The Caroline

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A tense, family re-union.

Wyatt watched the final group approaching the boat. The brother, whom he recognized, seemed to have three colleagues of much the same stripe as him who trailed along behind him and were to go with them. Her brother was inclined to vanity, the way he dressed, and carried a black walking stick with an ornate silver head. He tried to dress well to hide the fact that he was almost ruined, financially, and had nothing other than a fine-sounding estate to his name. His companions were less outgoing. Wyatt knew all about him.

He had watched as the two, brother and sister, had greeted each other. She had known that he would be there, but he had no idea that she would be. She seemed to surprise him far beyond what he had expected. Wyatt stayed back out of the way and watched, not sure what might transpire. It had not been a pleasurable surprise for him, and their meeting was strained.

“Robert!” She said only his name, but it was said coldly. She had had many days to prepare how to greet him when she did eventually meet him again, whereas he had been caught off guard, and it showed. Her saying his name as she had, had been without any affection that one might expect between adult siblings pleased to see each other. It was as though someone had just thrown a bucket of cold water over him and with no time to hide his initial feelings. It was a tense meeting for them both.

He seemed stupefied for some moments. He had not expected her, though she seemed to have known that he would be meeting the cattle. He was not to know that she had taken time to converse with the drover as they had both nervously watched the cattle trans-shipped.

He recovered quickly. “Caroline. Good god! You are the last one I expected to see.” Indeed she was. His eyes rapidly took in her clothing and her stance, almost as though she expected a fight. “What are you doing here?” He was quite pale and not at all pleased to see her. He frowned, searching for some reason that he might understand as to why she had returned. She had changed a lot from the time she had gone. She had been a relatively quiet individual then, though she had been used to getting her own way despite him being two years older and the heir after Jefferson had died. Jeff, as he had been called out of his father’s hearing, had ignored her as much as he could but accepted that she was the one who could smooth over any difficulties with the former slaves and see that the work got done. When Jefferson had died from his wounds after that last difficulty, Robert had been thrust into a role he had long coveted, that of heir; but she had gone immediately after that, leaving him to flounder and to curse her for leaving him in such a situation that he could not handle. Nothing had gone right for them since that time, but much of that was also to do with the emancipation that had been forced upon them after the war had gone against them. Plantations could no longer depend upon slave labor but had to come to grips with the new order of things and reach an agreement with the former slaves—those few who remained—despite the way they had been treated. They had to live just as their former owners did. They also had to be paid somehow, or were given land in exchange for their labor. They had been tense and difficult times.

“I came across from Liverpool with the cattle when I heard where they were to go. Since when did you take an interest in raising quality livestock?”

“I try my hand at different things. I can’t get the labor for cotton or other crops. We don’t have slaves after the war, but you know that, so we had to adjust to the times. The easy money is behind us now. I won them two months ago in a poker game.” He regretted saying that even as he said it. “I didn’t realize that good stock brought such a high price, but I can see now why they did, even at this distance, and from the comments that I’ve heard. Their handler will be with us for six months to see them settled in. When we join up with the rafts, I will walk up and see what I won. You are aware that Father is dead, of course. I believe our grandmother may have written to tell you. I got no response from Mother about it, almost as if she did not care. At least we assume he is dead; his body was never found, and his hotel room had been empty as though he had decided to leave without saying anything to anyone.” He seemed uncomfortable discussing it, as though there was much more to it than that. She did not care. It was all past history now and could not affect her. “Uncle Matthew, whom he occasionally contacted at the time, heard that there was rumor of some violence, but it was all just rumor, and we could find out nothing more. He disappeared two years ago after one of his jaunts down here.”

She did not voice her first thoughts that one of his women or more likely her husband may have killed him. He had been a womanizer like both of her brothers and had been cruel, physically and mentally, with those women who were close to him. As with that old adage about children being seen but not heard, he had also believed that women should be neither seen nor heard. That was only one of the reasons why her mother had left, and then her.

“I think Mother may have written from Baltimore, of all places, and told me.” She was not interested in discussing their father. She had not felt any sorrow to hear of his death as she eventually had, other than for a mild twinge of conscience for feeling that way about him. Some memories did not get better with time.

“I assume you are going up to see what may be left at Grandmother’s little estate that she supposedly set aside for you.” He saw no confirming response. “You shouldn’t count on anything. She deceived us all. Others own it now. She wanted nothing to do with any of us even before Mother left. We were not aware that she had died until more than a week after she was buried, and we were obviously not invited to her funeral. No one seemed to know about us being related, so we heard only after the fact and too late to do anything. We had little contact with her when she was alive and none since you left.”

She knew all that. She had heard from her grandmother several times since her “death” and knew what her plans were, so he could tell her nothing that she did not already know. Their grandmother had told none of her daughter’s family anything, except for what she had related to her granddaughter. She never had trusted any of them with any information that they might seek to use against her, and had decided that it were better if they thought her to be dead.

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