Chapter 31: An Uninvited French Visit

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Charlotte revelled in the freedom and security of the sure knowledge that she would not be troubled by the MacAdam family for the whole day; nor would she have to share the cabin with Monsieur. With the cabin all to herself she had kicked off her laced boots, thrown herself on the bed and cavorted like a small child. Having shaken off the loose energy, she settled with a pot of tea and revised the final draft of Le Bas' manuscript. Le Bas had promised her a special celebration tonight for finishing it and she determined that she would certainly earn whatever pleasure of food and drink the evening might bring.

Not expecting any interruption to her work, she did not at first hear the light rapping at the door of the cabin. It was not until the authoritative and commanding voice of Captain Bennett no less, boomed, "Is anyone in there?", that she disturbed herself to open the cabin door. It was with some surprise that she found not only the Captain, but a handsome soldier in French uniform at her door. The Frenchman peered searchingly past her and into the cabin she shared with Monsieur Le Bas.

"Can I help you?" Charlotte asked in a voice heavily laced with sarcastic disapproval.

The Captain frowned at her, momentarily distracted from his business by the perceived impudence of the question. "Miss Caprice," began the Captain finding himself unable to ignore it, "you are a convict. If you can help anyone, help yourself but do not presume to believe that you could 'help' your betters." Grimacing down at her with distaste and having discharged his moral duty by admonishing her, he continued to the business at hand. Indicating the handsome soldier at his side, he provided, "Lieutenant Phillipe Truant informs me that their French garrison here has quarantined Monsieur Le Bas. I have stressed that the Monsieur was a guest of the British navy and as such Her Majesty's government does not take kindly to her guests being kidnapped and held hostage against their will."

"And I have assured you Captain Bennett that Monsieur Le Bas came quite voluntarily into our . . . care; he is not being held against his will and is in excellent health. Indeed, he is overjoyed to be returned to the bosom of his countrymen."

"What?" Charlotte stood stupefied, mouth agape. "What do you mean, 'returned to his countrymen' . . . Monsieur Le Bas would never abandon his work to go off with anyone, without letting me know about it!"

"Well, my dear mademoiselle, it appears he has done just that now doesn't it?" Lieutenant Truant's eyes crinkled cruelly in her direction. "In any case, the Monsieur has not 'abandoned' his work; that is why I am here after all: to take possession of his manuscript."

Until now the Captain had stood silently spectating the exchange between Charlotte and the French Lieutenant. Standing behind the lieutenant, he caught Charlotte's attention and silently gestured toward the manuscript on the workbench. "Ahem." The Captain cleared his throat loudly and dragged the Lieutenant's arm so that the Frenchman turned about and faced him. The Captain locked the startled Frenchman in a conspiratorial embrace. "My dear man, you don't expect me to believe that Monsieur Le Bas has willingly left all his clothes, possessions and personal effects as well as the people he has come to know and befriend on this voyage, without so much as a by your leave?"

While the lieutenant's back was toward her, Charlotte quietly moved to the workbench, removed the manuscript and placed it under the linen of Monsieur's bed. Returning to her position behind the Lieutenant's back, she could hear the Lieutenant just as conspiratorially hissing in none-too-friendly manner, "Captain Bennett, if you do not want to create international incident, I would advise you to keep your accusations to yourself. As you well know, Monsieur Le Bas is a Frenchman and as such our country claims sovereignty over his person as well as over his work. Now, if you will surrender the manuscript, I will be on my way and return you to your's". The French lieutenant swung around to face Charlotte again. "The manuscript Miss? Now." The Lieutenant's hand was outstretched before him in impatient anticipation.

At that moment, Dr Edward Cooper barged in to the cabin. "Captain, thank God I found you before you got too close to the patient. Come out quickly! And you too Lieutenant, if you don't wish to become infected." Suddenly the mood within the cabin changed. The intimidation from the Frenchman evaporated immediately and in its place, an inelegant dash for the cabin door as he turned on his heel and smartly exited the space Charlotte occupied. "Mon dieu! What is this? Explain yourself doctor!" exclaimed the lieutenant once they were safely outside the cabin.

"Yes", the Captain chimed in "What IS going on doctor?"

"Gentlemen, sorry to say we have been dealing with an outbreak of the pox." At the mention of the word, the Frenchman looked greatly alarmed and looking askance through the still open door to Charlotte, kicked it shut with his foot. The doctor continued, "I had thought we had it contained to the Fortuna, but alas, this convict, who has been in contact with some of the inmates on board the Fortuna, has contracted the disease and brought it here, to the Lady Juliana. I'm afraid I've had to organise a quarantine of her to her quarters Captain. I have acted in accordance with protocol but nevertheless, I hope you are in agreement with my actions."

To Charlotte's ears, the Captain's voice sounded quite unlike his usual self, as if he was restraining a cough or perhaps laughter, from disrupting his tone. "Ahem, I see Doctor, I think your actions are thoroughly appropriate. I'm so sorry Lieutenant Truant but I am forced to refuse entry to these quarters and any further interrogation of Monsieur Le Bas' assistant. Please leave the ship immediately."

The lieutenant looked furious but also at a loss to know how to proceed his case further. In the end, he simply turned on his heel, muttering to himself in rapid French, before rejoining his small contingent at the end of the gangway Portside and marching in the direction of the barracks.

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