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Dearest Anne Book 2 Chapter 9

November 02, 2020 04:21PM
Chapter Nine

Had her husband been able to see the smile on her face as he hugged her to him, he would not have understood its meaning. The relief Elizabeth felt at hearing that Anne’s desertion was finally out in the open was considerable, for this left her no choice but to tell Fitzwilliam everything. It was one thing to keep the secret from her husband when he thought Anne safe at Rosings, but now that he knew of her escape and believed her in danger, she could not needlessly torment him. Stroking his hair and hugging him tightly, she murmured softly, “Fitzwilliam, do not fret so; all will be well. Come sit beside me and tell me how you learned of this.”

“It seems that my uncle grew concerned when his sister and niece did not visit him during his recent illness — and her Ladyship’s excuses did not ring true. So as soon as he was fit enough to travel, he and my aunt made the journey to Rosings. There they learned the shocking truth. But I have not much time to linger, Elizabeth” he said, drawing back from her embrace to search out his handkerchief. I simply wanted to tell you and Georgie the news and explain why we cannot leave London just now. Richard and I are due to meet with an agent my aunt engaged some months ago. He will fill us in on all he has learned so far, and we shall then decide how to proceed.”

“Then it is especially important that we talk first,” she said anxiously, drawing him down onto the edge the bed. “Fitzwilliam, you needn’t fear for Anne’s well being. She is well and tucked safely away in a neighborhood near by. But the last thing in the world that she wants is to be discovered... and we must respect her wishes.”

“What? How on earth would you know that?” he cried, rising to stand over her.

Elizabeth felt her cheeks flush. “It is Anne who has been my secret these many months, Fitzwilliam. It is her confidence that I’ve been keeping. She especially wanted it kept from you, as she knew you would want to take on her problems as your own. I know this hurts you, my love, but I do understand her reasons for it. The situation is so complex that it is difficult to explain in such haste. In any case, you and Richard must not let on that you have any knowledge of her being in London. Indeed, you must find a way to mislead him — to throw him off course.”

Fitzwilliam Darcy continued to stare at his wife, thoroughly dumbfounded. Nothing she said made sense. One thing, however, was perfectly clear; Anne obviously saw his involvement as a hindrance rather than a help. He could not help but feel hurt.

At that moment, Richard appeared in the open doorway, a look of urgency in his eyes. “Forgive me for interrupting, but I found Georgie in the library and have asked her to wait for us there. I thought you would wish to tell her yourself, unless you…”

“No, you are quite right,” replied Darcy, taking Elizabeth’s hand. “We should all be together to hear this latest news. It seems Elizabeth knows more about this than any of us,” he said with a touch of resentment in his voice.

***


When they entered the library, Georgiana was pacing and wringing her hands. Ever since Elizabeth’s marriage to her brother, she had felt the kind of happiness and security she had rarely known before. Only in dreams, when she saw the blurred images of her mother, did she feel so safe. The home she now shared with Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth was warm and accepting, filled with love and genuine concern for all its inhabitants. But the scene at the breakfast table this morning had greatly surprised and distressed her, and now Richard was talking of a family crisis! How had all this come about so quickly…and literally under her nose? Her eyes were as large as saucers and filled with tears.

Elizabeth went to her directly and drew her into an embrace. “Georgie, dearest, there is no need for tears,” she said quickly. “There is nothing wrong that will not be set right in time. Now come sit beside me and let me tell all of you what I know.”

While Elizabeth shared her story with the family, James was sent to the office of Mr. Brimsdale, the detective, to ask for an hour’s postponement of their meeting. The hastily scribbled note said that Mr. Darcy needed a bit more time to console his sister, given the dreadful news of her cousin’s disappearance. Indeed, Georgiana was deeply distressed, and like her brother, felt the pangs of wounded pride. But above all, Georgiana marveled at her cousin’s strength and daring.

“Perhaps it is time for Anne to leave London,” suggested the Colonel. “My parents write that they will be in town no later than Saturday, and I would not be at all surprised if my father manages to persuade Lady Catherine to come as well. When they arrived at Rosings, they found her in quite a state. She has been alone with this secret for far too long, my mother writes. And with all of them milling about the town, and detectives snooping about, there will be no safe place for Anne to venture out. It would be detrimental to her health to be so confined for so long, especially when you tell us that she has gotten into the habit of walking and taking the air. We could move her to some obscure location rather easily, I should think. We could even send her abroad for the months she wishes to remain incognito.”

