I am afraid you cannot free me, my Love.
He smiled sadly. “You are unable to free me. I am here, at this place and time, and doing what I am doing because it is what I most want to do. It is what I am. A man in love.”
Her eyes flashed to his face at those words. “I am glad that you have recognized me as Robert, as it now makes everything so much easier for me.
“I can honestly tell you that you are the only woman I have ever loved. I love you, even as Charles did. If you can accept something as simple as that, then our marriage can go forward. I want it to. And since when was love, rational?” She was crying again. He kissed her tears away. She did not pull away from him when he did that.
“And even though you now know that I am Robert, why must any of this end, Selena? You have just admitted that you do not want it to end, any more than I do.” She looked up at him with some surprise. “Unless you would like to see me gone from you as far as possible for such a painful and cruel deception.”
She spoke almost in a whisper. “But it was not a cruel deception, Robert. It was a wonderful illusion that gave me such tranquility. It still does, even after such a loss. I do not want it to end. I do not ever want to see you go, Robert. What you intend, this marriage, is kind and comforting but it would not be right of me to accept. It would be so wrong of me, and I know that you would come to regret it. I could not bear to see you recognize the mistake you would be making.” She dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief.
“It was bad enough losing Charles, though I have not had to deal properly with that reality with you being here. I could not bear to go through that without….”
She could not meet his eyes, knowing what she would see there that would override her reservations. She closed her eyes tightly, as she continued.
“I had this vision in my head that I so desperately needed to get rid of, of sensing the carriage tipping and throwing me off it, of seeing Charles lying there in the roadway, his lifeless eyes looking at me, as though I were all that was on his mind at that moment, just as he would be the last thing on mine. That was almost all I remembered. I heard voices and began to realize that I still lived. And then, sometime later I knew that I was being carried home. I could hear what was said from time to time; the intense sadness, and then I felt physical pain that never seemed to end.
“I decided that I would not let anyone know when I was conscious of anything. I had to choose what I would do with myself. My husband was dead. I was injured, possibly crippled for the rest of my life. I had lost everything that meant anything to me, and I faced a life which would be empty without him, despite the girls. Our children would be constantly reminded of what had happened by my presence. I thought that it might be better for them if I were to put an end to such disastrous memories and died. But I could not give up. Not with this new life just beginning within me.” He let her talk and get it out of her system. She opened her eyes and looked at him. He saw the pain that she felt.
“After Sophia arrived, I noticed a change. How she stayed on her feet, I do not know. She is only young, but she ensured that nothing was said or discussed in this room that might give me cause for concern if I might be conscious, as I often was.
“Then I heard a voice I knew so well. Charles’s voice. You can have no idea how that affected me. He still lived! How could I think of dying? I could scarce believe what I heard. I doubted what I had seen and even experienced in that accident. Might I have been wrong? Was Charles alive after all?
“I began to doubt my sanity. Your touch; it was Charles’s touch. Your concern; Charles’s. Your firmness; Charles’s again. I heard a difference in the children. I even saw it when they trooped in to visit me. They were happy. But how could they be happy?
“After that, though I do not know how long after, Sophia and then you, floated into my consciousness and convinced me that I had been wrong. You had not died. The children were with us, and everyone else. I could sense the happiness around me and I was happy myself because of it.” She paused as though keeping those feelings alive for the brief time left.
“And then the doubts began. I was initially blind to things that did not fit. The missing top of an ear.” She reached up and touched it. “The scarring under your chin.” She touched that too. “Yet you looked at me just as Charles always looked at me. I was blinded by the love I saw there and did not understand it. Yet I so wanted to believe.” A tear escaped.
“It took a while for me to realize that the angel who hovered by me, night and day might not be Charles, as I had thought and hoped. Yet it was. Who else could it be? I could be sure of nothing, other than that I wanted to live, and to recover. Then I began to realize that, although you might not be the Charles I remembered, you were still him, and that it was I who was not seeing what I should have been seeing, so I continued to accept it without question.” She fell silent for a moment, before she spoke again.
“I do not understand, Robert, why you would want to take on a role that might entrap you with a widow who carries so much emotional baggage with her as I do.” She looked at him and stopped him speaking to deny any of that, as she continued.
“Then I began to think about what would happen if I let it be seen that I knew that you were Robert. I would lose so much. Everything would change again, and in a way that I could not bear to think about for either myself or the children. You would leave us. They would lose one whom they had grown to love as I had. I could not let that happen. I so much wanted you to be Charles, and so you were. It was wrong of me to think only of myself.” She sniffed and looked up at him with despair written all over her face.
“So, what are we to do, Robert, to make this right? I cannot think clearly anymore.” She looked up at him seeking reassurance. That look gave him the strength he needed.