Posted on: 2013-03-09
[In which Anne is left alone]
The wedding night had been perfunctory at best.
She had anticipated it since the engagement, as short as that had been. She did not particularly like the man, to be sure. But she did not dislike him. And he was not so unattractive that she was unable to expect some amount of pleasure. Her mother had told her to expect--nay demand-- nothing less than great gratification.
"For he can give you that much, as you are giving him Rosings," she had said in her typical style. Not for the first time did Anne wonder about her own conception--had she been her own father, she would as likely have run from the room. But she did not actually remember her own father. Perhaps he had been made of stronger stuff than she imagined. For herself, she did not want to demand anything--and certainly not that--Anne had a notion that it was particularly unladylike to demand that. But she did had hoped for a little enjoyment, a small bit of happiness.
And so Anne had prepared herself, spending some moments making herself alluring, as much as she could, never having learned the trick of it, and readying herself with some idle thought. But he had only looked at her in some gentlemanly amusement.
"I had not thought you would have been up for it my dear. It is certainly not a requirement of mine," he said in a friendly if rather dismissive voice.
"But did you not want children?" asked Anne with hesitation, willing herself not to throw on her robes and flee the room. Her determination to keep the quiver out of her voice kept it dull and disagreeable.
She had not expected to be the one seeking affection. Of the two of them, he had all the reputation of ease and friendliness.
"Oh!" he exclaimed with some confusion. "Yes-- by and by. I thought there would be some time--but I suppose you wish to have a child, to keep you busy while I am gone."
Anne did not especially want a child. She had not thought of it except to know it was expected of her. But his idle speculation apparently did the trick, for they found themselves in an awkward tangle some minutes later, and a few moments after that, her new husband was asleep.
She lay awake for some time, disappointed. He had not seemed particularly pleased, and she had thought that men were easily pleased by such things. She could not even please her husband using the most basic of wifely tricks. She had never brought pleasure to anyone, it seemed. Her husband, her mother, her companions. Of course, none seemed particularly willing to show her the trick of pleasing them. Over the years she had often guessed but had always guessed wrong. She had thought he and this might be different. But apparently they were not.
It happened several more times-- she willed herself to enjoy it, and he seemed to realize that she wished to enjoy it, though it always was as if his heart wasn't in it, so her joy was limited. He greeted her in the morning with a polite kiss to the top of the head, spoke to her of inconsequential things over meals, and readied himself for his journey.
And then he was gone.
She supposed she ought to miss him. He was friendly enough in his own way. But she did not. She was grateful he did not insist that she return to her mother for the duration--he had laughed when she asked if she ought--"No, certainly not. You may go where you wish, do what you want, and visit with whom you like. That is the prerogative of a married woman! Enjoy your independence, my dear." And whatever he had said to her mother at their wedding breakfast kept her mother at Rosings. So she gave him credit where it was due. She was nonetheless still certain that she was no more lonely with him gone than with him there. And she knew such a feeling did not reflect the way it was supposed to be between man and wife.
She also supposed she ought to be sorry that the planned child did not come. But she was not. She hardly knew what to say to her mother. She hardly knew what to write to her own husband, with whom she had shared a bed for a full four weeks. No, she would not know what to say to a child. Having never been around a babe, she did not know that they did not expect one to say much of anything. In her mind, they sprung fully formed from one's head, expecting one to converse. No, she would not know what to say to such a godly creature.
And so she was left alone.
And she was very alone.
She sat in her parlor in the mornings, waiting for the callers that did not come.
In the afternoons, she walked around the park.
In the evenings, she dined alone in the large house.
She managed the servants well enough. She did not require much care and they, fortunately, did not cheat her. What they did below stairs she did not know. She could only be appreciative of the silence. There was no mother to prattle away, and no Mrs. Jenkinson to fuss over her. There was only blissful quiet.
Four months later the news came. He had been stricken with illness in Portugal, never having seen a battle. Her husband was dead.
Mrs. Fitzwilliam gravely nodded at the earl and apologized for the loss of his son, never suspecting that she should feel the death in any greater way than he. After he had left the house, she ordered tea, and calmly considered the purchase of mourning clothes.
Posted on: 2013-03-13
[In which there is a sad conversation]
"Elizabeth, I have some alarming news."
"Alarming, my dear husband? Have the goats got into the ballroom?" asked his bride. Seeing his expression, she quickly changed her tone. "Oh no, my dear. It is bad news. Whatever is the matter?"
Darcy reached for her. It was amazing how quickly he had come to the conclusion that her slightest touch was reassuring. He wondered how he had done without it.
"It is Richard," he said softly. "He is dead. He contracted a fever in Portugal and did not recover."
"Oh my! Oh my dear! I am so terribly sorry. Your Uncle must be beside himself."
"His letter is quite╔ emotional╔". Darcy swallowed his breath. Richard had been his childhood playmate and he was╔ gone. The last time he had seen the man was on his own wedding day. Smiling, flirting shamelessly with Kitty at the wedding breakfast, attempting and failing to flirt with Mary, wishing them both joy. And now he was gone. The Master of Pemberley allowed his wife to settle him into the sofa, and pulled her upon his knee where she would be close to him. There they sat for a long time, as she exclaimed over him, and listened to him, and held her handkerchief to his face. After a while there was silence.
"And what of your cousin?" she finally said softly. "She has only been married a few months. Can you imagine?"
"The Earl writes that she is as dispassionate at the news of his death as she was at their marriage. He is very disappointed that she does not show a proper amount of sorrow."
Lizzy held her tongue. She had her own opinions about the Earl and they were less than charitable given that he had been less than charitable towards her. She had little opinion of Anne herself. Had she been pressed, and Darcy knew better than to press her, she would have described her as a sullen, mean-looking young woman who hardly said a word. But there was no active dislike extant, as there was for the older generation. And the idea of being trapped between the Earl and Lady Catherine was enough to make her feel downright chartable. "But what is to become of her? Does she have friends? Is she all alone? Is she to go back to Lady Catherine?"
Darcy grimaced, starting to realize himself what her recent widowhood would mean for his cousin. He had an idea that the Colonel had separated Anne and her mother at Anne's own request, and could only assume that this separation could be a source of happiness for his cousin. "I don't know. I suppose she has lived alone these past four months. My Uncle writes that she has refused to move from her townhouse and under his protection. I cannot imagine why she should. It is clear that she was under my Aunt's thumb at Rosings. And the Earl would be no better than his sister, even if he might be a bit less╔ dutiful to the daily task of it."
He paused and was thoughtful for a moment.
"I cannot imagine Anne as a woman who would value her independence. But there was no other reason for her to agree to the marriage. The Colonel would not have offered her much, but he would have given her that."
"Such a sad reason for entering the marriage state. Could there not have been some affection?" She asked the question knowing the answer, though she was not privy to so much information as her husband knew himself to be. She knew there was no affection. The wedding had occurred too soon after their own, and in too private a way. It seemed that the Earl and Lady Catherine had come to a quick agreement, and Anne and Richard had gone along with the arrangement, for their own reasons.
Darcy shook his head. "Believe me, no. Richard's letter to me after their marriage did not even hint at the idea of affection. It said so very little indeed, that I could make no sense of it. Good God, Lizzy. I wish he had at least written me before so much time had elapsed. We would have at least been able to attend the wedding-- and say goodbye before he left England."
Here Darcy appeared to be likely to break down again, and Lizzy murmured reassuring statements into his dark curls.
"Lady Catherine did not wait long to set Anne upon another cousin, did she?" she finally asked.
"And now Anne is a widow. It seems too absurd to believe. And to answer your question, I know of no friends. She was not allowed out in society much. She never went to school, and never allowed to associate with anyone particular that I know of."
"So she is truly all alone," whispered Lizzy, who in her own blissful marriage was starting to believe that being alone was the worst of all situations.
"Well we must go to London."
Darcy leaned his head back to look at his wife, still propped in his lap. "You would travel all the way to London, this time of the year, for Anne?"
"And to pay your respects to your Uncle and Aunt, of course, if they remain in town. It is only right and proper. But why not for Anne? I admit I do not particularly like her. But I do not really know her. And had we the chance--had anyone bothered to write us of the event-- we would have paid our respects at the time of their marriage. The least we can do is visit her now. Can you leave Pemberley at this time?"
He took a deep breath and considered the question. It seemed that his wife's mind was already made up about their obligations and his continued objection would seem rather petty. The truth of it was he hardly knew Anne. When was the last time he had had a conversation with her beyond the few insipid comments her mother would let her make? It had been years. It was not so much that she was estranged from him as much as he had not paid her a moment's notice. No one did. Except for her mother and Mrs. Jenkinson, but even their attention could hardly be described as useful to his cousin. No one ever spoke of her. No one ever inquired of her. It was if she was invisible. That a girl with such a large fortune should be allowed to be so invisible to five and twenty.... "It would take me the better part of the week to finish some business here. That should give you time to make the appropriate calls and cancel our social arrangements. What shall we do with Georgiana?"
She smiled. "Your sister is nearly seventeen. I suppose she may do what she likes. Why don't you ask her? Though I imagine she would wish to stay here with Mrs. Annesley."
"She is going to be very upset about Richard."
"Yes darling. And we must tell her sooner rather than later. Come now. I believe she is in the music room." She stood up from the seat pulling him up after her. He fell into her arms, and they embraced again, standing up this time. She gave him a quick kiss. "You must be strong again for a few minutes, and then we may mourn as a family."
He rested his chin on top of her hair. "I am so very fortunate to have you, Elizabeth."
[In which Anne receives callers]
"Mrs. and Mr. Darcy, madam," announced the servant. Anne looked up with sudden alarm. She had been dozing again. The sunlight had made her sleepy, and there was little else to do.
"Mrs. Darcy. Fitzwilliam." It had been the first time she had seen them both since before their wedding. So much had happened in those months. And yet she felt no different.
"Annie," said Darcy. "My dear cousin. We came as soon as we could. I hope your suffering is not too great."
Anne cocked her head to one side and wondered what the appropriate thing to say was. He did indeed look upset. She supposed "Thank you for your concern," she finally said. And quickly added--"I am sorry for your loss. You and Richard were always so close."
She did not notice their glances at each other. "Mrs. Fitzwilliam," said Lizzy, haltingly. She looked around, and finally decided to sit, though Anne did not invite her to. "I know that there has been some estrangement between our families, but do know that we were delighted to hear of your marriage--those sentiments that my husband expressed in his letter to yours were sincere. We did not know how soon it was all to take place, or we would have returned to Kent, or London thereafter. To attend your wedding and to say goodbye to Richard, before he left for the continent."
This was all news to Anne. "Mother did not want you at the wedding or at Rosings so I don't suppose you could have come." She paused and then added defensively. "Richard did not tell me you had written. I would have replied, had I known. I am very diligent in my replies to Mother. I do write letters."
Lizzy started at this odd defense and at the news that the Colonel did not share his letters with his own wife. "I would have written you directly, had I known! I do not blame you, Mrs. Fitzwilliam, for the estrangement. We just want you to know that we have no wish to continue it. Especially given the circumstances. Whatever you require, we may and will assist you, I assure you. Just let us know what it is that you want."
Anne considered this a moment. "You should go and see our Uncle then, when you return to Derbyshire. He is very upset. So is our Aunt. I had very little to say to them. I am afraid they think I am rather heartless. They have not been very kind to me, and left for the country last week."
Darcy glanced at his wife in some bewilderment. "I am sure you are still in shock Annie, and they are as well. We all are. This news has been quite sudden for all of us. But is there nothing we can do for you?"
"My Uncle arranged for the services and I have some mourning clothes as you see, though I suppose I should buy more. I am comfortable here. I do not wish to return to Rosings." replied his cousin dully. "Oh dear me, I am supposed to offer you refreshment. I had forgotten."
Lizzy looked back at her husband. "I'm sure it is very overwhelming. I would certainly not remember how to be a hostess under the circumstances. Would you have me ring the bell? Did you want tea?"
Anne murmured her assent and watched as Mrs. Darcy ordered tea for the trio. Why had it not occurred for her to do so at once? Why was it so difficult to remember the very basics of interacting in society?
"Are you sure you are quite well, Mrs. Fitzwilliam?" asked the other woman, privately wondering if Anne was simply not particularly clever. "Are you in good health?"
"I find that the London air agrees with me," answered Anne, not understanding why the Darcys smiled. Several minutes later it occurred to her that they thought she was making a joke. London air agreed with few people, after all, especially in the summer time. But she was telling the truth. She liked the smell of wood and coal smoke, mingling in the sky. She liked the way the bright sunshine occasionally overwhelmed the dark mists that hung over the city. She liked walking around and looking at the humanity around her. Occasionally she felt like smiling at the bustle and business of the capital. And she did not often smile.
"Well, now that we are here, we shall stay the month at least and return to Pemberley for the harvest," said Lizzy in a conversational tone. "Georgiana declined participating in the Little Season this year. We considered delaying her debut another year, as I have just had my own presentation. But she thinks she will be ready in the spring."
Anne looked thoughtful. "Was it very exciting to see the Queen? Mother said that meeting royalty is a life-altering experience."
Lizzy laughed. "I found it exciting, if a bit stilted and formal. I'm not sure life-altering is the word I'd use. I admit my own free way of talking does not lend itself to the highest ranks of society. I think my husband was glad it was done with and unhappy he shall have to chaperone again this spring."
Darcy allowed himself a faint smile. "I did not begrudge you a moment of it."
"Ah, of course not. Anne, I must say that if visiting in society was your goal, you picked a much better husband than I. The Colonel had such ease and friendliness. A true gentleman." Lizzy said the words kindly at once meaning to compliment Anne and tease her own husband. In addition, she was leaning forward, and using a voice of quiet sympathy. But Anne drew herself up a bit, her defensiveness raised once again.
"Was he? He did not take me out much before he left. I assumed he did not enjoy London society like my Mother did not." This was said in a dull tone of voice, which had quickly replaced the slight bit of excitement Anne had displayed at the idea of a presentation. Both Lizzy and Darcy started to exclaim at her husband's lack of attention but then thought better of it. There was an awkward silence.
"Newlyweds are not expected to socialize so much," said Darcy at last. "I'm sure he thought there was plenty of time in the future for such activities."
"You must tell us what you would like to do while we are here, and we shall make sure you have company, if you would like it," said Lizzy finally. She looked at her husband until he nodded assent. And they looked back at Anne expectantly.
"I believe I would like the company╔ very much," she said in a halting tone. It was probably the kindest offer she had ever had.
[In which Anne reflects that she is not a normal sort of girl]
Within a few days of her cousin's first visit, Anne reflected that she probably was behaving very oddly. The Darcys seemed to think so, though one or both of them dutifully came by every morning. It was simply so strange, to have to mourn a man she barely knew. And what did she need? They seemed so insistent to give her something or to do something for her. She needed nothing really. She had food and clothing and shelter and as much money as she wanted. She supposed that she could make some attempt to wrestle control of Rosings and oust her mother if she wished, but life was more comfortable this way. And while Richard could have done so, her widowhood had reinstated all of those legal restrictions on her controlling her own inheritance that seemed so particular to Rosings and her mother's wishes. She knew it would be much easier to simply wait for her mother to die.
She paused that particular line of thought. It was most certainly not proper. She knew she was not supposed to think of her mother dying as a good thing. She wondered if other people held such thoughts or if she was a person especially prone to an evil mind.
Perhaps she thought too much.
She was, she finally reflected, in a want of diversion, and diversion was one gift the Darcys had most particularly offered. She had been gaining some energy. She ate what she wished and walked out when she wished and the sunshine of the summer, even in London, always gave her some energy. But she noticed that the more naps she took, the more naps she wanted, and without anything to do she had nothing to do but nap. So she must do something.
She did like to read, mostly novels that her mother did not like, but more than two hours of the pastime made her head hurt. Perhaps she needed spectacles. She made a note to ask her physician when he next came around. She liked him well enough-- ever so much more than the man that came round at Rosings.
She did not play. She thought that that might pass two or three hours in a day if she did. She wondered if it would be too late to learn. Maybe she might inquire of Mrs. Darcy. That would be asking for some help. And Mrs. Darcy seemed determined to help with something. And Anne had not known what to ask for, really.
She also knew she should probably seek out some company. She knew no one in London but her relatives, who had already left town. It was an unfashionable time of year to be there. She could ask for some introductions. There Mrs. Darcy could help again. Though her cousin might not know the right sort of people and her Mother had always been so determined that Anne only knew the right sort of people. Which was why she knew so few people, she supposed. She grew for a moment irritated that it had not occurred to her husband to introduce her around to his acquaintances before he went off to the continent, but then scolded herself for continuing to think such thoughts. He was dead. And a home away from her mother in return for four weeks of actual marriage seemed already an uneven trade. Introductions may have been too much to ask.
Right now she was in mourning and she was not supposed to go around much. It would seem disrespectful for this to be the point in her life in which she began to attend parties and balls and whatever else people who had not had sickly childhoods did.
But surely a call would not seem so out of place, or whatever else it was the Darcys had in mind. She was not sure who to call on. The Earl and his wife seemed so severe, as severe as her Mother. And she had attended dinners at their invitation and they had simply stared at her expecting her to say something. What was there to say? The Viscount did not help. He did not look at her at all. He looked through her. And his wife was no better.
She thought about the few friends of theirs she had met and wondered if any were currently in town. It seemed likely, it occurred to her when she reflected on the list, that only the eldest and most listless people were introduced to her, those who would least likely notice her own inclination for dullness, and those least likely to mention her to others. She could not call on any of them. It would do no good to seek out the few people she knew duller than herself.
So-- it would simply have to be the Darcys, no matter what her mother might say. She knew they were only in town temporarily, to look after her. But some people were beginning to come back for the Little Season would start in a few weeks, so they would be able to introduce her around if she asked. If she made the call that was╔ how did one go about making a call? It seemed like something she should know how to do. But she always made calls with her mother or Mrs. Jenkinson. And they decided what she would do and say. She had a feeling, for instance, that one should always get out of the carriage and actually enter a person's house when calling on them. But Mrs. Jenkinson had told her it was not necessary, that as the daughter of Lady Catherine DeBourgh; people would come to her. But that was not true in London. No one had come to her. Except for her immediate relations, and then only a handful of times. And now the Darcys.
