Anne's Share in the Conversation
Chapter 12 - A Chance Encounter...
Anne and Charlotte spent their morning with the dressmaker, who was quite agreeable and accommodating. Anne had always enjoyed selecting colors, fabrics, and styles and she quickly became enchanted by the dressmaker's designs and materials. The clothier's many assistants filled the room with samples, pattern books, and bolts of beautiful cloth. Anne hardly knew where to look.
But decisions must be eventually be made, so Anne selected the elements to make three very attractive ensembles. She was particularly excited about one gown, the color of which Charlotte had suggested. It was a creamy satin with a velvet bodice. The fitted bodice was a deep red color that complemented her mother's garnet necklace beautifully.
The ladies chose to set off for a jewelers shop after their lunch. Now that Anne had ordered a dress to match the necklace, she wanted to ensure that she could wear it without losing one of the stones.
Charlotte saw Anne to the door of the shop and then walked down the street to the bookseller's. Her husband had asked her to purchase a volume of sermons that he had heard were instructive. She would return for her friend at the jewelers.
As the shopkeeper was busy assisting two gentlemen in uniform, Anne was obliged to wait for his attention. She found a comfortable bench near the window and sat down, the better to watch the progress of the people on the London street and keep an eye out for Charlotte. As the shop was not large, she was also obliged to overhear the business of the two at the counter. The jeweler was drawing a sketch of a brooch, attempting to match the specifications of the men.
"She will love it at first sight!" exclaimed one of them. "How good of your brother to surprise her with it."
"Yes, I must admit that he has outdone himself this time. He spoils her, but why should he not? She is, after all, carrying his first child." said the other.
Anne looked in their direction. There was something very familiar about the voice of the speaker. She stared at his back, trying to place him.
"Why did he not come to London and order it from the jeweler himself?"
"He could find no excuse for getting away. He was afraid of arousing her suspicion. So, he asked me to speak for him." his friend replied.
Anne was almost sure that the speaker was her own cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. This man shared her cousin's build and light shade of hair color. Anne also knew that George, his older brother, enjoyed showering his wife with gifts. She decided to walk towards the pair in the hopes of a pleasant reunion.
She had just stood when the man went on. "I find that I will need to pay my respects to my cousin, now that she is come to town,"
"Indeed," responded the other. "A cousin! And is she worth my attending you to her lodgings?"
"Unfortunately, no. Except for a large fortune, she has little to recommend herself to your notice. Her mother has just died, and she has inherited quite a nice bit of property in Kent. She is staying at my brother's house while in London."
"Ah, quite interesting. Tell me more." The gentleman prodded.
Anne sat back down. They must be talking of her!
"That's all there is, I'm afraid. Anne has always been a very ill young lady. She has no beauty, no conversation, no talent, no health. In fact, I am quite surprised at her coming to London at all. Her mother always avoided the city, the air being not at all clean enough for her daughter's constitution."
"Well, you don't paint a very pretty picture of your cousin, Fitzwilliam. I'm surprised at your talking so cruelly about her." said the man.
"Cruelly? Yes, I suppose that I am being cruel, which is unfair. I've never had any harm from Anne. I hardly know her at all. I've visited her home often, but she never exerts herself enough to engage anyone in a conversation."
Anne felt her face heat at his remembrance. She noticed that her hands were twisting the strings of her purse tightly. She didn't know where to look and wished that she could find some way of dissolving into the floor.
"Well, then you'll forgive me if I don't attend you tomorrow morning. You'll have to meet her and enjoy some sort of a solitary conversation, she responding with words of one or two syllables to your lengthy sentences. It's a good thing that you like to hear yourself speak."
"John! Now this is quite enough!" Fitzwilliam admonished good naturedly. "Well, I have it from a letter that she is staying with a friend from Hunsford, the parson's wife, actually, who is a very good sort of woman. I'm sure that her fine manners will keep me from speaking only to myself."
"A sickly cousin with a large fortune and her poor, married friend. I don't envy you, I'm sure." Fitzwilliam's friend laughed jovially. "But now, we must come away and not trouble this good shopkeeper any further for as you can see." he whispered conspiratorially, "he has quite an angel waiting patiently for him."
At this Colonel Fitzwilliam turned and saw the figure of a woman sitting on the bench. She looked up and met his gaze. He noticed that she was quite attractive and seemed to be attempting to smile at him with some degree of familiarity. He wondered if he had seen her somewhere before.
His curiosity was satisfied in an instant for just then the bell on the door rang and in walked the young lady's friend. Colonel Fitzwilliam recognized her immediately. "Mrs. Collins!" he cried.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam. What a pleasure to meet you here!" she came forward and greeted him warmly. "We had been hoping for the chance to see you!" She glanced towards the bench where the seated figure was now rising to join her friend.
With that Colonel Fitzwilliam realized why the "angel" seated in the shop had seemed so familiar. It was hard to believe. Could it actually be Anne?
Anne walked towards him, with some measure of self-control and held out her hand. "Edward, I did not know that was you." she said pleasantly as she smiled at him.
Colonel Fitzwilliam stammered out an incomprehensible greeting as he shook hands with her.
"And would you do me the honor of introducing me to your friend?" she prompted.
Colonel Fitzwilliam presented his friend, a fellow officer, to Anne. That this gentleman understood who she was and was likewise overcome by embarrassment and mortification was evident in his mumbled return of her friendly greeting.
Anne wisely chose to leave the gentlemen to each other, since they seemed to have nothing of an intelligent nature to say to her. She wished them both a good day and said that she hoped they would visit her in a day or two. With a nod towards each, she was out the door, the business that had brought her inside was forgotten.
The gentlemen watched her pass from the shop with some humility. It was a moment before Colonel Fitzwilliam found his voice enough to ask his friend if he thought that she had heard their conversation.
"I'm quite sure that she did, Fitzwilliam, but chose to ignore it and keep her composure. How could she have done otherwise?"
"You are right, I am sure." Colonel Fitzwilliam responded ruefully. "What am I to do now?"
"I'm not quite sure, but I think that I will take you up on your invitation to visit this "unpromising" cousin of yours tomorrow morning." responded Captain Parker looking out the doorway, his gaze following the progress of Anne and Charlotte down the street.
That Anne had kept her composure so easily was not the case. In fact, she was in a great agitation of spirits as she walked down the street with her friend.
"How fortunate to meet Colonel Fitzwilliam in that shop, Anne. I am surprised that you did not recognize him sooner." exclaimed Charlotte.
"Oh, I did recognize him. It was he who did not see me and was much engaged in conversation with his friend."
"And I suppose that you would have thought it rude to interrupt?"
"At one point I almost did interrupt but then became more interested in their conversation," she admitted.
"Eavesdropping, were you?" Charlotte teased.
"It was hardly eavesdropping. They were speaking in a loud enough voice and when I heard my own name mentioned, I became determined to have my share in the conversation."
"An anonymous share," Charlotte rejoined.
"Pray, do not chastise me. From almost their first sentence I became so shocked that I did not know what I was to be about."
"On what could they be speaking?"
"Merely my own self and my lack of beauty, talent, good humor,...everything but fortune, it seems. It was all very humiliating. That my cousin, of whom I had always thought well should treat me with such discourtesy."
"Surely he didn't speak so..." Charlotte said, shocked.
"I would not have believed it myself if I had not heard it with my own ears!" Anne interrupted.
The pair continued on in silence some distance down the street. Charlotte did not know what to say to her friend. She certainly could not defend such behavior. It was hard to imagine Colonel Fitzwilliam speaking cruelly of Anne, yet there it was. Her formerly high opinion of her friend's cousin sunk quickly.
"Well, I hardly know what to do, but I believe that the best course would be to act as if I had not heard his conversation at all." Anne broke the silence.
"Yes, Anne, and I hope that you will not allow it to make you unhappy." Charlotte attempted to soothe. "You must know by now that you have improved so greatly. I would have hardly believed it if I had not witnessed it with my own eyes."
"You are more than willing to say that I am pretty, but then you are a good friend and would want me to be happy..." Anne mumbled, looking down at the street's paving stones.
"Indeed, Anne I speak the truth and I would have you know it." Charlotte spoke firmly.
"Dear Charlotte," Anne whispered, fondly.
Charlotte could see that her friend's spirits had been materially wounded by what she had just overheard. It pained her to see Anne listlessly glancing at the store windows that had held such fascination for her earlier. Their plans to stop in at a very attractive milliner's shop after the visit to the jewelers was forgotten. Anne walked right past that door. The day seemed to hold no more pleasure for the young woman. She walked on, eager to be back inside.
Charlotte saw this all with a spirit that became even less disposed towards Colonel Fitzwilliam. He was now fixed in her mind as the most disappointing, false gentleman that she had ever encountered. He was obviously not going to be of any good assistance to his cousin during her stay in London.
Anne sighed and Charlotte became worried for her.
