Chapter 32: Weed Pulling

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Captain Bennett watched with concerned eyes as the French Lieutenant marched agitatedly down the gangway. "I fear we have not heard the last of them", he spoke almost inaudibly to a waiting Dr Cooper. "Well, you saved the day Doctor. How on earth did you know about all of this?"

"Sir, I happened to be visiting Elizabeth MacAdam regarding a fever one of her little ones has come down with, when I heard enough of the commotion to glean what was going on. If I know anything it's that the surest way to deter a man on a mission, is by threatening infection with some kind of contagion."

The Captain stared at the doctor curiously, paused and then thought better of asking any further questions of the man. "Well doctor, it worked a charm." But as the Captain's regard moved to the cabin he had just exited, his dour expression returned. "That girl . . " he began to say, before the cabin door opened unexpectedly and Charlotte emerged, looking shaken and confused.

"You!" the Captain bellowed with a roar that would raise Atlantis from its watery grave. "You are always at the centre of trouble! "

Charlotte quaked under the sheer force of his voice, before resolutely setting her shoulders in grim determination. "Captain, we must disembark immediately and recover poor Monsieur Le Bas from his French captors."

Captain Bennett's face appeared to pale as it drained of blood. Charlotte remembered she had seen this face before - it was the face of uncompromising anger and stubborn iron will that she had witnessed in Bennett upon setting eyes on him for the first time back on the Plymouth docks.

"Are you mad?" he shrieked, eyes bulging and spittle forming at the corners of his mouth. "Le Bas is NOT English! He's a bloody Frenchman!"

"We must go NOW Captain; we cannot waste another minute." She grabbed the Captain's coat sleeve unthinkingly, as if to pull him towards the gangway and off the ship immediately. The Captain pushed her arm away and grabbed her roughly by the shoulders. "You forget yourself madam. You are a prisoner on board this ship. Your friend, whilst a guest of His Majesty's and Lord Watt's in particular, was nevertheless, a French national. We have no jurisdiction to recover his person to this ship. I am going to overlook your impropriety this once, on account of the unexpected and unwelcome news of your friend's departure from the ship."

Charlotte was scandalised. "You can't seriously plan to abandon our friend Captain?"

Doctor Cooper attempted to intervene. He could see that there was going to be no good end to this exchange. Charlotte was clearly in shock and in need of sedation but the Captain was too bull-headed to see it. By now a small gathering of the MacAdam family and others began crowding around the trio. The Captain, exasperated by the convict's doggedness, turned on his heel to leave intending to allow the stupid girl to cool off. But to everyone's surprise, Charlotte chased around the man to confront him and slapped him across the face. "Don't turn away Captain, we have no time to lose. You MUST do something NOW!"

The assembly were so stunned by what they had just witnessed, there was a universal astonished silence – even babes in arms appeared mute in their mothers' arms. The Captain too, seemed to have become frozen to the spot. Time seemed to stand still before the Captain exhaled slowly. Doctor Cooper marvelled at the man's control, given the anger all too evidently clear on Bennett's face.

"Sergeant Buston!" the Captain barked.

"Yes sir!" responded the soldier in instant attention.

"You will escort this convict to the prisoner ship, the Fortuna and clap her in irons beneath decks – in solitary confinement mind. This devil of a girl has managed to acquire quite a following amongst the other women convicts and I don't want them contaminated by her rebelliousness. Do you understand me Sergeant?"

The soldier grabbed Charlotte roughly, twisting her arms behind her back and frogmarched her off the ship.

Doctor Cooper was moved to intervene on Charlotte's behalf. "Captain, the girl has clearly become unhinged with the news about Le Bas. You can see that she is not herself can't you?"

"Oh, I can see all too clearly Doctor that I have acted foolishly in the extreme to have allowed the prisoner too much freedom and independence. It has ruined her. She will have to be punished of course." The Captain turned on his heel about to exit the ship. The Doctor took the Captain's arm, as if to detain him from leaving for the moment. "Punish her? By placing her in irons beneath decks you mean?"

The Captain froze once again and turned to face the erstwhile doctor. "My good man, I hope you have not been duped by this poisonous little trumpet. Mind yourself" and so saying the Captain brushed the doctor's hand away from his person. "This woman manipulates everyone who comes into her orbit – everyone", he uttered again, thinking of Lord Watts, Monsieur Le Bas, Doctor Cooper, Mrs Elizabeth MacAdam and even himself in making the changes to the conditions in the womens' convict hold advocated for by the little guttersnipe. No, his first instincts about this girl on the Plymouth docks those eight months ago had been right. He had been a fool to have ignored them.

Standing to his full height and staring down into the eyes of the sorry face of his master surgeon, the Captain said, "No, my dear Doctor. When I said 'punish' I mean that she will be strung up on the gallows at dawn tomorrow morning before the entire prisoner cohort and lashed two hundred times. In the circumstances, you'd best be in attendance."

The doctor gasped at the savagery of the sentence. "But Captain, no woman is lashed – and certainly not two hundred times; you'll kill her!"

The Captain's hard, furious eyes burned into him. "You forget yourself Doctor once again! This is starting to become a habit with you where this particular prisoner is concerned. I may be minded to have you re-deployed to a rather less responsible and salubrious position. Do I make myself clear?" The doctor's eyes dropped meekly to the deck in response. The Captain continued. "This prisoner has assaulted the person of the commanding officer - not only of the ship, but of the entire colony. She is most fortunate to have escaped this evening with her life. Believe me sir, this woman will prove more than just a stone in my shoe in the colony. She may be a mere female convict, but she is a most dangerous troublemaker. I will not tolerate dangerous troublemakers. In my experience", and here the Captain's mind drifted to the events of the famous mutiny he had endured not many years before, "dangerous troublemakers are like weeds – neglect to extract them when they appear, and they'll take over the whole of your enterprise." 

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