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Dearest Anne - Prologue to Book 2

September 09, 2020 05:00PM
Dearest Anne
Prologue to Book Two

Fitzwilliam Darcy’s predictions for the future did indeed come true. Though still apprehensive about Miss Bennet’s suitability, the Matlocks were not about to cut themselves off from their favorite nephew. In the end, their affection for him and the tight family bond they shared would allow for nothing less than warm acceptance. Besides, the persistent entreaties and reassurances of both Richard and Georgiana convinced them that the union might have promise.

On first meeting Miss Bennet, Earl and Lady Matlock were immediately struck by her genuine sweetness and her warm, unassuming nature. The quiet confidence that shone through those exceptionally fine eyes did much to win them over. True, this vivacious young woman would not bring wealth or status to their family line, but Darcy lacked neither, and the Matlocks soon came to understand that Elizabeth brought something far more precious to all their lives — a spark for life and a talent for bringing people together that would benefit them immeasurably!

Without shame or hesitation, they apologized to her for their earlier skepticism and offered her not only their approval, but support. When, just a few weeks before the wedding, Lady Matlock developed a high fever and persistent cough, Elizabeth, who was in London at the time for the fitting of her wedding gown, hurried, unsolicited, to her Ladyship’s bedside.

“I know that without a sister or daughter to help care for you, you might be left entirely in the hands of the servants,” said Elizabeth on entering the bedchamber and taking Lady Matlock’s hand. “And as Georgiana is at Pemberley just now, I hope you will allow me to be of some service to you.” Needless to say, by the time Elizabeth left a week later, Lady Matlock wondered how Richard could ever find a wife who could endear herself to her more. Elizabeth would, in time, become like a daughter to her, and despite the differences in their ages, a truly close friend.

***

An urgent post had reached the Bennets at Longbourne just a few days before they were to set off for Scotland. The post instructed them to travel to London instead and await their daughter’s return, while assuring them that the sudden change in plans was due to a most happy development. Both the Bennets and the Gardiners were convinced that Elizabeth had betrothed herself to Sir Robert. What a shock it was to see her arrive radiantly flushed on the arm of Fitzwilliam Darcy!

After a lengthy recital of the history of their long and troubled courtship (with the first, painful proposal omitted, of course), the young couple was able to win the approval and blessings of the entire family. Jane and Charles were particularly pleased, and while Mrs. Gardiner’s heart ached for her beloved cousin, she knew that Elizabeth’s marriage to Fitzwilliam Darcy had been destined from the start.

Mr. Darcy, mindful of having cheated the Bennets out of a month’s holiday, invited them to make use of his London townhouse when he and Elizabeth traveled to Italy in the spring. He would have wished to set out on their wedding journey immediately, but with Jane so far along, Elizabeth would not hear of leaving before the child was born. And with winter fast approaching, it made sense to postpone their trip until April.

Darcy also offered his new family the use of his boxes at the opera and theatre, along with the carriage and an open invitation to dine wherever they pleased at his expense. Elizabeth entreated Georgiana to stay in town, not only to act as their guide, but as a visible reminder to her mother that she was but a guest, and not the lady of the house. It was proof of Georgiana’s love for Elizabeth that she accepted such a formidable task. And although she took it on with great trepidation, she soon found herself easily in control of the situation and happy to have the lively company of her new sisters. Never before had she had the unique experience of being the most sophisticated and worldly young lady of the party, and it gave her great joy and confidence to introduce Kitty and Mary to some of her favorite spots around town.

The wedding, though nothing grand, was a very happy event indeed as it was attended, for the most part, by those relatives and friends who truly wished the couple well. Charles had begged Elizabeth and Darcy not to invite his sisters. He was certain to have a more relaxed time of it without Caroline’s resentful remarks and constant sulking. And as Netherfield was to host the wedding breakfast as well as the out-of-town guests just weeks before the birth of their child, it was deemed a very prudent decision to eliminate any unnecessary anxiety. Lady Catherine had forbidden Mr. Collins’s attendance, and so Charlotte arrived relaxed and happy on the arm of her father. Even Sir Robert made the long journey to Hertfordshire with little Jonathan and Betsy to witness the happy event.

