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Dearest Anne Book 2, Chapter 2

September 21, 2020 04:23AM
Chapter Two

“It will be no hardship at all to pick up the fish for dinner, I assure you,” said Anne, checking her reticule for a handkerchief and a few extra shillings. “And I promise to be home by three so I can help prepare the meal. As long as Eleanor continues to scrub the pots, I will continue to be an eager student in the kitchen.”

“We will expect you at three then and hold off all preparations until you arrive. Have a good time with the children, dear, but don’t let them wear you out,” warned Winifred, pressing her hand.

*****

Anne lifted her face to the sun as she stepped out of the modest little place she now called home. What a luxury it was to come and go as you please — to make your own plans for the day! She had never been so happy!

She chuckled to herself as she thought of how much things had changed since her arrival at the Tilson home. Those intimidating old ladies had frightened her half to death at first. Their cold, condescending manner and endless restrictions should have made her feel at home, for they reminded her only too well of her mother. But it had saddened her indeed to find that she had traded one haughty and judgmental warden for two. Thankfully, these first impressions soon gave way to compassionate understanding as Anne began to see the Tilson sisters for who they really were.

Winifred and Eugenie Tilson were born into a noble, landed family from Sussex and had lived a rather privileged life until the death of their father. Having always been so devoted to each other, they had found it difficult to make room in their lives and hearts for husbands, although their great beauty and lively dispositions had brought them many suitors. This unfortunate misjudgment only became apparent when their father’s estate was entailed away and they were left with the London townhouse and an adequate, but hardly substantial yearly income.

As the years went by their fashionable neighborhood lost its elegance, along with many of its wealthier residents. The sisters were not insensitive to the neighborhood’s decline but could not afford to move. They did their best to stretch their resources, but eventually had to let many of their servants go, including their cook. They could certainly learn to make their way around a kitchen, and cooking was the least strenuous of all the household chores. Eventually, they were forced to admit that they could not survive without a tenant. Oh, to be in such reduced circumstances was bitter indeed! They were cognizant of the need to let some undeserving creature reside in their beautiful guestroom, but were certainly not prepared to share their home with her! That, they would make absolutely clear.

Anne’s first week with the Tilsons had been truly unnerving. She found herself on tenterhooks all the time, slipping quietly in and out of the house so as not draw any attention to herself. She often stayed out much longer than she really wished to for fear of returning to those haughty glares and stern expressions. And although she did her best to draw a smile from those tightly pressed lips, the gates had been bolted and curtains drawn closed on those unyielding countenances.

Then one evening when she was attempting to slip up to her room unnoticed, she was summoned rather severely by Miss Winifred from the sitting room. Reluctantly, she made her way back down the stairs and towards the open door, wondering what she had done to arouse such disapproval. She remembered quite clearly the injunction of not entering any room other than her own and stood waiting to be invited in by her landladies.

“Well, for goodness sake come closer, Miss Burton. Don’t just stand there gawking!” said Miss Winifred in a brusque and irritated tone.

Anne advanced and stood before her, doing her best to appear unperturbed, which, of course, she was not.

“Now then, we have need of your young eyes,” said Miss Winifred matter-of-factly.

“We received a letter from a cousin traveling in Austria which we would like you to read. It must have been hidden under some other papers this morning for we only discovered it now and cannot make it out in the candle light.”

She handed Anne the letter, and sat back in her chair with an expression of certain entitlement, waiting for her to begin.

“May I put my book down on this table?” asked Anne politely. She still wore her pelisse and bonnet, but would not dare ask permission to shed them before performing her duty.

Miss Eugenie nodded, looking with great curiosity at the spine of the book as it was laid down before her.

Anne cleared her throat and started to read. The sisters listened attentively.

When she was through, she handed it back to Miss Winifred, who demanded that she read it a second time.

“Of course,” murmured Anne, setting herself to the task once more.

“She has a lovely reading voice, does she not, sister?” said Eugenie. “Such lively expression, beautifully paired with a most soothing tone.”

