Home > Mr. Dale and the Divorcee

Mr. Dale and the Divorcee
Author: Sophie Barnes

 


1

 

 

London, 1818

 

 

* * *

 

It was horribly hard for Wilhelmina Hewitt to find the words she needed to start this discussion. But after all her husband, George, had done for her, she felt it her duty now to help him as best she could. Even if the subject she wished to broach would probably shock him.

“Would you like a brandy?” he offered, the gentle sound of his voice conveying the warmth and consideration he’d always shown her.

Her resolve – the complete lack of nervousness she experienced in spite of her decision – surprised Wilhelmina. Instead of panic, an extraordinary sense of calm overcame her. She knew she was making the right choice, no matter how much it was destined to upend her life.

She considered her husband with deliberate practicality. The man she’d married twenty years earlier when she’d been eighteen and pregnant reclined in the armchair opposite hers, his gaze expectant. Their fathers had been like brothers. They’d attended the same schools, had fought side by side in the American War of Independence, and had later perished together at sea.

Wilhelmina and George had both been ten years old when news of their fathers’ deaths had arrived. With their properties less than one mile apart, they’d quickly found solace in each other. As one would expect, the incident had deepened the bond they’d already shared since birth. So when Wilhelmina faced the greatest ordeal of her life eight years later, George hadn’t hesitated for a second. Having recently been denied the woman he loved, he’d insisted he’d never want to wed another. So he’d chosen to protect Wilhelmina instead. George had, she acknowledged, sacrificed more for her than what was fair. It was time she returned the favor.

Deciding to be direct, she cleared her throat. “I think we ought to get a divorce.”

George’s eyes widened. He stared at her as if she were mad. “I beg your pardon?”

Wilhelmina took a deep breath. “How long have you and Fiona been seeing each other?”

His gaze slid away from hers as his cheeks grew ruddy. “You know the answer to that.”

“By my estimation it’s almost exactly two years. Two years of pretending Fiona is my dearest friend – that it is me she comes to see thrice a week, not you.” The lovely widow, ten years George’s junior, had caught his attention one evening at Almack’s. The two had struck up a conversation, which had led to a dance. When subsequent run-ins with Fiona had increased George’s interest in her, Wilhelmina had decided to step in and help the pair. By covering for them, she’d allowed them to conduct their affair in private and without scrutiny.

It was, she realized, an unconventional arrangement. But then again, her entire marriage was far from ordinary. The one and only attempt she and George had made to consummate their union turned out to be a spectacular failure. Bedding each other had been impossible due to their being like brother and sister and, Wilhelmina admitted, due to her own aversion for the act itself. So she’d happily encouraged George to pursue such relationships elsewhere in the years since.

“I’m sorry. I did not realize you were opposed to our meetings. You never—”

“George.” Wilhelmina gave her husband a reassuring smile. “I believe you’ve misunderstood my reason for suggesting a divorce. It is not because I’m offended or upset by the relationship you and Fiona enjoy, but rather because I believe you have fallen in love with her and she with you.”

He sat utterly motionless for a moment, then finally nodded. They’d always been frank with each other. “You’re correct, but divorce is not the answer, Mina. It would be public and messy. Our reputations would be destroyed in the process – yours especially.”

Bolstering herself against the truth of his words, she shrugged one shoulder. “I’ll manage.”

“No.” He shook his head. “I won’t have that on my conscience.”

She stood and went to crouch before him. Her hand clasped his. A pair of dark brown eyes filled with concern met hers. “You gave up on love for me once – on starting a family of your own. Please, allow me to return the enormous favor you did me when you decided to save me from ruin and Cynthia from illegitimacy.”

“Ah, but I did marry for love, Mina.”

“I know, but not in the way you should have.”

“If you think I have regrets, you’re wrong. I’d make the same decision again in a heartbeat.”

“Because you’re the best man there is, George. And as such, you deserve every happiness in the world. You deserve to have a life with Fiona just as she deserves to have a life with you.” She carefully released his hand, then stood and crossed to the sideboard where she proceeded to fill two glasses with brandy. Returning, she handed him his drink and took a sip of her own.

A frown appeared on George’s brow. “You’ve no idea how hard it would be to break up our marriage completely. We’re not just speaking of legal separation, Mina, which in and of itself is enough to see one shunned from Society. What you’re suggesting would require parliamentary involvement with three readings of the divorcement bill before the Lords. Witnesses to your adulterous behavior would have to give evidence.”

“I’ve thought about that. Obviously, the simplest thing to do would be to pay a few men for the trouble.”

He gaped at her, then took a sip of his drink. “No. I appreciate the offer, but we’ll do no such thing.”

“George. I really—”

“It’s absolutely out of the question.”

“You’re certain I can’t persuade you?”

He gave her a steady look. “Quite.”

“All right,” Mina agreed after a moment’s hesitation. She knew when George was beyond budging. “But this arrangement with Fiona is untenable. It’s just a matter of time before someone catches on to the fact that the two of you are lovers, and when they do, she will suffer the most. So if you refuse a divorce, you should at the very least consider moving out of Town. Find a small village somewhere so you can carry on with each other discreetly.”

“And leave you here by yourself? Would that not raise a few eyebrows?”

“Not if you come back from time to time and visit. Plenty of husbands travel for work.”

“My work, as you well know, is here in London.”

“It doesn’t have to be.” As the designer and manufacturer of fine furniture, George had made a name for himself amid the upper class. Having a Hewitt sofa was all the rage. So much so they’d both been admitted into upper class circles and counted Viscount and Viscountess Pennington among their dearest friends. “You already have employees who are trained to handle new orders along with the shop on a regular basis. Whether you sit in your study here and create new designs or you do so a hundred miles away would make little difference, would it not?”

“I suppose not.”

“Especially if you were to set up a home near Croft, which in my mind would make your life simpler since that’s where the carpenters are.”

For the first time since this conversation had begun, George allowed a hint of humor to tug at his lips. “You’ve put a frightening amount of thought into this. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were eager to be rid of me.”

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