A Candid Conversation
Selena’s heart began to beat faster as she saw Charles enter her room as he had promised and wait patiently to be alone with her at last.
He had come to see her at exactly the time he said he would. It was just eleven-o’clock, and a full hour before everything was to go forward. It began to sound as though there would be a garden party, and that there would be food and some kind of entertainment.
Robert had watched approvingly with a smile on his face as Abby finished with her mistress, and then removed herself with her tray of brushes, combs, lotions and powders. Abby had said little the entire time she had tended to her mistress, ensuring that she was ready for whatever was to happen downstairs for their celebration, without betraying any of it. Despite Abby’s obvious excitement she could not be drawn out to tell her mistress anything, just smiling at her and telling her it was a surprise, but that she would be sure to approve of it. And that even Nurse had to admit, however reluctantly, that it would be appropriate and the only way forward that she could see.
After Abby had gone Selena looked at Charles, waiting for him to say something to give her even the slightest hint about what was to happen. She was also aware that they had never been left alone like this any time in the last week and she was not sure what to make of it.
“I can see that it is a delightful day and it will be nice to get out into the fresh air. How far are we to go? Are we going anywhere? How long are we to be away? Are you sure I am up to travelling, Charles? Mr. Rogers did not say anything when he was in to see me.” She seemed to be all excitement. “Oh, I am not sure how I am to manage in the carriage, although you will carry me somehow and help me.” He smiled at her eager excitement.
“All in good time, my love. You said you expected to be surprised, and I think you will be pleasantly surprised.”
Charles was dressed in his finest clothing, but of her dress, there was no sign. “Am I not to wear my new dress, Charles? I should be wearing it if we are to go anywhere—though I am not sure how I am to manage it.”
“We are not going far at all my love. Just to the lawns, and I will carry you downstairs, later. You will be dressed properly for that, now that all the arrangements have been made. For this occasion, however, I have something else for you.”
He disappeared behind a screen at the side of the window and reappeared with a delicate shawl of an ivory color. He sat on the bed beside her and carefully arranged it about her shoulders, before he leaned over and kissed her. He then picked up a single red rose that he had laid on her bedside table and pinned that to her shawl.
“Now, we are almost ready.”
“What is it that you have planned Charles, and will the children be joining us?”
“Of course, but not just yet.” He returned and sat beside her, capturing her hand again. “I was at a loss as to how to celebrate our anniversary in a fitting way, with you unable to go far just yet, but then the children said something which showed me what we should do. I had difficulty bringing everyone else on board at first with such an ambitious plan, but Sophia and the children can be persuasive.” She looked up at him and waited for him to tell her. “Did I say ambitious? There were several other, somewhat more…er…interesting words that were used.
“Everything is now ready. All I have to do is to pull the bell sash for us to be flooded with attention, though we were hard pressed to bring it about in time. I am sure you heard many of the preparations in the house, though not all of them.”
He took a deep breath and looked at her.
“We are to re-affirm our marriage vows to each other, my love, exactly as we did in St Hilda’s church, ten years ago to the day.”
He waited to see her response; the surprise; the happiness.
She was surprised, yes, but the way she looked was not what he had expected. She had gone pale. There was a look of anguish on her face as she looked up at him, slowly shaking her head without saying anything for a few moments. She began to cry.
His heart almost stopped. He wondered what could have caused such obvious distress to her, and carefully analyzed everything that he had said or done. She reached out to him and took his hand as she raised it to her face and began to weep, silently.
“But we didn’t marry, you and I, Robert. That was Charles and me!” Had his heart stopped? He thought it might have.
“Oh, Robert! Robert! You did not need to go so far as this to protect me. I would have been satisfied with so much less, as little as Nurse might have approved. You already gave me hope, and a reason to live. I would have been satisfied with whatever time I might have with you before you would leave, when all of this wonderful pretense was discovered. I was hoping for just a few days or even weeks longer with you. Would that have been so wrong of me?” The tears stood out in her eyes.