The Caroline

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The intruder realized from the sudden sound of movement in front of him that she was awake and would soon let out a cry for help. He lunged toward her carrying what might be a blanket in his hands, but he was too late. That one man had now become two struggling together just inside of her room. The second man seemed to be striving to drag that first man out of her room by his hair. She saw the glint of a bare knife blade in the moonlight.

Without needing to think about it, she raised her gun, cocked it, and fired in one action as she had practiced so many times. She did not aim anywhere in particular, just intent on hitting the indistinct target closest to her, in the body. He was close enough to her that it would be hard to miss. The noise in such a confined space, even though not so veryconfined, was deafening after the peaceful still of the night, and would be loud enough to wake half the boat. The flash of light from the barrel illuminated everything a little more, but also blinded her for a few moments, and the shout of pain that also intruded upon her senses, followed by cursing, told her that she had inflicted some kind of wound to have elicited that kind of response.

He was driven back both by her shot, and the efforts of the man behind him. He was outlined in the brighter light from the door space for just a second, followed by a splash as he went over the side and fell into the water. That was when she also realized that the noise from the engines had stopped. They had stopped sometime earlier. They must have tied up near the bank for the night when that storm had effectively blinded them, with visibility being down to just a hundred or two hundred feet, with the lead rafts occasionally disappearing from view altogether. It would not be a good time to meet another boat coming downriver.

She could also hear the sound of violence continuing outside of her door. From what she could hear outside of her cabin (she still had not had presence of mind to get up and close her door and hold it closed), there were two others outside engaged in a struggle for life. One of them was probably the man who had tried to stop that first one before she had shot him. There was the loud scuffling of feet on the deck, curses, and even heavy breathing, which had to be loud, considering that her ears were still ringing after her gunshot. Those sounds were followed by another curse, a sudden cry of pain, as though a knife had been driven into someone. There was the sound of blows being delivered between two men, causing her to wince, and then after that, a moment of silence broken by a gradually rising scream of pain that was suddenly cut off, followed by another much louder splash and then silence. It sounded as though at least two bodies had gone into the river to join that first one. She felt that she knew who one of them had to be and hoped that he had not been injured, trying to save her. She had shot only the first man that had been in her room.

She lay still, trembling with fear that suddenly came over her. Her heart was palpitating, and she had to remember to breathe. She still held her pistol tightly in her hand. She had fired only one of the two barrels, as she had cocked only the one in her haste. It might be only a small gun, but it was enough to kill anyone at such close range, except he had not dropped but had tried to escape over the side or had fallen over. She cocked the unfired barrel and waited.

Nothing else happened to disturb her, except that she could hear movements and voices in other rooms beside her. Others had indeed been disturbed by the obvious noise of a gun discharging and by the sudden altercation on the deck, ending with whomever was involved, going over the side, as the first man had. Others would come to investigate shortly. With others ready to take note of what had happened and who would soon appear with all their questions, she leaped out of bed then and moved cautiously over to her door. It was open, of course, with a key still in the lock outside while her own was still sitting on her bedside table.

She removed the key, closed the door, and relocked it from the inside and leaned back against the door, able to breathe now and able to feel her pulse hammering in her head. There was the strong smell of the discharged gun throughout the cabin, but at least she was safe. She now had two keys. No one might be aware of what had happened in her cabin, although those in rooms close to her own must surely be aware that it had been from nearby. She took a match out of the holder and lit the lamp in the middle of the table and turned the wick down, uncocked the gun carefully, sat at the table with the gun held loosely in the folds of her nightdress, and waited to find out what might happen. She shivered in the suddenly felt coolness, stood up, retrieved a wrap from the foot of her bed, and then sat nervously on the bed, waiting. She heard footsteps outside and then inquiries addressing someone.

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