“Indeed! You read very well, Miss Burton,” said Miss Winifred, eyeing the book. “And I must say that I do not find your voice at all grating.”

Just what Mama would say, chuckled Anne to herself before replying. “Thank you, Miss Tilson. Thank you very much. Now, if you have not further need of me, I shall bid you ladies good night.” She was about to retrieve her book when Miss Eugenie snatched it from the table.

“What sort of reading do you enjoy, Miss Burton,” asked she, squinting at the title on the spine?

Anne colored a bit. “Well, I’m not at all a great reader of serious literature, I’m afraid. I prefer novels…especially those with a little romance in them.”

“Oh, I do love a good love story! Would you tell us what this one is about?” asked Eugenie.

“I am sure that Miss Burton has better things to do then to stand here in her pelisse and bonnet and recount the plot of her novel for us, Eugenie. She has been nice enough to read our letter and we shouldn’t detain her any longer.”

“Well, actually…I don’t mind,” said Anne. “That is, I wouldn’t mind sharing the story with you or even reading it to you if you would wish it. But I was looking forward to a hot cup of tea. If you would like me to come back down when I’ve finished, I’d be happy to…”

“Oh, but you must have read a good part of it by now. We couldn’t ask you to start it over from the beginning,” said Winifred in such a hopeful tone that Anne almost burst out laughing.

“On the contrary, Miss Tilson, I have only read the first chapter and could use to refresh my memory. There are so many complex characters. So…”

“So, why don’t you go upstairs and put away your things and I’ll put up tea for all of us!” said Miss Eugenie hugging the book to her chest. “I believe we still have a few of those praline biscuits that Winifred baked last week. What a delightful evening it shall be!”

And so it began. With their austere defenses down, the Tilson twins proved to be the dearest, sweetest and most affectionate of friends. The relationship progressed to the point that when Miss Eugenie discovered Anne-Marie’s long held wish to learn to play the pianoforte, she offered to teach her straight away. The three of them spent most evenings together reading, playing and singing, or playing cards — and chatting, always chatting. Anne now ate all her meals in the dining room, practiced the piano whenever she wished and found herself feeling very much at home.

***


Elizabeth bathed, arranged her hair and had her breakfast sent up to the nursery so that she could enjoy her son’s playfulness during this wakeful part of the morning. Nanny Henderson really was wonderful with him—there was no reason to worry. Although she treated adults a bit gruffly, Nanny’s natural instincts with children were genuinely gentle and caring.

When the tray arrived, Elizabeth found that she had very little appetite. Perhaps it was the eggs; they did not smell quite right to her. So after forcing herself to finish her tea, she nursed her son once more before dressing and venturing out of the house.

As she stepped outside, she tilted her head toward the sun and let out a contented sigh. What a luxury is was to come and go without the burden of Edward’s perambulator and Nanny Henderson fussing about. Her morning plans were her own today, and though she felt a little guilty admitting it, it did feel good to walk out so unencumbered. Perhaps Fitzwilliam had been right. She should have done this long ago. But before Edward’s hunger could be satisfied by something other than her milk, she was very reluctant to leave the house for more than an hour or two. Her memory of Jonathan’s frenzied cries had embedded itself into her very soul. Surely, her experiences at Braemar House had a great deal to do with her attitudes towards child rearing. Edward had never been malnourished the way poor little Jonathan had been, but nevertheless ... Well, she had taken the plunge now and had promised to spend the morning and early afternoon with her aunt, shopping and lunching in perfect freedom.

She had, long before, gone back to her old routine of walking in the park for an hour each morning and had actually gone out to shop at Cranston’s several times, having James drive her there and back within the span of an hour or two. But spending an entire morning or afternoon away from Edward had been unthinkable then. She also knew that she had stayed so close to her son as much for her own sake as his.

