Anne Elliot looked out from her position at her mother's pianoforte to the gardens of Kellynch Hall. All but the nearest garden was obscured in the dark of the stormy day. The roses that she tended tirelessly were drooping; drenched in the rain. Shivers ran through Anne's body as she gazed at the roses. She told herself to stop thinking: just play. She centered her thoughts on the notes that she was playing. One note followed another in dreary succession, for the piece was as bleak as the day.
Her mind was not in a mood to follow orders. It moved to the subject which it inevitably would always move: to him. Though it had been three years since she had seen him, she never ceased to think of him. At times, she joined in life and imagined herself happy: with no thoughts of him. Just as she would picture herself the most content, though, she would swing into lowness at the chance pronunciation of one word: "Frederick." How could she be happy, without him, she would ask herself at those times. How could she laugh without his laughter mingling with hers? How could she play her pianoforte without his judgement? How could she--
"Miss?" A voice broke into her reverie.
Anne abruptly ceased her playing. She turned to the door, completely unaware of what the servant was saying until she heard the words "Mr. Charles Musgrove, just arrived."
"Oh! Thank you, Becky." She had forgotten about her arrangement to go to a local dance with Mr. Musgrove and his sister, Miss Louisa Musgrove. She had dressed early and decided to play the pianoforte for a quick moment before their arrival. The quick moment had passed to an hour, Anne realized, surprised at herself.
Becky was still waiting at the door; her face uncertain, and Anne realized that she was waiting for her to say something more. "I am coming and will not need your services, Becky."
The maid bobbed and departed from the open door. Anne stood from her seat at the pianoforte and stepped out of the dark room. She walked to the sitting room, where a young man stood by the fireplace, a young lady seated opposite from him. The young man stepped toward Anne, a pleasant smile on his face.
"Miss Anne, what a pleasure to see you."
"Good evening, Mr. Musgrove," Anne said, nodding her head in reply to his bow.
"Louisa and I were just saying how lucky we are to have made your acquaintance; as it were, by chance."
Anne smiled modestly. "It was quite fortunate that we were both at the concert and that Mr. Lawson should have been there to make our introduction."
"Yes, indeed," Mr. Musgrove said. "I was to go hunting that afternoon, but the day was as rainy as to-day, so Louisa and Henrietta convinced me to accompany them."
"And he took quite a lot of convincing." The seated young lady spoke. She was a beautiful young woman; all fair complexioned and blond-curled. Anne thought that she was all the prettier in the company of herself. "Charles was convinced that the rain would pass, and that he would have to spend a dull afternoon listening to music, when he could be out shooting."
"But it rained all afternoon, and as I spent all the time in your company, I had one of the most entertaining afternoons in my recollection."
"Why, thank you Mr. Musgrove," Anne said, sincerely flattered.
"Oh! The time! I think we shall be late," Louisa exclaimed. "And I am engaged to Mr. Martin for the first dance. We should hurry."
Mr. Musgrove extended his arm, which Anne took. She walked with Louisa on her right, Mr. Musgrove to her left. They paused to don overcoats and cloaks, and then stepped out into the cool night.
The prospect from the steps of Kellynch Hall was a dark and shadowed courtyard. Anne tightened her cloak around her, glad for the cover of and umbrella, which a servant was carefully carrying overhead. Mr. Musgrove helped her into the waiting carriage and then extended his arm to his sister. Anne smiled, thinking what a thoughtful, kind young man he was. Since their first meeting at the concert several weeks ago, he had been so attentive and considerate of her. How lucky Louisa was to have him as a brother, she thought. Finding kindness among others' relations was always bittersweet to Anne, for her own seemed to have so little kindness and sense. Thank goodness for Lady Russell, she thought. The aging woman had been her mothers' closest friend, and was her own best confidant and dear friend. From Lady Russell she always received love and consideration.
They arrived at the ball just on time for the first dance. Louisa ran to join the dance, her red silk dress aglow in the bright lights of the dance floor.
"May I have this dance, Miss Anne?" Mr. Musgrove asked her. She was pleased to join in: the dance was a waltz, and one of her favorites. She lifted the train of her pale blue dress and entered the floor.
Though it was only a small ball, many from the neighborhood were there, and the dancing was lively. Anne's cheeks were uncommonly warm with the motion.
"Do you plan on being home to-morrow morning?" Mr. Musgrove asked as they paused for breath midway through the dance.
"Yes, of course," Anne answered. "I never have many engagements." She knew that Elizabeth or Mary would tell her that was a tasteless comment, but Anne knew Mr. Musgrove would take it as it was meant, as an honest remark.
"Good," Mr. Musgrove said. "I should particularly like to talk with you; I shall not be bringing my sister."
