Author’s Note: I think Violet’s scene can follow this and end this arc, but we’ll see about that tomorrow. 🙂
Robert should not have stayed. He had taken only a few bites of his meal before he understood the mistake he’d made. He had not thought it should be so difficult a thing, surviving a meal, since they were all civil people and knew how to be polite. They had all spent hours in each other’s company without incident. That precedent should have been a simple one to continue, but when her aunt’s disapproval combined with yet another stolen story, the evening was effectively ruined.
It might have been different if the story had not been one of Robert’s less savory moments, one of his later follies involving another girl he’d tricked—this time it was fooling the winner of the local baking contest into making him several pies—but nevertheless, all Beatrice did was frown as the others laughed, and when Violet looked at him and realized that the story her mother was repeating belonged to him as well, she had fallen silent.
No, that was not quite true. She managed not to sob with much of any sound, but her sadness spoke with every glint of the tears on her face or slight flinch of her body.
“I am sorry, Mother. The story was amusing when we first heard it, and even though it was Winston’s, it did not bother me to hear again, but it is not… The story is Robbie’s, not his, and that is yet another one of them that… that was a lie.”
Robert grimaced. “Not exactly. It did happen, and I did get very sick off the pie, so the story is real. It’s just not his.”
“And how is it that he knows all of your stories?”
“If I knew that, I think I would know who he is. I don’t. I should, but I don’t.”
The spinster set down her napkin and shook her head. “I find that rather hard to believe. This whole farce has gone on quite long enough. If you were as honorable as you pretend to be, you would already have married her. Instead, you let her modern sensibilities cover over your inadequacies. Now you say that you are the one who has all these stories that he told Violet? I say that you must have been in collusion with him all along.”
“I beg your pardon, ma’am, but that is far from what has happened here. I admit that it seems implausible that I would not know a man who has done all this to me, but I swear that I do not. He took my name and my childhood, and it would seem that he hates me. I do not know why, but I will learn that when I find him. As for marrying Violet… That is something that is not for you or anyone else to decide—only the two of us have the right to determine that, and we have made the best decision that we can at present. It is not just about sensibilities. It is about much more than that. If there were some good reason why this man had done what he did, if his intentions were at all honorable, would you not want to see that he did what was right? How is that possible if I have already done it? And even though I think that prospect unlikely, it does occur to me that if he hates me so much, my involvement with your niece would make him angry and unreasonable. He could hurt her or the child or both, and I do not want that to happen. It is imperative that we find him and learn the reasons for his actions before we go any further in ours.”
Violet put a hand on her stomach. “I do not feel well.”
“I am sorry. I did not mean to distress you. It… I wish I had lied about all the stories being mine. That would, I think, hurt you less than I already have.”
She brushed at her eye, trying to compose herself. “It is not like you lying would make things better. You are not… You have the right to acknowledge those stories because they are yours. You need not attempt to protect me—I am afraid there is little that could do such a thing at this point. I have already endured most of the worst of it—I do fear when the birth comes as any mother might, but even that is not pain that you could spare me. Nor, in fact, do I expect you to spare me any of it. I am not your responsibility, Robbie, and I never have been.”
He reached over and took her hand. “I am not going to call you an obligation—not now and not ever—but you have suffered because of a man who seems to be looking to hurt me, and that means that I should do something about what you have been through, something to make it right.”
“I trust that you will when you find him,” she told him, withdrawing her hand. “Now I think it is best if you—”
“I think I should go. This is my fault, after all, and I should have declined your generous invitation since I knew it would upset Violet if I stayed. It has. I apologize, and I will not trouble you further tonight—or any night, for that matter. Please excuse me.”
She blinked, but he had already risen and started for the door. He did not dare look back. He knew what he’d told her earlier, but he did believe it was time for him to pack up and return home, even if it delayed the answers that might come in the mail. Surely that was worth sparing her this pain.