Sanditon Part 2, Chapter 7 & Epilogue

Chapter Seven

Soon after the arrival of Lucia’s novel, another important communication arrived, this time from Sanditon: a formal invitation extended to Charlotte and her parents to attend a ball to celebrate the formal opening of the completed construction at the resort town. Mrs. Heywood was quick to determine that Charlotte was in great need of a change, and that she, as her mother, was needed to chaperone her. Mr. Heywood expressed disinclination to attend. A small gathering at Reddings with a good friend was one thing; but gathering with strangers in an unfamiliar location was quite another.

Thus, Charlotte and her mother found themselves in Sanditon, guests of Tom and Elizabeth Parker. With them, Charlotte found their ease and companionship returned naturally; they were genuinely glad to see each other and the Parkers were delighted with Mrs. Heywood. When Charlotte inquired of the remaining Parker siblings, Tom confirmed that Sidney – still unmarried — was the only one not in residence at Sanditon at the moment; he was expected to arrive from London the afternoon of the ball, bringing with him the usual coterie of London friends. Elizabeth’s quick look at Tom, along with his sudden change of topic, suggested that the coterie would certainly include Mrs. Campion.

However, the evening of the ball, when Sidney finally arrived, he was alone. Charlotte’s private inquiries indicated that Mrs. Campion had not arrived from London. But it was not until Esther pulled her aside that she finally learned that Mrs. Campion was likely never to return to Sanditon; uncertain of Sidney’s affections and, as a wealthy widow, having no need to marry into uncertainty, Mrs. Campion had called off the wedding.

Charlotte did her best to hide her surprise and excitement; and then she did her best to stifle the memory of Mr. Stringer’s query about how she might respond a proposal from Sidney Parker’s. Esther politely pretended not to notice Charlotte’s reaction, and instead nodded her chin in the direction behind Charlotte. “It appears that your interest in the subject might be reciprocated,” she said.

By the time Charlotte looked over her shoulder, Sidney Parker was already at her side. And when she looked again, Esther had moved away.

Sidney spoke. “Miss Heywood, it is very good to see you again. I had heard you were to receive an invitation to the ball, and I hoped you would accept it.”

“I would not wish to miss a wonderful event like this,” Charlotte said. “I congratulate you and your brothers and sister. Sanditon is likely to be a success, just as Tom imagined.”

“We are very fortunate,” Sidney agreed. “In many ways,” he added, looking at her meaningfully.

Charlotte blushed. “And unfortunate in others,” she added. “I was sorry to hear that your engagement to Mrs. Campion ended.”

“I should become inured to it,” Sidney said. “At least in terms of my pride. My heart, on the other hand –”

Charlotte interrupted. Despite her earlier desires, she found now, standing before him, that she was not ready to discuss this topic with Sidney; she covered her discomfort with more meaningless conversation. “So many changes in Sanditon in the past year,” she exclaimed. “Not least of which was Lady Denham’s passing. Lady Babington was fortunate in so many ways.”

“Esther is much improved after her marriage to Lord Babington,” Sidney agreed. “Sanditon is fortunate in its patronage.”

“As I have been fortunate recently,” Charlotte said. “Perhaps you heard that I received a small portion as well.”

“Indeed, I had not heard,” Sidney said, looking at her with new interest. “We heard only that a few small distributions had been made to people outside the family. I would be happy to advise you,” he added, bringing his face closer to hers, “on investment of your funds. I am collaborating with a small but successful firm that is on its way to the West Indies to buy and manage a sugar plantation.”

“Sugar plantation? Would that not mean relying on slave labor?”

“Most of the work is carried out by slaves, yes.” He paused, and smiled. “I suppose I must have Georgiana to thank for this interest. Please do not imagine that I’m unaware of your role in her absconding to London.”

“I have no regrets in that regard, Mr. Parker.”

“I would not suppose so. You must have considered, however, that Georgiana’s wealth is built on the same slave trade that now causes you discomfort.”

In fact, Charlotte had not put much thought into the source of Georgiana’s inheritance, and she chose to continue ignoring it now. “I trust Georgiana will use her wealth in a morally responsible way. She is fully committed to the abolitionist cause, as is Otis and as are all their friends. In any event, it still gives me no impetus to invest in such an enterprise.”

“I know you well enough that I realize argument is futile,” he said with a smile. “And I have spent so much of my life courting investors that I recognize my campaign if futile.”

“The investors for Sanditon,” Charlotte noted.

“And before that. I was a very young man when I first traveled to the West Indies in search of my fortune. In fact, Lady Denham was one of my first investors.”

“I had no idea you had this connection with her!”

“It was years ago, just after Lord Denham died. She was hesitant in establishing a trust for a local young man for his education. Lord Denham raised it only as he lay dying, and the man was of no consequence and likely had no prospects. Lady Denham considered him a foolish, and was concerned that he was stealing books from their library to sell. I suggested that rather than throw the money away, she give it to me. Happily, I brought back a modest profit.” Sidney paused for effect. “I understand she used the return on her investment to purchase glass doors to place over the bookcases in the library. It was considered quite extraordinary at the time.”

“But what about the young man?” Charlotte asked, breathless with anger and shame. “Was there no consideration for his future? Or for Lord Denham’s wishes?”

“Lord Denham’s mental state was questionable near the end,” Sidney said. “And as for the local boy, Lady Denham considered him a person of no consequence, and I never discovered his identity. For most of that population, education is a waste. It little improves their minds, and it improves their station only in the rarest of circumstances.”

“Is this how you answer to ruining the prospects of a young man? I wager his worth, if not his birth, is twice, or thrice that of yours, Mr. Parker.” Charlotte’s fury made her lose her eloquence. “Or even more!”

“Charlotte! I am astonished.”

“No more astonished than I. I cannot, I will not, associate myself with you further. Your morals, your value for human life, are so different than mine that it is clear we can never make each other happy. In fact, when I think back to my first visit to Sanditon, I cannot imagine what it was that attracted me to you other than you portrayed the usual trappings of a gentleman. But I realize now that you are a gentleman in name, but not in deed. And men of lower birth are more deserving of that title, who have earned it through hard work and good deeds.”

“You were not this much of a radical when you first joined us in Sanditon,” Sidney retorted.

“When I first came here, I admit my head was turned by the promises of progress, and fortune, and health that Sanditon offered. But I have come to realize that it is based on a corrupt system based on the circumstance of birth and rather than merit. Your shifting attentions to me have demonstrated that. I do not believe I will ever return to Sanditon. Goodbye, Mr. Parker.”

She did not wait for an answer; Charlotte turned on her heel and began to run through the ballroom, ignoring the surprised looks and murmurs that followed her. She encountered her mother, and told her that she was retiring for the night, and ran on, straight out the door, without waiting for her mother’s response.

She ignored the chill in the air. She stopped thinking of Sidney Parker. The only thing on her mind was James Stringer: she measured the injustice done to him years ago, and how he had fought through innumerable obstacles to emerge a strong, determined, accomplished young man. He knew himself, and drew strength from that; and, she realized, he knew her, as well. He had detected her weakness for the promise of status and gentility that Sidney Parker offered, and could do no more than gently rebuke her for it.

He had offered his heart to her, and what a heart it was: pure, honest, open. And she had turned away in favor of a man whose heart she had seen, over and over, harden toward those whom he considered of lower birth. It might have been only a matter of time before she, too, would have felt the effects of that hardness, for she could never reach his level, either as a woman or as a person of means.

James Stringer would never harden his heart toward her. He considered her his equal in every way, and had offered her not only love but a partnership in marriage and business. What man of Sidney’s status would accept a woman’s role by his side in such a way?

Charlotte had nearly reached the Parkers’ house, where she planned to pack their belongings for departure to Reddings. Even if he had found happiness with Lucia, Charlotte could still mend some of what she had broken, and what others had broken in the past. Perhaps she could still salvage a friendship, and offer a partnership that would promote his work, his hard-earned dream of designing buildings and not just laying mortar for them. Perhaps —

She turned the corner deep in thought, and in her hurry did not hear another pair of footsteps coming around the corner. She crashed headlong into a tall, immobile body and nearly fell back, but her hand was grasped firmly to keep her upright. She gasped, more from the touch of the rough hands than from her near-fall.

“Miss Heywood!”

“Mr. Stringer? Is it really you?”

“Miss Heywood!”

He was still holding her right hand, and pulled her slightly closer, as though to ensure it really was her.

“I was not expecting to see you here, Mr. Stringer,” she said, her voice soft as she examined his face to counter her disbelief that the intense subject of her thoughts could materialize before her.

“Mr. Tom Parker and Mrs. Parker were kind enough to invite me to the ball,” he said. “But once I arrived, and saw my old home, I couldn’t bring myself to – I wanted to visit the old rooms, my father’s things –”

“Of course,” she said, and now she took his other hand. “It’s all right. It wasn’t a very good ball.”

“It wasn’t a very good visit, either,” James Stringer said. “So many things have happened since I was last here, and since my father died. This place is so strange to me now.”

“I hope all is well?” she asked. “You are still happy at Reddings?”

“All is very well,” he agreed. “And your family, in Wellingdon – are they well?”

“Very well,” she confirmed.

Neither found more to say, and in the same moment realized their hands were still entangled, and in the next moment released them. But they still stood quite close to each other.

“Mr. Stringer,” Charlotte began, “I must ask you to forgive me for my behavior when we last met. I grew angry with you for challenging my behavior and decisions.”

“It was very wrong of me,” he interrupted.

“You were right,” she corrected. “I had set myself on a course that I thought no one, nothing could cause me to stray from. And I did not admit to myself that there were certain things, certain persons, who could cause me to alter my opinion. You knew this to be the case. But I have come to learn certain facts that have altered my opinion even further than I could have imagined. I was hurrying to my hotel, Mr. Stringer, in order to prepare to travel to Reddings. I want to set right something.”

“Yes, Miss Heywood?”

“I was fortunate to be a beneficiary of Lady Denham’s will last year. It was a small sum, only five hundred pounds, but it has accrued some small interest, and I want you to have it, Mr. Stringer. To make you whole, after your own patronage was denied to you.”

“You are referring to events that took place years ago, that you in no way share responsibility. Why should you assume any interest in my welfare now?”

“I have learned that your circumstances, and Lord Denham’s desires for your future, were wrongfully and purposely altered, and I feel that, in my own small way, I could set it partly right. You could consider it an investment in your architectural endeavors.” She forced herself to continue. “Perhaps you would consider me a sort of informal advisor for your business plans. I am quite good at it. If Miss De Luce does not object.”

“Why would Miss De Luce object?”

Charlotte caught her breath. “Are you not engaged to Miss De Luce?”

“I am not. In fact, she has happily taken up residence in London with another liberally-minded woman writer. You and Miss De Luce share a common goal to avoid marriage altogether. She made that clear to me from the beginning of our friendship, and I had no wish for it to be otherwise.  And,” Mr. Stringer added, “she has no Sidney Parker to convince her otherwise.”

Charlotte tipped her face away. “Please, do not mention his name. Sidney Parker cannot, will not ever, convince me to marry.”

James Stringer took an imperceptible step forward. “Then you do not plan to marry Mr. Parker?”

“Absolutely not.”

“But you would be willing to invest in a kind of … partnership with me? To help me manage my architectural work?”

“If you would be willing, Mr. Stringer.” She felt a vague kind of disappointment, that the prospect of her funding might overcome his previous feelings toward her.

“And what if I did not accept your financial contribution? Would you still be willing to partner with me?”

