Anne's Share in the Conversation
Anne woke up the next morning with a throbbing headache which she attributed to yesterday's excitement. When Smith arrived to assist her with dressing, Anne immediately asked her to make a cold compress.
"You are feeling ill, aren't you miss?" Smith asked, concerned.
"It's just a headache," Anne replied, pressing her fingers to her temples. "I'm sure that I shall feel better with some breakfast."
"I could fetch your breakfast..." Smith suggested.
Anne thanked her for her willingness, but she was sure that she would feel better once downstairs. Smith doused a handkerchief with cold water and handed it to Anne who immediately placed it on her forehead. She sighed with some relief and laid back on her pillow for a moment.
"Are you sure that you don't wish to lie in today?" Smith asked again.
"I am not really ill, Smith. I just have a little headache." Anne replied. "Would you be so kind as to select something for me to wear today?"
Smith went to the wardrobe and Anne considered how nice it would feel to simply lay in her bed all day. She could read a little and rest. The thought was tempting, but she chose to put it out of her head. She was not about to become an invalid once again. She also recalled that Colonel Fitzwilliam was planning to visit her and perhaps bring Captain Parker. That settled the matter for Anne. She would be downstairs ready to greet them if they did call.
Smith brought out a dress for Anne's inspection, who agreed to it without even glance in that direction. Anne put her damp handkerchief on the table by her bed and flung off the covers with determination.
She dressed quickly and went down to breakfast where Charlotte had been waiting for her. Anne sat down at the end of the table and smiled at her friend. "Would you please pour me a cup of tea?" she asked her friend.
Charlotte poured her some tea and helped her to a piece of toast with jam. Anne was finding it difficult to think up any topic of conversation. She hoped that her friend might help her to that as well.
That Charlotte was finding it equally difficult to find a subject to discuss was evident. Charlotte was more interested in the reason behind Anne's paleness. She wondered if it would be inappropriate to mention it to her.
"Do you think that the Fitzwilliams would have anything in their library about the history of London, Charlotte? After yesterday's drive, I am feeling horribly stupid about this city." Anne asked, attempting to sound light.
"We could ask Mrs. Flynn. I believe that she has a good knowledge about the library's collection." Charlotte agreed.
"Perhaps I'll talk to her about it." Anne sighed and placed one hand up to her forehead. The tea was not helping her headache as quickly as she would have liked.
"Anne?" began Charlotte.
"Are you feeling well?" she asked.
"Of course!" Anne tried to respond with spirit. "Perhaps a little tired after yesterday, but nothing to be concerned about."
After breakfast, Anne called Mrs. Flynn in and asked for her assistance in the drawing room, which also housed the Fitzwilliam's small collection of books. She supposed that they had an actual library at Arundel. Mrs. Flynn was able to identify a perfect book about London for Anne, complete with engravings of the more noteworthy locales. Anne was glad to see so many pictures in the book, for her headache had not lessened and she not quite sure that she would not be able to concentrate on reading the words.
She seated herself next to one of the windows, the better to use the morning's light for her perusal of the book, and began to leaf through it somewhat listlessly, occasionally reading a bit about whichever engraving struck her fancy. Charlotte, who was also in the room and was occupied with her needle, chose not to interrupt Anne's study of the volume.
Eventually the bell rang and Mrs. Flynn escorted the Colonel and Captain Parker into the drawing room. Anne struggled to rise from her chair, a feat that left her somewhat dizzy.
"Edward, it is so good of you to call," Anne managed, as she walked over to him. "And Captain Parker..." she went on, weakly.
She turned to Charlotte, who was standing next to her and staring at her with a great deal of alarm. Anne wanted to ask her what was wrong, but couldn't seem to form the words. The pain in her head had become more strident: it was no longer a dull throb but a sharp, relentless jab in her temples. Anne felt the floor give way under her. Then the entire room went black.
It was two days before Anne regained consciousness and Charlotte could explain to her all that had happened in the interim. Anne had fainted on the day that the Captain and the Colonel had come to call. Colonel Fitzwilliam had caught her before she struck the floor and carried her upstairs to her bedchamber. Smith was beside herself with worry but managed to do everything that the Colonel asked her to do; filling a basin with water and wiping Anne's feverish brow. This she did as she heaped blame upon herself for ever allowing Anne to step out of bed this morning. "I tried to get her to go back to sleep," she muttered to no one in particular, "I tried."
When Anne did not regain consciousness, Colonel Fitzwilliam sent Parker in search of the regimental surgeon, a man in whom Colonel Fitzwilliam had the utmost trust. He would not hear of Mrs. Flynn or Charlotte calling anyone else. Captain Parker returned with the surgeon, who pronounced Anne to be very ill. As he administered various draughts, Charlotte was made to tell all about the open carriage ride and run through Vauxhall Gardens. His many interjections during her description left no doubt as to his opinion of that scheme. It was no wonder that the young lady was sick. Charlotte felt quite bad about the whole adventure and, if Anne had not recovered, she was sure that she could have never forgiven herself. Charlotte wished that she had learned more of Mrs. Jenkinson's scrupulousness when guarding Anne's health. This would not have happened if she was at Rosings with Mrs. Jenkinson! That was all that Charlotte could think of for the two days of Anne's critical illness, all she could think of as she watched her friend's labored breathing, all she could think of as she held her friend's pale hand.
Needless to say, she was very grateful to be relating this story to Anne and said everything that could be said about her thankfulness that her friend would remain at her side.
Charlotte had many companions to share her worry about Anne and many companions who also accepted some of the blame. Antonia was also beside herself for proposing the scheme in the first place. She came to call on both days with Lord Randall and Mr. Poole to ask how the invalid did. They never stayed long, for fear of wearing Charlotte out. Lord Randall had also sent a very handsome arrangement of hothouse flowers, and asked to be appraised of her recovery as soon as it could be achieved. In a private moment with Charlotte, he blamed himself for leaving Anne alone on the path and was sure that her fright caused by his absence created this illness.
Captain Parker visited as often as his regiment would allow, but it was Colonel Fitzwilliam who was Charlotte's constant companion in the sickroom. He immediately made over his own military duties to another and took a leave of absence so that he could attend to Anne. Charlotte was somewhat surprised at his decision to do so, for she was sure that he would be of no use in the sickroom. She soon learned that he was an excellent nurse. He seemed to know exactly what to do in order to soothe a patient, and he did so with a calm, deliberate manner. He reminded Charlotte that, as an army man, he had already done his share of caring for wounded or ill men. "In fact," he managed to scoff, "there is more work to be done in a field hospital than in the strategy tent. The real battles are fought at someone's bedside."
Colonel Fitzwilliam had spent both nights sitting by Anne, doing what he could to bring her out of her delirium. Charlotte, insisting each morning that he get some sleep, would send him away from the sickroom and into another chamber. "But now that you are awake, I must summon him!" Charlotte said, getting up from her chair hastily.
"No, let him sleep," Anne murmured to Charlotte, attempting to reach out a hand to stop her from running out of the room. "He needs to rest." And, as if heeding her own suggestion, Anne rolled over and went to sleep as well.
It was several hours before Colonel Fitzwilliam was able to sit by the bedside of a now awake Anne. That the gentleman was glad to see the young lady out of danger and on her way to making a good recovery was evident. He pressed Anne's hand, asked her how she felt, and begged her to take a sip of water from the glass next to her bed.
Anne, while not completely well, did feel much better and was more than willing to accept a glass of water from him. She also thanked him wholeheartedly for taking so much trouble with her. "Really, Edward you have overwhelmed me with your kindness." She said, with as much enthusiasm as her weak voice would allow. "Actually sitting beside me at night..."
"It was nothing, Anne. " he dismissed.
"I beg your pardon, I believe that it was something. Something that not many other men would do for their sickly, younger cousins." she added.
"I was glad to be of use to you," he replied. "I'm sure that there are many who would do the same."
"But not with as much skill," Anne went on, trying to give him a compliment that would not be brushed off so lightly. "Charlotte told me, with some humility, that she actually believed that you were a better sickroom nurse."
"I've had some experience at it," he finally admitted.
"I'm lucky to have you as a friend," she said, naming him as something other than her cousin.
He smiled appreciatively and, recalling the book that he had on his lap, asked her if she wouldn't enjoy being read to for a time. "For a little while," he said, "Until you become sleepy again."
Anne couldn't think of anything that she would like better at that moment, with the possible exception of being completely recovered. "I'd like that very much, Edward." she agreed.
Colonel Fitzwilliam stood up to help Anne rearrange the pillows behind her head, refilled her empty waterglass, and then sat down to begin. His voice was rich and deep; and he read very well. Anne sat in bed quietly, soothed by the sound of his voice. Her mind wandered, not attending to the words he was speaking, but glad to have him reading just the same.
Eventually she looked over at the reader. His brow was furrowed as he concentrated on the words. He looked a little pale and a little more tired than usual and it humbled Anne to realize that his change in appearance was due to his nightly vigil by her bedside. It was surprising to her to see him out of uniform. He was dressed very simply. The sleeves of his shirt were rolled up to his elbows and his collar was undone. He wore no cravat today and she could see the shadow made by the hollow where his neck met his chest.
