The Caroline

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He was 'almost' alive!

“Almost!

By the time he got to the water, then, no! I told you that he died in . . . almost an accident.” She had to giggle at the almost devious way he said that. What he was saying and suggesting so flippantly, almost flippantly, did not seem to upset her.

“Almost?”

“The stern wheel, which he fell into with some little assistance from me after your brother and I struggled, has little clearance for a man to squeeze into, and those blades on the wheel”—he shook his head as he thought of it—“they do a lot of damage. If he had survived that, he would have found some way, somehow, to kill me when I might least expect it, then the others at the table who had also witnessed his loss soon after that, and then you also. I could not allow that. I had not planned on telling you any of this, but you are quite persistent.”

“Do you realize that you and I are sitting here having dinner together, drinking wine and discussing your. . . murder…whatever you did to him . . . of my own brother, and I am not sure I can or should believe it, but why would you lie? You told me you would not lie to me.”

“It is true. Are you distressed over his death or my admitting that I almost killed him? I intended to kill him. If you are distressed, I shall feel some regret but not much.” She thought for a few moments.

“No. After what my brothers and father did and what he tried to do to me on this very boat, why should I be distressed? If I am honest about it, I am relieved. Who else knows of this?”

You and I know how he died because I just told you. Leonie and her father know that he is dead but do not know how he died. No one else knows anything except that he is no longer on the boat, and I think it should stay that way.”

He raised his wine glass and drank to her as he smiled. She did not look distressed. “You are now free, Miss Henstridge, and can claim back your estate. Your grandmother will be pleased by all this, the way it worked out, even if she does not yet know how it happened, though she soon will.” She glanced at him sharply. He seemed to know a lot about her grandmother.

“If I had not told you what had happened, you would eventually have discovered that he did not join you or those cattle going ashore, and then it might seem reasonable to assume that he had somehow gone missing for whatever reason, like your father, or had fallen into the river in a drunken stupor, as you said; and after a suitable period of time waiting for him and hearing nothing, you would have to assume that he was dead from some accident. You would become the sole surviving heir. You could then take over the estate that you once loved. I think you must have loved it deeply at one time, and it would not be too difficult to accept that—with your brother gone—it would become yours. I doubt his body will be found, and even if it is, I doubt he will be recognized with the damage that the wheel did to him. I think it may also have dismembered him.” He saw her shiver at that thought.

“Sorry!”

“Except I now know how I would have gained it. It does not seem right.” She regarded him with some suspicion. “Why would you give it away so easily? You won it from him.” He reached over and took her hand. She did not pull away.

“I do not want it because I did not win it fairly, as I told you, and I have no right to it. It is yours by right. I shall not claim it. In fact, I will deny ever having won it. You will inherit it, regardless.”

“An ethical cheat, no less! I am not sure that I want it with such a tale behind it.” She was being stubborn.

“Please think about it. I do not want it. One should never look a gift horse in the mouth, Miss Henstridge, Caroline.”

“If I decide I want nothing to do with it, what will you do with it?”

“I told you. I shall go about my business on the river, and I shall deny having won it, despite this conversation.”

“You would lie!”

“Yes, Miss Henstridge, I would lie about it to another where I will not lie to you. Furthermore, I shall destroy all evidence that I did win it so that you must inherit your estate. Otherwise, I shall keep it for you until you change your mind, but I should warn you that it would go downhill very quickly with me on the river, and you vowing not to accept it from me out of some stubborn mood. In that regard, I was hoping you might help me there and take it over as you would have done had you learned none of this. You would be helping yourself.”

“It was in debt. What if the bank decides to foreclose before I can bring it about?”

“It won’t!”

How did he know that?

“It is very deep in debt. I am sure he didn’t tell you that when he wagered it.”

“He didn’t need to tell me. I already knew. It made no difference to me. Those debts will be easily settled once it is properly managed as I believe you used to do. I am sure the estate would rapidly recover under your care, whereas I know little about running an estate.” She looked at him, seeing him still smiling at her. He was hard to read.

“Another of those qualifying and very subjective words that I have learned to listen for from you. I suspect that the littleyou know is much more than my brother knew.”

He smiled at her understanding of him now. “I have been on the river and at sea for several years, but yes, I do know something about running an estate. I will not deny it, but not as much as you do, even after being away from it for those years you were in Europe.”

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