What Else Did You Win?
Wyatt felt a sense of unease creeping over him. He spoke quietly.
“All that was of any value, Miss Henstridge.” She detected a hint of evasion once more.
“Value is very subjective, sir, and you are being evasive again. So there was something else. May I see all those papers showing what was conveyed between you and my brother, including that which you say was of no value?” Alarm bells began to sound in his head.
“There, you did not directly deny it.” She looked at him. “I would like to see all those documents for myself to satisfy my female curiosity. I would also like to find out what my brother actually thought he possessed. I have been away almost five years, remember?”
“I destroyed some of them almost immediately—those that I had wagered—and gave the papers and losses back to those others at the table, except for what I personally won from your brother, of course.”
“The others, the ones you did not destroy. I would like to see those. All of them. I believe I should know what my brother wagered and lost.” A portent of what might ensue if she saw that other document began to creep over him.
“They are in my cabin. I will show them to you after dinner.”
“Thank you.” She picked up the wine bottle and emptied it into the glass that contained the little that remained of the lemonade and began to drink it as though she were thirsty. He said nothing. Perhaps if he ordered desert and another bottle of wine and delayed for long enough, he might avoid having to show her something that would be sure to upset her.
“Tell me, Caroline, who told you of the game last night?”
“No one. Not directly.” He detected a flash of anger in her glance. “When I was sitting down for breakfast this morning, I overheard a discussion that I am sure I was not supposed to overhear, and I pieced together what I could of it. Your name was mentioned and so was that of my brother. Then, after I thought I had heard the worst, I heard something else that completely destroyed my peace for the rest of the day, and I resolved to ask you about it, if you dared to appear for dinner.”
“I am here.”
“But not knowing what awaited you. I had the feeling that I was something of a laughing stock. At least I was the subject of covert discussion at more than one table after that, during lunch, and I saw glances directed at me as people snickered behind their hands. Needless to say, I became very curious.”
“Perhaps you were imagining it.”
“Was I? It was happening again this evening just before you appeared, and then they went quiet, but there are those who still glance across at me with a smug look on their smirking faces.”
“At us, Miss Henstridge. At us. They are probably wondering how such a beautiful and vivacious young woman would choose to be seen with a rogue like me, as ill dressed as I must seem to be.” She was not prepared to be fobbed off by that flattering but evasive answer, so he tried another. “Most of them are individuals who frequently travel on this boat and have done so for years; its cuisine is well-known, and they are aware that I rarely dined with anyone before, yet I do now. They are obviously curious about you as we have dined together like this several times. I am sure they are speculating about that.”
“It is most kind of you to say so, sir, but you are being disingenuous again and blowing a lot of smoke around. I will find out eventually, so you would be wiser to give in. I should tell you that if you don’t come clean with me, that I shall accept nothing from you, and shall return to Europe once I have repaid what I owe you.” He fell silent as he thought about that as she continued with her own thoughts.
“My suspicion is that you have something that belongs to me. Something of a very personal nature.” She was firm, and possibly still very angry, though controlling it well.
“You do. You also know that you do, so there is no point in trying to evade it. It is to do with a second wager, even a contract—entirely invalid, of course—that my brother entered into with you, a contract between you and him, not between you and me; yet it involved me in some very personal way that I found disturbing, if it were true.”
“You seem to know much more than I might have given you credit for.” He cursed inwardly that she had found out about that but kept a smile on his face as she continued.
“I overheard more than I was intended to overhear.”
“Possibly. It seems to be common knowledge that a wager was made, and that a considerable amount of property was at stake including this boat, the Caroline; perhaps that is what you heard and hearing your own name and that word wager assumed the wrong thing.” He could see that she was losing patience with him.
“I do not hear an outright denial from you as I would have expected if it were not true. Am I wrong?” He was silent. “Then as you will not lie to me, in answer to a direct question, I must assume that I am right. My suspicions were correct. “There was another contract between you and him and it did involve me in some way. A bill of sale of some kind, I believe, and nothing to do with that estate. I heard disturbing talk of how one Caroline had been wagered and exchanged for another. The implications are disturbing. I still do not understand it fully, but I would like to. I would especially like to see that contract entered into between you and my brother and which mentioned me, by name.” He detected the controlled anger in her voice and remained silent for some moments. He picked up the glass she had filled and drained it as he thought about what she was asking. She seemed to know too much.
They sat for some moments in silence, to enjoy the coffee that they were brought. Somehow, it seemed to have lost its flavor this evening, and tasted bitter.
“Might I suggest, Miss Henstridge, Caroline, my dear”—her eyes flashed to his that he dared be so familiar with her at such a difficult time—“that you strive to keep the anger out of your feelings, even though I know that it is undoubtedly difficult to do so. One cannot control what other people may think, and it does not matter. I shall try to explain all of it to you later. There is nothing destined to confirm various suspicions, than for anyone to see you looking so distinctly unhappy, and undoubtedly angry with me, though when your eyes sparkle like that, it makes you even more beautiful.” She grimaced at him. “If you could try to smile at me, it would make it seem that such a document either cannot exist, or that if it does, that we both perceive it as being meaningless and of nothing important.” She saw the sense of what he was asking. She raised her head and smiled charmingly at him as he reached out and patted her hand, smiling back at her in turn, pleased to see that she was not so utterly annoyed with him or so unaware of others watching, that she pulled away and confirmed anything.