She entered the carriage and informed James of their destination. When, just fifteen minutes later they had arrived there, she opened the exquisite mother-of-pearl timepiece that Fitzwilliam had recently given her and saw, to her surprise, that she was far too early for her appointment. In her anxiety to be on time —for when dealing with Edward, everything took twice as long as it normally did— she had miscalculated and now had a good half hour to wait. Well, she would make the most of it and take herself for a stroll, she decided. The shops along this street were small and inviting, nothing like the grand salons she was usually expected to frequent. That had been precisely why aunt Gardiner had suggested that they come to this lively, middle-class neighborhood to look for the simple, everyday things Elizabeth needed.

She wandered up and down the street that was their agreed rendezvous, then turned the corner and made her way slowly down a narrowing lane. Stopping at a window filled with intricately woven coverlets and shawls, she suddenly felt a little lightheaded.

“I should have had some toast with my tea,” she murmured to herself, bringing one hand to her head and stretching the other out to steady herself on a street lamp. Regaining her balance, she looked about for a place to sit and noticed a small café directly across the street. Now if she could only get there without losing her balance again.

*****

The fine weather had encouraged Anne to make a day of it. She would go to the orphanage and help out there for a while, then take herself to that darling little sweet shop on Crestwood Lane for a leisurely lunch before going on to the museum. If she tired earlier she would take a Hanson cab home, but lately she had managed to stay quite energetic (well, energetic for her) until two or three in the afternoon. She had to pace herself, of course, doing only what felt comfortable at the orphanage, and resting frequently on a bench or at a café before continuing on to her next destination.

She had been pleasantly surprised by the willingness of the staff of the London Infant Home to accept her modest offering of help. Anne had explained her limitations, and had said that, despite them, she hoped there would be something that she could do to help with the children. Indeed, the matron in charge had eagerly accepted her help, encouraging her to come and go at her own convenience, never insisting on a formal commitment of any kind. She was simply happy to have another pair of hands and eyes several hours a week.

Anne had now fallen into the comfortable routine of spending two hours there each morning. She would read to the little ones who were not yet old enough for formal schooling and would often help some of the older girls with their needlework. And sometimes, when she was extremely fortunate, she would be asked to help in the feeding of those children yet unable to feed themselves. She often came away from this happy experience with gruel or pudding in her hair—the result of some enthusiastic little tyke trying to wrestle the spoon away from her. But she never minded; she saw it as good training for her life as a most beloved aunt.

Today she had managed to come away clean and presentable from the orphanage dining room, with the added joy of having been able to get a cupful of broth into a feverish child with a painful throat. The poor little thing had not been able to swallow anything for days. What satisfaction there was to be gained from such a small achievement! It put a bounce in Anne’s step.

Her favorite neighborhood sweet shop served light fare for lunch as well as all the pastries, iced treats and chocolates one could wish for. She had first ventured in because the establishment was naturally frequented by nannies and their charges — providing her with grand entertainment as she ate. Of course, she could now indulge in all the wonderful culinary treasures that had always been denied her. She could forgive her mother many things, but keeping her so rigidly away from sweets had been deprivation indeed! Of course, when one didn’t know what one was missing, the pain wasn’t half so bad.

She always chose a small table in the back from where she could observe the scene, and by now, the proprietor knew her preference. He welcomed her amiably and led her to a table that seemed to wait for her arrival. Today’s clientele were a lively group, among them a little girl of about five who was celebrating her birthday with siblings and friends, and a two year old boy who seemed far more interested in his nanny’s pastry than his own chocolate pudding. Anne laughed as she watched him try to reach for the tempting confection while his nanny nudged him towards his own dish.

Her eyes then landed on what seemed to be an oddity in this Mecca for children and their caretakers. A young man sat alone at a small table not far from her, and Anne had a clear view of him from where she sat — an even better one in the large mirror on the opposite wall. He fascinated her. He was thin—much too thin—with thick dark hair that he routinely raked back with his fingers as it fell onto his brow. He was cleanly shaven, but his fair skin showed the faint shadow of the dark growth beneath. The chiseled lines of his face though sharp, gave him a surprisingly gentle countenance. But most striking of all were his eyes. Though the lightest of blue, their intensity pierced the very newspaper he was reading.

