The Caroline

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But, Sir, this is your room, not mine.

He unlocked the door and moved across to the window as Caroline sat in an easy chair near the door. It was beginning to get dark outside, but he could see enough and would be seen in turn as he opened the curtains wide for a few moments as he looked around and then mostly closed them again. His luggage was at the foot of the bed, with his brushes and razor laid out on the dressing table. His nightshirt was also laid out on the bed. She knew that she was not in her own room. She had not drunk so very much as to be confused about it. Perhaps he wanted to continue their conversation.

“Why am I in your room and not my own?” She did not sound scared about that, but was curious.

You are going to sleep in this room this evening.” Her eyes quickly rose to his at what he seemed to be suggesting.

“Oh, sir. I cannot. Surely you know that.” There was amusement rather than concern in her eyes. She thought she might know why he was saying that.

“Yes, you can. There is everything you need here until morning. I am not plotting anything out of place or awkward for you, but I believe that you will be safer here, in my room, while I shall occupy yours. From what the clerk disclosed, I believe we might be able to anticipate an uninvited visitor to your room, later, though I do not seriously believe anyone would be so stupid, after what happened the other night.”


Yes, Miss Henstridge.” He smiled at her. “That! Rather than the other that you might have feared.” He heard her chuckle. She had feared nothing of the kind, and gently took him to task.

Ms. Henstridge. You did so well there for a while using my first name quite often over dinner and even calling me your dear, at least twice.”

“Did I?” He seemed surprised. “It must have slipped out absent-mindedly. Was I so bold and so rash?” He was smiling again. He knew that he had been. She had not objected.

Yes, sir, you were. And how long must I remain here?”

“As long as necessary for your safety. Perhaps until morning or until you hear a shot or sounds of violence from the direction of your room. I would suggest that if you hear anything of the kind that you remain here rather than rush along to find out who may have been injured.” The humor of the situation was quickly lost after that sobering consideration. “There is everything you need here, including a bottle of wine and another of beer.” He decided that he had better take the bottle of wine with him but would not tell her his reasoning. She liked wine but did not have a head for it. “I believe my nightshirt will fit you. It is not as soft or as delicate as yours, I am sure, but better if we leave the luggage as it is and other things as they are. There is no access to the window from outside, and you have your pistol.” He laid it on the table for her once more. “Try not to light a lamp or you might be seen rather than me. I shall knock on your door in the morning, so do not shoot me, and you shall lock your door as soon as I leave. Please.” She nodded and put her arms around him before he might leave. He stood still in surprise and gently held her to him until she stepped away almost apologetically.

“Thank you again. It was a wonderful day.”

“Thank me in the morning. Now, get some sleep, and I shall do the same. It might be wise if you also put the back of that chair under the doorknob after you lock it.” He turned to look at her, ready to say more, but didn’t. “Goodnight, Caroline.”

“Goodnight, Wyatt.” He heard her lock the door behind him and move the chair into position as he had suggested before he cautiously moved the length of the corridor and quietly let himself into her room, unseen by anyone.

It had been a busy day, and she was certainly tired but well fed after that dinner. His nightshirt was laid ready. She had no choice about what she would wear, and the door was secured; so she undressed, placed her own clothes out of sight, and donned his nightshirt, finding that it was not as coarse or as heavy as she had thought it would be, or as long, and the neck was open a little too deep for her, if not for him. Still, it came down to well below her knees. It would have to do. She found a comb among his toiletry on the dresser and combed out her hair in the semi-darkness in front of the mirror. She lay on his bed and waited for the noises outside and inside of the hotel, as well as for those inside her own head to subside. She had drunk too much of the wine. Her foot had not gone to sleep at all, and he may have known that. He had smiled at her in a strange way as she had told that little lie. Another deception! She had not realized that her life was filled with so many until that conversation, and now.

There was the sound of revelry from the bar in the hotel and from another farther down the street. Saturday nights could be expected to be more boisterous than other nights of the week. She had too much to think about to sleep easily. Did Wyatt really believe that there would be another attempt made to get to her? Yes, he did. Where he was now, he would be the one to deal with it again, except this time whoever might attempt anything was now aware that she was armed and could defend herself. They—her brother, if it was him—must surely know what had happened when his friends had not returned despite the unlikely tale that had been circulated about a shot taken at an alligator. She did not believe that alligators were common this far north. He would also know that she was still unharmed and must have put it all together by now.

She heard others mount the stairs to go to their rooms—the dining room had been full, with the hotel fully booked by that afternoon, and most of them had migrated to the hotel bar afterward—and then heard the last revelers in the street outside, moving off to their homes and their beds. The sound of a horse’s hooves on the hard earth signaled what seemed to be the departure of the last person from town before the hotel and the other hostel down the street fell into complete silence. The quiet was disturbed only by the barking of a dog in the distance, the chirping of insects telling each other where they were, and the clearly heard noises from the river not so very far off.

There was too much on her mind to sleep. She felt uncomfortable that someone else would place themselves in danger again just to protect her.

She got out of bed and looked cautiously out of the window, confident that she could not be seen. There was gas lighting along the street; and moths and other insects were attracted to the brighter light, in turn attracting other animals, bats finding a ready feast thanks to the ingenuity of man. There was no one to be seen. She heard the clock below stairs strike twelve, signaling the start of a new day but without fanfare or any other indication that anything of any significance had happened.

She closed her eyes, recollecting what day it now was. It had almost slipped her mind, but today was the seventh of September—her birthday. She was now twenty-three years old. She had almost forgotten it. She had deliberately overlooked it before rather than invite unwanted attention to herself or to encourage fanfare or familiarity in any of the schools where she had taught. She had been told that it was important for a teacher to maintain her dignity and to discourage any appearance of personal pride or allow any untoward familiarity from any of her students, some of whom were only a year or two younger than herself. Those times and memories (mostly fairly pleasant, except for the reasons that had put her there) were a world away, and she was not sure she would ever choose to return to them, though she might have to, eventually.

She made up her mind what she would do. She did not need to dress again. It was dark where she was going, and it was too warm anyway. She cautiously and silently removed the chair from under the door handle and slowly turned the key. She cracked the door open a fraction and looked down the corridor. It was empty, of course, though there was a small lamp left burning upon the table at the top of the stairs. It would be burning there all night.

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