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Dearest Anne Book 2, Chapter 7

October 20, 2020 05:24PM
Chapter Seven

A bachelor send-off would not have been Richard Fitzwilliam’s preference for a first evening out among the living, but it was a commitment he had made months earlier — the now infamous day he had visited Logan and seen Elizabeth on Crestwood Lane. He had promised to join his men as they helped Beechum celebrate his last night of freedom before his wedding. Now, here he was, responsible for his men once again --- not on the field of battle, but on a far more unpredictable, and therefore, treacherous playing field — that of a London city street after dark.

Seeing that the groom was in no condition for further merriment, the Colonel had insisted that they escort, and if necessary, carry his inebriated body back to his billet and put him to bed. The man had less than ten hours to sleep off the effects of all the spirits he had consumed and make himself presentable for his bride.

Though still a bit unsteady on his own feet, the Colonel now good-naturedly supported the ample weight of the groom, who alternately roared with laughter or cried like a baby, as he bemoaned his fate and all he would now have to sacrifice. The smell of the man’s breath nauseated him, the deafening volume of his voice so close to his ear made him flinch with pain.

They made their way down the street, weaving in and out among the strolling couples and groups of friends leaving the theatre and heading out for a bite to eat. It was all he could do to keep from bumping into innocent passersby while cautioning Beechum to keep a civil tongue in mouth. A rowdy group of soldiers was never tolerated, no matter how valiant their history.

“Now just look at the sway of those hips in front of us, Colonel,” slobbered Beechum, slurring his words and staggering from one side to the other. “Makes you want to grab that luscious …” The Colonel sprang forward to stay his hand as Beechum lunged for the young woman, …but he was too late. She turned abruptly, her eyes flashing.

“See here! What the devil is going on,” boomed the voice of the portly gentleman whose arm she had so suddenly released. He whirled about, comically brandishing his walking stick and loudly threatening to call for a constable. “How dare you filthy ruffians lay a hand on a lady and make such licentious remarks? You ought to be horse whipped for such behavior! Why the streets of London are dangerous enough without the likes of you about. Your Colonel will hear about this; you can bet on that!”

The elderly couple walking beside them now protectively urged the young woman off to the side, anxious for her wounded pride. But the victim of the affront shook her head and refused to be whisked away, staring intently at the characters in the confrontation before her.

“Sir, I am this soldier’s commanding officer, and I humbly apologize for any offense he might have given. It was inexcusable, and I hope the young lady was not too frightened by it. But as you can see, he is far too intoxicated to think clearly. He and his mates have been celebrating his upcoming wedding, and so I beg you to make an exception and let this insult pass. I know it must have been utterly distasteful to the young lady, but I assure you that the man meant no harm. However obnoxious his behavior, he was simply admiring her beauty.” He turned, having finally found the courage to look into her eyes, thinking he would find the indignant rage he knew her capable of — but he did not. She simply stared at him with a bewildered expression.

“Such disgraceful behavior cannot go unpunished!” her escort ranted. “Wedding celebration or not, he has given offense, and I shall have satisfaction!”

“Perhaps we might ask the young lady if she requires satisfaction. If she feels the incident warrants the ruin of this soldier’s character in the eyes of his bride, so be it. As she is the injured party, I believe it is for her to decide,” said the Colonel, casting a hopeful glance her way.

“She has nothing to do with it!' cried her outraged escort. “Our entire party was insulted by this impudent scoundrel, and he shall pay the penalty for such behavior.” Grabbing Beechum by the collar, he took possession of him, but the uncooperative lout collapsed into a drunken heap at his feet.

Frustrated and thoroughly revolted by Beechum’s blubbering, the man kicked him in the ribs and spat, “Get up you lazy, worthless scum.”

“Let it be, Mr. Greasely. Let the poor wretch go,” cried Juliana Fennimore, stepping closer. Her parents attempted to restrain her, but to no avail. “He has not injured me, sir, and this is far too big a fuss to be making over an insignificant slight. Please, let us just be on our way. I would much rather forget the entire incident than prolong this unpleasantness.”

“Insignificant slight?” shouted Greasely, now more indignant than ever. “My dear, no young lady under my protection shall be so dishonored without proper reprisal. I shall see to that!”

