A Conversation with a Beloved Sister
That same evening, Henry approached his sister while she was alone. He sat by her and took her hand. It was one of those few occasions when he had been able to find her without Charlotte close by. He smiled at her. “When did you plan on telling me about your condition?” There was a sudden look of alarm on her face. He knew! She did deny what had become more obvious as time had gone by, nor try to divert him as a woman often does by asking a question in response. “No don’t look at me like that. I am not about to judge you. I want to protect you. And before you leap to conclusions I should tell you that I began to suspect some time ago. Charlotte did not tell me.” She worried how he might respond to what he had certainly guessed about her if she confirmed it to him, yet he was smiling kindly upon her. He continued.
“Can you tell me about the circumstances?” She could say nothing at first, though he was not looking at her in any way that might cause her concern. His look, if anything was one of understanding and he was calm, though that might be misleading. She knew her brother too well to be misled by that.
“Who is he? Why is he not by you?” She still did not respond to his gentle enquiries, but she had known that this time would eventually come, and had been half prepared for it. “If it was violent in any way . . .”
“It was not violent, Henry.” She blushed. “Nothing like that. It was something both of us . . . we did not plan this. It just happened. We fell deeply in love even as we first saw each other, and were together for all of two months. You were away, in the north, at the time. We had our futures all planned even before I knew of this, even on that first day that we met.” Her agitation was obvious as she pulled at her handkerchief. She seemed to have difficulty breathing now that her secret had been discovered, though everyone else seemed to know. He tried to comfort her.
“Do not worry so. I will stand by you, no matter what. You are my sister, and I love you.” She seemed comforted to hear that, and tried to smile at him in thanks for his support. “So where is he? Why has he kept away and not approached our father or me, as he should, or do the right thing by you? Does he lack the courage? What would you have me do?” He could see the pain in her eyes. Her lips were trembling and tears began to flow. He was surprised, and recognized that he must be even more gentle, and to control his own protective feelings. She would tell him all he needed to know if he was patient, but his words were hurting her and he needed to slow his own emotions down.
“It is nothing like that, Henry, and there is nothing that you can do. He cannot approach you, or be with me, because he is dead.” They sat silently together for some time as he digested that piece of shocking news. His heart went out to her. Everything he had seen about his sister; her sudden depression, was now explained. “We did not plan this outcome.” He took her into his arms as she sobbed uncontrollably. “Ask me no more, Henry. There is nothing anyone can do at this time. I have to learn to live with this, and to bear this problem as best I can. If it were not for this child that I carry, and for the help that Charlotte has been, as well as you, I think I would not choose to live.” Her words shocked him even more. He decided that he would need to re-arrange his priorities, and remain at Stavely and keep an eye on things here.