That day, the fateful day he saw Charlotte for what he thought was the last time, Sidney did not rush back to Trafalgar House. He needed to make a plan. He did not want to be untrue to his word, but if there was a slight chance that Eliza would realize she wanted more for herself than a loveless marriage, a slight chance that the financial entanglement they had just created for themselves could be solved and undone, he had to try. For in these past few weeks, Sidney had started to hope, but he had also started believing that he deserved happiness. This was not it. He needed to become financial manager for the Sanditon venture, and he needed to control Tom, since he now was, through Eliza, principal investor together with Lady Denham. He also needed to understand why Eliza wanted to marry him despite him explicitly not loving her. There had to be something to unravel there. The marriage had been set for the month of May, a Spring wedding being more fashionable in London. At the thought that this was his fate, unless a miracle happened, Sidney fell himself falling into the familiar dread and despair. After all, he had years of experience at nursing a broken heart, a lost future. His natural reaction was to drink himself to oblivion, gamble, visit boarding houses and close himself up like a shell. But Charlotte had opened him up, and he was not ready to give up.
A week after the announcement, after Charlotte’s departure, Sidney found himself in the study late at night, and Tom walked in. With the model of Sanditon laying before them, Tom started to speak. “I do not know how to start… But Sidney, Mary could not keep the secret for herself.” Sidney looked up, intrigued by this unexpected turn of conversation. Tom seemed agitated, and self-conscious. He went on: “She told me that you did not, in fact, still love Mrs Campion. That you engaged yourself to her only to save me from prison. Is that true, Sidney?” Sidney absent-mindedly touched the outline of beach promenade, and looked back at his brother, defeated: “That is the truth. But it is too late now, it is done.” Tom appeared taken aback. “My dear brother. How can I ever repay this debt? But you are not telling me everything. Mary said she believed your heart lay elsewhere. That you had given up someone.” Sidney felt the now familiar pang of darkness in his chest awake at the thought of her. “I cannot hide anything from Mary.” Tom sat in the chair, and put his face in his hands. “I have been so blinded,” he whispered, “so this is why Charlotte left?” Sidney had to admit he was surprised that Tom had reached the conclusion himself. “It is. I almost proposed to her the night of the Midsummer Ball, before the fire. And was ready to do it when I left for London, but I could not find another solution. I knocked on all the doors, but the amount of money was simply impossible to gather.” Tom looked up, and dared look in his brother’s eyes: “And she loves you, of course.” Sidney scoffed: “I do not know, Tom. I think she might have. I hope she will recover from this, and find her happiness. Most of all, I hope she will not lose herself like I did me. I know too well what this can do to a young soul.” Tom had tears in his eyes. “You must hate me. And you would be right to.” Sidney went to sit across from him: “Come on, Tom. I am glad that you know what I had to sacrifice, as we can now speak plainly and honestly, but do not think I don’t know what I owe you.” “You don’t owe me your happiness. Do you think you can ever be happy with Eliza? Truly?” Sidney thought about it. The question deserved a proper answer. “I have come a long way in my relationship with Eliza, Tom. She had passed me over for a wealthier man, when we both know I was not poor myself. She chose more wealth over me, when I was an already wealthy man. There is a coldness in her that must have grown from making that choice, that makes me think I never knew her. Sometimes I’ll see a glimpse of young Eliza. But I cannot help but compare her to Charlotte, constantly. And she always has the upper hand. Where Eliza is mature, Charlotte is more honest. Where Eliza loves me for who she thinks I am, Charlotte cares for the man I want to be.” I leaned on his elbows, searching the floor for traces of her, perhaps. “I never knew I could find someone so perfect.” Tom was staring straight ahead, the weight of his guilt weighing visibly on his shoulders. “I will never forgive myself.” Sidney stood up: “I am sorry, Tom. What is done is done, and we all have to live with the consequences now.”
He found Mary in her parlor, writing a letter. “Mary. Here you are.” She startled at his voice, and smiled sadly. “Sidney. I wanted to talk to you. Will you take a seat?” Sidney had also come to talk, it was true that they had not spoken since Charlotte had left, but he had felt her lingering gaze often, and she had not seemed happy of late. He did not know which one had been avoiding the other. He sat on one of the settee, and she sat on the opposite one. “The truth is, my dear brother, I did not know where to start. I am…we are…infinitely grateful for what you have done for us. We would have been utterly lost.” She was on the verge of tears. “Please, Mary, do not trouble yourself.” She was not responsible, and, if anything, her trust in Tom was probably at the moment more shaken than ever. “I cannot help it. Tom has been so reckless. And now, I have to live knowing that my continued comfort ruined the happiness of two of my dearest persons. I am so sorry, Sidney.” He was silent for a moment. It was difficult for him to react, for he could not deny the truth of her words. He opted for openness, instead. “I do not look at you with anger, Mary.” “But Tom?” “That is a bit more complicated.” She looked at him, examining him. “You seem different. From the last time.” He knew exactly what she meant. “I feel different. You see, to tell you the truth, I have not given up hope.” She opened her eyes wide, and nodded. “I see. What do you intend to do?” He looked up in surprise, but then again, Mary had always been an ally. She was Tom’s redemption. “I have several wheels in motion.” “I was just writing to Charlotte, you know.” He missed her terribly. “I wish I could write to her too. I would not know what to say, and of course it would be very inappropriate, but I write letters to her nonetheless.” She stood up and came to sit by him. “How can I help?”, she asked.
Not all days were hopeful. In fact, most days were not. Most days started with the sweetest dreams of her, the cruel waking, the frustration and the anger at Tom, at fate, at Eliza, then some drinking, only to start all over again. He was drowned in his work for Sanditon, in making sure that at least this sacrifice of his would not be a drop in the ocean. Sanditon had to be profitable by the next summer, and for that, he used all of his social weight, all of his energy. There is one thing that did not feel like a drain and that was his newly-improved relationship with Georgiana. Immediately after Charlotte left, Sidney had decided to make arrangements so that Georgiana could live with him at least until his marriage, and he sought to employ a governess that would not seem too strict or too much of a bigot for Georgiana’s taste. He needed to be away from Trafalgar House and Tom, and given how much time he had to spend here now, it made little sense to always stay at the Crowne. He was going back and forth between London and Sanditon, and Georgiana mostly remained in Sanditon, but would come with him to London for the season. Georgiana was surprised and pleased at his decision. She did not forgive him just yet, but she understood that he intended to make amends. In Sanditon, Sidney started renting a small house near the sea. They took walks on the beach in the morning and talked of Antigua, of her father. Georgiana was still raw and bitter about what Otis had done, and her love was fading. She had a sense that the change in her guardian’s behavior had a lot to do with her friend Charlotte, but she did not want to pry. He was an engaged man. He was a devastated man. Sure, he seemed to hold himself together, but she saw through the new mask. She saw his jaw clench when she received a letter from Charlotte, fighting the urge to ask her everything. One day, two months after, when a new letter had arrived at breakfast, he let his guard down for a minute – for they never talked about her – and asked: “You would tell me if she were not well, would you?” He needed to know. Her face, full of tears, haunted him. The last thing he had wanted to do was to crush her spirits. Georgiana felt unsettled. It was a new thing, his sharing his feelings even the slightest bit, feeling more like the older brother he could have been all along. “Of course, Sidney.” She opened the letter, and read it, as he did his best to appear like he was reading his paper attentively. He saw her face change, first joy and then awkwardness. “What is it?” Georgiana toyed with her bacon. “You should prepare yourself. Charlotte will spend the season in London with Lady Worcester.”