Four Weeks Later
A guilty conscience to an honorable man, is his lifelong, tormenting companion.
The marriage of Selena Angela Crowther, and Charles Penfield was quiet and circumspect. There were about fifteen family members on her side of the aisle; various aunts, uncles, and cousins, as well as her younger sister and her parents. His parents were upon the other, with many of the Penfield household staff to swell the numbers, but no other relatives.
Charles had watched for Robert to arrive at the church, early, as he had promised to do, though his brother intended to stay out of sight at the back of the church. His mother had insisted upon that. He would be in uniform, of course. Upon no account was he to meet the bride. He knew all of that.
His mother had been surprised at how mature Robert looked and complimented him upon his beard. He looked different. It helped lessen her fears that he might be too easily recognized or might be seen to be his brother’s twin.
He would be required to leave early, and not attend any of the reception or festivities afterward. He should not meet with Miss Crowther’s parents, and have them say anything that might be out of place if they might see any similarity between him and his brother, despite the beginning beard.
Once this ceremony was over, he would shave it off. It would not do to have others comment upon the likeness between the two of them in this setting, especially not where Selena might overhear them.
He had understood all of the reasoning behind his mother’s strict instructions, though she was too late. Her concerns had been justified, considering what had happened between them when he had first met his brother’s fiancée, and under the most shocking but memorable circumstances. He assumed that all had gone as anticipated when Selena had eventually got to the house, and that his earlier, and intimate meeting with her had gone unnoticed by his brother, and without any comprehension on her part that it had been Charles’s brother, and not Charles, that had made love to her.
Robert met his brother in the Sacristy. Charles did not seem to notice that his brother now had a beard to conceal his identity.
There was no hesitation on Charles’ part, as he stepped forward to meet his brother and warmly embraced him, knowing that this day was possibly the last they might ever see each other. Naval men of any rank did not generally survive their calling.
Robert felt great relief over the pleasant way that his brother greeted him. What had happened when Selena had first arrived, appeared to have been undiscovered.
“You look elegant in your uniform, Robert, and you bring a touch of regality to the occasion. I’m glad you are wearing it. It attracts the eye, rather than have anyone see the similarity we share in other ways, and begin to comment upon it, though I am sure others may already have noticed, even with that distinguished growth on your face. There are not so many who know that we are twins unless they see us side by side.” He stepped back for a moment and looked him over more closely, seeing something in his eyes that caused him to hesitate.
“But what is this, Robert? You seem sad, for some reason, and on such a day as this, when we should all be happy. Is the Navy not to your liking? Fortunately, Mama still does not know anything of Sir Vincent’s reputation, or she would be clamoring to have you back home, safe and sound, despite her other difficulties.” Robert doubted that.
“It is not the Navy, Charles.”
“No, it isn’t. I know that look. I think I know how you feel and why.”
“You do?” Robert felt a moment of concern.
“Yes. I knew it would happen to you, just as it happened to me. You have been found out. Out with it, Brother. Confess.”
“Confess what?” Might Charles know something?
“This secret you are trying to hide from everyone, and not at all successfully. I am surprised Mama did not notice.”
His brother was pale, and then flushed.
Charles laughed. “You cannot hide such things from me, you know. And not with that sudden surprised look on your face. We are twins. So who is this wondrous female that you so despair about, that it is reflected in your entire being?”
Robert felt the momentary panic, subside. Thank god Charles did not know, but was just tormenting. His brother continued.
“You should tell, Mama. It would alleviate her deeper concerns about you. She wanted to see us both engaged and married at the same time you know.” Robert smiled at him.
“Please say nothing, Charles. It is not as it seems. Yes. I am in love, as you so perceptively noted, no denying that, but I can do nothing about it. She is spoken for; married, and, I fear, does not even know that I exist.” At least that part of it was almost true.
“So you have been stricken too. The worst part of being in love, is being in love with the wrong woman. Or the right one but finding that she is unavailable. I was lucky that way. You say she is married. That would make it a trifle difficult, but love at a distance, and undiscovered, is safer in such circumstances. What of her husband? Might he be aware of your infatuation and be thirsting for your blood as so many others did?” Charles was in a tormenting mood.
“Fortunately, not. And it will not matter when I go off to sea.”
