I let Lucy continue to look at my sketches as I got ready for dinner. I’d had a maid when I was living with my father, but she had gone along with our cook, housekeeper and my father’s valet when he had died. I would not ask them to do any more for me than they already had done. I managed to dress myself rather awkwardly, but at least I got my clothes on in the right order and I looked appropriate for dinner with the Captain. I quickly smoothed my hair down and examined myself in the mirror.
I suppose you could call me pretty. My jet-black hair, sea-blue eyes and impossibly pale skin gave me a slightly exotic air that made me stand out from the rest of the girls in society, but I was too short to be considered beautiful.
I took a deep breath and left the cabin, stroking Lucy’s hair and saying goodbye as I went.
I found the Captain’s cabin without any problems. It was the only place on deck that I could see light. I nervously knocked on the door, opening it when no one came to answer it. I assumed I was one of the last people to arrive, as there were already quite a few others there.
‘Miss Westin,’ I heard the Captain exclaim as he came over to take my hand. ‘So glad you came.’ He proceeded to introduce me to the other men in the room. Master Rigby; the Sailing Master, who was in charge of navigation, making sure we were sailing in the right direction, and was the portly gentleman I had seen at the helm when we had set sail. Master Rymore; the Quartermaster was in charge of order and discipline and almost the Captain’s equal. He was also aging but looked younger than Master Rigby due to the fact that he had clearly taken care of himself, not sharing the round stomach and thinning hair that Master Rigby had. Master Tearse was the Boatswain and had the job of making sure everything on the ship was in good condition and repairing anything that became damaged. He was younger than the other men, I would have guessed in his early-thirties, but was not the most handsome of men. His nose looked like it had seen too many brawls and was permanently skewed to the right. The ship’s surgeon was a man called Doctor Avery, a man I would have thought was too young to be a surgeon; he barely looked older than me.
But I wasn’t going to let looks be deceiving and smiled and chatted politely with all the officers. I was beginning to feel slightly too aware that I was the only woman in the room and that many of the men, Doctor Avery in particular, had their eyes fixed on me. I tried my hardest not to notice it and did my best to look like I was deeply interested in Master Rigby.
‘There is far more to navigation than many people think. It is a highly delicate matter, I would consider it a science, and not many people have the talent for good navigation.’
‘I am sure you are a highly qualified and talented navigator Master Rigby, and I have no doubt that you will be able to get us into port on time.’ I smiled as sweetly as I could, trying hard to hide my boredom. Master Rigby blushed and launched into another monologue about the wonders of navigation, and I switched off.
Was I the only guest who had been invited to dinner? Were there any other women on board who had been invited? I felt desperately in need of the companionship of my London society friends and I began to feel homesick, a horrid wrenching feeling in my stomach that meant I had to hold back the tears that were beginning to form at the corners of my eyes.
‘Ah Mr Cartwright!’ My attention was caught as the Captain moved past me to greet a new member of our gathering. ‘Glad you could make it.’
‘For you Richard, how could I refuse?’ I smiled at the familiar smooth tones of the man I had met earlier. I took a quick look in the direction of the door and was impressed by how good he looked in a formal waistcoat and long black jacket, which hung loosely to the tops of his boots. ‘Is this everyone?’
‘I believe so, now we can eat.’ Captain Donelly turned to the rest of the gathering, spreading his arms and raising his voice to address all of us. ‘Now that the final member of our party, Mr Hector Cartwright, is here would everyone like to take their place at the table as dinner will now be served.’
There was a sea of low mumbles as everyone moved towards the table that had been set up in the centre of the room.
‘Miss Westin,’ the Captain said, ‘would you do me the honour of sitting next to me at the head of the table?’
‘I would be delighted Captain,’ I replied, giving him a genuine smile and linking my arm through his. He pulled out my chair for me to sit down before taking his place at the head of the table. Opposite me was Master Rymore and the seat next to me was empty.
‘Would you mind if I sat here?’ The sound of Mr Cartwright’s voice made my chest feel warm and I smiled as I turned to look up at him.
‘Of course Mr Cartwright, I would be honoured if you would join me.’
He pulled out his chair and sat down, his jacket hanging down each side of the chair.
‘I would feel much better if you would call me Hector, Adelaide,’ he whispered, smiling at Doctor Avery who was sitting across the table from him, and whose eyes were still on me.
‘But we hardly know each other,’ I protested quietly. ‘Surely convention would not approve.’
‘Well I have never been one to follow convention,’ Hector replied, a sly smile on his handsome face.
‘Very well then Hector,’ I said nervously. The food arrived and the sound of knives and forks clashing against plates filled the room as people began to eat.