The Old Maids Club cover
Carolina Girls cover
Charleston's  House of Stuart cover
Charleston Lonely Hearts Hotel cover
Chick Springs Publishing


The Pirate and The Belle
by Steve Brown
ISBN 978-0-9712521-8-9

Chapter One

The enclosed carriage stopped at the unfinished house on Meeting Street, and one of two smartly dressed black men climbed down from the driver’s box and opened the carriage door. A delicate, white-gloved hand extended from within. Its owner was assisted to the street by the servant, who closed the carriage door, then hurried up the steps to ring the bell.

Behind the young woman, carts, carriages, pedestrians, and men on horseback jockeyed around the carriage now parked on the most westward of all streets of Charles Town. Meeting Street had formerly stood in the shadow of a brick wall surrounding the city, but that wall had been demolished, with the accompanying rush to build on the far side of the street, further adding to the congestion.

Men openly stared at the young woman standing at the door of the strange-looking house, one of the first buildings to go up once the wall had come down. She was dressed in the fashion of the day: knee-length gown, open in the front from below the waist, serving as the top garment over several petticoats reaching her buckled shoes. Her hair was hidden by a lappet cap, and over her shoulder lay a parasol.

The servant rang the bell of this house that had been built perpendicular to the street and only one-room wide, causing consternation among Charlestonians— not an unusual state when something goes against the grain of public opinion. Under its gabled roof, the street-side door opened onto a full-length porch, and from that piazza, a center door led to the interior of the house. The piazza’s roof shaded its windows from the sun and its open windows allowed the winds from the southwest to sweep through.

When ringing the bell produced no answer, the black man looked to his mistress. She nodded, and he rang it again, pulling on a cord running through a hole in the door frame.

Still no answer.

“Perhaps with more vigor, Caesar,” said his mistress.

Catherine Belle was a slender woman with pale skin, blue eyes, and raven black hair. Her clothing was from London and she issued her commands in French. She was nineteen years old and at the height of her powers.

The black man used his hand and hammered on the door. Suddenly, the door was jerked open and a black woman stood there, one hand in the pocket of her dress. This was Julia who ran this household, and though she was an African, she was not a slave, which is probably why she did not care to smile when addressing the young white woman.

“Yes, Miss Catherine, how may I help you?”

“I’m here to see Captain Stuart,” said the young woman, speaking English with a French accent.

Startled, the servant stepped back, and Catherine took that as an invitation to enter the house.

It was not what Julia intended. “Miss Catherine, Captain Stuart gave specific orders about your family and this house.”

“Yes,” said the young woman, hurrying across the piazza, through the center door, and into the house where she stood at the foot of the stairs to the second floor. “I’m sure he did.”

Glancing around the hallway where the odd piece of furniture had been stacked and mud tracked through, Catherine recognized the floor plan from what James Stuart had presented in his proposal of marriage. She would never condescend to live in such a house. It gave the appearance of cheapness. Her family owned an English-style manor house farther north on Meeting, and their house favored one of the homes her family had had to abandon in their native France. Catherine and her family were Huguenots.

Caesar followed the maid into the house and stood at the open door to the piazza. Catherine handed him her parasol.

“Miss Catherine,” said the maid, “you must respect Captain Stuart’s wishes.”

“Drunk again, is he?” The young woman glanced up the stairs.

Much of the house remained unfinished, yet James Stuart expected a Belle from Paris to live in such tight quarters. Who cared about all the sunlight and the breeze flowing through? This place was more suitable for a man who planned to continue to sail the Spanish Main. So, instead of this house becoming the crowning achievement of James Stuart’s portfolio, it revealed the Scotsman’s indifference to his family’s position on the social ladder. And although Charles Town was nothing more than an outpost on the Atlantic seaboard, people would soon care about that ladder. Everything always came back to that ladder.

“Well,” said Julia, looking at the floor, “you and the captain did have . . . a disagreement.”

Catherine laughed. “And Captain Stuart has been drunk ever since I rejected his proposal of marriage?”

Julia said nothing, only stared at the muddy hallway.

“I suppose my family should take that as a compliment.”

And upstairs she went, knowing the larger of the three bedrooms was finished and might even include furniture. That should be a sight: a bachelor purchasing furniture without consulting his fiancée.

The maid raced after her. “Miss Catherine, you can’t go up there.”

“What you mean is Captain Stuart is not presentable. Well, I have nursed many a sick or wounded man in my short time in Charles Town, and there is little I have not seen.”

“But Captain Stuart is a proud man. A Highlander.” Julia caught up with her, reaching the second floor at the same time. “Please allow me to go ahead of you and wake him.”

“If you must. If you can.”

Catherine remained at the head of the stairs, one of her gloved hands gripping the railing while the maid hustled down the hallway. Glancing at Catherine from where she stood in front of one of the doors, Julia rapped fiercely before announcing herself and entering the master bedroom.

A roar from Stuart revealed he was not pleased to be awakened, and that was all a lady needed to know about James Stuart. Screaming at the servants. How lowborn.

As Catherine sashayed down the empty hallway, she removed one of her gloves. It would seem that the maid was having little success in raising the Scot, so before taking off the second glove she rapped on the closed bedroom door.

“Captain Stuart, this is Catherine Belle. Make yourself presentable. I am preparing to enter your bedroom.”