“You may be right, Richard. It will certainly be easier and far less risky than trying to steer the detectives away from her. A convent in Switzerland, perhaps? What do you think?” said Darcy, looking to the women of his family.

Elizabeth shook her head in nervous agitation. “Fitzwilliam, you seem to have misunderstood! I do not know where Anne is living, and I have no way of contacting her. Besides, you forget that she wants to do this without our help. That was the reason for all this secrecy.”

“What do you mean you don’t know where she is? You met with her every week; surely you…”

“No, I did not. I entered by the front door and Anne came through the servant’s entrance at the rear of the house. She asked me never to follow her, and I respected her wishes.”

“But how can we help her if we don’t know where she is,” cried the Colonel in a highly irritated tone.

Elizabeth’s frustration was palpable. “Anne knows you both so well. You have this uncontrollable need to manage everything — to take the helpless little lady under your protection. Haven’t you been listening to a word I’ve said?”

“I have, my love,” said Darcy, tenderly. “But I also feel that the situation has now changed completely. With her Ladyship coming to London and the possibility of the entire affair becoming public, I fear she will be found out. Think of all the people she has come into contact with already. You say she frequented the sweet shop regularly; surely the owners will make the connection once a description of her is published in the papers. People feel it is their duty to help find a missing person…especially if there is hope of a reward.”

Georgiana now squeezed Elizabeth’s hand. “I must say that I agree with Fitzwilliam, Elizabeth. Aunt Catherine knows not to trust us, and she is clever enough to suspect our involvement. If the search goes on for too long without success, she may come to realize that we are leading the detectives astray. I don’t see why Anne doesn’t come forward now. Surely nine months is a very long time for a young woman to be entirely on her own. But if she will not, then I think it is best for her to be as far away as possible.”

Richard Fitzwilliam nodded, and Elizabeth could make no convincing argument against it.

Darcy came to sit on the other side of his wife, and lovingly took her hand. “Think Elizabeth, surely Anne must have let something slip about her living arrangements. Can you think of nothing that would help us find her?”

Elizabeth shook her head. “She is so disciplined and determined; she measures every word. There is someone, however, with whom she may have been more open. I hesitated telling you earlier for fear that the two of you would jump to conclusions again,” she said, looking from her husband to her cousin, “but I believe Anne has formed a strong attachment to Dr. Fennimore. He may know more than I.”

“And does he return her affection?” asked Georgiana eagerly, her eyes suddenly aglow. “You have always described him as a fine gentleman.”

“I believe he does,” replied Elizabeth, smiling, “though I obviously can’t know if they have declared their feelings for one another. I only know what I saw and felt when we were together. They are both besotted; of that I am sure.”

“Then we shall have to speak to him immediately and take him into our confidence,” said Fitzwilliam.

“But going to his home is out of the question,” said Elizabeth. “We will lead this detective directly to him and then make it impossible for him to be of any use to us or Anne.”

“Then we must find a way to contact him more discreetly,” said Darcy.

“I can invite Juliana over for tea, or go and visit her? We can do this all through her” offered Georgiana.

“Juliana? Who is Juliana?” asked Darcy, perplexed.

“Fennimore’s sister,” said the Colonel, reddening. “It is a long story…to be told on another day— but as time is of the essence and as Miss Fennimore may not be able to visit immediately, I could try to see her on the premise that I am delivering Georgie’s invitation.”

“Won’t that seem a bit odd, Richard?” Elizabeth’s brows arched in surprise.

“Perhaps…but I am willing to risk it.” He winked at Georgiana as he continued, “I have another reason for wanting to see her.”

There was an awkward, perplexing silence as everyone shot furtive glances at everyone else. Impatient, Darcy finally broke the spell, saying, “Well, let’s get to it then. Elizabeth, I think it best if the letter to Fennimore came from you; there is a relationship there, after all. And Georgie, you write the invitation and address the letter in your hand. Richard and I will meet with Brimsdale and convince him of our complete innocence in the scheme — which should not be difficult given that it was the truth until a half hour ago! As soon as we return, Richard will be on his way to Miss Fennimore’s. Let us hope she is at home. I would hate this missive to get into the wrong hands.”

***


Colonel Fitzwilliam tethered his horse to a pole behind a richly appointed carriage waiting outside the Fennimore home. As he passed it, he recognized the initials on the crest — R.G.

“Blast! Is that vulture still circling?” he muttered to himself, wondering whether he should return the next morning or wait for Greasley to take his leave. Perhaps the man had been invited to dinner and would remain for some hours yet. But before the Colonel had the chance to make his decision, the gentleman himself came storming out of the house, huffing and wheezing and muttering angrily to himself. His puffy red face looked as if it was about to burst with indignation. A linen dinner napkin still tucked under his chin, he waddled down the front steps.

