Author’s Note: So I was up late last night finishing this story. I knew what was supposed to go in there and what needed to be done, even had bits and pieces of it written. I added what was missing, edited what I had, and I think it is now finished. Of course, I won’t put it all up at once just in case an issue might arise, but I should be able to have it up first thing every day until it’s complete.
“I… Of course not,” Aunt Beatrice said, shaking her head as she backed toward the window. She let out a breath and leaned against the wall, her hand going to the beads around her neck. She turned them around in her fingers. “That is not—why would that matter? It doesn’t. That was so long ago that none of it matters at all.”
Violet could not agree with her aunt on that point, and she doubted that Robbie or her mother did, either. Beatrice should not have held that information back. She could not hide behind any sort of excuse. Perhaps before Winston left, silence might have made sense. After he left, after Robbie’s first letter, all of that should have been told to both of them.
“Why should he need revenge upon Beatrice, though? That is absurd. Beatrice did not marry your father. I cannot see why anyone would want that man, personally,” Violet’s mother said, sitting down in one of the other chairs. She seemed as upset by her sister’s admission as the rest of them, and Violet had to wonder if this would be the final strain, if it could force the two of them apart after all these years. The secret had been kept for too long, even from the person Beatrice was closest to, and it had caused Rose’s own daughter pain. That might prove too much even for their bond. Or perhaps Violet was making too much of it.
“I agree with you that no woman should want my father. My mother is… She married him for position and money and because it was expected and because she is a dutiful woman, nothing more. I have never known her to defy him in anything, but I would never claim that she loved him. I am not certain I can claim that she loves me,” Robbie said, looking at his hands. He let out a breath, shaking his head. “That is not important. I don’t even know why I said that.”
Beatrice studied him. “Your mother is…?”
“It is hard to say because she was understandably distraught at the time when she confronted RJ, and perhaps you are correct about him wanting me to break it off instead of him, since I assume your mother had a much better… dowry than I could have hoped to have—but that woman was by no means meek.”
Robbie nodded. “My mother’s family is… rather affluent. They always have been. Not quite like my father’s. His grandfather built a company and turned it into an empire, and that made it possible for them to enter good society—to a certain point. My mother’s family elevated ours further.”
Violet grimaced. “I have always thought that the most distasteful part of marriage arrangements these days. Why should social status have so much impact upon them? People do not suit each other simply because of how much money they have.”
“It’s supposed to give them the same sort of values and certain level of understanding.”
“Did you feel you had that with RJ?”
Beatrice lowered her head. “We met on a train. I was coming home from visiting relatives, and he was on his way west for business. He was not the sort that… Our other companions fell asleep, and we began to converse. We had a pleasant conversation about a great many things, and he decided to stay in town that night. He said he wanted to keep talking. It was… I thought it very romantic at the time. He did not linger, though, and I had thought it was over. He surprised me by writing and asking to continue to court me. At first it was just letters. Then when my aunt became ill and they asked me to be her companion and nurse, he was able to court me in person. I thought we had something truly special. It had lasted despite distance and grown deeper with his return to my side. He had just placed that ring upon my finger when that other woman came up, her stomach about the same size as Violet’s, and demanded he do right by her. He did not deny having fathered the child. He did not offer me or her any sort of apology. He showed a side there I had never seen before. I realized I’d seen nothing of the real man at all. His son appeared to be the same as him.”
“I am not,” Robbie said, rising. “You have no right to assume that about me. I don’t know what lies my father told you or how he could have passed himself off as a kind or generous man. That’s not him. He was… He’s always been a hard man with little sympathy in him. I almost think—were it not for the fact that Violet is your niece and I would hate to believe you capable of that, I would think you arranged this so that she would see men as you do, be betrayed the same way you were.”
He put a hand to his head. “Forgive me. I did not mean to upset everyone. I don’t—my head hurts, and I am not controlling my temper as I should. I fear I have not been able to restrain myself, not after what your aunt concealed from us. This whole situation makes me so angry. I do not understand why it has happened, and I feel as though everything has been ripped away, that I have nothing of what my life was before I came here or even before the war. My name was taken and misused, allowing someone to hurt plenty of people, and then I quarreled with my father and lost my home and now this is my father’s doing? It is because of him and his past with your aunt? I feel as though there is a nightmare here that I cannot wake from, not for a moment.”
Violet reached for his hand. “I admit, I have had similar thoughts. Yours are perhaps more distressing after your injuries, though.”
He looked at her hand and smiled. “I do not think I can argue with that. I think I should go. Maybe with more rest or even just some fresh air…”
“Of course,” her mother said, glancing toward her sister. “If there is one thing that I believe we could all use now, it is some time to think, to rest and stabilize our thoughts and emotions. This has been a rather upsetting couple of days, hasn’t it?”
“I am not certain that upsetting is the right word.”
“Let us not debate that,” Beatrice said. She shook her head. “I, for one, would like to be alone. Excuse me.”
Violet bit her lip. She did not want to ask her aunt to stay. Having Beatrice make that admission had done more than upset her—everyone. Her faith in her aunt had been shaken. What else had Beatrice failed to tell them? Was she lying now? Was that terrible accusation of Robbie’s right? And yet, if it was, why do that to Violet? To Robbie?
“I think it best we continue tomorrow,” her mother said. “You both need rest, and all of us must have time to consider what we have discussed today. Tomorrow we may be able to have all the answers.”
“If that is not too much to hope for,” Robbie said. He rubbed his head. “Nevertheless, I would like to believe that. I want to know that this nightmare will end and that things will finally make sense again.”
“We all would,” Violet said, giving his hand a squeeze as she tried to prepare herself for his departure. “We’ll see you tomorrow, then, Mr. Winston?”
He smiled. “Yes, Mrs. Winston.”