“Am I not to receive some credit for the joyful ending of this long and difficult courtship?” he teased the groom. “Had I not kept Elizabeth at Braemar for so long, you might…”

“Pray say no more, Sir Robert,” interrupted Darcy, raising a glass to him. “You have my heartfelt thanks for your role in bringing us together. I am in your debt, sir,” Darcy said with genuine sincerity.

“I refuse to say that the better man won,” teased Sir Robert, heartily shaking Darcy’s hand, “for had I been the first to meet her, you, my friend, would not have had a chance! That, I do assure you.”

Darcy took the playful remark good-naturedly, though he knew the fierce emotion behind it. Sir Robert had been more than gracious — stepping aside without any sign of resentment. Indeed, he tried to make Elizabeth believe that he was genuinely happy for her. He presented no obstacle, inflicted no guilt— though it was obvious that his heart was breaking. Elizabeth Bennet had come into his life at a time when he was most vulnerable, and while there were those who said that his admiration for her was largely based on gratitude and need, he alone knew the depths of his feelings for her. He would in time find another to capture his imagination and win his love, but for now, he deeply felt his loss.

The bride and groom, though blissfully happy to be finally united, hid from their guests the underlying pain they felt concerning their cousin Anne. She who had risked so much to ensure their happiness had been denied the pleasure of seeing them wed or even reading about it in the newspaper. Sadly, it was her life that would be grievously impacted by their union, her life that would suffer the consequences of her mother’s vengeance.

***

Lady Catherine, though distressed at the loss of her prestigious nephew’s company and his invaluable assistance in matters of business, seemed to thrive on her own bitterness. She would hold court and expound for hours on the lack of moral fibre of young people today and their abandonment of duty, loyalty and family honor. Poor Anne would be forced to endure her mother’s tirades again and again, along with whoever was her Ladyship’s captive audience at the moment. And with each outrageous monologue Anne would tunnel deeper inside the tomb she was creating inside herself.

The lovely and vibrant flower that had bloomed in Scotland was quietly withering. No longer permitted to visit the parsonage or to communicate with Charlotte in any way, she had no company her own age. Lady Catherine, having become suspicious of everything and everyone, now opened Anne’s precious correspondence and soon put an end to her daughter’s last source of happiness. And while letters from Fitzwilliam, Georgiana, Elizabeth and Richard arrived weekly…Anne saw none of them. Her only comfort came from deep within herself—in the thoughts and internal dialogues that kept her sane. It was the real world that was going mad—her own little world was safely tucked deep inside her heart and mind.

From a very early age, Anne had come to accept that she would never marry. Marriage resulted in intimacy, and intimacy resulted in the birth of children. Her fragile constitution could withstand neither, she was told. She never questioned her fate, but neither could she stop herself from dreaming. What would it be like to be loved by a man…a man who adored you and wanted to make you happy? Still, she was resigned. Where the joys of physical affection were concerned she would have to remain a dreamer. But when her thoughts turned to children, her heart swelled with hope and longing.

In her mind’s eye, Anne had always pictured herself surrounded by children who loved her—children who waited on the front steps for her arrival, vied for her attention and cried bitterly at her departure. She would be their best beloved auntie—the one who could sooth a hurt and turn tears into laughter when everyone else had failed. She would know all the best stories, eagerly play the silliest games and always, always keep her promises… as well as their secrets. It was she whom her cousins would trust to stay with the children when they went on holiday, and she who would be summoned when anyone was ill. Her large and loving family would give her life purpose and bless her with the pure, innocent affection of her nieces and nephews. Between her three cousins, she had hoped to be very busy indeed. Never had she imagined that her movements would be so restricted, her correspondence so censured, that she would be shut out of their lives entirely.