He had a modest lunch before him — nothing more than a meager breakfast really — a soft-boiled egg and a few pieces of toast. And as his attention stayed riveted on the article he was reading while he continued to eat, the egg that had been intended for his mouth slipped unnoticed off his spoon. Anne could not help but chuckle at the bewildered look on his face when the spoon turned up empty. He was beautiful. His long thin fingers, sinewy hands — all knuckles and bone — were delicate but strong. She found herself staring at them.

As she observed him, she wondered if everyone else could see what she now saw. This was a gentleman, born and bred. His meticulously clean and well shaped nails, the elegant cut of his coat, though certainly a size too large, were only a compliment to the way he carried himself, even when seated. His head, confidently and squarely anchored above his shoulders and his chin, tilted in subtle self-assurance, gave him a refined air — though his hair needed cutting and his clothes had definitely seen better days. The cuffs were slightly frayed … the elbows shiny with wear. Had he suddenly lost his fortune? Did he now find himself in such reduced circumstances as a result of family troubles like her own? Or had his business or investments failed? Her heart went out to him in more ways than one, and she found herself suddenly despondent. She ached for what could never be. She had never felt this sort of self-pity before, never experienced the burning envy of those who could hope to marry and stand beside such a man. Oh, why on earth was she torturing herself so? Having been resigned for so long, she had never allowed this sort of pain to enter her heart. Why was she doing this to herself now? Perhaps her mother had been right after all. She had no business tasting sweets.

She deliberately changed her focus back to the two year old who was now being scolded for one thing or another and then past him, out the shop window into the street. Her gaze landed on a very fine, heather colored pelisse, worn by a woman of beautiful stature and demeanor. All this, Anne could tell even though the lady’s back was turned to her. Surely such an elegant creature did not reside nearby? What would she be doing in this part of London?

Just then the lady turned and Anne was catapulted out of her seat, not just by the shock of recognition, but because she saw that Elizabeth was about to fall! Dashing through the sweet shop and out the door, she lost sight of her as a carriage passed between them. Scooting round it, she came upon her cousin struggling for balance as she attempted to make her way across. Elizabeth’s eyes widened in disbelief at the sight of her, then closed as her body crumbled into Anne’s outstretched arms. How would she hold her upright? How would she support her, Anne wondered, as she braced herself for the added weight. Her knees were growing weak and she was certain that they would both hit the ground together midst the horses and carriages racing past them.

But suddenly, she felt an arm tighten round her waist and the powerful thrust of another reaching over her to catch Elizabeth under the arm. They were both pulled back towards the curb to safety, where Anne found herself snuggly wedged between her cousin and this beautiful stranger. They fell into a heap, with their rescuer baring the brunt of the fall and miraculously managing to keep both their heads from hitting the cobbles. Shaken and terribly embarrassed to find herself clutching him, she struggled to get to her feet and to help him bring Elizabeth into the shop.

The proprietor himself came rushing out to assist them, and the two gentleman soon had Elizabeth seated in a chair just inside the shop door.

“Would you support her shoulders so she doesn’t fall forward, Miss?” asked he, accepting a serving girl’s offer of smelling salts and a glass of water. He seemed to have taken charge of the situation and Anne could do nothing but nod. She was winded and greatly troubled at having been discovered by Elizabeth. What would she do now? Before the young man could bring the salts to Elizabeth’s nose, she regained consciousness and strained against Anne’s hold of her to sit upright.

“Good heavens, did I faint…did I really faint? I don’t think I’ve ever done that before. Anne? Is that you? Is it really you? What are you doing in…”


“Anne-Marie, Mrs. Darcy. Anne-Marie Burton. I’m surprised that you remember me at all! It was so long ago that we met.”

Anne pressed Elizabeth’s hand painfully hard and looked at her with such intensity that Elizabeth simply shook her head in confusion. “But…you…” she began rather inarticulately.

“Now, do not strain yourself with unnecessary talk. Rest quietly, Mrs. Darcy and I’m sure things will clear up for you soon,” interrupted Anne, widening her eyes in such a way as to signal her cousin to obey.

“Have you eaten anything this morning, Mrs. Darcy?” asked the hero of the hour. “Perhaps some tea with bread and jam would boost your energy.”

