Henry Richard Appleby, aged 14, and the son and heir of a prosperous merchant, watched with boredom as a rough seaman carried his trunk aboard the passenger ship, S S Hercules.
Henry was dressed in a white cotton shirt, blue felt trousers, silk stockings, a shiny pair of black shoes with silver buckles that glinted in the sun, a richly embroidered waistcoat, a long blue jacket and a tricorned hat. He looked every inch the gentleman that he intended to become once he had grown up.
A haughty and proud boy, Henry was excited. He was being sent to one of his father's plantations in America to see how it operated. It was the start of his apprenticeship to learn how to conduct business.
Henry frowned as he remembered the girl who stood behind him. Three feet behind him, since she was his inferior, both as a female and as a servant. The girl, Isobel, was a daughter of one of the men who worked on his father's estate. Isobel was being sent to become the maid of the wife of the man who managed the plantation.
He glanced back at her. Isobel was, he decided, a plain brunette, who was dressed in a simple blouse and skirt combination, with scuffed boots. She looked like what she was, a poor girl. She looked miserable. She was no doubt contemplating the long voyage and a life waiting hand and foot on another woman.
Henry did not relish having to have contact with such a lowly born girl. Well, as long as she minded her place and left him alone, he would be happy. Accompanying him was his tutor, Mr Fairfax, who would give him lessons on the voyage.
Isobel regarded the dandified boy with contempt. Just because he had been lucky enough to have been born to wealth, and just because he was a male, he lived in luxury and comfort. Isobel had been born into a poor family and had had no advantages in life. Except her remarkably quick mind. Isobel knew she was bright. Far brighter than the boy who stood in front of her, acting as if he owned the world. From some of the other servants, she had learned to read and write and even do some sums.
Isobel had hoped one day to escape her current state of servitude and build a new life for herself, so she was devastated when she was told that she was to go to an obscure plantation in the Americas, an uncivilised, frontier land, to be a maid. Continue her studies and bettering herself would be impossible. When she was alone in her bed, she had wept bitter tears against the hand that fate had dealt her.
Following Master Henry, who strode confidently up the gangplank, Isobel trudged after him, almost in tears, wishing she was dead.
For the next two weeks, life aboard the Hercules settled into a routine. Master Henry would rise, have his breakfast, have his daily constitutional by walking around the deck, take lessons with his tutor, have lunch, sleep a little in the afternoon (exhausted by his studies) and have dinner with the ship's Captain and his officers.
Whilst the Master enjoyed himself, it was Isobel who had to run around after him, serving him his meals, changing his bedsheets, doing his laundry and that his tutor, and waiting on him hand and foot. It occurred to her as she washed his linen that his clothes alone must have cost more than her father earnt in a single year.
The work was hard enough, but the attitude of the Master towards her was also frustrating. He seemed to resent having a girl, rather than a male valet, waiting on him, and he often spoke to her harshly. Isobel feared that one day he might even go as far as to strike her. Isobel was so miserable that she felt like throwing herself overboard, but managed to resist the urge.
As the voyage entered its third and final week, shipboard life was suddenly disrupted by a cry from the lookout in the crows nest "Pirates!" A wave of fear descended on the crew. Grimly, the Captain tried to outrun the vessel that was chasing the Hercules. In the meantime, the passengers were confined to their cabins. Master Henry's usual haughty manner had evaporated, to be replaced by fear.
Isobel hoped that the Hercules could outrun the pirates. She had heard lurid tales of what pirates did to their victims and did not fancy in the least being made to walk the plank or being keelhauled.
From the cabin, it was impossible to know what was going on outside and for the next two hours, the atmosphere was filled with tension. Then Isobel heard a crash, like two ships colliding with each other, and she knew that the Hercules had failed to outrun the pirates. She could hear shouting, the clash of steel against steel, and musket shots and guessed that the crew were locked in a desperate battle to save their ship from the pirates.
Master Henry huddled in his tutor's arms, white-faced. The tutor was trembling. Only Isobel herself was managing to keep her head and her nerve. Gradually, the sounds of fighting grew less and less, and then ceased altogether. Maybe the crew of the Hercules had won and driven the pirates away. Isobel prayed that that was the case.
