I shouldn’t have done it really, Wilson was not a man to provoke, but I couldn’t help myself and returned his death threat with a cheeky wink.

TEN

That was how Bristol came to know that Edward Kenway, a sheep-farmer worth a mere seventy-five pounds a year, was to marry Caroline Scott.

What a scandal it was: Caroline Scott marrying beneath her would have been cause for gossip enough. That she had spurned Matthew Hague in the process constituted quite a stir, and I wonder if that scandal might ultimately have worked in our favour, because while I steeled myself for retribution—and for a while I looked for Wilson round every corner, and my first glance from the window to the yard each morning was filled with trepidation—none came. I saw nothing of Wilson, heard nothing of Matthew Hague.

In the end, the threat to our marriage came not from outside—not from the Cobleighs, Emmett Scott, Matthew Hague or Wilson. It came from the inside. It came from me.

I’ve had plenty of time to think about the reasons why, of course. The problem was that I kept returning to my meeting with Dylan Wallace and his promises of riches in the West Indies. I wanted to go and return to Caroline a rich man. I had begun to see it as my only chance of making a success of myself. My only chance of being worthy of her. For, of course, yes, there was the immediate glory, or perhaps you might say stature, of having made Caroline Scott my wife, taking her from beneath the nose of Matthew Hague, but that was soon followed by a kind of . . . well, I can only describe it as stagnation.

Emmett Scott had delivered his cutting blow at the wedding. We should have been grateful, I suppose, that he and Caroline’s mother had deigned to attend. Although for my own part I was not at all grateful and I would have preferred it if the pair of them had stayed away. I hated to see my father, cap in hand, bowing and scraping to Emmett Scott, hardly a nobleman after all, just a merchant, separated from us, not by any aristocratic leanings but by money alone.

For Caroline, though, I was glad they came. It wasn’t as if they approved of the marriage, far from it; but at the very least, they weren’t prepared to lose their daughter over it.

I overheard her mother—“We just want you to be happy, Caroline”—and knew that she was speaking for me alone. In the eyes of Emmett Scott I saw no such desire. I saw the look of a man who had been denied his chance to clamber so much higher up the social ladder, a man whose dreams of great influence had been dashed. He came to the wedding under sufferance, or perhaps for the pleasure of delivering his pronouncement in the churchyard after the vows were made.

Emmett Scott had black hair brushed forward, dark, sunken cheeks and a mouth pinched permanently into a shape like a cat’s anus. His face, in fact, wore the permanent expression of a man biting deep into the flesh of a lemon.

Except for this one occasion, when his lips pressed into a thin smile and he said, “There will be no dowry.”

His wife, Caroline’s mother, closed her eyes tightly as though it was a moment she’d dreaded, had hoped might not happen. Words had been exchanged, I could guess, and the last of them had belonged to Emmett Scott.

So we moved into an outhouse on my father’s farm. We had appointed it as best we could, but it was still, at the end of the day, an outhouse: packed mud and sticks for the walls, our roof thatch badly in need of repair.

Our union had begun in the summer, of course, when our home was a cool sanctuary away from the blazing sun, but in winter, in the wet and wind, it was no kind of sanctuary at all. Caroline had been used to a brick-built town house with the life of Bristol all around, servants to boot, her washing, her cooking, every whim attended to. Here she was not rich. She was poor and her husband was poor. With no prospects.

I began visiting the inns once more, but I was not the same man as before, not as I’d been in the days when I was a single man, the cheerful, boisterous drunk, the jester. Sitting there, I had the weight of the world on my shoulders, and I sat with my back to the room, hunched, brooding over my ale, feeling as though they were all talking about me, like they were all saying, “There’s Edward Kenway, who can’t provide for his wife.”

I had suggested it to Caroline, of course. Me becoming a privateer. While she hadn’t said no—she was still my wife, after all—she hadn’t said yes, and in her eyes was the doubt and worry.

“I don’t want to leave you alone, but I can leave here poor and come back rich,” I told her.

Now, if I was to go, I went without her blessing and I left her alone in a farmyard shack. Her father would say I had deserted her, and her mother would despise me for making Caroline unhappy.

I couldn’t win.

“Is it dangerous?” she asked one night, when I spoke about privateering.

“It wouldn’t be so highly paid if it wasn’t,” I told her, and, of course, she reluctantly agreed that I could go. She was my wife, after all, what choice did she have? But I didn’t want to leave her behind with a broken heart.

• • •

One morning, I awoke from a drunken stupor, blinking in the morning light, only to find Caroline already dressed for the day ahead.

“I don’t want you to go,” she said, then turned and left the room.

• • •

One night I sat in the Livid Brews. I’d like to say I was not my usual self, as I sat with my back to the rest of the tavern hunched over my tankard, taking great big gulps in between dark thoughts and watching the level fall. Always, watching the level of my ale fall.

But the sad fact of the matter was that I was my usual self. That younger man, that rogue always ready with a quip and a smile, had disappeared. In his place, still a young man but one who had the cares of the world on his shoulders.

On the farm Caroline helped Mother, who at first had been horrified by the idea, saying Caroline was too much of a lady to work on the farm. Caroline had just laughed and insisted. At first when I watched her stride across the same yard where I had first seen her sitting astride her horse, currently wearing a crisp white bonnet, work boots, a smock and apron, I’d had a proud feeling. But seeing her in work-clothes had come to be a reminder of my own failings as a man.

What made it worse somehow was that Caroline didn’t seem to mind; it was as though she was the only person in the area who did not see her current position as a descent down the social ladder. Everybody else did, and none felt it more keenly than I.

“Can I get you another ale?” I recognized the voice that came from behind me and turned to see him there: Emmett Scott, Caroline’s father. I’d last seen him at the wedding, when he refused his daughter her dowry. But here he was, offering his hated son-in-law a drink. That’s the thing about the drink, though. When you’re into the drink like I was, when you watch the level of your ale fall and wonder where your next one is coming from, you’ll take a fresh mug from anyone. Even Emmett Scott. Your sworn enemy. A man who hated you almost as much as you hated him.

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