She could not hide her surprise and gratitude. “Why would you want to partner with me without investment?”

“Miss Heywood,” he said. He took her hands in his again. “It’s a different kind of investment from you that I’m seeking. I told you once I’d do anything to be your husband. My feelings in that regard will never change. The only wife for me is one who is daring enough to play cricket, and brave enough to help a badly injured man, who encourages a man to pursue his ambitions and stands by his side in the pursuit. And one who is lovely enough to set my heart pounding.” He pressed her right hand against his chest, and Charlotte almost wept as she felt the hammering there. “I’m hoping, Charlotte, that if you won’t reconsider your thoughts on marriage for Sidney Parker’s sake, that you’ll reconsider them for mine.”

Charlotte was so full of relief and happiness that she had no choice but to allow herself to fully weep, which she did, much to James’ temporary confusion, because it caused a contortion of her face that might be rather appalling to the uninitiated. But when she stepped forward, rested her head on his chest, and allowed his arms to rest upon her waist, his confusion ended and perfect happiness began.

Epilogue

We must not forget Lady Denham. In life, her personality dominated all interactions; in death, it could not be otherwise. The distribution of her wealth after her death possessed Sanditon’s residents for weeks until the primary beneficiary, Lady Babington – Esther, as she was more informally called by those who had known and despised her before her marriage — was revealed; then the propriety of Lady Denham’s decision was the subject of debate for a few shorter weeks; and then the handling of the fortune became a popular topic of conversation for some brief time, though cut short because of the careful and prudent actions of Lord and Lady Babington.

Thus, by the time that the final distribution was made, the action was neither criticized nor celebrated, for it was unknown, except to the pair of overheated lawyers who, toward the end of the  summer that followed the Sanditon ball, trudged the meadow path from Reddings Hall to the small cottage they had been told sat some distance away. They felt very keenly the unfairness in having to undertake this unexpected final leg of their long journey on foot. First, they had the injustice of encountering, in the will, a reference to an unnamed boy, “resident of Sanditon, and son to a tradesman” who had once frequented the house in Lord Denham’s time.  The lawyers detected, Lady Denham’s stiff language, some wrong done toward this party – the tone suggested a small wrong, but guilt having lasting for such a duration might amplify its significance. Second, they had to go about identifying the boy as a now-grown man. Third, they learned that the young man had departed Sanditon some time ago, “for an apprenticeship in London,” according to his friends. Fourth, they traced him to a tiny Sussex hamlet called Wellingdon, where they were set upon a day ago by a large group of children known locally, it seemed, as “Heywoods,” likely some derogatory phrase. Fifth, to Reddings Hall.

And finally, the cottage. This structure will look different to the reader. The main portion of remains the same, though now more flowers surround the doorway, where a dog, just emerging out of his puppyhood, lies in the sun. To the right of the cottage, an area has been recently cleared to house a charming residential development for chickens, thoughtfully-designed for both the residents and their landlord. On the cottage’s left side, the skeleton for a two-storied addition, divided into numerous bedrooms, adds the scent of freshly-cut wood to air already fragrant with meadow flowers and wind and earth. The sun being at its height, the foreman of the job has called for mealtime, and has herself brought out generous amounts of cider, bread, and cheese to her workers, who have removed to the shade of a nearby chestnut tree; the luncheon is received with amiable gratitude and a few besotted hearts.

She returns to the coolness of the house to join her husband. The inside of the house has also transformed under a woman’s touch, but the large table in the front room remains as it was before, other than the tidy organization of its previously erratic contents: papers and pencils and ledgers, perhaps some percentage more than we saw at our last visit.

One corner of the table is reserved for the daily repast that the two share in the middle of the day. Those of a more practical-minded approach to mealtimes, and to life, and to business, might point out that their proximity to each other, sitting knee-to-knee, might be the reason that the meals last longer than they should, but this pair derive every satisfaction from their routine.

Thus we find the tableaux as the lawyers trudge up the path bearing news of good fortune, from a woman capable of sharing more of it now in death than she ever did in life, toward the house already well-endowed with the non-monetary kind, generated from the two grateful, generous, and good hearts that reside within.

Sanditon Part 2, Chapter 6

Chapter Six

Six weary months passed in this way. The winter brought with it new boredom, as the Heywoods packed together into their home for shelter. The children who spent most of their time outside when the whether was fine now tripped over each other and fought and made a general nuisance that nearly brought Charlotte to madness on a regular basis. Visits with Anne and Aunt Constance brought occasional respite, but Anne soon announced her engagement to a young local man. The wedding soon followed, and Anne’s new obligations, as well as her old ones to her aunt, left her with little time to spare for her friend.

In April, excitement came in the form of a dense brown paper package addressed to Mr. Heywood. He announced that he recognized the handwriting as being Lord Embrey’s, and set to opening the package. Inside were two books, along with a note. “He has sent us a two-volume novel called Angelina, by an unidentified author.” Mr. Heywood unfolded the note, and read it quickly. “Apparently Lucia’s scratchings and musings have also come to fruition. This is her novel, and it has been well-received in London. And he adds that he is quite satisfied with the description of the villain, and feels flattered that the character is depicted as having a full head of hair.”

The older girls, excepting Charlotte, begged to begin reading right away, and Mr. and Mrs.  Heywood felt that, despite it being a novel, which were generally discouraged in polite society, the fact that Lord Embrey had sent it and that his ward had written it mitigated any concerns about its contents.

Charlotte refused to be drawn in to the furor over the book, and took up her own reading again – Catherine Macaulay’s History of England. She also refused, however, to leave the room. Therefore, during the next few days, as the girls made steady progress through the book, Charlotte stopped pretending to read her History so she could listen carefully. The story was about a young Italian girl, Angelina. Orphaned and friendless in Italy, she was brought to England to live with a mysterious guardian, Blackwood, in a large, gloomy castle.

“Charlotte, is Reddings Hall so mysterious and grim?” asked one of her sisters. “I would have absolutely been frightened to death to stay there!”

“It is a lovely place, bright and airy, with magnificent prospects from every window,” Charlotte said, in defense of Lord Embrey’s home. “Lucia obviously has taken liberties in an effort to appeal to certain readership.”

Her sisters did not pick up on Charlotte’s irony; or, perhaps after months of similar, sardonic commentary from their sister, they readily recognized it but chose not to acknowledge it. They read on.

As Angelina discovered that her guardian and the castle hold secrets and danger, she befriended a handsome young servant named Jerome. “Tall and lithe, like the dancers she remembered from her youth,” one of the sisters read breathlessly, “his blue eyes were capable of lighting the room. His hair was the color of the sand at Atrani. And though he spoke only rarely, his voice made her think him capable of singing an aria.”

“What is Atrani?” asked one of the younger girls. “Is it a mythological allusion?”

“It is a beach on the Almafi coast,” Mr. Heywood interjected, and disappeared behind his ledgers once more.

“Does that description not sound like precisely like Mr. Stringer?” Mrs. Heywood asked.

Charlotte had been contemplating the same idea, but responded, “As well as a significant percentage of the English male population.” By now her History had fallen to the floor, open to Sir Walter Raleigh’s expedition, looking like an injured and immobile bird.

“Wait – this is Mr. Stringer. ‘His smile spread slowly, and when nearly expressed, was usually followed by a quick glance toward his feet, so that the full extent of his pleasure was never quite revealed.”

“That is Mr. Stringer,” Mrs. Heywood agreed confidently. “She has a remarkable knack for capturing his personality.”

The rest of the girls, excluding Charlotte, agreed enthusiastically.

The tale of mystery – and romance – unfolded. Angelina, despite her innocence and youth, became the target of Blackwood’s desire. He was clearly the villain of the story: ugly and selfish, he became more and more merciless toward Jerome and cruel to Angelina. The young couple secretly found ways to support each other and even express their love – but the day arrived when Blackwood had Jerome arrested for alleged theft, and he then forced Angelina to prepare for their wedding day to save Jerome from prison.

Blackwood and Angelina stood before the minister in his castle’s dank, unused chapel, when shouts and voices were heard. The minister rushed through the ceremony, Angelina’s protest was ignored, and the couple was pronounced man and wife. At that moment, the door of the chapel burst open, and members of the local militia arrive, along with Jerome. He announces that through his efforts, he has located an old servant who once worked at the castle and who is able to reveal Blackwood’s true identity. When the old woman was brought into the room, Blackwood rushed to attack, but was stopped. She announced that he was not the rightful owner of the castle, and was in fact the valet of the true owner, the latter having disappeared mysteriously along with his infant son nearly twenty years before. She recognized Blackwood as the valet of the missing man – he had looked enough like his master to take on his identity after the other’s disappearance. The guardian demanded proof, and she pointed out that the true master, and his son, and their forefathers for generations, each bore the same heart-shaped birthmark near their left shoulder. She remembered seeing it on the infant, and on the master when he was a lad, when she worked as their nurse.

“If there is a birthmark,” one of the sister said with excitement, “surely they will find it on Jerome’s shoulder.”

“If I had written the book,” observed Mr. Heywood from his seat, “I would have ensured that all the militiamen had the same birthmark on their shoulders. A good fight to the death between them for the inheritance would be quite entertaining.”

Indeed, Jerome revealed such a birthmark, to the great astonishment of all present, although, Charlotte noted with suspicion, it was not clear that Angelina’s surprise was as great. The book ended with Blackwood escaping the grasp of his captors, clutching Angelina and pulling her up the stairs of the high tower that was located adjacent to the chapel.

“Architecturally doubtful, but certainly convenient to the story,” noted Mr. Heywood.

In the tower, a struggle ensued, which Jerome joins, and, finally, Blackwood toppled out of the tower window, plunging to his death in the stone courtyard below. In the same night, Angelina is wed and widowed, but reunited with her true love. In their haste to marry, Jerome and Anelina return to the chapel – the guardian all but forgotten – and the minister agreeably marries them among the many witnesses, including Jerome’s old nurse, who is immediately re-hired.

Days after the book was completed, the girls in the Heywood house who had been privy to its contents clamored about the story and characters – in particular, the romantic Jerome. Charlotte, on the other hand, couldn’t bear to hear any more of it. The entertainment of the story was, for her, overshadowed by the prospect that Lucia had won the heart of James Stringer, and was announcing it to the world – and to Charlotte – through this awful novel. Correspondence with Embrey House was limited  — her father rarely wrote, and likely was friends with Lord Embrey because he wrote just as infrequently. Charlotte refused to write to Lucia, and Lucia evidently had more financially rewarding reasons to write. And so Charlotte heard nothing to disabuse her of the idea that Lucia and Mr. Stringer, as the book strongly suggested, and as her own observations during her stay at Reddings indicated, were romantically linked.

Sanditon, Part 2, Chapter 5

Chapter Five

As Georgiana and Otis’s stay drew near its close, Charlotte became more and more glum. Her friends’ departure would take with them the only brightness in a life that had become rather dull. Despite the rigor that her daily activities with her family required, Charlotte felt remarkably unfulfilled and dissatisfied at the end of each day. She had sought out and met with a few of the local town leaders, but none of them found her suggestions for enhancing the town’s appeal anything more than charming musings of a young girl.

Mr. Heywood was fully aware of Charlotte’s attempts, and of her dissatisfaction. A day before Georgiana’s departure, Mr. Heywood suggested during dinner that the newly-married couple might appreciate visiting Reddings on their way back to London – it would add a day to their journey, but it was an estate well worth visiting and Mr. Stringer might appreciate the visit. Georgiana and Otis both agreed enthusiastically.

