Chapter 23: Reunion

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Charlotte boarded the Lady Juliana with the scent of fresh, clean air in her nostrils and a sense of new and hopeful beginnings. She was met on the gangway by the soon to be Governor Bennett no less. His imposing figure stood rigidly upright, uniform complete with brass buttons polished to a gleaming sheen. Clean-shaven with not a hair out of place, the long sea voyage would admit no margin for complacency with appearance for Captain Bennett it would seem! Looking markedly less pristinely turned out was her dear friend, Monsieur Le Bas. Beside Governor Bennett, Monsieur suffered greatly by comparison. A three days' growth of bristle shaded his jaw, his hair fluttered wildly in the wind and his dishevelled clothes might well have been slept in by the look of them.

"Charlotte!" He cried to her as he half-met her along the gangway. "Finally, you are here!"

At the appearance after so long of a kindly and familiar face, Charlotte's composure dissolved completely. Tears ran freely down her face as she took in the changes her time away, had wrought in her old mentor. Henri was himself crying she realised, as she embraced him fondly.

"We did not know what might become of you Charlotte!"

"Well, I very nearly managed to find the noose Monsieur."

"Oh, you would have Charlotte if Sir Watts had not done everything possible to avoid that fate for you. Alas, not everything was avoidable," he added, looking askance at the convict ships floating in convoy ahead of them.

"I did not steal Her Ladyship's necklace Monsieur. Someone desperately wanted to frame me for the crime however and I am almost certainly sure of who that person is!"

"Calm yourself Charlotte. You are right to feel the strongest anger and bitter resentment. Sir Watts and I also, are aware of the true culprit."

"What? You both know that Lady Watts did this to me and you didn't intervene in the proceedings at court to prevent the guilty verdict?"

"Shhhhhh, hush Charlotte, we will talk later in private." Monsieur loudly cleared his throat and motioned to Bennett who now stood beside him. "Governor Bennett, this is the young lady I spoke to you about. Her name is Charlotte Caprice and she will be helping Sir Benjamin Watts and I in cataloguing our botanical discoveries both in the new Colony of New South Wales and in the Colony of the Americas."

Bennett's piercing eyes lowered their gaze over her person. "You!" he finally exclaimed. "It was you who caused the ruckus on the dock at Plymouth before we even set sail!" he accused.

"I hardly caused the incident your Worship. I'm afraid I was the victim of the cruel attentions of your officers."

The Governor was speechless for a moment.  "You, a convict – a victim? I hardly think so . . . . ."   Before Bennett could utter a further word, Monsieur cut in.  "I'm sure that's all water under the bridge, excuse the pun, Governor. Everything worked out for the best I am sure. Come Charlotte, we have much work to catch up with."

"Ahem."  Bennett interrupted their exit.  "Just a minute. There are a few things that need to be made clear Le Bas. I am one of Sir Watts' most loyal supporters, but you must remember that Charlotte here is a convict, serving at the pleasure of His Majesty. As such, I must have your strongest undertaking that she will not cause any disruption to the fair and peaceful passing of the normal course of this ship's affairs. In particular, the Lady Juliana is not a ship upon which convicts are usually permitted, this being a carrier of free and decent men, women and children. If I see or hear of any incident which I believe threatens the fair and peaceful passage of this ship and all who sail on her to the colony because of this convict, she will wish that she had never set foot upon its decks. Even a hint of bad language mind, or any insubordination to the other passengers at all – ", at this he eyed her suspiciously "– and she will be back on the Fortuna below decks with the other prisoners with a back likely to have little skin left on it after the lashes. Do I make myself clear to the both of you?"

Charlotte felt her knees weaken and her stomach lurch before she managed to respond in unison with Monsieur, "You do." At this, Bennett turned knife-like on his well polished heels and marched toward the bow of the ship.

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