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Dearest Anne 1

July 27, 2020 07:15PM
Blurb: On the occasion of his seventieth birthday, Lord Matlock invites his entire family for a month’s holiday in Scotland. In this quiet and relaxed setting, Darcy finally gets to know his cousin Anne and develops a genuine love for her.

Dear Dwiggies,
I started this story almost 15 years ago and had actually completed most of it when life took over and I found myself totally unmotivated to finish it. Well, the pandemic has brought me back and I hope I can bring this story to a satisfying conclusion. I thought that I had posted it starting around 2005 or 2006 but all my searches have yielded no results. If you remember reading it, please let me know. I am naturally starting it from the beginning here. I hope you enjoy it.

Epilogue Alley

Prologue:

Upon his return to Netherfield, Charles Bingley immediately asks for Jane Bennet’s hand, but Darcy, distressed at Elizabeth’s reticent and anxious manner towards him, concludes that any tender feelings she may have had for him in Derbyshire have now been lost. Despite his success at finding Wickham and bringing the marriage about, Darcy believes that Elizabeth blames him for all the pain her family has suffered and cannot forgive him. He returns to London broken-hearted.

Lady Catherine makes her infamous journey to Longbourn to warn Elizabeth off, but thinks better of reporting it to Darcy. She has confidence in her powers of persuasion, despite the impudent girl’s refusal to promise to stay away of her nephew! Lady Catherine is convinced that Miss Bennet will not dare to continue her relationship with Darcy, but is nevertheless on her guard for any news regarding their liaison. Some ten months have now passed and her Ladyship’s mind rests easy.

Chapter 1

The first two hours of the journey were spent in awkward silence. Every now and then, Colonel Fitzwilliam would look up from his newspaper and murmur something to Darcy, who, thoroughly engrossed in his book, would glance up momentarily and nod. The ladies, equally ill at ease, cast furtive glances at one another and at times, at the gentlemen—always averting their eyes, however, before being discovered.

Georgiana was now painfully aware that for once, she was not the most timid person in the party, and that if she did not take the initiative to speak, not a word would pass between herself and Anne before they reached Scotland. They were cousins, though hardly friends, for they had never had the opportunity to really get to know each another. For one thing, Anne was quite a bit older. But Georgiana knew that that had little to do with the emotional distance between them.

For many years, Aunt Catherine had extended invitations for her to visit Rosings, but Fitzwilliam had always been reluctant to let her go. Then, when she was fourteen, under great pressure from Lady Matlock, he had grudgingly relented, only to have his cautious instincts proved right. The visit turned out to be a disaster—an embarrassment for Anne, and an unhappy experience for Georgiana. Lady Catherine’s constant criticism was difficult enough for Georgiana to bear, but when she spoke disapprovingly of the way Fitzwilliam was raising her, the poor girl shut down completely. Even when the young cousins were ostensibly on their own, Mrs. Jenkinson’s austere presence prevented them from really talking to one another. Finally, after many tearful letters home, her dear brother managed to invent an excuse to rescue her, and poor Anne, too mortified to face the friend she so desperately needed, hid in her room, allowing Georgiana to leave without so much as a good-bye. The memory of that visit did little to make the present situation easier. But riding on in silence was becoming more and more painful.

Indeed, it was awkward for them all. Darcy could not help but wonder at his cousin’s sudden ability to withstand such a long and tiring journey. Anne had always been pronounced too frail to travel. Did Aunt Catherine see this family holiday as the perfect opportunity to push for the culmination of the dream she claimed was so ardently shared by his own mother? Was he now to be pressed into honouring that long-standing, fictitious engagement? He felt a choking knot form in the back of his throat and he swallowed hard before glancing up at Anne. She sat, her small frame held rigidly erect, her slender fingers interlaced on her lap, her eyes fixed on the passing scenery. Who was this slight, sad, and mysterious woman? He spent several weeks in the same house with her each year, and yet he did not know her at all. She never spoke, never smiled at him, never took the pains to establish any kind of relationship between them. He had no idea what her views were on any subject, and if he were brutally honest with himself, he would have to admit that he had never cared to know.

There was a small corner of his heart that felt guilty about the way he had treated Anne, or rather mistreated her. He had thought no more about her than he would a stick of furniture at Rosings. He had neglected her completely—always with the justification that he was too busy with his aunt’s affairs to have time for anything else while there. Perhaps he had been afraid to show any interest in Anne lest her Ladyship misconstrue their friendship for affection. No, he had never dared get close enough to make her out. But when he did allow himself to think of her, the unimaginable dullness of her existence and the lonely isolation she must surely be enduring moved him.

