(Dedicated to MimiG123)
Captain Bennett's emerald eyes blazed. His facial skin was bleached of all colour so that even his lips appeared non-existent until Charlotte realised that sheer fury had caused the effect. "Who is the officer in charge here?" The voice was unlike any she had heard before – the voice of absolute authority; the voice of one who would brook no protest; the strong, self-assuredness of one who never doubted for a second his right and ability to rule. The officer who had ripped the sleeves off her dress, hurriedly threw the remnants to the ground and saluting knife-like against his forehead, barked "Captain Bennett sir, Lieutenant Ernest Kingsley at your service, sir!" Charlotte was close enough to see the sweat beading above the Lieutenant's lip and his eyes, nervously darting from ground to the Captain.
Before Charlotte could even register the action, the Captain had ripped the epaulettes from the Lieutenant's shoulders and slapped him with them across the face. The brass buttons rasped great splits in the Lieutenant's face, so hard was the force with which he was struck and he fell to the ground.
"Get up!" growled Captain Bennett, so quietly he could hardly be heard.
"I expect more from you so called marines than them!" he snarled, louder now. "We are about to sail to a land in which convicts outnumber His Majesty's forces one hundred to one. If you do not uphold the Law, what do you think will happen? I'll tell you!" he thundered, his voice increasing in volume and emotion to an unbearable crescendo. "Lawlessness, godlessness, anarchy, debauchery. Fools!" he exploded, " A higher standard of conduct is demanded from you and by God" he promised with a conviction that no-one listening could doubt, "I - will - have - it!" The Captain, having whipped himself into a frenzied rant now paused, the unnatural, sudden calmness giving cause for even greater fear and trepidation amongst the offending naval officers. The effect was that of the preternatural silence and stillness that descends when one finds oneself in the eye of a mighty storm.
"Lieutenant Kingsley", the Captain queried in a quiet, calm, almost gentlemanly tone, "what is the punishment for a convict who disobeys instruction, inciting violence and unrest in His Majesty's prison?"
"Captain Sir! The punishment is half rations for a fortnight sir and immediate twenty lashes!"
"Then your punishment Lieutenant and that of your assisting officer" the Captain paused to look witheringly at the junior officer's blanched face, "will be one-quarter rations for a month and immediate forty lashes."
A collective gasp exhaled from the gathered crowd. "But, they'll die on that Guv'nor. . " began one hapless bystander before his mates could smother his mouth and bundle him out of view. The two condemned officers hunched in incredulous shock.
"Master at arms, what are you waiting for?" thundered Bennett. "Take them! Let their punishment serve as a warning to you all", the Captain threatened as he strode the length of the crowd, returning to his loud and rambunctious self. "Lawlessness will not be tolerated. The rule of law and procedure will be adhered to in its every detail. No naval officer, no sailor, no convict - will escape from the consequences of breaching the legal order. I hope I have made myself understood." During his speech, spittle had collected at the corners of the Captain's tight mouth. Taking a large cotton handkerchief from a trouser pocket, the Captain wiped the dribble away without a hint of self-consciousness and with great deliberation. "Now, all of you, get back to work!" the Captain hissed.
"Who are you?' Bennett barked at the Constable.
"Sir, I am the Lincolnshire Constable, Constable . . . ".
"I don't care about that. Get off with you and away from my ships before I see to it that you are Constable of Lincolnshire no longer!"
You could tell that it did not sit well with the Constable to have been dismissed so, but the Constable was nothing if not an astute man – at least when it came to making a career breaking or saving move. As he swivelled around, with his back to the Captain and making as if to go, he spat at Charlotte. The wad of saliva caught her squarely in the face. She did not move to wipe it away. She would not give him the satisfaction of forcing any reaction from her.
"Who is the ranking officer now in charge of processing the prisoners?" Bennett queried imperiously.
"I, I – I am Sir!" stammered a young naval man, hardly it seemed to Charlotte, much older than herself. "Then, process the damn prisoners!" Here it seemed the Captain noticed Charlotte, half-clothed and dishevelled for the first time, "Good God man, put clothes on this girl for a start!" And without further ado, the Captain swept from her sight in a march up the galley and on to the waiting ship.
Only now did Charlotte pick up the torn sleeves of her dress from the ground and wipe her face. The realisation of her new life was only beginning to dawn upon her. "Come on m-m-miss," said the young stammering officer at her elbow, as he covered her figure with a hessian sack, which from the smell of it, had recently been used to stow salted meat. His kindliness was the first she had received since Father Simmons had visited her in Licolnshire gaol – was it only one week ago? She would remember this man. Indeed, her survival would depend on her remembering the character and faces of every person on board this ship who might have power over her. Father Simmons was right. She needed to be tough and very, very smart.
Well, Captain Bennett certainly made an entrance! Does he remind you of anyone? How do you think Charlotte handled the whole situation? I would be so interested to hear your thoughts!
YOU ARE READING
Charlotte TrueHistorical Fiction
Inspired by the non-fictional, historical lives of Sir Joseph Banks, Nicolas Baudin, Captain William Bligh, Matthew Flinders and John Macarthur, this 'coming of age' story is set at the dawn of the nineteenth century. It describes Charlotte, an Eng...