He looked up from his book and Anne turned away quickly, embarrassed. She wondered if he noticed her staring at him and was very relieved when he continued with the reading. She laid back on her pillow and tried to follow the meaning of his sentences. "I hope he does not quiz me later on the substance of his reading," she thought ruefully. "The fever must have addled my brain," she considered, "Why on earth would I be staring at him in this manner?" She sighed deeply at the mystery of it.
Fitzwilliam, on hearing her sigh, stopped his reading and closed his book. "You're tired," he stated, and stood up from his chair.
"Please don't stop. I was enjoying your book." she said, not sure what to call what he had been reading. Was it a poem or was it prose? Anne had no idea.
"We will finish it later," he replied, reaching to pull up the hem of her blanket. "You need to rest."
"You are too kind," she said, looking down, "I don't deserve it."
"Yes you do," he whispered, kindly. "I only want your happiness, Anne. I have been sadly remiss at my duties towards my cousin. I wish to make amends."
Anne looked at him. "Make amends?" she thought to herself. "Is that what he is trying to do?" She remembered the incident at the jeweler's shop.
"Thank you, Edward." she said and closed her eyes to show him that she would try to sleep.
As he closed the door, she felt herself become increasingly perplexed about her own feelings. She hoped that his promise to read to her again would be kept very soon. She hoped that he wouldn't leave the house and return to his regiment. She hoped that he wouldn't put on his uniform just yet.
She had always held him in high esteem, but she began to realize that there may be something more. It hurt her to see his unwillingness to accept her gratitude and his ability to call the nights that he spent taking care of her "making amends." She couldn't push what he said about his duties towards his cousin out of her mind. "I shall never be more than a cousin," she whispered to herself, as if hearing those words spoken would assist her to erase the more tender feeling that had started to grow in her.
Colonel Fitzwilliam did not return until later that evening and in the interim Anne had a very exhausting visit from the Randalls and their friend Mr. Poole. They came to call that afternoon, learned the good news of Anne's recovery, and insisted that Charlotte take her up to her chamber. Charlotte tried to deny them, but they begged and went on about how they could not live another moment without pleading for Anne's forgiveness. Miss Randall was quite out of breath with all of her attempts to plead Charlotte into granting "one tiny little slice of a minute" of Anne's time.
Charlotte, against all better judgment, finally relented since they showed no sign of leaving without seeing their sick friend. They tiptoed up the stairs quietly, Lord Randall carrying another handsome vase filled with hothouse flowers. Charlotte had asked Antonia to check some of her exuberance and speak quietly to Anne. Antonia, for her part, was ready to follow all of Charlotte's instructions. "I wouldn't dare frighten her!" she exclaimed to Charlotte.
Anne, who was sitting up and drinking some tea with the assistance of Smith, beared their arrival as best as she could. Antonia pressed her hand and made many pretty promises for things that they would do together once she was fully recovered and Mr. Poole smiled behind Antonia encouragingly, one hand holding onto that lady's shoulder.
Lord Randall went around to the other side of the bed and pressed Anne's other hand. He set the vase of flowers on the table next to her and asked her if she happened to like orchids. Anne, of course, replied that she did like orchids, since there were nothing but orchids in the vase and she didn't want to offend him by not liking his gift. Her favorite flowers were syringias, the white ones that grew in abundance in a grove at Rosings. Her mind drifted pleasantly towards the syringias that grew at Rosings.
Lord Randall recalled her attention and made a very nice speech of apology to Miss deBourgh. He blamed himself entirely for her illness. He should have never left her and would never leave her again if admitted to the privilege of escorting her around a park.
Anne murmured something about it not being his fault and that she had already forgiven him. This forgiveness was granted more for propriety's sake. She couldn't very well say that she wasn't too sure if she wished to forgive him and that she was surely never going to step outside alone with him ever again. That might a bit too candid. "It was much easier this way," she thought to herself as she laid back on her pillow. "It may keep him from apologizing further."
Charlotte, upon seeing that her friend needed to rest, ushered the Randalls and Mr. Poole out of the room. Anne would not have minded too very much if she never saw sister, brother, or friend ever again.
But then she remembered the musical evening scheduled to be held in her own London lodgings! How did she ever manage to get tied up in such a bad business? She moaned and rubbed the side of her face. The invitations had already been sent out! She could not escape the evening now.
Anne's recovery was as swift and complete as any of her friends could hope it to be. Anne quickly learned to hate laying in bed with very little to do and begged Charlotte and Smith to allow her out of bed after only two days spent confined to it. "Really, Charlotte, you are being too cruel!" Anne flashed with some spirit at Charlotte's third refusal to allow such a trip downstairs. "I won't allow you to treat me as if you were Mrs. Jenkinson and I was some little girl!" she wheedled impatiently. Charlotte held firm, reminding Anne that she had never been at death's door under Mrs. Jenkinson's care. In the end, it was Colonel Fitzwilliam and his surgeon that gave their approval and Anne was allowed the privilege of dressing for a trip downstairs to enjoy an afternoon sitting quietly by the fire.
Anne was glad for the change of scene. What she once considered to be a beautiful bedchamber had turned into an unbearably vile sickroom. She couldn't stand to stare at its walls another instant and privately considered asking Charlotte to switch rooms with her. "For variety," she would say.
Colonel Fitzwilliam came to visit every day and stayed for at least an hour, reading and talking to Anne. While she enjoyed his visits and looked forward to them with great pleasure, she saw them for what they were: his attempt to right the wrong committed in the jeweler's shop. She almost wanted to tell him that she had long since forgiven him, but considered that, without anything to atone for, he would quickly find other things to occupy his time.
The Randalls and Mr. Poole also came to visit every day, most often as a trio but occasionally solo. Lord Randall, after having his heartfelt apology so kindly accepted by Miss deBourgh, was inclined to come alone on his visits, the better to further his acquaintance with her. Anne always received him with deferential attention and respect, for she did not want so near a neighbor to think ill of her. Charlotte, Anne noticed, received him with even greater cordiality. In fact, Charlotte was quite interested in learning all of his opinions, tastes, and pursuits. Lord Randall, when questioned by Charlotte, became very free with his conversation and often stayed for an hour or more. Anne did wonder at Charlotte's interest in him, but could think of no reasonable way to ask a married lady about her thoughts on a specific unmarried gentleman. Mr. Collins was her husband and continued to be boisterously healthy. So, unless Mr. Collins were to meet with some tragic accident, she could not see how Charlotte could hope to succeed with Lord Randall.
Through Charlotte's eager quizzing of Lord Randall, Anne learned that the gentleman preferred hunting to fishing, kept an excellent pack of hounds, and only used Randall Manor for shooting. He would rather be in London over the country, had no interest in Parliament, and enjoyed going to the theater less than a game of cards and more than a assembly ball.
In fact he would love to escort Miss de Bourgh and Mrs. Collins to a play just as soon as Anne's health became less indifferent. He would, of course, purchase a box for the occasion.
Charlotte thought that a wonderful idea and solicited Anne to fix a date for the scheme. Anne replied that any date they chose would be agreeable to her, as she was feeling much improved in health. Lord Randall went out to secure tickets and returned an hour later with the news that he had purchased a box for the evening before their musical party. He wanted to give Miss deBourgh ample time to recover her strength before venturing out at night. Anne thanked him very kindly for all of his attention.
While Anne did feel a great improvement in her health, she also had to admit that her spirits were not as high as they were when she first arrived in London. The sudden change in Captain Parker's attitude towards her was disturbing. He, who had asked to partner her twice during her first ball and seemed to enjoy her company during those four dances, now hardly spoke to her at all during his visits. She also noticed that he would only come to call with Colonel Fitzwilliam. This left Anne wondering if her cousin wasn't dragging the Captain to visit her against his will. The fact that Colonel Fitzwilliam only came out of duty towards his cousin was an equally humbling notion.
Additionally, while she couldn't be too sad that Mr. Poole obviously preferred Antonia Randall, it was upsetting that so admirable a gentleman should already be attached to another. She wondered at the number of eligible bachelors left in London. Anne sighed heavily and pondered whether she should continue in London in the hopes of meeting just one gentleman who had not yet given away his heart.
The sun filtering through the shades awoke Anne slowly. She recalled with some amusement that this was a forgotten pleasure of being sickly: the privilege of sleeping in. Anne was allowed to sleep for as long as she wished. She stretched, enjoying the warmth of the blankets and the comfort of her pillow. She did not want to remain in bed forever, just long enough to enjoy the laziness of her morning.
Eventually, she opened her eyes and looked about the room. She had decided once again that it was a lovely room, with cheerful walls painted in a delicate yellow that matched the deeper gold of her coverlet and curtains. She had to smile at the way the sunlight streaming through the windows made the room glow cheerfully and wondered if it weren't time to paint her own room at Rosings a happier color.
As she looked about the room, she discovered a painting that she had not noticed before. It was hanging on the wall close to the door, directly across from the foot of her bed. She was surprised that she did not remember it at all. She sat up in bed in order to give herself a better view of it. "How is it that I don't recall that painting?" she mused to herself. The painting was small, but quite beautiful. It was an intimate scene, a young woman in a pale dress walking in a grove of white budded trees. Anne looked further and realized that they weren't trees, but flower bushes. Syringa bushes! Lilacs! "How beautiful!" she murmured. She jumped out of bed and went to examine it further.