Chapter 13 - The Penitents Visit
Anne awoke the next morning with the same agitation of spirits that had plagued her at bedtime. She was not at all sure that she wanted to see Colonel Fitzwilliam or anyone else, for that matter. She had to give credit to what her cousin said, however indiscreet it was to relate it to a friend in a public shop. Anne remembered her general behavior during his visits to Rosings with a great deal of regret. She wished that she had attempted to engage him in conversations, shown interest in his pursuits, found ways of entertaining him. She felt the error of her own bad behavior exceedingly. As the daughter of the mistress of the house, she should have realized her responsibilities as a hostess towards her mother's guests. She could not conceive of how her mother and Mrs. Jenkinson allowed her to become so selfish towards others.
Anne struggled out of bed, determined to shake off the black cloud of distemper that surrounded her. She decided to practice on the pianoforte after breakfast. Upon coming to London, she had discovered that the Fitzwilliams kept an excellent instrument and it was a pleasure to devote her time to its study.
She was not long in dressing or in breakfasting with Mrs. Collins and was soon sitting down to her exercises. Her friend, who had a letter to write to her husband, chose to sit in another room.
She soon became engrossed in the practice of one of her favorite melodies and did not hear the bell when it rang. Charlotte, upon seeing that Anne was not going to the hall, hurried there herself to assist Mrs. Flynn in greeting the caller.
It was Colonel Fitzwilliam with his friend from yesterday.
Colonel Fitzwilliam observed the cold politeness with which Mrs. Collins received him. It confirmed for him her knowledge of his bad behavior in the shop yesterday. She asked him to wait in the hall while she relayed to Anne the news of his coming to visit. Her hand was on the doorknob to the music room, when Colonel Fitzwilliam was arrested by the sounds coming from within. "Stop!" he whispered to Mrs. Collins urgently.
Charlotte let go of the knob and turned to him, questioningly.
His face betrayed his surprise, which slowly gave way to pleasure. A bemused smile wandered across his face. "I did not think that she could play."
"Oh, yes," Charlotte affirmed. "She is an excellent beginner and practices constantly. She seems to have quite an affinity for music. But she sings much more sweetly when someone accompanies her."
"She sings? I had no notion of it."
"It was sad that her mother never thought her health good enough to apply herself as she should have when younger."
"Yes,..." his voice trailed off. He looked at his friend, who had not spoken a word since entering the house. His friend, Captain Parker was staring at the door as if in a trance.
The song ended and Charlotte opened the door and entered the room, announcing the two gentlemen to Anne.
Anne walked from the piano with her hand outstretched towards her cousin. She was determined to pay off every arrear of attention towards him. Whatever was lacking in her behavior at Rosings, she was committed to remedy with her present manner.
"Edward! How very good to see you again! I was hoping that you would come to call. And you've brought your friend with you. It is truly a delight to see you both!" She smiled broadly at both gentlemen as she gestured towards seats.
"Anne, it is good to see you," returned the Colonel. "And looking so well."
"Oh, I am very well indeed. Thank you for inquiring. And how is your family? How is your dear brother?"
"George and Augusta were both very well when I left them." Colonel Fitzwilliam responded to her reference to his older brother and new sister.
Anne mentioned again how glad she was to hear of their good health and how grateful she was to that pair for supplying her with their London house. Then she rang the bell for tea.
Colonel Fitzwilliam had a greater chance to observe her while she spoke to her maid about the fare that should be brought up for their refreshment. That her improvement in looks and manners had outlasted one day was evident. In fact, he was charmed by the young woman that sat before him engaging him in conversation so easily. She hardly bore any resemblance to the cousin of his youth. Her pretty features were not the thin, disagreeable ones that he remembered from his visits to his aunt. The curls of her hair, gathered loosely at the top of her head, bore no resemblance to the limp tresses that were always pulled into a tight bun. Her open manner was disarmingly sweet and pleasant.
He marveled at the transformation but did not know how to account for it.
Anne dismissed her maid and turned towards Captain Parker, the Colonel's friend. "And how is it that you have fallen into the company of my cousin, Captain? Are you in the same regiment?"
"Why, yes, we are..." Captain Parker started.
"And your regiment can stand to have two of its officers away at the same time? Really, the men are quite possibly running wild without your guidance" she teased.
Colonel Fitzwilliam interrupted, "Our regiment is encamped on the outskirts of London for training."
"Oh, for training! I am glad to hear of it. I would be quite worried if I was to learn that London needed any protection from an imminent attack."
The two gentlemen smiled at her attempt to humor them.
"Really, Edward, I am glad to hear that you are in town for some time." Anne said sweetly. "You must come visit me as often as you can for I have no other friends in town."
Colonel Fitzwilliam graciously admitted his willingness to visit his cousin frequently and also added that he would be more than happy to meet her and her friend at the Assembly Ball which was to be held next week.
"A ball!" Charlotte's eyes lit up and smiled towards Anne, the first time since the two gentlemen arrived that Charlotte had done anything except glower at them resentfully.
Anne's eyes opened wide. She tried to smile back at her friend, but only managed a wan little, half-hearted smile. Anne had never been to a ball and was not quite sure that she was equal to the occasion. But Charlotte was nodding at her encouragingly and she remembered what was due to her guests.
"That would be wonderful, Edward!" She said to Colonel Fitzwilliam.
"And I will be there too!" Captain Parker exclaimed, finally finding his voice.
"It will be a pleasure to meet you both there!" Anne remarked, with more enthusiasm than she felt. And, before any more discussion of dances and balls could occur, she decided to change the subject.
"Now tell me all about this lovely brooch that I heard you order at the jeweler's shop..." she asked her cousin innocently.
Colonel Fitzwilliam was taken aback. If there had been any remaining doubt in his mind about what Anne had overheard yesterday, it vanished in an instant. She must have heard it all. He considered apologizing, trying to explain, even begging her forgiveness, but knew not how to start such a earnest confession. In the end, all he could seem to do was describe the piece of jewelry to her, which he managed to do, but not without a considerable degree of stuttering.
Captain Parker sat quietly, unable to add anything to his friend's description.
Anne exclaimed and spoke admiringly about the brooch's design, all the while taking a somewhat shocking degree of pleasure in seeing Colonel Fitzwilliam's discomfort. This was all that she really sought to do. She didn't want to force an apology from him, but she also did not want his impropriety to go unpunished. To Anne, this was punishment enough and she began to feel that she could truly forgive his lack of consideration and kindness. She could relegate yesterday's chance encounter to the past and go on from there. She was not quite sure whether her friend, Charlotte, could do the same. That lady had returned to her earlier disdainful silence and was currently scowling at both Colonel Fitzwilliam and Captain Parker.
Fortunately for the gentlemen, the refreshments were brought up just at this time, allowing for another change in the conversation. The Colonel and Captain remained with Anne and Charlotte some time longer, discussing more neutral subjects.
The pair were not out the door two minutes when Charlotte petitioned Anne for her opinion of their current behavior.
"I found them both to be very agreeable." Anne stated, calmly. "Indeed, I believe that I shall attempt to forget about yesterday's horrid scene and hope that you will be able to do the same."
"Since you are setting the example of forgiveness, I shall try to emulate it," responded Charlotte, shortly. "But it will take some time for my opinion of the two to rise."
"But Charlotte, you must agree that the Colonel was right on some points," Anne argued. "What did he say of me yesterday that was not true? Have I not always been a very sickly creature who never exerted herself for others?"
Charlotte did not know how to respond.
"No Charlotte, at last I have begun to recognize the faults in my own behavior. Faults that I mean to rectify, if I can. I don't blame Edward for speaking ill of me."
Anne walked toward the window and looked down the London street. Charlotte followed her there.
"Then why did you remind him about yesterday with your question about the brooch?" Charlotte asked.
Anne smiled broadly at her friend, "To be honest, I just wanted to change the subject from the ball. I didn't think about what effect it might have on the gentlemen until it was already said." She explained. She laughed as she remembered her cousin's halting reply to her query. "But it was really funny, wasn't it."
Charlotte smiled at Anne's spirited answer. "Yes it was!" she said, breaking into laughter herself.
"I think that the two have been punished enough, don't you?" Asked Anne.
"Yes, and I plan on being able to meet them at the dance quite happily," Charlotte replied.
"Yes,..." said Anne, quietly, staring out the window somberly. Charlotte did not know how to account for such a rapid change in emotion.
"Anne, what is it?" Charlotte asked, concerned. She grasped her friend's arm and turned that lady towards her.
Anne looked at her without speaking. She felt as if she couldn't trust her own voice to speak without tears beginning to form.
"Anne?" Charlotte prompted. Charlotte's mind searched through the last few minutes of their conversation, looking for anything that might account for her friend's change in countenance.
"Anne, is it about the ball?"
Anne's look was confirmation enough, but she managed to reply weakly, "I never learned how to dance."
"Well that can be rectified..." asserted Charlotte.
