The party was a masquerade. Beatrice helped string lanterns from the rigging. The balloon was temporarily dismantled from the ship and moored to the weathered dock along the shore. The dock itself was also decked out with paper lanterns, which were as yet unlit, but stood as visual tokens of the anticipation in the air.
The sea was warm and calm, and though the afternoon sun was hot, it would cool delightfully by evening. Crisp winds would sweep across the deck, bringing a salty aftertaste with each breath. Ramona was almost beside herself with excitement, sensing that she had picked the perfect day for her party. She ran up and down the ship, thinking she was quite busy (though it was mainly Beatrice and the crew who were doing all the work), shouting orders and panicking every time she remembered a task not yet completed.
Mr. Rotherham stayed in his study, calmly watching the sunset out of the enormous window while he put on his best jacket. He was quite the opposite of his flighty, emotional daughter; he faced everything with a cool dignity and presence of mind. Feelings never ruled him, only common sense and quick thinking. Hard facts. Logic. They were his strongest points. And Mr. Rotherham was not prone to weakness in any way whatsoever.
He thoughtfully ran a long, muscular, yet delicate hand along his jaw, feeling the smooth skin with quiet satisfaction. He kept his razor blades in mint condition, sleek and gleaming and dangerously sharp. Almost as sharp as his wit, which was rarely displayed, but was nevertheless impeccable and intimidating. His dark hair was carefully slicked back and tied with a black ribbon just at the nape of his neck. Catching sight of his faint reflection in the glass, cast by the falling rays of the orange sun, he smiled vaguely, emotionlessly.
The rapid tap tap tap of dainty heels sounded in the hall. The same noise was duplicated on his door with dainty knuckles, bedecked with more rings than were fitting for a girl her age. But Mr. Rotherham liked to spoil his daughter. "Come in," he called.
The door swung open, and a noisy creature came running inside and launched herself into his arms. He caught her dutifully and then set her aside, waiting for her to speak. "Papa," she said, her eyes shining happily. "Papa, I didn't know you were baking a cake!"
"I am doing no such thing, as you can see," he replied, returning his gaze to the seascape outside.
Ramona rolled her eyes at him and giggled, catching his wrist and swinging it back and forth. He stood in bored toleration of her antics. "You know what I mean, Papa," she said. "And it's no good trying to play innocent. I saw Mister Bones smuggling something down to the galley, and when I asked Phineas, he told me what it was."
Mr. Rotherham grunted. "Idiot boy. Remind me why I keep him around."
"Because he's an orphan, and you know you're absolutely helpless when it comes to orphans," said Ramona. "You told me, 'Oh Ramona Darling, how could I ever turn him away?' because he looked at you with such pleading eyes." She wrinkled her nose. "Personally, I thought he smelled worse than Murph does on Fridays."
"Well, he keeps clean now, and that's one consolation."
"What happened to the pleading eyes, then?"
He glanced down at her. "He gave them to you, it seems. What is it you want, my darling?"
"You," she replied, pouting playfully. "I've been trying to explain to the crew where I want them to put my flowers, but they can't get it through their thick heads that I want them just under the lanterns, not at random intervals all over the place. Beatrice has had a time of it herself, poor thing. So I need you to come out and talk to them about it."
"That's really a job for Foil," he said, not relishing the thought of trying to convey Ramona's orders to a group of already worn out, grudging men at their patience's end. "Just tell him what you want, and he'll make them do it for you."
"I tried that already," she grumbled, tugging at his cuff. He pulled away from her fingers impatiently. "He told me he was too busy, and to ask you instead. So I did. And you're not really doing anything, Papa," she begged. "You have to come! It's getting late and there's still so much to do, and the guests will be here soon, and I still have to get properly dressed. Please, Papa? Please?"
"Fine," he sighed. "But I can't promise that they'll do it perfectly, exactly how you want it."
Ramona smiled immediately and gave him an impulsive hug. "Oh, I knew you'd say yes!" she exulted as they left the room together. "Wait, I have to show you the picture I drew for Beatrice, it shows what I want it to look like. I saw it in someone's garden back in England once and absolutely fell in love with the idea. Of course, that wasn't a masquerade - that was my own idea - but it made everything look so magical that I decided right then and there that it was how I needed to have my party. And now it's finally happening!"