The painting was truly lovely. She saw that the young woman was actually gathering flowers from the bushes: a basket brimming with cuttings was next to her. It reminded her of her own garden at Rosings. She was pleased to have something so familiar to her in her London room.
"How could I have missed it before?" she asked herself, incredulous. "No, it's not possible! It must be new."
She flung open her wardrobe and went in search of a dress to put on. She just had to ask Charlotte about that painting. Smith, upon hearing Anne moving about the room, came to help her.
"Smith!" asked Anne as soon as she saw the young woman, "do you know anything about that!" She said as she pointed to it. "I've never seen it before, have I?"
"The Colonel brought it himself this morning," Smith explained. "He had me replace the one that was there with it before you awoke."
"The Colonel brought that painting?" Anne repeated, surprised.
"I am amazed. Why would he do such a thing?" Anne questioned.
"I believe that he thought it might remind you of home." Smith said.
Anne smiled as she looked at the painting. "How considerate," she said, "I must thank him as soon as I have a chance."
"If you hurry, miss, you might be able to catch him. He is still downstairs."
"Oh!" exclaimed Anne, "then please help me, quickly!"
Anne was not fifteen minutes in dressing and was soon rushing down the stairs in the hopes of meeting Colonel Fitzwilliam. She found him in the drawing room reading the paper.
"Edward!" she called as she walked into the room. "How very kind, how very wonderful of you..."
"Anne!" the Colonel stood up, "How are you feeling today?"
"I am very well today and I believe it is all due to the beautiful painting that I found hanging on my wall!" she complimented.
"Do you like it?" he pressed.
"I adore it!" exclaimed Anne. "Syringas are my favorite flower. How did you know?"
"I didn't," he admitted, surprised.
"It reminds me of the garden at Rosings..." she went on.
"It reminded me of that as well. I thought you might like it." he said.
"How often have I walked through that grove at Rosings..." reflected Anne wistfully.
"Do you miss Rosings?" he asked.
"Yes, I do." said Anne, after a moment of reflection. "I think it the dearest place in the world. But then, it is my home and has always been my home. I am sure that my feelings are quite biased towards it."
"Rosings is a remarkable place," the Colonel affirmed.
"How kind of you to say so," said Anne. "But you may be honest. You certainly don't need to prefer it to your brother's home at Arundel or even Pemberley."
"No, I am being quite honest," he said, looking straight at her. "Rosings has always held a particular place in my heart. I always looked forward to my visits there. I always enjoyed a tour of the Park before coming away."
"Yes, I remember your long tours!" Anne laughed cheerfully, "you would never make it back for dinner! Mamma hated waiting for you!"
"How could I deny her the pleasure of reprimanding me?" he asked, "She would go on for a full hour about the importance of punctuality!"
"Mamma..." Anne said, fondly.
"Oh, I am sorry. I didn't mean to." started the Colonel.
"No, its fine," reassured Anne, "I do miss her, but..."
Anne smiled at him, dismissing her pain. "Why don't you tell me where you would go on those long tours of yours?"
The Colonel, being more than happy to elaborate on his favorite places at Rosings, took control of the conversation. This allowed Anne the opportunity to lean back in her comfortable seat and listen. She nodded in appreciation when he described the fruit trees and her own favorite syringia bushes.
Lulled into complacency by the sound of his voice and his pleasant demeanor, she found herself regarding him closely. The cheerful wrinkles at the corners of his eyes drew her in. She found herself admiring his gray-green eyes, their peculiar color and pleasing sparkle.
Since he had returned to his regimental duties earlier in the week, he was in full uniform. She saw the reasonableness of this, after all it was his habit, but couldn't help but being a little disappointed. He looked so much more natural in something other than scarlet and silver. He looked more like himself. She wasn't sure why she would have that view, since most ladies admired a uniform above all things and would often go on about how dashing a certain officer looked in his regimentals.
"Anne?" The Colonel called her back to attention.
"Yes?" she said, shaking off her reverie.
"Where did you go just now?" he asked, laughingly. "Is my conversation that tedious?"
"Please don't think that," she implored, "It must just be the ill effects of the fever. I'm still quite foggy."
"Of course you are," he agreed, as he stood up. "I shouldn't keep you from resting up," he went on sweetly.
"Please don't leave!" she started.
"Anne you must get your rest! I won't have you too weak and tired to enjoy yourself."
She smiled at his kind insistence and agreed to lay for awhile on the sofa. He saw her placed there and provided her with a pillow for her head.
"I'll see you tomorrow," he promised and left.
She sighed as he closed the door behind himself. She was sorry to see him go. She missed him immediately. She supposed that it would be that way between any cousins who were considered close. She did wonder why she would be so interested in his face that she would lose all ability to attend to his conversation.
The remainder of the week passed quickly by with Anne steadily regaining her health under Charlotte's more attentive eye. Charlotte had turned into a regular nursemaid, constantly inquiring about Anne's health and attempting to cover her lap with heavy woolen blankets. Anne frequently teased her by accidentally referring to her as "My dear Mrs. Jenkinson," a sobriquet that Charlotte would only good-naturedly shake her head at. She didn't mind being mistaken for Mrs. Jenkinson, just as long as Anne's health remained good.
Anne's small circle of London friends continued to call upon her. Their visits were something that Anne looked forward to as a daily pleasure and, as her health improved, her animated spirits returned. She began practicing her music once again and even fixed upon a song that she might be able to sing at their musical evening. Charlotte was asked to accompany her, as she was sure that she would not be able to manage the pianoforte and sing at the same time.
Lord Randall was one of the most frequent callers. During his visits, he reminded her often about their upcoming theater scheme and would elaborate on the particular skills of the acting company they were to see, the wisdom and humor of the play itself, and occasionally the theater's excellent architectural features. Surprisingly, Anne began to find Lord Randall more likeable. He seemed to have lost some of his pompous stiffness as he became more comfortable with her. She also sensed that he was making a greater effort to engage her in conversations. This was a marked change from that first dinner party where he hardly spoke to her at all.
Anne was very curious to hear Charlotte's opinions on Lord Randall's change in behavior, but couldn't conceive of how to bring up such a subject especially since she knew that her friend may harbor feelings towards the gentleman.
Charlotte, fortunately, chose to open that topic of conversation that evening while Anne dressed for the theater. Anne and Smith had decided upon her favorite dress, the white silk with the pearl ornaments, to wear. Charlotte was all admiration and praise as Smith began to dress Anne's hair.
"How well you look Anne now that the color has returned to your cheeks!" Charlotte remarked, kindly. "The dress sets off your complexion beautifully."
Anne looked at her friend in the mirror and smiled.
"And I'm sure that you will have a great many admirers tonight, Anne. But I hope that you will give due consideration to a particular gentleman, who has been very open about his attention towards you." Charlotte continued, meaningfully.
Anne glanced up. "I can't imagine who you..." she began.
"Surely you can!" Charlotte interrupted. "You must have seen how deeply affected Lord Randall was by your illness, and how thankful he has been to see you make a complete recovery!"
Anne turned around to stare directly at her friend, shocked.
"You must be sensible of his deep feelings towards you!" Charlotte exclaimed.
"I admit that he has been more... talkative..." Anne spluttered.
"Is that all you can call it?" Charlotte asked.
"Well, I had no idea that he felt anything more than... friendship..." Anne tried to explain.
"He has come to see you every day!" Charlotte reproached.
"So has Edward!" Anne retorted.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam is your cousin, I would expect that type of attention from a family member. But Lord Randall's coming to visit you is something more and you must acknowlege it for what it is!"
Anne sat speechless.
"Anne, I believe that he wishes to marry you." Charlotte stated, firmly.
Anne stared, shocked.
"You need to figure out what is in your heart before he asks." Charlotte went on, wisely. "I'm afraid you may not have much time, he may petition you tonight."
"Tonight!" Anne exclaimed.
"How often has he mentioned the theater to you this week?" Charlotte inquired.
"Frequently?" Anne asked, in a tiny voice.
"Once every day." Charlotte confirmed.
"It will be tonight?"
"I believe he means to find a way to speak with you tonight. We must find time for you to be alone." Charlotte went on, resolutely.
"Oh no!" Anne was horrified.
"Anne, we should have spoken about this sooner, I realize this now." Charlotte soothed. "But you must see the definite advantages to making match with him."
Anne stayed silent while Charlotte went on to elaborate on these advantages. Her friend would become happily established with a husband who was respectable as well as gaining a loving, if overly expressive, sister. Two large Kent estates would be united. She would even be granted title. To the world she would become Lady Anne Randall.
"That name has a lovely ring to it, doesn't it?" Charlotte mused. "I would adore calling you 'your ladyship' in public."
Anne was not quite sure that she felt equal to that name.
"I am certain, Anne, that your mother would approve," Charlotte went on, "it is an even better match than the one you would have made with Mr. Darcy. His estate was always too far away for my liking, and he has no title. It also pleases me very much to know that you will not be settled too far away from me"
"You seem to have everything planned!" Anne exclaimed wildly.
"I have been considering your future for quite some time now!" returned Charlotte. "I believe that an alliance with him will completely secure your happiness."