So she would call on the Darcys and ask them for help in society. She did not know what else to do.
[In which Anne is ill, and Lizzy speaks to the physician, and has a realization.]
Unfortunately for Anne, the lung ailment that had labeled her as a sickly child returned the very next day, before she could carry out her call. While other people caught colds, Anne tended to lose herself in raspy fits of coughs that could last days and leave her fingers and lips blue. As a child, these had turned into pneumonias and she had nearly died on several occasions. As an adult, she expected the attacks to come a few times a year. They were not so serious as they had previously been, but they left her confined to her bed for several days at a time.
Lizzy, having privately assumed that Anne's illnesses were no more than the product of Lady Catherine's imagination, was somewhat disturbed by the sudden onslaught of such a disease on the small woman. Anne, who wanted to rest and was long since accustomed to and tired of people fussing over her, sent her cousins to meet with her physician downstairs, and bade him make them familiar with her condition, so that she would not have to answer any more questions.
The doctor, a slight, nervous man himself, was somewhat cowed by the Darcys's domineering presence. Not that they were unkind (he had spoken to Anne's country physician and had known what Lady Catherine was like by reputation), but they clearly expected immediate and thorough answers as to why Anne could be so healthy one day, and unhealthy the next. And really, what were they to her besides cousins she barely knew? No one had asked about her condition since the week she came to London with her new husband, and even he seemed somewhat disinterested.
"Her lungs are weak," he explained, nodding to accentuate his points. "Somewhat like an asthma, but there also appears to be some damage from infanthood. She is susceptible to a buildup of phlegm, and her muscles have not the strength to expel it properly. Every illness is a danger, though I do not expect this one to be any more dangerous than any other. I have ordered a tincture of sulphur and herbs to be breathed with hot water to help with the expectorant. I see no reason to try any other treatment at this time, though I've several compounds of arsenic that we could try if this illness proves especially trying."
"Would it be best to return her to the confinement of her mother and the country then, once she is out of danger?" asked Darcy, who had never heard the most detailed of explanation regarding his cousin's health.
"Not at all, provided in the future she avoid known places of disease and heed the warning signs of illness," answered the doctor, "though an occasional sojourn at the coast may be in order, especially this time of the year. Her limbs and heart are strong, and there is no indication in her fluids of any other system being affected. As I told her husband in the spring, I see no reason why she might not even have a child, with only a little more caution than is normally given. And her physician in Kent agreed. Of course, we must wait and see regarding her mind. Given her father's condition, and the matter of inheritance, I see why the family decided╔ that is to say╔ well, I agree there might be some reason to be cautious on that front. But that is a separate condition." The physician stuttered over the last words, realizing he might cause some offense by speaking so, and wondering if he should have included them. But the Darcys seemed insistent to know everything, and Anne had told him to speak of her ailments.
"What are you talking of? Is there something wrong with Anne's mind?" asked Lizzy, partly to the physician, but mostly to her husband.
"I believe the good doctor is referring to the manner in which my Uncle passed away," answered her husband. "He entered his dotage many years before it is typical. It was quite devastating to my Aunt."
"Sir Lewis was mad?"
"Not mad, Mrs. Darcy. Not in the normal sense though some might see no difference. Your husband has the right of it. Mrs. Fitzwilliam's father, I've been told, was like an older gentleman might be, becoming paranoid, and forgetful, and eventually losing control of his mind. Not a common occurrence so early in life but it happens. Such maladies tend to run in families, though in this case we will have to wait and see. There is no indication at this moment that Mrs. Fitzwilliam will befall the same fate, especially given her mother's continued good health."
Mrs. Darcy gave her husband a keen look but brought the subject back to ways in which Anne might benefit from any specific care immediately. Eventually the physician was dismissed without additional demands, a dismissal that left him quite relieved. Generally speaking, he preferred his patients to be of middling classes. Their families were so much less imperial in their manner.
It was only later that evening, when they sat alone, and Darcy brought up Anne's health that Lizzy reacted to the newly found out information, her eyes flashing.
"That poor girl! It finally makes some sense. I have wondered."
"Pardon me?" asked her husband, who was not prone to making immediate observations on being told a piece of information. Lizzy was far more impetuous by nature.
"Why Lady Catherine kept Anne so isolated for very long, and insisted on marrying her within the family. I have been considering it all day. Surely, you were not the only man in England with a great estate who might also desire Rosings. And surely when you finally proved you would not marry her, she might do better outside the family than the cousin without his own fortune. But this way, if she were to lose her mind, it would keep Rosings in the Fitzwilliam family, away from the deBourgh cousins, or some other man in England who might not give the Fitzwilliams their due. What a selfish, despicable woman."
"To be fair to my Aunt's intentions, as Anne's husband, Richard or I would also have protected her if she were to develop the same malady as her father," though as Darcy spoke, he could not help but realize that his wife was rather able to understand the situation in a much clearer and starker way than he ever had.
"That is a rather great decision she made for her daughter--to protect her from everyone. She is five and twenty, and the heiress of a great estate, but she never had a chance to go to school or have a London season, or make her own decisions about her life and friends. Even in London, you must notice that she seems terribly secluded. The staff says that no one calls or writes, even to leave their sympathies. The Earl seems to be in collusion with this little scheme. What an embarrassment for the Fitzwilliams, if she were to turn out to be mad╔"
"Senile╔" interrupted Darcy, dryly. While he was not disinclined to agree with his wife, given how the Fitzwilliams had treated her, and indeed, how much of what she spoke rang true, he could not help but be somewhat amused by the self-righteous tirade that she had begun, all on a single piece of information he was already aware of.
"Mad," Lizzy could see it all in her mind. "But if she could be shut up under the guise of ill health, and the married off to one cousin or another, no one is the wiser. And meanwhile, Lady Catherine gets to lord over her daughter's estate as if she were the queen. And at whose expense? Poor Anne is never even able to begin to prove to society that she is not ill, or that she is able, or that she is not mad. What does society say about her?"
"I doubt it says much of anything," commented Darcy. "I never heard her being spoken of in company. Except by Mr. Collins, but he is hardly worth mentioning."
"Of course it must say something! She has, at least in theory, an estate, and she is of an age that she might remarry. That there are not concerned mothers already at her door to offer insincere condolences suggests what society says about her is rather grim indeed. Not that I would wish fortune hunters to swarm her, but what is the point of money or name if it cannot at least buy a little diversion and company?"
Darcy grimaced. "Lizzy, I think you may have a point but please be cautious. Think of your dear husband, or your poor sister Mary. Not everyone wishes for diversion and company as much as you. Anne herself may have refused a season and company. Do not underestimate the fact that she is currently ill, and has been ill before."
Lizzy was too full of righteous indignation for his cousin to respond to her husband, but she did take his advice to heart. After all, there was a very slight possibility she was dealing with a madwoman.
Posted on: 2013-03-20
[In which Anne is invited to a theatrical reading]
Lizzy did eventually calm down and think about what could be done about Anne's current situation as she understood it. While Anne was recovering from her illness, Lizzy made some strategic calls, mentioning Anne very delicately, and finding that her suspicions seemed rather correct. Society as a whole seemed to regard Anne as some sort of invalid, possibly not quite right in the head, and plain and uninteresting and cross besides. She also was able to ascertain that it was commonly believed that Anne would have little to no control over Rosings as a widow until her mother passed away, and whether that control would be ceded to a future husband was almost entirely dependent on Lady Catherine. And that lady was generally believed to have a lifeline that was short of immortal by only a few years. Had Lizzy thought to ask a few more carefully worded questions, she would have also found out why exactly Colonel Fitzwilliam had been so eager to marry, but she did not think to do so.
The one bright spot in all this speculation was that Anne did not seem particularly interesting to anyone; rather she was pitied and the subject quickly changed. Lizzy hoped that given such a quick dismissal, if Anne were to present herself as something entirely different than what was supposed, minds could easily be altered.
Without Anne's consent, and some gentle societal maneuvering (which Lizzy was yet not able to carry out, given her own precarious place in the ton), however, that presentation would have to occur on a rather small stage. And it would have to involve Anne directly.
In other words, if Anne's life were to improve, Anne would have to make the effort. The first step was to have her go out in society. This was somewhat difficult as the woman was supposed to be in mourning. But being in mourning did help the fact that Anne was not good at being particularly social. She would not have to make too much effort at a time--any misstep or retreat would be forgiven. And she would not have to attend every event of the upcoming little season--it would be considered uncouth.
Anne's own uncertainty made her hesitate at Lizzy's first suggestion, not because she did not want to go, but because she was rather afraid of doing so. Finally she stuttered that she was not supposed to go out.
"It is only a small private dramatic evening. Nothing too ostentatious--as a first public event more than a month af┬┬ter your loss, it is nothing. No one will comment, I promise you, especially this time of the year," said Lizzy. Anne's dull look was initially discouraging, and then she remembered that she was not dealing with her sister Mary. Anne was not pedantic. She was simply uneasy. At least that is what Lizzy and Darcy had concluded optimistically. When they went back through her actions and words they determined that her gloomy manner and occasional impoliteness never seemed to be purposeful. Indeed she was almost like Georgiana had been at her shyest, except instead of the nervous smile, Anne had plastered on a dour, peaked expression. Even in the face of that conclusion, however, Darcy had again warned Lizzy to tread lightly.
"For," he said to her that morning before Lizzy had departed on her errand. "You do not want to be as bad as Lady Catherine in ordering her about. Especially since she is older than you, and was raised to believe she is of more consequence." (Lizzy had laughed at this careful phrasing). "And we do not want to make her more unpleasant by accident."
So she tried a different approach, when Anne continued to hesitate. "You are like my husband--no need to be social when you do not desire it. But Mrs. Fitzwilliam, you will come, for our sakes, will you not? It will not look good to society that we cannot manage to secure the company of our own cousin!"
"I suppose not," said Anne. It was the best tactic that Lizzy could have taken. Anne had never been asked to do anything for anyone else, and while she had an idea that Lizzy was not sincere in her statement, she liked the idea that they might want her company. "But what does one do at a theatrical reading?" She had never been to one. She had been to a play╔ once. But had not enjoyed it. Lady Catherine had criticized it constantly while sitting next to her. She had an idea that people were looking at her mother, and her. And what they saw reflected badly on both of them. And she had wanted to hide in mortification at the experience. She thought back through her novels. Plenty of plays, but no private theatrics, except the kind that were put on by the hero and the heroine-- or the heroine and the entirely improper young man who had predated the hero.
Lizzy laughed. "It is just like a card party your mother would host, except instead of sitting to play cards when it is time, we will sit and watch some actors do scenes. They shall be very good, I've no doubt. The host is Sir Edmund Edwards. Have you heard of him?"
Anne shook her head.
"He sponsors many of the great actors in the theatre world. He has nothing else to spend his money on as he has no children. I should tell you he is said to like some of the actresses more than is entirely proper. But this gathering will be very much respectable and typical of the smaller social events of the ton. And it shall not be so very late. If you tire quickly so soon after your illness, we may leave."
It sounded very exciting to Anne, but it also made her quite nervous. And as Lizzy was clearly waiting for her to say something (no one ever waited for her to say something so she was unused to the feeling), she said so. "I would like to go very much, but I do not know what to say to people."
"Oh Mrs. Fitzwilliam," said Lizzy, smiling. "You are thinking way too hard if you think that three quarters of what anyone says in society is anything significant. Simply speak of everyone's health and the weather and how wonderful the actors are. And if all else fails, ask what other people think of something or other. Then you simply have to listen and not speak at all."
But Anne was not reassured. Had she realized it, she would have known that she could not simply be told things. She had to work them through in her own head. Thankfully, Lizzy had remembered a conversation she had had with Georgiana a few months before. And again, she asked the exact right question without being entirely aware of it.
"Mrs. Fitzwilliam. Anne. Do you know what to say to your housekeeper and your maid? Any of your servants?"
Anne was shaken out of her reverie. "Of course."
"What about someone like Mr. Collins?"
"Mr. Collins is very easy to talk to," said Anne. Lizzy smiled, and it took Anne a moment to realize that she again had accidently made a joke. That he was easy to talk to did not make him pleasant to talk to. (In one of her future musings, she resolved to smile when other people did, so that if she jested by accident once again, she could at least be given credit for the jest. But that conclusion did not come for a day or two.)
"Well, how is going out in society any different?"
Anne started. She had never thought about it like that. It was very simple why she could talk to them--not that she said more than she had too. She knew the role she was supposed to play with her social inferiors. She said what was expected of her.
"Well, I know what is expected of me," she repeated out loud. "I do not have to think about it so much. When I am with╔ people in society, I have to think so much that I am often silent."
"So," said Lizzy smiling. "You simply have to practice until you don't have to think so much. Then it shall be no different than talking to your servants or underlings."
This advice was all too easy for Lizzy to give, and Anne reflected on it for many hours.
Her conclusions, when they finally came, were so simple that she wondered at their simplicity.
She was to attend a theatrical reading. She already knew the role she played in her private life.
The purpose of this attendance was that she had to practice her role in society.
She was a young and wealthy widow.
So she had to act the part of a young and wealthy widow in society. But that was not so easy for her.
So she had to practice acting the part of a young widow in society.
In other words, she had to rehearse her part.
She had to be theatrical.
She had to become an actress.
Becoming an actress to act out her role in society seemed so much easier than actually being Anne Fitzwilliam out in society. She felt a great relief at the prospect, and she determined that she would be a success.
[In which Anne prepares for a theatrical reading.]
Anne sat in her dressing room, leafing through the fashion plates that her cousin's wife had brought her to amuse herself during her illness. She did not immediately understand that Lizzy had been hinting gently that a change in her appearance might be in order. Rather, she had taken the younger woman at her word that she needed the amusement. And she had enjoyed looking at the pictures at first. Lady Catherine had never allowed such diversions in her home. And there were so many interesting styles that young ladies of fashion adopted. So very different than what she wore.
And then she realized what Lizzy was suggesting--that she was somehow lacking in her appearance. She frowned at the pictures, and looked at herself in the mirror. She looked like a young widow. Well, she looked young enough anyway. And was wearing black. But she was unsure that the entire picture was right. Surely a young widow in one of her novels would not wear such heavy material. And the elaborate, heavy hairstyle dragged down her tiny face. Nor did the hair itself look entirely right, as her hair was too thin to support all the curls and braids. She could see her scalp in more than a few places.
Her maid entered, having been summoned, and looked at her mistress quizzically. "Yes, Ma'am?" she asked. She was a pretty woman, about thirty, who had come very highly recommended by one of Lady Catherine's ancient friend's granddaughters. The job was well compensated, but she had privately resolved to leave the position as soon as she had a chance. She had some professional pride after all, and Anne had not yet made use of her talents.
"I was wondering, Woodson," said Anne. "If you could make my hair resemble Mrs. Darcy's."
The maid could barely contain her surprise. Her mistress had never showed the least sign of wishing any other style. Her subtle suggestions had been ignored in the past.
"I beg your pardon, Ma'am," she finally stuttered. "But you and Mrs. Darcy have very different hair. I could do my best but the effect would not be the same. Would you like me to show you? It would not take so very long, as your hair is already curled." Anne shook her head, discouraged. The truth was that the figure in the mirror looked very much like it might shed a tear. So much for knowing how to speak in front of the servants.
The maid saw the magazines that Anne was holding. "I beg your pardon again, Ma'am, but if you wish me to do up your hair in a different way, perhaps you might show me what you find pleasing to you. There might be some styles that would better fit your hair and face than the ones Mrs. Darcy prefers."
Anne set her shoulders up a bit straighter. If she could not talk to her own maid after all, she certainly could not learn how to talk to anyone new. "I am to attend a private theatrical reading tomorrow. It is my first introduction to London society. I have been wearing my hair this way for eight years. I suspect it is no longer the fashion, and would like a change. What do you suggest?"
The maid privately suspected that it had not been the fashion eight years before, but did not say so. Instead, she agreed happily with her mistress that she would have to look her best for London society.
Together, they finally agreed on two styles--the maid being somewhat timid in the face of Anne's newfound interest in her looks, and Anne being very timid in never having had any say about her looks in the past. The first would do well enough. It was asymmetrical, which was good, as Anne's face was as well, a fact that her mass of braids and curls had drawn attention to. And it would look well with a black piece of lace that might do as a nod to Anne's widowhood. The second was rather much more daring, and required the cutting off of much of Anne's hair. The back would be rather blowsy, and the front left straight, and much use would be made of wide ribbons for the desired effect. The maid seemed to favor it, and Anne looked at the plate for a very long time before deciding on the first. She had a feeling the second would be better for her face, but it would perhaps draw too much attention on the first outing. She did not want to be stared at and to second guess herself in her mind. That would throw off her concentration
The maid flitted about and fussed and seeing that Anne was happy with the result, took the moment to suggest a change in Anne's face as well as her hair. As a young lady, Anne had never worn many cosmetics, and was rather afraid of her own mother's propensity towards the very white foundations used by older women to cover their wrinkles. But she submitted to the maid, who had concluded that Anne was not particularly pretty, but had an unconventional sort of charm, if she could make use of it. The change mainly involved a little less rouge and the slightest bit of soot around the eyes in the Egyptian style, which was extremely provocative, but both she and Anne found the effect very pleasing indeed.
In truth, both women were enjoying themselves as much as they had since being brought together some months before. Anne felt a little like she was being someone else. But as she liked the person who was enjoying herself, she put aside the feeling.
