Deception by Proxy. Ch. 33. Charlotte Tells a Secret. A Plot is born.

Wednesday, July 4th, 2018

“William?” He looked up from the book that he was reading by the library fire to see Charlotte approaching him. He had dozed there for some hours after he had returned from the coast, seeing that the Seamew had not suffered in the gale that had accompanied the thunderstorm the night before. It had been necessary to ensure that it was also ready for its planned trip to France later that evening. He had not immediately gone to bed when he had returned in the early hours as his mind had been far too busy with another, and perhaps even more urgent and pressing problem that he needed to deal with.

“Yes, Charlotte.”

“There is something that I need to tell you. It is quite disturbing. I hope you will be able to forgive us.”

He paused and smiled at her. “You too now, eh? I recall a similar meeting with your sister just a few days ago. I am not sure I will survive many more of these sudden revelations. Nothing to do with a watch or a letter, is it?”


“Perhaps Sophia has been showing you some things of mine that she was not supposed to find?”

“You mean your drawings?”

“So she did show you them. Damn!”

“No. Annis told me of them. She had looked in your journal when you were not here. But you already know that.” He looked sharply at her. How did she know that? These girls really did not miss anything. “Sophia was looking at your drawings of the Peninsula when she found those others too. That was when Annis stopped her running to Mama with them, for she also draws better than any of us, or telling her of one that you had done of Annis. She said that yours were almost as good as mine, but I already knew that. I looked in your journal once too. We all have. I hope you can forgive us.” The signs were not threatening, as he was still smiling upon her, so she continued. “Your drawings are very good, but I was quite surprised to see that one of them, the one that Sophia had seen, was of you bathing Annis in her bedroo—.”

“Yes, Charlotte. Let us not go there. That was not for general circulation.”

“You will show me the others sometime, won’t you? I saw that there were more in there of her too, but I had to put them down when others came in. I’m glad I saw them, for now you cannot criticize me so harshly for doing those of you as you sat in your, in… the window seat.” She might almost have been ready to admit to having drawn him in other circumstances. “Besides, you saw some of my drawings of Annis that you were not supposed to see, and they were no more revealing than the one you drew.”

She said nothing of those other of her more daring drawings of him in his bath or in other revealing circumstances as he had stepped out of it, that he had also seen in her book on that occasion. She probably would not like to admit to those and invite more searching questions about where she had been hiding to have seen him like that. He smiled. “Perhaps. So, not a watch and not a letter.”

“No. Not about that embarrassingly dreadful watch.” Her expression showed her feelings at seeing that for the first time, when Annis showed it to her. “Annis is looking after it and may have hidden it away if she did not give it back to you. But what letter do you refer to?”

“Good. If you do not know, then never mind. Yes, she gave me the watch. You said to ‘tell’ me, not to ‘ask’me.” He waited for her to continue.

“Was that the reverend that just came through before lunch?”

Clearly, she was not about to say anything until she was ready. “Yes, it was. He visited earlier. He will come back through here again in a few hours. Do you wish to speak with him?”

“No. Not at the moment. Is he a member of your crew too?”

He glanced searchingly at her. “Yes, he is. How did you learn of that?”


“Of course.” He saw that she might have difficulty getting to the point and she was hungrily eyeing the cake that he had barely touched. “Do have a seat, Charlotte. Help yourself to some of that cake your mother brought me, if you wish.”

“Thank you.” She picked up a small piece and ate it as she sat opposite him. “Did Annis go out with you last night too?”

“No, she did not. Why do you ask?”

“She was not in her bed last night at all. Nor was she in the drawing-room chair in the window, waiting to see when you might return. Well. I wonder where she was?”

He had known where she had been; waiting for him to return, but he was not about to let her sister know any of that. “Now, young lady, enough beating about the bush. You said you had something to tell me, rather than to ask me.”

She dusted off her fingers on her dress. “Yes, for Annis won’t, and neither will Mama, and Sophia does not really know enough about it, so she cannot.”

“So you all, except Sophia, know this thing that you say is quite disturbing, and it is not about my revealing drawings of Annis?”

