The ball was even more intolerable than James had thought it would be. He wandered the governor's house in search of a quiet corner, but, despite his navigational skills, he could not find a single one. Resigning himself to defeat, he settled for strolling over to the circle of men that were surrounding the governor. Not one blue coat could be found among the crowd, and James was firm in his belief that the men encompassing Governor Swann in a fort of silk and feathers were just as empty-headed as their wives and their unfortunate daughters. James was hoping against hope that the men would make room for him in their conversational loop and become dedicated to ignoring him. It was inevitable, though, that they would drag him down into their banter and summon their blood-sucking wives over to introduce their daughters and the sons they were planning to pawn off on the Navy. He had a clear visualization of cravats being torn from necks to bind his wrists and ankles and, blinded by the abundance of feathers that dripped from triangular hats, thrown into the eternal pit of damnation that was the oncoming tidal wave of fluttering fans. Shaking off the horrific mental picture, he clasped his hands behind his back and joined the group of silk-clad men.
"Ah, Captain Norrington," announced Governor Swann.
James quickly forced himself to smile politely. His hands were now in a death grip underneath the cuffs of his jacket.
"Governor Swann, how good to see you," he said with a discreet bow. Swann inclined his head, followed by the other men around him.
"You are glad, I trust, to be at a ball rather than a tea party, Captain?" said Mr. Finch with a laugh louder than was needed.
"Oh, absolutely, sir. I much prefer having the freedom to mingle with those I choose rather than being forced to enjoy my tea and biscuits in the company of those who are there by another's invitation," Norrington said, contentedly with a curt smile and lift of his brows.
Fortunately, James' presumption of the man's stupidity was correct. Mr. Finch's face slipped only for a moment as he thought he was being insulted, but when the young captain continued smiling, (and what person so young would have the audacity to insult him while smiling?) he offered a small chortle, which the captain was happy to return. Turning back to the gentlemen, Mr. Finch continued laughing, encouraging the others to join him. All were obliged to do so, except Governor Swann, who gave James a look of disapproval that barely masked the glint of pride in his eye.
"And I am sure you are pleased at the lack of animals, sir?" said the gentleman, standing opposite him with a chuckle.
"That remains to be seen, Mr. Tatting," James said, the smile still plastered on his face.
Mr. Tatting considered this for a moment and then asked, "Surely you haven't brought any animals with you, Captain?"
"Oh, not I, sir. I confess not one is here by my own design."
Mr. Tatting smiled again. "What a delightful young man!" He turned around, breaking the circle. "Edward! Jane!"
James sighed. It had been his wish to avoid meeting anyone's offspring, particularly those that were female.
Edward and Jane fought their way through the crowd to greet them. The girl was around fourteen or fifteen years of age and the boy, who was being dragged away from the dessert table, was younger—eight or nine by James' estimation.
"Captain Norrington, may I present to you my son, Edward, and my daughter, Jane."
The girl curtsied with poise that could only have resulted from hours of practice and seemed to be quite pleased with herself when she accomplished it. The boy, however, was not so graceful. He clicked his heels together, quickly revealing himself to be pigeon-toed and tried his best to gather his pre-pubescent body into a salute. Norrington instinctively pulled himself together into a polished acknowledgement that quickly vanished as he realized how ridiculous he must look, saluting to this boy. Edward seemed to have been surprised by the swift response of the older man, and his pupils stood out against his paling face.
Mr. Tatting patted his son's shoulder. "My son plans to join the Navy, Captain."
"I can see that," Norrington said, blushing slightly.
"And you'll never guess in whose footsteps he wants to follow!"
James dropped his head, humbly. "Well, I . . . er . . . am honored, sir—"
"Admiral Hayes!" the boy shouted, his previous fear of the captain disappearing.
"Did I hear my name?" the Admiral said. Norrington flushed and struggled into a salute that was decidedly less perfect than the one he had given the boy. Admiral Hayes simply nodded, his lips twitching faintly. James was only embarrassed because of the company the Admiral had slighted him in front of. He didn't particularly like the man. Admiral Hayes had never treated him with the same respect as his other commanders and had no other reason than his own arrogance to have done so. He was deaf as a post to boot.