The final challenge was the dress. Anne had bought a few dresses for mourning, and had a few more dyed, but the total number of gowns she could choose from was actually quite few for her supposed station in life. The dress that had been set aside for formal evening events now looked entirely unsuitable, and for someone much older than she. Again, she looked towards the fashion plates, wondering if it could be altered. The maid shook her head, her apologies sincere, for she herself was thrilled at the idea of maintaining a well-looking wardrobe. "I can make some small alterations as fits my position, but I'm not the best seamstress Ma'am to make such large changes. It would be better to have someone come in for a fitting."
Anne admonished her to do the best she could knowing she could not have a new dress made in time for the reading, and hoping that whatever alterations Woodson could manage would do.
Woodson was determined not to disappoint, and most of the female staff, well-recommend by many illustrious personages, well-compensated, and so far, entirely bored with their duties, all came together to discuss the mistress's seemingly overnight change, all the while conspiring to turn the expensive but ill-looking gown into a fashion plate. Seeing the goings-on, the cook looked at the scullery maid, and commented, her eyes rolling heavenward as she sent up the same simple meal she had made every Wednesday night for months,
"I suppose it is too much to ask that she also might order a ragout every fortnight or so."
Only the cook was disappointed however, as the entire rest of the staff conspired to see their mistress as she readied herself in the hallway, about to step out into the Darcy's carriage. The hair suited her as much as a longer cut could, given her odd little face. Her dark eyes stood out giving her naturally white complexion a bit of an interesting contrast. The dress was nearly unrecognizable. Woodson had raised the waist to the new style, and torn off some of the excess decoration; these changes fit Anne's tiny, girlish figure more than the earlier French style. She had also shortened the sleeves to reveal surprisingly pretty arms, and had used the excess fabric to effect the change in the waist. To make up for the heavy dullness of the weave, she had robbed one of Anne's non-mourning dresses, a dark grey silk, of its tulle overskirt, and added a partial overskirt to the black gown, giving it a light sheen, at the same time covering evidence of the last- minute needlework down the back. Since she had already torn up the grey gown, she had made a wrap from its voluminous skirts, which had been covered with a dark purple and black embroidery pattern, absurdly elaborate for a skirt, but perfect to accent the wrap. Black and some of the grey tulle came together to make a widow's veil that was suitable for an evening of entertainment but just dull enough that Anne would not shock. The whole effect, Woodson thought, was perfect. Knowing what she knew of the mistress's brief marriage, she thought it absurd for Anne to affect the dress of heavy mourning that a wife of many years or the mother of a fatherless child might prefer. Yet at the same time, she knew Anne would have to still hold onto the pretension of grief. The slight touches of color and shine would attract notice without shocking, exactly as it should be.
"She will do," said the housekeeper to Woodson, somewhat fondly, as they retired to the housekeeper's room away from the ears of the under servants. "You've done a miracle with her. She's not a pretty woman, no doubt about that, but I've worked for worse, and it would be nice to be proud of one's mistress."
Woodson bristled slightly, for Anne's appearance was her business, but she knew the housekeeper meant well. "Many young men like a mysterious looking girl over a pretty one, and that's what she is. She's been practicing a demure little smile in the mirror all day. As long as she plasters that on her face, and tilts her head the right way, and keeps her eyes wide, any man might wonder what he was missing."
"Oh, she's a mysterious one, that she is," agreed the housekeeper. "And these new whims of hers will no doubt keep us all on our toes. But as long as her mother doesn't visit, I've no doubt we will enjoy the change."
[In which Anne attends a theatrical reading.]
Lizzy and Darcy were surprised and pleased by Anne's appearance. They both complimented her until it was clear that Anne was uncomfortable, and Lizzy spent the rest of the trip discussing seamstresses with her cousin. When Anne admitted that she had been unhappy with her earlier purchases, and that the gown she was wearing had been completely reworked by her abigail, the two ladies agreed to meet in the next couple of days to shop-- for as Lizzy put it, "With my own sisters, and Georgiana in the country, I certainly need the feminine company." It was an easy conversation, probably their best, and Lizzy was happy, for she assumed it meant that Anne had dropped whatever guard she normally had put up, whether it be against people like her mother, or because her mother had warned her against most people.
Lizzy was not quite correct, though she was not entirely wrong. Anne had dropped a bit of her guard. She had no goals to attain the type of society she had a feeling that her birth would have allowed her. She simply wanted a few acquaintances of any acceptable circle, and if Darcy had determined them good enough for him, then they were good enough for her. Her mother's wishes for her to limit her company seemed somewhat absurd from so far away, and they had done nothing for her so far in her life.
But while that barrier had been broken, she had also put on a new mask--her acting mask--and her newfound easy conversation was almost entirely acting. She was almost thinking of herself in the third person, standing outside of herself and observing the conversation like she was not affected by it. She had used the technique before, to escape the pain of childhood illness, and it still seemed to work. It made for a somewhat affected air when she conversed, but as she had always been a very uneasy person, the affectation was actually more natural than her real self. And a small bit of affectation was not remiss. For it matched very well her new style of dress and holding herself. Anne could not convincingly play the sweet young beauty, or the tragic young widow. Her best success could only be accompanied by the slightest hint of appealing eccentricity.
Darcy watched his cousin carefully during the short carriage ride. He had been worried about the evening. Unlike Lizzy, he could not be completely easy in society, even when he was lively enough, which he would be this evening. He did not trust his cousin not to act as she always had, and knowing that he must escort Georgiana in the spring, he was cognizant that any oddness his cousin showed in public could be linked to his sister. He knew better than to say as much to his easily affronted wife, however, and prayed for the best, hoping that there would be no particular peculiarity or rudeness displayed by her.
Thus it was with a bit of a catch in his voice that he introduced his cousin to Sir Edmund Edwards, the host of the evening's entertainment. But Sir Edmund, who was known for his affinities for not entirely conventional women, was actually the most likely man in the room to be instantly charmed by her.
And he was. Anne thanked him for extending the invitation, and apologized ahead of time for all those points during the performance where "she might laugh or cry too hard at any of the wrong places" due to her "limited opportunities to experience the theatre in Kent." Having saved a few actresses from worse fates than being linked to a wealthy man, he could have no problem from saving a rather singular looking widow from the crime of having no familiarity with the theatre or the other people in the room. In addition, Sir Edmund had known her husband, and shook his head at such an interesting little thing being so wasted. He would certainly know what to do with her.
And so it was only a half an hour after their arrival that he approached the Darcys to claim Anne for his particular attention. Anne was introduced to all of the actors by the host as well as to a number of guests that the Darcys did not know particularly well. Darcy looked on in some horror as Anne engaged Edwards' newest mistress in a lengthy conversation about her acting methods, but Lizzy pointed out in a whisper that to everyone in the room who cared about rank, Anne seemed to be condescending sweetly to an inferior, though they themselves might know that she did not realize that was what she was doing. Also, Anne seemed to be smiling and actually interacting in a normal manner, so it would not do to interrupt her now.
Anne herself felt like she was floating above the room while her body went through rote introductions and pieces of conversation that she had practiced in her mirror that day. She returned to her own head exactly once, to ask Annie Galloway, the actress that was to star in the performance later, about acting. If she were to act out her own life out, it would do good to understand how one did so from a woman so skilled at the craft. Miss Galloway, it must be confessed, was rather flattered. That the woman in front of her did not seem interested in the romance--or the scandal--of the stage, and instead wanted to know about method and technique, was a rather unique occurrence, and so she instantly thought well of her. Little did Anne know that she would be the topic of pleasant conversation in the bed of one Sir Edmund Edwards and his mistress that very night!
In truth, Anne could have done no better with her two major conversation partners. As a widow, she was worldly enough to interact with an actress in a group setting without fear for her reputation, and that she did either made her sweetly condescending or at least just interesting enough to be worthy of discussion. As a woman, she had been deemed attractive enough by Sir Edmund Edwards to spend some time with his attention; thus making her more attractive to everyone else in the room.
With everyone else, she did not have the chance to say so very much outside of the watchful eye of either Lizzy or Darcy, which gave her some security in case she made a slight misstep or two. She made a few, but her cousins stepped in, and no one noticed. A few people made some veiled comments about her isolation, her illness, her separation from her family, or her husband, but as Anne was not familiar with most of the gossip, she could convincingly act as if she had no idea what they were talking about. And Lizzy had no problem making it clear that she would cut anyone that dismissed Anne. The comments did gnaw at Anne, however, and she supposed she would have to ask her cousin about them eventually. But for now, she did not, and was content.
Several of the women proclaimed her an interesting little thing and even said they would call on her. In addition she found herself promising to call on several others herself. She could hope she would not make a mess of things upon the morrow.
The Darcys deposited her at home at the end of a reasonably early evening by the standards of the ton. They left Anne with a word of reassurance. Lizzy would come by the house the next morning before the normal time for calls, and they would review Anne's new acquaintances, so that Anne would know and remember them and determine their level of possible association, "for Fitzwilliam's Aunt Darcy did the same for me last spring, and it helped me immensely." Anne was relieved. It would do well to keep track of who was who and who was useful and who was pleasant.
Anne nearly fell asleep on the way up to her bed. It was a short evening by society's standards, but she had not relaxed a moment, and she knew that if she had a moment to think about the success of her own performance, her self-analysis would keep her up most of the night. Instead she dwelt on the curve of Miss Annie Galloway's neck as she recited a soliloquy, how silly a swordfight looked when it was attempted in a drawing room, and the way that actors seemed to shout their lines--that would not do for herself, she decided. Her maid's gentle massaging of her temples as her hair was let down then brought to mind the just slightly seductive way that Sir Edmund Edwards grasped a lady's waist with one hand to direct her towards an acquaintance. Anne was not in the least bit attracted to such a man, but it had been the first time she had been touched in such a way since her marriage had robbed her of some of her innocence. That she recognized it for the not-entirely-innocent touch that it was proved to her that she was a flesh-and- blood woman able to make some man feel some attraction, even if it was a 50-year-old stout widower with a taste for not entirely proper actresses. Had she been asked she would have confessed that she might have preferred a mutual flirtation with a man her own age, but that the compliment of attracting anyone at all was a very promising beginning.
Posted on: 2013-03-26
[In which Anne meets someone unexpected]
It did not take many days before Anne began to feel like a new woman. She walked out every day, pretending to be a heroine. Her head was held high, but her demeanor of course must reflect some underlying sadness. If she was not a woman in mourning, she could act as a woman in mourning. Sometimes she walked down the promenades of the fashionable neighborhoods and spent time in the shops, and made sure she did not return for at least three hours. Every time she saw one of her new acquaintances, she smiled confidently until she was introduced to someone else. In that way, she quickly built a circle of people with whom she was familiar. She did not know if her mother would approve of them all--but she did not care. For her character would not care. He character was a much more daring person than she. Several mornings a week, she made calls to these new acquaintances, and began to learn the neighborhoods of London--what was fashionable and what was not, and what houses she enjoyed visiting, and who she liked, and who could be used to help in her quest to become a normal sort of young woman.
She even began to get callers. They would come, and she would recite her script, occasionally mixing up the lines--improvising she called it-- isn't that what actors did when they did not remember their lines? "Mrs. Smith, would you like another cup of tea? I find the second always tastes better than the first." "Mrs. Jones, how is your child? I hear children of that age can be so trying, but I imagine yours is not. The Colonel wanted children someday, but it was not to be╔" and here she would hold back a sniffle and the woman would pat her on the hand and call her a little dear. "Miss Haverford, oh do tell me about your season. My health did not permit me to have one, and I long to hear about it╔." And then she would listen and take notes in her head. An actor would have to learn the other characters in a play.
It was at first exhausting. The first couple of days she would retreat to her room midday to nap, for at night, her mind would race, thinking through her interactions, second-guessing her words, and hoping against hope that no one especially disliked her. After a few sleepless nights, she told herself she was ruining what looks she had, and so she would read novels by candlelight instead, until she was could not keep her eyes open. Then she would fall asleep thinking about those fictional creatures whose lives she could emulate. And so instead of dwelling on her mistakes, she had more examples to follow on the morrow. And by pretending to be a heroine who felt passion and love and hate and joy and sorrow, she almost did feel passion and love and joy and hate and sorrow. And almost feeling was so much better than the dull apathy which had previously overwhelmed her mind.
She knew she made mistakes but she was a recent enough widow that no one snubbed her, outwardly at least. Especially since it was known whose daughter she was. "The poor thing," they would whisper, "just out from under her mother's thumb, and now widowed. And his family having gone off to their estate without her. I hear they won't even let her control her own money-- it will be hard to tempt another man. She only has her cousins, the Darcys--so kind of them to take the time to set her up in society! And even they are returning to the country soon. Why, she is practically alone in this world. And you can tell she is trying so hard to get over her husband's death--and you know what they say about him. Why I heard she was in shock those first couple weeks--didn't even take a single call! Barely talked to anyone. And I've heard she's not in the best of health, besides. No, let us have pity on the girl."
That Anne was in mourning also meant that she had time to study fashion and taste--for what was an actor without appropriate costumes? Her current costume was bland, perhaps, but much improved with Goodson's help and Lizzy's assistance, and she could slowly add ribbons, and hats, and shawls, and in only a few months, she would add white and grey and lavender, and then soon would be clothed entirely appropriately for her new character. Her old clothes were discarded or reworked. The few things that had been bought for her trousseau she had had no say in the purchase of, and Goodson was happy to repurpose them. Though she did not know it, the color black suited her complexion, and her face began to appear less sallow as well. Her smiles, false as they generally were, also suited her. And she practiced different expressions in her mirror every day. She was still critical of herself in those moments, but she did gain some confidence. In fact it took only a few weeks to give Woodson permission to cut her hair into the more daring look. It had been so very tempting, and when she felt the weight fall off, and saw the hair around her chair, she felt wonderfully free.
Yes, Anne felt very good indeed. She would not call it happiness. She was not sure she entirely knew what it was like to feel the freedom of happiness. But she felt better, and not so cross, and that was very good. That morning, she tied a black ribbon around one the severed curls, and set it in a copy of A Brief Account of the Gracious Dealings of God With a Poor, Sinful, Unworthy Creature once gifted to her by a unfashionably pious governess, and set it back on the shelf. Then she shook her head at her reflection, watching the loose hair bounce around, and set off on a long walk to one of the fashionable shopping districts, tying her bonnet in such a way that at least some of her new hairstyle would be visible to those she passed.
Keeping her eye out for acquaintances along ___ Street, she was caught entirely off guard by the site of her husband's brother directly across from her.
She breathed in and thought through her lines. He was no different than anybody else. And there were enough people around that it would do no good for her to ignore him. She tried to exude confidence as she stepped towards him. But he would not turn.
"Viscount, brother, I did not know you were in town," she said loudly and confidently to his side. He finally turned, his annoyance clear. "I'm sorry Madam but╔" Not having recognized her at first, he paused and stopped mid-sentence. Finally, he gave her a brief bow. "Anne. I am sorry I did not see you at first. Yes, we are lately arrived." He paused. "Fanny is to call on you, I believe." It was clear they had already been in residence for some time, and that the call had simply not yet been made.
She curtseyed in return. His face was unreadable, and his words short. She realized she had not seen him since the brief family meetings shortly after his brother's death. And then he had barely looked at her and left the room as soon as he could.
"I am afraid I was still in some shock the last time I saw you, sir. I have much recovered from the initial blow. I hope this moment finds you better as well."
"Certainly," he said dully. "Time heals all wounds, as they say."
He was not picking up on his cues properly, and it took Anne a moment to realize that he meant to snub her. It was a problem. She had not yet been cut, so she did not have the appropriate lines. Luckily, it came to her that he was standing next to another man whom she had not yet met. As the two principles had no lines, the playwright had provided another character.
"And will you introduce me to your friend, sir?" When he did not seem to hear her, she added in a stage whisper. "I am family, am I not?" She blinked rapidly a few times. She would not be cut. She was his brother's widow and his cousin besides. Surely she deserved some respect.
"Of course," he finally said and looked at his companion. "Newby, may I present Mrs. Fitzwilliam, lately Anne deBourgh of Rosings Park. Anne, this is Mr. George Newby."
It was not a kind or complete introduction, but the play must go on.
The man in question bowed.
"Delighted," he murmured. Anne curtsied, considering her line.
"Viscount Findlay is my cousin, Mr. Newby. His late brother was my husband. I hope you will pardon our awkward meeting. We have not seen each other since my widowhood." She held her hand quickly to her face in a moment of posed sadness, and dropped it, eyeing her cousin, who was not looking at her.
Her new acquaintance had the good sense to look somewhat abashed. "I am sorry for your loss Mrs. Fitzwilliam. Your husband was a gentleman and society misses him."
She gave him a beaming smile."Thank you sir. Well, I can see you gentlemen are preoccupied. I shall leave you. Edward-- do tell my sister that I will be expecting her call." She refrained from laughing as the Viscount flinched--she had never called him by his Christian name before, though he had taken the liberty. But, as she reflected, she had earned that right. And it was only right that family should call on her when they were in town. While she had never been a particularly pleasant relative, she had done nothing wrong. And how would she know to make a call if they had not sent around a note saying they were in town? She wondered if they had called on Darcys. She would have to ask Lizzy when she attended the Darcy's dinner party on Thursday night.
As she walked away, it occurred to her that it would eventually get back to her mother that she was spending time with the Darcys, though her own letters had not mentioned it. She hoped it would. And all of the Darcys' acquaintances as well. She was suddenly feeling very splendidly wicked. That feeling came from too much acting, she supposed.
She walked along, thinking such thoughts and keeping an eye out for other acquaintances. At the end of the hour she thought to go home. But the weather of London had other ideas. The steady gray of the day had given way to a slow but steady rainstorm, and she stepped into a shop as she debated how best to return to the house.
"I see you have been caught up in this storm as well, Mrs. Fitzwilliam," said a voice behind her as she looked out into the street, now deserted of all but closed carriages.
She turned. It was her new acquaintance. "Mr. Newby," she said smiling. "Is my brother here? I would certainly not hesitate to ask him for an escort home."
"I am afraid I parted company with the Viscount soon after you saw me. But if you wish, I can have my carriage fetched. I would be happy to escort you home."