The Colonel stepped forward to have a bit of fun. Aiming directly at him, he bumped Greasley lightly as they passed on the stairs.

“I do beg your pardon,” said the Colonel, in a jovial tone, tipping his hat and flashing Greasley a cheeky grin. But the man was so overwrought that despite a momentary spark of recognition, he simply glared at the Colonel for an instant and moved on. Shouting impatiently at his driver, he entered his carriage and was gone.

The Colonel straightened his coat, squared his soldiers and proceeded up the steps. Once on the landing, he was assaulted by the derisive sounds of the confrontation within. Lord Fennimore was raging, Lady Fennimore was pleading and more than one door was being slammed off its hinges.

“AH… that would be my tigress, no doubt,” chuckled the Colonel. “Perfect timing!” He lifted the knocker.

It took longer than usual for the maid to come to the door, but the Colonel stood, waiting patiently.

“Good evening, sir,” said she with a small curtsy, her eyes nervously shifting from his face to that of her mistress, who was standing at the bottom of the stairs at the other end of the foyer.
“May I help you?”

“Yes, I would like to see Miss Fennimore, please. Richard Fitzwilliam calling.”

“I don’t think Miss Fennimore is accepting visitors just now, sir,” she said, anxiously glancing back towards her mistress again.

“Oh, forgive me. Is the family at table?” he asked with his most charming grin. “How inconsiderate of me. I was just passing and thought I might deliver this letter.”

“I’d be happy to give it to Miss Fennimore, if you please, sir,” she said, stretching out her hand to receive it.


“I was asked to put it directly into her hands, Miss. Could you not ask if she would grant me but a brief interview? I shall not take up much of her time.” His smile was so confident, so completely disarming that after only a moment’s hesitation the maid asked him to wait while she consulted her mistress.

Lady Fennimore, who had been watching the entire exchange with great interest, was making her way to the door even before the maid approached her. Dismissing the young woman with a wave of her hand, she looked at the Colonel with great curiosity.

“Colonel Fitzwilliam, is it not,” she asked.

“Yes, my Lady. How good to see you again,” replied the Colonel, giving her his most gallant bow.

“And what brings you to us at this time of day, Colonel? Is something amiss?” Her smile betrayed her amusement.

“No, no, nothing at all is amiss. My cousin, Georgiana Darcy, was just finishing this missive to your daughter, Madam, when I came to take my leave of her. And as I was going to pass on my way to the club, I offered to deliver it.”

“I see,” said Lady Fennimore, with a knowing grin, “and are those gorgeous roses from Miss Darcy as well?”

The Colonel blushed and gave her a discomfited smile. “No madam, these, I will admit, are from me. As you may have noticed on the evening of the ball, I left Miss Fennimore rather suddenly — without taking leave of her or giving any explanation for my behavior. The truth is I have come to apologize. I am aware of the hour, Lady Fennimore, but I hoped that…”

“My daughter has had a rather trying evening, Colonel. I don’t know that she is up to receiving anyone, …but I shall go and ask her. Would you care to wait in the small sitting room? Agnes will show you the way.”

“Certainly, your Ladyship…and thank you.”

***


Once left on his own, the Colonel began to chastise himself. “You’re getting too cocky, Fitzwilliam. You may have charmed your way into this sitting room, but don’t forget who you’ll be dealing with now. Juliana will have you out on your bum if you try to bamboozle her. Remember your main objective and don’t let those blue eyes get the better of you!”

When he heard the door open, he spun around and found himself gazing into those dangerously bewitching pools. He might have allowed himself to drown in them, had not Lady Fennimore followed her daughter into the room. She seated herself by the window and picked up her embroidery.

“Colonel Fitzwilliam, this is a surprise. I trust you are feeling better,” said Juliana Fennimore.

Her voice was calm, but he could sense that underneath that composed exterior she was in a heightened state of anxiety. It was obvious that she had been weeping, though a less keen dobserver might not have seen the well-masked evidence of it. His heart ached to see her so unhappy, but rejoiced at what he hoped was the improvement of his own situation. Perhaps he would be able to coax a genuine smile from her lips before his visit was through.

“Indeed I am; thank you. I did feel rather ill when I left you so abruptly on the veranda the other evening, and since then, I’ve been concerned that you may have misinterpreted my actions. I’ve come to extend my sincere apology,” he said most tenderly. “I hope you will accept these flowers as a token of my esteem.” He bowed, then stepped towards her, extending the bouquet.

