An unexpected turn of events.
“What are you suggesting?” No gentleman would discuss his sister in any kind of company, and especially not this one as he seemed prepared to do.
“I will have to put my Caroline, my sister, as well as the estate against this other Caroline. One Caroline for another. I hope you see that I have no choice. Yes. I know that she represents a liability against that estate with her grandmother dying with nothing of any value to leave to her, so I must somehow see that she is looked after for her sake, and I will have nothing left to me if you win. I have several friends in New Orleans who would help me, so it is not as though I will wind up entirely destitute, but she could not possibly take on my lifestyle after that, and I would not choose to drag her along with me any more than she would choose to go.” He made it all seem so plausible. He had no such obligation to his sister but was feeling mischievous. He had seen the mutual interest that Wyatt and his sister had shown in each other’s company.
He was treading on dangerous ground but did not too much care. After tonight, nothing would matter. When he won, as he was sure to, he could decide what to do about her if she did not leave of her own accord. The sudden thought of wagering her in the game intrigued him. It might also intrigue the man sitting opposite him and draw him more securely into the game, even if nothing could come of it. He smiled, wondering if he dare go further with what he was thinking, even though he had gone halfway with it already.
He had tried to solve that same difficulty in a more decisive way with his sister the other night, but it seemed to have failed, and he had not heard back from those he had sent to do what they had been paid to do. He would have to deal with it eventually if he could not solve that problem now and drive her back off downriver. It would be worth giving her the $2,000 she expected, or even twice that, if it would see her gone. If, however, she insisted on getting off with him opposite Helena and going to her former home, there would be another opportunity to be rid of her, though it would not be easy. He would need to think about it later. She would have to have a fatal accident that others might accept as an accident, or he would be held responsible, and that would not do. Better to get rid of her this way if possible. It would work out the same way in the end, he would see to that.
“If I lose this bet then I will be reduced to penury, and my sister will have been entirely denied the income that she might have had coming to her from the estate. It seems only fair that the winner of that same estate, if it is you, should continue that obligation where I will not be able to. I assure you that it will stand it.” He smiled. “Besides, she is not entirely unattractive to you. You dine with her most mealtimes and evenings. However, I realize that it is very irregular, but I must consider her comfort too. She is, after all, my sister.” Everyone at the table knew that his supposed concern for his sister was a sham.
He hurried to correct himself, realizing that he might be offending everyone at the table. “Of course, she is no more a chattel to be passed on than a slave might have been in a time not so long ago. We are speaking not of a person but of a financial obligation, and she will not find out about this from me. I must still see to her welfare and her security if I can, and this seems to be the best and only way to do it if I lose. Of course, it should also be done properly and with some consideration for honor and propriety, especially if there might be a time when she learns of this, which, of course, she will not.”
He could see the effect his suggestion had upon the man opposite him and could see the gradual dawning of interest, if nothing else. Perhaps they had shared much more in Vicksburg than he might have suspected from what the maid had told him, though that, had been more than enough to raise a question of honor. He had better not touch upon that, however.
“As her guardian, which I was, I suppose, after our father died I could have arranged a marriage for her had she been here. Many women find their husbands that way. Perhaps she is as interested in you, as you seem to be in her, though you may also be married already, and marriage may be out of the question, or you may already have formed an antipathy toward her.” She had had that effect upon him within two minutes of their own first meeting after five years of not seeing each other.
“I am not married.”
“There you are then. There is nothing to say that you need to act on any of this if you do not wish to or that she needs to find out about it. I doubt she will stay long in this area anyway. There is nothing here for her. Her grandmother is dead, and our mother is somewhere in the East, and she has nothing. She will go back to Europe soon.”
Wyatt listened patiently and calmly rather than take obvious offence at what he was saying or by responding to his outrageous suggestion concerning his own sister.
“I watched you both for the last few days. You seem to get on well together. You spend a lot of time together of an evening as you sit and talk. You even managed to persuade her to go off beyond Vicksburg with you in that carriage, which I could not have imagined her doing with a relative stranger, and no other woman with her to serve as chaperone upon such a short meeting.
The others at the table held back from voicing any comment, satisfied to let Wyatt play the game he had started. They had been warned what the ending would be. He would deserve it.
“You could take her off my hands and do us both a favor. She is not unattractive, though her tongue can be too sharp most of the time. She is a little too outspoken perhaps; but the right man, a firm husband, if that thought is not too unappealing, would soon cure her of that.” Wyatt was silent, willing to let him ramble further.
“I cannot say it any more clearly. That if you win, you must take her, this financial obligation, off my hands.” This bringing his sister into the wager had been a masterful touch as a further inducement to draw his opponent in, as he seemed more than a little interested in her. When he won, as he knew he was sure to do, he would offer his sister up anyway as a consolation prize and as a means of being rid of her altogether once he told her that it had been Wyatt who had suggested such a wager and had even insisted on it. He could easily feign being shocked. It might solve all his problems and give her a poke in the eye. She had seemed to have formed an attachment herself for him, so he could burst that little bubble too. She would be all too ready to go back to Europe after that, and he would not have to do anything else to soil his hands.