“Then you shall see to it yourself, sir, for I am going home,” she said turning on her heels. “And when you find your precious constable, you can try to explain why your victim has disappeared. Mama, Papa, will you be joining me?” she asked as she stood before the closed door of an elegant coach with the initials R.G. on the crest. The coachman had jumped down to assist her, but looked anxiously to his master for instructions. Juliana Fennimore stamped her silk slippered foot indignantly. “Open this door and take me home immediately.”

“Juliana, wait,” called her mother after her, anxiously. “We cannot take Mr. Greasely’s coach and leave him here! Be reasonable, dearest, he is only trying to defend your honor.”

“Whether I wish him to or not, it seems. Mama, please ask Mr. Greasely to be a bit more reasonable. Convince him that this incident is not worth such a commotion. Then we can all go home and enjoy the lovely dinner cook has prepared.”

After a few more moments of unpleasantness, the Colonel gratefully saw the entire party enter the coach, leaving him once again with the task of getting Beechum to his bed. He looked to the others for support, but they were equally inebriated, and so he, having heeded Morrison’s warnings, was the only one sober enough for the task. He sighed heavily and lifted Beechum onto his shoulder. Then unsteadily making his way down the street he chuckled at the memory of his tigress stamping her dainty little foot before the closed coach door. At least he now knew something about her. Juliana was too pretty and delicate a name for one of her disposition, and yet , it suited her somehow. ‘Juliana’ he repeated. But who was the boor on whose arm she had leaned tonight? Had she cast Fennimore off, he wondered, or did she have a suitor in every neighborhood in London?

***


Lady Catherine de Bourgh sat by the fire and stared into the flames. Anger, frustration and heartache had been her constant companions these many months and she was genuinely tired. These futile, unproductive meetings with the detectives she had hired always seemed to deplete her of her remaining emotional resources. How was it possible that Anne had not yet been found? If she were not so terribly hurt and humiliated by the whole ordeal, she might allow herself the luxury of worrying more. To think that a child of hers would be so ungrateful, so selfish and heartless! What had she ever done but devote herself to Anne’s well being?

When Anne had first disappeared, Lady Catherine had been certain that she would return almost as quickly as she had fled. She thought her an impetuous, angry child, running away from home only to return to its comfort and warmth when the outside world proved too much for her. She would then have a greater appreciation for what she had left behind and resume her role as the obedient, dutiful daughter. But as the days and weeks flew by, her Ladyship realized that this would not be the case and carefully considered how to handle the situation.

Unfortunately, her brother and sister-in-law had departed for Italy and were not due to return for three months yet. To whom else could she turn for help? The Darcys were surely involved in the well-planned escape, if not its instigators, so expecting any cooperation from them was utterly preposterous. Likewise, her nephew, the Colonel, would be in the Darcy camp and of no use to her at all. In this dilemma, she felt utterly betrayed and alone.

How could she, in good conscience, make this humiliation public? To announce to the world that her child had deserted her — for whatever reason --- was impossible. Besides, what good would it do, other than to bring utter disgrace to all her family … and at the same time create a hoard of opportunists who would torment her night and day! No, if Anne did not wish to be found, then professional expertise would be needed to find her and pressure would be brought to bear.

One great disadvantage was that she could not simply move to London to search for Anne herself, as all their acquaintances there would ask after her. What excuse could she possibly give when everyone knew that mother and daughter were never apart? And so, she was reduced to sitting and waiting by the fire, hoping that her child was well and that she would eventually come to her senses. She had less and less confidence that these highly paid investigators would actually be successful. They had spies posted all around the Darcy household and yet had come up with nothing. James, the coachman, was being carefully watched, while her nephew and that woman were being followed to every shop, eating establishment and private party. The only positive thing that had come out of the investigation was the satisfaction she had gained from learning that the shameless girl was cuckolding her poor, unsuspecting nephew. Well, it would all come to a head soon, she was sure, for at this last visit, the agency had reported witnessing a row between Colonel Fitzwilliam and the young man Elizabeth had involved herself with. At least someone had the good sense to try and set things right. She had known all along that Darcy had been taken in by Miss Bennet’s charms, and that her marriage vows meant little to her.