"So quickly? Never!" Anne stated rapidly. "The Assembly is less than seven days away! Young girls grow up learning all these dances, watching their sisters and practicing with their brothers..." Anne went on.
"We could find you a Master!" Charlotte said, suddenly struck with that brilliant thought. "London must be teeming with dance instructors! Mrs. Flynn might know of one, or perhaps one of the school's..." Charlotte started towards the door, eager to fix her friend's problem for her.
"But Charlotte!" Anne called. But Charlotte was already out the door, calling for Mrs. Flynn.
Chapter 14 - A Dance Lesson And A Visit From Captain Parker
Charlotte could not be dissuaded from her present mission of hiring Anne a dance instructor and so it was that on the very next afternoon a gentleman named Monsieur Dupuis arrived. The dance lesson commenced immediately upon his arrival. Anne found M. Dupuis to be a very accommodating gentleman, but was somewhat unnerved by his overbearing manner. His conversation during dancing revolved entirely upon where Anne should place her feet, what Anne should do with her hands, and how Anne should keep her chin carefully tilted just so.
Occasionally, he would call remarks about the music over to his accompanist, another French citizen who was referred to as "Madame."
Charlotte was allowed to watch Anne's torment from a chair at the end of the room. Anne occasionally sent her glances which ranged from pleas intended to awake Charlotte's intervention to scowls intended to punish her for creating this torture in the first place. For her part, Charlotte tried to communicate some degree of support for Anne's plight. She hoped that her friend would recall that dancing was a skill required in young ladies, especially of Anne's age and class.
So M. Dupuis was allowed to continue counting beats, barking orders, and maneuvering Anne through the rudimentary dance steps. It lasted for over an hour and Anne was very grateful when Charlotte suggested that they stop for some refreshment. M. Dupuis and "Madame" agreed to have some tea, but only if they spent no more than fifteen minutes engaged in eating for M. Dupuis was eager to continue.
During tea, M. Dupuis suddenly realized that in order to show Anne the next dance, he would need to have some additional dancers. Anne could not be properly shown how to dance a reel unless there were more couples in the room. How to provide for these additional couples was something of which Charlotte could not conceive.
"Could chairs be placed to stand in for..." Charlotte ventured.
"Certainly not!" Interrupted M. Dupuis. "Can a chair move? Does a chair have hands and feet?"
Charlotte thought further. "Perhaps I could ask one of the servants to partner me..." She mused.
"That would perhaps be better than a chair..." Agreed Dupuis grudgingly.
Charlotte went to find one of the men of the household, who hopefully had some dancing experience.
While Charlotte was away, Dupuis continued to give corrections to Anne on "how she should not allow her hands to droop" as she was going down a set and how she should attempt to look her partner in the eye "instead of fixing it upon some piece of dust on the ground." Anne was very glad to see Charlotte return with one of the younger footmen, a sheepish-looking boy of about eighteen.
"But Ma'am, I've only danced with my sister..." the boy was protesting to Charlotte.
"I'm only asking that you attempt to do your best," Charlotte said to him, encouragingly.
M. Dupuis stood up immediately and "Madame" walked back to her instrument. Dupuis' hand was held out to Anne, who took it reluctantly. Charlotte and the footman, who was called Ben, joined them in a set.
The dance, however, was so difficult and intricate that not only was Anne almost reduced to tears of frustration, but it soon became apparent that Ben was about to join her in sobbing uncontrollably. He had not understated his expertise on the dance floor: he was more of a beginner than Anne.
Dupuis was soon shouting more orders to the poor footman than he was to his actual pupil. Charlotte, for her part, was trying her best to help Ben but his awkwardness and fright at having to dance with an actual lady was derailing all her attempts.
"Stop, stop!" Dupuis eventually shouted to "Madame" and began speaking rapidly in French to no one in particular. Anne, exhausted, walked over to a chair. She sat down with both hands fixed to her forehead. She felt the hot tears of humiliation start to well up in her eyes.
It was at that moment that Mrs. Flynn opened up the door and announced that Captain Parker had come to call.
That Mrs. Flynn could not have chosen a worse time to admit a visitor was apparent to one and all, including Captain Parker. Indeed the scene, before him was quite comical. Charlotte and Ben were still standing together on the dance floor, the young footman hanging his head inconsolably. Dupuis was standing by "Madame" who was still seated at the pianoforte and Anne, in her chair, was now staring at Captain Parker and Mrs. Flynn.
Surprisingly it was M. Dupuis who recovered his senses first. "My dear Sir, you're coming at this time is the greatest of pleasures to me," Dupuis said as he crossed the room towards the gentleman. He had regarded the Captain's uniform and gentlemanly countenance from his position at the pianoforte and believed that he could be of some use to them. "I am sure that an officer in His Majesty's army would be as skilled on the dance floor as on the battlefield."
Before Captain Parker could respond to that statement, Dupuis went on. "I'm sure that you can be persuaded to partner this lovely young lady as she learns to dance today" said he as he started to walk towards Anne.
Anne was mortified. To have M. Dupuis reveal to Captain Parker that she was in need of dance lessons was unimaginable! She closed her eyes and wished very hard to be awakened from this horrid nightmare, but to no avail. Dupuis was there in front of her, attempting to have her rise to her feet so that he could escort her over to the officer.
"Come Miss deBourgh," said he, "You will have this gentleman as a partner and we can dismiss this poor puppy back to his boot-polishing duties."
Ben, sensing that Dupuis meant him, took that opportunity to skulk gratefully out of the room.
To say that Captain Parker was shocked at being petitioned to dance with Miss deBourgh would be an understatement. He still hadn't been introduced to the man that was now standing in front of Anne or the woman seated at the pianoforte. He looked towards Mrs. Collins for some sign of what he should do. Mrs. Collins gave him none, she just continued to stare sadly at Anne.
Captain Parker looked at Anne and was moved by her visible distress. A deep blush had overspread her cheeks and he saw that her eyes were brimming with tears that threatened to spill over her lids at any moment. She was biting her lip and staring down at her hands.
"I would be delighted to have an opportunity to dance with Miss deBourgh," he said, warmly. He walked towards her chair and asked, in a voice that he hoped would be encouraging and considerate, "Miss deBourgh, please say that you will do me the honor..."
He held out his hand to her.
Anne looked up at Captain Parker, not knowing what to expect. Indeed, she would have not be surprised at all if she had seen some kind of a triumphant sneer playing on his face; a look that would remind her that she was only playing at being attractive, interesting, and pretty; a look that would remind her that she was really only a sickly rich invalid whose own cousins did not find agreeable. So, she was surprised to see him looking down at her kindly, with an open, manly smile.
His gloved hand was still poised to receive her own.
"There," Dupuis took Anne's hand and delivered to Captain Parker. "See if you can persuade her to rise from her chair." he said to the officer as he left the two and walked over to Madame at the pianoforte.
"Miss deBourgh, would you do me the honor?" Captain Parker prompted gently.
Madame started playing and Anne, not exactly knowing what was she was doing, rose from her chair and allowed Captain Parker to escort her to the middle of the room where Dupuis and Charlotte joined them.
The dance commenced and Anne, while she still had not regained enough of her composure to actually look at her partner, realized that she was more proficient at the dance than she had been before. M. Dupuis concentrated less on Anne's mistakes and more on his own performance with Mrs. Collins. Without Dupuis' incessant directions, Anne found that she could move more naturally and, while she believed that she was still making errors, they seemed to be smoothed over by Captain Parker's expert guidance.
"I refuse to believe that you actually need dancing lessons, Miss deBourgh," complimented Captain Parker, warmly. "I don't believe that I have ever danced with a better partner."
She looked up into his eyes and was again surprised by his seeming sincerity. "How could he make such a wild comment and actually mean it?" thought Anne. It was beyond her.
He went on. "Miss deBourgh, I am speaking the truth."
"Then I don't know what to say about the partners that you have had in the past," Anne finally found her voice, "for I know myself to be a very bad dancer."
"I would never say that," returned Captain Parker, "but you may be right about my past partners. Perhaps I have been too long in the army in less agreeable company than the one that I find myself in now."
Anne was silenced once again by his compliment.
"But I've embarrassed you again," Captain Parker said, contritely, "and I don't wish to do that."
The music ended and Charlotte, sensing that she needed to end the dancing lessons for the day, thanked M. Dupuis and "Madame" and escorted them out of the room, leaving Anne and Captain Parker standing in the middle of the room. They were alone.
Captain Parker began. "I hope that you can forgive my impertinence at coming to see you today without the company of your cousin," he said as he led her to a sofa. "I had to see you again and apologize for my part in that horrible scene at the jewelers. We had no right to speak about you in such a public space. I hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive me and the Colonel, who I believe is too mortified to speak to you about it himself."
Anne simply stared at him, having no idea of what to say.
"I understand that we don't deserve such consideration," said the gentleman, humbly.