"An alliance?" Anne spluttered, trying to compose her rapid thoughts. "How can you speak about it in this way! You must know that I don't love him!"
"You may grow to love him!" Charlotte interjected.
"And have you grown to love Mr. Collins?" Anne asked.
"I have grown to respect and admire..."
"Respect and admiration, but not love!" Anne rose from her seat with energy and crossed the room to the window.
"Anne, calm yourself!" Charlotte reprimanded.
Anne's heart was beating rapidly as she grasped the curtain, pulling it back to reveal the busy London street below. She felt feverishly hot. Her emotions were in torment. She had allowed herself to be blind to the motive behind Lord Randall's attentions. She had allowed herself to think he visited to become better acquainted with his neighbor in Kent or perhaps out of duty to one who he had allowed to become ill. She even thought that he came out of admiration for Charlotte, but never in in the last week had she ever given any consideration to the idea that he came out of admiration for her! She closed her eyes wishing to shut out the idea.
"Anne," Charlotte began. "Anne look at me."
Anne turned towards her and slumped into the window seat.
"You could be happy with him." she emphasized. "He is an honorable gentleman, equal to you in station. He has an excellent sister who already loves you. His home in Kent is not ten miles from your own. You would always be close to Hunsford, you would always be close to me."
Anne felt like weeping. She saw the rightness of the match.
"If you had two children," Charlotte went on, "one would inherit Randall Manor and the other Rosings. Their two families would never be parted by a great distance."
Anne turned towards the window and laid her cheek on the windowpane, feeling its chill.
"Don't you see?" Charlotte went to her side, knelt before her, and raised Anne's head in her hands. "Here is your opportunity to bring out an heir to your parent's fortune."
Anne looked at Charlotte, tears beginning to cloud her eyes. What could she say that would refute what her friend had said? There was nothing.
Anne sighed heavily and looked down. "You're right." she whispered.
Charlotte smiled encouragingly. "I know that this seems sudden, but it will be for the best. You'll see." she said.
Anne attempted to smile, "I'll see," she repeated.
Charlotte rose from her position and pulled Anne to her feet. Embracing her friend tightly, she whispered, "And I will always be near."
Anne returned her embrace and broke away. "Could you give me a few moments, Charlotte? I need to be by myself."
"Of course," Charlotte agreed. "I'll send Smith in to finish your hair in ten minutes."
Anne looked around and saw that her maid had escaped out of the room. At what point in the conversation, Anne could not recall. She wondered how much Smith had heard.
"That would be fine." Anne murmured and turned away.
Charlotte quietly exited. As soon as Anne heard the door click into position, she dropped onto the bed and started to cry.
The Randall's carriage pulled up in front of the door promptly at 7:00. Anne and Charlotte were handed in by Randall himself and met inside by Antonia who was very solicitous about their protection from the cold. Blankets were immediately thrown over their laps and a foot warmer was placed between them. Antonia and her brother sat on the opposite seat and were both very expressive with their thankfulness at having Anne accompany them that night.
"Mr. Poole has gone by chaise, so that we would all have enough room," Antonia mentioned when Charlotte asked about the other gentleman. "He is so considerate, is he not, brother?" She looked at her brother and smiled. "Doesn't Miss deBourgh look well tonight?" Antonia went on to ask him.
"Indeed, Miss de Bourgh does look quite well." Lord Randall remarked with a charming smile in Anne's direction.
Anne felt a lump create her throat. Her hands were clenched inside her cloak. She wasn't sure if she was equal to the revelation that Charlotte was so sure he would make tonight. If this slight compliment on her healthy appearance was enough to unnerve her, how was she ever going to be able to keep her composure during a proposal of marriage?
Anne chose to stare out the window in the hopes that it would stifle any further conversation. She felt her heart beat loudly and wished that she could have had a much longer time to become accustomed to the idea of marrying him. True to her word, Charlotte had sent Smith in after ten minutes. Smith was, as always, very kind to Anne as she finished dressing her hair. She said nothing about the tears that Anne continued to cry, only located a fresh handkerchief for her. She spoke to her soothingly about nothing in particular and helped her to wash her face a few moments before Anne was set to meet Charlotte downstairs. As Anne left the room, Smith squeezed her shoulder, comfortingly.
Anne remembered the young woman's silent compassion and felt like crying again. She bit her lip as the carriage rolled down the street towards the theatre.
Antonia and Charlotte kept up an enthusiastic conversation during the whole of the carriage ride, allowing Anne the opportunity to study the scenery passing by the window. She could not look at Randall, although she was conscious of how often his gaze fell upon her. "How could I be so blind?" she lamented. She saw now that Lord Randall's interest was hers alone. Charlotte was nothing to him.
Mr. Poole had remained outside waiting for them at the theater and bounded up to help the ladies down from the carriage. His face was wreathed in smiles as he handed the three safely onto the street. "You don't know how long I have been looking forward to this very night, Miss de Bourgh, Mrs. Collins," he said to each in turn. "I must admit myself to be a great admirer of the theater. There is nothing that I like better than a play!"
Charlotte agreed with him very cheerfully and Anne attempted to look happy as the two gentlemen escorted the ladies into the hall and up the stairs to their box.
Anne had never been to the theater before and could have been interested in all that passed before her, if she had not been contemplating the possibility of Lord Randall making his affections known. She saw nothing of the opulent draperies, the rich carpeting, and the candles in their fine wall sconces. She did not take in the gilded ceiling or the chandelier hanging from its center. She could not even recall how she managed to find her way into her seat.
She felt it to be a great blessing when the play started and she finally had a place to point her eyes. Avoiding Lord Randall's steadfast look was becoming more difficult. He occupied the chair next to hers. She did notice that he had said very little as well. Anne realized that he was as affected as she.
The play was more diverting than Anne had expected. It was a farce revolving around eavesdropping and miscommunication. More than one character was completely deluded as to the motives of another. Only the audience knew the exact state of affairs and managed to laugh uproariously at the cast's misguided attempts to resolve matters.
Anne became quite engrossed in the events occurring on the stage and it wasn't until intermission that she recalled the gentleman sitting beside her. The curtain dropped, the lights went on and the members of the audience began to stand.
"Anne, I believe that you should stay at your seat," said Charlotte in an overly loud voice. "You shouldn't fatigue yourself any more than is necessary. Lord Randall, will you not stay with Anne?"
"Most certainly," said he and the other three members of their party were allowed to leave the box. Anne was left alone with him.
Anne looked over the box and into the orchestra seats. She turned her eyes to the chandelier, the ceiling, the boxes on the opposite side of the theater. She was desperate to find any topic that could keep Lord Randall away from his proposal.
"Miss de Bourgh," he began.
"How interesting it is that the chandelier should seem crooked from this vantage!" Anne interrupted, quickly. "Indeed, from where I sit it looks quite crooked. But that is not possible, is it? Chandeliers can't hang crookedly."
"I -- I don't know, Miss deBourgh," Lord Randall spluttered. "I have never considered --"
"I always study these things," she went on, "I find them greatly diverting --"
"I would not suspend any pleasure of yours for the world, Miss deBourgh, but I must speak to you on a subject --"
"Why does the orchestra not play during intermission? I believe that the audience should enjoy hearing them play while they take a turn around the theatre. Don't you think that they should play?"
"Miss deBourgh, they need time to rest their fingers!" Lord Randall responded, shocked.
"Oh, I suppose you are right," Anne went on, "but I did so enjoy their music, did you."
"I enjoyed it very much," said Lord Randall, "but there is one musician whose music will delight me even more, when I have the opportunity to hear her sing."
"I suppose you mean your dear sister," Anne agreed, "I am also looking forward to hearing Antonia..."
"Miss deBourgh, I was speaking of you!" Lord Randall revealed.
"Me? I can assure you that I am a very ill performer!" Anne laughed.
"Miss deBourgh, really, the time has come for me to speak plainly to you..." Lord Randall started again.
"Is that Captain Parker I see down there?" Anne asked, spying a figure that did indeed look very much like that gentleman. "I had no idea that he meant to see this play! Let us go down and speak to him!" she said, rising from her chair.
"Miss deBourgh!" Lord Randall exclaimed, taking hold of her arm, "Miss deBourgh, I would like for you to consider my proposal!"
From where Anne stood, she could see Captain Parker look up towards her box. He smiled at her and raised his hand in greeting.
"Miss de Bourgh, please sit back down." Lord Randall reclaimed her attention.
There was no way to escape the meaning of Lord Randall's conversation now. She knew that she had to hear him out. Anne steeled herself for what was to come. She sat back down, her eyes turning away from Captain Parker and towards her lap. Folding her hands upon her program, she waited.
The proposal was made with no further interruption from Anne. Lord Randall was allowed to say all that he wished to about his love for her, his superior claims to her hand, and their future happiness together. It was a very long speech and she bore as much of it as she could. When she could take no more of his opinions and beliefs on the subject, she consented with a very brief, "I accept."
Had she been able to look down into the orchestra to see if Captain Parker was still there, she would have seen that he was still standing where she had first seen him. He continued to look up in her direction, concern written across his face.
Anne woke up the next morning after a restless night. She looked at the sun streaming through her window and wondered how she ever managed to fall asleep at all. She recalled Lord Randall's proposal and her acceptance of it with a certain degree of pain. She shut her eyes to the thought.