This was a problem. Anne paused as she tried to remember if this was a proper thing to do or not--even for an actress.
"You would have to share with my sisters, I'm afraid," he continued. "But we may drop you wherever you wish to go. I believe they are but a few doors down, filling themselves with sweet confections."
She smiled. She knew that it was perfectly appropriate to share a carriage with a young man's sisters.
"I would be very much in your debt, sir," she said, knowing that the rain would not cease for some time.
"No ma'am. For I wish to make up for my rudeness just now." He looked around and added in sotto voice. "It must be difficult for you--it is a shame that an enmity between brothers can last beyond the grave. I certainly had no part in that disagreement, even if I understood the source of it, and I do not want you to think that I am on anyone's side."
This was all news to Anne--she did not know of any disagreement. So her brother's rudeness was not entirely her own doing! That was good. She would have to ask the Darcys about the situation. Until then-- well, she could act.
"Think nothing of it sir." And then in her own quieter voice. "I certainly didn't mean to catch you up in private family business. We Fitzwilliams are a proud sort. None of us will admit mistakes, and this fault will sometimes manifest itself in our behavior." There! That was just daring and vague enough to be interesting and had the added bonus of being most likely accurate.
He reacted in kind. "Ahh, and you are a Fitzwilliam twice over from what I understand. Then I am glad we have an understanding. Think no more of it, and I shall say nothing more about it. Now, do you think we can travel the length of a building or two under the eaves? My sisters will be expecting me."
"Lead on, sir," she said. To her surprise, he did mean to keep them both under the narrow roof, and to do so, he had to hold her to his side. She was close enough to feel his warmth, and the wool of his coat. It was a pleasant feeling and she wished to stay there, but soon enough, their short walk was over, and he was once again at a respectable distance-- introducing her to two girls and their governess who were just finishing a plate of ice.
The sisters were considerably younger than Anne had imagined given that her escort was old enough to be both balding slightly and grey at the temples. Margaret was only fifteen, and Lucy a year younger. Their brother, a half brother, Anne found out later, was a favorite of theirs, and he often took them out on adventures, including this one to Piccadilly. They were both delighted to meet Anne who they immediately looked up to as a young and fashionable lady. They sat her between them in the carriage and she was entreated to tell them all about herself. Anne began to appreciate the romance of being the widow of a soldier, but a few times in the ride as she told the girls of her dashing husband, she caught the brother staring at her, an eyebrow raised, from the seat across from her.
He led her to the door, stepping just inside to say goodbye while the doorman took her things.
"Mrs. Fitzwilliam," he said quietly. "Thank you for entertaining my sisters with your stories--they do have their romantic notions--and it is just the thing to set them up for a week a more. I did not believe a single one of those tales, of course, but I enjoyed them immensely."
Anne did not know what to say to such gratitude and nearly broke character. She decided she could do nothing but ignore his problematic statement. "Thank you for your assistance, Mr. Newby. Your sisters are lovely girls, and I would welcome their company any time."
"Not a problem, Madam, I assure you." He tipped his hat, and stepped out into the rainstorm. The carriage- door was slammed behind him and it drove away.
[In which Anne confronts her cousin]
Anne, to her own surprise, found that she could not wait until the end of the week to ask about Mr. Newby's mysterious comment. The very next morning saw her calling at Darcy house. But Lizzy, she realized quickly, was worthless. She knew that the Fitzwilliams were prone to infighting but she had no idea about the source of the disagreement between brothers. Lizzy would only say that Fanny had called briefly a few days before, and that the visit was polite but hardly warm. She apologized for her lack of knowledge.
"I do not know this Mr. Newby, though I believe I have heard his name. You handled the situation well. It would be problematic if it got into society that you were not even aware of your husband's private business."
"He was very pleasant," said Anne. "And his sisters were adorable. And he did me a great service in escorting me home, even if his friend snubbed me."
"Now that is not to be borne," said Lizzy. "I would speak to my husband, if you wish it. No one should treat their own sister such, especially if the fault does not lie with her."
"I would speak to him, myself-- if you don't mind," said Anne. "I have some other things I wish to ask him."
"He is in the library, doing business, and avoiding morning callers," laughed Lizzy. "Come. I will take you to him. But do you know Anne, I have just thought of something."
"What is that?"
"Fanny is no doubt calling at your house this morning, and shall find you gone."
Aha! This was a success. What would her heroine say? Anne smiled
"How terrible that I might keep her waiting!" It was the right thing to say. For Lizzy laughed again. Anne reflected that Lizzy was particularly lovely when she laughed. She made a note to find a laugh that suited her and practice it in the looking glass that evening.
Darcy was obviously engrossed in some figures, as he continued to stare at them as he quickly stood and greeted his cousin.
"Annie, good to see you. Just give me a moment."
She sat watching his mouth form a few silent words, as he sat again, and dipped his pen, all the while looking at the ledger in front of him. Finally he scratched some numbers down and looked up from the paper.
"I apologize. I was just working something out. Now, to what do I owe this pleasure?" He paused, and asked rather awkwardly. "Did you do something to your hair? It is rather fetching."
Anne blushed. She did not know that Lizzy had counseled Darcy to give Anne small compliments when he could, "for she is like Georgiana, very lacking in her own sense about herself, and compliments sound so much better from a handsome young man, even a married one," she had said cheekily. Though if Anne had known, she probably would have not thought to have taken offense. Even had he only given her the compliment at his wife's behest, it meant he had noticed her hair, and if he did, others would too.
"Thank you. Woodson thought it would be rather pretty." She paused and frowned briefly, remembering what she had planned to say. "I met someone yesterday and something he said was rather curious to me. I was wondering if you could help me out."
"Of course, if I can. Who was this new acquaintance?"
"A Mr. George Newby--I met his sisters as well."
"Ah Newby. I have not seen him in some time. There was some minor scandal that kept him in the country for a time last year, but I can't remember the particulars." Darcy paused and looked at his cousin, who was pursing her lips in disappointment. "Though he has always been a gentlemanly enough man as long as I have known him. Did he say something to upset you?"
"Not at all. I was just considering human character. In these past weeks, I have found that people will usually volunteer much more information when I mention a new acquaintance. You know. I might say a name, and they will say, 'Oh yes, Newby. His father was a clergyman and his mother was from Dorchester, and he has four children and likes the gaming tables.' But you have said nothing at all useful, only something a little intriguing."
He considered that she looked rather disappointed and had the inkling that he should be concerned. But then he put the thought out of his mind. She might need his help at times, but she had not asked for his protection, and he had not earned the right to control her acquaintances.
"Well if you are that interested in Newby, I can tell you that his father was a clergyman, but the rest is untrue." Seeing her look of frustration, he smiled. "His mother's second husband, the young ladies' father, has an estate near Leicester. She married quite up, I believe, the second time. But Newby has a little money himself, from an Uncle, I believe, enough to get by. He is quite devoted to his mother and sisters,--and I believe he knows the Fitzwilliams rather well. Does that satisfy you? I am afraid I do not remember much more. We are not intimates." After a pause, he added, "He has never been married, that I know of."
"Yes, thank you." Anne was quite satisfied.
Darcy smiled. "Now, what did he say that you are wondering about? Or were you just curious about the man himself?"
"No, that is to say, I was curious, but he did say something to me that I have wondered about," Anne paused for a moment while she thought through her lines--getting the characters straight in her head. "You see, he was with the Viscount yesterday--he eventually introduced us, but only after he--Edward, not Mr. Newby, was quite rude to me. And later I saw Mr. Newby without Edward, and Mr. Newby offered to take me home because it was raining, and then he apologized to me for the Viscount's rudeness, saying that he knew of the quarrel and that I should think nothing of it. But I did think of it. For I knew nothing of a quarrel. I thought I covered up my confusion well, but I did not know to what Mr. Newby was referring."
Darcy raised an eyebrow. "That was rather familiar of him. Why did you not have your own conveyance?"
Anne pursed her lips. What did that have to do with anything? "I do not use it very often at all. I like to walk. It gives me energy. And I do not like to have to hire the horses all of the time."
A second eyebrow joined the first. "I had assumed that your income would extend to keeping a team. It had escaped my notice that you did not have your own horses. I suppose we have escorted you in our carriage a number of times."
"I suppose the income would--I hardly know what to spend my pin money on-- well I've spent much of it now, but I did buy a trousseau's worth of clothes in the last fortnight, and there is still ever so much in the household accounts. But the stables are in disrepair and the right of way has been built over on one side so they are rather inconvenient. And there were no horses available. Mother did not want any of the horses to leave Rosings and the Colonel took the stallion with him-- I did not leave the house so very much, so I suppose he thought that I would not want to in the future." Darcy's suddenly intense expression made her continue. "I do miss riding and my phaeton, but Mother did not think it proper for me to go around London as I did at Rosings. Anyhow, I was not so very far from home. If it had not started to rain, I certainly would not have needed an escort. It was very gentlemanly for Mr. Newby to take me home, but I am not usually need of such assistance."
"We shall have to rectify that situation, though," he said in a rather severe tone. "A woman of your income and standing should have her own horses, and a mare suitable for riding as well. You will not always have a young man to rescue you--nor would you want to make it a habit. And we are leaving town soon, and so will not be conveying you places. And besides, you should take a footman with you when you are out walking in London."
Anne started. It seemed that she had made the wrong assumption about what was proper and what was not proper. There was a pause, and then she realized Darcy's anger did not seem to be directed toward her. She remembered her character. "Oh, it was no bother for him," she said lightly. "And it was all very proper--his sisters and their governess were there. They are very sweet girls. They wanted to know all about the Colonel. It was lovely that they looked up to me. Do not be upset with me."
"Annie I am not upset with you. But your mother and husband should have looked out for you better. What was your mother thinking? Every horse at Rosings is yours after all, not your mother's--and the Lord knows there are enough of them. And to have allowed the stables to decay!" He paused, as if a thought just occurred to him. "Was nothing in the townhouse updated to your specifications when you were married? It had not been lived in many years."
Anne bit her lower lip. Her heroine was threatening to leave. "The Colonel asked me if I wanted anything done to the house, and I said I did not know. And then he left. Do you think the house is terribly unfashionable? I suppose it is, but it was all cleaned very well."
Darcy sighed. "No one would expect you to have finished your redecorations in this time Anne. You were married and widowed so very quickly. But do know that you can, if you wish. But I think I shall leave that topic to Lizzy. She may tell you what is normal for a woman to want in her home. And I shall look into the topic of horses as well, before I leave. Perhaps you may stable some nearby while the repairs are being made. I will arrange it if you would allow me. Now, you asked me about your husband and his brother. Did you not know that they were not friends?"
Anne shook her head. It was just another thing no one had told her. The actress had failed again, and the tears were threatening to overwhelm her. She schooled herself to take on her older cross expression which had served her so well in the past to cover up her feelings, but it was too late. The tears had come. "I thought Edward did not like me."
Darcy shifted in his seat, rather uncomfortable. Finally he handed her a handkerchief but otherwise ignored the crying. "Well he does not like very many people, but I assure you in this case, Edward's treatment of you I'm sure had at least something to do with his brother. Do not take offense Annie. Our mothers' family is a disagreeable lot, but we can overcome it, can we not?"
"But why were they so angry with each other?"
There was a very long pause. "Edward is very much like your mother, Annie. There are certain ways of doing things, and if you disagree with him, he is angry with you. Richard did not help the situation, of course. He did not wish to do the right thing, which in Edward's opinion, was to marry Fanny's sister, who had 30,000 pounds of her own, and settle down quietly. Richard refused the arrangement and stayed in the army. There were other points of contention as well--there were--ah-- some arguments over the treatment of servants, I understand. They simply did not get along."
Anne missed Darcy's nervous look, for she was too busy contemplating one of his points. "I suppose Fanny's sister was pretty and pleasant and fashionable."
"I believe most consider her to be. She is Lady Grimsworth now."
Anne tried to find the words and could only picture Ophelia wailing away. Darcy sensed that she this particular set of emotions seemed to be about Anne herself, and why people had treated her the way that they did.
"Richard never showed much inclination to marry before you, Anne. He had several rather lucrative opportunities."
"Then why did he marry me? I know very well he did not find me attractive in any way. He always made that perfectly clear."
Darcy again looked at his cousin, and for a moment saw Georgiana - as confused and upset as she had been after Ramsgate. He stood and held out his arms. "Come here." She leaned into him, burying her head against his chest. "Did he never tell you?"
He could feel the movement of her head against his chest and a muffled reply in the negative. "Then I cannot speculate. But Annie, what is done is done. You married him. And now he is gone. You are doing all of the right things. Enjoy your freedom and your friends. Enjoy your money, and if you spend it all, we will insist that Lady Catherine send you some more. We shall fit you up with horses and wallpaper before we leave, and you need not worry about the Fitzwilliam family and its petty disagreements. Do you think you can find some happiness in such material things?"
A muffled reply to the affirmative was somewhat negated by what were now open sobs. Darcy shifted her to one side in order to call for a servant. "Have my wife fetched here at once, if there are no other callers."
"Come now, my dear Annie. Lizzy will know what to say. I'm afraid you find me quite out of my element."
Posted on: 2013-04-02
[In which Anne understands her mother for the very first time]
Anne stood in the center of the room, looking at the pieces of material on the floor. Lizzy had given them to her the day before--that lady had saved them from when she had decorated one of the parlors in the Darcy townhouse the previous spring. "Of course, there are many other patterns available--but this may give you an idea of what colors and styles you prefer before you speak to someone further about it. The difficulty in decorating is learning to know your own taste. And I hesitate to tell you which I prefer before you form an opinion."
"But what is proper and fashionable?" asked Anne, who had still been red-faced from her outburst from several hours earlier. "I don't want to go to all of the trouble of redecorating only to find out that I am wrong." She sounded rather petulant, but Lizzy brushed it aside.
"Well that is easy enough. Decide on your own tastes, and then adjust them to what is fashionable, not the other way around. Besides, it is one thing to be very fashionable in matters of gowns--gowns can be easily changed out, and torn up, and redone. But you cannot change the paint and wallpaper every season. So what matters most is that you can live with it."
Anne thought there was some sense in that, and she again considered the patterns now that she was alone in her house. Two were immediately rejected. Two might have appealed to her previously--they were so conservative in character that they could not be a poor choice, she thought. But the actress in her, who had reappeared at some point overnight, rejected them as well. That left four more. One was the pattern that Lizzy had chosen for her own home, so she put it aside in her mind, knowing that she might ask for something like it without simply copying her cousin. The other three were more difficult to decide between. She looked at the red, with burnishes of gold upon it. It looked like an army uniform. That would be dutifully patriotic.
She grimaced. Fighting the urge to kick it aside, she moved her eyes to the last two. The dove grey with traces of red seemed to be the most likely choice. She closed her eyes. A silver inlaid stripe on the ceiling and dark window coverings. Perhaps. It might do. She could speak to Lizzy again. They were in London a few days longer.
She was interrupted from her refection by the sound of callers. It was almost the end of the fashionable hour, and she assumed she was not to receive more any that day, so excited she was to contemplate her redecoration. Quickly, she moved to the chair, smoothing her skirts. The patterns would have to remain on the floor for now; there would be no sense in her callers finding her on the ground trying to catch them all up.
"Lady Harding and her daughters, Madam," announced the servant. Anne rose to see Mr. Newby's sisters, and a woman of about fifty who bore such a similarity to them both that she could only be their mother.
Greetings were exchanged and the girls introduced Anne to the woman who was indeed their mother, their overly polite manner punctuated with a small amount of giggling.
"My children would have had me call yesterday--they were so eager to meet you again. But I am afraid we had a prior engagement. It is lovely to meet you, Mrs. Fitzwilliam"
Anne pushed her actress character to the forefront. She could not appear so very surprised or so very glad that her rescuer's mother would appear so soon after their meeting, though a small piece of her could only hope that it was because he and not his sisters found her so pleasing. She knew that it had been a small enough gesture on his part, but nonetheless it had been the very first time a man had put himself forward for her sake in such a way. "Thank you Lady Harding. And it is lovely to see your daughters again. They present themselves so very well for such young ladies."
Lucy giggled again, and her mother glanced at her in warning.
"Oh yes, they have arms and legs enough between them," said her mother, though her fond tone did not reflect her dismissal of the compliment. "My girls insisted on accompanying me today, Mrs. Fitzwilliam. I hope you do not mind. They do not go out into company much, of course, being very young. Most mornings they spend dutifully with their governess."
"Not at all. Miss Harding and Miss Lucy are welcome," said Anne. "Would you care for refreshments? For I imagine they have been quite wearing themselves out if you have made many calls. I generally have a light luncheon, if they wish to partake."
The young ladies were eager, and though Lady Harding shook her head at their enthusiasm, she replied in the affirmative. Trays was ordered and served while the ladies made small talk, the servants stepping carefully around the patterns still laid out on the floor.
"Are you redecorating Mrs. Fitzwilliam?" asked Margaret, looking amused by the singular choice of carpet coverings.
"Yes indeed," said Anne. "We were married so quickly that we only had time to clean up the house. And given subsequent events, it did not occur to me until yesterday that my taste does not reflect my mother's of thirty years ago."
"Nor should it," sniffed Lady Harding looking around her with a mild look that Anne did not know whether to read as containing pity or disdain. "This house could certainly use a youthful touch. I wish you luck with the task, Mrs. Fitzwilliam."
Anne wondered if she should be offended for her mother, and then realized she could hardly be so when she agreed. "My cousin, Mrs. Darcy, has recommended some houses for the materials, but I would certainly welcome any advice you might give."
The elder lady smiled. "Well, far be it from me to trump the opinions of the Darcys! But I do have some opinions if you wish them. Indeed, I have many opinions; it is one of my defining characteristics. But how is Mrs. Darcy? I have not yet met her, as we were not in town last spring. She is from Hertfordshire, is she not?"
