The Elusive Miss Wakefield

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Questions Are Now Answered

Six years after he had left, Henry returned from India. He was intent on finding the woman he loved, his wife—for that is how he regarded her—and his nephew. He had little to work with except for that name, Wakefield, and also that of Pennington. There was also the trail created by the written letters over the years. His letters had been picked up from his parents’ house, where he had directed them, and had gone off somewhere, after a youth had called around, asking if there were letters for Miss Wakefield. That youth came once each week, or soon after a ship had arrived in the docks from the East Indies. Henry would turn England upside down if necessary to find Charlotte and his nephew, but it might prove to be difficult.

After he had given his father and their partners full details of what he had achieved in India, he turned over his accounts to them and went off to Penningtons.

They were not sure what to make of him, but they recognized his name, and cooperated in whichever way they felt they could. He explained who he was and who he was looking for, but learned eventually, after some searching behind the scenes, that the only Miss Wakefield that they had record of, and from several years earlier, was a Miss Caroline Wakefield, not Charlotte, and yes, she had been taken on to work for Miss Georgiana Stavely as a maid and companion. “But that was some six, almost seven years ago now. Was there a problem with her, sir?”

“No, not at all. Where might I find her?”

The man looked Henry up and down and seemed to find nothing to cause any suspicion as to his purpose. “I seem to recall that one of her relatives died soon after that and left her a sizable bequest, so she had no need of our services after that.” He fussed around in the file, which he had brought out with him. “Ah, yes. General Murgatroyd died—her grandfather or great-uncle or something, it’s in the Gazette for that time—and left her his house in Cavendish gardens.” The man scribbled directions and saw their visitor leave. With him returning from India, and likely being flush with money, he might need to set up his own house shortly. It would not have paid to antagonize him, or been difficult.

Henry found the address easily and applied the knocker. It was a modest house in a quieter part of town well away from the river. He passed his card over to the older man who answered, and he requested an interview with either Miss Caroline or Miss Charlotte Wakefield, or even with Anne Wakefield if she were there. The old man seemed dumfounded at such a request and looked him over carefully. “There is a Caroline Wakefield here, sir, but neither of the other two.”

“May I speak with her please?” The old man looked at his card again—Stavely, and decided that he was not a bill collector attempting to gain admittance by being devious. Henry was shown into the front parlor. Eventually, a youngish woman appeared whom he did not know.

“Miss Wakefield? You are Miss Wakefield?”

She nodded. “I am she, Sir?” He looked disappointed to see her. She waited for him to explain his reason for visiting.

Henry left that house about ten minutes later, feeling frustrated. He learned that the woman he had just met had indeed been taken on by Penningtons and had actually traveled to Calderwold to take up that position Penningtons had hired her for—as maid to his sister, but that she had never arrived at Stavely. She had told him a strange tale involving another young woman who had met with her in the village and had managed to persuade her that she had been misled and misinformed of the family. That same lady, Miss Charlotte Carter, had offered to rescue Miss Wakefield from what would undoubtedly have been a difficult situation, and had seen her returned to London in her own modest coach.

Miss Wakefield had even described that other young woman quite well, suggesting that she had indeed met Charlotte, but with that other surname of Carter. The woman he had just left had given him no explanation as to how or why she might have been sidetracked from taking up the position she had been hired for. At such a distance in time, recollections of a meeting of an hour or two were sketchy at best, and insubstantial, and she was of little help.

He returned home, intent on waiting to interview the youth who would pick up his letters, and then Henry would follow him until he found out where they were delivered. He was saved from all of that when a letter arrived for him from Anne Wakefield. He recognized the writing immediately. He broke the seal and read it slowly. Most of his sudden difficulties in trying to find Charlotte no longer existed, as he gradually learned almost all that he might ever want to know.

'Henry,

I asked your butler to let me know when you were to arrive back from India so that I might save you the difficulty of finding us, which would not be easy to do. I can save you from all of that by telling you who we are and how to find us all once more.

I would advise you to sit down before reading further.

Charlotte and I are both of the Morton family whom you know well—at least you knew Oliver. We are not Wakefields at all!'

