As in Love as ever.
Robert went over and checked his patient again. He sat on the edge of the bed as he took her warm hand in his. She seemed to be well settled and relaxed. Everything about her face was entirely pleasurable for him to look at. Her hair shone with health where the rest of her had been neglected, up until now, for fear of hurting her. Now that she was conscious, she would soon recover.
Robert found that he envied his brother, having shared so many tender and loving moments with this woman, and having three such wonderful daughters together. How would she feel about him being here when she realized who he really was, and that he was not her husband? How welcome would he be then? He sighed. He would have to cross that bridge when he came to it.
Selena had very full lips that now had none of the cracked dryness that they had shown just two or three hours ago. She was indeed as he had first seen her. The intervening years had changed nothing of her that he remembered. She was still exceptionally beautiful, but now with a look of healthful vitality and contentment beginning to be evident too. He felt that he could sit for hours and just look at her. Every part of her face; her nose, her lips, her hair, was so very intriguing to him. Just to be close to her was all he would ask. He leaned over and brushed her lips with his own. He heard her sigh.
It would not be a pleasant awakening when she fully regained consciousness, recognized him, and realized that she was now a widow. Her children would soon help her recover from any deep slide into a depressed state, even if she then repudiated his help to get her beyond that state. The children needed her now more than ever, and she, them.
Her eyelids fluttered in sleep, and there was a momentary agitation as her mind discovered something that might have been disturbing to her. He took her hand in both of his again, kissed it, and spoke softly to her. Fortunately, no one else was close enough to hear him, and perhaps even she would not be conscious of what he said to her. Part of him hoped that she was. She settled again, seemingly soothed by his words and his voice.
He analyzed his own feelings. He felt contented, yet restless. Nothing would be resolved until she fully regained consciousness and recognized him for who he was. He was not sure he would welcome that. He had been re-assessing his own situation over the last few hours, as he had first encountered the children (they had been an unexpected and pleasant surprise to him), and then their mother. He began to recognize just how incomplete and even empty his life had been, though he had known all of that for the last ten years while never daring to admit it. He could admit it now.
He had tried to persuade himself that he had all that he needed in life, with a good ship, a good crew, and a purpose, but then he had had no choice in the cards dealt to him. With his brother dying, all of that had changed.
He knew what he wanted to do, but there would be many hands set against him. His former character was too well known. He sighed heavily, feeling a nagging, uncomfortable feeling of dissatisfaction.
There were books on the floor by the cot that Sophia had vacated. He chose one and moved to the settee to bury his attention in that, but his eyes were always drawn back to that figure, reclining in her pillows.
He was immersed in various thoughts, even daydreaming, as Nurse quietly entered the room.
“Sophia’s settled, sir, but for how long I do not know.” She is still loath to leave her sister alone and is restless. I came to sit here with her Ladyship. The children are now washed and dressed and are impatient to dine with you.” As he was with them. “They are usually in bed by now. You are to be envied how easily they accepted you, though I should not be surprised about that. You had better go and change, sir. There is nothing more critical than three young ladies kept waiting for their dinner, especially when they are hungry. You must set an example of punctuality, as your grandfather demanded, and they will expect to be treated in the grandest style now that they have had the best news of all about their mother.” Her eyes shone with approval of him in that regard, but she still had nagging doubts in others. Only time would tell whether or not he might have changed in that other way. She lowered her voice even more and moved closer to him.
“I never did think that you would be able to manage children so well. They were trusting you within minutes of your arrival and were hanging on to you as though you really were their father when I last saw them in here. I am sure no-one would have believed that of you.” Not even himself. He smiled up at her sudden softening toward him. It could not last, however.
“Why not? I am their guardian, now. I do not mind that idea, but welcome it. Had you told me any of this might happen to me, even as little as a week ago, I would not have believed you or anyone else. There were a lot of things I would never have been able to believe. As for the children….” He was at a momentary loss for words, not sure what he could say that would not be misunderstood. “I thought I could never so easily relate to children as I do with them.” He re-thought what he had said.
“However, those three little angels are my brother’s daughters, and my nieces. I know now, that I would be the happiest of men had they been my own daughters. I think I could not have loved them any more than I already do; as Charles must have done.” She found it entirely believable. They had that effect on everyone who met them. It was a pity there had been no girls born after he and his brother had come along.
“I fear that I must be losing my mind, Nurse, as well as my heart. Why did I not take time to return sooner and learn about them?” He had no need to ask that question which Nurse could never answer. He knew why he had not returned. His conscience would not have let him.