Anne blushed. "Mr. Mu--musgrove," she stuttered.
"Nothing to worry about," he soothed. "I just think my sister sometimes hoards the conversation and I should like to talk to you."
"Oh, I see." Anne relaxed. "And I think Louisa has good intentions."
The pace of the dance had quickened, but he continued to talk as they waltzed. "Louisa is well-intended but voluble. Sometimes I wonder how I manage with two such sisters around all day. I wonder how you manage. I almost believe Miss Mary could out talk either of my sisters."
Anne joined in his laughter. "I can well believe it."
The dance ended, and Mr. Musgrove took her arm, escorting her to the refreshment room, where they both sipped punch and sat down to rest their feet. Anne saw Louisa in the midst of the room, surrounded by young men. Anne was glad that she herself had an escort to the dance and did not have to show herself. She well knew that there were far prettier young ladies than herself here, and she had never liked the competition of a dance.
A jolt of memory hit her heart at her turn of thoughts. Frederick had loved to dance. She remembered one night, when she had dressed in a rose gown, and Frederick had told her that she was "the prettiest girl alive." He had shown her off the entire night . . .
"Miss Anne, are you well? You look dreadfully pale." It was Mr. Musgrove, and his face was creased with concern.
"I-- I'm fine."
"No, I'm quite sure you're not. You look quite unwell."
"I just need-- some more punch. That's all." Anne knew her voice was faint.
"Are you sure? Here, take mine." She took the glass with a shaking hand and sipped the cool liquid slowly.
"There, I'm much better," she said.
"Are you quite sure?"
She nodded. Indeed, the moment was over, and she felt color returning to her face.
"Well, I insist that you rest here a while until you feel equal to dancing again. I'll wait with you."
Sitting down for the rest of the dance was the last thing Anne wanted to do. "I'm quite ready to dance now," she said. "It was but a passing tremor, and I feel quite well now."
Mr. Musgrove was finally convinced, and they returned to the dance floor. The remainder of the evening passed pleasantly, Anne danced almost the entire evening.
"You danced with Mr. Malcolm?" Anne's dear friend Lady Russell asked. "What a handsome young man he is."
Anne smiled, though from her position at the pianoforte, her back was to Lady Russell.
"It was unfortunate that I should have had a dinner engagement, or I should have chaperoned Elizabeth and Mary to the dance," her friend continued. "But I am glad you had an enjoyable time. Practicing your music all day, with only an old woman for company, you deserve some fun for a change."
"I'm not growing any younger, Anne." Her friend sighed. "I wish I could find more society for you, but there is not much to be found in Somersetshire. You've found much joy in your pianoforte, though, for which I'm sure your dear deceased mother would be pleased."
Anne's playing had indeed been her one solace these last three years. On the subject closest to Anne's heart, it seemed that even Lady Russell was impossible to confide in. It was she that had persuaded Anne to break off the engagement with Frederick. How could she tell her friend that she still had feelings for him; that even though she had not seen him for three years, her love had not dissipated? No, it was best to suppress the feelings, from even herself.
"Is that Mr. Musgrove arriving?"
From the windows facing the front courtyard, Anne could indeed see that Mr. Musgrove was coming up the steps. She slowly rose and turned round.
They stood quietly, waiting, until the door opened and a servant entered. "Mr. Musgrove," he announced.
They bowed and Anne met Mr. Musgrove's warm smile. "Miss Anne," he said, "as it is a very fine day, I wondered if you and I could go see those roses of yours I've heard so much about."
"It would be my pleasure," Anne said, smiling. She walked to the door and took his arm. "Lady Russell, if anyone asks, tell them I'm in the garden and at their disposal, should they need me."
"Of course, dear."
The rain of the previous day had set Anne's roses into a perfect bloom. The roses--red, white, pink, and (her favorite) yellow--were open and full of mild, sweet, and bittersweet smells. Mr. Musgrove set a slow, leisurely pace around the gardens, once in a while leaning down to smell a rose.
"May I pick one for you?" he asked, when she told him that a particular miniature yellow rose was her favorite.
"Of course," she said, touched by the fact that he would ask her permission.
He cut her a single yellow rose, and she placed it behind her ear.
"It becomes you," he said decisively.
She lowered her head to hide a blush. "Mr. Musgrove--"
"Miss Anne," he said, turning toward her. "I've had such a wonderful time in your company these last several weeks."
"And I with you," she replied.
His light eyes were gleaming as he continued. "I would be honored if you would consent to be in my company for the rest of your days, by agreeing to be my wife. My entire family has sincerely become attached to you, and I-- I can not image passing the rest of my life with any one more pleasant than yourself."