“They are exceptionally beautiful! Thank you, Colonel,” she said, smiling with some embarrassment as she accepted them. “I did realize you must have been terribly unwell to call your cousin off the dance floor.”

“Yes, I felt awful about spoiling her evening, but it could not be helped. I hope, however, that you had a pleasant time after we left. The musicians were very good; were they not?”

“Yes, indeed they were. I enjoyed the music immensely, even when I was not dancing.” Her cheeks flushed suddenly, making her more beautiful than ever in his eyes. He came to her rescue with a change of topic.

“My secondary mission was to deliver this note from Georgiana. I am glad that the two of you have become friends; it will give me the opportunity to see you more often, Miss Fennimore.”

Her color deepened as his fingers brushed, ever so lightly, against hers in the exchange.

“It is an invitation to tea, I believe, and if you open it now and furnish me with a reply, I shall be honored to play messenger once again.”

“Yes, of course, Colonel. Please be seated.”

Juliana broke the seal, looked up at him and said, “Excuse me while I take a minute to read her note.”

She sat at the edge of the chair, her back straight, a sweet smile on her lips as her eyes darted across the page. Towards the bottom of the page, her expression changed, however. Her reading slowed, her eyes widened, and she looked up from the letter several times to look at him questioningly. He gazed at her intently and smiled reassuringly. She discreetly felt the corner of the paper to see if there was another piece underneath it, and once convinced that there was, folded the letter up again and held it tightly to her.

“What a lovely invitation,” she exclaimed. “I would be very happy to come. I don’t believe we have any urgent plans for tomorrow afternoon; do we, Mama?”

As Lady Fennimore opened her mouth to speak, loud, determined steps could be heard outside the door. A second later, Lord Fennimore entered without ceremony. He looked confused when he saw the Colonel sitting there and turned to his wife angrily, “What the devil is he going on here? Didn’t I send her to her room?”

“Yes, dear, you did. But I allowed Juliana to…”

“Father please!” murmured Juliana under her breath. “At least let me show the Colonel out before we start this again. You are embarrassing him…and me!”

“I embarrass you?” Lord Fennimore bellowed. “After what you have done to me tonight? Why you selfish, ungrateful girl! I shall never understand what you are about! “

“Father, please allow me to escort our guest to the door. I shall return in a moment,” she hastily interrupted. And nodding to the Colonel, she turned to leave the room.

“And what have you got there?” barked her father, noting the letter in her hand. “Have you gotten into the habit of accepting letters from gentleman behind my back as well? Give it here,” he said, grabbing it out of her hand.

Unfolding the letter, he read the first few lines, tore it into several pieces and threw them up in the air, declaring, “You can forget about this or any other invitation! You are confined to this house until tomorrow afternoon when you leave for your Aunt Helen’s. I wash my hands of you Juliana! I have had enough! If you do not wish to take your proper place in society then you shall have no society at all. That is my final word. Now go to your room!”

The Colonel had not taken a breath since the barrage had begun and now drew a quick breath as Juliana shamelessly stooped to collect the papers from the floor. Her chin held high, she brazenly glared at her father for a moment, then dashed the torn pieces into the fire.

“Colonel Fitzwilliam,” she said, with quiet dignity. “May I show you out?”

“Indeed, thank you,” he mumbled, and bowing to Lady Fennimore, followed Juliana to the foyer.

She walked so quickly he had to lengthen his stride to keep up with her. And when she turned, he could see that she was having difficulty holding herself together.

“Miss Fennimore,” he said hurriedly. “My family must get in touch with your brother. It is of great urgency.” Nodding with understanding, she whispered, “I doubt that I will be able to see my brother before I am sent away. He now works with Dr. Morrison several days a week, so you’ll be able to reach him there. When you do speak to him, please tell him that I shall write as soon as I can. I’m sorry that I am not in a position to help you. I must go. Good-bye…and Colonel, I am very sorry for all the pain I’ve caused you. I do wish you well.”

Urging him out, she closed the door.

Stunned by the sudden overthrow of all his hopeful plans, the Colonel remained fixed outside the door for some time. He wanted to believe that Juliana was still standing on the other side of it — that she could feel his presence through the solid oak. How could he leave her to bear all this alone? She had, of course, been dealing with her father without him all her life! Yet he felt as if he was somehow abandoning her.

***


Simon Fennimore put away the last of the instruments he had cleaned and was about to roll down his sleeves when he heard the urgent rapping on the door.

