A Heart to Love
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Laurence blinked, unsure of what to say. Once his mouth finally worked, the only words he managed were, “With child?”
Harper nodded. “That is the reason behind the hasty nuptials. Wanted the banns read and the vicar’s work done before things became evident.”
The only way I can see our friend Harper putting his head into the noose is if someone forced his hand.Connolly jested when he uttered the words during the trek from London to the bucolic countryside. Laurence told him to stop being ridiculous. He hated Connolly being right. “Does your family know?”
I don’t plan to tell them unless necessary. Can you imagine what Kitty and Meg would say?”
All too well. “I understand you want to do the right thing, but is this what you want?”
“Yes! My intentions were clear, to her parents. We didn’t set out to anticipate the vows, but…”
He sighed. “I dream of waking next to her each morning. My father will be pleased if the child’s a boy. The next generation seen to.”
Some small tensions released in Laurence’s shoulders as his friend spoke. Harper wore a happy, contented expression, far from the look of a man being dragged to the altar. “Your parents will welcome any grandchild, boy or girl. We need to get the wedding rescheduled as soon as possible.”
Harper breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m glad you understand. Let’s…not share the news with Connolly. He can be as much a gossip as any woman.”
Bigger, if truth be told. Their friend would fill the role of town crier to perfection, spreading tales in a booming, cheerful voice. Worse, he maintained a frequent correspondence with Harper’s sisters. “My lips are sealed. You should circulate, though. Show concern for your bride’s health and reassure folk the ceremony will be held soon.”
No further urging needed, Harper left the room. Laurence stayed in place, contemplating what came next. If Agatha Harper confessed all to her mother, there would be a powerful inducement to reschedule quickly.
Much would depend on the vicar. Even if Harper’s family counted on their fingers, with the couple wed, little anyone could do.
Realizing he should mingle, show the locals Harper’s supporters stood with him in supporting the match, Laurence made his way back to the gathering. No doubt the lack of family presence set some tongues wagging. They didn’t need further fuel.
Remembering Miss Archer’s expression as she departed to join her sister, he suspected more people knew the secret than Harper realized.
Beatrice took a deep breath before she knocked at the door of her sister’s room. “It’s me, Mother.”
The door opened to reveal Mrs. Archer, face flushed. She slipped inside, the door closed the moment she crossed the threshold. Agatha sat on the bed, quietly weeping. “Why didn’t you tell me?” her mother asked.
“Once Mr. Harper learned of the situation, he suggested without hesitation the banns be read”
“As he should.” Mrs. Archer drew herself up, chest puffed out with indignation. “He got my daughter with child. He must do right by her.”
Beatrice resisted the urge to point out this was why they kept silent. “Did Mr. Harper show any indication he wished to withdraw from the betrothal?”
“In the carriage, he told us he hope to reschedule as soon as possible,” Agatha said. “I don’t believe Kit would walk away from me.”
Despite the words, Beatrice caught the underlying note of panic. Fear Harper might change his mind, or, worse, have it changed for him? “If we stay calm, and don’t show anything is wrong, surely we can celebrate the service within a few days. We say she is resting while your father makes the arrangements.”
She moved to the bed, slipping an arm around her sister as she sat. “A week will not matter much, though Agatha is eager to begin her married life.”
“Hopefully Mr. Harper is as eager,” Mrs. Archer muttered. “No one will be surprised when the wedding breakfast is smaller. I’ll have Evans save what she can, though much must be made new.”
She started for the door, only to stop. “Do not say a word to your father. This would kill him, or he will horsewhip Mr. Harper, or both. I do not find any of these options desirable.”
“Why does she think we would speak now?” Agatha said once their mother departed.
She sounded more confident, which made Beatrice smile. “Mother won’t be happy if she hasnothing to worry about. You should have eaten something this morning.”
Agatha shook her head. “The sight of the tray made my stomach rebel. The only reason I told her now was because I threw up the biscuits she gave me. She wanted to summon Dr. Garner, so I thought better to tell her than him deliver the news.”
Sensible, and the best thing in a bad situation. “Do you want me to fetch Kit?” Beatrice asked. “I’m certain he’s worried about you.”
“I do feel the need to rest,” Agatha said. “Perhaps later, if he’s still here, but I think it best I lie down for a while. Help me out of this?”
Beatrice helped her sister undress, then fetched a light robe. “I’ll assure him everything is fine.”
Agatha smiled, reaching out to squeeze her hand. “I owe you so much.”
Beatrice’s only response was to smile before she left. Agatha was certain of her beau, but Beatrice couldn’t help her doubts. True, Harper wished the ceremony to go forward, but if his family didn’t approve, would this pause provoke him to reflect further?
What about his friends, though? She had not missed Mr. Connolly’s comment when her sister fainted. He gave off the attitude this was some kind of joke, expressing no distress at the delay. She sensed some hesitance in Mr. Browning, but he gave the impression of taking the whole affair more seriously. He, she suspected, might prove more reasonable once he observed Agatha and Harper together.
Which he wouldn’t be able to do for at least a day. Once Mr. Archer spoke with the vicar, she would suggest to Mother the gentlemen be invited to dinner. That woud be a fine chance for Mr. Browning to make his observations, which could be communicated back to Harper’s sisters.
With that fixed in her mind, she made her way downstairs. The throng was thinner, though no surprise to realize several of the older women remained. Given the servants were removing items from the refreshment table, they would soon make their way home, stuffed with food and news to share.
Or perhaps not… The sight of Connolly listening to Mrs. Minton caused Beatrice to stop. She could not catch the woman’s words, but Connolly’s reply proved clear. “Sick, you say? As when a woman is with child?”
Heads around the room turned. She moved toward him, determined to hustle him away. Before she came close enough to speak, Browning swooped down with a kind word, then swept Connolly away. “Goodness me,” Mrs. Minton said. “What a morning.”
A fixed smile on her face, she made her excuses, hurrying away to find Harper. If luck was with them, the older woman would wonder why the gentleman leapt to this conclusion. She did not count on luck.
She found Harper in Mr. Archer’s study, the one place neighbors would not likely trespass uninvited, and he was not alone. “Why would you say such a damn fool thing? It will cause talk.”
“Perhaps it should.” Conolly countered Browning’s question with defiance. “We know nothing of this girl.”
“I don’t want Agatha hurt,” Harper said. “I love her, and she will be my wife. Write that to my sisters, because I suspect you’ll be sending them a letter tonight.”
Conolly snorted and Browning opened his mouth to speak again. He stopped when he spied Beatrice in the doorway, then shook his head. “Best come in, Miss Archer. Thinks are not going as we hoped.”
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