The Caroline

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What Else Did You Win?

He felt a sense of unease creeping over him. He spoke quietly.

“All that was of any value, Miss Henstridge.” She detected a hint of evasion once more.

“Value is very subjective, sir, and you are being evasive again. So there was something else. May I see all those papers showing what was conveyed between you and my brother, including that which you say was of no value?” Alarm bells began to sound in his head.

“Why?”

“There, you did not directly deny it.” She looked at him. “I would like to see all those documents for myself to satisfy my female curiosity. I would also like to find out what my brother actually thought he possessed. I have been away almost five years, remember?”

“I destroyed some of them almost immediately—those that I had wagered—and gave the papers and losses back to those others at the table, except for what I personally won from your brother, of course.”

“The others, the ones you did not destroy. I would like to see those. All of them. I believe I should know what my brother wagered and lost.” A portent of what might ensue if she saw that other document began to creep over him.

“They are in my cabin. I will show them to you after dinner.”

“Thank you.” She picked up the wine bottle and emptied it into the glass that contained the little that remained of the lemonade and began to drink it as though she were thirsty. He said nothing. Perhaps if he ordered desert and another bottle of wine and delayed for long enough, he might avoid having to show her something that would be sure to upset her.

“Tell me, Caroline, who told you of the game last night?”

“No one. Not directly.” He detected a flash of anger in her glance. “When I was sitting down for breakfast this morning, I overheard a discussion that I am sure I was not supposed to overhear, and I pieced together what I could of it. Your name was mentioned and so was that of my brother. Then, after I thought I had heard the worst, I heard something else that completely destroyed my peace for the rest of the day, and I resolved to ask you about it, if you dared to appear for dinner.”

“I am here.”

“But not knowing what awaited you. I had the feeling that I was something of a laughing stock. At least I was the subject of covert discussion at more than one table after that, during lunch, and I saw glances directed at me as people snickered behind their hands. Needless to say, I became very curious.”

“Perhaps you were imagining it.”

“Was I? It was happening again this evening just before you appeared, and then they went quiet, but there are those who still glance across at me with a smug look on their smirking faces.”

“At us, Miss Henstridge. At us. They are probably wondering how such a beautiful and vivacious young woman would choose to be seen with a rogue like me, as ill dressed as I must seem to be.” She was not prepared to be fobbed off by that flattering but evasive answer, so he tried another. “Most of them are individuals who frequently travel on this boat and have done so for years; its cuisine is well-known, and they are aware that I rarely dined with anyone before, yet I do now. They are obviously curious about you as we have dined together like this several times. I am sure they are speculating about that.”

“It is most kind of you to say so, sir, but you are being disingenuous again and blowing a lot of smoke around. I will find out eventually, so you would be wiser to give in. I should tell you that if you don’t come clean with me, that I shall accept nothing from you, and shall return to Europe once I have repaid what I owe you.” He fell silent as he thought about that as she continued with her own thoughts.

“My suspicion is that you have something that belongs to me. Something of a very personal nature.” She was firm, and possibly still very angry, though controlling it well.

“I do?”

“You do. You also know that you do, so there is no point in trying to evade it. It is to do with a second wager, even a contract—entirely invalid, of course—that my brother entered into with you, a contract between you and him, not between you and me; yet it involved me in some very personal way that I found disturbing, if it were true.”

“You seem to know much more than I might have given you credit for.” He cursed inwardly that she had found out about that but kept a smile on his face as she continued.

“I overheard more than I was intended to overhear.”

“Possibly. It seems to be common knowledge that a wager was made, and that a considerable amount of property was at stake including this boat, the Caroline; perhaps that is what you heard and hearing your own name and that word wager assumed the wrong thing.” He could see that she was losing patience with him.