*****


When Anne finally reached home she made her excuses to Winifred and Eugenie, saying that she felt a cold coming on and needed to rest. Though they could clearly see that something was wrong, they allowed her to take to her room without a fuss. But when she was well out of earshot, Winifred eyed her sister knowingly and murmured, “I think I shall make a nice hearty broth….and perhaps bake some biscuits. I fear we shall be needing them.”

Now in the solitude of her room, Anne seated herself at her dressing table. Would she recognize the woman before her? Her eyes, glossy with tears, blurred her image, and she blinked them repeatedly to regain her focus. Did she look any different now that she knew her love was reciprocated? How could such a monumental change in one’s future not affect one’s face! Simon Fennimore loved her! It was simply too wonderful to grasp. Her love and affection would now not be limited to family members and children, but lavished on a man she adored — her husband! Her husband!! Was it possible? Would it ever really come to pass?

She had to make certain that it did, for she could no longer envision her life without him. And she knew he needed her as well. Who would see to it that he ate properly, that he took better care of himself, that he continued his life’s work? The powerful love she felt for him would make the next few months a misery, but it would also keep her strong. Now more than ever, she had to stay hidden to remain free.

*****


Richard Fitzwilliam’s eyes twinkled in merriment as he lifted his glass to his beautiful cousin in acknowledgement of the bet he had just lost. Georgiana had been right, of course; no sooner had they entered the hall than the much-maligned Lord Hendrix had bounded up to reserve the first two dances. The Colonel had to give Georgiana a great deal of credit, for she looked as if she was having a perfectly marvelous time. Pity, she loathed the man; only compassion and good breeding had prompted her to accept his entreaty.

It was good to be out and about again, and escorting Georgie to these last events of the season served several purposes. First, it relieved Darcy of the obligation, which he knew was very much appreciated, and secondly, it supplied him with priceless ammunition with which to tease Georgie at the breakfast table. Lastly, it allowed him to study the eligible young ladies at the ball with the minimum of participation, for it was perfectly acceptable for a relation, acting as an escort, to stand idly by; no one would think the worse of him for not dancing. And as was so often the case, tonight’s guest list consisted almost entirely of ladies he knew all too well — many of whom would never consider him a suitable match.

He accepted an offered canapé, and popping it into his mouth with relish, turned to greet an old acquaintance. They chatted amiably as they watched the graceful movements of the dancers in the never-ending patterns of the dance. Georgiana looked to him for reassurance now and then, and he acknowledged her with some small gesture. Yes, he was being vigilant, yes, she was always in his sights and yes, he would rescue her as soon as the dance was over.

Though he sometimes enjoyed dancing himself, he had resolved not to do so this evening as he still experienced some slight imbalance now and then and did not wish to step on anyone’s toes. There had already been, however, a few young ladies who had given him the eye, and had conveyed disappointment at the stationery position he had adopted. “Ah well, one cannot please all the ladies all the time,” he chuckled to himself.

As the music now signaled the end of the set, he ventured towards the center of the room to separate Georgiana from Lord Hendrix. To his surprise, she had already successfully liberated herself and was engaged in an animated conversation with a small party of friends. As he drew near he recognized the more mature lady of the party, and as he turned, found himself face to face with her daughter — his tigress, Juliana. How could he have missed her? With whom had she been dancing? His heart beat wildly as he searched her face. She did not look at all surprised by his sudden appearance.

“I’d like to introduce my cousin and most patient and loyal escort, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam. Earl and Lady Fennimore,” said Georgiana, nodding to each person in turn. And then, as an aside, she added, “Oh, and my friend, Miss Juliana Fennimore.”

The Colonel bowed deeply, turning to the elder Fennimores first. Their smiles were warm and welcoming. Perhaps they did not recognize him from their previous meeting, several weeks earlier. Then he straightened to look into Juliana’s eyes, hoping for a similar response, but was disappointed.

“The Colonel and I have already met — and not under the best of circumstances,” she said coldly, refusing to offer her hand as her mother had done.

“We have met before; it is true. But we’ve never been formally introduced, Miss Fennimore. I am very happy to make your acquaintance again under more pleasant circumstances,” he said, bowing to her again.

