I already know so much about You.
She continued to eat in silence as he watched her. She already knew much more about him than she would say, but it had all been learned earlier; from his letters and what others had said, and none of it had been as unflattering as he seemed to think. But understanding a man from his letters and various other accounts did not prepare one for the real man. Except he expressed himself very like his brother had.
In his last years, the elder Lord Penfield, their father, had often animatedly, and proudly, recounted his son’s naval exploits over dinner, and confirmed the various accounts of battles reported in the newspapers, or that came to him from his own contacts in the Admiralty. His son’s actual letters had described none of it. She had difficulty matching the tales of almost total destruction and horrendous loss of life wherever any battle was fought at sea, with this calm, mischievous gentleman in front of her. Her father had also been a similar master of understatement, and rarely spoke of his naval adventures. This man was not whom she expected him to be but seemed to be the embodiment of at least two contrasting individuals; one who could kill without hesitation in the line of duty, and one who could easily entertain children and speak gently to a young woman, even if shockingly, at times.
She had read many of those records of his exploits for herself. Charles had passed various naval accounts on to her, when she had expressed an interest to read them. She had barely been able to believe what she had read. Her father’s tales had not prepared her for that. No novel might grip her so well. The accounts were believable only because she knew where they had come from. No novelist could spin such a tale and be believed. She had been much more than impressed and had been moved to tears out of pity for such loss of life, and selfless heroism as was documented, but it would not do to let him know that she knew so much of his career where his name had been so often mentioned, and with such pride.
She had then been driven to seek out what she could of Lord Nelson also, and what he had done before he had met his untimely end from a sniper. She knew that all Captains-of-the-Line were cast from that same mold and had similar stories to tell, and this Lord Penfield was no different. Those accounts came to life again for her when she had walked in upon him and the children, and she had seen those wounds upon his body, and had seen how light he seemed to make of it all. How he had been able to survive any of them was a mystery to her. Yet now, this did not seem to be the same man of unbelievable heroism and violence, but one who was gentle, banteringly mischievous, playful, and yet deadly serious about something else that he had not yet revealed to her.
However-little she might understand him, she would try not to judge him in any way. He had risked his life for the safety and security of those left behind. Who might blame him for wanting to play, just as intently as he fought? Nor would she judge any of those women who had fallen under his spell. Life had been too short and uncertain, where he had been to begrudge him that. No, she would not judge him, or them.
He intruded into her thoughts. “I believe Nurse used to burn me in effigy on the twenty-second of each month—we were both born on the twenty second of July, close enough—and stick pins in a little wax doll of me, as she symbolically cut off crucial personal parts of me, in hopes of stopping me in my tracks.” He was having fun with her again.
“She swept every drawing our mother ever made of us both, out of the way, to expunge me from memory. That may explain why you were not aware that we were twins.
“Charles was chosen as the elder, after many mix-ups. They never did sort out which of us was the first born. Then, once they had decided that, we were largely ignored from that moment forward, except Charles had a blue ribbon tied around his ankle. Most of the rest of the family were never welcome to visit and never did learn that there were two of us, or that we were twins. Society-at-large, also was never made aware of it, as my brother and I had little contact with London society. We were very happy here and had everything we needed. Then, after Charles chose to settle down and marry the woman he had fallen in love with, I was too much of a liability for everyone, and was sent off to sea--out of the country--to get me out of the way.” He fell silent and waited to see what she might have to say.
She took the conversation in another direction.
“Did you never fall in love yourself, sir, or were they all just distractions and dalliances?”
“Love.” He said that word, thoughtfully. “I once thought that it was the stuff of poetry and some of the more lurid novels that entertain old ladies. I believe I knew only lust, if that word will not shock you.” She shook her head. No, he could not shock her now. “I had no room for love in my life. But what of you? I believe a woman is more susceptible to thinking herself in love than any man might be.”
She was not about let him change the subject to her and escape so easily. He had expressed himself in a strange way.
“You said that you once thought that love was the stuff of poetry and some of the more lurid novels, and then you tried to turn the subject back to me.” She was too sharp. “That suggests that you were once in love, yourself, and did not wish to discuss it further with me.”
She had already picked up on that from other things he had said and was not afraid to bring him back to it. Should he tell her anything? No.
He looked across at her. “I have been in love several times, or thought I was. I soon got over it.” He hoped he did not sound too dismissive. But it was becoming dangerous again. Fortunately, she did not persist, but opened up to him.
“I am not sure that I understand what love is, either, sir. I have not been in love, as I think it is, or should be. I suspect few women actually find it, though I know that my sister did. I would like to be in love as she was, but my circumstance is unlikely to allow me to mix in society in any way to meet the right kind of person.” She was wrong about that.
She looked at him and did not hold back from asking what had seemed to her to beg to be asked despite his earlier dismissal of it; though not convincingly enough for her.
“Is she beautiful? The woman you fell in love with?” He almost choked on what he was eating.