“I do not hear an outright denial from you as I would have expected if it were not true. Am I wrong?” He was silent. “Then as you will not lie to me, in answer to a direct question, I must assume that I am right. My suspicions were correct. “There was another contract between you and him and it did involve me in some way. A bill of sale of some kind, I believe, and nothing to do with that estate. I heard disturbing talk of how one Caroline had been wagered and exchanged for another. The implications are disturbing. I still do not understand it fully, but I would like to. I would especially like to see that contract entered into between you and my brother and which mentioned me, by name.” He detected the controlled anger in her voice and remained silent for some moments. He picked up the glass she had filled and drained it as he thought about what she was asking. She seemed to know too much.

They sat for some moments in silence, to enjoy the coffee that they were brought. Somehow, it seemed to have lost its flavor this evening, and tasted bitter.

“Might I suggest, Miss Henstridge, Caroline, my dear”—her eyes flashed to his that he dared be so familiar with her at such a difficult time—“that you strive to keep the anger out of your feelings, even though I know that it is undoubtedly difficult to do so. One cannot control what other people may think, and it does not matter. I shall try to explain all of it to you later. There is nothing destined to confirm various suspicions, than for anyone to see you looking so distinctly unhappy, and undoubtedly angry with me, though when your eyes sparkle like that, it makes you even more beautiful.” She grimaced at him. “If you could try to smile at me, it would make it seem that such a document either cannot exist, or that if it does, that we both perceive it as being meaningless and of nothing important.” She saw the sense of what he was asking. She raised her head and smiled charmingly at him as he reached out and patted her hand and smiled back at her in turn, pleased to see that she was not so utterly annoyed with him or so unaware of others watching that she pulled away and confirmed anything.

“Thank you.” She continued to smile at him.

When they had finished, and with a feeling of foreboding, he helped her to her feet and took her arm in his as he slowly walked with her to his cabin. It would not be obvious to the others who watched them, but a gulf seemed to have opened up between them. And they had been doing so well.

Others watched them leave, and then the speculation, rumors and giggling began once more, but the doubts, concerning what they had overheard and had gossiped about, had also been seeded.

He led them both into his room. It was the first time she had been in there, but she had seen him go into it two nights ago with that other young woman. Her perfume even lingered there, or was that her disordered imagination confusing her? She could certainly smell the woodwork. It was clearly a man’s cabin without the finer touches that a woman would think to provide, though it was much tidier than she expected, except his cabin on the Osprey had been clean and tidy too, the little that there had been of it to see.

There were marine navigational instruments arranged on the wall. They were of no use on the river. A good pilot could wake up in the dead of night and go up to the pilot house and know, even before he got there, where he was on the river, and to within a few tens of feet, even if he’d just woken up from a year-long coma. Beside them was a shelf of books, with the books held in place by a small brass rod to stop them being vibrated onto the floor or tumbling there if they suddenly ran aground. She would have liked to have seen their titles. It would have been a way to learn more about him, but the light was not very strong, and they were still indistinct even when he turned the wick, higher. There was also a journal and an unfinished letter on his desk. This cabin had been reserved for him while he had been away in Europe for whatever purpose and seemed to be his home. It was more than she might claim for herself, rootless and now able to call no place home, unless she accepted his offer. She had been suddenly disinherited in so many ways of what she had loved, and now it was brought home to her more forcefully with her brother’s stupid wager. It seemed to be a final straw, and there was an emptiness—a feeling of being denied something important that she felt most acutely—and this man whom she had learned to trust and had grown to like had been part of it. She began to feel a little sick.

She also felt a distasteful feeling of having been betrayed by everyone in her life, even this man. She should never have returned to face such heartache and unexpected difficulty. Had she been required to explain her feelings to anyone in a logical way, she was not sure that she could have done so.

She watched as he tidied some papers away, closed his journal—or a log, perhaps—opened a small wooden box sitting on his desk top and extracted some papers from it, returning all but one of them, which he laid in front of her.

She glanced at it and then picked it up and read it. It was the conveyance of the estate that had been her home. Everything that she had once had ambition to own for herself, no matter how far out of her reach it had been, with her father and brothers controlling it, had been wagered away over her brother’s witnessed signature, and now they were all dead, but her.