She looked irritated, casting her eyes heavenward, as if she were being sorely put upon. But the Colonel was determined to ignore her reaction. For G-d’s sake, she was Fennimore’s sister! Things were certainly looking up! Surely she could not hold his punching her brother in the jaw against him forever? Especially if she understood his reason for doing so. But, of course, he could never divulge that! Blasted! How was he going to manage this?

“I wasn’t aware that you two ladies were acquainted with one another,” he offered to fill the now awkward gap in the conversation. “You have never mentioned Miss Fennimore before, Georgiana.”

“We’ve only recently met,” she replied. “Was it not at the Krasdale’s dinner party some weeks ago?” she asked, smiling at her friend. Juliana nodded, staunchly keeping her silence and refusing to look his way.

As the musicians took up their instruments again, Georgiana turned to look for someone on the dance floor, and having found him, said, “If you will excuse me, I have promised this dance to Captain Stevens,” She curtsied and turned to join her partner, looking back over her shoulder for an instant, to grin at her cousin. He suddenly felt like an adolescent school boy at his very first dance, certain that his request for his lady’s hand would be rejected.

“Miss Fennimore,” he said in the most casual tone he could muster, “if you are not already engaged for this set, I would very much like the pleasure of dancing with you.” He braced himself, and although he knew how beautiful and seductive she could look with fire in her eyes, he hoped to see something different now. He hoped for a little mercy. How else would they ever get together?

“I didn’t think you were dancing this evening, Colonel,” she began mockingly.

He was surprised at the remark, but would not let it discourage him. “You are quite right; I had resolved not to take the chance of stepping on my partner’s toes. I’ve recently suffered an injury that affected my equilibrium, you see, but… well, that was before I knew that I would have the opportunity to dance with you. I will do my utmost to keep my balance, Miss Fennimore, if you are willing to take the risk?” He offered her his hand in a way that made it difficult for her to refuse — especially with both her parents nodding approvingly.

After a long moment, she relented and stepped out onto the dance floor with him, though she had not yet given him her hand. Positioning herself for the start of the dance, she stared intently at him, though she said not a word.

As the music started, they drifted towards each another, their hands barely brushing, their eyes fixed on one another. The Colonel, having finally determined how to begin, waited for the dance to bring them closer.

“I wish to thank you for your compassion the other night,” he began, hoping to alter the unfriendly path they had been on. But before he could continue, she cut him off abruptly.

“Do not thank me for my actions in a situation you so cunningly manipulated, Colonel. And never, ever do that to me again,” she said, with eyes blazing.

“Forgive me, Miss Fennimore, I don’t understand.”

She snorted softly in disdain. “Do you think me dimwitted, Colonel? You very conveniently thrust upon me a problem you yourself could not handle and expected me to do your bidding!” she snapped. He shook his head in disbelief. How did she always manage to turn the tables on him?

“I expected nothing!” he said in exasperation. “I did trust in your sense of compassion, however, and despite yourself, Miss Fennimore, you lived up to my expectations of you.”

She was speechless for a moment, obviously surprised, but she managed to recover quickly. “And I suppose your insightful opinion of my character was formed the first day we met — based entirely on the strength of my blows against your person.”

“Well, yes, actually,” he said with a touch of arrogance. “I thought Fennimore a very lucky man to have someone so passionate and courageous come to his defense — though I was frightfully envious. I did not realize then he was your brother.”

Though shocked by the frankness of his remark, she determined not to let it soften her opinion of him. “You owe me a great apology for the way you treated me that day,” she continued crossly. “Do you torture all your prisoners once you have rendered them powerless? You nearly pulled my arm from its socket!”

“Indeed, it is you who owe me an apology, Miss Fennimore. Your blows left me totally incapacitated for weeks — and in terrible pain, I might add. I should still be furious with you were I not in awe of your powerful swing and your exemplary devotion to your brother,” he said in a low, angry tone, though his curling lips and twinkling eyes made it clear that he was playing with her. This infuriated her further, and she was about to storm off the dance floor when he slid his arm along hers and grasped her hand, holding firm.

