“You have thought my offer over, then?” he said.
“I have,” I replied, “and felt it best to tell you my decision as soon as possible.”
He folded his arms, and his face cracked into a triumphant smirk. “You come to make your demands, then? How much is my daughter worth?”
“How much were you willing to pay?”
It was my turn to smile though I was careful not to overdo it. He was dangerous, Emmett Scott. I was playing a dangerous game with a dangerous man.
“That’s right. I have decided to go to the West Indies.”
I knew where I could reach Dylan Wallace. I had given Caroline the news.
He seemed to think, tapping his fingertips together.
“But you don’t intend to stay away permanently.”
“These were not the terms of my offer.”
“Not quite the terms of your offer, no,” I said. “In effect, a counteroffer. A measure I hope will find your favour. I am a Kenway, Mr. Scott, I have my pride. That I hope you will understand. Understand too that I love your daughter, however much that fact may ail you, and wish nothing but the best for her. I aim to return from my travels a rich man and with my fortune give Caroline the life she deserves. A life, I’m sure, you would wish for her.”
He was nodding, though the purse of his lips betrayed his utter contempt for the notion.
“I give you my word I will not return to these shores until I am a rich man.”
“And I give you my word I will not tell Caroline that you attempted to buy her back.”
He darkened. “I see.”
“I ask only to be given the opportunity to make my fortune—to provide for Caroline in the manner to which she has become accustomed.”
“You will still be her husband—it is not what I wanted.”
“You think me a good-for-nothing, not fit to be her husband. I hope to prove you wrong. While I am away you will no doubt see more of Caroline. Perhaps if your hatred of me runs so deeply you might use the opportunity to poison her against me. The point is, you would have ample opportunity. Moreover, I might die while at sea, in which case she is returned to you forever, a young widow, still at an eligible age. That is my deal. In return I ask only that you allow me to try and make something of myself, unhindered.”
He nodded, considering the idea, perhaps savouring the thought of my dying while at sea.
Dylan Wallace assigned me to the crew of the Emperor, docked in Bristol harbour and leaving in two days. I returned home and told my mother, father and Caroline.
There were tears, of course, and recriminations and pleas to stay, but I was firm in my resolve. After I had broken my news, Caroline, distraught, left. She needed time to think, she said, and we stood in the yard and watched her gallop away—to her family, where, at least she would give the news to Emmett Scott, who would know I was fulfilling my part of the deal. I could only hope—or, should I say, I hoped at the time—that he would fulfil his part of the deal also.
Sitting here talking to you now, all these years later, it has to be said that I don’t know whether he did. But I will. Shortly, I will, and there will be a day of reckoning . . .
But not then. Then, I was young, stupid, arrogant and boastful. I was so boastful that once Caroline was away, I took to the taverns again, and perhaps found that some of my old liveliness had returned, as I took great delight in telling all who would listen that I was to sail away; that Mr. and Mrs. Edward Kenway would soon be a rich couple thanks to my endeavours on the high seas. I boasted about it, in fact. I took great delight in their sneering looks, their rejoinders, either that I was too big for my boots, or that I did not have enough character for the task; that I would soon return with my tail between my legs; that I was letting down my father.
Not once did I let my grin slip. My knowing grin that said, “You’ll see.”
But even with the booze inside me and my departure a day or so away—or maybe even because of those things—I still took their words to heart. I asked myself, Do I really have enough of a man inside me to survive the life of a privateer? Am I going to return with my tail between my legs? And yes, I might die.
Also, they were right: I was letting my father down. I’d seen the disappointment in his eyes the moment I delivered the news and it had remained there since. It was a sadness, perhaps that his dream of running the farm together—fading as it must have been—had finally been dashed for good. I was not just leaving to embrace a new life but wholeheartedly rejecting my old one. The life he had built for himself, my mother and me. I was rejecting it. I’d decided I was too good for it.
Perhaps I never gave enough thought to the effect that all of this might have on Caroline’s relationship with my mother and father, but looking back now, it is ludicrous to me to have expected her simply to remain at the farm.
One night, I returned home, to find her dressed up.
“Where are you going?” I slurred, having spent most of the evening in a tavern.
She was unable to meet my gaze. By her feet was a bedsheet tied into a bulging parcel, somehow at odds with her attire, which, as I focused on her, I realized was more smart than usual.
“I . . .” Finally her eyes met mine. “My parents have asked me to go and live with them. And I’d like to.”
“What do you mean, ‘live with them’? You live here. With me.”
She told me that I shouldn’t have given up work with Father. It was a decent wage and I should have been happy with what I had.
I should have been happy with her.
Through a fog of ale I tried to tell her that I was happy with her. That everything I was doing, I was doing for her. She had been talking to her parents while she was away, of course, and while I had expected her father to begin poisoning her against me, that muckworm, I hadn’t expected him to start quite so soon.
“Decent wage?” I raged. “That job was near to robbery. You want to be married to a peasant the whole of your life?”
I had spoken too loudly. A look passed between us and I cringed to think of my father hearing. And then she was leaving, and I was calling after her, still trying to persuade her to stay.
To no avail, and the next morning, when I’d sobered up and recalled the events of the night before, Mother and Father were brooding, staring at me with recriminatory looks. They liked—I’d go as far as saying loved—Caroline. Not only was she a help around the farm, but Mother had lost a daughter many years ago, so to her Caroline was the daughter she never had.