The Caroline

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New Orleans, 1871

Life is a tragedy, rather than a comedy, though it is wiser to view it as comedy.

One night in New Orleans, almost three years later, all that changed again and almost for the worse. Wyatt had intervened one evening in rescuing a young woman, even two of them—he had not been sure at first—from an apparent assault. He had struck the man down, only to find that the man he was then facing seemed to know him. He fired a gun up at Wyatt and then had leapt to his feet and had drawn his swordstick to finish him.

One of those young women had then intervened and knocked the sword aside so that it did not do as much damage as had been intended, but it had done more than enough. Before he succumbed, however, Wyatt had retrieved the man’s own sword; he recognized him now despite the dark and his growth of a beard—Henstridge—one of the three men who had tried to kill him that night three years before. He shot his own pistol into the man and then pushed that sword into his heart, even as the man shot again into his face.

He remembered nothing else for a few minutes.

When he came to, he heard concerned voices above him. He had been shot twice, perhaps, and had been wounded by that sword; and he was lying on the ground and could not move, but the pain told him that he was still alive. He could not immediately understand what was said until his head cleared from its ringing after that gun had discharged in his face. Whether its bullet had hit him or not, he still could not be sure. The other shot, the first, certainly had, and had knocked him off his feet; but at least he had wrested that sword from Henstridge’s hand before he might do more damage with thatthan he already had. He had then fired his own gun into the man on the ground as he had plunged the sword into the older man’s heart even as that man had fired off another pistol in his face.

Then he heard another speaking, a woman; and this one spoke English with a trace of French while the other woman’s voice had been more in another tongue, that, described as Creole, but which covered many flavors of language and was a mix of many. “Came the hour; came the man. Now it is our part. He most certainly saved all of our lives. But he is gravely wounded and losing a lot of blood.” He felt a warm hand pass gently across his brow. “Can you hear me, m’sieur?”

“Yes.” He groaned more than he spoke. He hurt everywhere.

“Good. You have been shot as well as stabbed. Lie still, and we will get you out of here.” She turned from him and spoke to others even as she was pushing some material into his shirt to staunch the flow of blood and causing him more pain. “We cannot leave him here. We need to get him home and see to those wounds, but he should live. You and Father take him, if Father is not in too much pain. It is only a short distance, and he should be able to walk with your help once he recovers a little. There are others, friendly to us who saw what happened who will help us and say nothing. I shall see to getting rid of this body and hiding its identity, or else there will be too many questions by those in authority that have no love for us. The river is not far, and I know of those who will help me get him there without being seen, and then we’ll strip him and let the river hide another secret.”

Wyatt knew whom they were discussing; the man who had done this to him before he had shot him dead. That man had recognized him before he had recognized who he was dealing with. It had been a surprise for them both but had almost cost Wyatt his life. He heard the young woman speak again.

“I shall need that knife. It would not do for him to be too easily recognized if his body is found before the river deals with him. I have been seen in his company in too many places, and there would be questions to answer that I would rather not be asked. There is one law for the likes of him and another for us.” What was she about to do? He felt little concern for himself. He was not sure what she wanted the knife for, but there had been determination in her voice. He guessed what she might have to do to obscure his identity and no doubt had her own very good reasons for doing it. There were many opportunistic scavengers that dined close to where the steamers tied up. There was always a steady stream of unmentionable refuse and kitchen scraps going overboard; and that body would be regarded no differently once the clothing was off it, and the blood would attract bigger carnivores, some of which lurked under the pilings of piers and built-out landings.

He heard others moving nearby and felt others taking an interest in his wounds as they added more padding to slow the bleeding, though he could not respond to anything said or done to him. He had been unconscious for a while but not for long, and he was beginning to get his wits back. He would be able to move—soon.

This man, I have seen him before.” They were discussing him off to one side. “I’d remember him anywhere with that scar on his forehead, and now he has another one to go with it and two new ones to his body. I did not remember fast enough that that stick was also a sword. He is a pilot on that steamboat that just tied up at the steamboat landing. Jennings’s boat, the Pelican. I’ll get word to the captain, but I’ll tell him as little as I can about this—just that his pilot was set upon, and wounded and will be laid up for a week with us until he recovers. I will tell him no more than thatwhere others might overhear me or see me. I would not like to make trouble for him. Jennings is a kind man who has helped us on several occasions, and he knows us enough to trust what I shall tell him and where to find us later to learn the full story.”

He remembered no more than that. Once they had begun to move him, he must have passed out.

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