A Secret that must never be Learned, or Told.
Robert locked the Belvedere behind them after checking that nothing too incriminating had been left behind. Everything would soon dry.
She was the one who was silent now. She relaxed and leaned against him with his arm about her as they walked back to the gates. He carried her over the stream, kissing her as he did so, and set her down upon the far side. His own carriage was just then being moved out of the gateway by the horses. Better if he were not seen accompanying her. Brian would wait for him at the Inn.
He kissed her and watched her walk to her own carriage and board it, looking longingly back at him, and blowing a kiss at him, before she gave instructions to proceed. She intended that it would take twenty or thirty minutes before her carriage reached the house, to give him time to get there ahead of her, and to hurriedly change.
He watched with a sinking heart as he saw her carriage slowly disappear down the driveway. He could not be sure what might unfold after that, or if their secret, his secret, might be discovered even as she arrived, and let slip what she should not say. He envied his brother for the first time in his life but had a new set of feelings to wrestle with. Paramount among them was a feeling of sadness and of intense guilt. He turned and walked in the direction of the village.
It was only when he was well on his way to London, that he recalled his brother’s ring that he had taken off to lay on his clothes as they had made love. He had forgotten it. It may have been left in the Belvedere, though he soon dismissed that thought. He had looked around carefully to see that everything was left just as they had found it, and it had not been there.
Perhaps she had picked it up, intending to give it back to him, except they had embraced again at that time, almost as fiercely as they had that first time, so she may have put it in that small pocket in her dress. No point in worrying about it now. He still had that damp handkerchief, however, that had so intimately been part of her for some minutes as they had dressed. It would never leave him.
But how might he greet his brother when they next met, just a few weeks away, when they got married? He would, of course, greet Charles as if nothing had happened, and wish him only the best. Either that would be the way of it, or his brother would justifiably attack him for what he had done to the woman they both of them loved. Perhaps there would be no wedding. Soon after that, he would be at sea and unlikely ever to return. That was the price he would have to pay for what he had done. He did not deserve to live, following such a betrayal, despite him having little say in what had happened. Any happiness in life that he might have expected to find after that, was now closed off to him. Death, was all that he should look for, or deserve, and was all that he would seek.
As he put his handkerchief away in his pocket, he encountered the ring. Thank god for that! She must have slipped it into his pocket as they made love for that last time. Would she or Charles say anything that might betray their recognition of what had happened? He prayed, not.
When Selena arrived at the house, just thirty minutes after leaving Robert, and pausing to pick a bouquet of wild flowers, she saw Charles waiting for her with his parents. There was no sign of his brother with him, of course. Lady Penfield would already have seen Robert sent far away from the estate long before she would arrive. Charles had indeed changed and refreshed himself. How he had been able to get back home and to have done all of that, she did not question.
As soon as the carriage rolled to a stop, he rushed over, threw open the door, picked her out of the carriage and embraced her eagerly with a long kiss, before he set her down to be greeted by his parents. She smiled up at him. She knew better than to say anything of what had earlier happened.
“I am sorry if I am later than I said. I was unavoidably delayed.” She smiled at Charles, but, being the gentleman he was, he diplomatically betrayed nothing of what had just happened. He took her arm and led her into the house as her luggage was taken out of the boot, and her other trunks were offloaded from the roof. When her parents came, as they would in another week or two, they would bring even more of their daughter’s belongings. This would now be her home. His parents excused themselves and went off to do other things. They had once been young themselves. They would all meet again for dinner, later that evening.
“You must be exhausted, my love, after such a long journey. Thank god you had a decently sprung carriage.”
“I am indeed fagged, but it was not the journey that exhausted me, Charles.” She smiled charmingly up at him. “And no more exhausted than I am sure you must be after waiting so patiently in such anticipation of my arrival.” She smiled up at him and blushed but, fortunately, her meaning was lost on him. His mind was on other things to do with her.
“However, sitting as long as I have, in a carriage that seemed to take forever to get here from the gates, I would like to stretch my legs in the garden if you do not mind. Perhaps we might be able to find some privacy there.” She looked suggestively up at him. “We can have refreshments when we return.”
He led her into the garden and, once out of sight of the house, they embraced and held each other close. Unfortunately, it was not private enough for a continuation of what she believed had occurred less than an hour earlier. She would need to be careful what she said. There were always gardeners where one least expected them. They could, however, wander into the maze and get lost in there until dinner. It would be private.
“My mother and father send their love, Charles. Fortunately, they were not aware of what transpired between us for your last week that you were with us, or if they were, they were careful to say nothing. They will join us soon enough with my sister, Sophia, who was aware of what happened between us for that last week. Not something a young girl, nine years old, should witness…the deep plundering of her elder sister, and without any protest from me, but with all signs of collaborative enjoyment.
“I had a word with her. I was surprised how much she had seen and understood. She will be careful to say nothing. So, my love, we shall have at least two weeks of the four, completely alone together, to walk and to explore everywhere, wherever, whenever, and however personally we might do so, once we are out of sight of others.” She left the double meanings hanging in the air, but he knew what she meant.
“The Belvedere?” He knew what she had in mind.
“Sh! Others may be listening, Charles.” She hit him playfully on the arm as she blushed. “Of course, the Belvedere. Where else will be so out of the way and private, or that will allow us to express ourselves as we need to, and so often. Although the maze would be just as good, and much closer. Unless you are too tired, of course, after such an exhausting wait.”
How could he be too tired? He would never be too tired for this woman. She took his hand, and they walked off, and into the maze.