“Merciful G-d, not another emergency!” he muttered under his breath. “I’ll never get home tonight!”

“Hold on; I’m coming,” he called out, grabbing his coat from the hook along the way.

“Yes, can I…” He stopped mid-sentence when he recognized the Colonel, his brow furrowing with concern. “Are you ill, Colonel? Come in; come in. What is wrong?”

“Is Morrison in?” asked the Colonel, quickly stepping inside and closing the door.

“No, he had one last patient to see before heading home for the night. But I assure you that I am qualified to help you if you would only tell me what is a matter.”

“Nothing is the matter with me…that is, nothing concerning my health; I am well recovered, thank you. And I am glad that Morrison is out, because it is you I have come to see. Can we sit down together, Fennimore? It’s important.”

“Yes, of course; come this way,” said the doctor, leading the Colonel into Morrison’s comfortable office. “You are not about to press me about Mrs. Darcy, I hope. I can tell you nothing.”

“You do not need to. Mrs. Darcy revealed the whole story to her family earlier this afternoon,” replied Fitzwilliam as he took the offered seat.

Fennimore looked shocked.

“As you may already know, Anne’s mother and my father are sister and brother. I received a letter from my father this morning, telling me of Anne’s lengthy absence from Rosings…for he had just learned of it himself. It seems the family elders will be descending on London on Friday or Saturday and we, the younger generation, are all in agreement that Anne is no longer safe here. My aunt will no doubt go to the authorities and claim Anne as a missing person. Once her identity is revealed, it won’t be long before someone gives her away.”

Fennimore rose from his seat, raked his fingers through his hair, then gazed at the Colonel thoughtfully. “And you believe I know where she is; am I right?”

“Yes, we were hopeful that you could get a message to her and help us to get her out of the city…You do know where she is?”

“Sadly no, I do not,” said Fennimore, shaking his head. “Anne wouldn’t risk my leading anyone to her. I have no idea where she resides. She only sometimes spoke of her dear, sweet ladies— but then, it is only natural that she would be living with ladies.”

“Then how in heaven’s name are we going to find her?” muttered the Colonel, softly to himself. “So it will come down to who can find her first — her Ladyship’s detectives or us? What an utterly ludicrous situation!”

Fennimore began to pace, his forehead knotted in concentration.

“There is something that may serve as a starting point for our investigation, however.”

“Go on,” said the Colonel, attentively.

“If I recall correctly, Anne always arrived by hansom cab on days of inclement weather…or on days that she seemed particularly tired. I remember that distinctly because when her heart rate and pulse were sluggish, I would comment…and she would then assure me that she had conserved her energy and taken a cab. More often, however, she would arrive with a rosy glow on her cheeks and a significantly elevated heart rate. Now, I cannot swear that she always came from her place of residence, but if she did, then we can easily mark a radius of about a mile around Crestwood Lane. I know she would not be capable of walking a distance greater than that. There are some neighborhoods within that radius that would be totally inappropriate for a young woman alone, but others… Well, it is a place to start.”

“Indeed, it is! It is a brilliant deduction, though I don’t quite know how we shall put it to use just yet. If we roam the streets of those neighborhoods or question its inhabitants shall we not be drawing attention to ourselves? No, that will not do. But I shall take the information back to the Darcys’, and we shall ponder the problem together. I wish I could invite you to join us, Fennimore, but it is too great a risk.”

“I understand. And before you leave, Colonel Fitzwilliam, there is something else I must share with you, for I never want you or Mr. Darcy to think me devious or underhanded in my dealings with your cousin. The truth is, Miss de Bourgh has become so much more than a patient to me. I love her very deeply and wish her to be my wife. It is true that we have spent a great deal of time alone together…alone in public, that is. We would sometimes have a bite to eat together or take a walk in the park, but I assure you that nothing improper ever happened between us,” said Fennimore with as earnest expression as he could manage, given the images that were whirling about in his head. “I asked Anne if there was someone I could approach to make my intentions known, but she insisted that I wait. I hope you and Mr. Darcy understand the predicament I was in.”

Richard Fitzwilliam smiled and placed a hand on Fennimore’s shoulder. “No need to worry. I will admit that both Darcy and I have not always trusted you…ahem,” the Colonel cleared his throat. “That is putting it mildly,” he now joked, “but…since we have learned all that you have done for Anne, …no, let me correct that — all that you have done for us, we cannot but admire you, sir. Mrs. Darcy has always assured us that you are a truly fine gentleman, and now we know it to be true. I look forward to calling you cousin, Fennimore.”

