The Caroline

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A few confidences, disclosed.

Mrs. Bainbridge confided to her that she had gained the impression that he—Mr. Wyatt—had studied Miss Henstridge whenever he might do so without being seen. Caroline had sensed the same thing but did not place any store by it. Some persons were more curious than others. Perhaps he had been concerned that she had not suffered any lasting hurt from her experience in Liverpool. It seemed to puzzle the older woman in a strange way, almost as though it was not believable. Caroline recognized that Mrs. Bainbridge had been too long away from land, and real people and life, and tended to see gentle intrigue in everything about her where a man and a woman were concerned. She also seemed to believe that all women should be married by the time they were twenty-two (Caroline’s age for just a few more days), but no man should be married before thirty. It was a little different from what that stupid Disraeli fellow in England had said, that “every woman should marry . . . and no man,” but without saying anything else to qualify it and render it less stupid.

Caroline had been surprised to hear those observations upon her and Mr. Wyatt, and even more from the older woman who seemed to have taken a motherly interest in her. Unlike Mrs. Bainbridge, she had not particularly noticed that Mr. Wyatt had paid her any special attention other than that he had stayed out of her way, except at mealtimes, and yet she had known that he had always been somewhere very close by, and not just because they were on a small ship either. He had been close in every sense, occupying the cabin opposite her own and keeping an unobtrusive eye on her while staying out of her way.

She admitted that Wyatt had an easy manner about him that would attract many women, and did attract them. She had seen that from various interchanges at dockside the night before, with those women that spent a lot of time there.

He seemed to know them but not in any questionable way and had laughed easily with them as they had exchanged comments, but he had not seemed interested in them in that personal way that the other sailors did. He seemed to be inquiring after someone, as she could see, when she saw one of the women point farther down the dock. That he did not return their obvious interest in him, was not what she might have assumed of any man just setting foot ashore after weeks or months of enforced celibacy (men tended to be reckless after such a period of being deprived of women), except that Mr. Wyatt had not seemed to pay her any special attention either (though Mrs. Bainbridge seemed to think that he had) other than for the help he had been in Liverpool. He had generally sat quietly and had just listened when he had dined with the captain and his wife, usually sitting directly opposite the two women and, unlike most men, had been prepared to encourage them to voice their views and to draw them out. At least he made the effort but met with little success. However, she had been quiet too. Yes, there had been something exchanged between them as their eyes had met across the table, which seemed quite often.

She studied him from time to time when she knew he was not looking at her, but always her eyes were drawn to that terrible white scar across his forehead. She would have liked to have asked him about it, but knew that she must not.

He always seemed to be smiling at her, and there was an intensity in his eyes which seemed disturbing at first, as though there was more than just mere interest in her there. She knew that it would never progress beyond just a smile or a nod of the head and a remote friendship. She had seen him smiling at some strange comment of the second officer, as well as the expression on her face at his words. He had cast his own eyes skyward as though to agree with her unspoken assessment of the man as being a bit of a nincompoop. Such superficial and fleeting understandings were the safest kind. Men were usually dangerous, and took years for a woman to understand fully. What one thought one might know usually turned out to be wrong. Men said the same thing of the women in their lives too. Each seemed to be a closed or difficult book to the other, except one such book had not been in any way closed to her, but had been suddenly and prematurely removed. That man had been her first and only love. However, that other life was far behind her now but was still painfully remembered.

As her inquisitor was curious, but in a polite way, and not desiring to hurt her feelings, Caroline told Mrs. Bainbridge of the incident on the dock in Liverpool that had seen Mr. Wyatt—or just Wyatt, as others called him—intervene to help her after she had been roughly knocked off her feet and robbed. She had not known him even a little then, and had been shocked at how violent that exchange had been with nothing being said. That had formed her first impression of Blackbeard, as she had seen him and thought of him at that moment, but which had been slowly and gradually revised favorably since that moment. Her heart had been quaking as he had approached her after that with that stick that he had taken from one of the men still in his hand, and a thunderous look on his face.

Mrs. Bainbridge had laughed at her description of that. She told Mrs. Bainbridge how he had recovered most of her belongings but did not tell her that she lost almost all her money in that robbery. Despite her trying to tell Mr. Wyatt that she now had no money, he had still seen her accommodated on board her ship. However, it did suggest that that little axiom about first impressions generally being wrong, had some element of truth to it. He had just smiled at her and told her that it could wait until they got to their destination. How she might repay him had become forefront in her mind once more. At least she could now visit her bank in New Orleans and see to that omission at the first opportunity.

“Yes, he can be decisive where it is called for, as I have seen for myself, so I already knew that. They smile and are all politeness to us, most of the time, and to other men; but when they cross swords or become angry, which happens very rarely in our company, then we do not know them at all. Then, they go off out of sight to settle their differences, to fight and sometimes to kill each other. If they do not kill each other, then they are sometimes friends again in no time at all until the next woman comes along.

