Caroline Brockenhurst stared at her visitor. She could hardly take in what she was saying. ‘I don’t understand,’ she said at last.
Anne was not surprised. It was a great deal to digest. She had thought for some time how best to explain the situation, but in the end she’d come to the conclusion that she just had to say it. ‘We know now that your son Edmund was legally married to my daughter Sophia before he died. Charles Pope is legitimate, and in fact is not Charles Pope at all. He’s Charles Bellasis, or to be exact, Viscount Bellasis, and the legal heir to his grandfather.’
James Trenchard had come home that day bursting with joy. He held in his hand the proof he’d been waiting for. His lawyers had registered the marriage and it had been accepted by the Committee of Privileges. At least, this last would take some time to complete, but the lawyers had scanned the evidence and they could see no difficulty. In other words, there wasn’t any further need to keep it secret. It was Anne who decided they must tell Lady Brockenhurst straight away. So she’d walked round and found her alone. And now she had told her the news.
Caroline Brockenhurst sat in silence as a million different thoughts jostled for a place in her brain. Would Edmund really have married without telling them? And the daughter of Wellington’s victualler? At first she was filled with indignation. How could this possibly have happened? The girl must have been a little minx. She knew Sophia had been pretty. Caroline’s sister, the Duchess, had told her that much, but what a schemer she must have been into the bargain. Then the greater truth started to impress itself on her. They had a legitimate heir, she and Peregrine. And an heir who was industrious, talented and clever. Of course he must abandon his trading at once, but he would. As soon as he knew the facts of the case. He could bring his abilities to bear at Lymington, or on their other estates. Then there were the London properties, that no one had done much with in a century or more. There was such a lot for him to tackle. She concentrated again on the woman before her. They were not friends, exactly, even now, but they were not enemies. They had shared too much for that.
‘And he knows nothing? Charles, I mean.’
‘Nothing. James wanted to be quite sure there would be no obstacles that might have disappointed him.’
‘I see. Well, we should send a message first thing in the morning. Come to dinner here tomorrow night, and we can tell him together.’
‘What about Lord Brockenhurst? Where is he now?’
‘Shooting in Yorkshire. He’ll be back tomorrow, or so he said.
I’ll send a telegram to confirm he’s to come here and not go on to Hampshire.’ She thought for a moment. ‘If Mr Trenchard was successful in getting the marriage accepted, how did he explain your daughter’s surname on the registry of the birth?’
Anne smiled. ‘All husbands are the legal fathers of any children born during a marriage.’
‘Even when they’re dead?’
‘If a child is born within nine months of a husband’s death, the legal assumption obtains that he is the father, whether or not the wife took his name, whether or not he is named as the father in the registry.’
‘Can a husband not repudiate a baby?’
Anne thought. ‘There must be some mechanism for that, but in this instance one look at Charles’s face tells us all who his father was.’
‘True enough.’ And now, at last, the warm glow of relief and real joy was beginning to flood through the Countess. They had an heir, whom she already admired greatly, and he would soon have a family for her and Peregrine to love.
Anne must have been entertaining similar thoughts as she suddenly asked: ‘Where is Lady Maria? What does she know?’
Caroline nodded. ‘I’ve told her Charles is our grandson, as I thought then it might be enough to soothe the feelings of her mother. In fact, I was wrong, but that is what she knows.’ She smoothed her skirts, relishing the knowledge of the news she’d have to tell the girl when she came back.
‘Where is she now?’ said Anne.
‘With Lady Templemore. Her brother arrived from Ireland last night and a footman brought a summons this morning. She’s gone there for dinner, partly to see him and partly to ask for his help in talking her mother round. I am tempted to send a note saying no such persuasion will now be necessary, but I suppose it must play itself out.’
Reginald Grey, sixth Earl of Templemore, was a man of real principle, if a little less passionate about his beliefs than his sister. He was handsome in his way, and upright, if perhaps a shade dull. But he loved his sibling fiercely. They had gone through a lot together, Maria and he, crouching behind...