The Ultimate Deception.
“We can marry without question or hindrance. Today. As I planned. It allows me to marry you without any questions being asked about how I could so easily step into my brother’s shoes without extensive legal wrangling over lineage, property, wills and title. I must become, and remain, Charles. There will be no banns to be read, although there will be a license and a proper ceremony to give it legality, if any were needed, but who will ever find out why I insisted upon them?
“Everyone can believe that we are re-affirming our vows with each other exactly as we did the first time after the shock of almost losing our lives. The household staff know better, of course, but despite their concerns about me, they love you too much to say anything to cause you any unhappiness.
"As Charles still lives, there need be no period of mourning and no other complications other than those simmering in their hearts and minds about what I shall be doing to you just as often as I can. From this moment forward, Robert is just a distant brother who can be spoken of kindly in absentia. He may reappear, visit, from time to time while Charles is away if we are feeling mischievous. Why, you and he might even meet, by accident of course, in the Belvedere, just as we did almost ten years ago. I think we might both find that exciting.” She blushed and laughed at his daring to remind her of what happened that day.
“Yes, you are just as mischievous as Charles said you were.” She became quiet once more and looked up at him, seeing only love for her in his eyes.
“I have run out of reasons why we should not marry, so if that is still your intention, then yes, I will marry you, Robert. I know that Charles would forgive us. He said some time ago, that if anything were to happen to him, that you would look after us. Might he have had some premonition of what was to happen? He even suggested that I should embrace you as my husband, and without any feeling of guilt about that if he were to die before his time. I laughed in disbelief that we might ever be parted, and yet here we are. The unthinkable happened.
“So how are we to do this, Robert? Can it really be as simple as you suggest? What do you propose? Can we deceive the entire house-hold?”
He had now fully recovered his wits after briefly staring defeat in the face for the first time in his life. The navy had never been so difficult for him.
“Yes, we can. It is called for, and necessary. I shall remain, Charles, especially to you, but it shall be done consciously on your part, now. I am glad that you became aware of who I really am, as it means that I am no longer deceiving you and walking on eggs that you will awake and realize how I misled you so heartlessly.
“We shall marry in this room at mid-day, followed by a reception on the lawns. The house expects it and has been working toward it for the entire week but were never as afraid as I was that it might not go forward. I think we both would have had great difficulty surviving a year of mourning and holding each other at bay.” She smiled up at him, realizing how true that was.
“But there must still be difficulties that we are not seeing, Robert. Surely Charles’s death was announced in the Gazette? The family who came across us, knew. Jessop knew. The vicar knew.” Robert corrected her.
“No, my love. The news was never sent to the gazette. Benson tells me that the family, Holders, that came across you, brought both of you here in some haste, and were then sent on to get Jessop. Mr. Holder had no time to think of anything more than what needed to be done. Jessop was laid low with a stroke just after he left here. He is still laid up and unlikely to recover. He was able to tell no one, having lost all power of speech. Then the vicar collapsed with a fever immediately after the funeral, conducted here, in this house, so could tell no one what happened either. He still remembers none of it or he would not be here now. No notices were sent out; no relatives were informed, and there was no time for gossip to do what it usually does, other than in this house, and that has been contained. No one knows.”
Robert would not tell her about an uncle who had somehow learned of it. That had already been taken care of. He would be well on his way to the Indies by now with the fear of death at the end of a rope, receding behind him.
“You make things sound so easy, Robert, but I am sure they cannot be.”
“It will be simple as long as you call me, Charles, and persuade others that I am he. That is what this ceremony is all about on the surface; a reaffirmation of our love for each other. Nothing changes. Because you and the children obviously accept me, others will not question it.” She began to see that the difficulties were only in her own mind and began to search for others that might come back to haunt them.
“What of you? What of Robert? Surely his absence will be noted, unless you plan on adopting two identities and roles.” She chuckled at that mischievous thought, seeing all manner of possibilities.
“Robert will be lost at sea, eventually, or can settle in some distant land; Hawaii or Tahiti, as befits his reputably dissolute character. We can think of something.”
“I fear you may regret this, Robert, and then you will grow to hate me and wish you had not done this.”
He leaned over her and kissed her as he looked deep into her eyes, seeing what he wanted to see. “That is something I will never do. I am relieved that you recognize me at last, my love, and are aware of my true character and what my lustful intentions toward you are.”
Selena sat back and mused over the change in her circumstance. “How could I be in love with two men, as I now realize that I have been for the last ten years?” She chuckled and blushed up at him.
“Charles?” She went back to using his alternative name.
“Yes, my love?”
“As we seem to have already known each other in that… biblical way, ten years ago, at the Belvedere. And as there needs to be no period of mourning, then I am still a married woman, with my husband, you, in attendance; or so everyone seems prepared to believe, so why should I fight against this?” She looked up at him with a mounting flush upon her face.