Henry flopped into a chair and continued to read the letter.

'Wakefield, was a name that Charlotte had to assume when she first appeared at Stavely in order not to alarm your sister with a name (Morton) that your sister would immediately recognize and which would certainly upset her. Charlotte took the place of a Miss Wakefield who had been hired by Penningtons and who showed up in Calderwold to take on the role of maid and companion to Georgiana. Charlotte managed to persuade her not to stay for that position and offered her a ride back to London in our carriage.

It shall all become clear to you shortly why she did that, though I am not entirely sure myself how she did it. Some things are best not known. What she did that day, taking that young woman’s place and hiding her own name, has proved to be no end of trouble since then in so many ways. Deception is a difficult course to start upon and even harder to continue successfully. She has agonized over it ever since. “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” As Walter Scott wrote in his poem “Marmion.” Fittingly, Scott also married a woman called Charlotte. However, enough of such gentle sidetracking. I will get straight to the point if I can:

Your nephew, James, is also our nephew. He is the son of our late brother, Oliver, whom I know was once your closest friend. It is all so simple really. Your sister and he met and fell in love when you did not show up for a meeting that you and he had planned in Calderwold. It is strangely disturbing to realize that such a tangled outcome, and all of these years of anguish for us all, can be laid at your door for missing that meeting. You can have no idea the trouble you caused, though we, all of us, certainly added to it! With you coming back from India, I can now begin to think that it all might turn out for the better.'

He vaguely remembered asking Georgiana to see that a note was delivered to the inn for Oliver that day. He had not thought she might take it herself. So he was uncle to Georgiana’s and Oliver’s son, just as Charlotte and Anne were his aunt. No wonder they felt so protective of him. So many of the difficulties between him and Charlotte, and other questions, were now being answered at last.

'Your sister delivered your letter of explanation and apology and met Oliver there, with the seemingly inevitable outcome of them falling in love, even as they set eyes on each other. It is obvious now what the shocking outcome of that was—James. They were so caught up in love for each other, that they neglected certain other niceties and necessities of proper social behavior—a common failing when people are in love, I believe, as the evidence so clearly indicates.'

As he had with Charlotte. Anne may have been referring to that.

'It was a heartwarming love story worthy of a novel, but I have neither the skill nor the inclination to make use of it . . . and as they say . . . the rest is history. Oliver was shot, and died shortly after that, though they did marry in secret first, to give them both, mother and child, the respectability and protection of Oliver’s name, though that was a secret that Georgiana wished to see kept confidential.

I find that I can only write about it now, because the difficulties that arose from that will soon be resolved with your arrival. Your sister had the marriage document and other particulars in her possession, as well as all of her letters to Oliver, and Oliver’s to her, which Charlotte saw were returned to her, though they must have been well hidden. I did not realize it at the time, but that document now has an even greater importance to us.'

Henry knew what that was. To do with the succession of estates. The infant, James, would be Oliver’s heir. Henry was aware of where his sister had been in the habit of hiding various personal documents out of sight, just as she had been aware of where he hid his sketchbooks. He would go looking for them after he had finished this letter.

'Charlotte and I made a promise to our brother that we would make friends with your sister, if possible, and see that our brother’s child came into the world, wanting for nothing, and was well looked after. Would that it had ended there, except Georgiana . . . well, you know what happened as well as we do. Yet another unexpected tragedy to deal with, or Charlotte would have married you on board ship and would have spent the last six years in India with you. I believe she would also have told you of all of this subterfuge with our name and asked your forgiveness. I know you would have given it without hesitation, but she had so much to lose that she was terrified how you might respond to learning of her perfidious behavior—as she saw it.

With you going off to India, and leaving her and the baby behind, Charlotte felt she had little choice in anything she did—not with a baby at breast and dependent upon her. To you, James is a nephew and son of your wonderful sister. To us, he is not only a nephew but also, as Oliver’s son, heir to the entire Morton estate with no other male in line since our father died.

