The Elusive Miss Wakefield

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Another World

Charlotte’s subsequent letters to Henry dwelled mostly on James’s progress, with others arriving at fairly regular intervals after that. She apologized for the shock she must have caused him with her first letter.

Charlotte repeated her assurances to him concerning herself and James, and that she now felt safer than she had. She would write on a continuing basis, to be sure that he would receive at least one letter each month from her. “It is better if no one knows where I am at the moment.” Nor who she really was. She would wrestle with her own conscience in the meantime about continuing to deceive him in so many ways. She would remain Charlotte Wakefield to him while becoming Charlotte Morton again at home.

Over the following months, extending to years, the letters continued to be exchanged between them. Her letters to him detailed James’s progress as he said his first words, and then began to walk unassisted. She always included one or more of her drawings of him. Later, James sent his own contributions, including some strange drawings that either Charlotte or Anne identified for Henry as an insect, a birthday cake, and a dog. As time progressed, Henry even began to receive short messages from James in his childlike, almost undecipherable scrawl, so he could see for himself that his nephew’s education was not being neglected.

Henry could sense that she was happy where she was, though she was cautious not to say too much. Although he was denied the actual duties of an uncle, he felt that—through those letters and with his own responses, with a page or two addressed to James in each of his letters, which he knew Charlotte would read to him at first—he participated in some small measure in the lad’s upbringing, even at so many thousands of miles and months of distance.

Each of Henry’s many letters was clearly a work of love, each containing many pages of gentle prose with drawings (of which he was obviously a master) and poetry (not so accomplished) as well as tales from the countryside, while avoiding the more blood-curdling episodes. He tried to write each day before he retired, and was an avid reader too. He often shared snippets of the daily lives that he shared, as well as recounting tales of the countryside to go along with his drawings of the countryside, of strange birds, snakes, elephants, and tigers, even people in their traditional dress. His drawings could easily have been bound together as a naturalist’s diary, which he knew would eventually be of interest to young James who seemed to be growing apace as young boys do. His letters to Charlotte were always carefully worded, in order not to alarm her at what seemed to be accepted as usual behavior and an everyday circumstance where he was, though he did tell her some of what he was doing in India and with the business and the success in going forward.

He discovered, despite the deprivations and hardship, that now he had so much to look forward to and to live for waiting for him back in England. His gentle memories of her, and those final moments of his sister, and of her dying as she gave birth, drove him along to be more careful in his own life and to leave—as far as he was allowed—his previous reckless behavior behind; though violence was something that one could not escape for long, where he was. That was, yet another reason that he was glad that Charlotte and James were not with him. It was a dangerous enough place without inviting more trouble, and he would be glad to see the business turned over to others so that he could return home.

At regular intervals, larger presents also began to arrive for them all from India, and were placed in care of Henry’s parents until they could be picked up—presents that spoke their own tales of the country that was his home now, yet which would never be his true home. Home, really was where the heart was, and his was in England.

Charlotte often sat down with Anne as they read his letters together, sometimes receiving as many as three at a time. “He has been away two years now, though it feels like a lifetime, and the gifts seem to become more exotic and expensive with each ship. He has even directed his agent in London to set up a bank account for both me and James, and I learned that there is an astonishing amount of money in them both at this time. Fortunately, he does not use our father’s bank in which I also have an account, but under my own name, of course, or I would soon be exposed. Mama wonders where all of the money and the numerous exotic and expensive gifts are coming from—the finely carved small pieces of rose-wood, teak and ebony furniture, and carved ivory, as well as jewelry and fine cloth, and perfumes for both me and for you—and I now have to lie to her too, and tell her that some of Papa’s investments are now beginning to pay off. It will all catch up to me one of these days. I thought it was bad enough living at Stavely and deceiving them there, and then on Vine Avenue, but I now find that I must do the same thing with Mama. I do not like the feeling of living on my wits as I do, even here, and I have to watch what I say. I try to keep his letters hidden away and tell her as little as I dare. I do not like this feeling that I have become an accomplished dissimulator. A liar, Oliver would say in his insistence on being a stickler for the truth, and he would be right, yet he was the one who brought this upon me, without knowing any of it.” Her sadness at what she had done, weighed heavily upon her.

“When his letters come for me, I can almost feel his loneliness and suffering out there without us, and I suffer it all again, though he brings India and all of its dreadful violence and difficulties to life for me. I wish with all my heart that I might be there with him as we had planned at one time. There are times when I wish I had the courage to take the next ship out there and join him, yet I cannot leave all of this behind, nor Fallowfield and all that I know. I still fear being found out even at this distance. Deceiving him as I did has been the most hurtful thing I have ever done. I not only hurt him but also robbed myself.

“I should have married him before he left! If only Georgiana had not died. If only Oliver had not died either. Just think how normal all of our lives would now be, though I might not have met Henry in that case, and I would still be Charlotte Morton to everyone, instead of who I feel I really am—his wife, and living two lives and with so many secrets from everyone.” She looked up tearfully. “This deception is wearing upon me, Anne. I feel sometimes that it is draining the life out of me, yet I do not know how to end it without destroying all that I value. I sometimes think that I should permanently take on the name of Wakefield, or even that of Stavely, and remove myself to London again, if I dared. I keep waiting to hear of Jasper taking up residence with his mother once more. I told you I saw him in London watching the house. Another danger to us all. I had to leave after that.”

Anne tried to reassure her sister, “I told you that you need not fear for Jasper appearing again. Charles wrote me and told me that he got a letter from his brother from the West Indies almost a year ago and another just recently, so he is half a world away and well out of our lives. No, there is something else that we need to consider, and soon. James needs a name to be known by. I know he is James Stavely to his grandparents in London when we take him to visit them, but I sure he has also heard others call you Miss Wakefield or even Mrs. Stavely while we are there, and me, called Miss Wakefield too. To our mother here, he is James Morton, yet Mama knows that he cannot be a Morton with you claiming him as your own. James must have a father somewhere out there. You will have to confess the truth eventually—that he is Oliver’s son and heir and is not your son at all. This must be confusing to poor James. It is even confusing to me. One day, he will begin to ask questions as to who he really is, and even who you are, and at an inopportune time. It was fun being Wakefield for a short time, but it was just a matter of time before one or other, or both of us, would have been found out. Better if we are the ones to disclose it, than others.” Charlotte realized that Anne was right.

They did, occasionally, get to London without their mother. When this was planned, they were sure to visit Henry’s parents. They always welcomed her and James, as well as Anne. They could see that she was not in need of anything, though the carriage in which she and her sister arrived was always hired just outside of London. They thought it strange, but they did not inquire about it. Charlotte was not sure how long she dared do this—taking James with her. He was learning to talk and to converse with adults, and would soon let slip that his name, which he had been christened with, was James Morton, and not James Stavely. It was almost as though she were beginning to teach James to lead a double life as she had done, and was still doing. It would be better when it was all brought to an end, as it would need to be when Henry returned.

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