Chapter 25: Play it Again Charlotte

1.8K 143 5

Charlotte gloried in being able to return to the work that she loved – drawing and writing on the fascinating botanical discoveries of both Sir Watts in Terra Australis and Monsieur, in the Americas. Henri's spirits lifted and he no longer drank to a stupor each night. His hands shook terribly which he tried to hide by keeping them in his pockets most of the time they were out of the cabin. The difficulty was, now his walking was becoming affected and his head nodded seemingly without his control at different times. Still, significant progress was being made on his precious manuscript, which gave him great strength.

Charlotte had, in the weeks since joining the Lady Juliana, not made the acquaintance of any other person. She gathered that the passengers must have been warned of her presence on the ship for they went to great lengths to avoid her if she happened to have cause to pass by near them. She, for her part, had no wish to involve herself in the affairs of others, so the present arrangement suited her perfectly.

Charlotte visited the Fortuna each week for the purpose of keeping Dr Cooper true to their agreement regarding the provision of medical care to the women prisoners. The female convicts looked at her as at some kind of other worldly being – a guardian angel sent from above to guard and protect their wellbeing. They had taken to curtsying to her as she accompanied Dr Cooper on his rounds of the convict hold, no matter how many times she tried to stop them. Shanks regarded her with a begrudging admiration and Peg, with a kind of motherly pride. Red was the only one who looked upon her with open hostility. "Think you're better than us don't you Lottie!" she hissed as Charlotte visited the hold on one occasion. "Just remember, given your education and lucky connections, any one of us could stand where you are right now, living high and mighty like you!" She had poked Charlotte's chest with each word, so hard that the pressure left purple bruises on her flesh. Charlotte was almost grateful for them, for she had to acknowledge the hard truth of Red's assertions.

The surprise was Dr Edward Cooper. At first, he was resentful and surly at her forced interference and supervision of his medical work. But with time, he began to look forward to her weekly visits. She supposed having another interested person to speak to about the different cases and individual personalities of his patients, was a real tonic for the doctor – one that appeared to inspire a greater commitment in him towards his patients and the female convicts in general. Charlotte was pleased to find reasons to to like Dr Edward Cooper. She began to enjoy her weekly visit with him as much as he with her – a visit which had grown from simply doing the rounds of the convict hold to enjoying a luncheon meal together in his private quarters afterwards as well.

For the last few weeks Charlotte had observed a kindly woman of genteel dress and demeanour playing chess and hopscotch with her young children on the Lady Juliana. This lady did not glare at her suspiciously like the other passengers. If anything, she seemed curious about Charlotte, even venturing to exclaim one day when she overheard Charlotte telling the cabin boy that she had written a requisition for certain supplies for delivery to the Sergeant Master, "Oh, you can read and write!"

The Lady had seemed embarrassed by her own outburst and quickly and quietly ushered herself and her children indoors. Still, it was an interesting beginning. A few days later, Charlotte arranged herself to be on the starboard side of the ship mid-afternoon, when she knew the Lady and her children liked to play there. She had taken a sketchbook and pencil and began to draw the children playing with their mother. The children were overcome by curiosity and couldn't help approaching her to ask what she was doing. They shrieked with delight at her drawing, amazed at the likenesses she was able to make of their features and poking fun at one another. Their jubilant sounds brought their mother to Charlotte's side. She was not a pretty woman, but certainly the most stylish and graceful woman Charlotte had ever encountered. She moved with neither haste nor hesitation, but with a deliberate fluidity. Her blue eyes crinkled kindly at the corners when she saw Charlotte's drawing, her mouth splitting into a wide smile. "Why child, that's a lovely drawing! You have talent!"

Charlotte TrueWhere stories live. Discover now