“Yes. But not a drawing. Though Sophia might know. She seems to know everything. But if she does know, I doubt that she would understand. It is quite disturbing.” She paused for a moment. “It is also tragic. I cannot believe how anyone might think otherwise. Except I think Mama does not think about it anymore. She seemed upset at first when I mentioned it to her, but she said that there was nothing she could do about it now.” He let her ramble on. She would get to the point eventually. “She also seems quite happy to leave everything the way it is, and for that matter, so am I, in a way; but in another, I am not happy to leave it be.” She moistened her finger and picked up some of the crumbs from the plate as she considered the last pieces of it still sitting there. “Mama says it will all sort itself out eventually, yet it would be wrong to leave it as it is, for it is preying on Annis at times. She is not herself.”

“Yes. I think I had a similarly confusing discussion like this one just the other day with Annis herself. But why will Annis not say anything?”

“She does not speak of it, but it is obvious that she is afraid of what you will do when you find out; how you will respond to her? To us. She seemsto respond to you as she should, most of the time, considering…, but then at others, she remembers things, and then she becomes remote and goes quiet and sad, and I know why.”

He had seen the same thing, but less in recent days. “Apart from that, does this involve me in any way?”

“Yes, William, it does. She is not the only one that is afraid. We all are, that you will leave us when you find out.”

“How can I leave? This is my home.” He gestured about himself with his hand.

“No, William. Leave us. Turn against us.” She stressed that last word.

“Ah. I think I see. But I think you have nothing to fear there, you know?”

“If you were to do that, I think Mama might suffer a breakdown. It has been…different…with you being with us. We all would suffer cruely, for since you entered our lives, we have been shielded from most things that could have destroyed us. You did not replace our father in any way.” She reconsidered that statement. “And yet you have, in every way, providing the same kind of support and no-nonsense stability that he did. I did not know that was what a man’s role might be in a family, but I do now. You saw the Thackerays off. You rescued us from the fire.” She took another piece of cake and ate as she spoke. “You even brought us here. As Mama says, you distracted us from ourselves and our dreadful circumstance. For you did. You shielded Sophia best of all. We were worried for her at first.”

He looked steadily at her. “But what about you? You lost them both too.”

She did not answer immediately but finished off the cake. “We should have told you sooner, but I am not sure anyone knows how to tell you, for it all seems so foolish now.”

He waited for her to get to the point. She picked up his wine glass and took a sip of that too, to wash down the cake. He smiled at the familiar ease that she showed of him and his presence. He found it quite charming and entirely disarming, for Sophia was the same, and Annis too.

“We made up some of those special cards that we learned about in one of those tarot books that Mama has. We made one up for each of us with our birthdates and other information on them. To make a long story short, your name seemed always to be paired with that of Arabella when we played. That is why this all came to pass as it did, to have you marry Arabella.” She fell thoughtful. “There was also the need for one of us—the eldest I think it had to be—to get married before Papa died for some reason. I did not understand that, for I learned that in his will he had left everything to Mama, though Mama did not seem convinced that Father’s Will might be accepted if it were contested. Then the accident happened and threw everything into disarray.” She swallowed hard, recalling those so recent memories.

“So that is what you needed to tell me? The tarot cards? So what is it that is wrong? Or was that it?”

“No. Annis was looking through those cards again just the other day at Underby before the fire, the day that it rained so hard. She seemed upset over something, for she swore—I have never heard her swear before—most shocking, and then she threw them into the fireplace. Fortunately there was no fire at that moment, and Mama was not there to hear her, so after she had fled the room, I recovered them to find out what had upset her.

“It took me a while, but I noticed that there were two cards with Bella’s name on them, but only one of them had her information correct with her birthday and all. The one with a smudge of blood from the paper cut that Sophia got, had the information that belonged really to Annis but had Arabella’s name written on it in error somehow. There was no card for Annis. How we could possibly have overlooked that, I do not know. I remember that when that card was paired with your name, it may have had Bella’s name on it, but it was not the correct one for Bella. It was the smudged one that should have had Annis’s name on it. We had got you married to my sister, Bella, all based upon that wrong card. Oh William, it has become so obvious to us all in the last week and more, but it was Annis that you should have married and not Arabella.”

She waited for some sign from William that he understood this cataclysm, that what had happened—marrying Arabella—had happened in error, but there was nothing to read in his face though his shoulders seemed to be shaking, perhaps with suppressed laughter. She did not understand that.

“And that is what you wanted to tell me?” He had a strange smile on his face.

“Yes, William. I think that has been obvious to everyone by now that you should have married Annis. Perhaps it is obvious even to Annis herself. No. Most certainly to Annis too, though she will not easily admit it. There seem to be other things on her mind and preying upon her too, for she no longer confides in me as she did. I no longer understand her.”

“Is that all?”