"Oh no, I have forgotten it. Truly, it has been forgotten," said Anne, emphatically.
Captain Parker smiled and Anne realized again what a handsome man he was. When he smiled, his dark eyes glowed out from under a thick thatch of wavy brown hair. His ruddy complexion was complimented by the red coat of his uniform. He was much younger than his friend, Colonel Fitzwilliam. She believed that he could not be more than twenty-seven or twenty-eight.
"Then, would you do me the honor of dancing the first two with me at the Assembly Ball?" he asked.
"Oh!" said Anne, shocked. "Are you sure you want to dance again with me?"
"Very sure," Captain Parker affirmed.
Chapter 15 - The Assembly And Some Enlightening Dance Conversation
Anne chose her favorite dress, the ivory colored silk with the pearl ornaments around the neckline, for the assembly ball. Smith's extraordinary work in pressing it ensured that there were no creases in the skirt, even though it had traveled all the way from Rosings folded in a trunk. Anne was glad to be wearing that dress, she had always felt comfortable in it and she would need some additional measure of comfort during the night ahead.
Charlotte tried to improve Anne's estimation of happiness during the forthcoming ball. Charlotte was quite sure that Anne would be gratified by all of the gentlemen who would most certainly ask her for a dance. Anne was quite sure that she would be seated next to her friend for the entire evening. Charlotte was quite sure that this would not be the case and that Anne would beg, at some point that night, for the opportunity to sit down. Anne was quite sure that she would never have an opportunity to stand up, except to walk around the room in the company of her friend.
There had been no more dance lessons from M. Dupuis. Anne refused to comply with any additional sessions so Charlotte attempted to show her a few other steps that might be called for. This time, chairs did have to stand in for other couples. The footman, Ben, was not to be found around the house. Charlotte privately wondered if he ran the other way whenever he saw her coming.
Captain Parker came again to call the day before and was received with more cordiality and less comedy than in his last visit. He again pressed Anne to dance the first two with him and this time he was accepted.
So, it came as no surprise to be immediately found by Captain Parker upon arriving at the ball that night. Anne had hardly dispensed with her blue cloak when she found the Captain at her side, eager to lead her onto the dance floor. Charlotte half suspected that he had remained in the entry hall waiting for them to arrive, the better to claim Miss de Bourgh's hand. Charlotte tried very hard not look at Anne with a triumphant smile as Captain Parker led her away, but it was difficult to conceal. She was very gratified see her supposition that Anne would have a flock of admirers to contend with in London on its way to becoming a proven fact. Captain Parker certainly admired her friend. She was sure that more would follow in the course of a few weeks. In the meantime, she would have to find a way to discreetly ask Colonel Fitzwilliam about Captain Parker's prospects. She wanted to ensure that Captain Parker was a man to be trusted and not just some penniless adventurer who only wanted Anne for her fortune. Charlotte remembered the shocking behavior of one of her acquaintances from Hertfordshire, a man named Mr. Wickham, whose own mercenary behavior towards a few wealthy young ladies had been found out too late to keep a silly young girl from falling prey to him.
"That shall not happen to Anne!" thought Charlotte as she went to find a warm place by the fire. As she walked slowly around the perimeter of the room, she watched her friend go down the row. She had never seen Anne so happy. In spite of all of Anne's fears, the pair danced well together, each attending to the other person with perfect precision and grace. Charlotte watched the Captain throw his head back to laugh unreservedly at a comment Anne made, his eyes were full of admiration for Anne.
The sight was all that Charlotte hoped it would be and she watched the two dance together until she was called back from her reverie by a voice at her side.
"Mrs. Collins, you are here at last! But where is Anne?" Charlotte turned to face Colonel Fitzwilliam.
"Why, she is on the dance floor with your friend. We saw him as soon as we arrived. Did he not tell you of his plans?" she inquired of him.
"I was wondering where he went to. He just disappeared."
"He met us in the hall."
"Of course he did." the Colonel responded with a knowing smile and turned towards the dance, attempting to locate the couple in the set.
"So, you are of my opinion." Charlotte said.
"I beg your pardon?" said he, not taking his eyes off the dancers.
"I was giving some consideration to the idea that your friend waited for us in the hall, the better to claim Anne for a dance." she said boldly.
He turned and looked at her. "I think that you presume correctly. I must be more vigilant if I am to get to dance with her as well, aren't I?
"Perhaps you should be. You shouldn't put these things off until the last minute." Charlotte agreed with some humor in her voice.
"Ah, there they are." he said as his eyes found the pair. His eyes followed their movements for some time. Then, recollecting himself, he applied to Mrs. Collins for the dance.
"Oh, no, I am afraid that I am an old married woman, I did not plan to dance. I come only to chaperon my friend and see her happy."
Colonel Fitzwilliam tried to protest this, but when he saw that Charlotte was not to be swayed, he offered himself as an escort to the fire. "Or to the card tables, if that would be your preference..."
"Thank you," said she, "But the fire will be just fine. The room is rather chilly, despite the number of couples dancing and I can find my way there on my own. I would appreciate it very much if you would attend Anne at the end of the dance as she has no special acquaintance at this ball beyond yourself and the Captain."
The Colonel agreed, took his leave of Mrs. Collins, and directed himself towards the edge of the dance the better to watch his friend and Anne. Charlotte made her way to the fire and managed to claim a seat next to an old dowager lady who was more than willing to discuss the barely describable charms of the granddaughter she herself was attending to the ball.
Colonel Fitzwilliam met Anne and the Captain as they were moving from the room after the set. Captain Parker had suggested that they refresh themselves with some punch before the next two began. Anne was very pleased to see her cousin. "Edward!" she exclaimed, "Captain Parker told me that you had arrived!"
"I'm glad to see you Anne. You look lovely."
She blushed at his compliment and turned away, not knowing how to respond.
"I hope that Captain Parker has not tried to claim your hand for all of the dances. I should be very sad to lose the honor of dancing with my cousin at her first ball in town" He said genially.
"Oh no, Fitzwilliam, she told me that she must dance at least once with you. I have not been able to monopolize all of her time. Even as sorely as I would like to." Captain Parker interrupted.
Well, then," Colonel Fitzwilliam looked towards Anne, "May I have the two next?"
Anne nodded affirmatively and they moved off towards the floor, leaving Captain Parker near the punch bowl, where he was quickly accosted by a young gentleman eager to know more about the pretty young lady who had been his partner.
As Anne and the Colonel moved towards the set, she made a resolution to speak more. "What a poor conversationalist I have just shown myself to be!" she thought to herself, reflecting on the last few minutes of discourse with the Captain and the Colonel. "I will not have my cousin believing that I can't string two words together!"
She looked up at Fitzwilliam and said, "I believe we must have some conversation, Edward."
The music started. "On what would you have us speak?" he asked agreeably.
"Oh, I'm not sure. The theater, music, common acquaintances...Any subject would suffice. We may even speak about the roads or the weather if your bent runs to the more mundane matters." she said, bowing to begin the dance.
"I will speak about anything you would like." he returned.
"How are our relations in the North? I believe you spent some time at Pemberley this summer before my mother's death." she asked noncommittally.
"The Darcys were very well the last time that I saw them." he said guardedly. He wasn't sure if this topic was as neutral to her as it was to him. He remembered with great clarity his aunt's expectation of Anne's marriage to Mr. Darcy and wondered about Anne's own opinion of the matter. He knew not how to discern his cousin's feelings towards his marriage to another.
"Oh, you need not be frightened! I never felt that Darcy and myself were suited for each other. I truly believe that we would have made each other very unhappy if we had been made to marry." she said, as if reading his thoughts.
"I have to say that I am glad to hear it, Anne." he sighed in relief. "I would not want you to be made unhappy by the memory of his choosing another." he paused. "In all honesty, I have never seen him happier. Elizabeth, Mrs. Darcy, has been able to soften him somewhat. He is much more agreeable. I think in time he may even be able to laugh at himself!"
"These are improvements, indeed!" she said, "Are you trying to tell me that he no longer roams around his house, scowling and brooding like some villain in a Gothic novel!"
"A Gothic novel! Surely Miss de Bourgh does not waste her time on such drivel?"
"Oh, I refuse to speak to you about books during a dance. You must petition me later to find out about my reading interests." she countered, sweetly. "Now tell me all about the Darcys." she directed him back to her initial question.
"The answer to your question is no, he is not as often in an ill humor, as he used to be when we would visit you and your mother at Rosings." he responded.
"For his wife's sake, I am glad to hear it. I hope that he will prove to be a good husband to her." she remarked. "But then," she went on, "happiness in marriage is somewhat a matter of chance, isn't it? You marry, then learn all about your partner. Why is it that you can never fully comprehend the defects of the person you intend to marry before the actual engagement?"
"This is surprising talk indeed. How have you come to this conclusion?" asked the Colonel, somewhat taken aback.