“Poor Robert! Unfortunately, too many men have sought to escape such personal difficulties by going into the navy, but I did not think I would see it get to you.
“If you can wait ten years, Robert, Selena has a younger sister who promises to be much like her. I believe I mentioned her to you before. She is with her parents in the front of the church, though she is only nine or ten years old herself. Nothing to look at, just yet, but bursting with character. I expect that it might take you ten years to get over a disappointment of the kind you appear to be suffering from, and she will be another beauty to reckon with by then, like her sister.” He could see the pain in his brother’s face.
“But I should not be dwelling so lightly upon such an unhappy circumstance or such difficulties. Not today of all days. I suggested that you should meet Selena after the ceremony, and you can. Never mind what Mama might say.” Robert closed off that possibility.
“I cannot, Charles. I know that Mama insisted I stay at the back of the church, for reasons best known to her (all of which now began to make sense to him), and she has given me strict instructions that I should not stay for any length of time after the ceremony.”
“I understand. We will not get the chance to converse for very long, Robert. Only until Selena arrives, so we should not waste it. How do you find the Navy, so far? Is Sir Vincent as much of a stickler for discipline as father suggests? He thought that was exactly what you needed and would respond to.”
“You should ask me that question, Charles, when I have been at sea for at least a year with him, and after experiencing my first battles, provided I survive them. Sir Vincent seems to be a well-respected captain with a reputation for not running from the enemy. Despite the rumors about him, I think that I was fortunate to be placed with him.”
“Then you are lucky. Despite what Mama has said to you, Robert, I would like you to meet Selena. We can do so immediately following the ceremony when we sign our names in the register. Mama will not be there for that but will be preparing for the reception.”
Robert was sorry to have to disappoint him.
“No, Charles. As much as I would like to, I cannot. I do not have time. I must leave the moment the ceremony is completed. I risk missing the tide if it goes any later. Sir Vincent said that he would delay sailing without me for an hour, and allow me to attend your wedding, and I would not like to presume too far beyond that.”
Robert did not tell his brother that he should not meet Selena, lest he trigger some memory in her mind that he would rather not revive or betray to her some dangerous inner feeling by the look on his face. If she saw him by his brother, even with that beard to cover his face, what torture might she have to endure… wondering.”
“No matter, Brother. You will always have a welcome at Penfield. When you next set foot ashore, get a message to me and we will meet with you in London, out of the way. Mama will learn nothing of it and then we can both maintain our peace with her.”
“Thank you, Charles.”
He smiled enigmatically. “As you are going away for some length of time, I shall give you some other news, and even some months before Mama will learn it. It is really quite shocking for me to discuss such tender things like this at any time with anyone other than you, but what happened is entirely to be expected. It is not to be pardoned, of course, but may have been inevitable. Selena tells me that she may be pregnant, and that it must have happened even on that very day she arrived at Penfield. The same day you were sent away, though we were eager with each other, so I am not surprised.” Robert’s breath caught in his throat for a moment. His brother noticed nothing.
“Shocking, I know, and not socially condoned to jump the gun like that, but we are correcting that minor slip today with this ceremony. So, it seems that on the day I bade goodbye to a brother, a month ago, we started a son, or a daughter to make up for it. If the baby is a son, I shall call him after you. Selena and I are both agreed on that.”
Robert had gone pale again, but Charles’s thoughts were pulled elsewhere when he heard the music start up on the organ, and knew that the moment had come with the arrival of the bride. He hugged his brother close and then shook his hand.
“I must go. With you having to rush off I may not see you again. Mama is already itching to have you gone before others see you and notice any similarity between us, despite this beard, and before you might get a chance to meet Selena.
“I shall miss you, Robert. Come back safely to us.” He walked off to the altar, where he would meet his fiancée.
Robert avoided everyone, and cautiously moved to the back of the church and out of sight of those whose attention was riveted on those at the front of the church. He would be able to see the ceremony from there before he had to leave.
News of Selena being pregnant had hit him hard. Might he have done his brother such an ill service by bringing that about? It was yet another cruel blow to nag at his conscience. Obviously, he must have one despite what others might say about him. But if she were pregnant, as Charles had said with some pride, and he, and not Charles had been responsible for it, who would ever know, considering the liberties she and Charles had already taken with each other under her parents’ roof?