“Yes, you are quite right. I ate nothing for breakfast,” murmured Elizabeth. “I had no appetite this morning,” she answered him, while continuing to stare at Anne. Though completely bewildered, she understood enough to keep silent.

“Then, please, Mrs. Darcy, allow me to get you something. What is your pleasure?”

“Oh anything will do, but please, none of the pastries, nothing too rich,” said Elizabeth, surprised at her own words. She adored pastries and sweets in general.

As the young man turned to speak to the proprietor, Anne bent close to Elizabeth’s ear and whispered, “Please, Elizabeth, don’t give me away. I’ve left home and don’t want Mama to find me. Please play along and I will explain everything when we’re alone.”

Elizabeth stared at her in shocked silence. Fitzwilliam had not been informed that Anne had gone missing. To the best of her knowledge, no one in the family had heard anything of it. Richard had been with them only yesterday, and had he known, he surely would have told them. Why hadn’t Lady Catherine enlisted their help in finding her? Was her pride so much greater than her desire to find her child? Elizabeth nodded slightly, holding tightly onto Anne’s hand.

As she ate and sipped her tea, the gentleman introduced himself.

“My name is Simon Fennimore, Mrs. Darcy. I’m a physician and have a laboratory just two doors down on your left. I recommend you take a carriage home straight away, but if you would allow me a short examination, it would relieve me to know that I did not release you from my care while still in any sort of danger. I assure you it will only take a moment or two.”

Although she would have trusted Simon Fennimore with her own life without any hesitation, Anne immediately reacted to the impropriety of Elizabeth being examined by a perfect stranger claiming to be a physician, and without Fitzwilliam’s knowledge and approval. “Perhaps I should accompany you straight away to your own doctor, Mrs. Darcy. You might be more comfortable with that,” she said, not daring to look at Dr. Fennimore’s face. Here he was, being so kind and gracious, and she was dismissing him with obvious distrust. Her cheeks colored with shame.

“Yes, of course, if you prefer it,” said he, showing no sign of being wounded by the slight. “I just wanted to assure myself that you were well enough to go home unaccompanied. I don’t believe Miss Burton here is strong enough to support you for long should you lose your balance again.”

He had taken note of her name and remembered it! And he was certainly right about her inability to be of any real use to Elizabeth should she faint again. Besides, she had no intention of going as far as the Darcy home or anywhere near it. She would have to swear Elizabeth to secrecy and forget that they had ever met.

“Do you think there is a good chance of it happening again,” said Elizabeth, looking horrified. “I consider myself a rather healthy, vigorous person.”

“Now that you have eaten something I think the chances of it recurring are very slight, but without my instruments I cannot give you any assurances.”

“All right then,” said Elizabeth getting up rather suddenly, “I think I should let you examine me, Sir. And if I am not well enough to travel, I shall send a message to my husband to come and fetch me.” But feeling immediately woozy, she was obliged to sit down again.

Dr. Fennimore laughed. “I’d get lightheaded too if I jumped up so quickly. Try it slowly, Mrs. Darcy. And would you be so kind as to accompany us, Miss Burton? I have no nurse and require another lady present.”

“Of course,” Anne murmured, still too distressed to look at him directly.

“This way, if you please. Lean on me, Mrs. Darcy. Miss Burton will be on your left hand side and between the two of us we shall not let you fall.”

Dr. Fennimore led them up four shallow steps to a door with no sign of a surgery on it. Anticipating their question, he answered it without hesitation. “I do not see patients on a regular basis, ladies, although I do have several people whose health I monitor. I make medical experiments here in my laboratory. That is why I have no nurse in attendance. But I assure you that I am well trained to do what needs to be done.” His smile was warm and artless. Anne smiled back at him, hoping he would see it for the apology that it was.

His examination was a cursory one, for as soon as he had listened to her heart, taken her pulse and looked into her eyes, he declared Elizabeth fit for travel. If she moved slowly and deliberately she would reach home safe and sound. He did recommend that she see her own physician soon and get a thorough examination.