Originally, Darcy had hoped that a month in Scotland, in the bosom of his family, would help him put Elizabeth behind him. Perhaps the distance and the soothing green of the countryside might diminish the pain and emptiness that continued to torture him. At any rate, he had been looking forward to spending a few carefree weeks away from his day-to-day responsibilities. And he would have ample time to spend with Georgiana and Richard, the two people he cared for most in the world…that is, of course, if he discounted Elizabeth. But how was such a thing to be done? How did one discount Elizabeth! Well, it was useless to dwell on it. He would have to find a way to bear the gnawing ache that had become part of his daily existence.

As for Colonel Fitzwilliam, he was very pleased to have been granted leave for this luxurious holiday. Normally, all the fine wine and creature comforts in the world could not entice him to spend a month with his parents—impossible to please, they lectured and chastised him at every opportunity. It seemed no matter what his accomplishments, he was never doing enough to distinguish himself in their eyes. His brother Alex, the first-born, was not required to prove himself in any way. He was by right and his eventual inheritance already worthy. Yet he, Richard Fitzwilliam, had to turn himself inside out to make his father proud. He was truly sick of it! And his mother’s constant urging to find a proper wife was becoming intolerable, as well! Was she truly blind to the fact that the “proper” young ladies of their society were not interested in a lowly second son, no matter how dashing he looked in his red coat!

Yet on this occasion, the Colonel believed his parents would behave themselves—at least he would be safe in the company of his cousins! The trick would be to spend as little time alone with his parents as possible. Of course he would be summoned now and again and could not refuse to see them, but he nevertheless had high hopes for a relatively peaceful holiday. His father would, no doubt, be in good spirits! After all, he was beginning his seventieth year in fairly good health, his wealth and honor secure and his loved ones by his side. Few men could boast such good fortune.

Anne’s thoughts were painfully different from those of her quiet companions. She kept her face turned towards the window, blinking back the tears that threatened to pour forth. Her eyes stung and watered, but she was determined to regain control of her emotions. She had fought so hard to be allowed on this journey, had been forced to make such ridiculous concessions in order to be permitted to go, and now all her hopes of being accepted and actually included by this most beloved little group were fading fast. She was determined not to let them see her cry; she would not have them pity her any more than they already did! Having spent the last fifteen years of her life perfecting the art of dissembling, she had learned to keep her countenance serene and unreadable while her mother said the most outrageous things! Where were these well-honed skills now when she needed them so desperately? She would have to make them laugh; she would have to shock them into liking and accepting her.

Having summoned up her courage, she calmed herself and finally turned to them with practiced composure.

“Forgive me, my dear cousins, but this will never do!” she said, her eyes twinkling mischievously as a playful smile brightened her face.

All three turned to stare at her in astonishment.

“Having earned a temporary release from the tower of Rosings, I’ve been so eager to join you in your usual, playful banter, only to find that you are all trying to do a rather poor imitation of me! Please assure me that you are not reticent because you think me a younger version of my mother. Surely I do not deserve that!”

For the longest time they simply stared. It was impossible to take in all that her words implied.

Anne bit her lower lip. She felt at once both giddy and terrified. A nervous giggle escaped her throat as her eyes darted anxiously from one face to another. Not daring to breathe, she waited, her fate suspended in the close air of the carriage. It was Richard who found his voice first and shattered the barrier that had grown between them with his hearty, welcoming laugh. Within seconds, she found herself surrounded by familial affection, with Richard crossing over to seat himself beside her and Georgiana drawing closer and taking her hand. They hastily reassured her that they knew she was nothing like her mother, and that they were thrilled to finally have the chance to really get to know her!

Only Darcy sat thunderstruck. His mind raced. Was this animated young woman truly his cousin Anne? Did this lively spirit belong to the woman who always seemed so withered; the one who habitually sat silent and seemingly unaffected by all that went on around her? He would not have believed it possible! Good G-d, how her face softened when she smiled! Her heightened color brightened her normally sallow complexion and she looked almost…pretty. He felt a pang of guilt strike his heart and was, at that moment, especially glad that Elizabeth was not present to witness this transformation. He knew only too well what she would have to say about all this. His conceit and selfishness had prevented him from seeing his cousin as she truly was. All this anguish had been lying just below the surface, but he had been too arrogant and self-involved to notice.

