarse appraisal. I felt for him an instant loathing and feel it still, regardless that he saved my life.