A Recipe for Trouble
This is little story I wrote about the sister of the character of Lieutenant Ashley McKay.
"McKay, Charlotte McKay," she replied to the first lieutenant of the Hotspur confidently. She had boldly come aboard and applied for the position of 'captains steward' she noticed that the lieutenant was rather flustered at the thought of a woman being onboard. He made his objections clear, "are you mad? We can't have a woman aboard! You cant, no I will not allow it! We would be the laughing stock of the fleet!" he protested.
"Then I will appeal to the captain directly, in person then!" charlotte exclaimed, she took out the letter of 'recommendation' she had from her grandfather, Admiral Dovedale. He had taken some persuading but he had written it eventually, how could he deprive his favourite granddaughter of anything?
When the red haired lieutenant read the letter his face changed he turned a ghostly white, "wait there I will have to speak to the captain about this," he said then disappeared down to the captain's cabin clutching the letter.
He returned some minutes later accompanied by a tall gangly gentleman with short curly black hair tied in a pigtail, as was the fashion in the navy. Charlotte noticed the epaulette on his shoulder, 'ah! So this was 'captain Hornblower' she thought, he was now holding the letter. They both approached her looking slightly sheepish.
"Miss McKay," began the captain, for she had taken her stepfathers name when her mother had remarried. Both her brother and half-brother were in the navy. Joseph was a commander and Ashley was a lieutenant, the later was rather foolish it had been a miracle he hadn't yet been killed.
There was a long pause then he continued, "ha h'm this is a highly irregular situation you have created. W-we would not usually allow women to serve aboard a navy vessel but - " he looked down at the letter quickly then back at her "after reading this letter from Admiral Dovedale I have decided to allow you to serve on the Hotspur, but this is for a trial period only." Charlotte couldn't believe it whatever her grandfather had written had done its job.
"Aye aye, sir!" she replied saluting him.
"Mr Bush, see that Miss McKay's dunnage is swayed up and stowed safely," said captain Hornblower to the lieutenant. Mr Bush looked decidedly uncomfortable.
"You will have my cabin," said the captain.
"That's not necessary, sir. All I need is a curtain to be rigged for privacy, sir," charlotte replied.
"It would not be appropriate!" exclaimed captain Hornblower.
"But it would not do for you to show partiality, sir" she replied respectfully.
"She could take my birth, sir?" said Mr Bush; charlotte noticed the look he gave his captain. There was an uncomfortable silence and she gave him 'the look' he finally gave in.
"Alright then Mr Bush she will have your quarters and ask the carpenter to make a screen for proprieties sake," said the captain.
Charlotte sensed that this was the end of the matter this was confirmed by a curt "you are dismissed!" from the captain
"Aye, sir!" she replied and went to explore the ship.
The Hotspur was quite a small ship she was able to find her birth and the galley easy enough. Her belongings were quickly swayed up, charlotte had been careful to pack only what was essential. She had borrowed some britches from her brother; he would not notice their absence. She had adjusted one of he dresses by cutting it short so that it was the same length as a shirt. It had the effect of a kind of tunic over the britches and stockings she was wearing. She had cut her straight black hair to shoulder length and tied it back. All this gave her a kind of mismatched look. That and the fact she was the only female on board attracted a lot of attention from the crew, she felt like she was always being watched and judged.
Charlotte felt that she must prove herself efficient and worthy of her job so she decided to get to work as soon as possible. It was the beginning of the afternoon watch so she made her way to the galley, she ascertained that the captain would be dining with his first lieutenant and so prepared a meal for both. Captain Hornblower had obviously invited Mr Bush so as they could gage the abilities of the new steward.
(At 2 bells of afternoon watch)
As she placed the meal she had prepared on the table she observed their reactions.
"Ha h'm," the captain coughed nudged Mr Bush and gave the 'you first' look.
"So what is on the menu today?" Mr Bush asked tucking the corner of his napkin into his collar.
"Today I have prepared a dinner consisting of roast beef, potatoes, turnips boiled assorted vegetables and la piece de la resistance my special sauce of, a secret recipe handed down through generations of my family, sir," she replied noticing the strange almost pained look on the lieutenants face at the mention of turnips and the grin that the captain was obviously trying to suppress. "And for dessert a meringue with summer fruits, sir."
"This smells delicious," exclaimed the captain, "but - I would suggest that you leave turnips off the menu in future."
Charlotte was about to ask why but thought the better of it and just replied "aye, sir!" bowed her head respectfully and quickly exited. As she walked away she could have sworn she could hear laughter coming from the cabin. She shook her head in resignation and walked back to the galley to prepare dessert.
The next day charlotte had just finished laying out the captain's clothes. She was just leaving the cabin for captain Hornblower was obviously unnerved and embarrassed by her ministering. Mr Bush the first lieutenant approached her and inquired as to weather she had any appropriate clothing. Any shore going rig. He explained that he had taken the liberty of asking the purser for some material and the sail maker to run up some clothes for her. That she could collect them when she had completed her duties.
Charlotte was suspicious of this unsolicited favour and noted his deep blue eyes and wondered whether he had done this out of duty or for another reason. But her heart fluttered at the thought of the possibility of his affection for her.
"Thank you Mr Bush. You are too kind, sir," she replied careful not to reveal in her voice what she and feeling.
"Only doing my duty ma'am," then he corrected himself "McKay" for that was the name all the men were calling her. Although captain Hornblower seemed to have taken to calling her 'ha-h'm'.
The men had started off with miss charlotte, miss McKay and ma'ams but for practicality it had progressed to just plain McKay. Charlotte didn't mind this, as it showed at least a partial acceptance.
"I am grateful, sir" she said in reply to Bush's offer. The lieutenant then gave a quick short nod in recognition and walked back the way he had come.
As he left charlotte felt herself blush. Why should the presence of Mr Bush affect her countenance so?
Later in the day charlotte found herself with some free time to fill. So she took out one of the books she had packed and went up onto the maindeck. For it was hard to read in the dim light below decks.
As she sat there she could hear some of the men laughing. Charlotte peered over the top of the book she had been reading. The group of men were pointing at her, laughing, making lewd jokes and shouting 'propositions' at her. Charlotte could feel the anger welling up inside her, one more remark from them and she would snap. Her grip on the book she was holding tightened as she tried to restrain herself for an unseemly outburst that she would later regret.
Charlotte was just about to do something when the old boson, Matthews she thought his name was noticed what was going on. He came across and shooed them off, told them to get back to work.
The ringleader of the group made the mistake of walking past charlotte. She saw her opportunity and took it. As he walked past she nonchalantly stuck her foot out and tripped the large sailor up. The burly man went sprawling to the deck.
"What did yer do that for?" he bellowed standing up and brushing him self down.
"Oops! Sorry my foot slipped." She replied in the most 'innocent' sounding voice she could muster.
"Foot slipped my ar-,"
The sailor was interrupted before he could finish by Mr Orrick the midshipman, who had come to see what the commotion was about.
"And what is going on here?" asked the Irishman addressing them both, "McKay? Styles?"
"It were 'er that bi-,"
"Check your language Styles" Mr Orrick warned him.
"Sorry, sir. But she tripped me up, sir"
"McKay what do you say?"
"It was an accident, sir. He just wants someone to blame for his clumsiness, sir." Charlotte replied giving the midshipman a cheeky wink.
"Ha-h'm" the midshipman coughed nervously "there has obviously been a misunderstanding. You will both apologise and we will no more of the matter."
Styles mumbled a begrudged apology. Charlotte also said her apologies. Charlotte walked off with a smug look on her face, 'round one to me' she thought.
To be continued...