The Caroline

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Au secours (to the rescue).

She had first met Wyatt more than three weeks earlier when he had come to her rescue on the dock in Liverpool. She had been alarmed when she had first seen him standing over her as he had given her purse back into her hands from where he had recovered it. She checked it quickly before he helped her to her feet. He had a wild look in his eyes then, almost the only thing she had seen above his beard. Everything about him had concerned her at that moment as he looked at her—well, he had just laid out two men who had thought to rob her—and had recovered most of her belongings from them and the ground near them, and put them back into her purse to give back to her. It was the pale scar on his forehead, extending almost its full width, that had first struck her (it must have been a terrible wound when he had first suffered it) and then his sharp eyes, and then his full bearded face.

Blackbeard! Captain Teach! That name had once struck fear into the hearts of sailors and women a hundred and more years earlier. He was no Blackbeard, however. His gently reassuring words, seemingly out of place with his ferocious aspect, had dispelled her concerns and calmed her a little as he had helped her to her feet and had supported her for a few moments—still unsteady—as she had assessed her condition for walking. She had brushed off her dress, straightened the rest of her clothing, and recovered her hat from the ground as he had helped her up. She was not sure what to expect. Men were violent beasts at times, and she was not sure whether she should be thankful for that, or fearful of it. She was bruised, and she hurt in a few places after that violent attack had seen her thrown to the ground, but there was nothing broken.

He had also used her name, Henstridge, as he had helped her to her feet. He had responded to the puzzled look on her face, seeing her fear rise and then subside, and explained that the captain had sent him after her to let her know that he had been mistaken, and that he did have a berth for her to New Orleans as there had been a last-minute change. Her relief at hearing that must have been obvious, but she had not recalled telling the captain her name, or he might not have refused her so easily. Being turned away, at first, as she had been, and then being brutally robbed had given her a poor impression of Liverpool and of her circumstance. She might not have survived another day in that area before she managed to find another ship. However, one did not turn one’s back on such unexpected fortune.

He spoke intelligently, as though as well educated as she herself had been. His clothing—some kind of uniform—was also not that of a regular seaman but had the look of having been tailored to fit him, as with a ship’s officer. If he had not been there to drive them off and then to deal with them as decisively and as violently, as he had, those men would have done more than they had. They had been interrupted suddenly and had then tried to make off with her bag and almost everything of value to her name. He had run after them and had tripped one of them, finding the other one had turned on him with a knife in his hand as he came at him. She was not sure what happened after that, but it seems that he broke that man’s arm and then picked a stick up that the first one had dropped and had beaten them both with it. Had they got clean away with her purse, she would have been in difficulty and might have been stuck in Liverpool for some time after that. Fortunately, she had paid for one night in that hotel already, so she would have had time to contact others who might be able to help her financially. It was not needed with such urgency now. It was not the kind of place where anyone, especially not a young woman with no protection, might want to be stranded without resources.

He was looking at her strangely, as though waiting for a response, and wondering why she might be tongue-tied. She was distracted by the small spots of blood on his hand and the blood and bits of hair on the stick that he tossed aside when he saw her looking at it with some concern in her face. What had he just said? That there was a berth on board that ship she had just left; the Osprey, if she wanted it. She was not sure what had changed. She had applied to the captain upon hearing that the cattle that were being loaded were going across to New Orleans first and then upriver to the Henstridge estate—her own home—but he had told her (quite brusquely, she thought) that he had no accommodation for any passengers, never mind a woman! She had turned away with a heavy heart. Her best and only chance for a few days or even weeks, taken from her. Now she was to be given that opportunity again.

She nodded in surprise and sudden relief. She would take it and blurted out her response before he thought her wits were somewhere else. “Yes. Yes, I do. I most certainly do, but I have no money. They got away with most of that.” He had ignored that last comment but had asked if she was hurt in any way. “No. Thank you. I don’t believe I am hurt, just a little shaken up and bruised. Thank you for your help.” He inclined his head to acknowledge her thanks. “But they got away with my money. I doubt I can afford passage now.”

“I don’t think you should worry about that at this moment. We can sort that out later. We depart in an hour or we miss the tide, so there is little time. If you will tell me where you are staying and where I might pick up your luggage, I’ll see you safely aboard.” He was waiting for a response. “The docks are no place for someone who does not know them.” After the first shock of seeing him standing over her with that look on his face, she had to reassess her first impression and realized that he had spoken gently and intelligently. He had also smiled, perhaps. It was hard to know with all that facial hair.

She directed him to where he might recover her luggage and to see her—and it—safely stowed away on board. He had seen to all that for her as she had tried to keep out of his way, yet after that initial moment and the inevitable and necessary introductions, and her directing him to her hotel, they had not spoken very much at all. She was still not sure how safe she might be in his company after what she had seen him do to those two men, but he had at least used her name.

He said nothing about the seedy, decrepit building back from the docks where rooms might be rented by the hour (though she had not known that, or she would have found somewhere else to stay within her limited resources) but just saw her packed up and onto the Osprey before the tide turned. As they left, he had also spoken to the clerk behind the desk there. It seemed an uncomfortable kind of conversation—she had not overheard it, as everything had been softly spoken—but she had seen the tense exchange at a distance and had seen the clerk reluctantly but wisely, she thought, after what she had seen earlier, pass over some money to him. The clerk may have seen the blood on his hands too. He returned it to her, explaining that the clerk had not needed to overcharge her for a full overnight stay as she had been there for only a few hours. She had thanked him again. The clerk would never have returned any money to her and had looked at her strangely in company of someone who seemed to be a sailor, and he knew all about them, in and out of his hotel at all hours of the day and night, with women he knew well, hanging on to their arms. It was obvious what he had been thinking about them being together and alone in her room for as brief a time as they had been, but she didn’t care. She could not help what others might think.

She was wary of everyone after that attempted robbery and was not even sure she should trust him, though he had most certainly helped her. Her eyes frequently drifted across to him as he had helped her in her room at the hotel. She had not expected to be helped, but he did not look to be the kind of man who would take any notice of her if she had told him that she could manage for herself when there seemed to some need for haste, so she kept quiet. He was aware of her presence too, and she caught him looking at her more than once as she packed some few things away, causing him to hesitate a little, as though waiting for her to say something (strange, that) and turn back to what he was doing when he saw that he might be discomforting her by his glance. She had been a little concerned by his curiosity at first, especially when he had closed the door to her room, trapping her inside with him. She knew how vulnerable she was.

She was better dressed than most other women that might be seen down at the docks, and especially those few she had seen in that same hotel. She also got the impression that he missed very little while saying even less. She seemed to attract the wrong kind of attention from most of the men she came across, but she was careful not to be alone with them in a small room, especially not a bedroom with the door closed as she was now. Her fear soon subsided, but she still kept her bag close to her with her hand out of sight, holding that pistol. He might be understandably a little curious about her, as she was about him, but he was focused mostly upon helping her pack and to get down to the ship. He had looked briefly from her, to her bag, and had smiled but said nothing. She had the feeling that he knew about the gun that she was keeping within reach to protect herself, even from him. He seemed amused by it. When she thought about it later, she admitted that she had found his brief admiring attention to her to be curiously flattering without it being so very threatening, even though she well knew, from what she had seen of the violence that he was capable of, that he could easily have taken that gun from her before she might think to use it. She did not even know his name.

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