Her prayers were not answered, for the door to their cabin was opened with a kick that smashed the lock and exposed to the frightened boy, the fearful tutor, and the resolute maid, the view of a band of pirates, armed with cutlasses and flintlocks. Isobel could see, beyond the wall of pirates, the bodies of the crew of the Hercules.
Isobel stood in front of Master Henry, as if to shield him. One of the pirates, obviously their leader, pushed his way past his men to examine his captives. He stroked his long black beard thoughtfully.
Isobel made an attempt to reason with the man "Please sir, do not harm us" she pleaded, on behalf of the Master and his tutor as much as for herself.
To her astonishment, and that of Master Henry and the tutor, all of the pirates roared with laughter.
"What have I said that is so amusing?" Isobel asked them.
"The notion that we intend to harm you" replied the pirate leader. He regarded his captives again "A pretty boy and a nicely spoken girl. You should fetch a pretty price at the slave auction!"
Isobel's blood ran cold at this statement. Behind her, Master Henry began blubbing into his tutor's coat. Slavery. They intended not to kill them, but worse, sell them into slavery!
"Please sir, do not make slaves of us!" Isobel pleaded again "My Master here is the son of the wealthy merchant. I am sure his father would pay you a goodly ransom for the three of us".
But to her dismay, the pirate shook his head "I'm sure he would, miss. But ransoms take time. More than I have. I was told that this ship was carrying gold and so I took the time and trouble to capture it and have lost several of my men. Only, I find that there is no gold and a poor cargo. This has been a costly venture, for little reward. Until I came across you two. If I sell you, I more than recoup my losses!"
"Please! Don't do this!" Isobel begged.
The pirate looked at her with an expression that might have been pity and paused for a moment, as if reconsidering. Finally, he shook his head again and said "No, my mind's made up. To the slave auctions you will go!" Master Henry burst into tears.
The pirate leader pointed at the white faced, shaking tutor "Hawkins! Take that man and put him with the other prisoners". Amid Isobel's pleas, the man was dragged out of the cabin.
"What are you going to do with him?" Isobel asked.
"Don't worry about him, lass. He's being put off in a longboat with the surviving members of the crew of this miserable little ship. They should find land in a few weeks, if they're lucky".
Isobel was fearful for those to be put in the longboat. What if they couldn't find land? What then?
Isobel was confused "Why put them off the ship. Can't you going to sell them too?"
The pirate leader snored in derision "Sell them? A load of scurvy mariners and an old teacher? Never. You see, miss, the slave market I'm taking you to is very fussy about the quality of the slaves it sells".
Isobel sank into a nearby chair in despair. Master Henry began blubbing again, his confidence and bluster gone. He was, Isobel decided, more useless than an infant.
Henry and Isobel were transferred to the pirate ship and locked in seperate cells and fed basic fare three times a day. Master Henry lapsed into silence, as if stunned by the whole turn of events. Isobel tried to remain positive and observed the crew's routine as much as possible, looking for even the most slender chance of escape.
Two days into the voyage, Henry was removed from his cell, amid his protests and tears, and manhandled upstairs. Isobel was left in her cell, wondering what was happening to Henry. She did not much like the boy, but had no wish for any harm to befall him.
The following day, two of the crew opened her cell door and gestured for Isobel to follow them. They led her to the upper decks of the ship and to the living quarters traditonally reserved for the Captain, his officers and the richest passengers. Isobel was gently pushed into a large cabin, dominated by a large bed.
To Isobel's surprise there was a woman pirate inside the cabin. She had not thought to find a woman amongst a pirate's crew, but she supposed someone had to wash the clothes of the crew and see to the other tasks traditionally allotted to the fairer sex.
The woman was dressed exactly like the men aboard and had a flintlock in her belt.
"What's your name, wench?" the woman asked her in an accent that Isobel could not place.
I'm Isobel....Isobel Weller....Ma'am".
"There's no need for the Ma'am, Isobel. I'm Daisy, the Captain's wench".
"I'm pleased to meet you....Daisy". Isobel said, feeling a little foolish but not knowing what else to say.