"Wonderful. Show me the drawing." Mr. Rotherham wasn't one to sit around chatting.
She brought him out to the main deck, where everything was aglow and very cluttered. There was a small orchestra setting up on the quarter deck, and the rest of the ship was covered in flowers and lanterns and bewildered crewmen. Ramona was beaming with utter delight at the very sight of it all. "Beatrice had it last," she explained as she led him through the crowd. "And - ah, there she is! Beatrice!" She waved wildly at the beautiful red-headed woman who was standing over Seamus, the rigger, and Murph, the enormously fat bo'sun, as they worked on one of the decorations.
Beatrice looked up and waved back with a smile. Mr. Rotherham smirked at Ramona's mild annoyance. "No! I want you to come here!" she shouted, stamping one small foot. Beatrice excused herself from the two men, who looked absolutely lost without her, and made her way across the main deck to where the captain and his daughter stood.
"Hello Captain, hello Ramona," she greeted them both with a smile.
Mr. Rotherham nodded his reply while Ramona bounced up and down. "Beatrice, show Papa the drawing of the flowers I made for the crew because he's going to help!"
"Oh, darling," Beatrice said sadly, "I'm afraid I threw it away. I didn't know you wanted me to keep it. I thought it was just for reference. If I had known, I would have put it somewhere very safe. I'm so sorry, my dear! It was a very good drawing, you know," she told Mr. Rotherham.
Ramona looked a bit dismayed, but she did her best to smile. "Oh, I know you didn't mean to," she said, leaning forward to give Beatrice a kiss. "It's perfectly all right. I can do another. And you can try to explain to Papa what it is I want. Let me run and get some paper!" She darted off.
The captain and Beatrice stood silently watching her. "Difficult to believe she's turning fifteen, isn't it?" Mr. Rotherham said at length.
Beatrice looked over at him. "Mr. Rotherham?" she inquired.
"She seems so young. So childish. Immature. You know what I mean." He turned abruptly and began pacing along the side of the ship.
Beatrice followed not far behind him. "Yes, I do know," she answered. "But it's because you've spoiled her so dreadfully. If you treat her like a child, she's going to act like a child because she doesn't know any better."
"Oh, and it's all my fault then, is it?" he said. "You yourself have practically raised her."
"I teach Ramona her lessons and accompany her when she needs it. You are her father. She knows that you are the one she ought to look to, not me."
"Frankly, my dear, I really don't like where you are taking this," said Mr. Rotherham, turning on her. Beatrice stopped herself as quick as she could to keep from bumping into him.
"Sorry, Captain. I would be more than happy to change the subject."
"Do so at once, then." He resumed his walk.
"I hardly know what to say, sir."
"Anything." He flicked his wrist dismissively. "It doesn't matter. Talk about the weather. Your clothes. All women like to talk about their clothes, or the clothes they wish they had. Your latest shopping trip, perhaps."
"I shall talk about the weather," Beatrice said pointedly. "It seems clear enough tonight, though I could imagine a storm blowing up from the west if it gets a bit rough. For Ramona's sake I hope it stays calm and mild. She's so excited about her party, and she hates taking off in turbulent weather."
"She hates taking off in general," Mr. Rotherham snorted. "How she came to be that way, I shall never know. Her mother loved the sea. I love the sea. It ought to be in her blood. Yet she cowers and whimpers at the thought of even a smooth landing or take off."
"Perhaps it is not the sea she is afraid of, but the air," Beatrice suggested. "It's easy for her to pretend that she's actually on the water once we've leveled out, but when we defy the very laws of gravity, she completely loses her head. I myself do not much care for those speedy getaways you are so fond of."
"You don't like flying."
"No, I love flying. I don't like hanging in mid-air. Perhaps I don't babble and cry like an idiot - no offense meant to your daughter, sir -"
"None taken," he said wryly.
"But I hate that feeling that I'm about to fall and there's nothing to catch me if I do."
"You've got a rope to hold you fast, though. Of course you're not going to fall!"
"It all happens in the head, Captain." Beatrice shrugged. "It's irrational, but there's nothing that can be done about it. Ramona will just have to endure it, and you will just have to endure Ramona. One day she may find that she doesn't mind it anymore, and then you'll be quite pleased."
"She cometh," said Mr. Rotherham in a low tone, hearing the light footsteps approaching from behind at a very great speed.