"Oh, close observation of the few marriages in my small circle at home. Now, honestly, do you really think that my father knew what sort of woman he was betrothed to before his wedding to my mother? Or, for that matter, do you think that my friend really knew Mr. Collins before her own marriage?"
"I really must admit to being shocked by your opinion." responded Colonel Fitzwilliam. "But I hope that you plan to do better for yourself; that you will learn from the mistakes of your acquaintances."
"I'm not sure that I can be wiser than my friends and relations." she countered.
"But you have the means to marry quite well."
"I also have the means to remain unmarried." she said quickly. "Yes, I realize what a lucky creature I am to have had a mother who scrupulously guarded my fortune. I shall never want for anything or be forced into the inconvenience of a unhappy marriage just so that I won't die a penniless spinster, prevailing on the kindness of my richer cousins."
Colonel Fitzwilliam seemed unsure of how to respond to her speech. They went through the dance for some moments without speaking. Anne was beginning to regret her candor.
Finally Colonel Fitzwilliam said, "Then, you don't mean to marry?"
"Oh, I'm not sure what I mean to do, Edward. Everything is still very new to me. For so many years I was convinced that I would be forced by my mother to marry a cousin I did not love. After he married Miss Bennet, I didn't know what to think, and so chose not to. My mother was alive at the time and I didn't need a partner. Now that my mother is gone, I must think about my future. I should bring out an heir to my parents fortune, don't you agree?"
"Yes, you must do so" he agreed. "But I hope that you will consider your heart when you choose..."
"I see what you are thinking." she interrupted. "You consider me to be a hard hearted woman, only interested in making a match that will secure or increase my own fortune as well as for another generation.." she dropped off, not knowing what to say. Could she actually negative this thought?
"I only want your happiness." he said soberly, bowing to her.
Anne realized then that the dance had ended. They had spent the entire set engaged in this conversation. Colonel Fitzwilliam took her hand and led her off the floor.
Charlotte and Captain Parker met them in a corner of the room standing with another gentlemen. Mrs. Collins did the honor of introducing him to her friend. Captain Parker had sought Charlotte out after the gentleman speaking with him insisted on being introduced. "Anne, this gentlemen has expressed an interest in meeting you. May I present Mr. Thomas Poole? Miss Anne de Bourgh, Mr. Poole."
Mr. Poole lost no time in asking her for a dance, the better to become acquainted with this new young lady. Anne would have preferred to spend some time by herself, the better go over her conversation with the Colonel in an attempt to better understand her own feelings. She knew, though, what was due to a gentleman who took the trouble to secure a proper introduction by discovering the name of her chaperon.
Anne smiled at Mr. Poole and allowed him to lead her onto the dance floor. After some time, he began the conversation. "Your friend, Captain Parker, has told me that you reside in Kent." he stated.
"Yes, at Hunsford."
"Yes," she admitted with some surprise. "Do you know it?"
"I believe that I have passed quite near your gates on my way to my dear friend Lord Randall's."
"Lord Randall of Randall Manor?" Anne inquired.
"Yes," said Mr. Poole, "Surely you know him?"
"I believe so," said Anne as she tried to recall what she knew of that gentleman and his family. She believed that she had heard her mother speak of them but could remember no particulars. Her mother had many acquaintances throughout Kent but hardly ever asked Anne to accompany her when she paid her visits. Anne was wondering if Mr. Poole would think it odd that she knew so little of her neighbors. She was considering how to explain this breach of intelligence when he went on.
"You must come to Lord Randall's house near St. James' Court as soon as you have a spare moment, for I am sure that he would adore seeing his neighbor again!"
"Oh!" Anne said with more enthusiasm than she felt, "That would be... nice, wouldn't it?"
"I shall call upon him tomorrow and tell him that you are in town!" he declared.
Anne did not know how to respond to him. Luckily, they had to execute a rather difficult turn in the dance which kept her from having to say anything.
When they returned to one another, Mr. Poole went on, "And I'm sure that you would adore reacquainting yourself with his dear sister, the Honourable Miss Randall!"
"That would also be ... lovely," she managed, weakly.
That Mr. Poole would be surprised when he returned to his good friend and learned that the family did not know their young neighbor personally was too disturbing a thought to be considered. Anne tried to put it out of her mind by concentrating on the dance. Mr. Poole, she had discovered, was an excellent partner, very accommodating and cheerful, which a young gentleman ought to be, if he can. She would have enjoyed furthering his acquaintance, but supposed that he would not wish to do so after meeting his friend and hearing a little of Anne's ill health and faulty behavior to her neighbors in Kent. How frustrating it was to have to meet with people in London that would know some of her own bad history.
When the dance was over, Mr. Poole returned her to her friends and said that he hoped to have the honor of calling on her in a day or two. She smiled at his kind farewell, but saw no hope in it. He bowed to her party and walked away.
Charlotte suggested that Anne be allowed to sit for a moment, "For I am quite sure that you are fatigued," she said kindly.
Anne was grateful to her friend as she was led towards a seat near a window, behind a potted palm. Anne sighed weakly and closed her eyes.
"Are you feeling unwell, Anne?" said Charlotte as she pressed her friend's hand in concern.
"No, I will be fine in a moment. It was good of you to suggest a seat." Anne returned.
"How was your dance with Mr. Poole? He seemed like a pleasant sort of man, I was sure that you would want to make his acquaintance." Charlotte inquired.
"Why yes, he was quite charming. But I'm afraid that this is all that we shall see of him." Anne admitted.
"He seemed quite taken with you!" Charlotte exclaimed, somewhat surprised.
"Yes, but when he speaks to his good friend Lord Randall tomorrow, I'm sure that he will learn all and not be so interested in me." Anne revealed quickly.
"Lord Thomas Randall?" Charlotte inquired.
"The same, I believe"
"What could he learn about you from Lord Randall?" Charlotte asked, puzzled.
"Exactly nothing! Won't it be shocking that I am not acquainted with a gentleman and his family that live less than ten miles from my own home!" Anne wailed forlornly.
"Oh, Anne!" Charlotte consoled, "don't you think that you are making just a little too much of this? I'm sure that the Randalls have a very high opinion of you. Indeed, your mother visited them frequently and, in fact, I recall that your mother was so considerate as to send Lady Randall a very pretty..."
"But did I ever attend my mother to Randall Manor?" Anne interrupted, "No! That is certain!"
Charlotte was silenced by her friend's statement of fact. She was glad for the palm tree which managed to afford them some measure of privacy. Charlotte pressed her friend's hand again and tried to offer some encouraging words.
"Anne, please don't think so ill of yourself. Your past behavior cannot be changed. If you are able to acquaint yourself with the family now, I'm sure that they would find you as charming and attractive as I do."
Anne sighed heavily and looked at Charlotte. "I hope that you are right," she finally managed.
The two sat together for some time, watching the street traffic pass by the large window. Their tÍte-ý-tÍte was finally interrupted by Captain Parker who had come in search of them. "I hope that you will not think me too impertinent if I ask for one more dance, Miss deBourgh?" he asked hopefully.
Anne smiled at her friend and then at Captain Parker. "Do you think that we can risk offending decorum just this once, my dear Mrs. Collins?" she inquired of her friend.
Charlotte gave them leave to dance together a second time and Captain Parker led her off. She saw that Anne seemed determined to recover from her moment of unhappiness. Charlotte hoped that she might remember some of Captain Parker and Colonel Fitzwilliam's changed behavior toward her and take some degree of comfort in that.
Charlotte and Anne took their leave not long after this dance. Captain Parker and Colonel Fitzwilliam saw them to the carriage and promised to visit within a day or two. The carriage was not delayed in driving to their townhouse, which was a blessing to Anne, for she discovered that she was quite tired and wished only for her bed.
Chapter 16 - The Honourable Miss Randall
The next morning found Anne and Charlotte receiving a guest directly after finishing breakfast. The visitor was a young lady of definite elegance and refinement. She was announced to be the Honourable Miss Randall, the very lady that Mr. Poole had supposed Anne to be acquainted with due to the close proximity of their homes in Kent.
That the two ladies were surprised at the young lady coming to visit them was evident. They had no idea of how to account for it, however. Fortunately for them, Miss Randall was ready to explain all.
"Miss deBourgh, you must be surprised to see me at your doorstep this morning!" the lady began cheerfully, "but I had it from my brother's dear friend Mr. Poole that you had arrived in town and I simply had to give myself the pleasure of finally making your acquaintance!"
Anne mentioned to the lady that she had quite enjoyed dancing with Mr. Poole the night before at the Assembly, but that was all that she felt herself able to say.
Miss Randall went on. "He is such a charming man, I assure you, and a very close companion to my dear brother. He simply had to stop by our house last night on his way home from the assembly to tell us of his good fortune at meeting you! I am afraid that we were not able to attend the last because of a dinner party. Otherwise, I would have had the privilege of meeting you there!"
