The goodbye with Georgiana had been difficult. Both of their tempers had flared. It was the first time Charlotte had been on the receiving end of Georgiana’s sharp tongue. Now two weeks later she opened her letter anxiously.
I must apologize for my heated and unkind words. I must admit my emotions run high and are very conflicting over this matter. I worried for your heart when you revealed your feelings for Sidney. Having known him for years I am well acquainted with his unreliability and his temper. I did not wish for you to attach yourself to a man that would make you unhappy.
However, I understand too well the devastation of losing love and clearly see that in both of you. Forgive me for not respecting that when we were last together. You softened his edges, I was too lost in my own despair before, but I see it now. I must say he is quite aimless and broken without you. I do hope you are recovering better.
I can say that things improve with time but only partially. My heart still aches for Otis or perhaps for the loss of what I thought we shared. Oh if only you could come to London and stay with me this autumn! We could nurse our hearts together. But as your heart is tied to my infernal guardian I suppose that cannot be. Do you not have family in London you could stay with? I miss having a true friend.
Ever so fondly,
She ached as she read of Sidney’s state. It made her heart flutter to know that his feelings had been so sincere, and even seemingly remained that way. But she truly wanted him to be happy, wanted to believe that his marriage could grow in love with time and attention. The thought of his marriage being a form of slavery, as she had proclaimed months back at the pineapple luncheon, hurt her deeply. Sidney deserved happiness and peace.
“How is the news from Georgiana?” her mother asked from the other side of the room trying to keep her voice neutral. Charlotte had regaled her family with stories of her adventures in Sanditon, it had helped her grief to focus on the happiness of the summer. She wanted to feel gratitude, not resentment. She spoke of Sidney but tried to approach him with the same interest that she spoke of Arthur, just one of Tom’s kind brothers.
Her mother and father however saw the heaviness in her. They expected Charlotte to return changed and indeed she had matured and blossomed but she had clearly also learned some of the more difficult lessons of coming of age. One afternoon a few days after her return, Charlotte and her mother were washing the laundry together when her mother dared to bring it up.
“Your heart lingers with someone in Sanditon, does it not my love?”
“Oh. Mother. I…” She paused.
“You need not hide it from me. I was once a young woman too. I remember.”
“I...Perhaps…” Charlotte really didn’t know what to say and tears started welling in her eyes. “Mr. Sidney Parker.” she whispered.
“Ah, yes.” Her mother had assumed as much to be the case. Charlotte’s stories always floundered a bit when he came into them.
“I did not understand him at first but mother, I grew to be so very,” Charlotte’s voice caught, “very fond of him.”
“My love”, Mrs Heywood wrapped her arm around Charlotte’s shoulder. “Do you think he returns your fondness? Have you received word from him since your return?”
Charlotte couldn’t bring herself to tell her mother the full truth. “I think he may have Mother but it is not to be. Remember when I told you that Mr Tom Parker was able to secure more financing to rebuild after the fire? It was actually Mr Sidney that secured the family by engaging himself to a wealthy widow. One he courted in his youth.” Charlotte started to cry in earnest.
“Oh goodness Charlotte, that is dramatic. I’m so very sorry. Life certainly is more complicated when you make money one of your highest goals.”
“But Sid- Mr Sidney Parker was simply doing the best he could to save his brother and his family. Please don’t think badly of him.”
“I certainly don’t mean to disparage him. He seems to be very loyal to his family and certainly marrying for material and social gain is quite standard. It would have been a lovely match for you seeing as how well you get on with his family. But Charlotte there will be others. And you will find that the true love and compatibility needed for a marriage are not the same as the flutterings that accompany dancing at a ball or polite dinner party conversation.”
“Yes mamma. I know.” If only her mother knew just how much deeper their relationship had been, how she felt he had bared his soul to her. “It still hurts however.”
“Of course, of course my love.” She wrapped both arms around her and hugged her tightly as Charlotte allowed herself to cry freely.
Since that afternoon they had not spoken of Sidney again. Mrs Heywood would put a reassuring hand on Charlotte’s shoulder if she seemed to be struggling but she was a practical woman and knew that with time this would pass and eventually Charlotte would experience love again and move on. She also felt that while they wanted Charlotte to marry well, perhaps the Parkers were too enterprising, too caught in the chase for money, for the Heywood’s taste anyway.
The letter from Georgiana certainly piqued Mrs Heywood’s interest though as she knew that Sidney was Georgiana’s guardian. Charlotte could not read any of the letter aloud to her mother. She hadn’t told her family anything about Otis or the shocking abduction. She hadn’t even told them she had been to London. Once her mother knew about Sidney she was very relieved she had left that story out. What could she share with her mother? She channeled Georgiana’s skill for lying.
“She says that she is very well. She went sea bathing for the last time yesterday. She will be returning to London for the autumn and winter now that the season is over in Sanditon.” Charlotte hesitated for a moment. “She encourages me to come to London as well so we may resume our friendship in person.”
Mrs Heywood frowned. “That could be difficult, do you not think?” she said, clearly meaning that Charlotte would not, under any circumstances, be allowed to stay with Georgiana.
“Yes, she doesn’t mean to host me herself. She just misses our times together.”
They both left it at that. Charlotte wasn’t actually anxious to go to London. She knew resuming her friendship with Georgiana would result in her eventually crossing paths with Sidney and she did not feel ready to see him again. It had taken all of her resolve to wish him well and get into the carriage as she knew she must. Seeing him again would only reopen wounds. And yet, life in Willingden was no longer enough for her. It was comfortable and lovely to be home but it felt like an intermission, like she was just waiting for what came next.
Charlotte thought on it for several days and then one evening when the young children were asleep and she took a leap.
“I would like to visit Uncle Stephen and Aunt Beatrice in London.”
Mrs Heywood’s mouth went into a thin line. “They haven’t sent an invitation, Charlotte. I’m not sure it would be proper for you to just impose on them.”
“Oh, Mrs Heywood, you know how much my brother and his wife love Charlotte. I’m sure they would not consider it an imposition. Our young Charlotte has had a taste of the world and she’s hungry for more. Is that not true Charlotte?”
“Yes, father, I know it’s not the way you have lived your life but I do feel it would bring me happiness to continue to seek out new experiences.” Charlotte glanced at her mother after saying this. She had assumed that her mother shared the news of Charlotte’s heartbreak over Sidney with her father but apparently not.
“My love we can see your restlessness. You are your own woman and we know you to be prudent and sensible. I will write my brother tomorrow.” Mr Heywood spoke leaving no room for his wife to reasonably interject. Mrs Heywood looked at Charlotte intently.
“Thank you so very much father.” She kissed him and headed up to bed wide awake but ready to escape her mother’s eyes.