After returning from the theatre and retiring to her bedchamber, Anne had tried to rationalize her acceptance of Lord Randall and had attempted to find some joy in it. Charlotte was certainly very gratified by what had taken place at the theatre. Lord Randall had looked his happiness to the three friends when they returned to the box; his cheerful countenance was enough to make her acceptance of his proposal clear and, although no one spoke aloud of it, they all left the theatre with glad hearts. Antonia's eyes shone brightly when she looked at Mr. Poole and Lord Randall managed to look grateful to all.
Anne's heart had not yet found it's own gladness, a fact which did give Charlotte some pain. She did think, however, when Anne was given time for greater reflection, her happiness would come.
Anne hardly spoke a word on the way home. Her friends chose to believe that she was simply tired and that she needed more rest. She allowed them to blame her lack of spirits on her recent illness. Anne went straight to her room once they had returned home.
"Why am I so unhappy?" she kept on asking herself that night. Lord Randall was not the most attractive of men, nor the most sensible, but he was respectable. She rehearsed all of the advantages to the match that Charlotte had elaborated on earlier. His house in Kent, which she had never seen, was very little distance from Rosings. Antonia certainly liked her, and Anne believed that they might eventually come to love one another. She would start a family, perhaps bringing out two little heirs to their fortune, one for Rosings and one for Randall Manor. Perhaps she would have a daughter.
That thought gave her some degree of joy. She would like to have a daughter.
When Anne went over it rationally, she knew that it was a good match, perhaps the best match that she could make. Certainly it was better than marrying her cousin Mr. Darcy, who never spoke to her or showed any interest in her. She thankfully had managed to escape a future with him. So, how could she shudder when presented with a husband of equal standing and greater amiability? Why was she so unhappy?
She remembered that tonight was to be their musical evening and she winced at the thought. How was she ever going to get through the night?
Anne and Charlotte were downstairs when the Randalls and Mr. Poole arrived. Antonia was all happiness as she greeted her new sister with a kiss on the cheek. Lord Randall raised Anne's hand in his own and managed to compliment her appearance in such an intimate manner that she began to blush wildly.
Fortunately, the guests began arriving just then, taking Anne away in order to play the hostess. She managed to greet the newcomers with a good deal of grace and humor, more than she thought she actually possessed. By the time the evening started, the assembled party was one in the opinion that this new young lady in London society was quite a jewel.
Colonel Fitzwilliam and Captain Parker arrived late, after the others had already been greeted, giving Anne greater time to welcome them to the evening. "I believe I saw you at the theatre last night." Anne said to the Captain.
"Why yes, you did. I tried to find you and your party at the end of the evening, but the crowd barred my passage." he explained.
"It was very crowded, was it not?" she agreed.
"Did you like the play?" he asked.
"Yes, I believe it was very good." she said, saying all that she thought she should say on this matter.
"We are looking forward to hearing you sing, Anne." said the Colonel. "But I do hope that you are not overtaxing yourself."
"I believe that I am fine, Edward, but I do thank you for your consideration." she said to him sweetly. "Shall we all go in?"
The Colonel gave her his arm and they walked into the drawing room together.
As the party was assembled, the ladies decided that they should begin. Antonia had been asked earlier to lead the way and sat down at the pianoforte to a appreciative smattering of applause.
Anne sat down on the sofa next to Charlotte. Colonel Fitzwillam and Captain Parker chose to stand behind her. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Lord Randall sitting in a chair across the room. Before Antonia started, Lord Randall looked towards Anne and smiled broadly.
Anne turned quickly away.
Antonia played and sang very well. She had a deep, colorful voice that lent itself well to the aria she chose to perform. The entire company was very appreciative and Anne believed that she should persuade her to sing one more song, for the pleasure of the assembly. She was just about ready to entreat her to play again when another young lady stood up and made her way to the piano. Antonia gave up the bench with a kind smile towards the next performer.
Anne was somewhat surprised that this young lady should put herself forward in such a manner and looked at Charlotte with some surprise on her face. Charlotte leaned towards her and whispered an explanation. "Miss Mary Bennet, younger sister to Mrs. Darcy. If you recall I asked you to invite her tonight, as she is staying in London with Mrs. Gardiner, her aunt."
"Oh yes," Anne whispered back, "I had forgotten." Anne looked around the room for Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, who she did remember greeting in the hall. That lady was sitting in a corner of the room, next to her husband Mr. Gardiner. Both were looking somewhat uncomfortable as Miss Bennet started the introduction to her song. Anne was not long in realizing the source of their discomfort: Miss Bennet, while being truly proficient at the playing of the pianoforte, sang with very little taste. Anne watched the couple wince in unison as Miss Bennet held a particularly high note for a great long time.
"Poor Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner," Charlotte whispered to her friend. "They've had her this whole season."
Anne stifled a giggle and tried to look serious as Miss Bennet finished her song with a flourish. Miss Bennet stood and received their applause with a dutiful incline of her head and then sat down to sing once more. Anne looked at Charlotte, shocked.
Charlotte shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. Anne smiled wryly. Neither lady could think of anything to do at this point in time, so they allowed Miss Bennet to impose upon the assembly with another song.
Fortunately, Mr. Gardiner poised himself to escort her away from the piano bench at the end of her second piece. Anne was very appreciative at his gentlemanly way of handling his niece, allowing her to save face but not allowing her to exhibit her talents any further. She would make it a point to speak with the Gardiners later, curious to know if they had any news about the Darcys.
Antonia asked two London acquaintances of hers to play and sing next. The young ladies, sisters, did so very sweetly and with a great deal of grace. Anne enjoyed their performances very much.
After they had finished, Antonia called over to Anne and asked if she would be willing to oblige her guests with a song. Anne smiled sweetly and Charlotte stood up, the accompanying piano score in hand. Colonel Fitzwilliam came around and was about to offer his arm to Anne in order to escort her to the instrument when Lord Randall broke in and took control of her.
"Anne," Lord Randall said, with a overly large smile.
Anne had to comply and she and Randall began to move towards the instrument together leaving Fitzwilliam to escort Charlotte. The two gentlemen returned to their respective places and Charlotte began the introduction. As Charlotte played, Anne watched Colonel Fitzwilliam turn and look towards Lord Randall, with a puzzled look on his face. Captain Parker looked at his friend and Anne almost believed that she saw him raise an eyebrow.
Anne was so interested in watching their silent pantomime that she almost missed her cue. Charlotte, noticing Anne's distraction, made a large motion with her shoulders and head that recalled Anne to the music. She started correctly and went on.
It was a simple folk ballad, one that most people in the company would know. It was a perfect match for Anne's light, clear voice. The subject of the ballad was woefully sad: unrequited love carried to the grave. Anne sang it with so much feeling and empathy that the assembly became quite enchanted.
Anne felt as if she were in a trance. The song had long been one of her favorites and was easy for her to sing from memory. She looked around at the audience and watched the pleasure playing upon their faces. Colonel Fitzwilliam smiled at her approvingly and Captain Parker's face held some degree of admiration. Antonia nodded her head, with encouragement.
Anne ended her song, casting her eyes down and laying her head to one side, imitating the feeling of the end of the ballad. The company burst into applause. Anne looked up and smiled gratefully.
Lord Randall jumped up from his chair and walked over to Anne. She took his arm, expecting him to lead her back to her seat but instead he continued to stand in front of the assembly and raised his hand to silence them.
The audience stopped to listen.
"My dear friends," he began, "I hope that our dear Miss deBourgh will not mind if I address you at this time." He looked over at Anne and smiled. Anne stared at him, her eyes widened.
"But you see, I must be allowed to announce that Miss deBourgh has accepted my proposal of marriage!" He went on gleefully, "We are engaged!"
Some in the room gasped delightedly and they began to applaud once again. Mr. Poole stood up, signaling to the others in the assembly that they should also stand.
Anne had no idea that he was planning to announce their engagement on that evening and was very much annoyed at him for not discussing it with her. The word was out, however, and Anne found herself in the middle of a flock of congratulating guests, all wishing to tell her how pleased they were with Lord Randall's news.
It was all very taxing on Anne and she felt like running up to her room, but Lord Randall was there, standing next to her, her hand placed upon his arm, his hand holding it firmly there.
Anne did not know where to look or what to say to the flock of well-wishers. Lord Randall was receiving their attentions with a great deal of joy and happiness. He thanked them and agreed that he was to be the happiest man in the world.
Eventually Charlotte reminded the guests of the refreshments available in the adjoining room and the doors were thrown open. People began to move about the floor and Anne was very glad to see the crowd disperse and find other occupations and discussions.
Lord Randall still held hold of her hand.
"How could you do that," she heard herself whisper, "we should have talked about it before you did that."
"Why shouldn't we publish the news, Anne?" he returned, "I cannot keep my happiness a secret."
"But I haven't spoken to my family yet," Anne spluttered.
"Your family?" he asked.
"I should have at least been allowed to tell my cousins the Fitzwilliams," she explained.
"Your cousins? Really, what are cousins anyways. They certainly aren't near relations!" Lord Randall scoffed.
"But they happen to be the only family I still have." Anne said, insistently.
