The Caroline

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Madame de Tourneau

Caroline drove up to her grandmother’s house later that afternoon after hasty preparations. She would be able to tell her what she now must do, and advise her.

She could see her grandmother in the garden, tending to her flowers and keeping an eye open for her granddaughter. Hannah had told her she would be expected. There seemed to have been a conspiracy working behind her back: Henry, Hannah, and even her own grandmother. The old woman dropped everything when she saw her and embraced her warmly even as she impatiently removed all those first questions.

“Yes, yes, I am well. You look well also. We can cover all of that later.” She sniffed and wiped at her eyes. “I expected you, my dear. You didn’t waste any time; but five years is too, too long.” She held her off at arm’s length with tears in her eyes. She approved of what she saw. “You have changed for the better, I think. You have matured. I like everything about you. Your hair is to be envied, and your clothing is of the best style. I knew that those relatives still in France might be of some use to you, eventually. You have some color in your cheeks. I expect Henry did that for you.” She looked at her closely. “Though not what he would have most liked to have done with you after all these years.” She saw her granddaughter blush, remembering all of the not-so-innocent things that they had got up to together. Others seemed to know about them, too.

“You say you expected me?”

“Yes. I did. Henry was through earlier today and told me that you would very likely not be far behind him, but he was not sure what kind of a mood you might be in over him not telling you at the outset who he was. I gather you were not very . . . hospitably inclined, and wanted him gone.” Caroline looked downcast.

“I recovered from that when I found out who he really was, which I did even as I awoke this morning. I rushed along to see him, but he had already gone.”

“Yes, he thought it might get dangerous for you both about then, leaving his things out for you to find as he did, and Hannah, helping the process along. He was not sure whether you would embrace him or shoot him. He laughed when he said that. So why are you here, my dear? As if I didn’t know. No, we can cover that later. Come inside and rest first. Josh is perfectly capable of seeing to the horses. I suppose I should tell you that I know everything!”

“You do?”

“Oh yes. Henry was most forthcoming. Even about that damned contract that put your back up, which I think you may have brought with you.” Caroline nodded. “Good. We will need that. Poor man. He almost went mad at first when he found that you had gone, five years ago, and no way for him to find out where. Those first three years must have been agony for him until he wrote again to me and I was able to steer him in his quest. He spent the last two years, on and off, over in Europe looking for you.”

“He did?” She was pale. She had not known that, though she had suspected it when she had seen letters she had written to her grandmother among his belongings.

“He did! Then what does he discover when he finds you but that you did not even know him. Not surprising with that damned scar on his brow, which you cannot have known about, and that beard he grew so that no one else of your family would recognize him. After Robert went, so could that beard.” She realized that she had monopolized the conversation again.” She took her hand and kissed it. “I am sorry. I have not seen you for five years, and I have so much to share, but I promise that I shall listen for long enough this time, if you will tell me again why you came.”

“I need your help.”

Her grandmother smiled at her. “Of course you do. Not still angry with him, are you, that he didn’t tell you who he was?”

“No. I got over that. I didn’t make it easy for him, and nor did the circumstances we kept getting caught up in.”

“He told me. So what kind of help?”

“I need to find Henry.”

“You found him already! Or I should say he found you.”

“Yes, but I didn’t know who he was until he had gone, and I find that I have so much to say to him now. I knew him as Wyatt until this morning. Now I need to find Henry. My Henry! Will you help me? If I don’t find him soon, I will very likely die of a broken heart.”

“People do not die of a broken heart. When you do find him, you will very likely die of too much happiness, but I doubt that too. Yes, I will help you if you will put yourself entirely into my hands without argument or reservation. We have to get it right this time.”

“I will.”

“Good. Henry left a few hours ago, and there is no point in thinking of going after him. He told me all that I needed to know, and you have just confirmed it. I thought about it while I pruned those shrubs. We hatched together what we would do with you, but now that I think about it, I have a much better plan than the one we thought up.

“I have some letters to write first, however, so why don’t you and Josh go and get something to eat while I see to those? Josh can take them back with him tonight, but goodness knows we have little enough time now. Still, there should be enough people to get it organized the way it should be done.” She looked at her granddaughter, who seemed to be waiting for an explanation of what she meant. “Don’t ask, my dear. You will find out soon enough. When you’ve eaten, come and find me if I do not seek you out, and bring that drawing with you. Now go, and freshen up and eat. You know your way about even after five years.” She shooed her off and went off to her escritoire as she hurriedly composed several letters to go off with Josh later that day.

After she had composed her letters and had given them to Josh, with strict instructions to see where they went, she went in search of Caroline. She found her looking out of the window in the large parlor, able to see the river, glistening in the distance, except she saw nothing. She might as well have been standing in front of a wall. Her mind was in another world.

“Now, my love, what is there about this contract that Henry told me about?”

Caroline went over to a canvas pack that Josh had left, unpacked that drawing, took it from its frame, and let her grandmother read what had been written on the back of it. The old woman read it quickly and placed it on the table.

“Damn Robert! Clumsy as blazes but deviously clever too. He deserved to die for this alone. He intended to get rid of you one way or another. I can understand why Henry wanted to hold on to it if you were being difficult, but it is far too awkwardly done. I am sure that with a little thought, it could be done so much better, and we will. We have a day or more to sit and exchange stories and to do something about this and for me to plan the rest of it. We are meeting Henry on the river above here, you and I, the day after tomorrow.” Caroline had not known that. “Today is Friday. He will be down this way on Sunday, after they leave Memphis. There is time to do what we need to do.”

Caroline knew nothing of what they might have planned. “But what will I say to him when I see him? What must I do when I see him, when I meet him? How must I behave? I will want to overwhelm him on the one hand and . . . and . . .”

“Stick with the first, my dear. He’ll be most happy with just that, but who will overwhelm whom will not matter. Leave what happens after that to me and to him to sort out. Men have a way of taking over certain things once they get the bit between their teeth, if you have not already noticed. I thought you would have discovered that by now. Except he didn’t did he when he had you alone in that hotel room in Vicksburg and you wearing only that nightshirt of his. Not like him at all to let you get away with that. Ah, well, you will make up for that I expect this next time. You made it hard enough on you both that whatever we do after this will seem easy now.”

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