Mr. Heywood turned to Charlotte. “And you my dear? What say you to joining them? With my company?”

Charlotte was delighted. “I would be most grateful for the chance to see Reddings again. I haven’t seen it since I was a little girl. And I would like to find out how Mr. Stringer is getting on.”

Reddings was a mere two-hour carriage ride from Wellingdon, and there, they found a ready host in Lord Embrey. He was cheerful, reasonable man, who eagerly listened to all opinions, considered them all very good, and then settled on his own opinion in so apologetic and endearing a way that his friends still felt that he had arrived at it with their own particular assistance.

His particular cheerfulness at their arrival was due to not only his long friendship with Mr. Heywood, but also the recent installment of a new resident at Reddings: Lucia de Luce, the eighteen-year old daughter of an Italian tenor whom Embrey had befriended during a lengthy sojourn in Italy. Her mother was an Englishwoman who had fallen in love with the singer. Her mother died when Lucia was twelve. Her father died some months ago, and, at Lord Embrey’s request, Lucia had arrived only a week before to complete her education and benefit from the oversight of Lord Embrey. He now was pleased that she might have at least a short visit from girls her own age.

“She is a most unusual girl,” Lord Embrey told Mr. Heywood and Charlotte as they toured the house together. Georgiana and Otis walked ahead with the housekeeper, marveling at the features of every room, the artwork on every wall, and the prospect from each window. “She would prefer to sit at her desk and write – I have no idea what she fills her notebooks with – and it takes every ounce of ingenuity I have to encourage her to be outside and enjoy some fresh air. Ah, there we are now. You can see her coming down the lawn with James. We are fortunate that she has at least one young person nearby, and now we have two new young ladies that may interest her.”

Georgiana and Charlotte flew to the window, and there they saw the two figures approaching the house. Lucia de Luce caught their eyes immediately: dressed in bright yellow, her head uncovered, and her arms bare, she walked with a bold ease next to James Stringer, who was chatting away next to her. Miss De Luce looked pleased; they conversed amiably all the way toward the house, until the voyeurs at the window lost sight of the pair below.

“She is also a beautiful girl,” Georgiana said to Charlotte as the group retraced their steps toward the main entrance of the house to greet the newcomers. “Mr. Stringer may find himself distracted from his love for architecture.”

“I do not believe that Mr. Stringer is a man so easily swayed by the mere appearance of beauty,” Charlotte replied, but then the entire party stopped on the stairs as a voice, pure and strong and angelic, began to sing in Italian.

“Ah, and she occasionally – very occasionally – will treat us to her remarkable voice,” Lord Embrey whispered. The group quietly followed the sound to the magnificent Reddings drawing room, where they found James Stringer leaning on the piano, transfixed by Miss De Luce, who played and sang for a few moments longer until she detected the new arrivals. She stopped abruptly, and stood.

“My dear, you need not be startled,” Lord Embrey said, moving toward the pianoforte. He took her hand and drew her back toward his guests. “Lucia, my friends have arrived for a brief visit. I hope you will enjoy their company.”

Miss De Luce dropped to a quick curtsey, which the other girls returned. Lord Embrey made the introductions, and called for refreshments. Mr. Stringer approached to greet Mr. Heywood and his friends.

“How wonderful a surprise,” he said. “I had begun to despair when I might have the opportunity to see you all again, and here you are.” His eyes landed on Charlotte at the last three words, and the delight was plain on his face.

Mr. Heywood explained the nature of the visit, and Georgiana and Otis described the final leg of their journey toward settling in London. Mr. Stringer described his busy schedule, and the largest of the projects with which he had been tasked.

Charlotte had little to add to the conversation except that she was well, and that her family was well. The paucity of excitement and interest in her life made her somewhat ill-tempered, so she shifted her attention to Miss De Luce while her father and friends continued their conversation.

“How do you find England, Miss De Luce?”

“Cold, and wet.” Her voice was surprisingly low and rich, and ribboned with a slight accent that made Charlotte think of red brocade. “I am most grateful to Lord Embrey, but I so long for home.”

Charlotte thought of her own recent stay in Sanditon. “I recently traveled away from home. Not so far as you, of course, but I was away for a few months. I was so pleased to see new things, and meet new people, that I was too busy to be homesick. Perhaps, as Lord Embrey suggested, you need new friends and activities to distract you.”

Miss De Luce’s with her bright green eyes had been observing Charlotte as the latter spoke, and Charlotte felt a bit discomfited under the gaze. “What activities would you recommend?” Miss De Luce asked.

Charlotte was about to list the typical activities that she advised for her younger sisters when they found themselves with too much time on their hands: needle work, painting chinaware, writing letters. But looking at the activities through Miss De Luce’s eyes suddenly made them frivolous. Charlotte grasped for something to say, but Miss De Luce spoke again.

“Mr. Stringer,” said Miss De Luce, “was one of the friends and activities you enjoyed in Sanditon?”

Charlotte blinked. The way she Miss De Luce had phrased it sounded inappropriate somehow, but perhaps her English was unpracticed. “I made his acquaintance in Sanditon, that is correct,” she replied carefully.

“He is a newcomer to this place, as I am,” Miss De Luce said, casting her eyes around the large room. “We are – as the English say – allies.”

Charlotte wasn’t sure how to interpret this comment, but she said, “I’m so pleased that you have become friends.”

The subject of their conversation now joined it, and Charlotte found herself eager to discuss with him his work, the way they used to in Sanditon, and to offer her opinion. But Miss De Luce’s lethargy and sardonic tone during her conversation with Charlotte now disappeared, and in its place Charlotte found an amiable, charming girl with a voice that was suddenly sweeter and at a slightly higher pitch. The conversation turned toward Italian architecture. Charlotte again found herself with little to contribute, and her dark mood returned.

It was only later, after a fine dinner, and after the men finally joined the ladies in the drawing room, that Charlotte found a moment to speak alone with Mr. Stringer. He lingered in the doorway after the other three men entered, and leaned against it as if to survey the room and its contents. Charlotte observed him from the chair in which she’d been sitting, slightly obscured from his view, and stood to join him. At her movement, he straightened, and his face brightened.

“Miss Heywood, I was concerned that you had retired for the night. You looked unlike your usual cheerful self this afternoon – I wondered if you were unwell.”

“I am perfectly well, Mr. Stringer, thank you.”

“Then you find Reddings to your liking?”

“Very much so.”

“And the company has met your expectations?”

“Exceeded it,” she confirmed. She noted his look of anxiety. “You will think me foolish if I share with you the source of my dourness.”

“I doubt that I could find you a foolish person, Miss Heywood. You are welcome to share with me any trouble you might have – perhaps I can help you in some way.”

“Only if you can cure me of selfishness,” Charlotte laughed. “I have done so little, encountered so few people, since leaving Sanditon, that I feel I have little to contribute to general conversation. It is quite distressing,” she said with a smile, “for a young lady to have little to say when in society.”

“Well, I would be happy to hear you talk of any topic,” Mr. Stringer said. “In Sanditon we had excellent conversations, did we not? Your guidance was always encouraging. Indeed, without it I might not have shared my designs with Mr. Parker, or sought the apprenticeship, or enjoyed this opportunity with Lord Embrey. So I thank you heartily, Miss Heywood, and offer you what I can in modest, but earnest, recompense.”

“Thank you!” Charlotte replied with enthusiasm. “I had been so looking forward to learning more about your work. As you know, I was able to assist Mr. Tom Parker in his accounts and management, and I very much enjoyed it. I find myself missing that element of my Sanditon experience most sorely. If there is any way I could serve a similar role here, during my brief stay, Mr. Stringer – it would do me a world of good. I hope you understand?” Charlotte looked at him eagerly, and did not even notice that she had placed her hand on his arm until he looked down at it in surprise. She pulled away her hand and held both her hands behind her back.

“I believe I do,” he replied. “I expect no less from the lass who swings a formidable cricket bat.”

It was agreed that Charlotte and Georgiana would join him for tea in his small cottage the next day, so that he could show them his work and records. When the afternoon arrived, however, Georgiana was unwell, and Charlotte found herself seeking alternate company for the visit. After knocking on the door of Miss De Luce’s room, and hearing a brusque “Enter!”, Charlotte found the young woman hunched over a large writing desk, loose papers scattered both on the desk and on the floor nearby.

“Miss De Luce, I had hoped you would join me for a walk to Mr. Stringer’s cottage,” Charlotte said. “Mrs. Molyneux was to accompany me, but has taken ill.”

“Why do you not go alone?” Lucia asked. “My company would not be welcome.”

“Most welcome,” Charlotte corrected, “and most appropriate. A young lady may not visit a young man’s home unattended.”

Lucia muttered something that Charlotte couldn’t make out, but she did stand, shook out her skirts, and trudged toward the door.

The walk to Mr. Stringer’s cottage was an excruciatingly quiet one, except for the occasional strong wind that pulled their skirts. Eventually Charlotte gave up attempting to entice Lucia into conversation; the other girl seemed lost in her own thoughts, distracted only by the occasional wildflower that she gathered. When they finally reached the door of the charming cottage, Charlotte knocked briskly, and Lucia thrust the small bouquet into her hands before turning and running off into a nearby wood, disappearing from sight just as Mr. Stringer opened the door.

“Good afternoon, Miss Heywood! I was about to despair of your visit happening. Please, come in.”

Charlotte hesitated. “Mr. Stringer, it seems that Miss De Luce has abandoned me on your doorstep. She was meant to accompany me.”

“Miss De Luce does not abide by many of our rules for social propriety,” James Stringer said. “I am disappointed. But perhaps we can walk outside? I could bring some of my papers that I wanted to show you.”

“It seems silly, does it not, to transport your work a mere ten feet in order to comply with social proprieties, and yet expose your precious documents to the elements.” Indeed, Charlotte was forced at that moment to push her bonnet firmly on her head to keep the wind from slipping it off. “Perhaps if we ensure that the visit is a short one –”

“Of course! So short that it might not even count as a visit.”

“Precisely.”

“And if I offer you, perhaps, only a half-cup of tea, half-brewed, it could never be said that we ever took tea at all.”

“I believe your math is quite unshakable.”

Charlotte knew she should not laugh, but soon they were both overwhelmed with laughter as they developed the precise parameters of their non-visit, safely ensconced in the front room of the cottage.

Mr. Stringer disappeared briefly into the kitchen to prepare the tea, leaving Charlotte to examine her surroundings. The place was neat as a pin, very spare, and without the usual comforts that Charlotte was used to seeing in a home. Instead of a dining table, the bulk of the room was occupied by a large drafting table, covered with papers, measuring devices, and pencils that had been worn down to small nubs. Architectural books lined the few book shelves, along with a few blue earthenware dishes. She found a small blue pitcher, and into this she carefully arranged Lucia’s bouquet, and set it in a more prominent position on the shelves.

“You’ve made a difference already,” Mr. Stringer said with satisfaction, entering the room with a tray of tea-things.

“Lucia gathered the flowers,” Charlotte clarified.

Mr. Stringer said nothing in response, only stood to admire the arrangement a moment longer before setting the tea tray down on a free corner of the large table. Charlotte found herself encountering an odd sensation of resentment that she had not thought to select flowers for the visit; those sweet little flowers managed to overcome Lucia’s total disregard of social propriety.

