An Old Secret that can now be told.
He sighed heavily. He did not mind confiding in Sophia. She seemed to understand him where few others in the house did.
“No. You fell asleep as I was struggling to get myself out of trouble.
“I first met Selena, a month before she and my brother married. We were alone together, well out-of-the-way of prying eyes for… some long time”—the thought caused him some agitation—“at least an hour or two. Perhaps three. She did not recognize that I was not Charles and she gave me no choice in what happened between us.”
‘Three hours alone together’? Sophia did not voice her thoughts.
He blushed. “I am not sure I would care to describe the circumstances of that meeting, or what happened between us. None of it reflected well upon me. I have been profoundly ashamed of what happened then, and with the knowledge of how close I came to destroying so many lives, my own included. Fortunately, neither she nor my brother became aware of what happened that day at the Belvedere, or that she had met Robert, me, and not her fiancé, my brother.”
Sophia knew her sister well enough to know what must have happened between them if they had met out-of-the-way for any length of time. She almost laughed.
“I was so ashamed of what had happened, that I knew that I could never return home. Then, when I returned to London just a few days ago, I was devastated to learn that my brother was dead, and that Lady Penfield, Selena, was not expected to survive.” She was happy just to listen and to watch his deepest feelings pass across his face.
“I doubt I could have returned faster if I had wings on my heels. The woman I loved”—there, he had admitted it again—“was lying close to death, and I would do all that I could to save her. When I saw that she would live and felt those same feelings for her of ten years earlier….” He blinked away a tear. “That was when I knew what I needed to do. I thought the entire household would rise up against me, but they didn’t, thanks to Selena waking up as she did, thinking that I was Charles.”
He looked at Sophia and confessed his innermost hope. “I intended to marry her if I could persuade her to have me, even though I would need to wait for at least a year to do so. She would need that year, if not longer, to recover from her grief, and it would give Nurse and the rest of the house time to get used to the idea without being aware of my real reasons for wanting to marry my own brother’s widow. I can say nothing about my intentions to anyone, and risk being blocked at every turn. They expected the worst of me, anyway, and were not prepared to believe that I might have any honorable intentions toward her.
“Then, I foolishly embraced this role of becoming my brother, expecting her to recover her memory in short order, except, she didn’t recover. She might never do so. And she is rapidly taking my decision to be patient for a year, out of my hands. She does not see me as Robert, and I cannot not tell her. With her seeing me only as Charles, she is also leaving me with no choice in what she intends that we must do. And what choice do I have? If I do not give in to her, then she certainly will see that I am not Charles. If I do…?” The silence was broken only by the steady ticking of that grandfather clock and the crackling of a log on the fire. Sophia spoke.
“It is an unthinkable and difficult situation you have inadvertently encouraged, Sir, though with the best of intentions.”
“Nurse said the same thing. She will never forgive me, though she never did forgive anything I did, and likely never will.”
“She will get over it. You said you needed my advice, which I doubt. You already made up your mind what to do before you came to see me. I think I can guess. Nor do you need my approval, though I freely give it.” He looked up at her as she continued to speak.
“But before you tell me more, I have a question to ask of you.” He looked at her. “Will Mr. Rogers be coming here again?” His mind was thrown off track.
“I believe so. He will be coming here quite often I expect with my deciding to quit the navy and to stay here. He is resigning, as I did. He will be taking over from Jessop and become our local doctor. He will be here on the twenty-second, for our anniversary celebration, which is what I want to talk to you about.”
“Good.” She seemed happy to hear that. Now he was curious, himself.
“Did you meet him after that brief introduction in your sister’s room? I had not thought you had.” She was smiling at him as though she had a secret of her own.
“I had lunch with him and Mr. Trevithick before they left to return to London. I also walked in the garden with him. I even debated getting lost with him in the maze—so easy to do—as Charles and my sister often did when they wished to be alone, but he needed to return to London.” She laughed at the sudden, surprised look on Robert’s face. “You are not the only one who can fall in love upon first sight.”