A Monstrous Party
"A ball," exclaimed Nerrissa Morgan, Acting Lieutenant of HMS Monstrous. "What a jolly
"I thought so to," agreed the First Lieutenant Ruth Christian, "but I'm afraid only a select
few will be permitted to attend."
"Who, sir? For I must know at once, as I have now gown fit for such an occasion, the last
having been quite destroyed in the sat action by a stray cannon shot."
"I'm sure Judith can help you find a suitable garment."
"Then I am to go, sir?"
"Indeed. You, Miss Smith, Miss Harvey, Mr Tindall and of course Captain Jones will be
representing the ship. I do hope you remember to show some decorum."
"Aye, sir. And might I ask if you know who else is going from the other ships?"
"There will be a certain officer from a familiar ship attending," Ruth replied, with a
"I don't know to what you infer, sir."
"I think you do, and we must see you look your best. You will have to catch yourself a
husband one day."
"Do not be so shy. It is quite obvious you have an attachment to him, I am sure you almost
swoon in his presence."
"You mock me, sir," she exclaimed.
"Surely I do not. Now, you must try and concentrate on your duties, rather than be
distracted by thoughts of muslin and ribbon."
"Judith you are a gem," declared Nerrissa.
"It was nothing," she replied. "The merchant gladly donated the muslin, and silks in
exchange for my homemade cakes."
"But is must have taken you a long time to make, a dress this intricate."
Nerrissa held up the swaged, highwaisted muslin dress with is blue ribbon detail and silk
"Indeed not, I had a little help and after all it was my fault your other dress was ruined, if I
hadn't of taken it to wash it wouldn't have been in harms way."
"Don't trouble yourself. I do not blame you at all."
"Well anyway, I hope my repairs are to your liking-,"
"It is superb."
Nerrissa perched on the edge of one of the chairs arranged around the ballroom, feeling a
little awkward amongst all the distinguished guests. Miss Smith was having a rather loud
conversation with another midshipman over the other side of the room. Captain Jones
appeared to have settled into the company quite well and Mr Tindall was nursing a rather
large glass of something alcoholic. Miss Harvey on the other hand stood statuesquely
uttering witty remarks and pleasantries to the wealth of admirers flocking round her.
Nerrissa stared intently at her dainty feet against the polished wood letting her mind
wander as she twirled her fresh curls round her finger nervously. She was midway through
a rather exciting daydream and did not take note of the pair of feet that encroached on
her scope of vision.
"It must be very interesting," said a voice.
"What?" she replied, distracted.
"The floor, it must be something special to be awarded so much attention."
She looked up. A young man stood in front of her of medium build, with dark hair and a
plain costume. He smiled and gave a polite bow.
"I wasn't looking at the floor-,"
"Oh, how remiss of me," he replied. "We have not yet been formally introduced…but if you
won't tell then I won't." He winked. "I'm Augustus Fairweather."
"Miss Morgan, I'm and Acting Lieutenant on HMS Monstrous."
"I'm currently the chaplain on the Inscrutable."
"How are you finding it?"
"Quite tolerable, at the moment," Augustus smiled. "But sometimes my delicate
sensibilities are put to the test."
He raised his eyebrows as if urging her to make a comment, maybe assuming that she had
similar feelings on the point.
"Life at sea can appear brutal to those unused to its ways, Mr Fairweather."
"Quite true, Miss Morgan. If it is not too presumptuous may I ask for the pleasure of your
company for the next dance?"
"I hardly know you, sir."
"Remember your duty, Miss Morgan. There is a lack of female dance partners, most of the
other women here are married and thus understandably otherwise engaged…you must
take your place in the reel."
"I do not dance, sir."
"I'm sure you could make the exception this time?"
"I lack the rhythm and thus my more accurate reply should be I cannot dance."
"All young girls can dance, I am sure you are too hard on yourself-,"
"I am no girl," Nerrissa retorted. "I am an officer."
"Well, as an officer will you come dance with me?"
He took hold of her hand and led her to the dance floor just as the couples were taking
"Please, sir. I am a poor dancer. I will show you up terribly," she protested, looking over at
where Lieutenant Bush shared a corner of the room with his two colleagues and a glass of
port and feeling a trifle guilty. The music started and they began to dance, Nerrissa's
moves were a little delayed compared to the more accomplished dancers, like Lieutenant
Harvey who had joined them with an admiral no less on her arm. As they passed one
another, weaving in and out Nerrissa muttered an insulting (if somewhat accurate) name
under her breath so that only Harvey would hear it. From the lieutenant's reaction -a look
like thunder, quickly retuning to a false smile- she gauged it had been received loud and
clear. They passed again, too late Nerrissa realised what was happening; Harvey had
stepped on the bottom of her dress and as she moved forward a large section came away,
revealing the tops of her frayed, laddered stockings and scuffed well-worn shoes.
Everyone turned and stared, the music stopped, and Lieutenant Harvey smiled like a
predator about to eat its meal.
"Oh, dear Miss Morgan," said Harvey. "It seems you've had a little accident."
"It was clearly your clumsy feet which trod on my dress," replied Nerrissa, trying to hold
the dress closed. "I will expect you to pay for the repairs, sir."
