Can this be the same Captain we know so well?
Just then, his lordship burst into the room with his hair askew, a gaudy peacock plume sticking into it and his shirt open at the top, pursued by three young girls. He flopped into a nearby chair as they clambered all over him and tried to tickle him.
“Oh, Papa, you were always ticklish. Just as we are.”
The two visitors looked at each other but said nothing.
Emily was the first to realize that there were others present; two strange men, silently watching them. She gradually got the attention of her younger sisters. They quieted and settled as they looked curiously at the two men, while staying close to their obvious protector.
“What a good idea! Four more glasses of wine, Abby, please, if there is any of that vintage left from our dinner, for the girls of course, and some of those delicate little sandwiches that I saw cook preparing.” He looked at his visitors. “I am glad you were able to come. I doubt you had much chance to stop for refreshments.”
He noticed Anne tugging at his shirt, wanting to be noticed.
“How inattentive of me. You clearly want another kiss?” He kissed her mercilessly as she squirmed and set her off laughing again. It was infectious laughter. Even their guests could not help themselves. Nor could they believe what they were seeing.
“Oh, yes, I should introduce you before I forget. These young ladies are, Emily, the eldest—eldest Emily—eight. Hester—happy Hester—six.”
“Yes, seven. Better not make that mistake again.” It had been deliberate. Anne, tugged again.
“And this is, Anne—affectionate, and fun-loving Anne—five.” They stood up and curtsied in turn, allowing the gentlemen to shake their hands as they still gurgled with excited laughter.
“Now I understand the comments, Robert. Follow the screams… with the ladies… riding a broom? I thought you had gone mad.” They would ask about the ‘papa’ word later. He was not their father, yet they had addressed him in that way. Did he look so like his twin that it was as easy for them as it seemed, to override that tragedy spelled out in his letter. Obviously, he did. They had seen it for themselves in those portraits.
The girls listened attentively and sat quietly. They were not often tolerated when adults were conversing, and gentlemen were never often about the place. Not gentlemen like these! So strange and interesting. Abby took off again before she was discovered eavesdropping. The house had become a strange new place, a new world since Master Robert; his Lordship, had arrived.
“I am glad to see you come, Gerry. I have a patient for you. She is just awake. However, before you see her, there are some things I need to caution you about. There is a game we are playing that needs all of our cooperation. She does not seem to know who I am, but is convinced that I am my twin brother, Charles.” He decided he should not say any more in front of the children.
“You will need to address me as Charles, in her company, or Lord Penfield.” He rethought that. “No, not that. Charles will do, or just, sir. Forget that my name is, or ever was, Robert. It is important that she does not realize, just yet, that I am not my brother. She only just regained consciousness yesterday, and some things might be too much for her to have to deal with if she were to realize what had happened to my brother. I cannot believe it myself.”
A game? Their eyes met. He had never spoken of his past life, or of any woman in the entire time they had known him. It had also caught the attention of the three children, who seemed to be aware of this gentle subterfuge that their mother needed. They remained quiet as they looked from one gentleman to the others.
“I’ll take you to meet her shortly. I had to examine her myself, before she came around, to find out what the other doctor missed and what was holding her recovery back, but you know me. I don’t have your touch, or skill, Gerry, and I am afraid I offended her younger sister with my blunt approach. I knew immediately that I had to call you in, to be sure that I was missing nothing and that I was not about to make things worse. She has a broken leg and other injuries, maybe cracked ribs, but she is taking food and water now, and I could not detect any fever.”
He leaned in close so that the children might not overhear and spoke quietly. “She is pregnant about a month or two, or more, but let us keep that quiet.” He spoke normally after that.
“When do you have to be back in Greenwich, Gerry?”
“Today. I had a difficult time breaking away as it was. Trenberth was not at all pleased with me. They are short on doctors at this time, and they are expecting another arrival in port tonight. However, I was able to set out almost immediately on the understanding that I would return this evening.”
Robert received a glass of wine from Abby, and then, after the girls had been encouraged to sit on the settee, were given theirs, which they proceeded to drink thirstily.
He sniffed at his glass. “I did get the wine did I, Abby? Didn’t mix my glass up with one meant for the girls, did you?”
He noticed her start, and her hand fly to her breast that she might have got them mixed up, even as the children were finishing theirs off, but then she saw the look on his face, and the smile as he looked at her.
“No, sir.” He saw her eyes flash in sudden understanding, and relief to see that he was joking with her. He looked quite comical with a peacock feather stuck in his hair.
Abby let them finish their lemonade and saw that the gentlemen had other things to discuss that might not be easily done with such an impressionable audience. She retrieved their glasses.
“Now girls, we must leave the gentlemen to themselves, so you can come and help me.” They trooped out with her.
“Thank you, Abby.”