She seemed puzzled that he was neither surprised nor angry over it. “Mama knows this too, for I told her, though she will not discuss it with us now, for she can get upset if she thinks about it, and now it has all worked out wrong in one way, if not in another. So very wrong, and we have ruined two lives and two futures. Yours and Annis’s. I do not see how you might forgive us for this—marrying you to the wrong daughter, and you now a widower as a result. It is too large a burden to bear, and I do not know how to go forward with this. I felt that I must come and tell you, and can only pray that you will know how to solve this before we all go mad.”

He smiled at her. She knew he had heard what she had said, but perhaps he did not understand.

“It is not so bad, Charlotte.” She looked at him in some surprise as he refilled his wine glass for her. “No. I do not feel that I am laboring under any such burden, or that my life is ruined, nor my future. Quite the opposite. We are all still together, are we not? Did you not wonder why?” She seemed confused and unlikely to be able to answer easily. “You forget that when I arrived, I had no expectation of marrying anyone.”

Charlotte felt confused that he seemed to be taking it all so easily. “I expect not. But now I cannot talk to Annis about it for she gets too annoyed and frustrated with me and is afraid of revealing any of it, especially to you. She is afraid of upsetting you, indeed of overturning all of this, for Mama and me and Sophia, and of opening up the will to being contested and setting us all back into the state we might have been in, but for you, if any of it is discovered. But if it is, then what of you? What of Annis?”

“I think we will survive, my dear.” He was quite sure that Annis had come to grips with it too and did not care about any of it so much. He moved over to her and put his arm around her shoulders as he gave her his handkerchief to wipe away her tears. He laughed gently. “That is your carefully nurtured secret? This revelation that will turn the world upside down for everyone?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well. I did not know all of the details of that one. It sounds neither insurmountable nor earth shaking to me. But you say that Annis knows this?”

“Yes. She must. She was the one that alerted me to it by accident some days ago. I told you she was looking through those cards and let out a cry and threw them into the grate and rushed off. I picked them out and wondered what she had seen to upset her so. It took me some time, but then I discovered it too.”

“You have nothing to fear, you know. I am not angry over the mix-up, and I do know more than you are giving me credit for. I am not about to leave any of you either. Not now that I have a family of my own. Not ever, if I have my own way on this. It will all sort itself out eventually.”

“You won’t turn against us? It will?” She looked both surprised and relieved, but was also puzzled.

“No, nothing will change that much, except for one or two minor things that seem to have got out of hand, but they will still be manageable with care on my part, though it is getting more difficult and dangerous by the minute, I think. For me. I can assure you that the settlement of everything upon your mother cannot be overturned now. None of it depended upon my marrying Bella or any one of you, but I did not discover that until later. Under the circumstances, I think it was better that I married Arabella rather than Annis.”

She looked at him in disbelief, not understanding why he would say that, knowing how Annis felt about him and how he obviously felt about her.

“Yes, quite an unexpected thing for me to say. But think about it for a moment, Charlotte. If I had married Annis instead of Bella, what a difficult time we would have had of it, striving to discover and come to grips with each other in the role of man and wife and trying to cope with all of that grief and pain over the loss of her father and eldest sister at the same time.” He shook his head at that thought. “No. No. It would have been far too difficult.” He re-thought that.

“Did I say difficult?” He shook his head, “it would have been impossible. Some marriages do not survive less than that. Then there was that monumental difficulty created by our godmother’s let—. That is another problem that I do not now need to face. No. That would have been too much. I think I should feel lucky that I survived as long as I did in your midst, rather than have all of that hanging over me and a wife who did not know the first thing about me and who would have been ready to see me dead before she allowed me near her after what she found out about me. I far prefer the way it worked out, as unsettling as that has been at times.”

He looked far off as he thought about that. “Though….” he struggled with some thought for a moment. “I do begin to believe that it is certainly long overdue to try and correct all of that, and as soon as possible, considering what has been happening of late.”

She did not understand how he could accept it all so easily and was not sure she was hearing him correctly. It was all so tragic and emotionally draining, and here he was striving to thinka way through a matter of the heart. Could all men be so coldly unromantic and emotionally unimaginative?

“But let me reassure you of this, Charlotte. I have no intention of deserting any of you, and especially not Sophia nor Annis nor even your mother nor you. I inherited a wonderful and ready-made family all of my own—even a wife and sisters presented to me by none other than your father and with his unreserved blessing. I am very selfish and jealous of it, as I am sure he was too, that I am not about to jeopardize it or give it up without a fight.” He had a determined look on his face. “All that is needed is an adjustment here and there, and it will all work out as it should.” He sounded convinced of that.