“As for my treatment of you that day… It was shameless; I do admit it. I don’t know what came over me at that moment, and I ask you to forgive me. It is not in my nature to inflict pain on anyone, no less a woman. Can you…will you forgive me, Miss Fennimore?”

She was thoughtful as they turned about each other in the dance, obliged as they were, to change partners for a few moments before facing each other once more.

“I can forgive you for your cruelty to me…especially since you have suffered at my hands as well…but I cannot and will not forgive you for striking my brother. He is the kindest, gentlest of men, and I am sure he gave you every opportunity to talk the problem out before it came to blows. How could you attack him when you clearly had every advantage — your height, weight, fighting expertise? Besides, what could he have possibly done to make you despise him so?”

“I’m afraid I do not yet know the answer to that question,” he said softly, “but I assure you your brother is not blameless in all this. He cannot be.”

“That is ludicrous! You must be mad!” she replied. “Are you telling me that you nearly broke his jaw, uncertain of the offense he had committed? I will not dance with you a moment longer,” she said, lifting the hem of her skirts so that she could quickly make her way out of the ballroom and onto the veranda. He dashed after her, certain that every set of eyes in the room was following him.

“I know it sounds ridiculous, and were I not bound by a confidence, I would explain it all to you. I can only tell you this. I approached your brother in a civil manner with a question of great importance to me. He made it clear that although he knew the answer to my question, he would not respond to it. Indeed, he made light of the whole conversation, and it was only then that I lost my temper. You must believe that I have had enough violence and pain to last me a lifetime and am not the sort of man to look for a row.”

“Is that all?” she said incredulously. “ He refused to answer a question? By any chance, did this question concern anyone other than yourself?” she asked with irritation. When he hesitated, she impatiently exclaimed, “Are you truly brainless, Colonel? Did you ever think that my brother, given his profession, could not answer you without betraying the privacy of a patient?”

“A patient? What, is your brother a physician?” he blurted out, obviously bewildered. “I thought he did research on insects…or plants or… Is he not a botanist? They said he was a scientist.”

She gave him another puzzled and incredulous look that deeply humiliated him. How stupid! How thick could he be? Why had he not realized?… But then, that would mean that Elizabeth was seeing him for professional reasons. Good G-d! Elizabeth was ill and trying to spare her family the painful knowledge of it! Was that why she had chosen some obscure, but gifted physician on Crestwood Lane?

His heart rate now accelerated, he anxiously, breathlessly looked to her for some further enlightenment, but she looked as perplexed as he.

“Forgive me, I must go,” he murmured in a panic, turning quickly to search out his cousin. He caught Georgiana’s attention in the middle of a dance, and gestured for her to join him.

“Richard, are you ill,” she asked, hurrying towards him. All the color had gone from his face and the irregularity of his breath was alarming.

“Uh…yes, I suddenly feel feverish. I’m sorry to spoil your evening, Georgie, but would you mind if we go? I don’t think I can remain upright for much longer.”

“Of course, we shall go immediately. I’ll get my wrap. But this must have come on rather suddenly. You looked so well earlier.” And then, looking over her cousin’s shoulder out onto the veranda, she spotted Juliana Fennimore observing them with the most peculiar expression. Sighing heavily, Georgiana linked her arm with the Colonel’s and gave him an affectionate little squeeze as they headed out together. “Forgive me for playing matchmaker, Richard. Juliana has obviously spoiled your evening. I’m obviously not very good at this sort of thing. I was so sure the two of you would hit it off together. You seemed so well suited. I’ve heard people call her difficult, but I have found her to be lively, witty and very sensible. I suppose I’ve been proved wrong.”

“No, Georgie, quite the contrary. You were right in every respect. She is lively and sensible, though a little hot headed, I suppose…but perfectly suited to my taste. Unfortunately, she and I have had a bad beginning and she is not yet ready to forget it. Let’s go home. I’m in need of a warm bed and some peace and quiet.”
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Dearest Anne Book 2, Chapter 7

Gaby A.October 20, 2020 05:24PM

Re: Dearest Anne Book 2, Chapter 7

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Re: Dearest Anne Book 2, Chapter 7

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Re: Dearest Anne Book 2, Chapter 7

milanabkinOctober 30, 2020 09:25AM

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Re: Dearest Anne Book 2, Chapter 7

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