They settled before the table with their tea, and Mr. Stringer began to show her various drawings and plans. Charlotte’s curiosity led her to ask questions, which led to thoughtful responses, and earnest discussions. “Miss Heywood, I never would have considered these ideas,” Mr. Stringer said in wonderment, looking at a set of plans for a terrace garden. “It is as though you see everything with a completely different set of rules.”

“I don’t know any of the rules, Mr. Stringer,” she replied. “I suppose that is the problem.”

“Not at all. Your perspective is refreshing.”

“I do better with accounts,” she offered. “My mother taught me the proper methods for book keeping.”

“Will you show me? I have only a few financial matters to oversee, but perhaps Lord Embrey would be wiling to expand my responsibilities if I showed a better understanding.”

By the time she had completed her brief tutorial to her satisfaction, Charlotte realized that it was nearly too dark inside to continue reviewing the figures. She exclaimed in despair, “I must get back – it is nearly dinner time, and if Lucia has already returned to the house without me I shall never be able to explain myself.”

“Let me walk with you –”

“It may be unseemly –“

“At least part of the way.”

This was agreeable, particularly when Charlotte was uncertain of the path back to the house. They set along the path together, unusually quiet without the papers before them.

“I must thank you, Mr. Stringer. You may find it unusual, but I find discussions on these topics most satisfying. I have nothing like it in Wellingdon. It’s grown rather dull for me there.”

“Then you are not determined to stay in Wellingdon?”

“You mistake me. I’m not a young man like you, Mr. Stringer, with prospects of advancement, or opportunity to develop my skills. In any event, my family needs me,” Charlotte said, but she could not help add a sigh as she finished her sentence.

“Miss Heywood.” He stopped suddenly, blocking her progress on the path. “What if another needed you?”

“Another?” She frowned. “Another family? I don’t believe I have the fortitude to serve as a governess, nor the immediate financial need –”

“Not another family.” Mr. Stringer looked a bit pained. “Well, perhaps another family. What I mean is – Miss Heywood – Charlotte – what if I needed you? Would that – could that, perhaps, prompt you to leave Wellingdon?”

Charlotte felt a glimmer of excitement. “Oh, Mr. Stringer! Are you suggesting a business venture? It is something that I have been pondering, but have been too timid to suggest – I did not yet tell you about my fortunate –”

“Charlotte, I am not proposing a business venture with you.” Now James Stringer smiled down at her, and she found her hands gathered in his. “I am proposing a marital venture. I would give all to be your husband, if you would have me.”

Charlotte was astonished.  In her own mind, she was already beyond any discussions of marriage; in her own mind, she was accustomed to the idea of life as an unmarried woman, and all the benefits and detriments that accompanied it. Furthermore, a marriage proposal from a young man like James Stringer, whose station was so different from hers, who had never received any encouragement from her, was outside the bounds of propriety and expectation.

“Mr. Stringer, I must clarify that I did not seek to entice you into a marriage proposal with my visit today, or through any of my behavior to this point. We were friends, and no more. My visit was intended to be very different, but Georgiana’s illness, and Lucia’s inexplicable behavior, led us to be alone – not my own design.”

“Of course, Charlotte –”

“Then I am not sure what has led you to feel empowered to propose to me! I have made it clear to my friends and to my family that I intend to never marry.”

“I was not aware of that intent,” Mr. Stringer said. He still held her hands, and used this to pull them closer together. In the deepening twilight, she could not tell whether she saw amusement or worry on his face, and perhaps he could not determine her expression, either. He went on, “Charlotte, all I know is that you make me want to be a man better than I deserve to be. All my life I have been told that I cannot, should not, improve myself, or seek to better myself. And then I met you, who have always conducted yourself by a different set of rules.” His voice lowered. “I am asking you that we move through life together, making those rules together, in whatever way that allows us to be our best selves. Whatever kind of satisfaction you seek from life, I pledge to help you find it. I will never keep you from it.”

His words nearly set fire to her heart, but her determination, pride, and suspicions strangled the fire before she had time to consider it. She had observed his behavior with Lucia, and Lucia’s own erratic behavior when it came to James Stringer. She could not, in the first instance, believe that James’ personality would allow fraud, but she had been wrong about Sidney Parker in that respect already. She had already learned of the fallible nature of men’s affections; and James Stringer’s ambitions were as prone to financial enticements as that of the Parker men, if not more so. Perhaps he was already aware of her inheritance, small as it was.

Further, she simply could not bring herself to imagine her life as the wife of a man like James Stringer. She could imagine parts of it – tucked away together in the charming cottage, working side by side at the large table, seeing his handsome smile shine just for her – yes, she could imagine those parts, but she was a gentleman’s daughter. She had enjoyed the prospect of becoming the wife of someone like Sidney Parker – she could not be intended for a life with the son of a brick-layer. His charm as a successful protégé did not translate to a position as suitor.

As though he were reading her mind, James Stringer released her hands. “Are you thinking of someone else, Charlotte? Is it Sidney Parker?”

“No,” she said. But she couldn’t lie. “I am thinking of him, a little.”

“Because you still want to marry him?”

“Mr. Stringer, I have determined never to marry,” she repeated.

“So tell me now – if Sidney Parker were waiting for you at Reddings Hall, right now, and offered his hand to you – you would say no because you shall never marry?”

Charlotte kept her gaze at her feet. “He is marrying another.”

“He has changed his mind once, and he might again, in your favor. How could he not, unless he is an utter fool? And how would you answer? You would reject him, as you have me?”

Charlotte still could not look up. The prospect was an enormous one – that Sidney’s engagement with Mrs. Campion might fail for some reason. What if he came riding out into the night to Wellingdon, to Reddings, to seek her out?

Her silent contemplation was answer enough for James Stringer. He took a step back, and then another, so that he became only a dark shadow in the twilight. “If you follow the path directly,” he said with difficulty, “you shall see the lamps of Reddings Hall. My apologies for keeping you. Good night, Miss Heywood.”

“Mr. Stringer, I did not mean to –”

But he did not pause, and in a few quick strides his long legs carried him farther than her voice could reach. Charlotte let out her breath in a little gasp. She turned toward the house, and carefully made her way along the path in the faint glow of moonlight. She was nearly within shouting distance of the house when she heard her name being called.

“Charlotte!” It was Lucia. She was running toward Charlotte across the lawn. “Our timing is fortunate. Come, let us walk in together.” She linked their arms together, and began to march toward the main doors of the house.

“Lucia De Luce, I shall never forgive you!” Charlotte pulled herself away, and turned to face the other girl. “Your behavior was most inconsiderate, and placed me in a compromising and very awkward position this afternoon.”

“Did you not enjoy your afternoon with James?”

“No, of course not! That is, I enjoyed part of it. But that is not the point. Our isolation provoked Mr. Stringer to make certain assumptions, and to –” Charlotte stopped. She was not sure that she should share the precious information with Lucia.

But Lucia smiled wisely. “He has proposed? And you have rejected him?”

Charlotte allowed herself to barely tip her chin in a nod.

“As I suspected.” Lucia’s tone, if not her stoic face, betrayed a kind of delight, and Charlotte did not know what to make of it. “Come. We will go inside, and the others will assume we have been together. I will not reveal otherwise if you do not.”

“I have no intention of disclosing these events to anyone,” Charlotte said.

Lucia nodded in satisfaction and took Charlotte’s arm again. “But where were you?” Charlotte demanded as they walked forth. “All afternoon and evening. Where could you possibly have been if you weren’t here at the hall?”

“England has little appeal for me, but its woods are irresistible,” Lucia said.

“You’ve spent the entire day in the woods?” Charlotte asked with incredulity.

“Nearly,” Lucia said, and said nothing more. As they joined the rest of the party, Charlotte feebly  explained their long absence, but Lucia slowly wandered farther and farther out of the circle of people until she had disappeared from the room. Later, Charlotte stopped outside Lucia’s door, pressed her ear to it, and hear the scratching of a pen and rustling of papers.

For the rest of Charlotte’s short visit, Mr. Stringer remained aloof, and, perhaps by chance or perhaps by design, was called away to attend to a building project a few miles away. Lucia remained largely secluded in her room, emerging only to eat, and then retreating again. Lord Embrey was unconcerned. “I cannot begrudge her the time she devotes to her papers and musings,” he said as the group enjoyed a walk in his gardens. “I am a man with particular passions as well, and know what it is to experience concentrations of sudden interest and obsessions. And thus we have the fruits of my labors,” he added, gesturing toward the house.

Charlotte was dissatisfied – not because she wanted to spend more time with Lucia – certainly not  – but because she did begrudge Lucia the luxury of devoting herself to her passion so completely. Charlotte allowed herself to think about the afternoon in James Stringer’s house, and the complete satisfaction she had experienced there. If only he had not taken liberties, had not set aside social proprieties, had not ruined a friendship that might have resulted in a partnership – a business partnership – beneficial to both of them!  Charlotte was quite cross with Mr. Stringer, and considered herself quite blameless.

Charlotte convinced her father to cut short the visit, and before she had to encounter Mr. Stringer again, and before she had to spend more time with Lucia De Luce than her constitution could handle, Charlotte bid Lord Embrey, Georgiana, and Otis farewell, and returned with a heavy heart to Wellingdon. There, she picked up her needlework, and the books she had already read, wrote letters on trivial matters, occasionally painted additional flowers onto the china that had seen her ministrations in the past, and generally became quite unpleasant to her brothers and sisters as she managed their educations and behavior.

She also remained very cross with Mr. Stringer, and could not find a way to forgive him so that she could put him and his proposal out of her mind.

Sanditon, Part 2 Chapter 4

Chapter Four

The next morning, Mr. Heywood and Mr. Stringer rode out at first light, while Georgiana and Otis boarded a coach once more to take them to Sanditon. The couple planned to gather Georigiana’s things and to formally apprise Sidney of the marriage and the end of his guardianship. With them, they took letters from Charlotte’s parents and from their most prominent friends in London, including Mrs. Fellows, in support of the nuptials and as to the character of Otis Molyneux.

Next to her marriage, control over her inheritance gave Georgiana the most excitement, and she quietly promised Charlotte that James Stringer could expect a commission from herself and Otis to design a new home for them.

“Nowhere near Sanditon,” Georgiana laughed. “Perhaps halfway between London and Willingden. Then, you could at least stop and see me on your way to London.”

“I shall visit you wherever you settle,” Charlotte promised.

“And perhaps you shall bring Mr. Stringer with you,” Georgiana added slyly. Charlotte pretended not to hear.

It was a week before Georgiana’s first letter arrived to update Charlotte.

“Dear Charlotte,

“I have so much to report. I cannot describe with enough words the commotion, the chaos, the turmoil that our arrival as man and wife created in Sanditon. In my five days’ absence, Sidney has been roaming between Sanditon and London, and, based on a comparison of his efforts to our journeys, we barely escaped detection a number of times. Furthermore, based on my queries, it appears that it never occurred to him to send any inquiries to you or to Willingden; perhaps he thought it too obvious that I would seek assistance from you, and that I would therefore avoid that plan. I am glad, therefore, for many reasons that I visited you and your charming family. Once Sidney determined that our marriage had taken place in a legal and formal fashion, and before so many of our friends, he returned to Sanditon and, to his credit, took steps to transfer authority over my accounts to me. On the other hand, he has refused to consider himself a friend to us, and any social connections have ceased.