While the Colonel and Georgiana laughed and joked, trying, so it seemed, to make up for lost time, Darcy withdrew into self-recrimination. All those years of loneliness and isolation! He might have had some influence on her life had he only bothered to notice her. “Your pride, your arrogance, your selfish disdain for the feelings of others!” He swallowed hard and struggled to defend his damaged ego. There was no denying his cruel neglect of Anne, but a sudden rush of childish resentment made him wonder if she was not partly responsible for her secluded existence. Why had she kept herself hidden behind a mask of dullness for all these years? Why had she never reached out to them in any way? Was this new found strength a recent development, or had it been there all along? Had he truly been that blind?

There was so much he wanted to know and even more that he needed to say, but all he managed to stammer out was, “My dear Anne, forgive me.”

Anne’s countenance turned somber as she leaned forward to take both his hands in hers. It was as if she could read his mind.

“Oh, no! You mustn’t feel responsible in any way, my dearest cousin! It was I who cast us in the roles I believed we all should play. You are not at all to blame, Fitzwilliam!”

He shook his head in obvious disagreement, trying to find the appropriate words to express his remorse at having failed her so miserably. But as he struggled, Anne hastily continued. “Nothing short of kidnapping me and hiding me away forever would have changed anything, Fitzwilliam! You know my mother too well! I could not soften her, though I desperately tried for most of my adolescence. Eventually I discovered that the best way for me to retain my sanity was to live a secret life, completely separate from hers. Obviously, I could not do that physically, but I could do it emotionally.”

“I have lived in what must seem like terrible isolation to you, I am sure, but I did so to save myself. I found Mama’s constant disapproval very painful, and knew I had to do something to protect myself from her oppressively overbearing nature. So I decided to distance myself from her as best I could. I determined to be agreeable, never to challenge her views or commands, …but neither did I ever divulge my true feelings or allow her a glimpse into my heart…And as dreadful as that may sound to you, dear cousins,” she said, now turning from one to the other, for she was fully aware of how shocked they all were by her declaration, “this scheme has allowed me to remain true to myself, while continuing to live at Rosings. After all, it is the only home I know.”

“But Anne!” cried Georgiana, “how does one live without someone to talk to? How have you been able to keep yourself from despair and madness? Oh, do forgive me for saying that,” she stammered, astonished by her brazen and embarrassing behavior.

Anne only chuckled and kissed her cousin’s cheek. “There is nothing to forgive, Georgiana. Your passionate concern only shows your affection for me. But let me to put your mind at ease immediately. I have not lived in a world completely devoid of companionship and amusement. In fact, I have made two of the very best friends a person could have. And although we have never actually met, I feel as close to them as I believe any friends could be!”

“I don’t understand,” murmured Darcy. “You have never met?”

“The wife of Mr. Collins’ predecessor was an exceptionally kind and perceptive woman. She and I became fast friends despite the difference in our ages, and thankfully, Mama permitted me a weekly visit to the parsonage. She was a matchmaker of sorts—but not the matrimonial kind. She had formed a little network of clergymen’s wives who tried to bring together people who truly needed each other. These were ladies like myself, who for one reason or another could not get out in the world to make those connections for themselves. My dear friend Emily is homebound due to childhood paralysis, and since she and her mother live on their own, there is no one to even carry her out of doors. She sits by the window and reads and writes for most of the day. The vicar’s wife brings her books and supplies her with paper, as do I, for I always send her an empty sheet or two each time I write. We have the most wonderful discussions about the books we have both read, and the way we feel about things, and oh, ever so many other things. She is terribly poor while I have been blessed with so much, yet we view the world in the same way and get such pleasure from each other’s letters. She has become a most precious friend, and I could not imagine my life without her. We write to each other once or twice a week, supporting each other in every way we can.”

“And her Ladyship allows this correspondence?” asked the Colonel incredulously.

“Well…Mama does not know the whole of Emily’s situation. She believes her to be a gentleman’s daughter, in ill health like myself. And as Mrs. Prescott initiated the correspondence, Mama has never questioned it or felt the need to look into the background of either of my friends. But even if she were to discover it, I would find a way to continue the correspondence through Mrs. Collins. She, too, has joined our little conspiracy, and in her, I have found another fine friend. So you see, dear cousins, I have made a kind of life for myself. It may be a small life, and a limited one, but it sustains me. And then,” continued Anne with an impish grin that truly lit up her face, “ every Easter I look forward to the yearly visit of my two most entertaining cousins!”