"Well, then I apologize for being premature, but really Anne, it doesn't matter how your cousins find out." Lord Randall went on. "But I see that we are not going to agree upon this matter. Let us go and take some tea."
Lord Randall began to walk towards the door, still maintaining his hold on Anne's hand. She had no choice but to follow.
When they had reached the door, Colonel Fitzwilliam stepped forward, "Anne?," he asked.
"Excuse me, Lord Randall," Anne said, pulling herself free from her fiancee, "I'd like a moment with Colonel Fitzwilliam."
Lord Randall reluctantly gave up Anne's hand, bowed to Colonel Fitzwilliam, and walked on into the refreshment room.
Colonel Fitzwilliam watched as he strode away and then turned back to Anne. "Congratulations seem to be in order," he said, soberly.
"I did not know that he was going to announce it tonight. I just told him that I wished that he would have allowed me to tell you and George first."
"That would have made it no less of a surprise," Fitzwilliam returned. "I had no idea that you had any interest in the gentleman."
"I admit that it is rather sudden," she said, looking down.
"It is sudden, but that would be nothing if you truly love him."
To this Anne could say nothing.
"Anne?" Colonel Fitzwilliam asked. "Will he make you happy?"
Anne shuddered. It was a question that she did not know how to answer.
"You are content, then, to leave your heart out of this decision?" he probed.
Anne remained silent.
"To be sure it is a great match," Colonel Fitzwilliam elaborated, sarcastically. "And I'm sure that your mother, wherever she may be, would be wholeheartedly pleased. Why, its a better match than the one "Her Ladyship" planned for you with Darcy, for you shall be granted a title, won't you?"
"Please stop, I beg of you!" Anne entreated in a whispered voice, reaching out to touch his arm.
Colonel Fitzwilliam drew himself up. "So you are content." He stated, dully, shrugging her off.
She looked down, once again.
"Well then, there is nothing left to say." With that, he turned on his heel and walked away.
Early the next morning, before Charlotte, Smith, or even Mrs. Flynn were up, Anne crept silently down the stairs and out the front door. She closed her cloak and put up its hood in deference to the frost that greeted her out of doors. The early morning light cast long shadows on the street, changing it. She had never been out so early before and hoped that she would not get lost on the strange London streets.
She turned to walk down the block, recalling in her mind the trip that her carriage had once made to the Randall's door. She was sure, from that remarkably short trip, that she could make the journey on foot and did not want to alert Charlotte to what she was about to do by calling for her carriage. She knew that Charlotte would be horrified and would do her best to talk her out of it and Anne did not want anyone break her resolve. After laying awake in bed during yet another sleepless night, Anne knew with great certainty that she could never marry Lord Randall.
Last night, Anne had felt her frustration and annoyance at what she considered his premature engagement announcement boil over into anger and dislike. She avoided his presence during the rest of the evening, something that looked awkward to her guests and proved to be impossible. He located her and imposed himself on every conversation that she had. She sent him on errands to get rid of him, asking for punch at least five times during the evening and even sending him once to bring down her shawl.
He carried out these duties with a great deal of flourish, presenting her cups of punch with a ridiculous bow and occasionally calling her "my lady." She was hardly able to keep her composure during these displays and was truly grateful when her guests began to leave.
She did speak to the Gardiners for a few moments before they left for the evening and did learn that the Darcys were enjoying their trip to Italy quite as much as they had expected to.
To this Lord Randall, who happened to be at Anne's side during that conversation mentioned his great desire to see Italy and asked Anne if she thought that it might prove to be a romantic honeymoon.
Anne did not know how to answer such a question and tried to ignore it by asking Mrs. Gardiner when the family was expected back.
Mrs. Gardiner believed that they would return to London within the month and that she would be sure to mention to Elizabeth in her next letter that they should plan upon attending a wedding once they returned. Anne thanked them for their willingness to convey that information, but begged them not to write a word about her engagement. "I'd like to tell them myself," she said.
Mrs. Gardiner promised her that the news would not get back to the Darcys through her and Mr. Gardiner, and Miss Bennet agreed to do the same. Anne hoped that they could be trusted to keep such pieces of information to themselves.
Of course, the mere mention of the actual wedding made Lord Randall eager to discuss it with Anne and fix a date. He wondered if they could not be married by the end of the month. Anne begged him to postpone this discussion for the moment, as she was attempting to say a proper farewell to all of her guests. He agreed to wait until he had Anne alone.
Anne noticed, with a sharp degree of pain, that Colonel Fitzwilliam and Captain Parker must have made a quick exit sometime after their last conversation. Neither gentleman had come to take their leave.
The Randalls and Mr. Poole were the last ones to leave. Antonia said many bright things about wedding clothes and shopping and how they must start on her trousseau at once. Mr. Poole again complimented her on her lovely event and told her again how much he had enjoyed her song. Lord Randall reserved his farewell until the last. He grasped both of her hands and brought them up to his lips. Kissing each twice and looking deeply into her eyes, he said something about how he was dreaming of the day when he would never have to say farewell to her again. Anne felt her stomach turn with revulsion.
She ran up to bed with barely a word of goodnight to Charlotte and shut the door to her room firmly. Then, she flung herself on the bed, not caring if she wrinkled her dress.
She knew that she could not bear to spend the rest of her life with him and realized that the only honorable thing to do was to retract her acceptance as quickly as possible.
Her resolution did not waver as she walked quickly through the quiet London streets, attempting to retrace the route to his house. She gasped for breath and stopped short when she finally spotted his mansion a short distance down the avenue. She walked on, eager to be done with her mission.
She mounted the stairs to the imposing door and rapped loudly with the brass knocker. She waited for what seemed an eternity and was just about to knock again when their butler opened the door, a surprised look playing upon his gray face.
"Excuse me," she said as she swept by him and into the hall, not giving him the opportunity to deny her entrance.
He turned to her, aghast.
"I must see Lord Randall this instant." she said in a voice that she hoped would sound commanding. "Please tell him that Miss deBourgh has come to speak with him."
"He is not yet out of bed, Miss!" the elderly butler said, surprised.
"Then I shall wait until he arises. But I am quite sure that you had better send his valet in to wake him," she returned.
The butler continued to stare at her.
"Please send his valet to him!" she said, as imperiously as she could manage. "Shall I wait here in the hall or will you show me to a more appropriate room?"
She pulled off her hood and undid her cloak's fastener as yet another way of showing that she was not going to be put off.
Eventually the butler responded, "This way, Miss," he said as he walked over to a door and opened it. It opened onto what she took to be the morning room.
She brushed by him without a word and allowed him to close the door behind her.
Once alone, she dropped into the chair nearest the door. It made a loud squeak and she felt something sharp poke into her leg. She jumped up, surprised and turned around to look at the chair. A metal spring had pushed through the upholstery and padding of the seat. She touched it with her finger and tried to force it back under the material. It was then that she noticed the stitches that attempted to close up a long rip in the seat.
She wondered why the Randalls kept such a shabby chair and walked further into the room in order to find a better one.
The sofa was more reputable than the chair had been, but she noticed that it looked quite faded in the early morning light. She sat down in it slowly, fearing that she might be poked once again by a wayward spring.
Looking at the empty fireplace, she wondered why the wood for the fire had not yet been brought up. Surely one of the servants was remiss in their duties for allowing the morning to advance without the beginnings of a fire being placed. She wished that the fire had already been started as the room was quite cold. Anne decided to stand up and wrap her cloak around her. She had just sat back down on the sofa when the door opened and Lord Randall walked in.
"Anne, what are you doing here so early?" he asked without preamble.
Anne noticed that he was still in his dressing gown and had not yet even combed his hair. She was grateful that he had chosen to come down so quickly and decided not to put off the inevitable any further.
"I can't marry you," she said. "I'm sorry, I know that this must pain you, but you cannot make me happy, and I don't think that I could make you happy either."
Lord Randall stood in front of her, stunned. "And how have you come to that decision?" he asked.
"Two nights of sleepless reflection," Anne admitted. "This is not easy for me, but I believe that it is best not to let this engagement go any farther. It is best to end it at once."
"No!" he said and sat down next to her on the sofa and grabbed her arm, "I won't let you walk away that easily. How can you when you know that we are perfectly matched. My family, my connections..." he spluttered.
"That is not all that matters," she said, shaking his hand off of her arm.
"You are giving up the opportunity to be Lady Randall!" he said, vehemently.
"I don't care about the title, I never have." Anne voiced.
"This is your cousin's doing isn't it?" he asked, "What is his business in the matter? Your friend Mrs. Collins thinks well enough of me, that should be enough for him. A woman always has better instincts..."
"And my instincts are telling me that a marriage with you would be a sham!" Anne stated, fervently.
Lord Randall sat back, stunned.
"I'm sorry to cause you pain," Anne said as she stood up, "But I just can't marry you."
"Ah! I see," he said, a look of recognition playing across his face, "You are simply trying to further my love for you by pretending to reject me. If I ask again in a week, you shall accept."
"No, that will not be the case!" Anne cried.
"Of course it will!" he returned, a more jovial spirit replacing his anxiousness. "It seems to be the practice of most elegant females to reject a lover that they eventually mean to accept. I shall not be disappointed!"
"But you will!" Anne returned.