More than a year had now passed since they had left Braemar. Earl and Lady Matlock visited several times, trying to keep the family connection alive—and always trying to determine whether the time was right to broach the subject of reconciliation to their sister. It never was. Nevertheless, these cherished visits were Anne’s only connection with the outside world and she eagerly anticipated them. On slow and leisurely walks with her aunt she would hear news of her cousins, receive their precious letters and small, meaningful gifts that could easily be hidden. One such gift, a miniature of Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth in their wedding finery, Anne regretfully returned. If it were ever discovered, it would surely be thrown into the fire … and Anne could not allow for that possibility. She kissed the beloved faces so exquisitely portrayed and returned it to the safe keeping of her aunt. “One day I shall display it proudly,” she said with tears in her eyes, “but for now…” Her voice trailed off. Lady Matlock replaced it in her reticule and pressed Anne’s hand.

“I have some news, Anne, that unfortunately will bring you both pleasure and pain,” said Aunt Matlock on one such walk. “Elizabeth is expecting a child. We visited Pemberley just before we came to Rosings and her little secret could no longer be hidden from anyone. I know you will be happy for them … as well as for yourself. You are soon to become an aunt and I promise you that your uncle and I will do everything in our power to convince your mother to let you see them.”

It was obvious that Anne was thrilled by the news— her complexion brightened and her eyes sparkled. But her voice was soft as she shook her head and murmured, “She will never allow that, dear Aunt.”

“Do not be so discouraged, Anne. Time has a way of healing emotional wounds as well physical ones, and your mother’s heart, though still smarting from her great disappointment, will eventually mend. With patience and perseverance we, together, will make it happen.”

Anne gave her aunt a faint smile. She knew her words to be well intentioned but meaningless. Her mother’s resentment was feeding on itself and growing stronger by the day. She would never be permitted to travel to Pemberley when the child was born…or ever.

And so it was, that with the joyous anticipation of becoming an aunt, Anne resolved to take her future into her own hands and leave her ancestral home. It would not be quickly or easily done—not if she was to survive the separation with some measure of dignity and independence. She knew, of course, that she could, if she so wished, become a permanent part of the Darcy household. But that would not make her happy. To depend on the patience and good humour of anyone for the entirety of her life was simply out of the question. One could look forward to the arrival of a beloved aunt for a month or two, but an extended stay could strain the relationship, perhaps even destroy it. Though she believed that Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth would encourage her to make her home with them, she was convinced that she would eventually become an emotional burden to them. Besides, she, too, yearned for a home of her own—a place where she could do as she pleased without having to consider the preferences and needs of others. With all her riches and advantages in life, she had never had that pleasure.

Would this dream of hers be possible to achieve? A small, but beautifully furnished home in London, just a short carriage ride from shops, eating establishments and the theatre was what she envisioned. Three or four bedrooms would do—one for herself, another for her companion and two for guests. She could stroll in the park, visit the museums, and join some charitable organizations perhaps. She saw herself returning home after a month or two at Pemberley, anxious for a bit of solitude, yet filled with contentment and happy memories — her cup brimming over with the tender affection of all her family.

Her problem was financial, of course. Although she had money of her own, left to her by her father upon his death, her mother had the control of it. Having been convinced that she lacked the understanding needed to oversee such matters herself, Anne had, long ago, given over all such responsibilities to her mother. She received a small sum each month for personal items and pocket money, but in truth, had little need of it. And as she was not even permitted to go to Huntsford Village without Mrs. Jenkinson, she could not purchase anything without her mama being immediately told of it. Her meager savings would barely help her escape, let alone help her survive in the outside world.

What she needed to do, she soon realized, was to recover control of her inheritance, separate herself from her mother’s solicitors, and start life anew. Her mother would never agree to such a change, of course, opposing her in court, if need be. And Mama would surely use her fragile constitution as justification for continuing to control her assets.

If she were ever to be allowed to live on her own and control her destiny, she would first have to prove herself capable of doing so. Her challenge would be to escape Rosings unnoticed, and live undiscovered, for at least a year without any help from anyone. With such evidence of her ability to be physically and financially independent, she might stand a chance of winning her autonomy from a court of law. And there was no doubt in her mind that it would be necessary to do so! Naturally, she ran the risk of being disinherited and losing Rosings and all that went with it — but that mattered little. Although what her father had left her was a modest sum compared to the riches of Rosings, she was certain that with careful economy she could make it last. But how was anyone to accomplish such a seemingly impossible task—especially someone like herself, who had so little experience with the outside world?
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Dearest Anne - Prologue to Book 2

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