The Caroline

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He would be difficult.

Robert soon recovered from his initial surprise at seeing her and reverted to his usual tormenting ways.

“Not married are you? No children or husband in tow? No, of course not. No ring, and you don’t look married.” What did a married woman look like? “I thought you were fixed at that school in France or might join our mother in Baltimore, but I never heard from either of you and only heard about you teaching in France a couple of years ago and then only by accident.”

“No. I am going home, to the same place you are, before I decide what to do. It was my home too, you know, and I have some things that I left there when I went east.” That did not sit easily with him. She told him nothing more of her intentions after that.

“Why? There is nothing there for you. If you go with us, I should warn you that there have been changes that you won’t approve of.” He would not make her welcome—she knew that—and would do all that he could to see her depart as quickly as she arrived. It fitted in with her own plans anyway. “I know that Father trusted you to see to things until . . . until you had your falling out, but when you left, all that changed. We lost a few of the workers after that emancipation bill.” He said nothing about most of them leaving long after that, leaving once they had realized that Caroline had gone, but better if she did not know that. “You should have talked to Father first. He would have made it worth your while.” She said nothing. It had been a lesson he had learned too late. Her father had not been interested in talking to her or any other woman in his family, and would have found some way to cheat her while taking advantage of her close relationship with the former slaves.

“So I expect you went to the bank after you landed, and discovered that there was nothing there. You should have written, and I would have made sure that there was enough money in that account for you rather than have you show up like this. I don’t know what you expected to achieve. Father set it up for you when he thought you might come back to help out as he hoped you would.”

Help out? She had effectively managed the entire plantation for her father and brothers, keeping the books and ordering what was needed, as well as dickering about the price of everything, and organizing the planting and harvesting. Men did not like a woman doing any of that, putting them in a bad light, but she was even more hard-nosed than they were. She had mostly stood between the workers and her family too, and had protected them from her father’s temper and the stupidity of both of her brothers.

“He wrote and told you about putting an allowance in there for you.” She knew that he had done that to entice her back if he could, but she had not acknowledged it or responded. “Father kept access to it, just in case it was needed, as it was, or if you didn’t come back. It got to the point where it was obvious you were not coming back, and I needed the money.” He said it all, so matter-of–fact. “It was sitting there doing nothing, and you never got back in touch with anyone about it. You could have been dead, for all we might know.” She was not about to say much more to him.

“I suppose Grandmother saw you well provided for out of what little she had left.” He could not know that, but wanted to see her response to that suggestion. He was disappointed. “We didn’t see her will, if she left one. She always seemed to have money for what she wanted to do, her cigars and her brandy and wines but perhaps not. She died in poverty from what I heard, and that was probably why she would never give father a loan. She couldn’t, or so she told him enough times, though he didn’t believe her. She always pleaded poverty.”

“So he had the gall to ask, did he?” She knew enough to know that a “loan” to any of her family would never be repaid, and so had her grandmother.

“Yes. Of course, but having no luck with the old . . . dear. That’s why he was forever down here, trying to raise money. No doubt grandmother helped you all these years where she wouldn’t help us.” He was fishing again. “She wanted nothing to do with any of us after Mother and Janine left. Things have been very difficult for the last few years. You’ll get the money back.” The money. Not, your money.

“I hope so. Mr. Soames told me that before you began to raid it, there was more than two thousand dollars there.” He’d have something to say to the banker about disclosing that information. “I want back every penny of what you robbed me of. The sooner you do so, the sooner I will be gone.” She added a comment that was sure to irk him. “I may not leave at all until I get it.” She was going to be difficult and awkward. He flushed with anger, knowing that she could make his life very miserable if she chose to do so, with all of the things she knew about him and the family.

“I did not rob you. My name was on that account too. You should have stayed in Europe or taken up residence here, in New Orleans, though even this place is not as safe as it was, with so many looking for work and fallen on hard times. Someone is murdered here every week, if they find the bodies to know, and it is almost as bad on the river. What a pity you are too late to go and live with Grandmother. She would have welcomed you,” where he would not. “There is nothing here for you now. Besides, you don’t seem to be in any straightened circumstance yourself in that accommodation so perhaps Grandmother did manage to leave you something. I can’t even afford to eat in the salon there.” He had noticed the golden tassel on the key that she carried tightly clenched in her hand, which proclaimed her privileged statuson board.

He didn’t understand it.

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