"Ah yes, Doctor Cooper" the Captain said, stepping forward and grasping the doctor by the arm in an expansive gesture of friendliness. It was as if the whole ugliness of the exchange with MacAdam had not occurred; the Captain was at his extroverted best. Edward could not help but feel temporarily off balanced by the Captain's sudden change of demeanour.
"Doctor" boomed the Captain motioning to a smaller man to his right, "I introduce Monsieur Henri Le Bas. Monsieur Le Bas is a late addition to the fleet at the special request of Sir Benjamin Watts, no less. Monsieur is a famous natural artist, planning to join Sir Watts' team of naturalists, navigators and botanists on their expeditions across New South Wales. He is currently quartered alongside my own family's accommodations on the Lady Juliana, but is searching for a person of interest to his work who may be here on the Fortuna". The Frenchman was a mystery to Edward, a complete unknown. Also well turned out in dress coat and stockings, but certainly less imposing and more reserved than the austere Captain Bennett.
"Monsieur Le Bas, a friend of Sir Watts is certainly a friend of the English navy and of poor humble me. I am ever at your service." The doctor bowed before the Frenchman.
Le Bas returned the bow. "Ah, the Doctor! Bonsoir!"
"How is Sir Watts Monsieur?" Edward inquired. "I had heard before our departure from Plymouth that Sir Watts was seriously unwell."
"Your sources are correct Doctor. But happily, my friend and patron has recovered – at least, enough to send me half way across the world on a grand expedition!"
"You say you are searching for a man on this ship who can help you with your work?" Edward queried.
"Non Doctor. Not a man – a woman; well, a girl really."
The doctor's innards felt as if they had been suddenly liquefied. He had some premonition of receiving news from the Frenchman that he would rather not hear.
"Her name is Charlotte Caprice. She boarded the Fortuna as a convict. But prior to her conviction, she was an assistant to Sir Benjamin Watts and myself in the preparation of an important manuscript on the botanical and zoological specimens of the Americas. I must and I will finish the manuscript with Miss Caprice's assistance and indeed, she will be invaluable to my work in New South Wales."
"But. . . . . . she is a convict you say?" the Master Duggan could not help interjecting with serious concern.
"Oui, she is as you point out, a prisoner. But she is of the utmost importance to our work." Monsieur Le Bas was very careful to stress the 'our' in his last statement. The wily Frenchman was not ignorant of the weight of his powerful patron's influence on the ship's affairs and was anxious to remind everyone of his connection with Lord Watts. The reminder prompted Captain Bennett to lend his voice of support. "Yes, Sir Benjamin and I are both in agreement that the convict must be requisitioned and allocated to Monsieur in the compilation and preparation of his manuscript. The work is too important." The Captain spoke with an authority and finality about the subject that put the matter completely out of bounds for further discussion.
"Well, I have no objection gentlemen", the Master said obsequiously.
'Of course, you wouldn't you old servile seadog', thought Edward to himself. As if he had heard his thoughts, the Master deferred to Edward: "Doctor?"
Edward was, for the moment, speechless. He quickly gulped a swallow of Scotch (the first in a long evening of them Edward predicted) – the better to steady his nerves before replying. "But gentlemen, are you sure that such a prisoner boarded the Fortuna?"
"Well, the convict inventory is being checked as we speak Doctor, but I am fairly confident that she is on board this ship", Captain Bennett replied with a dangerous hint of sarcasm to his voice.
"Of course Captain Bennett. My only fear", Edward stammered, grasping for excuses to keep Charlotte where he wanted her, "is the danger she might represent amongst the free and civilized passengers of the Lady Juliana. I mean, there are children aboard the Lady Juliana – indeed Captain Bennett, your own daughter is with child aboard the Lady Juliana is she not?" The Captain appeared momentarily unsure now about the project he had committed himself to and looked to the Frenchman uncertainly. Feeling fortified by the Captain's obvious second thoughts, Edward continued. "It would be remiss of me as a member of the medical profession, if I did not express some concern at the moral, quite apart from the physical danger that she might represent to the young passengers on board your ship Captain."
The Captain's face began to take on a more irresolute expression as he opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted by the sudden interjection of the Frenchman. "My dear Doctor Cooper, we – that is, Sir Benjamin Watts who I represent in this matter and myself " on these words Monsieur looked meaningfully in the Captain's direction, who closed his mouth reluctantly, " -personally vouch, nay guarantee, the good and orderly conduct of this particular prisoner."
"You are so sure Monsieur of your prisoner?" the Doctor asked, the last shreds of hope at securing Charlotte for himself, disappearing like the Scotch in his tumbler as he gulped the last swallow.
"We are" answered the Frenchman with absolute and unquestionable finality.
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...