"Enough of the posh talk! We need to make you presentable. You're the Captain's guest for dinner! You can save the pretty talk for him, but as we're both girls here, we can be less formal". Daisy pointed to a brass tub, filled with steamy, hot water "Get undressed and get in that!" she ordered.
Isobel was embarressed to have to strip in front of a woman she had only just met, but knew she had no choice in the matter. Soon, she was naked and plunged into the bath. Daisy nodded approvingly and scooped up Isobel's discarded clothes.
"Hey! Those are mine!" Isobel protested.
"Don't worry, girl. You won't need these any more. The Captain has arranged for you to wear some much nicer clothes. I'll be back soon. Don't get any ideas about trying to escape whilst I'm gone! There's a guard just outside the door with orders to blow your head off if you as much as poke it around the door!" And with that, Daisy left.
Isobel found herself alone in the opulent cabin, feeling better from the warm, soothing bath. She scrubbed herself thoroughly and then waited. Wondering what was going to happen to her. Worrying about Henry, the only link left from her past life. What had been happening to him all this time?
Daisy returned with a bundle of clothes. She held up a silk emerald green gown, the type that a rich lady would wear "What do you think of this dress?"
Isobel gawped at it in wonder. A dress like that would cost a fortune. "It's very nice" she answered.
Daisy looked disappointed "It's very nice? Is that all you have to say about a gift from the Captain to you?" There was a dangerous edge to her tone that unnerved Isobel a little, so she said "It's adorable. Very lovely!"
"That's more like it! You'll be wearing this tonight. And look! There's some silk underwear and stockings and some jewellery. You're going to be the perfect lady!"
Isobel felt uncomfortable for two reasons. Firstly, she wondered who had owned the dress originally and what had become of them, and second, what would the Captain expect from her in return for these gifts?
Daisy divined her thoughts "Relax, silly, and enjoy some luxury for the first time in your life! The Captain bought this dress, he didn't steal it. And all he wants from you is a little company at dinner. I provide for all of his other....needs. Time for you to get dressed, Isobel!"
Half an hour later, Isobel was wearing the most gorgeous dress she had ever worn in her life. She looked and felt like a proper lady. Even Daisy seemed to be impressed by her new appearance "You look like you were born to be a lady".
Isobel's euphoria faded though as she looked at herself. I'm no lady and never will be. I will be treated like a lady tonight but tomorrow or another day, I will become a slave! She held that thought as Daisy led her to the Captain's dining room.
The dining room was a brightly lit, clean place. There was a huge table, bulging with food. Isobel's stomach rumbled and she had to restrain herself from stuffing some of the foodstuffs into her mouth. The Captain and his chief mates occupied all but one of the chairs. Isobel was invited to sit at the unoccupied place. Nervously, Isobel lowered herself onto the chair, aware that all eyes were on her. Daisy gave her hand a gentle pat of reassurance and left her alone in a room with a dozen pirates. It was like leaving a doe alone with a pack of wolves, Isobel thought.
"Men" the Captain announced "Please welcome my lady guest". A roar of approval came from the throats of the other men present and they raised their tankards to her in salute. Then the men settled down to eat, munching and slurping greedily. Isobel nibbled at her fare, scared out of her wits at her companions.
The Captain engaged her in conversation, asking her about her family and her background and Isobel answered him politely, but there was a burning question on her mind and she waited until what she judged would be an opportune time to ask it. That moment came when some of the men departed to attend to their duties or to sleep off their meal and the Captain had imbided a great volume of brandy and seemed in a happier mood.
"Please sir..." Isobel began, but her nerve failed her and she faltered.
"What is it?" the Captain demanded "Come on girl, spit it out!"
Isobel plunged on "Please sir, it's about the boy who was with me. I was wondering what had become of him".
The Captain laughed "Oh, him! He's fine. In fact, I'll get him for you!" and with that, the Captain turned his head towards a door and barked "Henry! Come out here!"
Henry appeared. Isobel was relieved to see that he appeared to be unharmed, but startled by his appearance. His fine clothes were gone and he was dressed in a simple linen shirt, black shorts, coarse woollen stockings and plain shoes. He wore a sullen, resentful expression.
"Stop glowering at me boy and fill our tankards before you get my boot up your backside!" Paling, Henry picked up a decanter and began doing as he had been ordered.