"Yes, her father had an estate called Longbourn, I believe. She spent most of her time in the country. But I had the good fortune to know Mrs. Darcy before her marriage--she dined at my mother's house on a number of occasions. A delightful woman. Delightful and energetic. I like her very much. And Fitzwilliam is very much taken with her," said Anne, as if she and Lizzy had been intimates for some time. She hoped Lizzy did not mind the implication.
Lady Harding smiled again at Anne's account of Mrs. Darcy. It was well known that his mother's family did not approve of the match, but Anne was obviously not of that feeling. "When I heard of the marriage, I was inclined to approve. I was from the country myself, when I married Sir Hugh. Quite the unknown. The widow of a mere clergyman. It took some time to adjust to London society. That Mrs. Darcy has done so well so very quickly is a testament to her, and speaks well to his choice."
Anne nodded, and created a variant of one of her standard lines. "I hope I may do the same, having missed my own chance at a season due to my ill health. I am somewhat relieved to know others have done before me."
"You do not strike me as particularly unhealthy," commented the elder woman, but there was the shadow of a question behind her statement.
"Not particularly, no, though my physician urges caution when I have a cold or fever and I tend to have them more often than many," said Anne. "I was a rather weak child, but I have grown out of many of my afflictions."
Lady Harding looked as if she wanted to ask more questions but after a pause finally said, "'Tis a shame then that you could not have taken part in some London society, or gone to one of the summer spots for a time, even if a full season and presentation were out of the question."
Anne paused and considered the implied query. Why had she never gone to Bath or some similar spot? It would have been both medicinal and social, and hardly as taxing as a London season. But Lady Catherine had always insisted on staying in Kent. Finally a reason presented itself. "My mother was all alone in this world, and I imagine she was overly cautious at times."
"Your father's death must have affected her terribly. Sir Hugh says that they were such a splendid match, the center of their social circle. He knew your parents of course, when he was young-- as I'm sure most of London society did. But that was before I met him, so I cannot speak of it myself."
"I believe she was quite affected, yes," said Anne, who knew nothing of the sort. She had always understood their match to be a splendid one in the pecuniary sense, but it had never occurred to her that her mother might actually miss her father, or that his untimely death would have kept her mother away from London society. She had heard whispers about his condition, of course, and that he had died after the most unfortunate sort of illness. A sinking feeling came into the pit of her stomach as for the first time she considered the ramifications of a man in his prime who had been the toast of London society losing his wits at such a young age. Was it that her mother, who ruled her fiefdom in Kent with all the confidence of a feudal prince, was ashamed? Was her own poor health simply an excuse for her mother to stay at Rosings? And Lady Catherine's plan for her to marry Darcy, known to prefer Pemberley to town, simply a way to continue their isolation? There were too many questions for her to answer as long as the three other women were in the room with her, and it was through sheer force of will that she covered her momentary confusion with a look of sadness.
"Indeed, I believe she is in mourning yet."
But then Anne dabbed an imaginary tear from her eye, and smiled, and cocked her head at the girls, who has been eating with the gusto of young ladies used to a plain midday meal and the manner of the schoolroom. "But let us speak of happier things and happier times. Now, Miss Harding, Miss Lucy. Tell me. Do you play?"
The rest of the visit was pleasant, and Anne was pleased that they had come. Lady Harding was impressed that Anne sincerely did not seem affronted by her bringing the young ladies, and that she made an attempt to not only feed them in a style that they were used to but to engage them in conversation. She was a little bit awkward with them, but the girls, overawed by getting to attend a social call with their mother, did not notice. In fact, the conversation was so very nice that they stayed a far longer than was proper. Finally, as Lady Harding stood to take her leave, apologizing for their overstaying their welcome, Anne dared to mention her son.
"Do not think of it at all. And do thank Mr. Newby again for the service he did me yesterday. I appreciate that my bonnet and dress were saved from the rain."
Lady Harding gave a knowing glance, and said in a voice that could not be mistaken in its intent. "I certainly will, Mrs. Fitzwilliam. Perhaps you may thank him again yourself, if you call on me." She then said in an undertone, "I promise the young ladies are usually in the schoolroom."
Anne could not help but display a sincere grin at the notion of seeing him again; Lady Harding was pleased, and the girls, slightly offended by their mother's words, gave very dainty goodbyes.
The patterns were forgotten for a time.
On one hand, she could not help but be satisfied. Newby had gone home and told his mother to call; for surely Lady Harding was not such an indulgent mother that she would have spent so long visiting at the behest of girls not yet out. And Lady Harding's pointed invitation to call on both mother and son could be no clearer. That he might desire to further her acquaintance gave her a giddy sort of feeling that she did not recognize. At the age of five and twenty, Anne did not know she was for the first time feeling the joy that most young ladies experience at no older of an age than Margaret and Lucy, the feeling of being complimented by a desirable, eligible man (at least as far as she could discern). She could almost attribute it to the experience of the ladies in her novels but they always felt things so deeply, and with such passion tinged with sorrow. This feeling was wonderfully shallow--so light and silly that she felt like she might float away on it.
Pulling her back down to earth, however, were her realizations brought about by Lady Harding's obvious questioning about her own health. While she did not come quite to the conclusion that Lizzy had, she did start to realize that her health, as precarious as it had been at times, was not the sole reason that she had never been taken out in society.
She knew her mother had once been the toast of London. That older woman still talked of it--her admirers, her offers, her money, her audience with royalty, and her final acceptance of the charming, engaging Sir Lewis DeBourgh "over a Marquess. Penniless and a fool, but a Marquess nonetheless." She wrote letters to many of the friends from those days still, though she had not seen most of them--perhaps all of them-- in many years. As long as she did not see them, she was still young in their minds, young and beautiful, and with the ability to make them fall at her feet with a single look. There was no failing husband, who no longer recognized her. There was no single sickly daughter, after years of failed pregnancies.
Anne, who had grown up afraid of her mother, never daring to question her decisions, and seeing her as the epitome of everything impressive in the world, was now able to step back and see her for the very first time.
Her mother was a tragic figure.
Lady Catherine was Prospero, if Prospero were the protagonist of a tragedy. Deprived of the promise of her youth, she had stayed in exile in Kent where she could still be the queen of society, albeit in a smaller and more limited way. She surrounded herself with Calibans, who had to do her bidding, and summoned storms to dispose of any difficulties that might come her way.
But Anne was no Miranda. Rather than "perfect and peerless, created of every creature's best," she was a disappointment. Not strikingly beautiful like her mother had been in her youth, she had inherited her father's small, dark features--and they were asymmetrical at that. She was ill. She was not the sought-after heir. And her infanthood, a time of joy for most mothers, coincided with her father's deterioration.
She was the daily reminder of her mother's failures, her father's decline and death, and her mother's humiliation.
Anne was not quite ready to understand that none of these circumstances were her fault, that her mother's neglect had caused most of her problems, and that she had deserved something better from the woman who had given her life.
Nonethless, it was a beginning.
In which Anne and Mr. Newby have a frank conversation
Anne returned the call two days hence. It was all she could do not to return the very next day, but she had an idea that to go the very next day would be somewhat uncouth. The chief attraction, she knew, was Mr. Newby. But his mother had seemed so sincere and the girls so very sweet, that she would have returned the call regardless.
The young ladies were with the governess but both took the time to greet her before they were forced back to the schoolroom to practice their French. The next hour, for Anne returned the favor and stayed well past the proper time, proved to her that she liked Lady. Harding very much. The woman, remembering Anne's task, was more than happy to take her throughout her own home and point out what features had been redone in the past several years, and which were original. They discussed colors and fashion, and if Anne listened slightly more than she spoke, her character was able to hold her own well.
The elder woman was just seeing her out--taking advantage of that moment to point out a molding in the front hallway-- as her son came ambling down a staircase that led to another part of the house.
"Why greetings Mother-- I had assumed you were in the blue room," he said. He smiled when Anne turned to look at him.
"Mrs. Fitzwilliam! How lovely to see you again."
She murmured a greeting, her character briefly hid herself, and her own, less social self could not hide a slight blush--he looked briefly disappointed at her dull reaction, but he could not say anything further for his mother was speaking again.
"Are you going out?"
"Indeed. I thought I might walk to see Whitby."
"Why that is in the direction of ___ Place! Well, you simply must see Mrs. Fitzwilliam home. She insists on walking, and it would hardly do for her to go alone."
Anne's blush threatened to turn crimson but she forced her character to return. "I would not seek to inopportune Mr. Newby again."
"Nonsense," said her hostess, at the same moment that her son spoke.
"I would be happy to escort you Mrs. Fitzwilliam."
And so Anne found herself once again walking next to Mr. Newby, only this time it would be nearly a mile in his company. A small thrill went through her, and she could only force her character through to the surface, for her own person was threatening to be overwhelmed by his presence.
"You shall have to begin to use your coach soon, Mrs. Fitzwilliam," he said after a few moments of silence. "It will begin to get a little cold for walking more than a few blocks."
Anne frowned. "It is easier to walk for now. I am hoping some necessary repairs to my stables will be finished within six weeks, so that I may see it filled again. Then ordering the carriage will not be so much of a task."
He smiled. "Do you ride, Mrs. Fitzwilliam?"
"Aye," Anne's face lit up, and for a moment she forgot to act. "My mare will return with me the next time I see my mother. She's a lovely mount--a six years old bay. I am looking forward to taking her through the park. I am hoping to convince my mother to part with a team of warmbloods as well."
He laughed. "Is your mother in the habit of keeping so many horses? She must feel her duty to the crown very strongly indeed."
Anne did not entirely get the jest, but smiled. "Why yes, actually. And I see no reason for my mother to keep an excess of carriage horses when I wish for some of my own." She was glad that Darcy had said a similar thing only days before. It had sounded reasonable to her then, and it sounded reasonable coming out of her own mouth.
"Ahh, yes. I understand the trick of negotiating with one's parents over property that is rightfully one's own. Sir Hugh at times forgets that my inheritance was not his to give or receive. Your mother sounds as if she may suffer from the same malady, for my father-in-law tells me your Rosings is a DeBourgh, not a Fitzwilliam, property."
Anne raised an eyebrow. She was utterly naive in so many things, but her mother had warned her enough about fortune hunters to make her instantly suspicious of such comments. It was the first time anyone had spoken so directly to her about her money; she did not realize that they spoke of it behind her back. Her tone turned cold without the least bit of conscious acting. "If you have found out the name and history of my family's estate, then you know very well that my mother maintains a lifetime control over the property. Now if I had been a son, I could have claimed as many horses as I wish, but as it is, she has full control of any money I might call mine. I am not as independent as you might have assumed, sir." This was not entirely true. Anne did not know all the particulars, but she knew that there was a good deal of money from her mother's portion that was completely unattached to the estate. She also understood from conversations with Darcy in the past weeks that her mother had most likely overstepped her own limited control of Rosings, and that Anne probably could gain more control over the property if she wished it. He had offered to look into the situation for her, but she had declined for now. He had assured her that her mother was actually quite a dutiful and conscientious landlord, with an excellent steward that quelled the worst of her overbearing ideas. As Anne was certainly not ready to return to Rosings, this was reassuring. In time, she supposed she would have to learn what to do with such an estate, but for now simply decorating a parlor seemed quite a daunting task
But it would be no good to let it be known widely that she did have some money of her own, free for her to use at any time. If Newby were a fortune hunter, she would rather know now, before her heart was in any way touched. That is assuming he did mean to pay her some attention. It was far too premature for her to be even thinking such thoughts, she considered, looking down at her black skirts and remembering that this was only the second time she had met the man.
To her surprise, she heard the slightest bit of laughter besides her. "You sound quite suspicious of me and my motivations. I see if I have indeed found much about you and your background, you clearly have not done the same for me. As I mentioned, 'tis Sir Hugh who had already found out about your Rosings and he chose to tell me everything he wished me to know. I'm sure he recited much more information, but I'm also sure I stopped listening. You see, my mother's husband made exactly one decision in his life without learning its cost, and that was to ask my mother to dance at a country ball. And while he cares for her a great deal, his marriage cost him a great deal of money. And he has not made such a mistake to think so little again."
To this extraordinary speech, Anne could say little. After a pause, Newby changed the subject.
"How are the repairs going? 'Tis such a bother to keep livery in London, but a modern stable and a pleasant apartment above will go a long way to that end. The best coachmen will be attracted by such a modern stable."
Anne gulped, and accepted his challenge to maintain the neutral topic. "They've only just began, but it should be a straightforward project. Though I am no expert--I know what the stable looks like at Rosings of course, but it is a large farm building uncontained by London geography. My cousin's man in London will watch over the progress."
"If you do not find the offer too forward, I will gladly look over the repairs and give you my opinion at any time, as I understand the Darcys are returning the country at the end of the week."
Anne decided to throw caution to the wind. He was just so very easy to talk to. "That would be lovely. Thank you. I confess I am impatient to see the work finished. Though I am already in your debt one dry bonnet."
"I promise to tell you when I expect some payment, Mrs. Fitzwilliam. But do not worry, it will not be for some time."
Was this how a flirtation occurred? Her lines had to be just so. The real Anne was returning, and threatening to overwhelm her character with fear. It was time for some mediation.
"Just remember sir that I have agreed to no terms," she said as the heroine. "Your assistance was freely offered."
Flirtation, she reflected, was pleasant. But there were other uses to Mr. Newby, and she did not want to waste her time with him on mere flirtation. He had already been wonderfully frank with her. So few people had.
"Did you know my husband well, Mr. Newby?"
She felt him stiffen beside her. Was it the wrong line? It occurred to her that a man who wished to flirt with her did not wish to be reminded that she was still supposed to be in the deepest of mourning.
But still he did not hesitate to answer. "I knew him a decade, at least. We were together at Cambridge, and I have known his family many years. Sir Hugh likes to claim a close connection to your Uncle, hence my friendship with your cousin--that is your brother, Viscount Findlay."
"And what did you think of Richard?"
"What would you have me say Mrs. Fitzwilliam?" he replied cheerfully after a moment. "He was a pleasant gentleman, amusing, and amiable. I am sure you are aware of how he was perceived by his friends."
"Not at all, sir," she said lightly.
"Not at all?" He looked at her quizzically.
"I was never permitted a season, and I was very far from any kind of varied society at Rosings. I saw my cousin twice a year, and his interactions with others in that period was limited. We were engaged a matter of weeks, and lived together for only month. So, no, I am finding that I knew him even less than I thought. I thought perhaps you realized this, with your comments to me last week. You knew I was telling tales to impress your sisters. Otherwise, I would have not asked you any questions today. I only wish to find out something about him, as I am supposed to be mourning him."
It was his turn to be amazed by her frankness.
"You are very blunt, Madam."
"As you were. And on our first meeting, no less," she looked at him with a fierce expression. "It was rather troubling to be accused of falsehoods."
"TouchÄ. Well, do you wish me to be equally forward on this day?"
"Yes, I do."
He considered for a moment. "Well then. I was rather surprised to hear that he married. As far as I knew, he had no desire for a wife, and no desire for children. He enjoyed his military life very much, and ran off a number of lovely and eligible matches. His fortune was not what it could have been certainly, but it was not inconsequential--certainly more than my own. And though I imagine your Rosings is a lovely estate, he was not the type of man to be tempted by land."
"Ahh. There lies the heart of the matter. I wonder why he married me."
"What a conversation for a second meeting! I can only tell you what I know. As you walked away the other day, Viscount Findlay implied that his father forced his brother to marry. I am only telling you this, because if the Viscount was willing to tell me without any inquiry on my part, it must be common knowledge."
Anne remained silent. She suspected she had already shared too much, whether they had meant to be frank or not. She did not realize that she had literally stopped walking, nor that she had let out a rather large sigh. He stopped and turned to her, grabbing her hand.
"Mrs. Fitzwilliam, I am sorry. I did not mean to cause you any distress. But you did ask."
"Nonsense," she said, quickly pulling her hand away and resuming her walk. "Ours was not the first marriage arranged by family and determined by situation. And it shall not be the last. My only regret is that I did not have the time to know him or build up the love and respect that such a delicate situation requires for long-term happiness. And you must know, sir," she added withdrawing her hand, "that I have the right to choose to be a proper grieving widow, however much the Viscount thinks I do not."
"Certainly," he said. "Now, tell me about this bay of yours. I am all ears for some lighter conversation."
Posted on: 2013-04-08
(In which the Darcys say goodbye)
Anne watched as Lizzy inspected her trunks with the air of a general used to campaigns. "I think that is all," she finally said. "I cannot stand this moving about. I do love to visit London, and to return home again, but I hate the bother of it. Now, are you sure we cannot convince you to return to Pemberley with us? I am worried about you all alone in London. Though you seem in much higher spirits as of late."
Anne shook her head. "No. I have spent too much of my life in the country. And while you and Darcy may love that life, it did not bring me happiness. I am making friends and want to go out during the Little Season. I am not so alone now. I have many acquaintances, and many invitations."
Lizzy looked dubious. "Well, you are welcome at any time. You do not need to write; just show up on our doorstep and we will accommodate you. But do write and tell us how you are doing. And you know Mrs. Gardiner now, if you need company that you can be sure of being friendly and wise and circumspect. She will be happy to call on you if you do not wish to call at Gracechurch Street. Just send around a note. And Georgiana will happily spare Mrs. Annesley, I am sure, if you grow too lonely in your house. She will need to seek out a new position at some point in any case. And let us know right away if you are ill again, or if your mother or the Earl try to order you about."
Anne nodded at Lizzy's henpecking, and tried to project more confidence than she actually felt.
"I have never felt better in my life, I assure you. I will be perfectly fine. Your husband has left instructions for his man to help me with whatever I wish; the stables are under repair; there is wallpaper ordered; I am receiving invitations. I am very well."
"You do seem well," said Lizzy. "Not so sad and lonely as when we first came to London." She then smiled, and one corner of her mouth rose more than the other, a sure sign that she was going to say something she ought not. "And even more so quite lately. Is this particular improvement because of the flirtation developing between you and Mr. Newby?"
