Author’s Note: I find this one a bit of an interesting conundrum. That makes it kind of fun, if rather awkward for everyone concerned.
It makes for an interesting debate over which serial should stay on the site, too.
“I expect that he will send for an expert, and they must look for this man as a forger. Perhaps he is already known for that crime,” Violet said, rubbing at her back and wishing that her child was not as disagreeable as its father. She should like to have a few moments of peace. She did not need to be plagued constantly with this sort of pain. She had made a horrible mistake, and she had paid for it. This seemed excessive, despite what she’d told the true Mr. Winston yesterday.
“An expert? To contest the license and shame you in front of everyone. Oh, yes, girl, that is a fine idea indeed,” Beatrice said, and Violet sighed.
“It will soon be known everywhere that my marriage was not legitimate. I did not know any better, and I do regret how this has happened, but please do not act as though I shall be stoned the moment that it is known to all. I did not—I believed I was married and acted in good faith.”
“Your niece is the victim here, and I do not think she should be made to feel as though she was the one who did wrong. She did not know that he was not who he said he was, did not know that he was marrying her under a false name and therefore invalidating the marriage, so she is not at fault in any way. If you wish to censure her for trusting the wrong person, I suppose that is your prerogative, but I think it is unjust and unwise. She is suffering enough already.”
Violet forced a smile. “You have, I fear, missed my aunt’s point entirely, sir. I do believe she thinks that you should do the ‘honorable’ thing and marry me because of this whole misunderstanding. That way the child and I are not exposed to the harsh realities of an unwed mother and fatherless child.”
Winston stilled. He blinked, and she had to sit up before he had some kind of fit. “Please understand that I do not expect you to do any such thing. It was not you who seduced me, and it is I who must face the consequences of my actions. True, the child will be punished, and I cannot like it, but it is not to be covered over by some hasty decision made by your sense of obligation or anyone’s opinion. I did believe the man I met was single and honorable. I married him too soon, and it may well be my ruin, but I did have every reason to believe the marriage was valid at the time when I entered into it. That is what I must cling to whatever else may come.”
He swallowed. “It is an admirable sentiment, but I do not know that I—”
“If you asked me now, I would refuse you. Your conscience may be quite clear on the matter.”
She shook her head. “I am sorry, Aunt Beatrice, but having married once disastrously, I cannot think of doing so again. Mr. Winston is a stranger to me, more so than the last one, and while all may assume it is his duty to pick up the pieces of my honor, it is not. I cannot go through with a second marriage, even if the first was never real.”
“Think of the child.”
“I am not dismissing the effect it will have on my child, but I cannot think that it is somehow better to force both of us into a marriage that should sour and is made only of obligation. Forcing Mr. Winston to accept a child that was sired by a man who stole his name is not any more right than what some ignorant fools would say about the baby. If the imposter was to be found, it would be his duty to marry me properly and claim his child as his own, but I confess, I do not want that, either. I would rather be unmarried and bearing a child than have such a man back in my life as I can see only more hurt down that path. There are decent men who can overlook a woman having had a child previously, and perhaps one of them might come into our lives later. You do not know that it will not happen, and I think that we should not discuss the matter further. I have stated my opinion, and you will not change it. I cannot agree to marry Mr. Winston even if he should ask, and he has not asked.”
He rose, rubbing a hand over his left arm, shaking his head. “I admit that I did not give much consideration to the idea of… presenting myself in the stead of the man who had betrayed you. I have little more than a name to offer, and it is not a good one, not now.”
Beatrice snorted. “A name. It would seem all this nonsense is about a name anyway.”
“I think it is a great deal more than that,” he said, turning around to face her. “It is a reputation and honor and far more than that. I consider what he did to your niece a crime even if no one else does. True, they will only put him in prison if he managed to steal something they consider valuable with his forgery, but in my opinion, he stole a great deal without ever touching any money. I can see why your niece would not want me for a husband, and there are more reasons for that than the ones that she voiced. To be honest, I do believe my father would forbid the match, and I am a cripple with no independent means. Would you prefer that for her?”
Violet looked at his arm, frowning. She’d seen him use it, though he had told her it was next to useless. She did not remember him calling himself a cripple at any time previous, though. Perhaps it hurt his pride too much to admit the extent of his weakness or to accept that word as applying to him.
Beatrice grunted, sitting down. “What good would it do to prove the license a forgery? You get your reputation back at the cost of hers, and whatever you might be, that is not just, either.”
“I do not know. I had intended to ask if he had created debts in my name that must be repaid, and if so, I needed to deal with them. I had not expected the innkeeper to confront me with that signature that is so like my own. I know I was not the one who did it, but it is possible that no one else will see it that way. That paper might be, in some way, binding if it is not proved a forgery.”
Violet frowned. “How can that be? You were over fighting in the war at the time, weren’t you?”
He shook his head. “I’d been invalided out by the date on this paper. I didn’t think that it was the case, but I must have been in that hospital for longer than I thought. It may be possible to prove I was there or in the private clinic my father had me moved to, but I do not know yet.”
Beatrice’s mouth set in a grim line. “In that case, I say you marry her anyway.”