"All men have a dark side and secrets from us women, but then they lead much harder lives. I watched him. I have nothing much else to do but study character and how these men behave with each other. There is no room for bluster in the tight community of a ship’s company, and a man is soon seen for what he really is. Wyatt keeps to himself and generally does not mix with either the men or the officers even, except for my husband, and he sees everything while he says very little.” Caroline was already aware of that. “He’s a sharp one and is someone that any woman could trust, but he was not always . . . as decisive as he is now. He changed in the last two or three years.” She expanded upon that comment.

“When I first met him, soon after Jennings took him on board the Pelican, the Caroline now—the same name that you have—he was sorely wounded and recovering from that nasty wound to his head. I approved of the change of name. That first name, Pelican, made it seem so clumsy, just like that top heavy bird, while the change of name was to something much more graceful, which it is, rather like you.

“He was a sickly young man for such a time, recovering from that wound. He may have lost most of his memory for several weeks. He did not know who he was or where he had come from and seemed to be directionless, a ship without a rudder for a while, but he gradually changed under Jennings’s steady tutelage and care. He filled out and found some purpose in his life, although about two or three years after that, there was a setback, and he got himself banged up again too, though not nearly as badly as the first time. That was two years ago. There was obviously violence then too—I know there was—but I am only a mere woman, and no one would tell me anything about it. It seemed to wake him up somehow, as though he had been living a different life for those few years, and it snapped him out of his serious mood—one might say his complacency—and he suddenly became a driven man after that, as though he had been given a second chance at life, and he took off to Europe. Someone said he’d got more of his memory back, but he never said anything, and continued what he was doing, except he suddenly took on new interests too, as though there were two of him, which I suppose there were.” She thought more about that. “He was the man that Jennings found, and then there was the man that he had once been, needing to find out about an earlier life.” She said no more.

She swirled the teapot finding that it was almost empty. “The rumor was that he changed—got his mind back, perhaps, that again—after he had been involved in a duel with a man who had once wronged him, or someone close to him, over a woman very likely. A common occurrence in this place where honor, or what passes for it, and dueling over it seems to be a way of life, though I do not know if it was a duel or not, nor could I learn if it was about a woman, which these things are usually about. Those things do not usually end well for one of them, but I heard no more. That was when he took a new interest in the river, but for what reason I do not know; and then soon after that, he began to get this urge to wander off to Europe on one or other of Jennings’s ships.

“I could get no more than that out of Mr. Bainbridge or anyone else, but from what I know of Mr. Wyatt, and despite what the Bible might say about turning the other cheek—doesn’t work in this neck of the woods—whatever he did, it was because the other man deserved it. I know your Mr. Wyatt enough to know that.”

Her, Mr. Wyatt? Surely she had not given that impression. “Call it my womanly intuition, but it was over a woman I’d warrant, except I could learn nothing more than I did, and got told off by Mr. Bainbridge for trying to find out any more than that. A man needs his secrets. They all do. In this town, a man can get himself killed trying to find out the secrets of another. It was sometime after that, not so very long either, that Mr. Jennings died.”

She fell silent as the cabin boy knocked and entered the spacious cabin with boiling hot water to refresh their tea and to find out what else they might need. “You read my mind, Zeb.” She refilled the teapot and swirled it again several times before pouring a little into her cup. Liking the color of it, neither too strong nor too weak, she refilled both of their cups.

He seemed to read Caroline’s mind too. “Laundry is expected back anytime, miss. Mr. Wyatt had some shirts cleaned too, and havin’ so few, he ain’t gonna leave without ’em.”

“Thank you.” She had seen as much of her clothing as she could spare, sent out for laundering that previous night after they had docked, and was promised that everything would be returned in time for the final and shortest part of her journey. It seemed that they would be.

“You must have made an impression on him for him to give up his own cabin for you like that and bunk with the first officer, if he did.” Caroline had not known that. So she had slept in his cabin, and the cat was his as far as a cat might belong to anyone.

“Cummins is a nice-enough man, but he is slapdash with his personal habits—chews tobacco, you know, and cusses as well as any mule skinner [oh dear, my origins sometimes show themselves]—and I am told that he snores loud enough, though that might have been what he said just to make sure he had a cabin to himself. After Liverpool we would have put in at Gibraltar and seen him transfer—Mr. Wyatt, that is—to another one of his ships, to go into the Mediterranean and the south of France [that wanderlust again], but he changed his mind as a woman might change her dress or her hairstyle on a whim. Comes and goes as he pleases and no explanation to anyone, but then he has many irons in the fire. We had no need to go to Gibraltar after that for some reason but came directly across the Atlantic instead, if one can call it direct.”

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