Anne blushed scarlet. "I do not know--that is to say I know nothing about Mr. Newby. He is very kind, and it is so very easy to converse with him. And he is like me--he doesn't always say what he ought--it is somewhat a relief. But I would hardly call it a flirtation. We have only met on four occasions now."
"No flirtation indeed," said Lazy. "Which is why he asked the Viscount to ask Fanny to ask Mrs. Hawkes to include an invitation for you to her dinner party tomorrow, or why his mother told Lady Elaine that you were a 'dear, funny little thing that she would like to know better,' just yesterday-- or so Lady Elaine told me last evening."
At Anne's alarmed look, she laughed. "Dearest, I am only teasing you. You must grow used to it as your cousin has. You do not have to fall in love with him. You ought not anyway, as you know. That black dress will protect you while you practice how to converse with men, without raising any expectations. There is nothing wrong with enjoying some attention from a man, as long as your actions remain proper. I daresay you know right from wrong. You are not a child."
Anne nodded. She had told herself the same thing.
"Now, I have made some discreet inquiries for you," Lizzy added. "As a parting gift. Would you like to know more about him? Oh, you are blushing again. Well you need not answer. I will say, and you can choose to listen or not as you wish it. Let me see."
Lizzy had been able to learn a lot, including the source of that "small scandal" that her husband had alluded to. Newby was thirty-two years old. In his youth, he had refused to consider the church or the army -- "apparently he has some rather unorthodox opinions on theology"-- and instead studied the law. But he had not practiced his profession since he came into a small inheritance from his Uncle, a great-Uncle actually. He was not known for any wasteful spending; rather he lived most of the time in one of his step-father's houses, on a small allowance given to him by his mother. It was not for any lack of energy that he seemed content with this life; he seemed to enjoy all the proper gentleman's pursuits, and was an attentive son and very attentive brother. He had been engaged to be married at least once. Anne had expressed some alarm at a broken engagement, but the news was not so very damning. He had been young; the girl had been young. She had expected that he would have more than he did, given how wealthy his mother's husband was. His step-father had disliked her, and she was not so in love as to bear the burden of even mild disapproval from the wealthiest member of his family. They had parted amicably before any agreements had been signed, and he had happily enjoyed his twenties, his place on the marriage market somewhat undermined by the fact that his income did not match his connections. The year previous, he had either taken up with, or been madly in love with, or offered for, or at least had a heavy flirtation with, an entirely unsuitable actress. Accounts had differed, but in any case, Sir Hugh had run her off, paying her at least some small sum to keep her away from his stepson. Both of the young people had nursed their wounds in the country for some months, but Mr. Newby had returned recently, repairing his relationship with the older gentleman for his mother's sake. This was also somewhat worrying, but Lizzy again told Anne to enjoy herself with caution. His reputation was hardly in tatters, and she had little reputation to begin with.
"Nobody seems to dislike or distrust the man. By all accounts, he didn't treat the girl badly--rather he showed some lack of judgment when considering her suitability. His greatest crime appears to be an unpredictability rather unusual in London. And I suppose you could do far worse than to enjoy the company of an unpredictable young man--it might be good for you. His mother is quite well liked, by those that can tolerate her modest background, which is to say anyone I know and like," (here Lizzy smiled), "and it sounds like she will be a good ally to have if you continue to increase your presence in society. Guard your heart, but do not close it entirely. Now, have I given you enough advice? Are you ready to run me out of town? I am younger than you. You should really not tolerate my instruction in the least."
Anne almost replied that Lizzy was a married woman, and thus it was allowed for her to condescend, until she remembered that she herself had also been married. It was like an aside to her character that she seemed too often to forget. Instead, she gave the other woman a fond grasp on the arm, and spoke of other things with her until it was time to say good-bye.
Her first evening event after the Darcys left London was Mrs. Hawkes's dinner party to which she had been invited as an aside after her brother's wife mentioned her presence to that older lady. The Viscount and Fanny had grudgingly decided that admitting her into their society was better than not doing so, if she was going to insist on appearing in public on a regular basis. While they were hardly kind to her, they had begun to pay her every respect in front of other people. Likewise, Anne's social circle was starting to overlap with theirs so she considered their acquaintance a necessary evil, but she would not invite them into an intimate circle or attempt to force a friendship. It would be awkward on both sides after so many years of ignoring each other-- Anne had begun to realize that their antipathy had gone both ways, and that her approaching him in such a friendly way that day must have been rather shocking. Not that he should have cut her of course. Such a public nod to their rancor was rude, unnecessary, and did not speak well to the Fitzwilliam name. But, she admitted, she had never said a pleasant word to him in her life before that day.
It was one of the reasons that she was so keen to form new connections. It was perhaps lucky that she did not know so many people well-- for any older acquaintances would see through her character to the Anne inside, the Anne that she hoped she had hidden way for good. Darcy and his wife had had the good grace to ignore the sudden change in personality, but she could not count on all of her relatives to do so. (She was not entirely sure she would like either the Viscount or Fanny regardless. They were boring, pedantic people by nature. Nonetheless, why she might or might not like them in some other circumstance was not worth considering. That door had closed.)
What this meant in practice was that Anne's closest friends in attendance at the dinner party were not her cousin and his wife but were Mr. Newby and his mother, as little as she knew them. She was nervous of course, without the Darcys to assist her, so she made it a point to stick to the most boring of matters except when talking to those contacts that had already proved themselves able to speak of most topics without awkwardness, which is to say, when talking with the two aforementioned subjects of her interest. For as much as Lizzy had warned her to guard her heart, Anne had no ability to do so. Acting as an efficacious woman in society stole all of her energy; she could not also continually judge the actions and conversations of others without many further reflections when she was alone again. And every time she met Mr. Newby, he seemed to affect her before she knew what she was about.
Lady Harding greeted her fondly and introduced her to her husband. Anne had pictured Sir Hugh as a rather rotund and pompous individual much in the manner of her Uncle, if he was so concerned about his stepson's reputation. She was rather surprised to see the man was an unusually tall, craggy-cheeked personage, with a rather ill-fitting jacket over his slightly hunched shoulders. He did run his eyes over Anne as if assessing the worth of her clothing from her headpiece to her skirts, but he gave her a very sweet, sincere-sounding greeting, tipping his entire head and shoulders forward as he did so. After a few banal comments, he sent greetings to her mother, and Anne promised she would share them in her next letter. She mentally made note to leave out any reference to either his wife or stepson, suspecting Lady Catherine would approve of neither. After some time longer, he gave her a nod, and they parted so that he might join a different conversation.
This left Anne free to observe, and step about the room, exchanging conversation where she could. While her character performed such trivialities, her real self took notes-- on fashion, on what seemed to be acceptable conversation, on who spoke with whom and how they seemed to like each other. When she got home, she would hastily scribble out these notes, and share them with Woodson, who had become quite the confidant, sharing in turn what she knew from other servants and gossip about London. Anne was to attend a ball the following week, and while she could not dance due to her widowhood, it would be her greatest test yet. She was determined to perform well, and her part required constant research.
"You have impressed Sir Hugh. Bravo, Madam." came a voice behind her as she contemplated a feathered headdress across the room. It was Newby, of course. She schooled her features and turned.
"I hardly said anything of consequence," answered Anne, for she had greeted him earlier in the evening. "I wonder that he should be so impressed or care about being impressed."
"Believe me, saying nothing of consequence is what he was hoping you might do. If I recommend a person of being worthy of notice, he can only instantly worry and hope for someone as boring as possible."
"I'm flattered," she said, wondering if he meant to bring up last year's liaison with the actress, or was daring her to do so. But she was not ready to speak of such things, "by both father and son, though I am unsure of whether both or neither of you gave me a compliment just now."
He laughed. "Do you need the compliment, Ma'am? You always seem quite so sure of yourself. No, I'm afraid you shall have to work much harder for a compliment."
Here Anne could only hold back her pleasure. That he was so fooled was an excellent statement to her character being successful. And he was flirting again, within thirty feet of his parents no less. This flirtation was complicated. There were too many layers of consideration for her to sort through. But she enjoyed it nonetheless.
"Well," she said lightly. "I don't eat very much; I cannot play or sing; and I would not be permitted if there were any dancing, so I don't imagine I will have the chance to work so very hard this evening. No, it is men who must do the work." There was a pause. "I understand you have made the law your profession, Mr. Newby." It was not delicately done, but it forced the conversation in a different direction, away from the dangerous flirtation. Besides, their last two meetings had concerned such prosaic topics that she had not learned very much about him.
"I suppose you might say so, though I am mostly a gentleman of leisure at the moment," he answered, frowning slightly. "You certainly know how to get at the heart of any matter, Mrs. Fitzwilliam."
"I must sketch characters while I have the chance," she answered. "I wonder, if your father was a clergyman, that you did not enter that fine profession."
"I see you have begun your inquiry in earnest. Turn-about is fair play, I suppose." He smiled; it was a rather crooked boyish smile that would have looked more fitting on a boy of seventeen than a man of thirty-two. "I am afraid our fine Church of England would not appreciate my theology." He said nothing more for a minute, and she wondered whether to continue to inquire. But seeing as no one seemed to wish to interrupt their tÉte-ł-tÉte, and realizing that she was genuinely interested, she put on what she hoped was the expression of a bluestocking.
He spoke well, and proved that he had read and thought about the topic at length. Anne had read many of his references, and while his statements were unusual, they were not outside of the realm of her understanding.
"Ah, so you are a Quaker then. You do not dress like one--or speak like one," she finally said, after following one particularly interesting train of thought.
"I suppose I tend to lean in that direction at times. But you are right. I've not the discipline to be a Quaker. Even my pacifism leans towards apathy, rather than any active belief."
Anne was amused by this statement, its implied indifference was at odds with his rather spirited declarations of a moment before.
"Well, you cannot be a Methodist either," she said, thinking of her former governess. "You have not the energy for it."
"Certainly not. I admire the Methodists a great deal, but tend to find them rather grating. I met a man last year who was going to the Americas to be a circuit rider. Thousands of miles a year on horseback, in the backcountry, all for the purpose of preaching to illiterate itinerate squatters who would sooner kill him than feed him. No, I've not the energy for it, as you say. But I know such truths about myself." He paused. "For my faults, however, I am no hypocrite, and so I could certainly have never taken Orders as my father did. No, the law was the best of my options, though I do not practice if I can help it. I am sadly content to do very little indeed." He smiled. "The Methodists would not approve of that attitude either."
She laughed, and wondered if he was as lazy as he claimed. At the same time, she reflected, she did very little from day to day, and no man with a larger fortune and no estate would be expected to do anything more.
"What about you?" he asked. "Do you find yourself fond of a radical theology?"
She had no idea how to respond. She had never thought of her own opinions of God except to be annoyed by both her pious governess, and her mother's series of sycophantic clergymen. She made a note to form an opinion on the matter as one of her self-improvement projects, which were now numbering in the double digits. Her character, she supposed, would have opinions on such things. Luckily she was saved from the need to answer, for two dowagers standing just slightly too close had chosen to say her name. Both she and Newby automatically paused their conversation to eavesdrop.
"Do you see the way Sir Hugh has thrown his son at the Fitzwilliam widow? Shocking. But I suppose he means to stake his claim as soon as possible, before she realizes she has other options."
Anne did not realize that their conversation, meant to be overheard, was actually a warning, intentionally, if not kindly meant. They had spent too long in the corner conversing privately. Deeming it rather gossip of the worst kind, she turned her eyes downward. Her face turned a bright scarlet and she felt rather sick. To her surprise, she heard Newby laughing next to her. He leaned in and said quite softly.
"Sir Hugh has not such a talent, I promise you Madam. I speak with who I like, and generally d**n the consequences. I shall return you to some other company, to spare you any further embarrassment. Now hold your head up, and look amused. That is the way of it."
And to her surprise, she found herself obeying, as he propelled her past the older women, smiling at them both, and finally depositing her with Fanny, and another, even more boring lady. With a perfect sense of timing, he returned to the older women, and gallantly offered to escort them both, just as the bell was ringing for dinner.
"And what have you been speaking with Newby about for so long?" asked Fanny, seeing that Anne had turned her head to see his path as he departed.
"Pastorius's anti-slavery tracts, among other things," answered Anne after some confusion.
Fanny's companion laughed. "Oh, so you have that sort of thing in common." And then as the dinner bell rang, she said in a sotto voice. "I see that you were correct Fanny. Hardly an interesting development there."
(In which Anne atends a ball)
Anne spent the next five days in a flurry of activity. She and Goodson had spent hours practicing her hair and dress and remembering all of the rules, written and unwritten, of attending a formal ball. Between this preparation, the beginnings of the work done on her morning room, and the constant activity from the stables, even the cook had woken from her annoyed stupor, and was starting to send an occasional fancy dish to the table for Anne to try, asking the housekeeper to tell Goodson to hint to Anne that she could not eat plain food day in and day out and then attend fancy balls and dinner parties, for she could hurt her stomach.
She did not allow herself to think of Newby too much. Sensing her embarrassment after the comments of the older women, he had kept some distance the rest of the dinner. However, she did meet the family seemingly by accident while walking two days later. He kept the topic light, and his mother seemed terribly apologetic (though she would not specify why), and they both made it clear that they welcomed her company whenever she might wish it, and that they were attending the ball as well. Anne decided that she found Newby too interesting and his mother too kind to ignore them. She knew she had done nothing wrong, and they had only been as friendly as she had wished. Besides it had been flattering that the gossiping women clearly thought she was too high for him.
And she could not help but to strain her neck trying to see him as she made her way through the crush at the entrance. She realized that she liked him very much. He seemed to do what he wanted and say what he wanted, and such attributes were attractive to her--as they were so foreign and new. Plus, though she could only admit such a thing in very private moments, she liked the way he looked, and smelled. And while she could barely comprehend the thrill that ran through her when he had touched her hand and arm and side, she could certainly imagine its source. She was no maiden, after all. She knew herself to be a bit emotionally stunted, but she understood possibilities available in other realms.
Such thoughts escaped her entirely as she made her way through the crowd. The first major ball following the quietest part of the summer had attracted many people, and after a half an hour pushing her way around groups of people she did not recognize, she gave up searching for Newby, and instead would have been happy to settle for any acquaintance at all. It was terribly hot; she could feel herself sweating; she wanted something to drink; and finally she despaired and wondered how quickly she could sit in a corner and cry.
Her unlikely rescuer turned out to be none other than Sir Edmund Edwards. He called to her in his gregarious way while she was still some feet away, and though she had not seen him since her very first night out in company, she could hardly help but turn and flash what she did not know to be a brilliant and sincere smile. He had Miss Galloway on one arm but offered to escort her on his other.
"Are you looking for someone in particular, Mrs. Fitzwilliam?" he asked, as he skillfully led them into a place where he might see and be seen and yet at the same time be removed from the worst of the crowd.
"I had thought to find Lady Harding, but I would be happy to find any acquaintance of mine," she answered. "I had not realized there would be such a crush."
He laughed. "At ____ House? But of course. Why in the height of the season a small woman like you could easily be carried off by the crowd. I heard there was one poor debutante last spring who suffered such a fate and has not been heard from since. Still hanging from a chandelier, I've no doubt. Now, Lady Harding, I believe, has escaped with some of the older ladies to one of the parlors. I will show you where they all hide when they have had enough of watching the young people. But let me take Miss Galloway back to our party first. It would do her no good to meet Lady Harding." And in a quieter voice he added. "Not after the business with her son last year, you must understand."
Anne caught a glimpse of Annie Galloway on the other side of her escort, and while the lady looked slightly annoyed at this statement, she did not seem angry.
"I am sorry. I did not know," she ventured, but Miss Galloway waved her off. "I would imagine you would not. You were not in town last year. Do not think of it. It is of no matter."
Anne knew that it must matter. But she would not think of it; no she could not. There were too many people to meet and names to remember and small talk to make.
And what can one say about a young lady's first ball? Even though Anne was no debutante, and even though she could not dance, and even though her black and grey gown marked her as someone to be classified with the older ladies, she was nonetheless rather an interesting person to those who did not know her. Not often did an independent lady, an unknown (though rumors surrounded her), with an estate (at least in theory), who was not terribly ill-looking (though not a beauty, for certain), simply appear in London society. And so she found herself swept from group to group, and spoken to, and complimented, and given glasses of wine and plates of food, by all manner of people. Occasionally she found herself somewhat overwhelmed or in the company of someone she knew she ought to avoid, but if by magic, either Newby or his mother (or even once, Sir Hugh), was there to skillfully extricate her from the situation. Then she would be given a chair next to some dear older personage who did not seem to care much about her. At this point she would rest for a few minutes, until someone else would be introduced.
Newby did dance; not every dance, for he stood next to Anne for parts of a few of the sets-- usually when a newer step was featured, and then he would point out to her how the intricacies of the set had changed from the previous year. He did not seem to seek Anne out, but he certainly spent more time with her than any other young lady. There seemed to be no pattern to who he favored in his choice of partners (for Anne certainly paid some attention to those partners.) He danced with friends of the family, married and unmarried, and a few of the girls who would make a full debut in the spring-- mostly, Anne noted, the less sought after of them. For, as he pointed out, "every girl should have the chance to dance as much as she wishes, and if she stands there alone, staring pitifully, and tapping her foot, it is clear that she will accept even an ancient fellow such as myself."
In short, he was everything a gentleman should be. He did not pay her too much attention to be improper, but rather, he came across as a protective friend, making sure that she did not err, without flirting too heavily, with either her or any other girl. His conversation, for once, was completely appropriate to the situation, though a few times he seemed to remember that he ought to change the topic to something lighter. Balls were clearly not his native territory, though he was able to navigate their terrain when he bothered to think of it. And where he did not, or could not, assist her, his mother was there in the background. Anne knew she would be somewhat lost without them, and she could only be happy that they had taken the Darcy's place as her protectors.