Simon Fennimore’s color deepened, his eyes moistened slightly. “Thank you, Fitzwilliam, as do I.”

“There is something else that we must discuss before I bid you good-night. I came from your parents’ home on Harley Street just now, and I’m afraid I intruded at a rather difficult time. I do not know the whole of it, but your father was in rage concerning your sister. He is sending her to an aunt some time tomorrow and has confined Miss Fennimore to her room for the evening. I thought you should know the situation. Perhaps you can mediate a solution…or at least help lessen the severity of the punishment. Miss Fennimore is very distressed, as you can well imagine.”

“Mediate it?” Fennimore forced out a bitter and sarcastic laugh. “I am not even allowed in the house, Colonel! My poor, sweet mother is forbidden to utter my name or to come and see me! Only Juliana defies my father and continues to treat me as she always has. No, I cannot help in that way, but I shall send off an express immediately so that she receives it upon her arrival at my aunt’s. I shall assure her that I will come and fetch her as soon as I feel it is prudent to do so. If I bring her back too soon, my father will see it as a defiance of his word and perhaps take even more drastic action. But if I allow Julie to remain there a month and then go and get her, he will at least feel that the punishment he metered out was accepted. Thank you for bringing me this news, Colonel. My sister will rest easy… perhaps, even enjoy the country as long as she knows it is only for a short period of time.”

The Colonel nodded, then screwed up his face in thought. “Fennimore, would you like to see your sister and reassure her in person? I believe I can arrange it.”

****

Juliana Fennimore stared blankly out the window of her coach and listened to her mother drone on. Poor Mama, she thought. How can she bear living with this constant guilt and anxiety? She can please no one — least of all herself. I would rather live with Aunt Helen forever then with a man who bullies me and heartlessly separates me from my children.

Ever since she was a snip of girl, Juliana remembered feeling great pity for her mother…while being angry with her, all the while. She, being of such an independent nature, could not understand how her mother tolerated her father’s ill humour, his unreasonable demands and above all, his outrageous edicts! Why had she not found the strength to speak out in defense of her son when she had been the only one remotely capable of influencing her husband? Why was she allowing him to banish her to Aunt Helen’s now? Not that she minded being with Helen. Now that Simon was out of the house, Helen was far better company than anyone at home, and she loved her dearly. But the small, rural community in which she lived had little to offer by way of society, culture or entertainment. Her only solace would be the ability to ride as long and hard as she liked in a regular saddle.

“You know how your father is, dearest. In a few months he shall miss you so terribly that he will send for you and pretend that nothing happened. It is terribly difficult for him at the moment. As Mr. Greasley is a member of his club, he feels he cannot show his face there…and with nowhere else to spend his leisure hours, he is in the worst of tempers. Please understand; your father only did what he thought was best for you.”

Juliana’s head snapped round at this absurd statement. “Do you really believe that, Mama? Do you really think that father cares about my happiness? All he wants is to get me off his hands…to marry me off to someone he can boast about at his precious club! He cares nothing for what my day to day life would be like with such a man. Just as he cares little for what you suffer.”

“Do not speak so about your father, Juliana! I will not have it,” interrupted Lady Fennimore indignantly. “No man is perfect, as you yourself shall see if you ever marry. Life gives each of us certain blessings and many challenges, and it is up to us to make the best of what we have been given and be as happy as possible.”

“Is denying yourself the pleasure of seeing your own son what you call making the best of it, Mama?” Juliana said with genuine sympathy. She wanted to add that women sometimes had to win the respect they deserved…but bit her lip, instead. She reached for her mother’s hand and pressed it. “I know how much you miss him, Mama—how very lonely you are for his company. If only I knew how to help you.”

The coach, which had been traveling at a fine clip, was slowing down somewhat, and Juliana leaned out her window to see what was the matter. Further down the road, some soldiers in uniform had stopped a farmer’s cart and Post coach. They seemed to be questioning the travelers and inspecting their goods and belongings.

“Oh, bother!” grumped Juliana, annoyed by what would be an obvious delay of at least half an hour. “Soldiers have blocked the road up ahead. They must be looking for a highwayman or some stolen goods. This sort of thing has been happening far too often these days. What kind of society have we become?” she grumbled, leaning back forcefully against her seat.

A soldier on horseback slowly approached their carriage, his head tilted down, his hat covering his eyes. When he finally lifted his chin and grinned, Juliana gave out a little cry of surprise.