This was not said in jest or in sarcasm, as one might suspect, but Darcy’s heart sank nevertheless, as he steeled himself to hear Anne’s interpretation of their entertaining behavior. Simply the mention of Charlotte Collins’s name brought him further unease. Why was everything in his life so bound up with Elizabeth? Georgiana still mourned the loss of her, while Bingley’s letters constantly reminded him how happy a man could be with a country girl from Hertfordshire. No wonder he couldn’t cast her from his mind for even an hour!

“When one is not even expected to participate in the conversation,” continued Anne, “one has the leisure to observe others very closely. And I must confess that I have become a keen observer of human nature. I have studied the two of you with great interest and amusement, my dear cousins. Colonel, your open, artless manner and playful irreverence are infectious, and there have been countless times that you have sorely tested my ability to keep my composure. What great fun it is to watch you skirt my mother’s questions at dinner, skillfully change the subject and then tell an amusing anecdote to flatter and bewilder her. I must say it is always masterfully done. Especially when you are forever looking for an opportunity to best Fitzwilliam!

Everyone chuckled.

“And you, my most serious and dutiful cousin, your thoughts and gestures are, at times, quite a challenge to decipher, but all the more rewarding when I do. You give nothing away! But I have come to know so well the clenching of your jaw, that almost imperceptible rolling of your eyes, and those little trips to the window that signal the limit of your patience with her Ladyship’s pronouncements.”

Darcy’s eyes widened at the thought of his mannerisms and gestures being studied by the young cousin he had never taken the trouble to know. His discomfort was palpable.

“Oh, do not look so stricken, Cousin! I have not been able figure out everything you are thinking and feeling! For instance, I never quite made out what happened between you and Richard and your rivalry over Miss Bennet! I suppose neither one of you made a very good impression on the young lady, or she would be traveling with us today. It’s too bad, too, for I really liked her. It would have been such fun to have her as a member of our family—if only to aggravate Mama.”

Anne’s teasing smile dissolved as she looked from Georgiana’s stricken face to that of Fitzwilliam’s. She had obviously gone too far, and remorse for her cheekiness quickly followed. “Oh, I am so sorry!” she said in great distress. “I didn’t know it was…well, I mean…Forgive me, Fitzwilliam; I am not used to speaking so freely and got completely carried away. How rude of me! I’m sorry!! I wasn’t thinking! Forgive me!” she repeated.

Darcy placed his hand on top of Anne’s, and shaking his head, murmured, “It’s all right, Anne. I did make a fool of myself that Easter, but it is all over now.” He lowered his head, pursed his lips and looked towards the window.

Silence reigned once more.

Eventually, Colonel Fitzwilliam, in an effort to regain the carefree mood that had been lost, naively quipped about Miss Bennet’s being far to good for the likes of either of them, but this, of course, did nothing to minimize the unease that had taken over the interior of the carriage. They rode for some fifteen minutes or more, lost in their own thoughts until the driver slowed and called out that they would be stopping to change horses and get a bite to eat. This bit of news prompted Anne to bravely face her somber relations with an urgent request.

“Please, my dear cousins, I beg you not say anything of what has passed between us just yet. I think it would be best if my mother believed that we had become fond of one another over the course of the holiday… that is, if you will still think me worthy of your friendship after that last insensitive remark.”

“No, no, Anne, it is I who should be asking forgiveness of you,” said Darcy. “It was just a touch of melancholy that has now passed, and I shall not allow such thoughts to spoil our precious time together. And of course, you have our word that we shall follow your lead when in her Ladyship’s company!”

“Thank you, Fitzwilliam, for revealing our friendship is of particular concern to me. I have been especially vigilant to distance myself from you so that Mama would never have a reason to be encouraged. I’ve always insisted that you and I were not well suited for one another and that she was perpetuating an idea that had no chance of succeeding… but to no avail. Any hint of our caring for one another, even in the most innocent way, would give her cause to pressure you. I do not wish to make things any more difficult or uncomfortable for you than they already are, Cousin. So we must be very careful, you and I.”

Again, Darcy was confounded by this woman who was his cousin Anne. It was now clear that she had sought for all these years to protect him from Lady Catherine, and at great cost to her personal happiness. He could not wrap his mind around all that he was learning about her, moment to moment. He simply nodded and smiled sheepishly, for now, totally lost in thoughts of his own.