“It is yours, Miss Henstridge”—he was smiling, but her anger must have been palpable toward him for him to use her more formal name—“as I won it unfairly and by subterfuge. I suggest that you do not destroy it. As I told you, there might be unexpected heirs, if your brother produced any, who might then be able to challenge your claim.”

She put the document down, shaken by his words and by his unexpected generosity. She felt stubborn and proud as poor people tended to be, and she was now poor. She would not easily accept it.

“You won it. It is yours.”

“Yes, I won it, but I told you that I did not win it fairly and so cannot keep it. My conscience would not let me.” She laughed in disbelief.

“Your conscience would not let you? Yet if I understood you correctly, you killed my brother after you had maneuvered him into wagering it. How is your conscience dealing with that?” He did not respond to that.

“I cannot accept your generosity without repaying you in some way, yet I am not sure how it might be achieved. Land has value, and I could never raise the sum of money required to cover that nor pay off the debts he incurred.”

He smiled gently. “I do not see the same impediments that you do. You could take it over without worrying about repaying me. I am a very patient man, and no one will seek to try and force payment of those debts.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because I own them! I was the one who lent your father money from time to time, though he did not know that it was I. I would have taken over the entire property in another few years anyway, and then—”

“And then?”

He would not go down that path. “I cannot see that far into the future. Fortunes change.”

She felt a sudden concern about his motives and realized that she was probably—no, not probably, but certainly—wrong about them. He had not mentioned anything about what she owed for the journey on the Osprey or this trip either. And she had spent the night with him in that same room in Vicksburg, and he had not tried to take advantage of her then or to maneuver her into any difficulty. She had done all that by herself, and he had not pursued his advantage. “I have all that I need in life. Almost!”

“Yes, you are very patient if you waited so many years to be revenged upon my brother, for whatever reason. He must have done you a great injury at one time, just as they did to me, though I can never find out about that now, with them all being dead. Are you biding your time while you have a greater ambition with me?” He was just like other men, always seeking an advantage over a helpless woman. That thought shocked and saddened her but was quickly put aside. He did not immediately deny it and had an unusual look on his face. “Nonetheless, I find that I cannot easily accept that property.” He detected a change, however slight in her previous intransigence. “I cannot afford it even in my wildest dreams even if I taught for a lifetime. You won it by turning my brother’s intent against himself. I would say that because of that, you deserved to win it, and it is now yours.”

He did not try to argue with her or suggest that she could work the estate and bring it back to what it had been and would then be easily able to pay him back. He had heard a small concession in that word easily, and he was patient.

“I would like to see that other document.” His heart sank. She was back to that again like a terrier at a rat. He wished he had never countenanced that aspect of their wager; but there had been something intriguing to him by that act, and he had not discouraged it, or objected to it, as a wise man would have done.

He sighed heavily and took the framed drawing of this same ship, the Caroline—she could see that name on the drawing of the boat and across the bottom—from the wall and laid it before her. She was confused for a moment. She looked at it and saw the name. “But this is this steamboat, the Caroline.”

“Look on the back.” He slid the drawing from behind the glass and gave it to her as he watched her. She turned it over, and he could see her mouth tighten at what she read:

This contract, made this ninth day of September 1873, gives Caroline Henstridge (spinster of twenty-three years) body, mind, and soul, and all else that she possesses about her into the sole ownership of . . .

She saw the name Wyatt written boldly into the middle of that line and then continued reading:

. . . to do with as he wishes from this moment forward. This contract also conveys ownership of any and all future children between them, that may arise from his possession of her.

She closed her eyes for a few moments as she tried to keep her emotions under control. “You will surrender this to me, of course, or destroy it.” She had spoken very quietly, as though struggling to control her anger.

“That would be difficult.”

“Why?” She did not believe him.

