A/N: Disclaimer: The characters, the HMS Surprise, the Acheron, and most of the plot belong to Patrick O'Brian, and are inspired on Peter Weir's adaptation in the movie. The only characters I own are Victoria, her father, and a few agents.
I messed around with Peter Calamy's age in this story. It's not really given in the movie how old he actually he is, but he is implied to be about seventeen or so if Captain Aubrey made him an acting lieutenant. So I decided to make him a little older here, at least old enough to be legitimately promoted to a lieutenant.
THE THIRD LIEUTENANT'S LADY
Chapter 1: Itinerant
Even with war looming over the horizon, nothing could stop the hustle and bustle of Portsmouth. The morning of the 1st of March was no exception, especially for the new 3rd lieutenant of the HMS Surprise.
"Of all people to find in Portsmouth," Peter Miles Calamy thought as he knocked on the door of a rather snug inn. He glanced back over his shoulder, just to check that the "Blue Peter" flag was not yet being hoisted over the HMS Surprise. He sighed with relief, happy to not have to rush all the way back to the frigate's quarterdeck.
In his reverie, he almost did not hear the inn door open. "Who are you looking for, Sir?" a maid's nervous voice asked.
Peter stood up straighter. "For Miss Victoria Hastings. Is she still here?"
The maid glanced over her shoulder. "I think she is upstairs, Sir. Shall I call her?"
"There is no need to call me," a clear voice said from inside the inn. A slender young woman made her appearance in the front hall. A straw hat covered her raven hair, and she had on a simple blue muslin dress. A long scar ran from the corner of her right eye, across her nose, and over to her left cheek.
The lieutenant bowed by way of greeting. "Miss Hastings. I was worried you'd already left Portsmouth." He was accustomed to his friend's sudden absences; Victoria had a habit of leaving England, and suddenly turning up someplace in the Mediterranean or Africa-and usually in the thick of some operation or conflict. Peter had begun to suspect that Miss Hastings was in the employ of Sir Joseph Blaine, or someone in that secretive institution known as the British intelligence. Of course, there was no way that Victoria would ascertain that fact, at least to his face.
"You didn't hear of my coming but you heard of my going," Victoria said lightly. Her dark eyes were merry as she walked up to Peter. "But it's still a good thing you're here, Mr. Calamy. I never got to congratulate you on your promotion."
Peter felt the heat rush to his face at these words. "Thank you, Miss Hastings. Just so you know, I'm sailing aboard the HMS Surprise, still under Captain Aubrey. I've already put my belongings aboard."
"I knew he wouldn't let you go to another ship, not when you were one of the best mids he had," Victoria said.
"That is flattery, Miss Hastings," he said, half-gratefully, half-reprovingly.
Her lips curved upwards in a wryly amused smile as she looked him in the eye. "It might interest you to know that I'm working with Dr. Maturin. He has asked me to accompany him."
The mention of the Surprise's surgeon nearly made Peter start. "Accompany him? Aboard the Surprise?" he asked, not hiding his disbelief. "What for?"
"Well, where else? As to what for, well I'd tell you but the Doctor would hang me by my heels if I did. " Victoria replied with a shrug. "I heard that the Surprise is bound for beyond the Horn."
"You might say that," Peter said. He was not privy to the Surprise's actual destination; usually Captain Aubrey did not divulge the full details of these voyages until the ship was underway. However he knew that the mission would take the Surprise into the Pacific, perhaps to harry any French elements that were causing trouble there. "It's the furthest you will have ever been away from home."
"Where is home anyway, Mr. Calamy?" Victoria said. "I'll tell you more about it while we get my things on board the ship."
"I forgot, you always say you're itinerant," Peter quipped. He went inside the inn to help Victoria lug out a sea chest that she had apparently set aside earlier in the day. "So where is your family?"
"Mother is supposed to be in Boston, Father was said to be in Malta, but you never know with him. If it wasn't for the inconvenient quarrels with my aunts and uncles, I should have stayed with them," Victoria said as they headed towards the dock, carrying her sea chest between them. "And how's your mother doing?"
"Very well, though of course she jokes that I have yet to bring her back a daughter-in-law to help her manage the land," Peter replied.
"You're only nineteen, Mr. Calamy. Surely she can wait two years or so," Victoria said. "At least till you make post captain."
"If peace doesn't break out," Peter joked back. He smiled on seeing the frigate in the harbour. "Well here we are. Home for the coming months."
Even though the HMS Surprise was derided as 'old' and 'antiquated' by some officers in the service, in Peter's opinion the frigate was one of the best-looking and swiftest ships he'd ever served on. It also helped that the 'Joyful Surprise', as the ship was now being nicknamed, was run by a rather well-drilled crew that had been serving together for some time now. In fact Peter had known some of the officers and able seamen since he had first been transferred there at the age of fourteen. As far as he was concerned, it was an honor for him to return to the Surprise as a lieutenant, not merely as a midshipman.