“It will? But what adjustment?” His wonderful and ready-made family was built around a wife that he had almost immediately lost. It did not sound quite as rational or as stable as it should be.

“I don’t know. I am still thinking about that. My mother had a hand in this circumstance too, didn’t she? I can clearly see the signs, for she was the one who gave your mother those astrology books and got you all immersed in the occult, or whatever it is called these days, with horoscopes and astrology and the conjunctions of planets and constellations and houses in ascendance.”

“Yes.” There was a look of relief on her face but then a flicker of concern returned. Perhaps he had not understood her. “I know we are in mourning. I know I should not speak about it, but I also know that since you lost Bella, you…you and Annis have grown close together in…in that…other way, for I have eyes of my own, and Sophia tells me everything.”

He looked at her sharply. “I hope not everything.” She would not meet his eyes. He began to see that there really were few secrets from any of these sisters.

Perhaps it was time for plain speaking and taking the bull by the horns. Charlotte blurted out what she had been thinking for some time now. “She should not be allowed to wait a year, sir, if that is what must happen, for I doubt that she can, or will, or should. Nor, I think, can you, from what I have seen.” She waited for him to object to her outspoken utterance.

He looked at her, wondering what she might know or had seen. He knew that Annis was not about to wait for even another day to go by, considering what she had already done and had in mind for them both. “Wait for what, Charlotte?”

“I am not sure I dare speak of it, sir. To be married, in that otherway, of course.” She blushed intensely. But why would heobject?

“And what other way is that, Charlotte?” He looked steadily at her. He was not about to make it easy for her.

“I am not sure I dare to say. To be married, and yet not married. The informal way. De facto… informal… canonical. Not churched.” She blurted the last of it out in a way he could not misunderstand. Her face was red, but she had not faltered to say what she felt was needed to be said.

“Yes. Relax. I understand. I wondered if you would dare say it. No lack of courage with any of you, is there? The wrong side of the sheets. None of you beat about the bush, do you? But then an informal marriage? I cannot easily do that either. Strange of me to admit that, for I never thought I might hold back when so much is offered to me, as it undoubtedly was, and is, and yet I am holding back.” He recalled the interlude in the conservatory. Is Annis…am I…are we…that obvious and signaling it all to the world?”

“Yes. Of course you are. Both of you.” She sounded quite frustrated that he did not seem to know. “But you both seem to be ignoring it in some grand theatrical way. I sometimes feel that you deserve to be slapped hard the pair of you and brought to your senses as to what needs to be done, and soon, even as immoral as it might seem, before you drive the rest of us mad with how foolish you both can be on some stupid social requirement that there is no need for. Where there is true love, there is no such thing as immorality.”

“And you but sixteen.” He was impressed by her forthrightness. She seemed mature well beyond her years, but then they all were, especially Sophia.

“I can assure you I am not ignoring anything, Charlotte. You seemed worried that when I discovered this it would turn meagainst you, yet here am I, trying to find a way through this, that will not turn everyone against me, and that most especially, will not hurt Annis. For it might, eventually, you know? But what do you think I should do? For I will not hurt any of you, nor her, by any precipitate action if it can be avoided? We are all just recently bereaved. All of us. Including me. We will be in mourning for some time, though it all seems pointless.”

“Yes, that is exactly it William. It is pointless. Mama has no patience with any of that. Nor did Papa. But does it matter if certain social formalities are not strictly observed if you both love each other? Who would know, here. Happiness is the most important thing in anyone’s life, and thatis what our father told us.”

“It is. But how would you suggest I move forward on this?” He waited for her suggestion, for she had obviously struggled with it for some time.

“Why, sir, she must be kidnapped or abducted and, if necessary, forcedto marry you… if it must happen that way. You are both free to marry despite you being only recently a widower. Who cares what gossips might say? You could take her to Gretna Green, or better yet, to France and marry her there, for you will be going there soon, and no one could object or raise a fuss until it is too late, and she could be brought to her senses away from here and us. But even if you do not immediately marry…at least you would be happy together in that…that other way.”

“Being free to marry and getting married are two different things, but forced, you say? I don’t like that word. No. That is not the way out of this. Annis would certainly object to this scheme.” He did not tell Charlotte that her sister had another intent that was just as shocking. He continued, “…And so would your mother and everyone about us. But to France you say, and away from here and everyone?” He was deep in thought at that moment but could still devote some of his attention to what Charlotte was saying by way of persuasion.