"Yes, I will make my offer to you in a week or so and I have no fear of being accepted, especially when sanctioned once again by your most amiable friend and my devoted sister."
"They cannot make me love you!"
"Of course they cannot make you love me when you already do." He twisted her words around once again.
"I never will!" Anne said and she hurried out into the hall and out the front door, not allowing the butler the opportunity of opening it for her.
Anne rushed back to the Fitzwilliams townhouse. She decided to leave London and return to Rosings on that day. She would not stay in the city and give Lord Randall or Antonia any further opportunity to plead his case. She hoped that her leaving the city would give force to her resolve never to marry him and that they would not seek her at Rosings.
Mrs. Flynn was watching for her from the window and opened the door for her quickly. "Mrs. Flynn!" Anne said, scarcely catching her breath. "I'm sorry, but I find that I must return to Rosings. I have not an instant to lose! Please help me send for the carriage." Anne started for the stairs, eager to ask Smith to begin packing for her. "Smith!" she called up.
Smith hurried out onto the stair landing. "Please start packing, we must leave for Rosings today!" Anne called out to her. Smith rushed into her room.
Anne turned around to Mrs. Flynn, who stood at the bottom of the stairs. "Have you seen Charlotte? I must tell her that we are to go!" Anne asked.
"Mrs. Collins is out looking for you, miss!" Mrs. Flynn announced. "None of us knew where you were! I dispatched several servants to find you, but Mrs. Collins insisted upon searching for you as well. You gave us a terrible fright!" she went on.
"Oh! I am sorry!" Anne said, "I didn't mean to alarm you!"
"And now you announce that you must leave?" Mrs. Flynn said incredulously, "What calls you home?"
"It is imperative that I return home, Mrs. Flynn, that is all that I can say. Please forgive me!" Anne said, placatingly.
"It is just very irregular!" said Mrs. Flynn, "and then there is the gentleman that has been waiting for you this half hour."
"What gentleman has been waiting for me?" Anne asked.
"The gentleman who visits with Colonel Fitzwilliam." Mrs. Flynn explained.
"Captain Parker?" Anne asked, surprised.
"He is in the drawing room."
"What is he doing here?" Anne asked as she walked towards that door.
"You had better ask him," Mrs. Flynn called after her as she turned the knob and went into the room. Anne closed the door behind her and Mrs. Flynn went to send a servant to alert the grooms and coachmen that Miss deBourgh expected her carriage to be fitted up for a journey home.
"Captain Parker!" Anne said as she walked into the room.
"Miss deBourgh!" Captain Parker began, rushing over to her, "Forgive me for calling so early, but I must speak to you!"
"Of course," she said, slumping into a chair, exhausted. "Do you have some news from Colonel Fitzwilliam."
"I do indeed," said he, somberly, as he took up the chair next to hers. "He received an express from his brother last night. Augusta has had her child. It is a boy."
"Oh my goodness!" Anne exclaimed, putting her hands on her cheeks. "How wonderful!"
"Naturally, Fitzwilliam left for Sussex late last night. He wished me to make his apologies to you this morning."
"That's very kind..." Anne murmured, thinking of the new infant.
"I also must speak to you on another matter, Miss deBourgh," the Captain went on, "What I have to say may pain you greatly, but you must hear it."
Anne looked at him, concerned.
"You cannot marry Lord Randall," he stated.
"Why ...?" Anne started.
Captain Parker interrupted, "He marries you for your money, for your inheritance and for that alone."
"What?" Anne asked, taken aback.
"I know that this must be upsetting," he explained. "I have learned that the present Lord Randall, your fiancee, is well known in London's gaming circles. He is a committed gambler. He has been ever since he was eighteen, when his father died and he became independent. In the last twelve years he has managed to squander his fortune as well as that of his sister's. His debts are severe and I believe that they could ruin your inheritance as quickly as they have their own."
"How did you find this out?" Anne asked, stunned.
"I've lived in London all of my life," Captain Parker admitted, "I have quite a few..." he searched for a word, "connections."
"And you found this out last night?" Anne questioned.
"I started to make inquiries after I saw the two of you together at the theatre. My sources reported back to me last night after Fitzwilliam had left."
"How ..." Anne murmured. She could not think of a word to describe his behavior.
"I realize that you have no reason to believe what I bring to you. Most people in London think very well of the Randalls. They live in a fashion that allows them to continue to fool people."
"Yes, I believe so," Anne whispered as she remembered Antonia's elegant appearance and Randall's handsome carriage. But she also remembered their dimly lit home and shabby furniture.
"You must break off your engagement, Miss deBourgh," Parker took hold of her hand, "for I believe that it would kill Colonel Fitzwilliam to see you married to such a man!"
"I have already broken off my engagement," Anne admitted.
"You have!" Captain Parker shouted.
"I have just returned from Lord Randall's," she explained, softly.
"The Colonel will be so relieved!" Parker said.
"Yes," said Anne, "I guess he will be relieved. He has been very good to me during these last few months."
"And yet you've never wondered why?" Captain Parker asked.
"He told me that he has been trying to make amends for the incident in the jewelry shop," she stated. "Of course, I've long since forgiven him on that score."
"Then you have no idea?"
"No idea of what?" Anne asked.
"That is in love with you, you little fool!" Captain Parker nearly shouted.
"In love with me?" Anne said, incredulous.
"At least since the Assembly or perhaps even longer!" Captain Parker went on, "How can you be so blind?"
"I --," Anne spluttered.
"He has come to see you every day since your arrival! He spent a week looking after you when you were sick! He bought you a painting and hung it in your room just because he thought that it might remind you of home! What more do you want?"
"But he never said anything!" Anne said.
"How could he when he was still in doubt of your affection for him? He didn't want to lose the opportunity to be your cousin if he could not inspire in you some greater feeling."
"I cannot believe this," Anne said, shaking her head, "How can you be so sure?"
"He has told me as much." Captain Parker admitted.
"After the Assembly Ball, I told him of my interest in you. I wanted his permission to --" Captain Parker looked down and went on, "While he said all that I could have wanted about his willingness to further a relationship between his cousin and his good friend, I could see how much pain that idea was giving him. I realized then that he was in love with you himself."
Anne looked at the Captain, speechless.
"You don't know how good Fitzwilliam has been to me." Parker explained, "I was wounded in battle three years ago. Fitzwilliam refused to leave me behind. He carried me as we retreated from the front line. He saw to my wounded leg, making sure that it would not be amputated."
Anne watched the Captain's face turn pale at the memory.
"I would never do anything to hurt him."
"So you stopped your attentions to me,"
"I'm sorry if that hurt you, but I did it with the hope that you would grow to love a man who is much greater than I," the Captain apologized.
Anne sighed loudly. At that moment, she realized that how much she had grown to love Edward during her months in London. She recalled how she would look forward to his visits, how disappointed she would be if a day passed without seeing him, how she would miss talking with him and would save up things to tell him about later. She thought about her one dance with him and how handsome he looked in his uniform. She also remembered him at her bedside, reading to her from a book. She savored that picture in her mind's eye: his furrowed brow and disheveled hair. How could Lord Randall ever compare to him?
"And he thinks me engaged to Lord Randall," she whispered, sick at heart.
"You must rectify that quickly." Captain Parker stated, "Follow him into Sussex, let him know that you've broken off your engagement. I believe that his relief upon hearing that news will do the rest."
As Anne's carriage took her away from London and into the heart of Sussex, she had ample time to wonder about the sanity of what she was doing. She hardly knew what to expect or what she herself was going to say that would be able to make her sudden arrival at the Fitzwilliam estate not seem strange. She could think of no explanation that would suit beyond an overwhelming desire to see their infant child.
Anne left for Sussex as soon as her carriage was brought around to the front door. She left Captain Parker there to make some sort of an explanation to Charlotte when she returned. Smith was well advanced in her packing and Anne was able to take one of her trunks with her.
Beyond receiving a welcome by George and Augusta, she dared not even hope. What would Edward think when he saw her and, more importantly, what could she say that might bring about some sort of confession from him. Opening her own heart to him while still in doubt of his could not be countenanced by her. What if Captain Parker was wrong? What if Edward had changed his mind? What if she made an honest confession of her love for him only to have him reject it?
She was in constant agony of feeling throughout the entire journey and twice considered calling it off. The driver would think it strange that she would change her plans in the middle of travel, but he would do what she asked. She could go back to London, or better yet, she could start for home.
As the carriage drew up to the Castle, Anne finally resolved upon appearing the devoted child-lover who just couldn't wait to have an opportunity to view the Fitzwilliam heir. What to do about Edward was still in doubt.
She alighted from the carriage and stopped to look at the impressive tower to the North of the entrance. An attractive stone ruin lay just beyond that, framed by a large stand of trees. A figure was walking towards her from that spot.
It was Edward.
"Anne," he called, "Anne, what are you doing here?"
She saw the worried look on his face. "Is Mrs. Collins well? Is there anything wrong?" he inquired searchingly as he came to a stop in front of her.
Anne tried to be light and cheerful. "Oh nothing at all, really. I just had to see your new nephew!"
"You traveled all this way just to see young George?" he questioned doubtingly.
"I know that it seems rather impetuous...." Anne began.
"And Lord Randall would allow you to leave London without him or,..." he looked around and into the carriage, "Anne, where is Mrs. Collins? Did she not come with you?"
