The Caroline

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Following through.

Early the next morning, she awoke to find him sitting at his desk and writing. How he had not awoken her earlier, she could not understand. He had a packed trunk sitting in the middle of the floor and an overnight bag ready, and he must have made some noise doing that.

She seemed to recall that they were both to leave the boat that day but could not remember much of their conversation of the previous night before she had fallen asleep.

“Did I fall asleep here?”

He looked up at her and smiled. “Yes. You did. The wine got to you. I was not sure what to do with you, so I got one of the girls to put you to bed after I left. I slept in your room.” She had been about to ask him where he had slept.

“Oh.” She could not remember any of that. “Where are we?”

You, we, are in my cabin. Where we are on the river, if that is what you are asking, is close to island 62, and above Mellwood. We left Montgomerie’s Landing five hours ago and have made steady—if slow—progress since then. We get to Helena in about two hours if all goes well, so we have time for breakfast and for you to pack your things away.” She lay still and looked across at him, no more than five feet away from her.

“Last night. I . . . why are you packed also?”

“You forgot so soon? We reached an agreement, eventually, last night that I was to go with you for two or three days to help you settle in.”

“I don’t remember that.”

“I expect there are a few things you don’t remember. Strong wine seems to have that effect on you.” She had a peculiar look in her eyes as she strove to remember all that he had said. Some of it she remembered, but she had imagined other parts of it. Another thought caused her breath to catch in her throat.

“I seem to remember a discussion about that contract, property”—her eyes flew to his face—“and virtue. My virtue!” She could not fully or clearly remember and was alarmed by the little she did remember.

“We discussed several things. I was persuaded to give you that contract, and in return you would relinquish to me, something you seemed to value very highly at one time.” He saw her hand rise to her throat in some agony of apprehension as she waiting for him to explain further. “And yes, you remembered correctly; there was discussion in which you raised the subject of the value and perhaps the dispensability of your virtue. You were intent on exploring what use it might be in your efforts to persuade me to give up that contract.” His mentioning that brought most of it back to her now. He saw she was blushing and had a questioning look on her face, but she dare not ask.

“We discussed it, briefly Miss Henstridge, nothing else. After that, or perhaps about then, I relented, for my own safety as well as your peace of mind, and decided to give you that contract, provided you accepted both documents, the contract and the wager, and you promised not to destroy either of them. The item of such value that I requested of you was this silver dollar that your grandmother gave you. In addition to that, you agreed to show me about your estate until I can catch this boat when it comes downriver again, whenever that might be.”

She sat up in his bed, relieved to find that what she had begun to fear had not happened and that she would be given bothdocuments. She had been presented with something she had feared might never happen. She then realized what he had just said.

“Only two hours!” She quickly threw back her covers swinging her bare legs out of the bed and then grabbed at the sheet again in a panic to cover herself as it fell to the floor.

“You appear to be in your own very charming, but most insubstantial nightdress, Miss Henstridge, and not my heavier nightshirt.”

There was a gentle tap on the door. He smiled at her obvious embarrassment as he stood up to answer it.

“I shall relieve you of my alarming presence and let the girl in to help you again. I hear her outside with hot water and your own clothes for you by now.” He smiled as he left his cabin and sent the girl in with the hot water to find the young woman clutching at her bedclothes and as red as a beet.

She had known that Mr. Wyatt had not spent the night with her. Mr. Wyatt was a true gentleman.

Wyatt closed the door behind himself and closed off that memorable little scene and the vision of her so suddenly revealed to him, as he tried to recover his scrambled wits.

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