“But you love each other. You are both eating your hearts out. Oh, why are men so unimaginative and unromantic? It sounds melodramatic, I know, but she has changed. She never did truly hate you. She mopes more than she should, despite…and she is moody at times and tearful, and it has not so much to do with that…other; our loss. Surely any reservations or foolish objection she might make would be swept aside by expeditious action. Then, it would not matter, for you do love each other.”

“The expeditious action you refer to Charlotte, is a course that might be more destructive than constructive. I know that it would not matter to me. I am only a clumsy unfeeling unromantic man, as you tell me, and yet I am hesitant.”

She blushed at having her own unflattering description of him tossed back at her, for she had been wrong to have said it.

“Yet I am not really so far removed from propriety that I must thumb my nose at the formalities, or what society might think. I do not care for myself, but I do care for your family’s reputation.” He seemed to be conducting two lines of thought, one internally and one that he expressed openly. “Although such things—cart before horse—and rushing things along are expected of me , by both my mother as well as Lady Seymour, and everyone who thinks they know me. But it would eventually matter to Annis, and therefore it would to me too, that everything be done properly, even if in some haste now, and that is what is important.”

He saw that Charlotte was prepared to listen to what he had to say before she lost all patience with him, but the act of her broaching this subject presented some interesting possibilities.

“A relationship should be based upon trust. Kidnapping her and against her will, as it certainly would be, is not an option that I would easily choose, and is not conducive to any degree of trust or happiness afterward. A disastrous start to a relationship.”

“Then she must be abducted more cleverly, William, and not against her will. There must be a way. She must not recognize that she is a victim of some larger plan until it is too late, and she must approve of what is happening, yet without her knowing that she has been a victim of an abduction. She could be lured into a circumstance from which she could not, nor might want to escape. In fact, it would be better if she never did find out about it all until it is far too late. But then I am dreaming and probably confused with having thought about it for too long.”

He looked at her searchingly for a few moments, clearly deep in thought. “One might almost think you were not exactly protective of your sister’s virtue or finer interests, wishing that I might abduct her and compromise her, whether with or without her understanding or approval.”

“Hang her virtue, William.” Her emphatic pronouncement startled him, and herself too, but Annis was her sister and she loved her too much to see her abandon her own needs. “I’ve heard too much of virtue and not enough of what should be done. Once she accepts the finality of what has happened to her, she will recognize that it has to be done, just as it was done for all of our sanity, and everything will work out all right, and she will marry you. A little late perhaps, but it will not matter by then.”

“Oh my. I had not realized young ladies might all be so violently adamant about such a decisive and compromising course of action. And against your own sister no less. I am sure your mother would not approve.”

“My mother’s views on that might amaze you, William.”

The look on Charlotte’s face, as well as her words, suggested that she would not place any weight on her mother not approving it at all. “My mother has her own views on such things.”


“Oh yes. It is just a matter of time before we all succeed. Sophia has tried twice now, to bring you closer together but….”

“You heard of those, did you? What do you know of them?”

“Sophia told me. I cannot blame her, for I saw what needed to happen too between the two of you, but you are both holding back when there is no need of it. I watched you both after you had rescued her from the fire as you sat by the trough. I saw everything I needed to know about the two of you at that moment, and so did Mama. Unfortunately, so did Sophia. I did not know it then, but I do now; Sophia is far more of a knowing little schemer than even I might have believed. When she makes up her mind about something, it seems to happen. Then afterward… please forgive me, William, for relating this without hiding anything, but you need to know. Mama and I saw Annis shaving you in the far parlor. There was more going on there between you two then, than we were supposed to see, I think.”

She saw his eyebrows raise in surprise, but he said nothing and let her continue.

“I was not sure what I might believe, for you had just recently married my sister and here you were…. But Mama soon showed me the way of it and how mistaken I was to think as I did, so she is already quite accepting of what must happen between you and Annis, and it must happen soon. Oh William. How can you not see what we see?”

“I thought I was the only one who did see it in quite the way that I do. So the secret is no longer a secret. It seems that it never was. One way or another, my fate is sealed. I doubt I will survive another night like the last two have been, and they were just the start of it.” He looked at her and saw another determined young lady, much as Annis had been at the time when she had that pistol, and as Sophia had been when she got him out to the conservatory, and before that when she insisted he take her with him to the dock that other morning.