Anne did not realize it but continually analyzing Newby and his behavior made her less aware of herself. While two months before this might have had the effect of making her completely silent, the continued practice at socializing meant that she could act as a bit of an automaton-- she no longer needed to think through every phrase and act the matching appropriate expression. It was another step in her development as a social creature. And, frankly, as thinking about Newby made her happy, that happiness actually showed itself to everyone she met. Anne did not glow-- it was not in her constitution-- but her eyes did occasionally flash something like great joy.
Yet Miss Galloway's statement concerned Anne so much that when she did see the other lady again at the very end of the night, she could not help but approach her. The crowd had mostly dispersed and she was waiting for her carriage when she spied the actress sitting on her own, flushed and fanning herself, and leaning back just slightly more than was proper. Others seemed equally exhausted so this did not look so out of place. Anne knew herself to be, but would not sit, as she knew getting up again would be a near impossibility. Miss Galloway smiled as she came near. "I am glad you were able to locate your party. You looked quite lost earlier. But you look like you have had a successful evening."
"Indeed. I have been enjoying myself very much since I located half a dozen people I know, and I have been introduced to so many others. And it was wonderful to watch the dancing."
"Yes, it is." The other lady again smiled pleasantly, and Anne searched for a way to bring up what she wanted to ask. Finally she just gulped and spit out her purpose.
"Miss Galloway, may I call on you this week? I have some questions I would like to ask you about a mutual acquaintance of ours."
Annie Galloway had a queer expression on her face, but did not stop smiling. "I thought you might. The expression on your face when Edmund made reference to him! But you may certainly not call on me." At Anne's crestfallen look, she spoke again stifling, a yawn. "I see you do not understand. If you were thirty years older or more secure in society, perhaps. But my reputation is not the best, and I would protect you from it. If you wish to speak to me, and seeing whose company you frequent tonight I understand why you might wish to, come to Mrs. Filbert's salon next week. I shall secure you an invitation. She is Edmund's sister you know. We may speak further there without any interruptions. And while you might be considered a bit of a curious sort for attending, no one will question your doing so."
"So do you know what I am wondering then?" asked Anne
"It could not be more obvious, I'm afraid. Do not worry. I will gladly answer any question you wish about one Mr. George Newby."
Posted on: 2013-09-08
(In which Anne remembers the difference between herself and an actual actress)
If Goodson was surprised when Anne told her she would have to look appropriate to attend a salon rather well-known for its odd mixture of proper and improper guests, she tried not to show it. After all, Anne had already become such a different sort of employer, that she was now to be in the vanguard of the cultural and intellectual concerns of the day would hardly be a more interesting occurrence, at least as far as the servants were concerned. And she was apparently attending not just to be seen, for she had brought home several books of poetry and philosophy written by some of those known to be in regular attendance, and took time out of the four mornings between the ball and the event to study them. Goodson could not help but make sure the cook knew of the newest happenings. Some of the literati that Anne was to meet were known to have odd ideas about appropriate eating, and since Cook so enjoyed her fits of apoplexy, Goodson would enjoy giving her one.
The books were duly studied. Anne was not sure how much of the salon she would actually be able to enjoy if she was to sit in a quiet corner in order to speak to Miss Galloway, but she was determined that if she did not gain a repeat invitation it would not be because she could not properly pretend to enjoy the occasion. After all, if she could speak about Quaker philosophy with Newby (and what a surprise that she did have a useful education about some things), she could certainly speak about some of the more blasphemous religious beliefs, or some of the newer reform-minded ideas in Parliament. The beauty of the poetry was rather beyond her literal mind and direct way of thinking about things, but she nonetheless gave the major work of the poet known to frequent the place about three hour's study before she gave up on the hero as irredeemably selfish and flawed. She also had an idea that she would not understand some of the more prurient gossip, but nothing provided an education by listening, slightly raising one eyebrow, and making a noncommittal noise about anything she heard. (This had been Goodson's suggestion, as she had seen it work quite well for the young daughters of her former employer.)
The dress that was produced for the afternoon was her most daring attempt yet. It could only just barely be called respectable mourning, for there was more grey and purple than black, and the fringe on the skirts had a level of ornamentation that was somewhat inappropriate to her situation. And her cap... well Anne was very happy with it indeed, but it would throw her Uncle's wife into a fainting spell if she could only see it. It would not do for another social occasion, perhaps, but Anne was going to a place where several of the attendees did not believe in the Holy Institution of Marriage, so she doubted any of them would judge her for disrespecting it slightly.
Goodson again proved herself the best of maids, for she knew the hard line that Anne could not cross in dress while still safely maintaining all of her claims to respectability. And she knew on what occasions it was appropriate to draw closer to that line than others. She also understood that Anne's looks would not hold up to simply wearing the most fashionable and respectable dress of the day. Anne had to look slightly different to look in any way striking or interesting. In turn, Mrs. Fitzwilliam had left all such decisions to her, with only occasional opinions given to what she preferred. Which was very satisfying to both women. It was especially a triumph for Anne, oddly enough. She had deferred to servants before, when she did not know what to do, a sign of her terrible insecurity. Now, such delegation was a sign that she had enough confidence to trust a woman who had earned her trust. She did not herself appreciate the significance of this change, but she was nonetheless happy for it.
The Filbert's home was only about a mile away in ____ Street. While Anne now knew to order the carriage so as not the get her new gown dusty, on a whim she dismissed it about a half a block from their residence-- on a side street where no one would see. She then presented herself at the entrance of the house looking as if she had walked the whole way. Since Darcy seemed to think walking an odd sort of thing for a woman of her status to do so often, it might make her stand out to someone like Mrs. Filbert. And she wanted to be seen as someone who stood out just enough to be interesting.
Her gamble paid off. The woman, a surprisingly plainly dressed and plainly spoken sort, had immediately commented on Anne's apparently known propensity to walk and its positive effects on her health. "Why you must meet Lord C____ if he attends today," she said after the appropriate greetings had taken place. He adores a good walk, though he is rather pedantic on the subject of gait. He would claim such a thing is impossible for a lady to do properly with all of her skirts. You may prove him wrong, and certainly dear, someone must."
Anne nodded vaguely. She had rather thought the conversation might be more interesting than the subject of perambulation but she had not the chance to find out. She had only caught glimpses of all types of people through the rooms ahead of her, when a rather foppish middle-aged man approached.
"Mother dear, is this the honourable Mrs. Fitzwilliam at last?! I have been sent to fetch her on account of dear Annie being trapped by that insufferable fellow again. Why does he come?"
Mrs. Filbert seemed used to strikingly high voice of the man who was speaking to her, because she merely clucked at him in mild rebuke. "Mrs. Fitzwilliam, allow me to introduce my daughter's husband Mr. Chambers. You must excuse his opinions. We are both rather fond of Annie, and her situation sometimes makes men more friendly than they ought to be. Do not fret Chimmy, Mother Dear will rectify the situation."
Mr. Chambers laughed, again a rather high-pitched laugh for a gentleman, and took Anne's hand, kissing it in greeting. He seemed to be the type that did not wait for answer, and Anne did not know how to give one, as she had never met a man quite so demonstrative, for he spoke almost entirely in italics. "I knew your husband of course!" he said with alacrity. "Such a uniformly charming man. Mrs. Chambers and I both just adored him! Such a shame! Such a shame! But come, you must see Annie. She insisted you were to be invited today. Had I known that you were the type to enjoy the company of theatre people, I would have made sure your husband brought you when you came to London. Sir Edmund always makes sure there are many in attendance here. He has such a fondness for the theatre, you know. As do I, of course. Our whole family, really. I have no idea what Mrs. Chambers and I would talk of if it weren't for the latest thing at Drury Lane. Our children I suppose. Darling little things. We have three now, you know. Mrs. Chambers is so very attentive to them. Unlike some of the women here. That Lady Beckinsworth over there, you know. Four novels published, under a pseudonym of course, and her daughters live with their grandmother. How entirely unnatural don't you think? Ah, now here is Annie. Annie, dear, I have brought you Mrs. Fitzwilliam. And you must note that lovely piece of cloth set about her head. You must tell me your milliner, before you leave, Mrs. Fitziwlliam. Mrs. Chambers has not the eye for such things, but I do love to see her well-dressed."
Anne must have looked rather alarmed, for Annie Galloway immediately shooed Chimmy away as if he were a pet dog, and not her social superior and the nephew of her benefactor. With him went the aforementioned insufferable fellow, a tall, dark sort, who had been leering at the lady somewhat too close for comfort. This he did not do at Chimmy's pleasure, but at a single glare from Mrs. Filbert who had followed them at a distance without looking like she was doing so. Mrs. Filbert was nothing if not fully cognizant of all that went on in her home, and she could easily banish those who she did not approve of.
The two Annes sat, as promised, in a quiet corner, giving Anne a chance to observe the many goings on around her. Such a mix of people! From titled folk to French expatriates (who were once titled folk, she supposed, for some of them still wore the dress of a banished aristocracy), to the wives of tradesmen, and persons of a lower class still. Among the men, there were Dandys and Corinthians and Brummels and even clerical collars, as well as ladies in every type of finery that could possibly be considered appropriate for the occasion. Actors were speaking to Lords, and poets to Ladies on every type of subject. And pushing people here and there was Mrs. Filbert, who Anne started to understand was the sort that could orchestrate such an event without the least trouble. Annie Galloway among them hardly stood out. She wore a simple dress of blue, and looked rather young sitting in a comfortable chair with her hair half down. She was Anne's own age, she soon learned and had acted in London for eight years, only appearing in the finest theatres the previous two seasons, with Sir Edmund's patronage.
"Sir Edmund?" asked Anne. "But I thought that the... affair with Mr. Newby happened only last spring."
"Why, of course," said Miss Galloway. "I could only afford to bring my sister to London when I had some success. I had wanted her to stay in the countryside with her father, but she would not have it. I did at least delay her until I could keep her with me in a proper sort of residence."
"Your sister?" Anne tried to maintain an even tone of voice.
Miss Galloway looked confused for a minute, and then realized Anne's misapprehension. "My sister, Miss Grey, was understood to be engaged to Mr. Newby for a time last year. She graced the London stage for a short time before that."
At Anne's further questioning glance, she explained further. The two ladies' mother had arrived at their small town in ______shire twenty years before with Miss Galloway in tow. She had been an actress in France, she had said. Her husband, an Irishman, had died of a fever, and circumstances had sent her and her young child home.
"My mother was no widow, of course," said Annie. "But she was rather charming, and beautiful as well, and if she wanted to pick a last name off a map, far be it for the villagers to question her. She had some money, and eventually married a respectable man, and they had another daughter, my sister. My reputation was never great, on account of my suspicious parentage, and when my mother died I thought to make a name in the career that she had been forced to abandon. Sarah had a similar wish, and after much convincing, and Sir Edmund's approval, I allowed her to come and stay with me."
Annie's casual admittance of her parentage would have shocked Anne more had she been raised in normal society, but Anne had not been. She had rejected her Mother's views on so many things she did not realize that Miss Galloway often spoke to shock. For Anne, it was simply another moment of realization that her mother's views on the world were rather limited.
Anne found this story all very interesting, but was impatient to know how Miss Grey came to know Newby. She nonchalantly (or so she hoped) steered the conversation back in that direction, and Miss Galloway was happy to explain, "for many things have been said about my sister, but so few people dare to ask me, or they assume that Mr. Newby sought to invest in Sarah's career in the way that Sir Edmund has invested in mine." She smiled. "I'm not quite sure Newby has the funds. My requirements are rather expensive. I have my future to think of, when I am not so young and pretty as I am now."
"The truth of it is," she continued some minutes later when the conversation strayed back into Newby's role (though Anne was curious about how a lady might be kept in such a situation, having never considered it before, and asked several questions to that end). "Sarah is not so practical as I am. She has entirely too many ideals to be an actress. It would have been best had she stayed home and married, which is what she will do now, I have no doubt. In her mind, she is a good sort of girl, who is very pretty in a rather distinctive way, and when an interesting man found her to be attractive, she sought to secure him. In the end, Sir Edmund had to scold her mightily, for she was making Newby seem a fool."
"Was he not?" asked Anne. At the very least, she surmised, he had somewhat eclectic tastes in women.
"All men are fools," she laughed. "But yes, he was being especially foolish. He too, seemed to think the honourable thing to do was marry her, rather than let her go. Thankfully his family sought to put a stop to it at the same time Edmund did."
"But did you not want her marrying a respectable man?" Anne felt a dull fog rise up in her head. Society was so very complicated as to when and where the respectable and the less-than-respectable might mingle.
"Of course. You must understand, though, that there are repercussions in marrying so far outside of one's place. I am tolerated for what I am; and am even liked in Sir Edmund's family. His wife is dead, there are no children, and his reputation many years precedes mine; there is no one to object to me. A marriage for her within Sir Edmund's circle, however... She would have upset so many relationships: hers, and Newby's, and mine. As it is, Newby does not come by our little gathering here anymore, and he so did enjoy it. He and Sir Edmund's relationship is somewhat strained as well. It is all a shame, because Sarah is a good sort, and she harmed her reputation in London by acting too respectable. She was too bold about her place, and has too little of an appreciation for how things are normally done. She was not a temptress though, or would not have been seen as one, had she been some sweet young thing wearing white at a ball in Brighton. I would not have you think ill of her, because I like you very much."
The fog grew thicker but Anne smiled at the compliment. "And Mr. Newby, was he just a fool? Or was he worse...?" She didn't know what exactly what she wanted to ask.
"A pigheaded oddity," said Miss Galloway, cheerfully. "Not unlikeable in the least. And if anyone ever expected him to do anything, I think he could achieve much. Oh, had he not broken my sister's heart, I should like him very much indeed. He did not mean to do what he did; he does not always think when he acts. If I could see him safely settled, we might even be friends again." She paused. "If you will permit it, of course, when your marriage comes to pass. I promise I am no threat. Newby has nothing to offer me."
To this extraordinary statement, Anne had no answer. Annie laughed. "Oh, now you act shy. I watched you at the ball. He has made his preference more than clear. Oh, he was not improper, but I know the signs well enough. Newby will secure you before it even occurs to others that you might be ripe for the taking. And you must love him, or you would have not permitted his attentions. No, I watched you at the ball turn deadly dull when you did not like someone. And you would not have been so determined to speak to me today if you did not care about him. Young ladies of our age rarely seek me out. Young men, now that is a different story." She waved dismissively to the man who had previously been bothering her, now sipping a glass of amber liquid across the room, and glowering at those who came near him.
"I am merely considering my options," said Anne, pulling at her gloves, hoping she could continue to maintain a calm countenance. "I may never remarry."
"Well Newby won't tolerate that. I've never seen a man of his age, unmarried, who still seems so determined to marry, and marry someone he actually likes. And if his mother likes you... oh, you might as well publish the banns. She has never approved of anyone before, and he seeks her approval as much as he is too stubborn to admit it."
"I think I must thank you for your information," said Anne stiffly.
"Oh, I have offended you," said Miss Galloway, in a less flippant tone. "I daresay I am sorry. Love is a beautiful thing, and I am envious of those who can simply enjoy it, without the worry of comfort and security and acceptance. My sister and I did not have that privilege. But you do. So do go and be happy. He will not mistreat you. He does not suffer from avarice. Any settlement you might propose he would sign cheerfully without a second thought. Even if he is not always everything a proper man should be, you certainly could do much worse. Unless you are one of those people who are happier alone. But if that is the case, you must consider yourself and not him. He is safe enough."
"Consider myself?" echoed Anne. She started to wonder how to extradite herself from the conversation, and no sooner than the corner of her eye caught Mrs. Filbert's than that woman was making her way in her direction.
"The privilege of the widow. We women are told to defer to the wishes of others our whole life. And now you get to decide. But I see our hostess is determined to introduce you around. I do hope we meet again Mrs. Fitzwilliam. I find you a fascinating sort of woman."
Some hours later, Anne pressed her gloves and hat into the hands of the waiting manservant, taking the proffered letters and cards unthinkingly, and collapsed into the nearest settee of the nearest. Thoughts were racing through her head too fast for her to comprehend. Through the fog of intellectual whispers, rustling skirts, strong coffee, and boastful opinions, she had kept glancing towards Annie Galloway, who never moved from her chair in the corner, and rather welcomed and dismissed admirers with coquettish waves of her hand. What did this actress know about love, that she was so sure that Anne could feel it? Had the woman pretended so many times that she could recognize it? Did she not know that Anne was an actress too, and could not possibly know what love was for people who could actually feel without effort? She did not know what this attraction to Mr. Newby was, nor his to her, but she was not so convinced it was a deep affection. Love was a very foreign emotion for her, and she could not simply embrace it.
Annie Galloway was a shrewd woman and not at all unkind, for all of her hardness on certain subjects, but she had no idea of the effect she had had on the woman who had sat before her. If Anne could have thought of it, she would have congratulated herself on her own acting skills-- the woman had had no idea how unsure of herself she was. After all, she had boldly walked into a salon, filled with people she did not know, and had calmly sat down with an actress of questionable morality, in order to ask her direct questions about a young man of her acquaintance. And she did so, having only been widowed a matter of months. No, she had appeared quite a bold sort. Anne could not congratulate herself, however, for she was in turmoil.
If she loved Newby, and Newby loved her, then they should marry. Certainly Miss Galloway was correct there. His character, she realized, she did not really wonder that much about. If he had not been so innocent as he should have been in the past; if he was perhaps not the best man, well than neither was she a particularly good person. Miss Galloway's own sister had been victim to feeling; but Miss Galloway did not think him a poor choice for a mate. Surely, this counted for something. No, Anne, realized; she was much more concerned for herself. Was she even capable of that affection that might lead to a happy marriage? And had she shown Newby enough of her actual self that he could possible admire her actual self, and not her invented character?
Absentmindedly, she opened the folded letter on top, without even noting the seal or direction. Within a few words, however, she forced herself to pay attention to what was written.
A report of a most alarming nature had reached me about the company you have been keeping... Anne blinked twice; the words were swimming in front of her and she tried to take in their meaning. Eventually, it became very clear.