"I will not. I am not responsible for your shoddy, cheap imitation fabrics. If you had
purchased a fine dress like mine it would not have torn at the slightest touch."
"The quality of fabric has no bearing on the matter as you are quite aware."
"I think you have said quite enough."
"And I think you are a-,"
"Miss Morgan," interrupted Lieutenant Bush, glaring at Harvey. "Let's get that rip seen to
and Miss Harvey you should be careful where you put your feet, one day you might step on
the wrong set of toes."
He led Nerrissa away from the dance floor out of the patio doors and into the little garden
out the back of the building. He shrugged off his jacket.
"Here take this," he said handing it to her. "If you tie it round your waist it should preserve
"Thank you, Lieutenant. But I am still quite cross with you, sir."
"For interrupting me. I should like to give Miss Harvey a piece of my mind."
"I was protecting you," he replied. "She has friends in high places, and people with
influence were watching. It would not benefit your career to cause a scene."
"I should be allowed to defend myself-,"
"There were witnesses to the incident it will be clear to them who was telling the truth."
"What is your opinion, sir?"
"From my vantage point I happened to see her tread on your dress, but it was difficult to
ascertain if the act was deliberate."
"You don't believe me?"
"I trust what I see, and what I know of both your characters, Miss Morgan," he said
She could see in his eyes that he believed her.
Meanwhile in and adjoining room to the main ballroom a card game was in progress. The
stakes were high and William Tindall was playing for the jackpot. He hadn't got the
strongest hand but he hoped his luck would change soon.
"Ha-hm," coughed Captain Unwin. "It's your turn Mr Tindall."
"I know," he replied, taking a sip from his glass. He was slightly tipsy. "You're not scared
"Your bet please?"
"Alright, alright," he searched his pockets, only a few small coins remained. "Will you take
"Are you that confident about your hand? You already owe me ten guineas…can you afford
"I'm good for the money, I swear. Look, I have this," he dropped the coins onto the table.
"I just need half a crown."
"You've reached your limit Tindall. Stand down like a gentleman, sir."
"I can get the money," he insisted. "Just let me play this hand…double or nothing."
Captain Unwin mused on the point.
"One more then and that's the last. We can't have you loosing a years pay all at once."
Tindall went to show his card but managed to knock his glass of port over his neighbour.
In the kafuffle he surreptitiously removed a card from his sleeve and slid it into the fan of
cards in his hand. Once the drink had been mopped up play resumed, but before he could
make a move there was a shout from behind.
"He cheated," said Fairweather. He had been watching the game from the sidelines after
fleeing from the scene of animosity in the ballroom.
"Calm down, Mr Tindall. Let's sort this out," replied Unwin. "That is a grave allegation Mr
"Captain Unwin, sir…I saw him swap the cards."
"Is this true Tindall?"
"I think the gentleman is mistaken."
"Is there any other witnesses to this alleged cheating?" asked Captain Jones, as she
approached the group. "Come now speak up."
Those round the table looked at each other as they tried to recall what had happened.
They shook their heads.
"Now, think again Mr Fairweather. You are alone in your accusation."
"I still stand by what I said," he insisted. "I am willing to swear on my word of honour."
"I trust Fairweather's judgement," said Unwin. "I'll let it pass if you agree to forfeit your
winnings for this hand."
"B-but, I can't afford to loose."
"Then would you prefer I inform the authorities of your cheating?"
"I still deny I cheated and I challenge Mr Fairweather to prove his accusation."
"Would you question a clergyman's honour," replied Fairweather with a hurt look.
"You should know that there should be two witnesses-,"
"Touché Mr Tindall but I still stand by what I said."
"I suggest you concede Mr Tindall," said Captain Jones. "Be the bigger man and quit while
"That is an order," she growled.
He threw the cards down on the table and got to his feet.
"If you will excuse me gentlemen," the inflection on that he put on the last word showed
his displeasure. "I think I will call it a night."
With a curt nod he walked away from the table.
He reached for a glass of something alcoholic from a tray carried by a passing servant but
as his fingers brushed the glass it was snatched from his grasp.
"Thank you Mr Tindall, I'm parched," said Captain Jones, taking a sip from the glass.
"B-but," stammered Tindall, still holding his now missing glass as if he hadn't quite
realised it had gone.
"I think we should be able to find you some coffee."
"I'm quite happy with a small glass of brandy, sir."
"That's not wise Mr Tindall."
"I'll go and see if anyone needs a dance partner," he replied skulking off.
Once out of sight of the captain he picked up a bottle of wine and empty glass then
headed out into the darkness of the patio. He was quite surprised to find his usual spot
"Oh, hello," said Tindall, rocking back on his heels. "Sorry didn't mean to disturb you,
"You weren't interrupting anything important," replied Nerrissa. "I just needed some air."
"I was just chaperoning Miss Morgan," stated the lieutenant.
"Of course you were…carry on," he poured himself a large drink, glaring at them both,
"pretend I'm not here."
"Are you quite well Mr Tindall?"
"Well? I've just lost several months wages in one hit why shouldn't I toast the momentous
occasion," he downed the whole glass in one go.
"We will leave you to your thoughts then," said Nerrissa.
"I'll accompany you back to the ship, Miss Morgan," said Lieutenant Bush, taking her by
the arm and leading her back into the ballroom.