“May I ask the name of your doctor, Madam?”

“Yes, we see Dr. Morrison in Harley St.,” Elizabeth replied.

“One of the best physicians in London, Mrs. Darcy. He was my mentor for many years, and we are still the best of friends. I am very glad, for I shall then be able to ask after you. In fact, I should like to write him a note describing this little incident today, as a way of apprising him of the particulars. Would that be agreeable to you?”

“Yes, indeed. Please do, Doctor,” said Elizabeth. She smiled at him warmly until, suddenly remembering her appointment, drew her hand to her mouth and cried out, “Aunt Gardiner! Oh, Anne, you must go and fetch her! She must be worried sick about me. What is the time?” she asked, fumbling to open her new watch which hung as a pendant round her neck.

Happily it was only ten minutes past the time they had arranged to meet, for everything had happened so quickly. Elizabeth gave Anne the address and begged her to bring her aunt to her, but Anne would not oblige her so quickly.

“Dr. Fennimore,” said Anne, turning to him before replying to Elizabeth’s request. “Would you be so kind as to help me get Mrs. Darcy back to the sweet shop. Once she is seated comfortably I shall be able to leave her and run the errand she has asked of me.”

This statement would certainly be seen as further evidence of her distrust of him, but she could not go for Mrs. Gardiner before she had Elizabeth’s promise to keep her secret. Thank goodness, she and Mrs. Gardiner had never met.

“Certainly,” he murmured, this time rather red-faced and obviously offended. Would she not trust him with her friend for the five minutes it would take to bring the lady hither?

With Elizabeth seated at Anne’s back table, Dr. Fennimore bowed and bid the ladies good day. Elizabeth thanked him sincerely, saying that she would give a very good account of him to Dr. Morrison, while Anne could barely get her thoughts together enough to be civil. She didn’t want to be parted from him, to lose him to the world of strangers who routinely passed her in the street and knew and cared nothing for her.

But as soon as he was gone, she forced herself to deal with the reality at hand. There was very little time to explain.

“Elizabeth, before I leave you I must have your promise — no, your solemn vow that you will tell no one of our meeting today.”

“Of course, I won’t tell! Not if you don’t want me to. But why, Anne? I don’t understand.”

“There is not enough time to explain it all now. I will meet with you once more and tell you everything, but you must swear not to breath a word of this to Fitzwilliam or anyone else.”

“Fitzwilliam?” gasped Elizabeth. “You want me to keep this secret from him? Impossible! We have no secrets from one another, Anne. When he finds out, and he will, in time…he will never be able to trust me. You cannot ask this of me!”

“I can and I do,” said Anne with quiet resolve. ”My future independence depends on my present isolation from the family, and once Fitzwilliam gets involved I will lose all the credibility I will need for the fight ahead. You must swear to keep this confidence. I shall not leave here till you do. Please Elizabeth! When we meet again I shall lay out my entire plan before you, and you will see that what I say is true. Don’t fail me, dear friend, I beg you.”

Elizabeth looked into Anne’s tearful eyes and reluctantly nodded. “I swear to tell no one — even Fitz- william until after I have heard your reasons at our next meeting. That is all I am prepared to promise you.”

“Then we shall have to go through this all over again…but I will accept it for now and go and fetch Mrs. Gardiner. Hopefully, you be well enough to meet me next week. Can you come to the main library at noon on Wednesday?” asked Anne, waiting for Elizabeth’s nod. “I shall wait for you by the autobiographies…towards the end of the alphabet. I shall wait until one and then leave. But if, heaven-for-bid, you are too ill to come, do NOT send word. I shall come at noon every Wednesday until we meet again. I do love you all so very much,” said Anne, hugging Elizabeth to her. Please believe that it is with a heavy heart that I ask this of you, but…I do have great hope for our future happiness together as a family.”

Elizabeth kissed Anne good-bye and watched uneasily as she left the shop. What had she done? How could she have promised to keep this from Fitzwilliam? She trembled at the thought of how this would all play out.
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Dearest Anne Book 2, Chapter 2

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