“In sum: Without any challenge to the legitimacy of my marriage, especially in light of the letters that your own parents and our friends provided, I am now as free a woman as I wish to be, subject only to the desires and demands of a most reasonable and affectionate husband. We are determined to return to London as soon as possible and take a residence there; until then, we are in rooms at the inn, cut off from those few I once considered friends in Sanditon. Nevertheless, Charlotte, I am far happier today than ever I was before.

“Mr. Stringer’s role, happily, has remained a secret; his friends here know only that he has sought work elsewhere in Sussex, and as you know, what was once a ruse has now become a reality.

“Moving on to other Sanditon gossip: to the commotion we created, more was added by Lady Denham. I regret to report that after my departure, but unrelated to it, she had been taken ill, and finally succumbed but a few hours before our coach arrived in Sanditon. Lady Denham’s death – rather, the disposition of her property upon her death – has become the greatest topic of conversation – rather, debate – in Sanditon, providing an able distraction from my own circumstances. As I write, nothing but uncertainty about her final wishes is certain. And perhaps none of us was surprised to see Sir Edward Denham and Miss Clara Brereton return to Sanditon, much like vultures, to survey the carrion of greed.

“I receive most of my information from my maid, who has happily rejoined me and takes very good care of us and also looks forward to returning to London. I shall of course write again, but hope to see you once more very soon upon our return to London.

“Your dearest friend, Georgiana Molyneux”

 

Charlotte replied, without having much to report, and waited impatiently for her friend’s next letter – not only because she was curious about the goings-on at Sanditon, but because life had become rather dull in comparison to the excitement she had experienced in the past fortnight. Her father had returned from Lord Embrey’s estate alone; Mr. Stringer had found a patron keenly interested in his work and in need of an assistant to manage his various projects upon his own estate, Reddings, and upon those of his friends. “Lord Embrey is leading a movement to modernize,” Mr. Heywood explained. “To innovate, to build a metaphorical bridge between classical design and modern needs. His ideas are remarkable, and found an ardent supporter in Mr. Stringer.” Lord Embrey was familiar with the Sanditon plans and construction, and the reputation of the capable foreman had traveled along with word of the town’s progress. Thus, Mr. Stringer was promptly installed at a cottage at Reddings, and when Mr. Heywood parted from him, the young man was eager to return to studying the many plans and sketches that would become his new bedfellows.

Charlotte was fully gratified that her plans for Mr. Stringer’s career had taken root in such a remarkable way, but she found herself wishing to be a closer witness to his work. In Sanditon, she had rarely experienced more satisfaction than when she had assisted Tom Parker with his planning and books, and when she offered suggestions for improvement in recordkeeping or communications with suppliers, and when she had proposed the notion of the regatta. This fact, of course, made her recall Sidney Parker with a jolt; but it also made her realize that much of her disappointment lay not in the loss of Sidney’s affections but in the loss of her influence, albeit a minor one, in the business and development of Sanditon.

Much of her energies, therefore, were diverted to her own family. The children found themselves more often at their studies, their faces more often washed, and their mealtimes more regulated than they were used to. Charlotte ignored their complaints and persisted in her management, and soon her parents found that they were not working so hard to avoid their children, and their appreciation for Charlotte’s return, and especially her newfound determination, was great indeed.

Georgiana’s second letter finally arrived. Charlotte was alone in the sitting room when the maid brought the letter to her, and she opened it eagerly. Her shriek of excitement was heard throughout the house, and when she ran toward the kitchen, where her mother had been helping to prepare a custard, her mother came running out, concern on her face and a whisk in her hand.

“What is it, Charlotte? What has happened?”

“Mother, the most remarkable news. Georgiana has written about the details of Lady Denham’s will. It has become generally known to whom she has left certain parts of her estate. Esther has, unsurprisingly, inherited the bulk of the estate. And, also unsurprisingly, Lady Denham specified that she has left nothing toward the Sanditon projects or to the Parkers.”

“So what is the remarkable part of the letter?”

“Mama, Lady Denham has left a small portion to me – five hundred pounds!” Charlotte could hardly believe it herself. She handed the letter to her mother. “It is merely second-hand information, but comes by way of Georgiana’s maid, who has some connection to the staff at Sanditon House. I did not believe that Lady Denham held me such regard. I admit, I always felt she enjoyed my company, and that my conversation was –.”

“A refreshing change from those who would never dare to challenge or disagree with her?” Mrs. Heywood smiled, and returned the letter. “I know you too well Charlotte, but I can also imagine that a woman like Lady Denham would appreciate your personality and even reward you for it. Congratulations.”

“And do you see in the letter – Georgiana describes a yet unknown person who will similarly receive a small portion. She has not yet been able to determine who it is.”

“Perhaps another willful conversational partner whose company the great lady enjoyed,” Mrs. Heywood replied. “Well, my dear heiress – does your newfound wealth prevent you from helping me prepare for dinner?”

“I shall lower myself for your sake, dear mother.”

Charlotte’s inheritance was soon confirmed. Lady Denham’s attorneys and agents worked quickly, and within another month Charlotte found herself walking out of a bank in London with her father, now in possession of a greater fortune than she had ever imagined for herself. Her brothers and sisters had assembled a formal list of suggestions for her immediate spending of the money, which suggestions primarily involved sweets, ponies, puppies, toys, and gowns. But Charlotte preferred investment over spending, and arranged the funds to sit quietly and earn slowly until she could determine their best use. An idea was forming in the back of her mind, but she wasn’t yet able to quite see its final shape.

Meanwhile, Georgiana and Otis made their final departure from Sanditon toward London, and stopped once again in Wellingden. They were greeted with much excitement, and this time stayed for an entire week. Georgiana had another update: Esther and her husband, Lord Babington, had undertaken to use their inheritance to invest in the Parker’s development of Sanditon.

“Despite Lady Denham’s wishes to the contrary!” Charlotte exclaimed. “How like Esther.”

“Very like. But they seem to believe in the prospects that the resort offers, and Lord Babington has made his involvement in the planning and decisions part of the agreement. Tom Parker will likely see his vision come to life, but he will have to share in the credit for its accomplishment.”

“And do the other Parkers’ plans remain as … as they were before?” Charlotte asked.

“Do you mean, whether Sidney is still intent on marrying? That was unclear. The talk of Babington’s decision to invest overwhelmed any talk of the marriage plans. But I did not hear any plans of cancellation.”

“And what of the mystery beneficiary?” Charlotte asked.

“We learned nothing further of his existence or his location. Ellen” – this was Georgiana’s maid – “seemed to believe, based on the speculation of the Sanditon House servants, that it is someone, perhaps an old servant, with an old connection to the family. But none of the current staff can speak to it with any authority.”

Charlotte was struck by a thought. “Georgiana, did Mr. Stringer ever tell you that he was acquainted with Lord Denham – that he had been promised some kind of patronage by the old man, when he himself was quite young?”

Georgiana was clearly surprised. “No, indeed. How remarkable. Do you think it’s possible that Mr. Stringer is the beneficiary?”

“It is possible; however, not likely. It was Lord Denham’s intent at stake at that time, not Lady Denham’s. My understanding is that nothing came to fruition; Lord Denham died and no account made on Mr. Stringer’s behalf. The promise was too informal and Mr. Stringer was too young to speak on his own behalf, and had no one to speak for him.”

“How unfortunate for him. Of all the people that I met in Sanditon, Mr. Stringer is the one who could make the best use of out an inheritance, no matter the size.”

“My thoughts precisely,” Charlotte agreed. And although she continued to converse with Georgiana on other topics, such as furnishings for a new London home, Charlotte’s thoughts began toying with a new idea.

Sanditon Part 2, Chapter 3

Chapter Three

 At dawn the next morning, four travelers set out from Willingden in the coach to London: Georgiana, James Stringer, Charlotte, and Charlotte’s older brother, George. George had been preparing to return to Oxford to continue his legal studies, and though the return was sooner than he would have liked – a certain young lady in Willingden was far more charming than his law books – he, like his father, could not resist his mother and eventually came to realize his duty to accompany his sister to London. On the return trip, it was taken for granted that Charlotte would return properly chaperoned by the newly-formed marital pair of Mr. and Mrs. Molyneux.

And this is precisely how it came about. Despite the nerves that grew with every mile closer to London, despite the slight delay of Otis’ arrival to the agreed-upon meeting place, the marriage proceeded without incident. Several of Otis’ friends from the abolitionist movement were in attendance, so that Charlotte and Mr. Stringer found themselves for a rare time the minority among the shades of brown that surrounded them in the church. Charlotte was exceedingly glad of Mr. Stringer’s presence, his attentiveness to her, and his obvious delight when the ceremony was finally complete and the couple turned to face their friends for the first time in their married state.

“Have you ever seen such happiness, Mr. Stringer?” she asked him as they followed the couple down the church steps.

“Very rarely,” he conceded. “As I watched, I thought of Romeo and Juliet. Do you know the play, Miss Heywood?”

“Of course. But it is a tragedy.”’

“But every time I read it, I anticipate happiness for the couple after so much resistance to their union. I believe that Juliet will awaken as Romeo arrives, and that they will quietly depart for Mantua, and live happily together.”

“They would have to step over Paris’ body, of course, on their way out. And they would still need to discuss the matter of Tybalt’s murder.”

“A cynical view of true love from one as young as yourself.”

Charlotte’s back stiffened. “As I grow older, I wonder if Juliet should have struck out on her own. A resourceful girl like that might have been quite happy without the need for marriage.”

“Indeed, I would have enjoyed that story even better,” Mr. Stringer said agreeably.

They were interrupted by Otis Molyneux, who greeted Mr. Stringer with great enthusiasm and gratitude, which was received modestly but with pleasure. Charlotte was pleased to see Mr. Stringer’s spirit returning; when she had left Sanditon, his mourning for his father had taken the fight out of him. Perhaps there was a chance that his ambitions for his architectural work would return. She had only a little time to pursue her theory: he was to return to Sanditon within the next two days, preceding Georgiana’s return with Otis, in order to mitigate any suspicion that he had been involved with her disappearance.

She would speak to her father about it; she suspected he would be a willing accomplice.

The wedding party was hosted for their evening in London at the home of a rather famous abolitionist, a widow named Mrs. Fellows. Charlotte’s brother George spent most of the evening in heated conversation with other young men pursuing legal careers; Georgiana and Otis had eyes only for each other; and Charlotte found her satisfaction in Mr. Stringer’s popularity contradicted and mitigated by her irritation that his attention was occupied so fully by the other female guests all evening. She was happy when the party ended and she was able to retire for the night.

The next morning, George bid his new friends and his sister a reluctant farewell, and continued his journey toward Oxford, while the other four boarded a coach once again to return to Willingden. Too tired to talk, the four of them mostly dozed during the journey, and neither Georgiana nor Charlotte could make much use of the time to discuss Mr. Stringer’s future plans. Upon the return to Charlotte’s house, they found that the Heywoods had assembled a wedding feast. The family itself made quite the party, but they had invited numerous friends, and so Charlotte greeted with delight Anne Tompkins as well as several other young women with whom she had grown up.

Her delight turned to dismay when she found that once again that the demands upon Mr. Stringer’s attention by these young women, as well as by her own sisters, interrupted her attempts to speak to him about reigniting his interest in his architectural career.

Her father approached her as she watched, for the third time, as Mr. Stringer was led away from their own conversation to meet someone or to dance.

“My dear,” said her father as he approached, “your face reminds me of when you were a little girl and someone took your doll away. It is of course entirely likely that I recall the behavior of one of your sisters. Nevertheless, you look a bit peevish.”

