The Journey North
Robert’s mind was not on the drive out of London or the pleasant rural scenery around him that he had been away from for so long. He was reminiscing about his brother; his childhood; how strange it was to be going home under this circumstance, and not sure what to do about it all. How had he survived, while his brother had died?
What might he find when he arrived home? How would he be greeted? How would his brother’s wife feel about him returning to claim the estate that had been hers? How might she welcome him? Assuming of course that she still lived and would recover from her injuries. He felt a momentary panic. And what if she didn’t live?
He tried not to dwell on that possibility, but it was a reality he had to face. She might already be dead. If so, what was he to do with three young girls who knew nothing about him? He regarded children as… he was not sure. There had been no children in his life. He hadn’t needed to think about them where he had been. He recognized that he was not comfortable with the thought of having to deal with young children. For the first time in his life he prayed.
Please lord, let Selena live. It you must take a life, take mine. All I ask is that you give me a year to protect those who must go on.
Robert would cross each bridge as he came to it. He was responsible for them now, of course, and would do right by them, but he knew nothing about bringing children up, and nothing whatsoever about little girls, or catering to their never-ending illnesses, tears, tantrums, and simperings. But they were his brother’s children, and he had an obligation to them now, just as he had once had an obligation to manage life aboard ship. It would not be so very difficult. Surely! If it was so very different, he would soon learn.
The horses were fresh, and they wanted to go, so he gave them their heads and let them out. They had not travelled far that morning and were ready to pick up the pace with their manes flying. The road rapidly deteriorated, barely noticed in the superior suspension of the carriage and with his mind on other things. However, he rapidly recovered his consciousness of his surroundings, and had to rein in the horses when he noticed how violently he was being moved around. It was either that, or break an axle, or lose a wheel. He let his mind go back to what he had been thinking about.
It was very likely that Selena—if she survived—would not feel welcoming, considering what his inheriting the title might mean for her and her children. A surviving widow could expect very little under normal circumstances, other than to see her life overturned. He would tread very carefully and take his cue from what met him. She would not wish to trust him with so much at stake for her future and that of her children. It would be a difficult readjustment for her.
Fortunately, she would have no recollection of ever having met him. She would see only that he would be there to put her out of house and home or banish her to the dower house with her children, so that he could bring a wife of his choosing into what had been her home.
She would not know that those fears would be unfounded. There would be no other woman in his life. He could never tell her that, however, but would need to find some way of persuading her to stay, until he knew what might be possible.
Selena. The woman that he had never lost from his own thoughts since that fateful day just over ten years earlier, and a month before her marriage to his brother. The woman who had given birth to his namesake, possibly his own son. The woman who had been responsible, in a way, for driving him out of his own home, but without knowing it, and had kept him at sea for ten years.
He woke himself up from that discomforting reverie and took note of his surroundings. What was he dreaming about? She could be dead! He didn’t like that thought. How would he deal with that, and three orphaned children? And all of them, girls. It was too much to think about. No, he would tread cautiously. He would say very little and stay in the background. He would observe and remain silent until he knew what he was walking into. If it did not go as he wanted it to, or if he could not handle what he was faced with, he could leave the estate in her hands and return to London and get himself another ship.
Yet he couldn’t do that either. Not now. For her sake, and those of the children, he had to live. No. The navy was too dangerous, now that he had a ready-made family to be responsible for. His family. Yes, his family, which they were now. Surely, they would know that he would rather not have been faced with this particular circumstance, and the loss of his brother too.
He knew nothing of what Charles had done before his carriage accident; knew little of his wife, or of his children in the years he had been away, other than what had been revealed in his brother’s many and detailed letters.
Robert knew that he would not be expected so soon. How could he be? The entire house would still be grieving. He was not used to that kind of grieving. Men grieved in their own way and they soon got over it. Women were different. Their grieving pulled others into feeling the pain that they felt, and it might go on for days, even weeks. It would be a new world for him.
This was not a ship he was about to command, where life continued as it had to, without break, no matter how many men had just been killed in battle, and where bodies were still being operated on, some of them on that same wardroom table upon which dinner would soon be served.
He brought the horses back under control as the road, once again deteriorated enough to stop him day-dreaming for a few moments.
The servants were all likely to be new, though memories on some things were too long. They undoubtedly remembered everything ill about him and how, as the younger son, he had been pushed further and further out of his own home, with the final ouster being when Selena had come to spend all of her time with them in the weeks before her marriage to his brother.
Certainly, the servants who were still there, would know or choose to remember only the bad about him, and there had been more than enough of that. It would be one hell of a homecoming! What a circumstance to come back to! He heartily wished that none of this had happened and that he were back at sea. It was what he was familiar with and was much less challenging and uncertain.
He soon realized that if he expected to get home without taking a wrong turn or being overset on the road, he had better concentrate on the road and on his driving.
After two hours of a relatively brisk pace that the horses were clearly used to, hauling such a light and well sprung carriage, he realized that he needed to break the journey. The horses showed barely any sign of fatigue. However, they would need to be rested for a while so that they might continue. He also needed something to eat and drink. He had not eaten that day other than for a rushed and inadequate breakfast before they'd docked.