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.