“I’m not peevish, father,” she answered peevishly. “It is only that I believe we have an opportunity to encourage Mr. Stringer to pursue his love for architecture before he departs for Sanditon.”

“And why is that so important to you, my dear?”

“Father, I’m surprised you would ask. You have seen his talent. And I have seen his passion,” Charlotte explained. “For that subject,” she added hastily. “You’ve always taught us the value of combining those two elements in all we strive to do.”

“Yes, his passion. Indeed.” Mr. Heywood observed Mr. Stringer for a moment, and then turned back to his daughter. “Perhaps I may assist you in your, opportunity, as you put it?”

“That would be wonderful, but Mr. Stringer departs once more tomorrow.”

“Let us see what may be arranged,” Mr. Heywood said. He was about to turn away, but paused, and stepped toward his daughter. “Am I to understand then, that you have no personal interest in Mr. Stringer’s professional ambitions?”

“Only to the extent that I wish him well, considering his abilities and circumstances.”

“And no personal interest in his … personal ambitions?”

“Father.” Charlotte took his arm. “You may regret to learn that I have no personal interests outside of our family. I have fully resolved to commit myself to you and to my mother. Marriage has never been a great enticement to me, and my recent experiences have only confirmed it.”

“Your mother mentioned your resolution to me,” Mr. Heywood admitted. “And I have no regrets for my part. And I am a selfish old man, so you shall not hear my argument. Let me see what I can do, however, about Mr. Stringer’s professional ambitions.”

After her discussion with her father, Charlotte’s evening continued in a most unsatisfactory way until the final dance of the evening, when Mr. Stringer appeared by her side. “I was hoping to share at least one dance with you, Miss Heywood, if you would do me the honor.”

“Certainly, Mr. Stringer.”

Their conversation proceeded awkwardly at first, for though Charlotte was desperate to raise the topic of his career, she could not seem to find an elegant or inoffensive way to do so. And Mr. Stringer, in turn, appeared to have some difficulty bringing forth any topic at all. When they finally spoke, it was at the same time.

“My father – “

“Your father – “

They both stopped and laughed. “Please, Miss Heywood, continue,” he urged.

“It is only that my father so admires your work,” she said.

“My work,” he repeated.

“Yes, of course. Your architectural drawings. And he is aware of your original plans for an apprenticeship. I wish you would speak to him further, and perhaps reconsider your plans for the future.”

“I see.” Mr. Stringer looked uncomfortable for a moment, but his faced changed back to jovial. “Well, Miss Heywood, your father has only a short while ago asked me to remain in Willingden for some time in order to study with his friend, Lord Embrey. He had suggested that it might be worth pursuing my passion here. Those were his words,” the young man added hastily.

“How wonderful!” Charlotte exclaimed. “How perfect. Lord Embrey is a lovely gentleman and has been creating beautiful buildings up and down Sussex. Will you stay, Mr. Stringer? Could you set aside Sanditon for a bit longer?”

“What would you recommend, Miss Heywood? You know my circumstances, and my father’s wishes, and my limitations. What are my chances of success?”

He looked so earnest, and rather conflicted, but Charlotte did not hesitate. “I believe it is just the thing for you, to give yourself a true opportunity to examine your talents and interests. Your success depends on opportunity, but moreso on your own dedication and talent – and those you have in great quantity. And what I can offer in support, I shall.”

“Then I do not see how I can refuse,” he replied.

By the end of the evening, Mr. Heywood had promised to leave the cozy nest of his home and ride with Mr. Stringer to Lord Embrey’s estate the very next day, and Charlotte felt very satisfied indeed about all that had been accomplished by and for her friends within a few risings and settings of the sun.

Sanditon, Part 2, Chapter 2

Chapter 2

On the day appointed for Georgiana’s secret arrival, Charlotte devised an evening visit to her good friend Anne Tomkins, who lived in town with a frail, elderly aunt. During such visits, Aunt Constance often demanded more of Charlotte’s attention than did Anne, but was also generous with her carriage to convey Charlotte home at the end of these long evenings.

Charlotte had, in arranging the visit, shared a few essential details with trustworthy Anne, so as they settled around Aunt Constance’s divan in the parlor, Charlotte was guaranteed a seat near the window, which Anne had insisted should be cracked open, ostensibly for fresh air that Aunt needed, but in fact allowed Charlotte to listen carefully for the arrival of the evening coach. They had been sitting together for an hour when she caught the early rumbles of the large coach and quickly stood. “My goodness, Aunt Constance,” she exclaimed. “The time has escaped from me. I promised my mother to be home shortly – now she shall fret.”

“Come now, girl.” Aunt Constance emitted her version of a laugh – a gravelly wheeze – and continued, “That mother of yours has too many children to allow herself to fret over one of them, especially one as capable as you.” She took hold of the bell stationed near her waist and rang it sharply, once. “Morton shall call for the carriage, dear. You may wait here and tell me more of Sanditon.”

Anne spoke. “Aunt, I had asked Charlotte to examine the way Morton has arranged the kitchen, to see how it compares to the new health schemes in Sanditon. Charlotte, I hope you wouldn’t mind doing that now, before you depart? It would certainly set my mind at ease with regard to our plans for Aunt Constance’s diet and digestion.”

“Of course, Anne.” Charlotte moved quickly toward Aunt Constance. “Aunt Constance, I will write with my observations, and even consult with Dr. Fuchs  by letter if you have no objections.”

“How wonderful, Aunt!” Anne exclaimed, taking Charlotte by the elbow and guiding her out the door. She called back, “Isn’t it kind of Charlotte? Let us make sure that she has all the information she needs.”

Aunt Constance barely had time to raise her hand in farewell before the two girls had escaped through the door and downstairs.

“Let us pass through the kitchen,” Anne whispered, “so that my deceit isn’t so complete.”

Georgiana was just stepping out of the carriage as Charlotte hurried toward the White Hare, Anne following. Georgiana’s dark head was covered with a large bonnet, and her face further obscured by a silk scarf wrapped around the bonnet and her neck, but once she settled on the ground and lifted her face, Charlotte recognized her and ran forward to embrace her friend.

“Dear Georgiana,” she whispered. “It is so good to see you again.”

“And you, Charlotte,” Georgiana responded. They stepped away from each other. “Look at us,” Georgiana smiled. “The last time we parted, our dejection weighed on us so heavily. And today, I believe that both of us are in a far better state.”

“Indeed, Georgiana, I know it is true for you,” Charlotte said, grasping her friend’s hand. “You do look so happy.”

“In another day, I shall be the happiest I have ever been.” Georgiana’s smile grew wider. “And I have such a surprise for you.” She turned slightly to reveal her fellow passenger stepping out of the carriage behind her.

A tall, well-dressed gentleman stepped down with hesitation, his head bent and face hidden for a moment by the brim of his hat. For a brief moment, Charlotte allowed herself to believe that Sidney Parker was the Good Friend who had accompanied Georgiana, and she prepared to flee so that she might not have to face him and all the confusion that would follow. But then the gentleman looked up directly at her, and smiled.

“Mr. Stringer!” she cried. Charlotte was so surprised that she couldn’t think of another thing to say. “Mr. Stringer!” she repeated.

He came forward, and they shook hands. “I hope that you don’t mind the surprise, Miss Heywood,” he said.

“Not at all,” she affirmed. “I should have anticipated from Georgiana’s letters that the Good Friend might be you.”

Georgiana took Charlotte’s arm. “We will tell you all about it. But first — can we hire a carriage directly to your home, Charlotte? I’d like to spend as little time in the village as possible. The fewer who notice us, the better.”

“Of course. In fact, my dear friend Anne has arranged her own carriage for us.” Charlotte made the hasty introductions as they gathered Georgiana’s small trunk and Mr. Stringer’ s smaller bag, and hurried back toward Aunt Constance’s home. The carriage was just pulling up, and in a moment the two new arrivals were hidden safely in it.

“Charlotte.” Anne delayed her friend outside the door of the carriage. “This is all so terribly exciting! I wish they could stay longer here in Willingden. They’d be the toast of our little town!”

“Perhaps upon their return,” Charlotte suggested, “they can linger, and Miss Lambe will bring her new husband, if all goes well. Otherwise, it may be a very long time before I may see Miss Lambe again.”

“Oh, then I shall pray for their success,” Anne promised.

Once Charlotte had settled in the carriage next to Georgiana and across from Mr. Stringer, the latter reached his long arm out to tap the side of the carriage, and they were off. Mr. Stringer watched with satisfaction as the girls chatted, offering a few words here and there as necessary.

Georiana explained: After Charlotte had left Sanditon, Georgiana had heard the general concern regarding the welfare of the workers whose income before, working for Tom Parker, had been unreliable, but now had dried up completely since the fire. Most of the workers were single young men who simply packed up and moved on, but James Stringer had grown up in Sanditon; and his guilt over his father’s death anchored him even further to the place. Georgiana spoke with Sidney about employing Mr. Stringer to work on repairs at the house that Mrs. Griffiths had rented. The landlord readily agreed, especially considering that Georgiana would shoulder the expense, and Mr. Stringer was grateful for the work to fill his mind and his pockets.

The small tasks ranged around the house for a week, and in that time he and Georgiana found themselves having quiet conversations, frequently interrupted by Mrs. Griffiths. But Georgiana recognized a kindred soul who might sympathize with her situation and agree to help her as an accomplice.

“And, as you see, he did agree,” Georgiana said happily. “Especially when he found out we would make our escape through Willingden.”

“Well, Miss Lambe,” he interrupted, “I think we were both pleased to have the opportunity to see Miss Heywood again.”

“Very pleased indeed,” Georgiana agreed, squeezing Charlotte’s hand, and adding a wink.

Georgiana explained the scheme behind their financial wherewithal, which involved the interception of bank notes she had arranged, through Sidney, to arrive in order for her to pay Mr. Stringer for this and other anticipated projects; the total sum was not a great amount, but enough to get them to London, where friends would be able to help. And Georgiana’s maid had played her part as well, scheming with the Parkers’ maid to “borrow” a winter suit from Tom Parker, who was of a similar size and build, and which would not be missed for several more months.

“I still feel most like a thief,” Mr. Stringer said, running his finger between his neck and the collar. “Miss Lambe did not inform me of the suit’s origins until we were well under way, when I had no other options but to keep it on.”

Charlotte perceived his discomfort, both in the wearing of the suit and in its provenance. “Mr. Stringer, be consoled: I believe that it would bring Mr. Parker some comfort knowing that he could assist you in this small manner, considering how much he owes you and others in back pay.”

“Thank you, Miss Heywood,” Mr. Stringer replied. “It is a consoling if you think it a right thing. Or, at least, not a terribly wrong thing.”

Their merriment lasted all the way to the Heywood’s house. Charlotte had given no forewarning to her family, but the sound of the carriage always inspired curiosity, and by the time the three occupants of the carriage disembarked, an impressive array of Heywoods had assembled just outside the entrance of the house, squinting in the deepening twilight. The shock of the children in meeting Miss Lambe was almost as great as hers in seeing the enormous family, ranging in age from adult to toddlers, and including two pairs of identical twins; she had never in her life seen identical twins and these stood patiently for her inspection.

The visitors were heartily welcomed, and places found for them at the supper table some time later. Mr. Heywood insisted on having Mr. Stringer sit on his left, and the rare times that Mr. Stringer was able to meet Charlotte’s eyes, she saw that some of the grief etched on his face had been replaced by delight in the keen interest of Mr. Heywood in his life and work.