Anne and Charlotte would later admit to being surprised at the effusive nature of Miss Randall, but at the time they both attempted to keep their shock to themselves. For her part, Anne was able to talk with Miss Randall very agreeably about their shared love for the Kentish countryside. She then discovered that Miss Randall was a very great rider and often roamed about on her favorite mount. Anne also learned that her new acquaintance was very musical, did not like reading at all, and enjoyed a game of cards as much as the next person.
Miss Randall, who insisted that her new friend call her by her Christian name, Antonia, stayed for some time. When she did leave, she desired that Anne and Charlotte would accept her invitation to dine at her house that very evening. Her brother was to be there and Mr. Poole was to be invited. Miss Randall also put in a wish that Anne would sing for the party and hoped that Charlotte would be willing to play the pianoforte as well.
Anne was able to say that she would do everything in her power to forward the pleasure of her new friend and that she hoped that she would not disappoint them. After this pretty speech was made, the lady departed and Anne and Charlotte were finally able to look their amazement. They spent the remainder of the morning engaged in speculation about Miss Randall and her brother.
"What can this mean?" Anne said in amazement. "Mr. Poole must have called at his friend's very late last night, for I know that he did not leave before we did."
"We certainly cannot account for how late he is able to call at his friends. He may be in the habit of calling at all hours." Charlotte wondered aloud. "You have it from Miss Randall... Antonia.... that he is a very great friend."
"Surely he did not call there just to mention me...."
"Perhaps he did, we may never know..." Charlotte answered.
"And that Miss Randall... Antonia... actually wanted to make my acquaintance..." Anne went on.
"Why should she not, Anne?" Charlotte countered.
"How could she have a very high opinion of me, Charlotte, when I wasn't even so good as to call on her when we were both girls in Kent."
"Do you not forget that she never called on you?"
"That does not surprise me for I am sure that she had heard all about my being sickly, disagreeable..."
"You should not be so willing to think badly of yourself Anne!" Charlotte stopped her.
"You're right, of course, Charlotte. I am only too apt to brood, aren't I?" Anne managed after a moment. "Well, no more. I shall put it out of my head and place my thoughts on more happy subjects. Perhaps I should consider what I should wear tonight."
"Now that is a encouraging subject!" Charlotte approved. "I believe that I will tell you to wear your mother's necklace and the new gown that you purchased to wear with it."
"Oh what a wonderful idea!" Anne exclaimed with real pleasure. Anne had just received it from the dressmaker and was as thrilled with the actual article as she had been in contemplating it earlier. The velvet bodice fitted her figure perfectly and the reddish shade added distinction to her mother's garnet. The soft creme skirt rustled agreeably. Dear Smith had been very approving in her praise of both the dress and her mistress when Anne had tried it on earlier.
"You must wear it, Anne, for I believe it will be able to equal in style to whichever dress that Miss Randall happens to wear tonight." Charlotte went on.
"She was very fine, wasn't she?" Anne admitted as she recalled her visitor's elegance.
"I haven't often seen such a fine ensemble." Charlotte said, referring to Miss Randall's outfit.
"The Randalls must be very well off," Anne mused to herself.
"Do you find the wealth of the Randalls daunting, Anne?" Charlotte questioned, somewhat surprised. "For I am quite sure that you are as wealthy as they."
Anne pondered Charlotte's question for some time, attempting to form a better idea of her own feelings on the subject. While she knew herself to be wealthy, she had little idea of what to do with her money. Since her mother's death she had learned a few things about being rich. She had learned that having a large income created a responsibility to those less fortunate and she had learned to become more attentive to the people around her in that regard. She also realized that having money allowed her to keep her own carriage, travel to London, and be attended to personally by many servants, including her most excellent Smith.
But for all of her wealth, Anne did not believe herself to be endowed with same studied elegance as the Honourable Miss Randall. She was not sure that she ever would, no matter how many fashionable dresses or handsome bonnets she managed to purchase.
"I have lived too little in the world, Charlotte, as you well know. Yes, Miss Randall does frighten me. Her fashionable..." Anne left off, not sure how to adequately describe her.
Charlotte took pity on Anne. "I think that I understand what you mean."
"Regardless of my fortune, I really feel like a young girl from a little hamlet in Kent." Anne finished, humbly.
Any further conversation on this subject had to be postponed because, just at that moment, the door opened and Mrs. Flynn announced Colonel Fitzwilliam and Captain Parker. Both gentlemen were anxious to see that both ladies were very well the day after what must have been a somewhat fatiguing ball.
Anne received the gentlemen with great cordiality. She recalled that this was a fashionable thing for young gentlemen to do the morning after a ball, or at least was in Evelina's London. She had just finished that novel, to her satisfaction and was eager to begin another by the same author. But a discussion of a novel was hardly the thing to talk to gentlemen about, and so Anne attempted another subject.
"Charlotte and I have just had the most delightful visitor! A young lady who is also from Kent. Perhaps you have met the Randall family, Edward." she asked, turning towards Colonel Fitzwilliam.
"No, I am afraid that I am not acquainted with them." responded Colonel Fitzwilliam, after some moments of reflection. "Where did you say their house was?" he asked.
Anne told him, but the Colonel was still not able to recall either brother or sister.
"They have asked Charlotte to dine with them tonight." Anne went on.
"How lovely, Anne." affirmed Colonel Fitzwilliam.
The gentlemen remained some time longer, primarily discussing the ball. Charlotte and Anne both noticed that Captain Parker was a little more reserved than he had been in the past. He hardly spoke at all, allowing his older friend to do most of the talking. This was unlike the gentleman, but Anne really did think nothing of it. "Everyone is entitled to be out of spirits on occasion," thought she, as the gentlemen were taking their leave, but since they both promised to call upon her in a day or two, she was not overly concerned.
Chapter 17 - Lord Randall
Anne dressed with deliberate care that evening and Smith, sensing that her mistress was nervous about her appearance, became even freer with her compliments.
"Oh Miss, you look divine!" the younger girl breathed as she finished arranging Anne's hair and opened the door to admit Charlotte.
Charlotte was also effusive with her praise and then hustled Anne out of the room and down into the hall, for the carriage had already been waiting for some minutes and she was sure that Anne would not want to be too late to the Randall's house.
The Randalls did not live very far away and it took no time at all to drive there. Anne even began to wonder if she couldn't have walked the distance in the same time for there was a great deal of traffic on the road. But it would have never done to have arrived at their house on foot. Especially after viewing the impressive edifice that was the Randall's house in town. Anne almost believed that she heard Charlotte gasp as she alighted from the carriage. "It is very large, isn't it?" Anne commented, under her breath.
Indeed it was very large. Anne believed that it took up half of the block. She wanted to count the number of windows but chose not to attempt it, assuming that she would have no time to finish that project before the door opened and the ladies were beckoned inside.
Once they had given their wraps to a somewhat elderly-looking butler, he announced Anne and Charlotte and they were admitted into the drawing room. A very cheerful Miss Randall walked over from the fire to meet them.
"My dear friends!" Miss Randall reached out her hands to both ladies and drew each one of them to her. "You have arrived at last! We were so worried that something might have happened to your carriage! But here you both are!" She began to lead both Charlotte and Anne over to the fire, while keeping up a constant conversation. "You must come nearer the fire, my dear ladies! I will not have you become chilled in this drafty, old room. Really, I hardly know why we even bother with this room at all!" she commented, looking about herself.
The room was overly large and the oak paneling did nothing to make the room appear more intimate. The corners of the room managed to disappear into the darkness, for there were few candles lighting the room. The fire that Miss Randall was leading them towards was appealing, however, and the sofa and chairs arranged around the fire looked comfortable.
Mr. Poole was standing next to the fire, his hand resting on the back of a large wing chair. He claimed Anne's attention immediately. "I am so grateful to have this early opportunity of continuing our acquaintance, Miss deBourgh!" he said, almost as effusively as Miss Randall. "And dear Mrs. Collins, it is so delightful to see you again!" he said, holding out his hand to that lady.
"But now, you have yet to meet my dear brother Thomas," Miss Randall claimed their attention once again. "May I present Miss deBourgh and her friend Mrs. Collins to you, brother?" She directed her question towards the wing chair.
"Ladies," said a voice, emerging from the darkness engulfing the chair. "We meet at last." And with that, Lord Randall stood up slowly from his seat in the large chair and reached out his hand towards Anne.
Anne could have jumped back in surprise. She did not think that anyone was sitting in that chair. But then, she had not been able to discern a figure there because the chair was turned away from the glow of the hearth. She tried to recover her composure and did manage to shake hands and greet Lord Randall, saying how pleased she was to finally make his acquaintance.
He then turned his attention towards Charlotte, giving Anne a greater chance to observe him. He was not as tall as his friend Mr. Poole, nor as handsome, but was dressed in an air of decided fashion.