Isobel looked at the Captain in confusion "What have you done to him?"
"That idiot boy has become my Cabin Boy, for the duration of this voyage only of course. He has to wait on me and my woman. It's all he's good for, for he's a real sissy. Still, I've no doubt the ladies will love him, for he is at least pretty, and he will fetch a good price".
Isobel looked at Henry in his plain clothes, having to be a skivvy instead of being the lord and master. She felt a little sorry for him, for he looked miserable, but decided it would do him no harm to learn what it was like to be a servant for a change. Isobel allowed him to fill her glass and tried to give him an encouraging smile but Henry was affronted at having to wait on her, who was in his eyes an inferior.
Isobel also guessed that he felt humiliated to have been so debased, whilst she was a guest of honour and allowed to dress in fine things.
Isobel was invited back to share the Captain's fare every night thereafter. During the day, she occupied the cabin where she had bathed and led a more comfortable existence. There was a guard outside, but Isobel had more freedom than before. She was even allowed to have books and this was a real treat. She devoured them.
The only uncomfortable time for Isobel was dinner. She had to dress up in her finery and endure the stares of the men. Henry was made to wait on her, feeling humiliated. Isobel had no chance to talk to him on the voyage.
Finally, the ship put into a port and Isobel and Henry became fully prisoners once again, under constant guard. They were escorted off the ship, Isobel wearing her emerald gown and Henry restored to his fine clothes. So we can attract the best possible price, Isobel supposed. Despite the courtesy and pleasantries, the Captain intended to sell them as if they were cattle.
Henry was trembling, but Isobel's nerves were steady in spite of her fears. All she could hope for now was that she would be sold to a kind master.
The slave market was a choatic, noisy place. Henry and Isobel were put into a pen with other children. All of the "merchandise" Isobel noted, were boys and girls aged between 3 and 15. The only adults around were the handlers, the auctioneers and the buyers and sellers.
Isobel watched as, one by one, or in pairs, children were removed from the pen, taken up to the stage and auctioned off to the highest bidder. Then it was her turn. As she walked onto the stage in her emerald gown, a hum of appreciation swept through the audience of buyers.
The auction began. There were multiple opening bids. Isobel saw that, with one exception, the buyers were all men. The exception was a mysterious woman with short blonde hair and who wore....breeches? The woman's eye caught Isobel's own and Isobel swore that the woman had winked at her. What did that mean?
The bidding reached fever pitch. Then an astonishing thing happened when the woman in breeches raised her padel to bid. The rest of the buyers became silent. Nobody challenged the bid. It was almost as if other buyers dared not bid against her. The auctioneer's gavel came down, and Isobel became the property of the mystery woman
Isobel was put in a holding pen. She would be handed over to her new mistress once the auction had ended and once payment had been received by the auction house. A few minutes later, Henry joined her in the pen. He looked relieved.
"Who bought you?" Isobel asked him.
"That woman. This won't be so bad. I can't imagine a woman mistreating us".
Isobel smiled at him reassuringly. At least they would be together.
An hour later, they were removed from the pen and escorted by a gang of handlers to a waiting carriage. Isobel and Henry were ordered to get in. They clambered in to find the mystery woman was waiting within. She gave them a wide smile "Ah, my new acquisitions! Come, sit beside me!" she said.
Reluctantly, Henry and Isobel sat beside their new mistress. The woman gave orders to the driver and the carriage began to move. Sensing that they were not entirely happy, the woman reached into a box nearby and pulled out some cakes. "Here, have something to eat!" Isobel and Henry, not having eaten all day, wolfed the cakes down
"Better? Good. I am Mistress Caroline and, as you will have gathered, you are now my property". She paused to let that sink in. "However, you will find me a kind and benevolent mistress. As long as you behave. Now, is there anything you'd like to ask of me
Isobel asked "Where will we be living?"
"Ah, that I'm afraid I cannot tell you. Not until we're there. We will first go to my ship, the Saucy Sue, and set sail. The voyage will take a week. During that time, you will be trained for your new roles".
"Our new roles?" Henry piped up for the first time.
"Yes. You will find out more when you get to the Saucy Sue".
