An End is just a Different Beginning
The law of unintended consequences stipulates that, all too often, what we strive to avoid is what we actually precipitate.
Lord Penfield looked up from the news-sheet he was reading as one of his two sons entered the library. He put down his magnifying glass and sat back. He would pick up where he left off at some later time and finish off his correspondence after dinner.
He hesitated for a moment, not sure how to address the young man. It was always difficult to tell the two brothers apart, especially when they tended to dress the same and to affect the same mannerisms, as well as having the same tastes in most things. They didn’t help clear up the confusion when they sometimes responded to the other’s name out of some deviltry, though they had not done that for several years now, that he was aware of.
He suspected that there was a lot that he was not aware of. He tended not to inquire into those things. It usually didn’t matter which of the two it was; they had both been too ripe for trouble when they were younger, and Robert still was. Some tender issues were best not discussed if you were not sure which of the twins you were talking to.
Lord Penfield had eventually hit upon what he had thought had been an ingenious plan to tell the two apart when he had given the elder son, Charles—if it was Charles who was the elder (they had lost track of that a few moments after they'd both been born, almost twenty-one years ago)—a ring that had belonged to his grandfather, when Charles had reached his twentieth birthday. Robert was given a pistol, as he seemed to have a fondness for guns as well as an unnerving aptitude in their use. That ring had become the only point of difference between the two.
Charles always wore his grandfather’s ring, except his hand was in his pocket so it was not obvious which of the two young men it might be; Charles, with that ring on his finger, or Robert, with a recent cut on his hand. Nonetheless, it was Charles. It had to be. He had asked Robert to meet with him at eleven, and the clock showed that it was still a quarter to that hour.
Robert, was either packing or was with his mother bidding his goodbyes to her. Lord Penfield preferred to leave those inevitably teary moments to the womenfolk. He would miss his son in a thousand different ways but was not about to shed tears over it. All young men should be encouraged to strike out on their own for a while, but Robert was not so much being encouraged, as eased out of his home. That was what happened to 'younger' sons.
He was glad to see that Charles had changed his clothes after being out riding earlier that morning. It would not do to present a ruffled appearance to one’s fiancée, though she would not arrive at Penfield for another three or four hours or more; some time after Robert had departed for the last time from this estate. She would be there for the entire month until the date of their marriage. It was a good match. Selena was very young, only nineteen, but she was the right one for Charles. She had never met Robert, and everyone, especially Lady Penfield, intended that it would stay that way. That was the main reason Robert was being sent away.
Selena’s parents and her much younger sister, Sophia, would be no more than a week or two behind her. Charles would take advantage of the lack of her parents’ supervision to further his already close relationship with the young woman.
How her parents could let her out of their sight for even a single minute, considering her obvious affection for Charles, was unthinkable. But if the pair of them couldn’t be trusted now…? They had, after all, been engaged for almost three years. It didn’t much matter if things got out-of-hand with the wedding only a month away. Who would worry at this stage?
Few might have described Charles’s fiancée as 'classically beautiful', when they first met her. However, she seemed to have a difficult-to-define quality that surpassed beauty. She had a ready smile and a pleasant personality. She certainly had character. There was also a reckless quality to her. She was not afraid to join in any dinner conversation and to ruffle male feathers; something that a wise woman should not be so eager to do. She was also intelligent and had uncommon sense—for a woman—and could readily laugh at herself. It was easy to understand how Charles had fallen in love with her. Moreover, she grew upon one. After being in her company for a mere five minutes one recognized that she was truly beautiful with nothing superficial about her, and one could easily forgive her for her minor flaws. By then, however, you began to feel a nagging realization that she didn’t have any flaws, and you were also thoroughly captivated by her spell.
“Come in, Charles.” Lord Penfield poured his son a glass of port from the decanter by his elbow and waved his hand in the direction of a chair. His son sat.
He seemed to have guessed right.
“You are impatient for Selena to arrive. I was the same with your mother. Hard to believe there is only a month left before you marry her.” His son said nothing but merely took the chair indicated and tasted the wine that his father had poured for him. The entire household seemed tense, with two momentous events set to unfold; Robert’s going away to sea, for several years at least, and the arrival of Selena.
“I suppose you came to argue on Robert’s behalf, but it is too late for that with your marriage approaching. He needs to make his own way in life and it would not do to have him living here under the same roof after Selena arrives to stay. Indeed, it was too late three years ago once you got engaged and set your marriage date. It was too late even twenty years ago when we decided that you, of the two of you, were to be my heir.” His son said nothing.
“He can no longer live here, of course. It would not do for either you, or him. I learned that from my own brother”—he corrected himself— “my half-brother, Matthew. There was bad blood between us from the very moment he realized that he had no expectations of inheriting anything, with me being the elder son, though your own brother is not inclined to such resentment or jealousy, I am pleased to say. It was Matthew’s mother that resented it the most. She infected her son with the feeling that he was being unfairly cheated out of what should have been his, with her being my father’s second wife for twenty years. 'Primogenitor' meant nothing to her. However, she could only plot and fume about such things, out of our father’s hearing.” He settled back and sipped at his wine.
“No, my half-brother and I never did like each other, and were never close; not like you and Robert. I suppose you will find some way of staying in touch with him, though I have seen that he shall want for nothing. Robert will need to find his own way in life now, once he gets over this wild streak.”
Lord Penfield tossed his paper onto the table, as though dissatisfied with something.
“I suppose all families must face this kind of moment, eventually, where they must give in to change, whether they like it or not. Your brother is to come and see me at eleven o’clock, and to learn more about his fate in the hands of Sir Vincent. You knew, of course, that his commission came through some weeks ago.”
The young man had listened patiently to his father, nodding every so often, but now spoke up for the first time.
“Father. Before you say any more that you might wish, unsaid.” He pointed. “That clock is wrong again. It is eleven o’clock. And I, am, Robert.”
His father sat forward, looked up at him, and adjusted his spectacles. He didn’t seem concerned by his mistake, but merely shrugged it off and topped up his son’s glass as well as his own, before he sat back again.