"Papa! Here you are!" Ramona thrust the piece of scrap paper into his hand and looked at him expectantly, breathing hard and smiling widely. Mr. Rotherham studied the paper at length, his brow furrowing. Ramona waited patiently, and when he at last handed it back to her, she gasped out, "How did you like it? Was it good? Do you think you can do that?"
"It was marvellous, darling," answered, stroking her hair. "And I shall try my best to get those thick-headed mangy dunces to do what you want."
Beatrice nodded approvingly, and Ramona beamed.
"Come, darling, let's go talk to them." Mr. Rotherham put an arm around the girl's shoulders and led her away. Beatrice lingered at the stairway that led up to the forecastle where she could stand and survey every thing that was going on around the ship. The captain and his daughter stopped to talk to a large group of able-bodied sea men who appeared to be extremely confused about whatever Mr. Rotherham was trying to convey to them. After a small lecture, they wandered off aimlessly in an attempt to look busy. Ramona seemed perfectly content with the way it had gone, and she gave her father a hug around the waist and then scampered away to look out to the shore.
Beatrice allowed her attention to drift elsewhere. Dirk, Mulciber, and Phineas the the cabin boy were looking on in delight as Angus, the first mate, danced around frantically clawing at his hair, which had caught fire from one of the lanterns. Eventually Mulciber grabbed the poor man by the collar and plunged him in to a barrell full of water while Phineas clapped and cheered him on, much to Angus' chagrin. Of his two comrades, Ludwig and Harry, Angus had the most hair and was quite proud of the fact. Beatrice herself was not particularly amused, but she was tired and did not want to venture back out into the fray and flowers.
Things had just settled down again, and the men were just getting the hang of Ramona's highly specific instructions, when there was a loud shriek from near the back of the ship. Beatrice started up and looked around. Ramona was standing frozen just behind the helm, staring in horror at something over the side. Mr. Rotherham and a dozen other crew members, as well as the musicians from the orchestra, rushed to her side in a moment to see what was the matter. Beatrice fairly leaped down the steps and across the deck until she reached the quickly growing crowd. She elbowed her way into the centre and latched on to Ramona, who was still frozen in shock and fear.
Mr. Rotherham had already leapt to the side of the ship, and seemed to be pulling something upward. He ordered the quartermaster, Foil, and Seamus to come and help him, and together they hoisted a soggy, limp form over the rail and on to the floor of the deck.
"It's a girl!" came the whisper from all around. Beatrice craned her neck to see over the broad shoulders that were hunched over the strange newcomer and gasped when she saw the pathetic creature. Terribly thin, she was, and pale, and shivering violently. Mr. Rotherham called for a thick blanket and one of the men went running for it.
Beatrice left Ramona and went and knelt at the girl's side next to the captain. "Is she all right?" she asked in a low voice.
Mr. Rotherham was carefully checking the girl's pulse at her wrist. "I don't know," he muttered, keenly aware of his daughter's presence. "But I don't particularly want Ramona to become involved in all this, so if you will take over here, I shall take my daughter elsewhere and make sure that she isn't too upset. She got quite a fright just now."
"Yes, Captain," Beatrice said. Mr. Rotherham stood and glided away. "Can you hear me, dear?" she whispered to the girl, cradling the wet, cold head on her lap. "Are you awake?"
To her surprise, the girl's eyes fluttered open and she quickly focused on the face above her. "Where am I?" she asked hoarsely. Her voice was almost gone. "Who...who are you?" She shifted and struggled to sit upright.
"Hush now, you mustn't move much," Beatrice commanded gently. "Just rest now. We are going to take care of you."
"Where am I?" the girl persisted.
"You're on..." Beatrice hesitated. "You're on a ship." She would let Mr. Rotherham decide how much to reveal to the stranger. "And my name is Beatrice," she said. "What is yours?"
"It's..." The girl frowned and closed her eyes, searching her memory. "Joanna," she answered at last. "Stark. We were...shipwrecked..."
"Oh, you poor dear," said Beatrice. "I'm so sorry!"
The blanket Mr. Rotherham had called for was suddenly thrust in to her hands. She carefully sat Joanna up, making sure to support her with one hand, and wrapped the warm red wool around her shoulders. Then she lay her back down.