“Because, regardless of that meaningless writing, the front drawing has great sentimental value to me.” So did that simple contract behind it, but he could not tell her that. “It was the last gift given to me by Captain Jennings before he died and left this boat and all others that he owned to me. So you see I cannot destroy it either.”

“Oh! But it is not meaningless to me.”

“I understand. However, I value that drawing in much the same way as you value that little copper ring that you wear. Both are worthless in terms of monetary value, yet you would be as loath to part with that, as I would be to part with this drawing.”

“They are not the same. This is much more personal and offensively so.”

He had to agree. “Perhaps not exactly the same then. However, more to the point. If it is left here, in that frame, as it was, and hanging here, I can assure you that no one else would ever know about it.”

“I would know! Others are also aware of it, else why those rumors, and those looks.”

“I cannot help what others might say or think. The rumors will soon fade and die when they see that there is no substance to their suspicions and they see that you and I are still on good terms Which I hope we still are.” She was not sure she wanted to be on good terms after what he had done.

“But my name, as well as yours, is spelled out here and in a . . . a . . . shameful way. I shall never be the property of any man in this way. I might never relax knowing that something like this existed even. It is humiliating, demeaning in every way, as though I were a piece of property, a piece of common baggage to be passed from hand to hand as this piece of paper. As people once were.” They still were, but under the guise of being an apprentice or an indentured servant.

“It shall never leave my possession, Miss Henstridge.”

“That is not the point. It exists, and I know of it. So did those others in the dining room. I could detect it in their comments, their looks, their murmurings; but I was not sure of the reason. I am now.”

“No one else will see it. And it is only a piece of paper.” She glared at him.

“It is not just any piece of paper. I remember seeing other so-called pieces of paper like that, which conveyed entire families into slavery. My father had many of them. I hoped never to see anything so degrading like them again, and now I find that I am the subject of one.” She pulled at her handkerchief in agitation and then had another thought.

“I will buy it from you! I may not be able to afford to pay you for the estate, but I am sure that I could purchase that drawing.”

“I cannot sell it.”

“Why not?”

“The same reason I told you: Jennings.”

“Then why was it written on the back of that if you valued it so highly?”

“I did not know at the time that what he wrote this on, was this particular drawing. I should have paid it more attention.”

“You will not give it up to me, will you?”

“I had rather not, to see it destroyed which I fear you would do. However, I will return the property to you just as I did for those others who lost at the table that night. I do not profit from anyone’s crime.

“Yet you will not return to me that which I find most aggravating. Without that, what use is the property to me? I do not intend to stay one minute longer than I need to with such embarrassment likely to follow me wherever I go. So what do you intend to do with that document?”

“I shall keep it close by me, of course, so it can never become more widely known, or follow you, as you say. You are also the only one of those who lost anything at that table who will not accept those losses returned to you.”

“It was not my loss but my brother’s. I shall not accept one document without the other. Both or neither.”

He breathed a sigh of relief, but he had better not let her see how relieved he was. “An ultimatum. Ultimatums are often dangerous, but I am tempted. Will you promise not to destroy either of them, especially not that drawing?”

“I doubt the drawing is of such deep interest as you say. As a typical man, you will hang it so that the contract is on display, somewhere on board your boat for all to see and snicker over as you boast of it. Oh, look, he owns Caroline Henstridge, body, mind, and soul!”

“I promise you that I shall not do so. You place too much value on it. I told you it is only an inconsequential scrap of paper. It does not give me ownership of you.”

“I shall become a laughing stock along the river, without my honor, my reputation, with this stigma forever haunting me, as though I had approved or even agreed to it, which I did not. Furthermore, with us being seen together, it must be true. It will appear that you took possession of me, and that is what everyone might now assume, seeing us together. They would know that I have nothing.” She had another horrifying thought. “I would not be surprised if they do not already know that we spent the night together in Vicksburg.”

“I said nothing of the kind, and I doubt they will learn of it unless you care to raise your voice a little louder.”

