When he presented himself at the front door and announced his desire to speak to his fiancée in private, Mrs Harris declared it improper. Her husband simply found it odd. The deal was done. What was the point of discussing it afterwards?
‘If we are going to be husband and wife in less than a day, what harm can it do to an honour you claim I have already besmirched?’ Robert said with some impatience.
At this, they relented and he was shown to a receiving room, where, a short time later, Miss Harris appeared. He could still see the shadow of a bruise on her temple from where she had fallen and there was a cautiousness to her step as if her ankle was still feeling weak. Other than that, she seemed a quite ordinary young lady, much like others he had admired before choosing his last wife. Her height was impressive, of course. But it made him think of saplings and their ability to weather storms that might snap reeds.
Still, it was unfair to plant this particular tree in a place of danger without a word of warning to her.
‘Sir Robert,’ she said softly. ‘You wished to speak with me?’ She dropped an unsteady curtsy, then rose again, as quickly as she was able, clasping her hands together as if she was not quite sure what to do with them.
‘Miss Harris,’ he replied, bowing. ‘I felt that it was important that we talked, before the ceremony, so that you might be aware of certain things that we did not have the opportunity to discuss, before the proposal.’
‘The circumstances were abrupt,’ she agreed. The words held a note of censure, but her nervous smile did not falter and the tone did not vary from the same polite alto she had used with him before.
‘Your father made it clear to me that honour required a quick decision,’ he reminded her.
‘I suspect mine would have survived,’ she said in an offhand manner. ‘When a large settlement is involved, virtue can be strained to cover infractions far greater than a fall in a neighbour’s ditch.’
So, she was aware of the power of money. How could she not be? And that meant she must know why he was marrying her. He felt another wave of shame at what he was going to tell her next.
‘Despite what you and your family believe, there are limits to what can be bought,’ he said, not bothering to be gentle.
‘And you are about to tell me what they are,’ she said. It was good to know that, should she choose to accept him, his new wife was no fool.
‘First, there are things you must know about me and my family, things that I did not tell you when I proposed,’ he said. ‘You could not possibly make an informed decision tomorrow, if I did not tell you of the truth today.’