Meanwhile, Miss Lambe deftly fielded questions from the Heywood children with her sharp wit, which eventually was softened by the charm and lack of guile of the rowdy household. Mrs. Heywood had long ago realized that unless there was something generally worth hearing, each child considered his or her own voice and topic the most interesting; this was not something with which she could disagree; therefore, she typically did not interfere with the din that accompanied their meals. Today, however, she watched and listened with satisfaction as the children sat transfixed by Miss Lambe’s stories of the West Indies, of her family there, and the nature of the slave trade. What Charlotte’s days’-long attempt at forming new abolitionists could not accomplish, Georgiana’s short, simple, personal story did within an hour.

After dinner, Mr. Heywood shepherded Mr. Stringer into his library, while the older girls and Mrs. Heywood gathered in the sitting room. Before joining them, Charlotte and Georgiana took a walk down the path that led between the house and the wood nearby.

“Of all the things I was looking forward to during this visit, Charlotte, one of them was to see your face when I arrived with my dear friend,” Georgiana whispered.

“Of course I was pleased to see him,” Charlotte replied. “After the death of his father, it is good to see him express an interest in new things.”

“He does appear to have a particular interest,” Georgiana said. “Perhaps not so new.”

“If you are suggesting that Mr. Stringer may have romantic interests toward me,” Charlotte said, “please be aware that my interests are not so inclined. I am quite determined to avoid the marital state.”

“What an extraordinary decision! I suppose the blame must lie with Sidney Parker.” Georgiana grasped her friend’s hands. “My warning about him came far too late. Your heart was already in his hands. The blame lies with me.”

“It was not merely that particular experience.” Charlotte still could not bring herself to mention his name. “Sanditon taught me that it is difficult to ever fully trust a person. I watched so many people move about like pieces on a chess board, moving in a way that was to their advantage. I had never imagined it possible for selfishness to be so great a guiding principle for so many people.”

“I have heard that every young woman has her heart broken at least once. The mending of it makes it stronger.”

“I have no need for further breaking or mending. I have been blessed with a large family, which loves me without motive, and needs me without expectation. I therefore shall devote myself to them.” Charlotte made her voice as firm and resolute as possible. “I hope you will be a good friend to me and trust that I have made the right decision, just as I am supporting you in yours.”

“Of course Charlotte. I am sorry for my presumptions. Especially now on Mr. Stringer’s part, because I do believe he admires you very much. But perhaps men’s hearts mend twice as fast,” she added, and the girls laughed.

“Fortunately, I believe his heart belongs to a more pliable and responsive creature,” Charlotte suggested. “His designs and his career in architecture will never turn their backs on him. If he holds me in any regard, it is because of my encouragement in his work.”

“I cannot disagree. Despite his resolution to continue his father’s trade, I sense Mr. Stringer’s desire for something greater. Perhaps we can encourage it.”

“I very much agree. Come,” said Charlotte, turning back toward the house. “I believe it is time to tell Mama of your plans. She will never forgive me if she unconsciously aided an act that she considers wrong.”

A short while later, Mrs. Heywood was finally debriefed on Georgiana’s situation. Charlotte found herself holding her breath as she awaited her mother’s response to the intrigue.

“Charlotte, you have met this young man whom Miss Lambe plans to marry?”

“Yes, mother.”

“What is your assessment of his character? Are you pleased for your friend, or concerned?”

Charlotte paused, and looked at Georgiana’s happy face. “Mother, I met him briefly, but I saw a young man who was ready to put Georgiana’s interests before his own – unlike many of the people of purportedly better quality that have imposed themselves on my friend.”

Mrs. Heywood nodded once, and turned to Georgiana. “Miss Lambe, you have landed in a fortunate place. We are practical people, but romance and adventure also runs in our blood. We will offer you what assistance we can.”

“You are so very kind, Mrs. Heywood,” Georgiana replied with emotion.

“Let me add this.” Mrs. Heywood took Georgiana’s hands in her own. “You are very much an orphan, and I am very much a mother, so let me be like a mother to you now, and offer you the blessings that your own poor mother cannot. Blessings for a happy marriage, a fruitful one with mutual respect.” She leaned forward to kiss Georgiana on the cheek.

Georgiana was now weeping quite freely. Mrs. Heywood held her hand and turned to her daughter. “Charlotte, would you please ask your father to join us here, so that I may explain the circumstances? And, once you’ve freed Mr. Stringer, please show him to his room. He’ll need to bunk with the middle boys tonight. It’s likely the best place for him.”

“Of course, mama.”

Charlotte left the sitting room, and paused outside the door of the library, where she heard her father ask, “But Mr. Stringer, what has kept a man of your skills and intellect from pursuing your education in a more formal way?”

“Well, money, sir, I suppose is one key element. And my father was never keen on rising above one’s station. I did all my reading out of his sight. Imagine me as a young lad, slipping away from a building job to find a place to eat my apple and read my Shakespeare.”

“Ah, Shakespeare!” repeated Mr. Heywood. Charlotte heard him rub his hands together. “Do you read Shakespeare?”

“When I can, Mr. Heywood. And other things. Lord Denham had an impressive library when I was a boy, before he died. He caught me in there reading, once, instead of repairing the fireplace. He sent me home with the book – Gulliver’s Travels, it was – and an order to come back whenever I liked for more. He was a very good man.”

“Indeed, he must have been,” Mr. Heywood agreed. “Yet, it would have been in his power to serve as your patron. It is a shame he did not.”

“I can’t let it be said that he did not try,” Mr. Stringer corrected. “I have only some understanding of this, but I believe he intended to send me to school. Unfortunately nothing was put in writing, and I certainly had no claim. I never learned what happened. After his death, no one said a word about his wishes to me.”

“And I don’t suppose you felt inclined to pursue the matter with the family,” Mr. Heywood said.

“No, certainly not, sir. I was barely a man. My only grief is not knowing whether his affection for me was altered in some way, if perhaps I had offended him in some way.”

“I can’t imagine that, Mr. Stringer, even though I’ve known you only a little.”

“Thank you, sir. And Sir Denham was a very good man,” he added with emotion in his voice. Then he added, with a touch of wryness, “And my other grief was that Lady Denham closed the library to anyone outside the family.”

Mr. Heywood generously made noises about the injustice of this, and Charlotte stepped into the room. “Father, would you please join mother in the sitting room? She would like to speak with you about Miss Lambe’s travel plans.” Charlotte cast a quick glance at Mr. Stringer, who averted his eyes.

Mr. Heywood looked disinclined to leave his new protégé, but he sighed. “Very well. Mr. Stringer, we will speak further, I am sure.”

“It would be my pleasure, sir.”

Once her father had left the room, Charlotte turned to Mr. Stringer. “Mr. Stringer, I’m obliged to inform you that tonight you must share a room with three of my brothers. Through their graciousness, you shall at least have a bed to yourself, but I regret to say that it might not be the peaceful night you are used to.”

“I grew up with only my father,” Mr. Stringer said jovially. “I always dreamed of what it might be like to grow up with brothers and sisters.”

“But perhaps with not so many as I.”

“Perhaps no so many. But nearly as many.”

This made them both smile. “I shall show you the way,” Charlotte said. She took a candle and led him through the doors and up the stairs. He followed quietly, and Charlotte felt the need to fill the silence – and to learn more about this young man. “Have you ever been to London, Mr. Stringer?”

“Never. I find myself looking forward to the adventure. And you?”

“When I was a child, I accompanied an aunt a few times; and a few times more recently.” She did not elaborate on her foolish expedition that also involved Georgiana and Otis. “I pray that this visit to London is as successful as Georgiana hopes.”

“As do I. I fear that my participation, if discovered, might cause the Parker family to turn against me.”

“Oh, Mr. Stringer! I did not even consider the impact on your reputation in Sanditon. This was a risky undertaking for you.”

“A risk worth taking,” he said easily.

She stopped in front of her brothers’ door, where she could hear some shouts. She looked up at Mr. Stringer with an apology in her face, but when he smiled broadly, she couldn’t help but smile as well.

“Georgiana is fortunate to have a friend willing to go to such measures for her.”

“Well, then, it’s a strange thing, Miss Heywood. I’ve been feeling the fortunate one since we’ve arrived in Willingden. Good night, Miss Heywood” He inclined his head, and before she could say another word, he had slipped through the door. She then heard the raucous sounds of her brothers’ teasing, and some easy banter on Mr. Stringer’s part in response, before the conversation lulled.  She’d longed to continue their conversation, and to learn more about his boyhood, his reading, and the disappearance of Sir Denham’s patronage. It would have to wait until tomorrow.

 

Jane Austen’s Sanditon and Masterpiece Theatre’s “Wretched, wretched mistake!” Sanditon, Part 2, Chap.1

Anyone who watched Masterpiece Theatre’s Sanditon  likely agrees that the ending was an error nearly rising to the level of the Charge of the Light Brigade: somebody blundered, and it was tragic. I was so put out by the ending that I needed to act. I don’t care if Masterpiece comes out with a Season 2 (they’ve said they have no plans to do so) because I don’t trust them to do it right.

So I wrote Season 2 as a novella (not a screenplay) to fix the many wrongs I perceived in Masterpiece’s approach. Reader, I admit it’s not perfect and may contain substantive and typographical errors. I admit I took some liberties. I admit Jane Austen might shake her head at me in disappointment both in the plot and the language  and behavior. Nevertheless: it sure made me feel better to fix things for Charlotte Heywood, Georgiana Lambe, and James Stringer,  who I felt were wronged by the  Masterpiece writers.

I will post each chapter separately. Chapter One begins below. I hope you enjoy it and that it brings you some measure of satisfaction, which is what all Austenphiles desire.


Sanditon Part 2

(a continuation of the unfinished Jane Austen novel,

in an effort to repair its desecration by PBS)

Chapter 1

It took Charlotte a full week to be able to discuss with her family any of her experiences in Sanditon; it took another two before she was able to mention Sidney Parker’s name. Mrs. Heywood observed her daughter carefully over those weeks, compared the subjects of Charlotte’s current conversation to those of her letters over the past several months, and concluded with satisfaction and accuracy (for most who knew her admitted that her conclusions were, indeed, accurate) that although Charlotte’s heart may have likely been broken, the effects would be temporary, and that within quite a reasonable span of time their dear girl would be back to shooting game, teasing her siblings and parents, and gently breaking the hearts of the local Willingden population, just as before.

Mr. and Mrs. Heywood were very glad to have Charlotte back. Despite a household crowded with children, Charlotte’s absence had been keenly felt, especially by Mrs. Heywood, who relied on Charlotte’s capable mind and household management talents. The two women, together, ran the home much like a business. Trade ran in Mrs. Heywood’s blood. Indeed, Mrs. Heywood was unashamed of her father’s work as a silk merchant; it was at his desk that she had learned her figures and basic business principles; and in his shop that she learned how to convince customers to make decisions that they had not begun the day intending to make, and in fact had emphatically told themselves they would not make. And so Mrs. Heywood happily managed fourteen children in the same way, children who contentedly kept their faces moderately clean, their bellies full of simple but healthy foods, and who, most importantly, spent most of the day outside of the house and away from their mother altogether, to the satisfaction of all relevant parties.

Mrs. Heywood’s unusual skills may have also played a role in Charlotte’s remarkable recovery from her visit to Sanditon; it is difficult to say. But anyone who knew Mr. Ellis of Brown’s Lane, London,  and could now observe his daughter and granddaughter, would certainly have remarked that the former did appear to circle around the latter much like a salesman working to entice a customer who has been informed that her favorite, desired product has been — to her great fortune — sold out.