“If my brother were alive, I would kill him myself for this. As for the estate, I hate it. It holds too many bad memories.” She was severely agitated and did not mean what she was saying.

“Good ones too, surely?” He tried to inject a more reasonable view of things.

“They are in the past and still hurt.” He understood.

“Those memories cannot all be painful if they concern that young man that you fell in love with. How would he suggest that you deal with this thorny matter?” She saw him smiling gently at her. She would not answer his curiosity. How might he know of that? She may have told him in Vicksburg that night. She should not have drunk so much of that wine, then or now. “I am a good listener.”

“I do not know you well enough to discuss such personal memories.” Yes, she had forgotten.

“I think you do, Caroline. You are more than a fair judge of character. We spent some time on the Osprey together, though at a distance, except for meals with the captain, and then on this boat where we got to know each other a little better. You observed everything going on around you most keenly. You knew everything there was to know about most persons on the Osprey, including me, though I tried to keep out . . . though I was busy seeing to getting us to New Orleans while the wind was with us. We were more than three weeks in each other’s company then. I cannot believe that you did not form what I had hoped might be a favorable opinion of me over that time. I have never deliberately set out to hurt your feelings.” She had indeed formed an opinion, a most favorable one, but she was not about to compliment him by what she had learned, and not while he was being so disobliging.

“I did form a favorable impression of you. Initially! Then you destroyed it by what you and my brother did, and by what you refuse to do to rectify it.” He smiled at her, as though she were behaving in a childish way. He would give it up to her, but not too easily.

“It is only a mere scrap of paper, much like a piece of biblical verse or a sampler or a charming piece of poetry.”

“I will give you a thousand dollars for it.” He looked at her sharply.

“Like that copper ring of yours, it is worth much more than a thousand dollars to me. Do you have a thousand dollars, Miss Henstridge?” She was looking at him, and her face was pale. He knew that she hadn’t. She did not seem to notice him sliding back to more formality.

“No, but I can get it. I also have jewelry. I would give you that other ring; my grandmother’s, for that contract.”

“We already went over that in another circumstance, and I told you that I would not accept your grandmother’s jewelry.”

“Then five thousand dollars.”

“You do not have one thousand, never mind five.”

“I can get it.”

He looked at her. “Why would you wish to purchase a mere piece of paper that has an unenforceable clause in it, concerning you, and for much more than it is worth?”

“You said it has no value, yet you will not accept money.”

“The drawing has value.” He was tormenting her by being devious. He really did not care so much for that drawing other than for sentimental reasons, but he did place great value in that contract. He had never owned “everything” before of a person, of this woman who did not know him at this moment, or how much she meant to him, even if it was only an illusion of possession.

“I am stuck on this boat with nothing and no means to get at the money I believed I had, thanks to my brother. I have no money that I can easily access. I have nothing, not even a dream left to me, thanks again to my dead brother and you, and I am going to a home that I no longer own to clear out my last few possessions and those of my mother. There is a piece of paper that states that I am now the property of another. You when I am not. Am I?” The wine that she had consumed had dulled her perception of things. He sat by her and reached out for her hand again.

“No. You are neither my property nor anyone else’s, unless you choose to be.” She fell silent and considered that strange statement.

“And if I choose to be, do I get that document back?” Her words shook him. What was she suggesting?

“If you were to choose to be, then it would no longer matter would it? It would then seem that contract—if anyone really knew about it—had been . . . brought to life; given meaning. I do not believe that you would intend that.”

“No. However, I am not sure what my future holds for me anymore. With all the trouble that has followed me once I left that school, I am beginning to wish that I had never left England.”

“You still have a home. I do not profit from the ill-judged mistakes that involve the innocent, or those who are helplessly manipulated by the hand of others. Your brother was being mischievous, but even he did not plan on you knowing of this, and nor did I. I insisted that, win or lose, I would keep this and keep it out of your way. I suppose you could see that as a positive side to all this.”