Despite her tone, Catherine could not help feeling flush and a bit dizzy, and she placed her still-gloved hand on the unfinished wall to steady herself. The man was, after all, a brute, and exactly why she was here. Send a pirate to catch a pirate. It all made perfectly good sense to her.

But not to Uncle Antoine. Uncle Antoine had spent last night in his cups, bemoaning their fate. Catherine thought his concerns misplaced. Blackbeard had been very good for the Belle family. During the blockade, she had made one business arrangement after another, even one that might put a competitor out of business. As her father had taught her: Make the grandest plays when the streets run red with blood.

From inside the bedroom came pleas from the maid for Stuart to sit up.

My God, how drunk could the man be? Catherine had heard stories about drinking bouts involving sailors, and rumor had it that most pirates sailed around in a drunken daze, but . . . Stuart was a fool! While he’d been drunk, how much money had he lost? After all, those who ran his business were former pirates, too.

Catherine knocked again, then shoved open the door and entered the bedroom. There she found the servant trying to cover her master with a bedsheet.

“Leave me alone!” he shouted, trying to sit up. He stopped resisting when he saw Catherine enter the room. “You! What are you doing here?”

Stuart clawed his way to an upright position on the edge of the bed. Fortunately, all Catherine saw was a pair of monstrous white legs as he fought to sit up. Stuart wore only a shirt, which the maid quickly repositioned from where the garment had become twisted in his sleep. Brown hair stuck up at odd angles. Sleep lines crossed his sunburnt face.

Stuart lurched to his feet, and just as quickly, he gripped his head with both hands and returned to the edge of the bed. The maid hastily pushed the shirt down between her master’s knees again.

“Leave this house at once.” Stuart spoke French with a Scottish burr. “I will not have you in my bedroom or anywhere else in this house.”

Catherine held her ground as she always did with the riff-raff of Charles Town, which included just about anyone on the peninsula. Less than fifty years ago, no white people had lived here, and her family was from Paris. Who did these Charlestonians think they were? Indians still led packhorses loaded with deerskins into this so-called town.

“Captain Stuart,” said Catherine, picking at the fabric of her still gloved hand, “I have come here with a proposal . . .”

Her voice drifted off as Catherine Belle, lately of Paris, realized that no drawings in any marriage proposal could have prepared her for this room: the delicacy of the molding of the bed and its matching furniture, the pale French wallpaper, the hand-made Persian carpet . . . That is, unless Catherine had forgotten the bedroom of her youth. She had not.

Nor had Stuart forgotten that she stood in his bedroom. “I want nothing from you or your family!” Standing again and taking her by the arm, Stuart marched her out of the room.

“You’re hurting me,” she cried out, knowing she would bear his mark for days, perhaps weeks. The man was truly an ogre.

“And my answer is ‘no’ to your counterproposal.” Pulling her down the hallway, he added, “Just as your answer was to me.”

Catherine struggled to shake loose, but the man was much too strong. “Captain Stuart, release me! Release me this very instant!” She was at the point of tears. No man had gripped her so—not since her escape from France.

At the head of the stairs, Stuart stopped. “Not until you promise to leave my house.”

“You call this a house?” Gesturing with her free hand, she added, “This is no house. In Paris they know how to build real houses.”

Stuart sneered at her. “One insult after another, is it? It’s a wonder your throat hasn’t been cut and you left for dead in some back alley.”

Catherine jutted out her jaw. “Just your sort of contribution to this so-called city. Listen to me, you . . .”

The animal tried to drag her down the stairs, but she would not have it. Catherine had grabbed the upstairs railing, making it impossible for the pirate to pull her down the steps—not without both of them stumbling and falling.

Realizing this, Stuart stepped back on the landing and ducked under her arm. Suddenly, Catherine had her hand wrenched off the railing, and she found herself being carried down the stairs over Stuart’s shoulder, petticoats flying.

“Unhand me, you brute!” With her hands free, she flailed at Stuart’s back, causing little or no damage. Her feet, now in front of Stuart, kicked hard, but to no avail. Her purse slipped off her arm and fell to the stairs.

Caesar, who had remained at the entrance to the piazza, hurried to open the front door as his mistress was carried out and dropped, feetfirst, on Meeting Street. Her driver stared down at them, and the traffic slowed, some stopped, all staring at the young woman with the flying petticoats and the man wearing only a shirt.

Once her feet hit the cobblestones, Catherine straightened up to confront the lout, but all she saw was the dirty shirt, those powerful, white legs striding up the steps, and the door slamming shut. From inside, she heard a lock thrown.

“You fool!” she shouted. Catherine glanced at the people gaping at her from horseback, shank’s mare, or their own carriage. Again she flushed and this time in rage.

“You drunken fool!” she shouted, knowing the door to the house had not yet closed and the windows of the piazza remained open. “My family will never do business with you again. You hear what I say, sir. You’ll never do business with the Belles of Charles Town.”

A lock was thrown, the door opened, and her purse flew out, landing at her feet. Catherine ignored the purse but felt the stares of those passing on Meeting Street.

She faced the gawkers. “Well, what are you staring at? You don’t think a woman can give a man an ultimatum?”

It was only after she returned to her carriage and the carriage was moving down the street that Catherine realized she hadn’t had a chance to tell the fool pirate that her sister had been kidnapped.

The Pirate and The Belle
The Belles of Charleston
The Old Maids' Club
Charleston's Lonely Heart Hotel
Charleston's House of Stuart
Charleston on the Potomac
Carolina Girls

The Charleston Ripper
The Charleston Vampire
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