Chapter 20: Mind Over Matter

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Dr Cooper was sober enough to realise that he was drunk. Having left the Wardroom early, he paused before his cabin door trying to muster the few wits he had left to him. Charlotte would have been a lovely diversion for the voyage but she was beyond his reach now. 'Damn it!' he cursed to himself, 'but I'm tired of being a pawn in the machinations of richer and more powerful men'. In his drunken state, the irony of his complaint was lost on him, given the now thwarted plans he had made for the young girl currently inside his cabin. Of course he had to surrender her – untouched. It would never do to have salacious gossip spread about him, not in the circles the girl would be mixing in, never mind that she was only a convict and he a reputable doctor. How to turn this ridiculous situation to his advantage? Well, he was the doctor of the ship wasn't he? Because of him, Charlotte was yet healthy and clean to boot and yes, he thought, would be delivered safely and securely by him into the hopefully, suitably grateful hands of Monsieur Le Bas and Sir Benjamin Watts

He hastily opened the door of his cabin and met a startled Charlotte standing naked in a tub of sudsy water. She dropped to her haunches under the protection of the water, but not before he had appreciated how very far from girlhood Charlotte had physically travelled. He swallowed hard to wet his dry throat and cleared it noisily. His voice still erupted croakily from his mouth so he veered over to the side table, grasped the bottle of rum and drank deeply from it. "Sorry," he mumbled, "thought you would be done by now."

She eyed him cautiously. He looked terribly drunk. His hair was unusually dishevelled, flopping casually over his forehead and dipping over the sight of his left eye. He already had the dark shadow of stubble framing his jaw, which he rubbed with his hands thoughtlessly. Those eyes . . . they had been so clear and strong when he was interrogating her earlier; now they looked haunted. His dark grey eyes roamed the room as if trying to escape it. The realisation struck her: he was trying to avoid looking at her! Stranger and stranger still she thought, especially after he had made his intentions all too lustily clear last time they spoke.

"All clean now?" he mumbled as he busied himself with a glass, his back to her.

"Why, will you demand to inspect me as you threatened to earlier?" she bit back.

"O, that was just the seaman in me talking girl – a bit of colourful language, nothing more. As if I would do anything so base!" His laughter floated fake and forced across to her, as he turned and his eyes gathered her in.

She peered at him, confused, leaning forward as if by examining his face, she could determine exactly what this man was thinking and how the change in him could be explained. But he was in shadow in the corner of the cabin, while she was bathed in the white light of the gas lamp beside the tub. Cooper took in the cream orbs of flesh rising above the water below her fine, square shoulders. Her hair, sleeked with water swung out in a train around them and the most exquisite waif – like, almond shaped blue eyes blinked wondrously at him. He felt his earlier resolve not to touch her turn to water as he gulped more of the rum down and felt the slow burn of it lighting the even slower heat of his loins.

He shook himself and put down the now empty glass more violently than he intended on the table. It shattered in his hand. He didn't feel a thing. 'God', he thought, 'I must be drunker than I thought'. At the sound of the glass shattering and the sight of blood spurting in a great arc from the doctor's wrist, Charlotte instinctively stood and began to step out of the tub, overturning it clumsily in her haste, the water pouring out over the cabin floor. The doctor stared incredulously at the sight before him. The most breathtakingly beautiful woman he had ever seen, naked as the day she was born, walking towards him across a flood of water, droplets still clinging to the skin of her face as she claimed his bloodied hand.

"You're hurt badly!" she cried.

As if waking from some strange sleep, he looked at his hand. Blood was gushing out. He had cut an artery. "Damn it all!" he yelled. Picking up an old shirt, he tied a tourniquet around his forearm. "For God's sake", he beseeched her, "get some clothes on!" He couldn't think with her hovering around him with her glorious, shining body and eyes. Staunching the flow of blood from his wrist, he swung violently around before the shock of it all brought his body clumsily to the floor. He leaned against the wall, the bloodied water on the floor drenching his breeches. Quite unexpectedly, laughter bubbled to his lips in an uncontrolled torrent of madness. He could just reach the half empty bottle of rum beside him and drank the last of its contents, smacking his lips deliriously.

Dressed in her shift, Charlotte looked alarmed. The doctor had taken leave of his senses it seemed which, given the amount of blood haemorrhaging from his wrist, was perhaps unsurprising. "You're in shock. Don't drink anything more. Stay still will you? Stop waving your arm about!" She commanded the last as she tread warily across the cabin to where he now lay slumped on the floor. "Tell me what to do!" she yelled a hair's breath from his face. The doctor began to laugh hysterically once again. "Tell you what to do?' he rasped between spells of raucous laughter. Suddenly, looking wistfully at her, the laughter stopped. "You are absolutely beautiful, do you know that?" he whispered gently to her. Charlotte took her arm and swung her open hand as hard as she could against his dazed face. "And you'll be absolutely dead, you stupid cretin, if you don't tell me how to stop the blood!" she yelled. Cooper only now seemed to notice that the blood was still gushing from his left wrist. "Ahhh", he intoned with clinical detachment, "looks like the tourniquet wasn't tight enough. Be a good girl and tighten it for me will you?" With his free hand, he began to rip strips from the shirt he was wearing – rather ineffectually however. "Here, let me do it!" Charlotte shouted as she unwrapped his body from the shirt and ripped it into long pieces. "Tie it above the tourniquet", the doctor instructed, "but really tight."

"O believe me Dr Cooper, it will be a pleasure", she assured him through gritted teeth. Having twisted the strips of cloth around his arm and tied the knot so tightly she feared Cooper would pass out from the pressure, she faced him squarely. "Now what do I do?" she demanded.

"You'll have to stitch it", he said. "Get my bag over by the door. You'll find what you need in it. And bring me the brandy bottle." Splashing the brandy liberally over his injured wrist and arm, Cooper drank deeply from the bottle. "Do you really think that was wise?" she queried, eyes narrowing at him. "You will have to have your wits about to instruct me you know. I've never done this before."

"What, you never stitched repairs to Lady Watts' clothes when you were in service? I would love to see you dressed in your maid's uniform – well, maybe sans underwear and with your hair out billowing around your shoulders . . . . . ". As his mindless drunken tirade continued, Charlotte stopped stock still, needle and thread paused mid-air before her patient's bloodied appendage. "I never told you that I was in service to Sir and Lady Watts, she muttered in dazed shock as she peered accusingly into his eyes. There was no pause however in Cooper's drunken rant, "Lucky Watts hey? No wonder the Lady got rid of you!" The words had hardly left the doctor's lips before his eyes closed unexpectedly and he suddenly slumped horizontal on the floor, unconscious.

"Wake up you drunken fool! Who told you about the Watts'?" she yelled imperiously. It was no good. She would never have the answers she needed unless this pompous ass survived. Though the alternative of leaving him had crossed her mind, her survival appeared more than ever to be linked to his. She bent over her task. "It's not really an arm at all", she told herself, "it's just a nuisance pair of gloves needed urgently by the Mistress". Whatever it takes, she had promised herself and Father Simmons – she had to be tough and by God, she would be.

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