"No, Charlotte is still in town." Anne admitted.
"There as well."
"And yet you are here..." he looked at her.
Anne bit her lip and looked down at the ground. She felt her face become hot with embarrassment. How could she have ever thought that the spurious excuse of wanting to see her newest relation would stand with him?
"Anne," he began, softly.
"I broke off my engagement," she whispered, still looking away from him.
"Why?" Edward asked.
"I did not love him." she admitted. "I could not make myself love him."
"But..." he started.
Anne looked at the pair of gloves she had been twisting in her hands for the greater part of the carriage ride. She realized that in another moment she would be revealing to Edward that the reason why she could not make herself love Randall was that he paled in comparison to him.
"Anne, look at me." Edward asked.
Anne raised her face to his. He reached down for her hands and she dropped her pair of gloves. They fell to the ground. Neither individual noticed.
"Why could you not love him?" Edward asked, holding her gaze with his own.
She could not think of anything to say. In the end, she whispered the truth, "He wasn't you."
Anne watched as the realization of her love spread over his face. The corners of his mouth curved slowly into a slight, surprised smile. "Anne," he breathed, "Are you saying that you love me?"
He waited in silence for her answer. It came almost as silently as she mouthed the word, "Yes."
Edward stood stunned, still holding her hands, the dropped gloves on the paving stones beneath their feet. He stood looking at her with that same surprised smile playing over his face. If she could have read his thoughts at that moment, she would have known immediately how much her honest confession had thrilled him. She was his Anne, his own dear Anne.
Eventually they remembered that this very private scene was being played out in front of several liveried servants and the Fitzwilliam's most proper butler, all who had come out to attend to the carriage. Smiling wryly at her, he began to escort her towards the entrance. His eyes remained gazing upon her face as if she would disappear if ever he glanced away.
A fire was blazing at the far end of the hall. He led her to the chairs arranged around the stone hearth. There they sat down together. He held her hands in his and tried to speak. Chuckling at his own inability to talk, he finally managed, "I don't know how to begin..."
"Maybe you could tell me if you love me too?" Anne asked, boldly.
"Can you still remain in doubt about that? I've been in love with you..." he stopped, "Oh Anne, I've been such a fool. Why I didn't realize sooner how utterly superior, how incomparable you are..."
"I didn't give you much of a chance when I was younger. You hardly knew me." Anne admitted.
"I am so ashamed to think of my behavior to you then..." he shook his head.
"Mine to you was just as bad..." Anne interrupted.
"But I was older and should have attempted to draw you out more."
"This will never do, Edward," Anne said, laughingly. "If we can't get past our childhoods now!"
Edward grinned and agreed that they were indeed both past childhood. He looked into her eyes, made brighter by their reflection in the fire and saw nothing that reminded him of his dull little cousin. He could only see the mirth and liveliness of the Anne that he had come to cherish. He knew that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. "Marry me?" he asked.
"Of course," she breathed happily and was almost instantly captured into an embrace. His arms folded around her, reaching to gather her up, wanting to hold her near forever. He raised one of his hands to touch her cheek, and play with a curl of her hair. His own pleasure glowed on his face.
She took off her hat and let it fall to the floor. As if reading that as a cue, he leaned in to kiss her.
Anne and Edward were allowed a surprising degree of intimacy during those first days at the Fitzwilliam home. Augusta was, of course, still in bed recovering from childbirth and George was often upstairs with her and their new child. It was a blessing of which the pair took full advantage: they spent every waking hour in each other's company, deep in conversation about their happy future.
But Edward insisted that Anne attempt to get some sleep on the first evening of her arrival. When he heard the truth about how she hardly slept during her last two nights and how she had snuck out and walked to Randall's house just that morning, he insisted that she go to bed early. "There will be time for talk tomorrow," he promised, kissing her hand. "Rest now."
Truly, she had never slept so well in her life. Her contentment made the bed feel comfortable and her eyes feel heavy. She woke up completely refreshed and eager to go down to breakfast, in the hopes that she would meet him there.
He did not disappoint. She saw him already at the table, drinking coffee and reading a paper. He was not yet completely dressed, his waistcoat remained unbuttoned and the collar of his shirt had yet to be closed. She regarded him sitting there with a little shudder of happiness. She remembered that the last time that she had seen him dressed so casually was when he sat next to her bed, reading to her during her recovery.
He looked up and noticed her at the door, "Anne!" he said, warmly. Laying his paper aside, he rushed over and enfolded her in his arms. "Sleep well?" he murmured, kissing her lightly.
She sighed happily. It seemed so right, so completely natural to be so welcomed by him. "Yes," she whispered back, combing through his hair with her fingers and looking into his eyes. "I could get used to this," she went on, laying her head upon his chest.
"Please do," he chuckled. He then proceeded to lead her to the chair next to his, and then began to fill a plate of breakfast for her from the dishes sitting on the sideboard, all the while explaining to her how he could hardly believe his own good fortune at having secured her love.
"I know that it is more than I deserve," he admitted, laying the plate before her and returning to his seat. "After ignoring you through most of your childhood, I felt that falling hopelessly in love with you and seeing you marry another would have been the most just of rewards."
"But you were so kind to me during my illness!" she reminded him.
"Kind?" he exclaimed, "Anne, I was truly afraid that I would lose you! You have no idea how agonizing it was to see you so sick and be able to do so little," he shook his head at the memory.
"You did quite a bit from what I understand," she said, warmly.
He smiled and reached across the table for her hand.
"Why didn't you tell me that you loved me sooner?" she asked, boldly.
"I was afraid," he admitted, "afraid that you would not allow me even to be your friend, if you knew how much love I felt for you. How could I imagine that you would return my affection? You arrived in London, an independent, beautiful woman. Why on earth would you want to marry your poor, sad, older cousin, when you could have your pick of any man in town?"
"Indeed I think that you are elaborating somewhat," she looked down modestly.
"The night of the dance, watching you with Parker..." he mused.
"So, you were going watch me marry Lord Randall." she stated.
"I didn't know what to do!" he returned, "You were so puzzling during our last conversation. You couldn't tell me that you loved him, yet here you were accepting his proposal and allowing him to announce it to most of London society."
"I didn't know that he was going to announce it that night," Anne exclaimed.
"I spoke with George about it when I arrived here, I managed to persuade him to leave Augusta's side, travel to London, and meet Lord Randall. "
"You did?" Anne asked, incredulous.
"I thought that you were making a mistake, but I wasn't sure that my judgment was colored by my desire for you. George was as concerned as I about your future happiness." He looked at her and squeezed her hand, "But now he can devote all of his energies to Augusta and little George. I will make you happy."
One can imagine what came next. With no one to deny or sanction their union, the two planned their wedding for the early spring, around the time that Anne's favorite syringa bushes began to flower. They chose to be married at Hunsford and allowed Mr. Collins to officiate. Charlotte, who was very contrite and expressed her great regret at ever having influenced her friend towards Lord Randall, was somewhat surprised at being asked by Anne to be her attendant. Anne reminded Charlotte that she was the one who had managed to get her away from Rosings and to London in the first place, and for that Anne would always be truly grateful.
Captain Parker stood beside his friend at the marriage and was glad to see his the Colonel so justifiably happy. It did sadden him somewhat to see Fitzwilliam leave the army in order to assist Anne will the management of Rosings, but knew that he had an open invitation to stay with them whenever he could. Which could be quite frequently in the coming years, for he saw quite a few young ladies at the wedding with whom he wouldn't mind becoming better acquainted during a long term stay in Kent.
While many fine Kent families were in attendance at Anne's wedding, there was one family that went uninvited: the Randalls were not asked to witness the ceremony. They did learn about Anne's engagement to Colonel Fitzwilliam which came as quite a shock to Lord Randall, who really did hope that his sister would be able to convince Anne to once again accept his proposal. To Antonia, it was an even greater blow. Without Anne's fortune, she stood little chance of being able to marry Mr. Poole as she wished. Her dowry had become too severely depleted by her brother's gambling debts for her to imagine marrying the attractive, yet penniless, Mr. Poole. So, until she and her brother were able to woo another young lady of fortune into their family, she could not hope for a wedding of her own.
Mrs. Jenkinson was called back from her sister's to see her former charge's happiness in marriage. This return to Rosings was to be only temporary, as Anne had no need of her services and Mrs. Jenkinson had found out that she truly enjoyed living with her sister.
The Darcys cut their continental trip a bit short in order to be at the wedding, which gave Mrs. Darcy the opportunity to remark to Colonel Fitzwilliam that she was glad to see that younger sons of Earls did indeed fancy women of large fortune. Privately to her husband, she admitted to being quite astonished at the transformation that had taken place in Rosings. It was no longer the dull, dreary place where Lady Catherine held court, making all kinds of insipid pronouncements. With Anne, Rosings became very lively. Anne was a determined hostess, ensuring the happiness of her guests with cheerful conversations and interesting diversions. Mr. Darcy agreed with his wife, as he almost always did, that he had never been so well entertained in that house.
And as exciting as it was to have guests visit, both Anne and Edward were very glad to see them all go away, so that they finally had Rosings all to themselves.
For a little while, at least.
© 1997 Copyright held by author