“Ladies,” said he, removing his hat and making his horse bow gracefully before them. Then straightening, he winked at Juliana and offered his most charming smile to Lady Fennimore.

Juliana laughed at her mother’s perplexed countenance, “It is Colonel Fitzwilliam, Mama. What an amazing coincidence! We shall certainly not be delayed for too long now.”

“What is the problem, Colonel? Are we in any danger?” asked Lady Fennimore.

“No, no, Madam, the thief has just now been discovered, “ he said, grinning at Juliana, “but we are still looking for a stolen item. My orders are to have each and every carriage, cart and rider searched. Forgive me, but it will be necessary for one of my men to enter your carriage as well. Please remain seated; it will only take a moment.”

With the ladies' attention drawn to the Colonel, a uniformed officer entered the coach from the other side and seated himself beside Lady Fennimore. Startled, she turned, then let out a cry mixed with anguish and elation.

“Simon, Simon, my darling boy!” she sobbed, clutching her son to her. “What are you doing here? And what in the world are you doing in that uniform…?”

“Mother, don’t you see!” cried Juliana excitedly. “Our meeting is the very reason for this elaborate hoax! The Colonel has arranged it.”

As the words left her lips, their true meaning suddenly struck Juliana Fennimore like a bolt from heaven, and she turned to look incredulously at the Colonel, who sat upon his steed gazing at her intently—his eyes filled with tender affection. Their gaze locked and held, as if in a warm embrace that neither of them could break. Finally distracted by her mother’s loud exclamations and intermittent sobs, she mouthed her thank you and turned her attention back to her family.

The Colonel grinned contentedly and, for a few moments, watched the affectionate reunion before him. But suddenly feeling like an intruder in some intimate tete-a-tete, he turned his attention to the driver.

“Pull the coach off to the side and wait there,” he ordered, before riding off to thank and dismiss his men. When he returned, he dismounted, tethered Fennimore’s horse to the carriage, and still holding on to his reins, sprang up to the seat beside the driver.

“My good man,” he said coolly, “I don’t know where your loyalties lie, but I strongly suggest that you keep this little incident entirely to yourself. If Lord Fennimore gets wind of it, I shall know whom to blame and believe me, you shall regret your actions.”

“No need to threaten me, Colonel! I’d do anything to help young Master Simon. Best man I know.”

“Good man!” said the Colonel joyfully slapping the driver on the back. “So take us on ahead and stop at some decent little inn for refreshments—nothing too posh, mind you. We can’t risk being recognized.” And with that, he jumped back on his horse and waved the driver on.

“Are we moving? Are you coming with us?” asked Lady Fennimore in a nervous flutter as the carriage lurched forward.

“The Colonel and I shall accompany you most of the way to Aunt Helene’s so that the three of us have time to talk; then we shall return back to London. Mother, my plan is find a larger flat for Juliana and myself to share – hopefully, in a somewhat better part of town. It all depends on the cost, of course, but Dr. Morrison has given me an advance on my wages to make it all possible. When I have moved my furnishings and settled in a bit, I shall come and fetch you, Julie. So do not fret. Your home shall be in London with me, and you can visit Aunt Helen whenever you yearn for some time in the country. How does that sound?”

“It sounds wonderful!” exclaimed Juliana, bending forward to kiss his cheek. “And the best part is that we will be able to spend time with you, Mama. We shall arrange it; you will see.”

“Your father will never allow it! He shall have an absolute fit!.”

“We do not expect him to allow it, Mama, nor do we foresee his being able to do very much about it,” said Fennimore. “He may rage about for a week or two, but really, Mama, what could he possibly do to you that he hasn’t already done? He is not a violent man, thank heaven, but he is hardly what you would call good company — he spends most of his time at the club. He could cut your clothing allowance, I suppose, but he is too proud to admit to the world that he estranged himself from his wife as well as both his children!! You must be brave Mama, and it will all eventually come to right.”

Lady Fennimore turned her head to gaze, silently and anxiously, out her window while her children grinned at one another. The time of turning had begun; her children had grown more clever and insightful than she. From now on, she would depend on them, instead of the other way around. Not that they had been able to depend on her all that much in the past, she sadly realized.