“What is there that might mitigate or excuse what he did? There is nothing good could come of it.” She was becoming more agitated by his uncooperative attitude.

“If he might ever have claimed to have been your guardian after your father died or had any other familial claim upon you, he relinquished it to this document. He cut you loose, set you free. Symbolically, at least.” She was not sure she understood him or wanted to. He seemed to be torturing the situation to find an excuse for not giving it to her.

She seemed to crumple before his eyes and lay back onto the bed as she closed her eyes with her head turned into the pillow.

Her mind was still functioning, however, as well as her consciousness. She was more than pleased to notice that his pillow smelled only of him and not of that other woman as it would have done if.... It was a reassuring discovery.

He looked down at her. Might she be asleep already? She had consumed half of that second bottle, and it was strong wine.

He removed her shoes and then noticed that her eyes were open again. She also held him tightly by his coat sleeve.

“What must I do to recover that document from you if I promise not to destroy it?” He saw confusion and frustration both in her face. “I think I am beginning to think like those other women whose virtue might be traded for something of greater value.”

He felt alarmed at first hearing that, but then smiled. She was now being disingenuous herself, trying to play an age-old game to get her own way when she seemed to be boxed in. He chuckled almost nervously. He recognized the game she was trying to play with him. “I was brought up to think that a woman held nothing higher in value than her virtue.”

“Once, I might have believed that. Not any longer. Virtue is a commodity like any other and should be used to greatest effect, where it will do the most good. Many women have been faced with that choice, and now it seems that I am too.” He saw a war waging within her, a war between getting her own way and the value that she might place upon virtue on the one hand, and that contract on the other. He was glad to see that she was not used to such a situation, but he had already known that.

“And do you value this piece of paper so highly that you would sell yourself to retrieve it?” He saw the situation so starkly and was not afraid to state it clearly as he saw it. He rescued her before she might dare to answer that question. “No. I cannot allow you to do that, Miss Henstridge. I value your reputation much more than you seem to at this moment, and I shall not allow you to sell yourself so cheaply. I shall give it to you, rather than have you consider doing that.” She closed her eyes and then relaxed with a deep expulsion of breath. He smiled at her obvious relief.

“So you are a gentleman after all! Thank you. I had hoped you might say that.” He began to suspect she was not as inebriated as she had led him to believe and might just be as cleverly devious as he was when the situation demanded it.

“I will give both documents to you for that silver dollar that you carry with you, and on one other condition.”

She was suddenly more awake, waiting for him to tell her his condition.

“That you accept, without question or reservation, both documents and take over the estate as I believe you should and want to. In addition, I would like to see this property and would like to go with you to see it. I will have less than three days before the Caroline returns downriver to pick me up. If you can put up with my obvious lack of feelings, and my distasteful and questionable morals and company for that long, you can show me around this property that I once might have owned so that I might see it through your eyes. That is the entire price that you need to pay me other than for that single dollar.”

He watched the look on her face. “Accept my offer, Miss Henstridge. It is much better for you and safer than yours. I promise that at the end of the third or fourth day, whenever the Caroline comes back downriver, that both documents will be yours without reservation. I request that you do not destroy either of them, especially not that drawing, no matter how much you feel the need to do so.”

“I promise that I shall not destroy it, but at least I shall control it.”

“Thank you. I shall also ask that you not deface the back of it. It can be hidden in another way.”

“I accept.” She reached up and stroked his head by way of thanks as he leaned over her and kissed her on the forehead.

She fell asleep almost immediately in his bed, having got what she wanted and without having to pay as high a price as she had fleetingly considered doing.

“Goodnight, Caroline.” She did not respond. He looked down at her. She really was asleep now. Had that document and those awkward rumors eaten at her so well to exhaust her? It seemed that they had. He stroked her face. “The journey is almost over, my love, just one final step to go, and then all your worries and concerns and pains will no longer exist, and there will be no more Henstridges to torment me as you all have done for the last five years.”