"Now, whose delightful young son is this?" the admiral said, bending a bit to get a better look at the boy.
"Mine, sir," Mr. Tatting said, stepping forward. "Mr. Tatting, sir."
"Pardon me, sir?" the admiral responded.
"Mr. Tatting, sir."
"Oh, Tatting, did you say? This is your boy here? What is the young gentleman's name?"
"Edward, sir," said Mr. Tatting a little louder than before.
The admiral's face twisted as he strove to catch the name. "Andrew, did you say?"
"Edward, I believe it was," Governor Swann interrupted.
"Oh, Edward!" the admiral finally exclaimed. James rolled his eyes, discreetly. "Yes, yes! Now, I see! You've got to learn to speak proper English, son!"
The admiral saw this interruption as the perfect excuse to speak to the governor and quickly took the opportunity to tell him about the latest stack of papers that had arrived on his desk that morning. Mr. Tatting, embarrassed by the admiral's abandonment of him, turned back to Mr. Finch. James was about to make his escape when he heard a faint sound behind him.
James turned to see young Edward behind him. Seemingly no longer trying to impress him, he motioned his head toward an unoccupied table. Norrington followed, wondering if he should be dreading what he was doing. Edward looked around him as he sat down in a deserted chair. As James sat down beside him, the boy pulled something out of his coat.
"Know what this is?" Edward said, presenting a small vial.
"I can only venture a guess, Edward," Norrington said, deciding that, yes, he had a right to dread what was becoming of his actions.
Edward glanced around again and leaned closer to the captain. "It's a love potion."
James caught his laugh in his throat. "A love potion?"
"Yes, and it works, too."
"Really? And how do you know it works? Have you tried it before?'
"No, but the chymist says it will."
Norrington drew in a breath. "And may I ask who the lucky lady is?"
Edward blushed. "Miss Swann."
Norrington thought he would suffocate with the laughter he was trying to hide. "The governor's daughter?"
"Yes. All we've got to do is get a lock of her hair, put it in here, and slip this into her drink."
"All we've got to do? You are not dragging me into this, young man."
Edward's face paled again. He quickly recovered and said, "Fine." Before James could catch him, he raced off toward the crowd of skirts on the other side of the room.
The boy had disappeared into the group of women. James chased after him, apologizing as he pushed through the ladies. He stopped for a moment, scanning the room. To his left he saw young Edward, perched on a chair behind Miss Swann, pulling out a pocket knife and reaching toward her hair.
"Edward!" he shouted as he ran to grab the boy.
Miss Swann turned just as James caught the wriggling child. The captain had gotten the boy by the wrists when Miss Swann looked up. Stunned momentarily by her brown eyes, wide with shock, he found his mouth gaping, stumbling over an explanation.
"Miss Swann. . . I'm terribly sorry. . . . I didn't mean. . . ."
Miss Swann had apparently calmed herself down before James had, and she threw her head back, laughing. James offered a smile.
"Let me go!" Edward struggled.
James gave him a look that clearly said he was not releasing his grip.
"That's the second time you've saved my father's party, Captain," Miss Swann, said, her eyes still alight with laughter.
James staggered up into his usual posture. "My specialty."
Miss Swann giggled again. On his left, Jane Tatting had trotted up, nearly in tears. To Norrington's relief, the governor's daughter gave him her dance card, and he gratefully filled in his name. With a small curtsey, she left them with Edward still writhing in James' arms and Jane looking on, wondering how Miss Swann could have so perfectly done her curtsey and pulled out her fan.
Seeing the small girl at his side, he smiled. She breathed out a sigh of relief. "Miss Tatting," he said, with as much of a bow as he could manage. This time she did not attempt to make a ladylike response to the captain's greeting and instead grabbed her brother roughly from James' arms, pulling out her fan to hit him across the shoulder before rushing away back to her mother.
James looked on, straightening his coat. Clearing his throat, he looked down at the young boy, who was rubbing his arm to relieve the pain of his sister's assault. The boy looked up. James stared down, his face barren of any sympathy.
"Heaven, help you if you ever fall under my command."