"Will you not sit down?" Asked Miss Randall, gesturing towards a sofa behind them.
As soon as the three ladies were properly seated on the sofa, Lord Randall sat back in his own chair. Mr. Poole remained standing at his post near the fire. An awkward silence ensued. Anne could think of nothing to say to her hosts and attempted to hide her discomposure by glancing around the room, what little she could see of it. There was a interesting tapestry hanging above the fireplace. The colors were faded and the edges had started to unravel, but she could discern a pastoral hunting scene, complete with horses and hounds in the foreground and a very stately manor house in the distance. She assumed that it was Randall Manor and was just about to ask for confirmation, when Mr. Poole spoke.
"Did I tell you last night, sir, how much I enjoyed dancing with this young lady?" said he, addressing himself to Lord Randall. "Really Randall, you missed out on the most delightful Assembly!"
Lord Randall's gaze rested upon Anne for a moment. He then turned to look up at his friend standing above the chair. "I'm sure that you thought it a delightful Assembly, Tom, but you know that I take little pleasure in such evenings," he sniffed and turned back to Anne.
Anne felt required to make some sort of remark. "Then, you don't like dancing, sir?" she asked.
"No, not particularly." he said, airily.
"It is a rare honor when my dear brother deigns to dance," laughed Miss Randall. "I think that he would much prefer a quiet evening of cards to anything else."
"Yes cards is much more to my liking," agreed Lord Randall. "I certainly hope that you are willing to play at cards tonight, ladies. My dear friend here," he said, motioning to Mr. Poole, "may go and find some dancing somewhere else if he wishes."
"And deny myself the pleasure of the company of these ladies, Randall?" he joked to his friend. "Not for a moment!"
So it was settled. The party would go into dinner and then sit down to whichever game of cards Lord Randall chose to play. One of the ladies might be asked to play the pianoforte as an additional amusement. Charlotte looked at Anne and raised an eyebrow, which almost created in her a fit of giggles. "Lord Randall certainly chooses to have things his way." Anne thought to herself.
But then she remembered ordering card tables to be placed often enough at Rosings Park with little consideration to what her guests would choose for an after-dinner occupation. She blushed slightly at the remembrance.
Miss Randall, acknowledging a signal from her butler, asked the ladies to escort her into the dining room where their meal was waiting for them.
Charlotte was asked to sit next to Miss Randall and Anne was seated next to her brother. Fortunately for Anne, Mr. Poole was seated directly across from her, saving her from having to converse only with Lord Randall.
"I certainly hope that you like mutton, Miss deBourgh," said Lord Randall, "I am very fond of it myself."
Anne said that she was indeed fond of mutton and was privately grateful to the gentleman for asking her that question, for the dimness of the room made her unsure of what was being placed before her. There were few candles lit in this room as well, although Anne could perceive three attractive candelabras positioned on the sideboard. "Why don't they light more candles?" Anne mused, somewhat amazed at the Randall's disregard for a well lit room.
She wondered if Charlotte shared her view, but was unable to see her well enough to perceive her friend's reaction to the dark room. Charlotte's attention was also completely engaged by Miss Randall, who by that time had reminded Charlotte and Anne to call her Antonia.
"Miss deBourgh, I have it from an admirer of yours that you are quite a wonderful singer!" Mr. Poole exclaimed, kindly, with a look towards Lord Randall.
"Oh!" said Anne. "Well, I believe that you must have received that knowledge from my dear friend," with a glance towards Charlotte. "I am afraid that she is a very biased critic."
"That will never do, Anne" called out Charlotte, "It was not I that told Mr. Poole of your lovely voice, but Captain Parker."
"Captain Parker!" exclaimed Anne. "I do not believe that the gentleman has ever heard me sing!"
"I am afraid that her overheard you once when he came to call." Charlotte revealed.
"And you allowed the gentleman to eavesdrop on my practice?" Anne quizzed, attempting to keep her tone light. "A fine friend you are!"
"You must not punish Mrs. Collins, Miss deBourgh." interrupted Mr. Poole, "I can assure you that the Captain is a great admirer of yours who, since you have not allowed him the privilege of hearing you sing, must listen through doors to catch some of your performance."
Anne was not used to such flattery and did not know what to say.
"That gives me a wonderful idea, Anne!" Antonia called to her new friend. "Shall we not host a musical evening? We could invite your dear friend the Captain so that he does not have to embarrass himself by listening at doors."
"I'm not sure," Anne began.
"And I can assure you that my dear brother Thomas is also a great lover of music," interrupted Antonia. "Thomas, you must help me to persuade her!" she called out to her brother.
"What?" asked Lord Randall, looking up from his plate. "What are you planning, Antonia?"
"A musical evening, my dear brother." Antonia repeated. "We must have a musical evening so that all of Anne's dear friends can hear her sing." She looked at her brother significantly.
"Quite," agreed Lord Randall. "Excellent notion."
"I consider it settled, then." said Antonia, confidently. "We, of course, must fix on a date and send out the requisite invitations, but that won't take but an instant."
Anne felt herself grow ill. She was quite sure that she did not want to take part in Antonia's "musical evening" but she could now see Charlotte, who was leaning closer into the light, looking at her with an encouraging smile.
Anne returned her smile, weakly.
"And we must have it at your beautiful home!" Antonia announced, happily.
Anne was shocked that Antonia would suggest such a thing. It was not even her own home, as she believed Antonia knew. Again, however, she saw Charlotte smiling at her encouragingly, and figured that Charlotte would know what was best.
And she really couldn't see having a musical evening in the dimly lit hall that was the Randall's drawing room. She was sure that the performers would never be able to read their scores.
"Of course we shall have it at my 'borrowed' house, Antonia," affirmed Anne, with an emphasis on the word borrowed. "But I'm afraid that you will have to help me with the particulars."
"Of course, my dear, of course," said Antonia "I shall come to your home tomorrow and we shall get all these things straight.
"Then," Antonia went on, "I believe that we shall ask my dear brother and dear Mr. Poole to take us riding in the barouche. For I believe it is to be unseasonably warm tomorrow and, in any case, a little brisk air is very good for the constitution."
Anne looked at Charlotte for assistance, but only saw the same encouraging grin. Was she actually to go riding unescorted by these two gentleman? She was not quite sure that she considered it seemly.
"My dear Charlotte, you must accompany us." Antonia solicited.
"Of course!" said Charlotte. "What an excellent scheme!"
Mr. Poole was also effusive in his praise of tomorrow's scheme and Lord Randall even managed another "excellent notion" comment.
And so it was settled before they even sat down to cards. The five of them would all meet tomorrow afternoon to see the sights that London had to offer.
Chapter 18 - A Ride Through London
As promised, Antonia waited upon the two ladies the next afternoon, bringing with her a list of people that simply had to be invited to their musical evening. It was a very extensive list and Anne began to fear that they would never all fit in the Fitzwilliam's drawing room. She suggested that they pare down the number of guests somewhat, an idea that was quickly negatived by Antonia. One person necessitated the inviting of another in such a connected fashion that no one individual could be left out.
So, agreeing upon the whole, the three ladies wrote and transcribed addresses diligently and were ready to post the cards within the hour. Poor Ben messengered them all for the ladies, a duty he felt himself equal to.
With the chore of sending cards behind them, Antonia began to look forward to their proposed ride through London. Her brother and Mr. Poole were to call for the three within the hour, and Antonia spent the interval regaling Anne and Charlotte with a description of the sights that they were sure to see. Anne, who really had no concept of London history or geography, attempted to listen attentively, but found her mind drifting. It was only upon the lady's mention of Vauxhall Gardens that Anne's attention was seized.
"Vauxhall?" Anne asked, remembering "Evelina" and the difficulty she had there.
"I can assure you that it is the happiest of places!" Antonia went on, hardly drawing breath. "My brother and I both learned to adore it as small children!"
She then went on to describe the garden in particular, listing the stonework, the hedges, paths, and certain trees that were sure to meet Anne's approval. For her part, Anne tried to remember that they were going to the park in the light of day and that she would have three... no four... chaperons around her. She would not find herself accosted by any unscrupulous characters during the twilight hours.
Lord Randall and Mr. Poole arrived punctually and began to escort the ladies out to their equipage. It was a very handsome barouche that, Anne learned, belonged to Lord Randall. Mr. Poole was driving it on that occasion. Lord Randall mentioned to Anne that he did not happen to enjoy driving and much preferred sitting in the back. Anne and Charlotte were asked to sit with him and Miss Randall was allowed to sit in the box with Mr. Poole, a decision that seemed to make those two very happy.
As Anne watched Antonia being helped onto the driver's seat, she couldn't help but wonder about her relationship with Mr. Poole. She had sensed last night that Mr. Poole was quite captivated by Antonia, and today she began to discern some partiality for him on the lady's part. A happy smile overspread Antonia's face as Mr. Poole gave her a hand up to her seat and Mr. Poole was extremely attentive to her as she settled herself next to him. He ensured that a blanket was provided for her comfort.