He slid the drawing back into its frame, with the drawing outmost, and hung it back on his wall.

After he had sorted out his clothing for the next morning, he left his cabin and locked it. He would ask one of the girls who looked after the rooms to come back and see to getting her ready for bed. He should have stopped her from consuming that wine. He would check in the pilothouse to let his jangling emotions clear, and then he would go and spend the night in her empty room.

Early the next morning, Caroline awoke to find him sitting at his desk and writing. How he had not awoken her earlier, she could not understand. He had a packed trunk sitting in the middle of the floor and an overnight bag ready, and he must have made some noise doing that.

She seemed to recall that they were both to leave the boat that day but could not remember much of their conversation of the previous night before she had fallen asleep.

“Did I fall asleep here?”

He looked up at her and smiled. “Yes. You did. The wine got to you. I was not sure what to do with you, so I got one of the girls to put you to bed after I left. I slept in your room.” She had been about to ask him where he had slept.

“Oh.” She could not remember any of that. “Where are we?”

“You, we, are in my cabin. Where we are on the river, if that is what you are asking, is close to island 62, and above Mellwood. We left Montgomerie’s Landing five hours ago and have made steady—if slow—progress since then. We get to Helena in about two hours if all goes well, so we have time for breakfast and for you to pack your things away.” She lay still and looked across at him, no more than five feet away from her.

“Last night. I . . . why are you packed also?”

“You forgot so soon? We reached an agreement eventually last night, that I was to go with you for two or three days to help you settle in.”

“I don’t remember that.”

“I expect there are a few things you don’t remember. Strong wine seems to have that effect on you.” She had a peculiar look in her eyes as she strove to remember all that he had said. Some of it she remembered, but she had imagined other parts of it. Another thought caused her breath to catch in her throat.

“I seem to remember a discussion about that contract... property”—her eyes flew to his face—“and virtue. My virtue!” She could not fully or clearly remember and was alarmed by the little she did remember.

“We discussed several things. I was persuaded to give you that contract, and in return you would relinquish to me, something you seemed to value most highly at one time.” He saw her hand rise to her throat in some agony of apprehension as she waiting for him to explain further. “And yes, you remembered correctly; there was discussion in which you raised the subject of the value and perhaps the dispensability of your virtue. You were intent on exploring what use it might be in your efforts to persuade me to give up that contract.” His mentioning that brought most of it back to her now. He saw she was blushing and had a questioning look on her face, but she dare not ask.

“We discussed it, briefly Miss Henstridge, nothing else. After that, or perhaps about then, I relented for my own safety as well as your peace of mind and decided to give you that contract, provided you accepted both documents, the contract and the wager, and you promised not to destroy either of them. The item of such value that I requested of you was this silver dollar that your grandmother gave you. In addition to that, you agreed to show me about your estate until I can catch this boat when it comes downriver again, whenever that might be.”

She sat up in his bed, relieved to find that what she had begun to fear had not happened and that she would be given both documents. She had been presented with something she had feared might never happen. She then realized what he had just said.

“Only two hours!” She quickly threw back her covers swinging her bare legs out of the bed and then grabbed at the sheet again in a panic to cover herself as it fell to the floor.

“You appear to be in your own very charming, but most insubstantial nightdress, Miss Henstridge, and not my heavier nightshirt.”

There was a gentle tap on the door. He smiled at her obvious embarrassment as he stood up to answer it.

“I shall relieve you of my alarming presence and let the girl in to help you again. I hear her outside with hot water and your own clothes for you by now.” He smiled as he left his cabin and sent the girl in with the hot water to find the young woman clutching at her bedclothes and as red as a beet.

She had known that Mr. Wyatt had not spent the night with her. Mr. Wyatt was a true gentleman.

Wyatt closed the door behind himself and closed off that memorable little scene and the vision of her so suddenly revealed to him as he tried to recover his scrambled wits.

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