For those who read “Twenty Four Days” you will notice the return of Winifred and Foot, who are back in honour of the real Miss Winifred.
My Dearest Harriet,
I fear that this letter’s contents are so very shocking that they will in all likelihood induce a nervous fever, and no doubt render you nonsensical for several moments upon finishing it.
The HMS Fugitive left Portsmouth, and we set sail towards the continent.
The work on board was hard and unrelenting and the other sailors were a coarse and vulgar breed, whose utter ignorance upon all things other than drinking and cards (at which they were all highly accomplished) often left me with a strong desire to strike them with an oar!
Amongst the crew members I disguised myself constantly, although I allowed myself to befriend a Mr. Smith, a young man of a pale complexion and slight build, my partiality towards Mr. Smith was primarily that he read a great deal of novels, and had brought with him a small library which included the newly published works of one J. Austen which I quickly developed a taste for.
One evening, a heavy fog had settled and we were far from our intended course. The anchors were lowered and we had settled upon remaining until the weather lifted. Whilst the men were engaged in an inebriated brawl I descended below deck to find Mr. Smith, I had every intention of borrowing Pride And Prejudice, which I was certain would improve on a thirteenth reading. I saw Mr. Smith in the furthest corner of the room and approaching I called out.
“Mr. Smith, pray may I prevail upon you …” But before I could finish a cry came from above deck.
“Ship! Ship Hoy!” Admiral Inkpen’s voice was full of the panic one associates with disaster!
Mr. Smith and I hastened above deck in time to see, through the fog, the lights of another ship becoming visible. We hastily calculated that given the due south wind, the tidal currents and of course the heavy mist, the ship would in all probability collide with ours at any moment!
Given the size of the oncoming vessel, it was almost full double the height of ours, and its speed, lowering the row boats was rendered an impossibility. There was a sudden, and altogether overindulgent outburst of panic. I felt a strong desire to scream, pray and faint all at once, but finding myself unable to decide which would be the most beneficial course of action I settled upon attempting to abandon ship with the rest of the men.
Just as I launched myself overboard with a haste that showed a want of propriety, I heard from behind me an inordinately loud noise as the HMS Fugitive was run through by the bough of the HMS Catastrophe. I landed in the ocean with such considerable force that it took above ten minutes to resurface, indeed whence I had I was met with a sight of such bewildering disaster as to cause me more than a little distress. Both vessels had, for reasons that defied explanation, burst into flame and stood now quite ablaze.
I surveyed the tragedy in a state of silent apoplexy and found that I was compelled to abandon myself with the utmost conviction to complete nervous hysteria, my dear Harriet, I fainted.
Whence I awoke I was instantly aware that I was no longer submerged in flaming waters, but was now strewn face down across a patch of sand of a most tropical quality. Lifting my head I noticed Mr. Smith on my right in a state of equal disarray. I had not yet regained the power of speech before I noticed that Mr. Smith was regarding me with a look of disgusted disbelief. Conscious that perhaps I had fallen pray to some mortal wound I raised a hand to visage and became instantly aware of what shocked Mr. Smith thus. My mustachios were gone, my hair, which I had allowed to grow to my shoulders, was loose and hung in tendrils of a most becoming fashion; I became acutely aware that my disguise was quite gone!
“Mr. Lotte,” Said he “you, Sir, are a woman!”
He continued to look at me thus for above seven minutes. However finding myself to be in no humour to indulge his curiosity I got to my feet and began walking along the shore in search of anything or anyone that might provide an explanation to our current predicament, for I was become increasingly alarmed.
As we walked Mr. Smith revealed himself to possess all the vices typically associated with a nervous elderly widow, wailing and lamenting for the duration. His main cause of vexation were his superstitions, a weakness of the male species.
“Having a woman on board be bad luck, tis a truth universally acknowledged! And see the perilous effect of having such a one on our unhappy vessel! I always knew a woman would be the death of me!”
I could no longer tolerate his stupidity.
“Mr. Smith, you are not yet dead you ignorant fool!” I said, perhaps more forcefully than was necessary as Mr. Smith stood but two feet from me.
Before I could vent more spleen upon the pathetic milksop however we had rounded a corner and were met with a sight that both surprised and delighted me. The beach before us was populated with the survivors from both ships. I was cheered to see that there above two score and five, and they all seemed to be in the highest of spirits. Indeed they were in humours that were verging on vulgar merriment considering the peril of our situation. A man with an amiable beard was playing the fiddle and half a dozen couples were engaged in dancing the cotillion. Tables that had evidently been brought in by the sea had been laid for a splendid dinner and all were enjoying themselves heartily.
Upon seeing us Admiral Inkpen eagerly approached.
“Mr. Smith, I believed you to have perished!” Said he. “Though I am monstrous glad that you have not, and you have with you a young lady.”
“This is Mr. Lotte, Sir, she is a woman!” Said Mr. Smith trying to convey his outrage.
“ Indeed she is.” Replied the Admiral who had evidently taken too much sun and too many liquors to comprehend the exchange. He turned and pointed across to a young woman with head of resplendent curls.
“That charming creature is Lady Winifred Foot. Her husband was recently elevated to the knighthood for special services to the crown, The HMS Catastrophe was their ship. Lady Winifred assures me that her absence in London shall not be long suffered before a search party is dispatched, and until that happy occasion we are all to enjoy her hospitality. She is the essence of generosity.”
I found that it was no longer in my nature to be disputatious and conceded that Miss Winifred was indeed all that is agreeable, for she furnished me with a delightful gown and a dancing partner before the hour was out. Dearest Harriet, despite the desperation and apparent hopelessness of the circumstances I found myself agreeably disposed to enjoy the delights of the evening’s entertainments.
Your affectionate friend,
Mr Charles Lotte, now Charlotte once again.
Post Script: I shall keep this letter about my person until I have discovered whether or not there is a postal service in existence.