Chapter 22: A Compromise

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"Do you know the two things I detest most intensely about you Charlotte?"

"Why my dear Dr Cooper, this is not the pretty way you were speaking to me last night. You poor thing, don't you remember?" she smiled sweetly as she pressed ever so roughly on the dressings to his injured hand.

"Ow!" the doctor yelped and simultaneously grasped his head at the loudness of his own cry as the hangover of the century threatened to undo him completely.

"Witch", he whispered as menacingly as his sore head would allow.

A sharp knock at the door was accompanied by the brusque entry of the cabin boy, Duncan. "Sir! Dr Cooper, Sir, I –". There, the boy's words faltered as his eyes took in the scene before him.

"Yes Duncan, you can close your mouth now. Have you never seen a woman before in your life?"

"Why, y-y-yes doctor, but I . . . ", the cabin boy stammered uncertainly.

"Clean up the mess on the floor Duncan and inform Doctor Fleming on board our sister ship, the Neptune, that due to an accident which has injured my hand, I will be unable to cover our ship, the Fortuna, today. Could he please act as my replacement and I will endeavour to return the favour when I am able. This convict . . . um, this convict, . . . Elizabeth George, has nursing experience and will be assisting me in my recovery. Are we clear Duncan?"

"Crytstal clear doctor!" the boy replied slyly as he endeavoured to keep the smirk off his face. "I'll just go now and get mop and cloths to wipe up the floor doctor."

"Right you are boy", the doctor murmured sheepishly.

After the boy had left the cabin, Charlotte turned to her patient, "Why did you lie and give my name as Elizabeth George?"

"I just thought it prudent to keep your actual identity private for a while – for your own protection Charlotte."

Her eyes narrowed suspiciously at him. "Last night, you mentioned my being a maid in the service of His Lordship, Sir Benjamin Watts. How did you know that?"

"Well, my dear you must have told me that. Really, my head is aching like the devil and my hand is throbbing like . . . "he began.

"I don't care and no, I didn't tell you that piece of information about my background. So, tell me Doctor Edward Cooper – how did you come by it?"

The doctor had truly reached the end of his tether. "Charlotte, do you usually bring this much mayhem and destruction wherever you go?"

"No, usually much, much, more," she uttered with absolute seriousness, "but you can hardly blame me for your present circumstances. After all doctor, who abducted who? Now enough 'round and round the roseberry bush' – tell me how you know that I worked for Sir Watts!"

"Well, if you must know, I learnt it from a Monsieur Le Bas. He was dining with us last night in the Fortuna's dining salon and – "

But Edward was cut off without further ado, by a loud gasp from Charlotte and a high pitched exclamation of surprised delight: "Monsieur? Here? But how? Looking for me? O thank you God!" she couldn't help exclaiming.

"Yes", the doctor looked glumly at Charlotte, "it appears that you are very valuable to Sir Benjamin Watts and Monsieur Le Bas for the work you were doing for them – something about a botanical encyclopaedia on vegetative forms in the Americas?" He looked dubiously at her for a moment before continuing. "It seems that Sir Benjamin Watts recovered sufficiently from his heart attack to organise for Monsieur to join you on this voyage, in the hopes that you would continue the work. Captain Bennett is apparently tasked with seeing that Monsieur Le Bas is reunited with you and that the botanical project continues unhindered."

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