Isobel thought that Caroline was not giving much away. The rest of the journey continued in silence. Presently, the carriage drew up in a quay and Caroline led them onto her ship. It was bigger than the Hercules, and, Isobel noted, all of the crewmembers she saw were female. Caroline gave orders to a woman who was clearly the Captain of the vessel to set sail immediately and then attended to her new slaves.
"Both of you are to come with me" Caroline ordered "And if you are thinking about trying to overpower me and make an escape, forget it. I can defeat both of you very easily",
Isobel didn't doubt that. Besides, the ship was already moving. They would have only open sea to escape to.
Caroline led them to her own quarters. These were large, light and luxuriously furnished. Once they were inside, Caroline turned to them with a smile "Now that we are underway, I can tell where we are going. It's to a small island called Feminopia".
"Never heard of it" retorted Henry.
"It exists nevertheless. And by the way, from now on, when you talk to me, you will address me as mistress. Anyway, you won't have heard of my home, as almost no-one knows anything about it. We keep all information about it a closely guarded secret".
"Why...mistress?" asked Isobel.
"Feminopia is like nowhere else in the world" Caroline explained "Its government is matriarchal and has been for the last century or so".
"You mean the women are in charge?" Isobel asked.
"You're a very bright girl, and you're right. We women are the leaders of our society. Men exist to serve us".
Henry wrinkled his face in disgust "That's silly!" he retorted "Girls aren't able to rule. We men are the natural rulers".
Caroline seemed more amused than angered by Henry's outburst. "Women are more than capable of being leaders and rulers. And in Feminopia we are. You'll see for yourself, little man".
Henry bristled at being called a "little man" "I still don't believe you. And you're wearing breeches! You, a woman! It's not right!"
Caroline shrugged "What else would a woman wear? I was brought up to dress in this way. I think it unnatural that YOU are wearing breeches! In Feminopia, the men wear dresses".
Isobel giggled at that. Henry looked horrified "You make your men wear dresses? That's horrible!"
Caroline smiled "They look very pretty in them. And it's the natural order of things on Feminopia. You'd better get used to it, little man, and you'd better get used to wearing dresses!"
Isobel burst out laughing at the thought of Henry in a dress.
Henry blanched "I'm not wearing a dress! I'm a boy!"
"Yes, you are, and on Feminopia all of the boys wear dresses! And you will too!"
Henry's face wore a stubborn expression "I am NOT wearing a silly dress. Girls wear dresses! I am NOT a girl!"
"Is that so?" said Caroline "You WILL wear a dress and be the pretty, submissive little flower that all boys on Feminopia are". Her voice was firm and hinted at her being unaccustomed to contradiction.
It was, Isobel decided, to be a battle of wills. Henry was determined to retain his masculinity whilst Caroline was equally determined to turn him into a petticoated servant. Isobel had a good idea who would win.
"I WON'T!" Henry almost shouted at Caroline.
Caroline launched herself at Henry and within a few minutes had him pinned and helpless. Henry squirmed and resisted but realised that he was not the equal of this woman in physical prowess.
"Who is the master here?" Caroline asked him. Henry stubbornly refused to answer until Caroline applied pressure to cause Henry pain. Finally, unable to bear any more pain, Henry shrieked "You are!, you are!"
"That's right, little man. I am the master and the mistress here. You are of no significance whatsoever. A mere, tiresome boy, much in need of instruction and correction. You will learn your place. Now, when I let you go, you will be silent until spoken to and will obey every order given to you by me without question. Understood?"
There was a long pause, until, finally, Henry was forced to mumble "Yes". Then he yelped as Caroline gave his arm a violent twist "Yes, Mistress! Say it!" Caroline barked at him.
Fighting back tears and years of conditioning as an alpha male, Henry said "Yes...Mistress".
Caroline released him and gave him a gentle pat on the head "That's much better. You are a very pretty boy, which is why I bought you, and will make a lovely maid, as long as you behave and apply yourself to your duties".
Henry was horrified "Me, become a ma....". His sentence went unfinished because Caroline slapped him across the face "I did not give you permission to speak, little man! Be silent!"
Henry wept and wisely remained silent.