“You are three remarkable sisters. All so frighteningly observant and all with minds of your own and not afraid of being outspokenly direct once you have made up your minds about something. I wish I had known Bella and had been able to speak with her too. I am sure she was just as formidable. My life will never be the same, I am glad to say. But Sophia is only six. Surely she did not dream up those two plots by herself?”

“Sir, she did. At least I think she did. After she told me what she planned, I gave her some help with the kitten, and she was delighted to hear how things might be rolled along. Annis never could resist a kitten in a dire plight, or anything else for that matter.”

“No more than I can.”

“But then there really wasa rat, so she had to try and deal with it herself. That was when you rescued Sophia instead of Annis. She was so downcast to see her plot fall to pieces until it became obvious that Annis would not know that the kitten was not in the barn if she was kept away from the kitchen.”

William had to smile. “So Sophia plotted to throw us both together in that way, to ensnare me into a compromising circumstance with your sister, that we might never be able to escape from. Two sisters endeavoring to get me to seduce another sister. I hope no-one everdiscovers this about us. I am sure that it is not something that one expects one’s own sisters to plot about. Then another clever little scheme that night of the thunderstorm. There was no need for either of those two, you know? Who will get involved next, I wonder? Your mother?”

He looked studious for some moments. “Why not? What is there to lose?” He answered his own question. “Far too much if it were to go wrong.”

She suddenly saw that he was coming around to her way of thinking. “Oh, sir. It won’t. Not if we all are involved. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

“Or all lost. But then I am in too pessimistic a turn of mind, and I know I should not be, considering what I know. I will need all the support I can get. Perhaps… perhaps the time has come then for me to give in to all of these pressures that I am surrounded by and for some more decisive action on all of our parts, including your mother’s for I think we all see the same thing and desire the same end but do not yet know how to make the best use of what we know, although I am rapidly seeing a way through all of this.”

His mind nowseemed to be working along the lines she had hoped to encourage.

He looked up suddenly. “Charlotte, I think it is time for us to have a word with your mother. I do not think that your presence or that of Sophia would be amiss either, if you can find her. Four heads will undoubtedly be better than one. There is a rational way through all of this that has been sitting under my nose for a long time but which I have missed seeing until now.” He felt a small hand slide into his own. He chuckled and looked down at her.

“So. Sophia. Our arch schemer. Where were you, I wonder? No. No need to tell me. Our circle is now almost complete. I knew you could not be so very far away. Sitting off out of sight again eh, as you usually are, and listening and thinking?”

“Will he help us, Charlotte? You will, won’t you, William?” Sophia knew the answer to that question by the tearful but happy look on Charlotte’s face.

William began to move over to the door with his arms on both of their shoulders, as a friendly brother might behave with his sisters. “It is not so much about whether I will help you, young ladies, as it is about whether you will help me. Where is Annis at this moment? We need to avoid letting her know what is going on.”

“She is gone to the village with Mrs. Abernethy, sir, and will not be back before lunchtime. There were some things they both needed.”

“And your mother?”

“In the drawing room with your sister.”

“Good. Then you two and I should go and have a meeting with both of them and get all of this cleared out of the way once and for all, and concluded as it should be, starting tonight. Five heads will also be better than four. I think I can see how to do it now. I just hope we have enough time. Bring those cards with you too. I won’t need them just yet, but your mother might need more of a nudge.”


“No buts, Charlotte. It will be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction and without the feared upset to anyone, including me, I hope. If there is upset to anyone it will be temporary only, but not to any of you, I can assure you of that.” He turned back for a moment and looked back to where he had been sitting. “But first, there is a book on my desk over there. Would you bring that with us please?”

Charlotte went over and picked it up and looked at it intently for a moment. “But, sir, isn’t this the…?”

“Yes, it is, isn’t it? The trouble that book has been to me, you would not believe, though it will be the one thing that will ensure our success. Please bring it, and we shall move things along better than they have been, with your help and that of your mother and even Sophia, who shall play a major role in this. Again. That is, if you all approve of this scheme of mine. Of ours.”

“But why not Annis?”

“The less she knows of this, the better. That is what you said, isn’t it? I doubt she would approve the scheme I have in mind anyway, at least not just yet, for it is certainly scandalous and outrageous and never to be considered even. But not quite as direct as what she has in mind, I fear. But then, what isn’t, where this family is concerned? Come.”


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