As he spoke, Anne could feel her heart nearly exploding. She could almost imagine herself, wife to Charles Musgrove, mistress of Uppercross Cottage. The idea was beautiful. Then her heart dropped. She remembered another proposal, three years ago, practically in this very spot--the gazebo where Frederick had proposed was but a short distance away. She heard his tender words, "Anne, I love you. Will you promise to be mine?" And her answer, "Yes, Frederick!" Then the soft, gentle kiss, the feeling of warmth, of being home.
But she had refused him, sent him away for ever. Lady Russell's words had been so persuasive: "Think of your family, your name. Think of him, Anne: to be attached, so young, with no money." Telling him of her decision was the most painful, heart-piercing duty. She would never forget the look of hurt, of betrayal, that was in his eyes when he said good-bye.
She had lost him, and now she had the chance to be happy again, happy with the most amiable young man. Why should she not consent?
But, what about Frederick?
She realized that Mr. Musgrove was looking at her with expectation and worry. She had to answer him.
"Mr. Musgrove," she said slowly, "I-- thank you for your kind offer. Would you-- allow me time to consider it?"
She could see the confusion on his face, but his answer was kind. "Of course. Take all the time you need."
She took his arm, and he escorted her back to the house and departed down the drive. She slowly walked into the house and to the music room, sitting down at the pianoforte. Music came from her fingers, though no pages were on the rack. The tune was sad and low.
Frederick, she thought, how could you leave me? Yes, she had told him to go, persuaded herself that it was the right thing. But she had not known how painful the wound of not being with him would be. She had not--
Someone was entering the room.
"Anne, I forgot to--" As Anne turned to Lady Russell, she heard a gasp. "Goodness, are you well?" Lady Russell hurried from the door toward the pianoforte. Anne wiped the tears off her face and turned back toward the pianoforte.
"I'm fine," she managed to say.
"Anne," her friend said gently. "Something has happened. What is it?"
"I-- Mr. Musgrove has just proposed to me."
"Oh, indeed!" she said joyfully. "I had hoped that he would! What a fine match this will be for you!"
Anne's voice caught as she spoke. "I have not accepted him yet."
"What? Dear Anne, why ever not?" Her friend's voice was very puzzled. "Are you waiting for your father's permission?"
"Then why did you not accept him? He is a perfect match for you. He has always been so kind to you, and to all of us. Well-to-do, respected in the neighborhood, and of good family. Why would you hesitate?"
The following day was cooler, with a grey slate of clouds hanging overhead. Still, Anne spent the morning in her rose gardens, tending her flowers. It was the perfect way to stay away from her family, and from Lady Russell, who seemed to try to catch her every moment, talking about Mr. Musgrove's proposal. The gardens were also the perfect place to think.
She thought about the painful events of three years ago, of Lady Russell's persuasion, and of her refusal of Frederick. She thought of how dreary the last three years had been. And she thought of the enjoyableness of Mr. Musgrove's company.
Her reflection finally ended in the thought, I know what I must do.
Midway through the morning, a small shower hit, and she retreated, for the first time in years, to the gazebo. It had been one of her and her mother's favorite retreats when Anne had been younger. The rest of the family had disdained the small, unadorned building. It was in an almost abandoned state now, escaping cobwebs and layers of dust only by the continuing care of the gardeners. Anne sat on the planked seating and waited for the storm to pass. Suddenly, to her great surprise, a person emerged from the side of the house and began walking toward the gazebo. The rain obscured the figure, making it impossible for Anne to tell who it was until he reached the gazebo.
A very wet Mr. Musgrove entered the door.
"Mr. Musgrove!" she exclaimed. "You're wet through."
"Indeed," he said. "I was riding over, and it began to rain just as I approaching Kellynch Hall. I should have been wetter, should I have returned home."
She laughed. Her laughter then subsided and she said, "I am glad to see you, for I have an answer for your proposal."
His face turned sober.
"I have-- realized that I care for you a great deal, and that I am so very glad to have met you." She paused, then continued in a low voice. "But I do not love you in any way but as a sister would love her brother. I once knew the other sort of love, but I lost it-- no, I let it slip away." Her words were trembling, and she turned away from Mr. Musgrove, unable to see the hurt she had again caused.
"Anne." His voice was tender. She turned to see his kind, blue eyes. "I understand. You deserve love; you deserve someone better than me."
"No, no," she argued. "You are one of the dearest men I have ever met. I know you shall have no trouble finding someone to make you very happy."
"And what about you?" he asked.
She looked out at the rain; her heart was calm, expectant. "Maybe some day, if I am lucky, I will be able to find love again."
He was smiling. "Miss Anne, may I escort you to the house? The rain seems to have ceased."
The rain had indeed stopped. Anne took Mr. Musgrove's arm and returned to the house. She had a new song she wanted to practice.
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