"Rachel!" Caroline called out and a woman crewmember entered the cabin. "Yes, Mistress Caroline?"
"Take this boy and see to it that he is suitably attired for his new role as my maid. If he gives you any trouble, do not hesitate to chastise him".
"Yes, Mistress Caroline. Come along, you!" said Rachel, steering the still weeping Henry from the room.
When Henry had gone, Caroline turned to Isobel. "I'm sorry you had to see that, but it was necessary. The boy must learn his place and you must learn yours".
Isobel shrugged "What exactly is my place? Am I to be a maid too?"
Caroline laughed "Goodness, no! Isobel, you are a woman. That makes you very special in Feminopia. We rule, we do not serve. That is the function of the inferior male".
"I still don't understand...Mistress...if I'm not to be a maid, which is what I was brought up to be, then what am I to do in your land?"
"I purchased you, Isobel, because I need an heir. You see, Isobel, I am a very powerful and wealthy woman. But, and it pains me beyond endurance to have to admit it, all of my wealth and power cannot buy me what I desire most. A daughter of my own body. I am...." Caroline shuddered at the thought of having to say her next word "Infertile". Caroline's eyes filled with tears, but she wiped them away.
"I'm sorry, Mistress" said Isobel, with genuine pity.
"Thank you. But, don't you see, Isobel, if I cannot have a natural daughter, then the next best thing is an adopted daughter. You. You are to become my adopted daughter and the heir to all I own, in due course, but in the meantime you will enjoy the status and wealth of being my daughter".
Isobel was stunned. This woman, who had only just met, was adopting her as her daughter and the heir to her fortune. Her prospects had been transformed in an instant!
"I don't know what to say, Mistress".
"You need say nothing and there is no need to call me mistress. Call me Caroline from now on".
"Thank you, Caroline".
"Now, let's get you something more suitable to wear. A woman in a dress is inconguous...."
Two hours later, Caroline and Isobel sat down to dinner. Isobel marvelled at her new clothes. A simple cotton shirt, silk stockings and breeches, gold buckled shoes, an embroidered waistcoat and jacket. She felt like a prince as she dined on the finest cuisine she had ever eaten, waited upon by men dressed as maidservants. It was a lovely feeling to be a former maid, being waited upon by the so-called superior sex wearing petticoats. Isobel decided that she was going to enjoy her new life.
Henry, the new maid, was not enjoying his new life one little bit. After being divested of his normal clothes, which were taken away forever, he found himself being made to wear a maid's outfit. Every moment he spent dressed as a maid was deeply humiliating. He, a boy, was being made to be a girl! His mind was constantly aware of the unfamilar feeling of his skirt swishing against his stockinged legs, of the frills of his apron and his cuffs, of his shapely legs being on show, of having to wear a maid's cap. But worst of all was the knowledge that, unseen and underneath his outfit, he was wearing ladies' underwear. His face reddened at the thought.
Henry was dressed as a maid and so he had to do a maid's work. He had to wait upon Mistresses Caroline and Isobel, launder their clothes, shine their shoes and clean their cabin. His mistresses smiled at him indulgently. Henry felt keenly the humiliation of having to serve women whilst dressed as one! Of being reduced to being a serving girl and having to wait upon one who used to be his serving girl!
On their last evening aboard ship, for Feminopia was but a matter of hours away, a party was held. Isobel needed a male partner to accompany her and Henry was her choice, to attend not as a maid, but as her partner. To his horror and shame, Henry was decked out in a sequined pink gown, the skirt of which was pushed out to extreme proportions by many layers of silk petticoats. Henry also had to wear a necklace, rings, bracelets and a tiara on his bewigged head. Henry's body was heavily perfumed and his face was covered with cosmetics. He wore a corset that made his waist tiny and which was uncomfortable. Underneath his petticoats, he wore silk stockings and a pair of pink, lacy drawers. He had to render himself docile and ladylike in order to please his new mistress, Isobel.
Isobel smirked at Henry, who looked adorable and very feminine in his gown, frilly petticoats and shiny jewellery. Once they got to Feminopia, she would take her place as one of the ruling class and he would take his as her maid.
The future was bright. For Isobel, at least.