"Mr. Calamy, Miss Hastings!" a voice called. Peter looked up to see Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin standing at the quarterdeck. Peter saluted while Victoria bowed slightly before they hurried up to the deck.
"Good morning Captain Aubrey. It's been some time," Victoria greeted.
Captain Aubrey nodded. "The last time you were aboard the Surprise, your father was still stationed at Gibraltar. I heard he's at Malta?"
"As of his last letter, Sir," Victoria replied.
"I was about to send Padeen to fetch you, Miss Hastings," Dr. Maturin informed them. "Did you bring the books I requested for?"
"They're in the chest, Doctor," Victoria said, dropping her voice slightly.
"Stephen, do you mind helping Miss Hastings with her belongings? I believe her berth will be next to yours," Captain Aubrey said. "Mr. Calamy, could you go to the hold and make sure that the gunner has already stowed the shot and powder? You might find Mr. Pullings there too; send word that I wish to speak to him on the quarterdeck."
"Aye Sir," Peter replied. He noticed that Victoria and Dr. Maturin had already vanished below decks. "Wouldn't do to seem too familiar with her anyway," he decided. A number of the hands, such as Captain Aubrey's coxswain Bonden, were already acquainted with Victoria, and would know better than to pass any rumors concerning the girl. He could not ascertain the same though for some of the other seamen, who were wont to enjoy a new intrigue especially when it concerned someone with a skirt.
As he went down into the hold, he caught sight of the first lieutenant, Tom Pullings, conferring with the purser and the other hands set to stocking the hold with numerous barrels of provisions. "Captain is asking for you on the quarterdeck, Mr. Pullings," he said as he touched his hat, out of force of habit.
Pullings looked at Peter. "We'll set sail soon?"
"I believe so," Peter replied.
Pullings' glance flicked towards the ceiling. "Is it me, or did I hear a woman's voice onboard?"
"It's just Miss Hastings," Peter replied. "She's apparently accompanying the doctor."
Pullings bit his lip, clearly not wishing to inquire too much into the matter. "The midshipmen have already come aboard. Mr. Blakeney is asking for you," he said as he headed to the ladder.
"I'll make sure to find him," Peter replied, nodding at the mention of his old friend. It only seemed like yesterday when he had been a young boy in England, trying not to regale an even younger William Blakeney with too many stories about the life at sea. He wondered if Will's mother would ever forgive him for 'putting ideas in her boy's head'. Then again, Will's father was a friend of Captain Aubrey; it only seemed natural that the younger Lord Blakeney would choose to follow in his footsteps.
After concluding his inspection in the cramped and rather stuffy hold, Peter made his way back to the decidedly more airy quarterdeck. As he was about to climb up a last ladder, he caught sight of a small figure running up, dressed in a midshipman's uniform. "Peter! Am I glad to see you!" young William Blakeney said cheerily, managing a clumsy sort of salute.
"So am I. But remember, it has to be Mr. Calamy on this ship, Mr. Blakeney," Peter said cordially, though he had to emphasize the last part of this greeting.
Will nodded, instantly adopting a more sober demeanor. "My mother wouldn't have let me go at first; she said South America was too far. But my uncles said that Captain Aubrey's got the best quarterdeck I can ask for," he said.
"They have it right," Peter replied as they arrived on the quarterdeck. At that moment, Mr. William Mowett, the second lieutenant, was already hoisting the infamous Blue Peter flag. This was the signal for any hands left on shore to hurry back to the ship, which would soon weigh anchor. The forecastle was abuzz with men hurrying aboard with their belongings; a few minor debates as to berths, and of course, the men of the watch doing their duties.
Will wheeled around as a step sounded on the ladder. "Miss Victoria!"
"Will Blakeney!" Victoria greeted. It was all that Peter could do not to laugh as the girl caught the midshipman in a hug. "Of all places, here!"
"Good thing you and Peter—I mean, Mr. Calamy, are here on my first trip," Will said, a little flustered at his friend's enthusiastic greeting. "But what are you doing here?"
"Helping the doctor."
"As a nurse?"
"No, as a fellow scholar." Victoria laughed at Will's quizzical expression. "You should try to talk to him some time; he knows an awful lot about birds and beasts."
Peter decided to leave his two friends to their conversation as he went to see to the other goings-on at the deck. At length he heard Captain Aubrey give the order; men took their places at the capstan or headed aloft to spread the sails. Peter went to supervise the men unfurling the sails; since the midshipmen were mostly newcomers, they could not be expected to do their duties yet in the tops. He allowed himself a last glance at the dock, where some relatives of his shipmates had gathered. He did not even have to strain for a glimpse of white cambric to know that there were tears being shed in this throng.
"Mother wouldn't have wanted to be here," he thought. He was grateful that his mother had chosen to stay in Sussex instead of accompanying him to Portsmouth. It would not have done for the poor woman to be emotional at her only son's most recent departure, and besides, the reappearance of Victoria Hastings would have certainly caused some conjecture.
The breeze whipped up, bringing the invigorating smell of the sea with it. Peter took a deep breath, letting it invigorate him. It was good to finally be home.