She had been summoned home.
Posted on: 2014-06-20
[In which many demands are made, and Anne is much worn.]
The letters had started to wear on her.
She had always planned a short visit to Rosings before Christmas. As much as she did not want to return there, she hardly could ignore her mother. And then she was to spend at least the coming of the New Year at her Uncle's, a leisurely two day journey north to Northampton. It had been her obligation every year, married or no; even in years when the Earl was in London, the family would gather in the country. As a child the annual visit to B_____ had been the only occasion that she left Rosings and she had dreaded it. Rosings was dreary and dull, but familiar, and she did not have to make an effort to understand a new set of rules. B____ was equally tedious, but instead of her Mother and the familiar servants, there was a sullen old nursemaid the Fitzwilliams had long since forgotten to let go. She was told to mind herself and blend into the woodwork; in the dark corners she would lurk, ignored, sometimes for five or six weeks at a time. They were never pleasant days, and many years a well-timed illness or bad weather had relieved her of the experience. She thought to refuse this year but she imagined as a daughter-in-law she would be doubly expected to attend, however much the family did not actually wish her there. Her Uncle, like her mother, had odd ideas about family loyalty. She was not entirely sure when Parliament was to resume its session this particular year, but she assumed they would return to London long before Easter. She herself had plans to leave well before Candlemas, either to return to her townhouse or to travel farther north to Pemberley for a few weeks to recover from the coldness of her Uncle's home.
She had entirely sought to ignore the time that would be spent at her mother's and Uncle's, and instead was much more excited about preparation for the long part of the Season. She could even chaperone Georgiana, and so in a secondhand way, experience some of what she had lost. It was all planned out.
But her mother had a way about her. A way of getting under skin and making her doubt her own mind. Her plans for the winter were ignored and dismissed. She must come home right away, the letters argued, and to stay.
The first letter was easily ignored. Its language was abusive, and dismissible as the absurd ramblings of an angry matron. But the subsequent missives had been more underhanded, and every one chipped away at the impressive faŹade Anne had built herself. Her techniques to hide her feelings of self-doubt, useful with strangers, were insufficient for the onslaught from her mother.
There were so many questions asked that Anne could not answer without this continued doubt.
What was she thinking cutting her hair? Did she not know that short hair would highlight her ill-formed features?
Lavender? To wear lavender only months after her husband's death? How utterly disrespectful.
Attending a salon with actors and prostitutes? Did she want to make her family ashamed of her? Even Mrs. Darcy had never attended a salon. Did she think her new best friend Mrs. Darcy valued their friendship so much that she would risk her own acceptance on such a woman?
And this Mr. Newby, son of who knows who? That skinflint Sir Hugh would push such a relation at the first monied heiress he could. It was a shame that Anne was so plain. It made the fortune-hunting of Mr. Newby so much more obvious. His friendship with the Fitzwilliams had always proved he was nothing but a hanger-on. Why, the Viscount barely acknowledged him these days.
Did she think that she could so easily make a man fall in love with her? Want her? Anne's marriage had proved she could not even produce a son (for surely one month would have produced a healthy child if one could be had.) She certainly wasn't attractive. What else could attract such a man if it was not her money? He would never have noticed her otherwise.
Her mother's questions and accusations were wrought with contradictions but the conclusion was consistent. Anne must come home. This little experiment of hers as making her the laughingstock of London. Certainly she could see that. No one in the first circles were inviting her to their homes. Merely immoral types and those who would take her money and turn her against her own family.
Anne had never stood up to her mother, and she was too ashamed of the letters to share them, even with the trustworthy Woodson. For Anne did fear that much of what her mother wrote was true. And that she knew that Newby did not truly know her-- her own doing of course-- made her extremely insecure about his increasingly obvious affections.
Finally four or five weeks and as many letters had forced her into a rather dark place. In frustration with the latest ("no doubt you have been drawn in by an easy way of speaking, a flirtatious though insincere manner, but I know what he is about-- one of the Viscount's rejected friends, the heretical son of some unknown clergyman, not a true gentleman at all"), she raced to the back of the house, her stalking black figure frightening a few of the minor maids, and sending them scurrying out of the passage as she passed. The stables were awaiting her final inspection, and it was something to do that would draw her mind away from the sheet of paper she had just thrown in the fire.
The housekeeper had already arranged the cleaning of the habitation, and Darcy's man, a Mr. Mason, had assured her the new carriage was far superior to the one she had recently sold. The livery would be hired for her return to London with her team and riding mare; (though her mother had of course pointedly ignored these intentions). She might as well make sure the work was done completely before she entirely sunk into despair. The bustling of the workmen had scared away the urchins that might be hanging about, and the muck and bustle of back alley London would take her mind off her troubles.
Unfortunately the very subject of her reverie was engaged in a heated argument noticeable as soon as she stepped into the hot closed air of the alley. She hung back to watch. They appeared to be arguing about the finishing of one of the eaves-- tucked as it was under the gable of a neighboring house, it would rot without some clever guttering, as it had in its former incarnation. Mr. Mason had already informed her of the issue before he had left London to attend other issues, but was clear the work had not yet been finished to his specifications. For Newby was saying as much in front of her.
"Yes, Mr. Mason was not to return for a fortnight, but which point your crew would be disappeared and your money paid. Lucky for Mrs. Fitzwilliam that she has many friends, is it not?" he asked smoothly but in a tone that brooked no opposition. "Just as you have many friends who depend on your being hired again in this city. Bring your lead on the morrow and shore it up man."
The man cursed under his breath, but promised to return to fix the offending problem. It was only after he walked off that Newby turned and saw Anne.
"Ah, Mrs. Fitzwilliam,I hope you do not mind me interfering. Mr. Mason had business with Viscount before he left yesterday, and I had to good timing to encounter him on the way out of that house. I had promised to take an interest. One of my first promises to you, I believe."
Anne gulped, searching for the right words. "Not at all. I thank you. I was actually just planning to examine the work myself." Given the dozen or so servants and tradesmen currently in the vicinity, she expected that he would wish her well and be on his way, but instead he held out his arm, and said "Shall we tour the place?" happily, guiding her into the new building.
The smell of sawdust and varnish gave way to plaster as they made their way to the second floor. The downstairs stables had been mostly finished for weeks but Anne had not yet seen the apartment above. It was a pleasant room; it even had an airy window on the east end that had an incomplete view of the garden on the other side of the wall. The little furniture that had been scavenged from the previous incarnation had been placed haphazardly around the room, but it had been cleaned and repaired. It was quite an inviting room for a few servants to live and Anne said so.
"Indeed," he said. "You need not hire green men with such an inducement. "This apartment, and that lovely carriage downstairs, will attract fellows with some skills with horses. Mr. Mason has been good to you; Darcy certainly finds model employees."
"You met Mason leaving Edward's?" she asked, pretending to examine the fireplace. "Tell me, how is it you and Edward are friends?"
"I was wondering when you were going to ask me that," he replied. "We do not seem so friendly much of the time, do we?"
"You seem to have very little in common. Edward is just so..."
"Prosaic?" suggested Newby, smiling.
"A bit prosy, perhaps."
"In truth Edward is quite adept at paying the bills. A most useful friend." Had Anne been looking at him, he would have seen the amusement on his face. But as she did not trust herself to do so anymore, she only heard confirmation of what her mother had written.
She also missed the look of regret that passed his face as he continued, "Edward and I, I think, are sometimes friends out of habit these day. But fifteen years ago-- that Edward and I were good for a good lark together. He tells me I have not yet learned to act like a man. I think he has given up his youth unnecessarily. We like to disagree on the subject. But la, did we have a good time then."
"Women and gambling dens I suppose," said Anne darkly, running her gloved hand along the top of the mantel; but her efficient maids had already removed the dust from construction.
"Occasionally. We were young men. But mostly not," answered Mr. Newby. She exclaimed and he laughed. "You would not have me lie to you, would you? You know my more recent mishaps already-- I know you've been to see Annie Galloway, and she'd give you an honest story. But believe me, the mistakes of my actual youth are minor; indeed every staid old clergyman in England prayed a bit at either the altar of Bacchus or Venus in their day."
Anne did her best to affect a disinterested tone; part of her writhed with jealousy, not at the thought of Newby with another woman, but due to her own lost youth.
"No, not too many outright sins, but Edward was quite up for all sorts of adventures. Sir Hugh agreed to send me on a bit of a grand tour if I could accompany someone who might aid me in the future, and Edward at nineteen was happy to be my connection to greater society. We climbed up a mountain in the Alps. We learned to walk in the snow wearing the most peculiar form of shoes. We drank from fountains that were meant to keep you young, and ate the most interesting food. Your cousin, Mrs. Fitzwilliam, took off his shoes, and danced in grapes like a peasant. And then he confessed the joy he had doing it to a Papist priest." Newby's face had lit up with this little speech but then he darkened again, poking at an errant boot brush with his walking stick. "I very much miss that Edward and his willingness to be someone... well someone he is not."
Anne laughed in spite of herself, not thinking to apply his last comment to her own person. "I do not believe you. Edward would never be so adventurous. The entire Fitzwilliam family is immune to that sort of thing."
Newby laughed. "They want to pretend they are, don't they? Sweep scandal under the rug, as quick as they can. No, Edward was quite the quiz at the time. Though he was always reserved in front of his family. I remember visiting at Christmas a month or so after we returned to England. Your husband and Darcy were off somewhere; Darcy was still a schoolboy. And I suggested we teach the rest of them this delightful tile game a Chinaman we befriended had taught us; and seeing him just... well shut down at the idea of doing something so unorthodox. He thought I was bringing up the idea just to shock his parents, like we hadn't happily played many rounds with Wen-- that was the name of the Chinaman, I think; we spoke in broken Portuguese with each other. I never mean to shock, you know. I just like people, and the things that they do, and like talking about it. But I am not the heir to an Earldom, so I suppose I have never been forced into staidness like Edward. Why Mrs. Fitzwilliam, are you all right?"
Anne had gone a little weak--missing some of his story-- for she the spark of a memory had ignited all of her worst fears.
"I met you," she whispered. "That Christmas."
"I doubt it. You would have been a child; I'm sure there were no children there. Excepting Miss Darcy, who was a very small child indeed."
"I met you. My mother and I were there-- you must remember my mother, Lady Catherine."
He turned a stool around for her, motioning for her to sit, which she did automatically. "Yes, I suppose I did. I remember now. I'm afraid I may have avoided her for the most part. I don't think she had much patience for loud young men acting above their station. This is quite useful. When I meet her someday, I can claim a prior acquaintance. But I am sure you were not there. I feel like I ought to have remembered you."
"I was there. I remember the tiles. You left them on a table, in that green room, near the dining room. The one with the peacocks on the wall. I remember picking through them and wondering what all of the little drawings meant. And then stacking them neatly so you wouldn't be annoyed."
"I do not..." he looked at her. "I'm sorry Mrs. Fitzwilliam, I don't remember. But I must have. You stand out so very much to me now. You must have been very different as a little girl."
"Not so very different," whispered Anne. She stood, and smoothed her skirts. "I must beg your leave, Mr. Newby. The servants will send someone to find me before long. I should tell you that I am returning to Kent within a few days. You may not see me again. I thank you for all of your assistance with this building. It had turned out very well."
"Not see you again!" he cried. "But you weren't to leave London for some time."
"My mother requests my company," said Anne calmly in a voice which was not her own. "She feels I am not spending my time as I ought, and I wonder if she might be right."
"Mrs. Fitzwilliam, have I offended you in some way? I'm sure I was a bit flippant about your family, but it is all in good fun. I would never disrespect them."
"Yes," she said simply. "But it is I who am at fault. I did not heed my mother's lessons about what company I keep." She walked over to the stairs, and put her hand against the wall to steady herself. Breathing in, she turned to say goodbye. He was standing as well, and his eyes glistened with anger and disappointment.
"I suppose," he spit out harshly though Anne did not know that the harshness was from confusion and hurt. "She has panicked over your current company. I am not good enough for a Fitzwilliam, not high enough for Rosings Park. I have heard the whispers. I suppose it has finally got back to her."
Anne didn't reply. He was certainly not incorrect. "And I suppose," he said, "that she will pick your next husband. I hope not quite in the manner she picked your last one."
"I have no more cousins," she finally quipped. "But I will honor my mother. We have been commanded to do so."
"To honor our parents certainly but not always their orders." There was a long pause, and Anne continued to stare at him, unsure of what to say.
Finally he spoke, in the lazy insouciant way he affected when he was actually at his most serious. "When I was a child, my mother had no nursemaid; well, she did, but that nursemaid was called to the kitchen more often than not, and my mother actually had to mother me. When my sisters were born, my mother had more means, but she knew better, you know. She knew that a mother ought to mother their children. And be the first person they turned to with their worries. Now Sir Hugh objected to their intimacy of course, but my mother would not have it. As her children my sisters and I were honored. We were loved. We were honored and loved, as she would have us honor and love her. What did your mother give you to require any sense of duty toward her? What affection did she ever show you?"
That assessment was so true, that Anne could not face it, and she instead took offense at his daring to say it. He would speak like they had an understanding; like he had a right to do so.
"You are baiting me, for your own selfish reasons, whatever those might be. I may come and go as I please, and I choose to go."
"You must know why I wish you to stay in London. Surely, my affection has some claim to you, as much as your mother's."
"Affection!" she cried, instantly putting her hand over her mouth, realizing that as well built as the stables were, a cry would send someone scurrying up the staircase.
"Surely, you were aware of my affection. Have I not made myself clear? And did you not show the same? You went to see Annie, and sought out information about me. You befriended my mother. My sisters. You could have ended our flirtation at any time; you had plenty of excuse to, but you did not."
"You have not spoken of it before," she whispered. "You do not know me; you say so much, and yet you do not know me at all." This was certainly true. He spoke more than he listened. It was in his nature. Besides, he knew her assumed role. He did not know her, the little girl in the shadows at B____ that he did not remember.
He glanced behind him at the empty room; took several steps forward and leaned into her. She instinctively leaned back against the wall that had been previously supporting only her hand. She glanced down to her right, half expecting someone to come up the stairs. "Perhaps this was convince you, if my words cannot," he said huskily, and placed his lips on hers. It was an aggressive kiss, but not violent. "This is passion," a voice told her in her head, but she only allowed herself a fleeting moment of enjoyment before ducking her head out of the embrace; he did not follow her, but held onto her hand a moment longer, looking at her intensely. "Please don't go," he said finally, and she thought she saw shine in his eyes turn watery. "Not without assurances that you will return."
A vision of lengthy days in a dark parlor flitted through her head, of her living though lifeless body sitting forever next to her bitter mother, growing older and more paper thin, and finally her figure disintegrating into dust, to be tidied away by one of the maids, thoroughly and completely, for her mother would not stand for it otherwise.
But the alternative was so very frightening, it paralyzed her. She sought valiantly to regain control, to find the proper dialogue. "You forget yourself, sir," she hissed. "You would have me break two of God's laws today. Perhaps you need to do something better with your time then be a tempting bachelor for bored widows and actresses looking to marry above their station."
It stung. She could see it. He stepped back and opened his mouth several times before he spoke. "I see. I see I was mistaken, Pardon me madam for taking up so much of your time these past weeks, but I hope you have found some amusement in it.
She wanted to cry out that she was sorry, but that she was unsure and that he was too forward and that she was scared, and that she feared that he did not know her, and that she did not know herself. She wanted to sob into his shoulder that she did not know him well enough, but that that lack of knowledge was only third or fourth on her list of concerns about giving him her heart. She wanted to tell him that she had made a terrible mistake. She should have shown caution especially knowing that he was prone to too easily fall in love. She had been flirting and giving him attention, and had given every sign that she welcomed the affections that he clearly was giving her. But it had all happened so very fast. And besides, she had no practice in love affairs. And perhaps she should just go home and see her mother, and return to the life that was so much less exciting and had so much less feeling, and she could do nothing at all from morning until night, and perhaps it might be a horrible relief.
"I will lead you down the stairs and take my leave as if nothing were amiss," he said quietly beside her, interrupting her panicked thoughts. "I would not have our disagreement bandied about by the servants. I trust you will do the same. If you leave London, our friends will assume our flirtation has reached a pleasant and natural end."
She heard herself thanking him in the same manner, and being led back down the stairs and through the kitchen door.
And with a final squeeze of her hand, he left her life.
It was two evenings later, when she was supervising the packing of her trunks that she realized the indefatigable Goodson seemed unusually nervous. It was most unlike her-- she had never showed a shown a moment's hesitation since the night Anne had asked for a new hairstyle, and finally, when Goodson went to undress her for the night, Anne asked her if she was ill.
"I merely wonder, Ma'am, how long we are to spend in the country. I know it is not my place to ask."
"I hardly know," said Anne. "This has been a pleasant sojourn in London, but my Mother wishes me to keep her company."
Goodson shifted uncomfortably, as she pulled the pins from Anne's hair. "In that case, I must tell you that I have the offer of another position, Ma'am. There is a young lady coming out in the spring..." she paused, letting the inevitable conclusion hit her employer.
"Another position!" cried Anne, with as much feeling as she had ever expressed. "But Goodson; you cannot."
"She is the daughter of an Earl," said Goodson, unruffled. Now that the subject had been broached, she regained her usual air of calm.
"I am the granddaughter of an Earl! How dare someone try to poach you from me?!" sniveled Anne with every bit of imperiousness she could muster. And in a softer voice a moment, "Goodson, you know I cannot do without you. I thought-- I thought we were on good terms."
"Pardon me Ma'am. I do not wish to leave you, even for the first circles. But I have some talent and it has become somewhat well known. And I do not wish it to be wasted in an empty drawing room in Kent."
"Leave it!" Anne howled, tearing the hairbrush out of her hand. "You forget yourself. I will call you in the morning."
Goodson gave a single nod. "Good night Ma'am," she said as she closed the door, dutifully pretending not to see Anne collapse in a heap of black cotton.