Anne watched this scene play out with some degree of disappointment. Mr. Poole was a very charming and attractive man with whom Anne might have enjoyed a deeper relationship. But then, she really knew him too little to be truly upset by his preferring another.
Lord Randall then claimed her attention and she was asked to join him and Charlotte in the carriage. Ben, who had returned from his postal errand, was there to assist her into her seat next to Charlotte. Lord Randall, who had a blanket spread over his legs, offered another to the ladies. Anne accepted the extra warmth gratefully, for she noticed that the day had turned quite cold and she was wondering about the sanity of riding around in an open carriage.
They were just about ready to set off when Anne spied a regimental figure approaching from the distance of less than block. Wondering if it couldn't be Colonel Fitzwilliam or Captain Parker, she asked Mr. Poole to delay. Neither gentleman had mentioned their plans to call upon her that day, but did not wish to set off until she was certain that it was not them.
All five pairs of eyes were directed towards the approaching figure.
"It is the Colonel," exclaimed Anne, glad to know that she had not asked for a delay without reason. "Colonel, how do you do?" she called out to him.
"Anne?" he questioned, hurrying up to their carriage. "It is you! To where are you setting off?" he asked her.
"To see London with my new friends," she replied, and with that she began the introductions. Colonel Fitzwilliam returned their greetings very kindly, and then began to look at Anne worriedly.
"It is very cold out today..." he said.
"Oh, very little," she replied, "nothing I regard. I've toured Rosings in worse weather."
"But,..." he went on.
"Miss deBourgh will be in excellent hands, my dear sir," interrupted Lord Randall, eager to get on with the drive.
"Yes?" asked Colonel Fitzwilliam, not meaning to sound as doubtful as he did.
"It is kind of you to consider me, Edward." Anne said, sweetly. "But I can take care of myself."
"I'm sure that you can, Anne" Fitzwilliam replied hastily, "But your health..."
"You are not allowed to worry about my health!" exclaimed Anne jokingly, although she was a little put out by Colonel Fitzwilliam's mention of it. "I am quite well!"
"We shall bring her back in excellent condition," Mr. Poole added from the driver's seat. "Have no fear."
"Well then," the Colonel went on, doubtfully. "Perhaps I shall give myself the pleasure of meeting you tomorrow..."
"I'd like that." agreed Anne, placing her hand over his, which had been holding onto the side of the carriage, as if to keep it from rolling away. "I shall count upon seeing you tomorrow."
Colonel Fitzwilliam smiled at Anne and took his hand off the side of the carriage. "Good-bye," Anne called to him as the carriage rolled away. He raised his hand to wave to her, before turning back the way that he came.
"He's your cousin, I believe?" asked Lord Randall. "What is his regiment?"
Anne replied to his question, which was responded with a brief, "Ah" on his part. A noticeable silence ensued after that, which was only broken by Antonia's turning around to give a history of whichever interesting structure they were passing. Antonia seemed to know a great deal about London, which was not surprising since she had spent much of her childhood there and Anne was very glad that she was so willing to share her information. It kept Anne from having to devise a conversation between herself and Lord Randall.
But after a hour of looking and listening and expressing interest in all of the scenes passing around her, Anne began to feel the need to get out of the carriage and walk a bit. She was almost grateful to Antonia for suggesting that drive to Vauxhall Gardens and take a tour of the grounds.
"Excellent notion," Randall mumbled to his sister and Mr. Poole was directed to drive there immediately.
"Are you cold, Anne?" Charlotte asked, solicitously.
"Oh, I am quite warm!" said Anne, while shivering slightly. Even though she had bundled up as had Charlotte, an hour in an open carriage is enough to make even the warmest souls shiver. "I shall be glad to walk around." she admitted.
"Here we are!" exclaimed Antonia, "I think it the most delightful place in the world!" Mr. Poole, who had hopped down from the box, handed the ladies out of the carriage. Anne looked around herself and was pleased with the grounds. The shrubs and the bushes were wonderfully maintained and the trees, although leafless, were lined up attractively. Anne did appreciate symmetry and allowed her eyes to take in the sight for several minutes.
"Will you walk?" Lord Randall finally interrupted her thoughts. He gestured towards a path. It was then that Anne noticed that Antonia and Mr. Poole had taken another and were already quite a long ways away. Charlotte had also begun her own wandering. Anne could see her figure in the distance, admiring the view.
"Are we not all to walk together?" Anne asked, somewhat shocked by idea of having Lord Randall to himself. She also wondered what Charlotte was thinking, leaving her all alone with him.
"As you can see, the others in our party have already chosen their own diversions," he replied. "Let us take this way together."
Anne had no recourse but to walk on with him. She supposed that she could have caused a scene by insisting that Charlotte or Antonia come back to chaperon her, but didn't want to interrupt them, especially Antonia and Mr. Poole, who looked to be engaged in some earnest conversation.
The walk he had chosen was delightful, if a little more secluded than the others. It eventually wound its way towards the riverbank. Anne had to stop to admire the breathtaking view. The lights on the far bank were starting to reflect in the water and a small fishing boat was sailing silently past.
"Isn't this delightful?" she murmured to Lord Randall, turning towards where he had been standing next to her. He was no longer there, though. She looked around, but did not see him. She started walking quickly after him, or at least where she had supposed he had gone, certain that she would catch up with him at any moment. She was quite annoyed that he would leave her there without even mentioning that he wished to walk on. She was even more annoyed at herself for not noticing that he had left her and still more furious that she was willing to follow him down the path in the first place.
But as she continued walking down the path, further and further away from where they had come, she began to worry. She had not caught up with him. "Lord Randall!" she called out ahead of her. There was no reply. "Lord Randall!" she called out again.
Sighing loudly in deep frustration, she began to quicken her pace. Trotting along the path as fast as her heavy skirt would allow, she began to feel herself perspire with exertion. "Lord Randall!" she called out again, furious at having to run after him.
In fact, Anne was so angry that she did not realize just how far down the path she had traveled. When she finally did stop, she was shocked to notice that the buildings that had once been directly across the river from her were now behind her quite a ways.
She also noticed, with even deeper regret, that dusk was settling in. Anne's worst fears were beginning to be realized, she was alone in the Park at night.
What could happen to her in the dark was a thought too grim to be countenanced. She wished that she had never let Charlotte out of her sight and began to run back in the opposite direction, just as swiftly as her feet could take her. It was a run of several minutes, something that Anne had never attempted before and she was completely out of breath when she saw Charlotte in the distance, having just rounded a bend in the path.
"Ohh!" Anne gasped for breath, stopping, and placing her hands on her knees.
"Anne!" Charlotte exclaimed, running up to her friend. "Where have you been? We've been so worried!"
Charlotte's arms were around Anne's shoulders at once, which were shaking from fright and cold. "Anne, what happened? Where did you go?" Charlotte questioned.
Anne looked up and saw Lord Randall approaching. "Where did you go?" she asked him instead of answering Charlotte's question.
"I went to fetch Mrs. Collins for you," he said. "Do you not remember me saying as much when you were standing next to the rail?"
"You said no such thing!" Anne exclaimed, incredulously.
"I did so!" said Lord Randall. "I said that perhaps we should find Mrs. Collins after all since she would not want to miss such a view. You nodded your head and I left."
"I remember none of this!" Anne shouted, surprised at him having an explanation for such horrid behavior. Charlotte tried to soothe her by rubbing her shoulders and speaking to her calmly.
"Let us go back to the carriage, Anne. I believe we need to return home." Charlotte said, rationally. "Lord Randall, would you be so good as to fetch your sister and friend?"
"Of course, Mrs. Collins." he returned. "And, if you don't mind me apologizing Miss de Bourgh, I am truly sorry for all of the confusion I have caused you. I should have never left you alone, but you seemed to be enjoying the view so completely..."
Anne did not know what to think of his apology. That it was delivered sincerely was evident to her, but she was still so angry at his desertion of her in the first place.
Lord Randall bowed to the two ladies and hurried off to find his friends, leaving the two ladies alone together.
"Oh Charlotte!" sighed Anne.
"You must be exhausted, Anne. The way you were running down that path..."
"I was so frightened!"
"Did something scare you!" Charlotte asked, anxiously.
"No," she admitted, "but I just kept on remembering what happened to Evelina at Vauxhall..."
Charlotte began to giggle, "It's just a story, Anne! That doesn't happen...."
"How do we know that it doesn't?" Anne interrupted, indignantly.
Charlotte stopped laughing. "I'm sorry," she began contritely, "I shouldn't have laughed," but Charlotte was stopped from speaking further of it by the sight of Antonia and Mr. Poole, with Lord Randall, rounding the bend.
"My dear ladies," Antonia called ahead of her, brightly. "Let us return to our carriage, for I am feeling quite fatigued."
© 1997 Copyright held by author