Thankful for the momentary lull in the conversation, Juliana turned her head to smile at Colonel Fitzwilliam, riding along beside them. She had known that he was there, felt his presence even as she had focused her attention on her brother. Yet, it was terribly rewarding to see his calm, self-assured countenance smiling back at her. From the first, she had thought him especially attractive, with a handsome face only enhanced by his intelligence and wit — even when she was still convinced that he was a brute. His charming manner and surprising faith in her good nature had unsettled her at each of their last encounters. He had seen through her hard facade almost immediately, and now, it seemed, he was trying to show her how much he cared for her. Was it really possible that such a man, a truly fine man, if one could believe the biased assertions of a loving cousin, could wish to court her? She blushed at his intense gaze, then looked away. How she wished she could have more time to get to know him. Surely, she would not be back in London for another month. Would he be patient and wait for her return? Or was he the sort of charming fellow who moved on effortlessly, shifting his attentions from lady to lady? PLEASE! Don’t play with my heart thought Juliana as she turned back to smile at her brother and squeeze his hand.

***

After another two hours of travel, the coachman stopped at a modest little inn, not directly on the road, but set back somewhat into the wooded hillside. He had obviously known of its existence, and soon had a small private dining room arranged for them. The Colonel, hoping for the opportunity to sit beside Miss Fennimore, was disappointed and had to content himself with sitting opposite her, enjoying her animated conversation and shy smiles. Listening to the family’s amiable chatter, he remained silent for most of the meal, allowing them to continue catching up.

Juliana glanced up at him every now and then to include him—if not in the conversation, than in her attentions. She need not have worried, however, about his feeling left out. He was happy to simply sit and gaze at her.

When their meal was concluded, Miss Fennimore begged for a few moments to stretch her legs before continuing the journey — for which the Colonel was especially thankful. It was the opportunity he had waited for. Though when they were finally alone — walking a short distance behind the others down the wooded lane, he was uncertain as how to begin.

They strolled in silence for a while, getting used to the unspoken, but acknowledged change in the relationship between them. It was strange to no longer be bickering about this and that, or trying to best the other in some inane verbal duel. The silence was soothing — comforting somehow.

After a while, Juliana broke out in a playful grin as she remembered an exchange they had had earlier.

“I’m curious, Colonel…what would you have claimed as the precious stolen object—had you been pressed for it? What was it that your imaginary thief had absconded with?”

The genuinely serious look on his face her baffled.

“You’ve quite mistaken the situation, Miss Fennimore. I would never have called my men out on false pretenses. I dismissed them when we caught up with the robber, simply because I do not seek the return of the stolen object; only the assurance that it is being held in safekeeping.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand, Colonel. I thought it was all an excuse to stop our carriage?”

“It was,” he said softly, taking both her hands in his and bringing them up to his lips for a kiss.

“I could not allow you to leave London with my heart in your possession without knowing what you intended to do with it?”

“Are you accusing me of thievery, Colonel,” said Juliana, all in a blush, when she had finally recovered from her surprise. “I assure you that it was unintentionally done. I have trouble enough looking after my own heart, no less yours. We know each other so little.” She glanced away, not knowing where to look, but the blush that rose from her décolletage and traveled up to her beautiful face deepened and betrayed how affected she was by his statement.

“Well, that is easy enough to remedy, if you would allow it, Miss Fennimore. So you must tell me … if I were to find myself in the vicinity of your aunt’s home, would I be welcome.”

“Indeed you would, Colonel. My aunt is very fond of good company, and I know she would appreciate your sense of humour.”

“And would you be happy to see me as well?” he persevered boldly, not allowing her to tease her way out of a straight answer.

“Very much so, Colonel. I would truly look forward to your visit,” she answered, looking at him directly. Her steady, but gentle gaze made him grin broadly.

“Then shall I apply to your father when I am back in London?” he said teasingly. ”Do you think he will give his permission for me to court you? I am but a lowly second son, you know.”

“As far as I am concerned, my father has lost that privilege. You may, however, seek my brother’s permission…that is, if you think he has forgiven you for brutalizing him,” she replied with a mischievous smile.

“Oh, I believe he has, Miss Fennimore. Your brother is a good and reasonable man, and we have more in common than you realize. I think I can safely say that he will approve and that you can expect to see me very soon…and very often.”

“Well, what a lovely change in situation,” said Juliana, her eyes sparkling, as she eyed him with some measure of embarrassment. “It seems my banishment to the country shall not be so tiresome after all!”
SubjectAuthorPosted

Dearest Anne Book 2 Chapter 9

Gaby A.November 02, 2020 04:21PM

Re: Dearest Anne Book 2 Chapter 9

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Re: Dearest Anne Book 2 Chapter 9

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Re: Dearest Anne Book 2 Chapter 9

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Re: Dearest Anne Book 2 Chapter 9

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Re: Dearest Anne Book 2 Chapter 9

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Re: Dearest Anne Book 2 Chapter 9

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