****

Their first meal together was pleasant enough and rather uneventful until the dessert was brought round. Everyone was enjoying the lemon curd when Georgiana discreetly leaned towards Anne, whispered a few words and tried, though unsuccessfully, to suppress a giggle. Anne glanced up at the gentleman sitting opposite her and drew her napkin over her mouth to hide her amusement. With lips tightly pressed together, they colored, eyed each other and tittered once more.

“Really, Georgiana!” said Lady Catherine, “There are to be no secrets at this table! I must have my share in your little diversion. Come, come, let us hear what is amusing you so.”

Georgiana, now crimson with embarrassment, lowered her head and murmured, “It is really nothing Aunt. I’m sure it would be of no interest to anyone else.”

“I’ll be the judge of that, if you please,” was her Ladyship’s stern reply.

“Mama, please,” whispered Anne. “It was really nothing.”

“I am waiting, Georgiana,” said her Ladyship, impatiently. “It is only good manners to include everyone at the table when relating an amusing story.”

Darcy was about to step in to stop this ridiculous bit of high-handed foolishness, when Georgiana, laughing once more, looked up at her cousin and said, “Forgive me, Richard, but I was just pointing out to Anne how adorable you look with a lemon curd mustache. It really suits you.”

Colonel Fitzwilliam colored slightly, then drew his tongue slowly and dramatically over his upper lip, causing all the young people at the table to laugh. Georgiana gave him the most affectionate smile when he finally said, “I can always count on my Georgie to interpret my lack of social grace as an endearing quality. Thank you, my pet! If only there were more ladies with your generous nature, I might have found a wife by now. He lifted his glass as if to offer a toast and winked teasingly at his mother.” The entire table burst out laughing, leaving Lady Catherine to feel the sting of having been somehow, subtly bested by her shy, young niece.

The little drama was now over for everyone but Anne, whose furrowed brow and anxiously pursed lips clearly showed her humiliation. It was an expression Darcy had seen more than once on Elizabeth’s sweet face—once in Bingley’s drawing room, when her mother and sisters had come to visit during Jane’s illness and then again at the ball, when her father had so ungraciously humiliated Mary into leaving the piano. Clearly, Elizabeth was not alone in her frustration over the behavior of her relations. Though, clearer still, was the fact that Anne’s wealth protected her from idiots like himself who would hold such behavior against her and see it as an obstacle to marriage!

***

Over the course of the journey, the cousins grew closer and closer. All barriers were broken down, and it was now difficult for any of them to believe that there had once been a time when they did not know and understand each other so well. Darcy, to his great surprise, came to genuinely admire Anne. He found her conversation stimulating and intelligent, was continually amazed at her wonderful sense of humor and appreciated her thoughtful and quiet ways. It was now as comfortable to ride in silence, as it was to chat. They seemed to be able to sense what the other needed.

By the time they reached the great stone Inn at Loc Braemar, Darcy was turning over the most startling thoughts in his mind. Perhaps marrying Anne would not be such a terrible thing after all. Perhaps it would be the natural solution to both their problems. By offering to Anne, he would be securing her freedom from Rosings. She could lead a totally different life at Pemberley and could participate in some of the joys of London when her health permitted it. But most importantly she would be in the company of people who respected and admired her. It would take time, but she would certainly make new friends and acquaintances, so that, even when Georgiana no longer lived with them, Anne would have a contented life.

Was he being his old, high-handed and presumptuous self for thinking this way? Or was he right to assume that Anne’s chances for a happy marriage, given her restrictions, were slim. It was possible, was it not, that without his interference Anne would be doomed to a bitter life of spinsterhood in the sole company of Lady Catherine?

He was sure that he could grow fond of her, and it was gratifying to know that nothing more than thoughtful affection would be required between them. He could not imagine transferring the passion he felt for Elizabeth to any other woman, and if he could not have her in his bed, he preferred to sleep alone. Would that not be a more dignified arrangement than having to do one’s duty by a wife one did not love? Surely, Anne would not resent his occasionally satisfying his needs away from home, as long as he was meticulously discreet. But then he always was. He would never humiliate her, and in return, she would give him the freedom to be out in society, without the torment of scheming mothers and fawning young women. Her freedom would be his as well. Such a marriage might be a blessing for both of them.

Well, there was no need to make a hasty decision. He had an entire month to get to know Anne better, and he resolved to think seriously about the pleasures and pitfalls of such an arrangement. The only thing that rankled was the thought of his aunt’s smug satisfaction with the match. He would have to suffer her gloating for the rest of his life!
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Dearest Anne 1

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