Her usual courage and resolution seemed to have deserted her with loss of our brother, your friend—I did not realize how so much of our own strength and security was resident in Oliver. She did not expect to fall in love with you as she did, even as you met for that first time in the library at Stavely (she never could hide any secret from either me or Oliver), nor to have her new best friend die so suddenly. She felt everything closing in upon her from some many directions, and her courage deserted her, especially when she realized that your house in Vine Avenue was being watched by that same man you rescued me from that day. Jasper Enright.

It was a complicated mess . . .'

It was indeed, but it was being clarified by the minute.

'.. . but I will tell you the remainder of this story, as far as I can, when I see you.

Please do nothing precipitate. An unfortunate outbreak of measles has struck our sister’s family in Lancaster, and they have appealed to Charlotte for help. As unfortunate as it all is, we must take advantage of her absence. She will be going off to Lancaster later today for what may be a protracted visit. James will remain with me, and his nanny, of course. I believe that it is better that you learn of us, without Charlotte’s inevitable emotional sensitivities to complicate the picture more than it already is.

This could not have happened at a better time, despite the illness. She does not know you are returned just yet. I held her last two letters back and will give them to you when we meet, so the others will need to be returned from India and will take months to get to you now.

I will leave a message for you in Brokeston, at the inn there, tomorrow, Thursday. They serve a good lunch. When you arrive at Fallowfield after that, we can decide how this can be efficaciously moved along to the benefit of all.

If you are unable to come at this time, you can leave a message there for me. We are but a half-hour ride from there and will check each day. You have been our protector at a distance, our benefactor and our savior, Henry, and for that, I must thank you for all that you have selflessly done and tolerated, where other men would have been impatient and angry.

She loves you more than ever, though I know she told you that already in each letter, most of which she allowed me to read. Please forgive me for that. Be patient. It must all be gently arrived at. Too much of a shocking reappearance would be difficult to recover from for all of us, but especially for her, missing you as she did, and still does, and there is too much that you still do not know about us. Yes. So much that you do not know. I will remedy those omissions when we meet.

Your affectionate sister-in-law (I believe I can regard myself as that, considering all that has happened, and despite that other slight omission of an actual wedding). You can expect to stay for possibly at least two weeks at first, so come prepared.

Anne Morton.'

Henry heaved a massive sigh of relief and sat back, with his eyes closed. Now, after all of these years, he might be able to rest. Most of his questions had been answered, and so much of what he had not known had been cleared away. He reread the letter and then went searching in his sister’s belongings, which had not been touched since he had gone away.

The following morning, he rode north to Brokeston. There was a light carriage following an hour or so behind with his luggage. He checked in the local hostelry for lunch, as Anne had suggested, and was prepared to wait patiently for her to contact him. He did not have to wait at all. There was a letter for him already in possession of the landlord.

“Mr. Henry Stavely, sir? Yes, there is a letter.” He brought several down from a shelf and selected one of them. “A rider came through from Fallowfield not an hour ago and left this for you, sir—said you would probably be through here sometime today.”

Henry opened the letter impatiently. Six years of waiting, worrying, and loving as he had, while not fully understanding what had happened around him in those last few days before he left England (until Anne’s welcome letter), was about to come to an end:

'Henry,

Charlotte left yesterday morning for Lancaster, and is likely to be away for at least a week, as our sister’s children all have the chicken pox—not the measles—as I mistakenly said earlier. You may come out to us at any time. Charlotte knows nothing of your being back in England.

I prepared Mama for your visit. I told her that we had just heard from one of Oliver’s friends from the university, who wished to meet with her after all of these years and convey his somewhat late condolences as he had just arrived back from India. She quite perked up to hear that. I can assure you that you will receive a warm welcome. I know that once Mama sees you, there will be no difficulty having you stay with us for some indefinite time, until Charlotte returns, and for long after that too. I suspect Mama will take one look at you and know all of the secrets we have hidden from her for the last few years, but you still do not know all of ours.

I am quite excited by what is happening at last. I knew there would be a good outcome from all of this eventually. You will be expected at Fallowfield, whenever you can arrive. Today, if possible. You have no idea how anxious and excited we are to see you again, so do not delay. Charlotte will be surprised when she returns!

Anne Morton.'

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