The healing of Charlotte’s heart was also aided by her resolution that she would never expose herself to heartache again. It was too great a risk to embark on the mysterious, uncertain journey of courtship; a man’s mind was hardly knowable, and his prospects even less so. Even where affection was mutual, a myriad of forces could ensnare a couple and separate them. It had happened to her; it had happened to Georgiana.

No, Charlotte had all the affection and family she needed, and of all people, her mother loved and needed her the most. She could happily live out the rest of her days caring for this large family, and it would provide all the necessary distractions from old love and the protections from new.

Once Charlotte’s solitary recovery from heartache began, her lively, talkative nature and her natural penchant for storytelling returned. This meant that she could regale her family for hours with tales of Sanditon. Much of the information had already arrived in summary form in her letters, but, as one of her younger siblings insisted, and nearly every other sibling agreed, “The real stories were so much better.”  Because Charlotte was disinclined to speak of Mr. Sidney Parker (who, despite Charlotte’s letters, had never interested the general masses in the least), and because eliminating Mr. Sidney Parker from her stories made descriptions of the other Parkers too challenging, her family found that most of Charlotte’s best and most interesting stories were about Miss Lambe and Mr. Stringer.

The latter was an easy case: the entire family had, throughout Charlotte’s stay in Sanditon and by way of her letters, monitored news of Mr. Stringer’s professional progress with keen interest. Mr. Heywood’s liberal leanings, along with the remarkable personality of his own wife, allowed him to recognize the ascendancy of the middle class through its hard work, brains, and merit. In Mr. Stringer, he recognized many of the qualities that had drawn him to Elizabeth Ellis of Brown’s Lane. Mr. Heywood felt a particular sting when Charlotte revealed that James Stringer had given up a promising apprenticeship in London in order to stay in Sanditon. Upon hearing the distressing news, Mr. Heywood had lined up his six boys in a row, from youngest to oldest, and looked at them sternly. “Never,” he said, walking slowly back and forth before them, “never, my sons, pay tribute to your father by abandoning progress. Always forward, boys. Always forward.” After the solemn – and very brief –  speech, the two eldest boys consulted with each other, and agreed that Mr. Heywood’s insistence arose more from an understanding of his wife’s preference for fewer children in the house than from any particular desire for the boys’ individual advancement.

The family had always been even more fascinated by Miss Lambe, and their greatest disappointment was that they had no means of learning what she looked like. Charlotte insisted very strongly that Miss Lambe looked nothing like the shocking woodcut that young Peter had found in a book about Africa, and the children participated patiently in Charlotte’s lesson that followed, on geography and the slave trade and abolition, in the hopes of learning precisely what Miss Lambe looked like, ate, wore, and if, most importantly, she slept in trees. Charlotte was a reasonably good instructor, but it is fair to say that were it not for a fortunate occurrence shortly after this ambitious but failed lecture, a large percentage of the population of Willingden would have been exceptionally misinformed regarding the West Indie asnd its people.

Charlotte had been home for approximately three weeks when she received a letter from Miss Lambe. Once it was made known, Charlotte had no choice but to read the letter aloud to her entire family. Much was made of the nature of the address, the quality of the paper and of the seal, and once Charlotte opened the letter, Peter, peering over her shoulder, noted with astonishment and glee, “Well, her handwriting is even better than Mama’s!” This particular comparison completely altered the young Heywoods’ conception of Miss Lambe’s character, and from that moment onward the young woman became, in their minds, as prim and exacting, and therefore as ordinary and uninteresting, as their own mother.

Miss Lambe wrote:

“Dearest Charlotte,

“You cannot imagine how dull Sanditon has become for me in your absence. Mrs. Griffiths and her daughters talk of little else but the scandals that now surround the Parker family, and how Lady Denham has completely cut ties from them. The reverend stays nearby always, as though his presence will shield us from the evils that apparently emanate from the very family that he had previously admired so much. Strangely, he does not seem to recall his previous adulation of the Parkers.

“Sidney, thankfully, has remained away; I rarely suffer either his presence, or that of his newly intended bride, Mrs. Campion. I believe you can imagine the strained encounters we do endure occasionally. I cannot believe that she despises me any more than I despise her, and in this, at least, she recognizes our equality. Their wedding is planned for the end of June. Mrs. Griffiths says that of course I must go, but I shall address my plans for that later.

“I enclose, on behalf of Mr. James Stringer, charming drawings of a cupola. It was only upon my teasing that he admitted that he was the creator of the designs, and furthermore, that it was in part your urgings that caused him to seek a position with an architectural firm in London. He still grieves the death of his father, and I do believe that other sudden, but less mortal, departures from Sanditon have compounded his distressed state. Mr. Stringer’s manners commend him: he insisted that it would be improper for him to write directly to you, so he entreated me most ardently to express his very best wishes for your health, and asked me, and then confirmed quite a few times thereafter, that he might continue to inquire after your health through my correspondence with you. I think you would be hard pressed to find another soul in England as interested in your good health as Mr. Stringer.”

Mr. Heywood had, up to this point, made no indication that he was distracted from his intent study of a book on water fowl of the Lakes District.  But now he interrupted, “Let me see those drawings,” saving Charlotte from blushing from the foolish sounds her siblings were making in response to the last sentence. Charlotte dutifully passed along the two architectural drawings, which made their way with curious murmurs across a dozen pairs of hands before arriving in Mr. Heywood’s. He decamped from the room.

Charlotte continued:

“I must report on two events that took place just after your sudden departure. First, you of course are aware of the financial disaster in which the Parkers have found themselves thanks to Tom Parker’s questionable business practices. I was invited to dine with the Parker family. Although I am now aware that many more were invited, Mrs. Griffiths and I were the only ones who accepted the invitation. Mrs. Griffiths assured the Reverend, of course, that her attending the dinner was a means of offering good Christian example to the lost sheep of the Parker family. During our gathering, I suggested in no ambiguous terms that I would be willing to take the place, in a manner of speaking, of Lady Denham as an investor in the Sanditon project. The reaction was not as enthusiastic as I an anticipated. Far from it. In fact, Charlotte, they made clear that they had no interest in my role as an investor. I must admit my surprise. Their prejudice toward me, or toward the idea that one such as I might assume a partnership role, or any role of significance, in their venture, was so great that not even a substantial financial motive might mitigate it. They prefer to struggle, to turn to the likes of Mrs. Campion, than to admit parity with the likes of me. Thus, Charlotte, I feel justified in repeating my warning to you to not trust certain members in that family, and I rejoice that you are safe from their influence. My own welfare, however, remains in question. ”

Charlotte stopped reading, and began to fold the letter. “And then she closes it with her warmest regards to me and to my family,” she said.

“What is the second event?” chanted the older pair of twins.

Charlotte folded the letter with precision and finality. “I suppose she did not have enough time to add it to this letter,” she answered, and tucked the letter into her pocket. “Perhaps we shall learn more in her next one.”

The children voiced the injustice of this aborted correspondence, but Mrs. Heywood noticed the quick look that Charlotte cast toward her and she stood.  “Children!” she exclaimed, setting aside her knitting. She smoothed down the front of her apron and lifted her chin in an all-too-familiar way. “Is it not Thursday? Is it not on Thursdays that we experience the pleasures of Latin?”

Charlotte soon found herself quite alone in the room, listening to the decrescendo of shrieks as her siblings scattered out of the house. She flung herself fully across the sofa which she’d earlier shared with several of her siblings. Georgiana’s offer of help had given Sidney the opportunity to disengage himself from Mrs. Campion – the opportunity he had hoped for, and promised Charlotte he longed for; and yet his disinclination to allow Georgiana any power over him or his family still outweighed his feelings for Charlotte. Charlotte allowed herself a full moment of grief over this fact. How could Georgiana be so prescient about, so aware of, Sidney’s character? Did she know more about her guardian than she had yet shared? Wasn’t it entirely possible that there was even worse? Yet, when Charlotte had been reading, her eyes had caught the familiar shape of Otis Molyneux’s name; this is what had given her pause, that her parents might learn of her reckless trip to London and her role as go-between for two lovers. Was it possible that Georgiana’s judgment was so clouded by her unhappiness, by her separation from her own beloved, that any overprotective guardian would have been similarly labeled, regardless of his morality and judgment?

Charlotte briskly withdrew the letter from her pocket, and read on.

“Therefore, Charlotte, I come to my next great news. Thanks to the kind intercession of, shall we say, a Good Friend, I have resumed my correspondence with Otis. Please do not come to any conclusions until you read on. When I learned, weeks ago, of Otis’ behavior, and his debts, I was shocked into consciousness: he was the sort of man ready to take advantage of a young girl’s regard for his own benefit. Sidney, of course, caused me to see this, and to consider Otis’ behavior unforgivable. As you can imagine, ending my association with Otis, even as limited as it had been at that point, caused me enormous pain. Yet, I felt at that time that I could not trust a man willing to take such risks with his own money, let alone the money of others.

“Then, I learned of Tom Parker’s own gambles, the risks that he took with the money of innumerable others, with the livelihoods of good men like Mr. Stringer. Otis’ missteps suddenly paled in comparison. And yet, Mrs. Tom Parker forgave him. His entire family stood with him, determined to find a solution and weather this storm.

“Charlotte: I asked myself, and now I ask you: How do Mr. Parker and Otis differ? Mr. Parker defended himself by claiming the desperation of his circumstances. Could not Otis similarly claim? Mr. Parker’s family envisioned a possibility of redemption for him and for their circumstances. Could not Otis also find his way to the right path when he had strayed so little from it in comparison? And, significantly to me, Mrs. Parker forgave her beloved husband. Why should I hold my beloved to a higher standard – was it because Otis was not a white man? Why should the color of his skin cause me, of all people, to hold him to a higher standard?

“That is why I turned to my Good Friend to assist me in renewing my correspondence with Otis. My first step was to ask for forgiveness, to humble myself before a man who, I realize now, was willing to risk all he had in order to make himself a financial equal to me, to prove that his love was for me and not my fortune. As with Mr. Tom Parker, Fortune did not respond to Otis’ call, but I now promise that I shall. And I shall be forever grateful for Otis’ willingness to forgive me.

“Which leads me to this:  Good Friend has helped me to devise a plan that will bring me two great delights. First, in a fortnight you shall expect me on the evening coach at the White Hare in Willingden. Ease your worries: I shall be accompanied by my Good Friend, and well protected from any dangers. I hope that you will allow me to impose on your family’s hospitality for one evening, before I depart the next day.

“For my second great delight awaits in London. Otis has arranged for a small wedding to take place. My Good Friend shall accompany me, and my hope is that you might also, and be my guest and friend at an event that shall bring me the greatest happiness of my life. I recall that you have an older brother, and my prayer is that he shall chaperone you to assuage any concerns your parents may have about your traveling to London.

“I beg of you that you not share this information, even with your family; I will rely on speed and surprise for my scheme to work. If you have any hesitations in participating in it, please simply respond by sending me a letter quoting an appropriate passage from Fordyce’s sermons. I shall understand, and hope that you will still await the happy news. If you are willing to serve as my accomplice, then please do not otherwise respond, for any communications with you will be known here, and suspicions will turn toward Wellingden once my absence in Sanditon is detected.

“Your grateful friend, Georgiana Lambe”

“It seems that adventure and experiences of Sanditon have followed me to Wellingden,” Charlotte said to herself with delight.