The Caroline

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Not murder. Justice. Retribution.

“Murder? An awkward and unsettling word that. Murder was what you all intended for me just over five years ago and even now, if you get the chance. I made sure I would take at least one of you with me that night, and Jefferson was the closest. I defended myself against your father some years after that, as I told you. He paid with his life for what he intended again. His body went into the river, but I already told you that, and his belongings were cleaned out of his hotel. By doing that, killing him, I did society in general a great favor and made some new friends. You met three of them at the table tonight.” He watched him carefully.

“Your grandmother thanked me too when I eventually told her what I had done.”

“She’s dead!”

“She’s not dead. Neither then, nor now, but it was a very nice funeral.” Henstridge did not understand what he was hearing. “She wanted it believed that she had passed on, however, to bring an end to your family’s plotting to rob her or to see her dead. I became her protector too but at a distance, and I was the one who purchased her estate—for a dollar, would you believe—after she . . . ‘died.’ I then changed its name and saw that she was surrounded by those who could protect her if you ever found out what we had done. She is no more dead than I am. She will even outlive you.”

“So you do intend to murder me, to shoot me in cold blood?”

“You mean much as you would have dealt with me as well as your sister? No. She survived your first bungled attempt by those two men with my help, though I was a little too slow off the mark. I suppose they were to smother her in her bed, or knife her, and then drop her overboard.” He thought about that. “I am tempted, but no. I am not as unsporting as you were that night on the Landing. You still have your knife. I will give you a ten-second start out of that door, and then I shall come after you. There is no point in dragging it out any longer than that. The river will be a close and sure refuge for you if you dare take it. Unfortunately, we are nowhere near the bank, so it will be a long swim. I will not follow you there in the dark. At least I don’t think I will.”

“I cannot swim! And you have my gun and one of your own.” He watched as Wyatt took the loads out of both pistols.

Now, like you, I have only a knife, but I shall leave that here too.” He laid it on the table.

“I suspect we might be fairly evenly matched if I do that to make up for that infirmity that I once gave you when I tried to kill you before. Ten seconds start, remember. Do not try to involve anyone else or break into your cabin for another gun, or I shall not feel inclined to treat you with mercy when we meet up. I shall make it fast for you unless you choose the river. However, if you can kill me or wound me, you can then recover this”—he patted his pocket where that paper on the estate resided—“and may then be more relaxed in your escape. You might even be able to get to the skiff on the first raft, but don’t bet on it. I also suggest that you forget about trying to return to that estate, if you do escape. There are others who will be after you then.”

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