His Lucky Charm - Cover

His Lucky Charm

Copyright© 2012 by Argon

Chapter 26: Priorities

London, Winter 1867 to 1868

A very conflicted Priscilla returned to Heyworth House with Rose. The latter only knew that Cilla had spoken privately with Lady Wilkes, but upon her gentle probing Priscilla had not revealed anything. Thus they rode the coach in silence, and in silence they entered the house and went to their respective rooms to change.

Even over the next days, Priscilla did not reveal the subject of her conversation with the old lady, and Rose gradually forgot about the matter. The season continued, and on most evenings Jim and Rose attended soirees and dinner parties. Priscilla accompanied them to most such events, but not all. One particular soiree was to feature a reading by Mr. Wilkie Collins of his new, yet unpublished novel The Moonstone. Priscilla was very eager to attend, but their hosts rather pointedly insisted on Mr. and Mrs. Tremayne attending by themselves. Jim's first impulse was to scorn the invitation entirely, but Priscilla would not have it.

She surprised her friends on the next day by announcing that Sir Hamilton Crewes had asked her to accompany him and that she would be at the reading after all. Obviously, Priscilla was acceptable to the hosts in Sir Hamilton's company but not with the Tremaynes. Thus it came that Sir Hamilton called at Heyworth House to take Priscilla to the soiree while Jim and Rose followed in their own coach. They were both a little puzzled over Priscilla's behaviour.

For the next week and until Christmas, Priscilla claimed the malaise and abstained from joining her lovers in their marital bed. Rose felt guilty, yet she had no inkling as to where she had offended her friend, and Priscilla herself was not forthcoming about the reasons. She left the house a number of times without much explanation and stayed away for hours. She would be deep in thought on her return and often went up to her room eschewing dinner. Christmas was subdued at Heyworth House.

Jim felt a certain relief. He certainly had not offered much resistance to Priscilla joining them in bed, but deep inside he was having reservations. Most of those stemmed from the fact that after all those years he still had feelings for Priscilla that went deeper than friendship. Despite Rose's protestations that she did not mind, Jim felt like he was betraying the one person who had been completely loyal. He sensed that Rose had her motivations to include Priscilla in their marriage, but he also saw the complications that lay ahead.

Priscilla became animated again in the days before New Year. The Tremaynes held their own New Year's soiree at their Cheyne Walk house. It was close friends and family only, and Priscilla seemed to thaw from her reclusive mood. She was gay and outgoing, and as the evening wore on, she exchanged brief touches with Rose and with Jim.

Indeed, after the last of their guests left at two o'clock, Priscilla took her two friends' hands.

"My darlings, I know that I was remote and withdrawn in the last weeks. I promise to explain my reasons tomorrow, but tonight, I ask you to allow me in your midst again. Will you indulge me?"

Rose beamed at her friend. "You are not angry with us anymore?"

Priscilla shook her head so fiercely that her tresses danced. "Rose, I was never angry at either of you. I'm sorry if I gave that impression. I had to mull things in my head and that made me moody, but I have come to a decision. Can we just be lovers tonight?"

Again, two conflicting emotions battled in Jim's head. For one, he had been relieved over the cooling of their relationship with Priscilla. On the other hand he knew how much Rose loved to include their friend. Against his own misgivings he decided not to spoil the evening for his wife and to play along. He led the way to the upstairs bedroom where he and Rose changed for the night while Priscilla did the same in her room before she joined them. Once she stepped up to their bed and dropped her robe, Jim's misgivings evaporated like water drops in the sun. It was going to be a busy night for Jim.

Priscilla waited until the housekeeper had left them alone at the breakfast table before she spoke up.

"Jim, Rose, you have given me a new life. With your kindness, your acceptance, your understanding, you have allowed me to find myself again. The last years were the best since my childhood, and the last few months opened my eyes for the beauty of life."

"You gave us back a lot, Cilla," Jim threw in.

"Yes, that, too! I felt useful for the first time in my life. I know now that I can be more than a bitter widow, disappointed and betrayed by my scoundrel of a husband." She took both Jim and Rose's hands in her own. "Our time as lovers must end."

Rose's face showed her shock and dismay. Pressing Jim's hand, Priscilla looked into Rose's eyes.

"Darling, it has nothing to do with you or Jim. I love you both. I can think of nothing better than to stay with you, and I can think of nothing worse than to stay with you. You give me all the love a woman can ask for and more, yet there are things I can never be, never achieve, while attached to you.

"I can never be a mother for one. I know how we could arrange for things. We could travel abroad. I could give birth, and you would present the child as yours. But I would not be the mother.

"I can also never go to a soiree on Jim's arm, I can never proclaim my love for him, never be more than his ex-fiancé whom he tolerates out of the goodness of his heart. This is how it looks to people, at least to those who do not suspect me of being his paramour. Add to that the impression that I am trying to take your husband away from you. You, whom I love so dearly!"

"We could move back to Thornfield Abbey!" Rose protested.

"And expose us to the gossip there, don't you think?" Priscilla countered. "There is more. Lady Wilkes wants to step down. She offered to sponsor me as her successor. It is a worthwhile task, a modest role that I can play, and something to be proud of. I could be my own person. I would not be alone either. Sir Hamilton is courting me."

"Sir Hamilton? What of us?" Rose asked with a trembling voice.

"You, Rose, have the most wonderful man in the world. Before we became friends, he was enough for you, wasn't he?"

Blushing deeply, Rose nodded and gave Jim an apologetic look. "Of course. Forgive me, darling. Can I help it though that I love you, Cilla?"

"No more than I can help loving you," Priscilla answered with a sad smile. "Yet, I cannot live my live leeching off your marriage. There is more. The thought of remaining Mrs. Marsden-Smith is unbearable."

Jim nodded. "I cannot give you my name, but there are ways around that. We could travel abroad and you could return as Mrs. Dupre or Mrs. Martin or whatever surname you fancy. You married and your poor husband succumbed to disease or fell off his horse. Documents to that effect can be obtained, and nobody will be the wiser."

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