Anne and the Colonel
Colonel Fitzwilliam heaved a sigh of relief as soon as he quit the saloon, away from Lady Catherine De Bourgh's prattle. Standing near the gate, he surveyed the lawn and the chestnut trees beyond and contemplated on what to do next. He had to replenish his good humor, lost from listening to his aunt complaining about the polluted shades of Pemberley, for a better part of two hours. After, trying several times unsuccessfully to take leave, he had resigned himself to the ordeal when his mother, the wise woman, had sent a note asking him to undertake an urgent imaginary errand. Had he known that Lady Catherine was visiting, he would have postponed his arrival at Matlock. Thankfully, his aunt was not staying for Christmas and was leaving in two days.
Walking at a slow pace, he shuddered slightly, remembering his aunt's tirade against the Gardiners at Pemberley for Christmas. Though he had had to endure his aunt's company only twice a year at most, it was enough to drain even an amiable, pleasant man like himself. Now that Darcy was married and not invited anymore to Rosings, he wondered if his aunt will continue to extend her invitation to him, next march. He had always suspected that it was Darcy who persuaded her to include him. He enjoyed his stay at Rosings and for quite some years now, he had tried to obtain leave and join Darcy during his annual visits. He would tour the grounds, play billiards with Darcy, ride, enjoy his meetings with the local gentry and read some books. But without Darcy to share his aunt's torrent of advice and with his aunt in her present mood, he was not sure of it being enjoyable anymore and resolved to think up some excuse for not going there.
Having reached the stream, he contemplated briefly about riding to the village and calling on the vicar and perhaps feasting his eyes on his lovely daughter. He dismissed the idea, however, he was really not feeling charitable towards women at the moment, however handsome they maybe and decided to continue his walk enjoying the peaceful and serene grounds.
But, immediately after crossing the little raise he came upon a young woman sitting with her back to him, bent slightly as though reading a book intently. Her bonnet and a few more books were scattered beside her. Except for a few errant locks of her dark hair that were dancing in the breeze against the background of a white shawl draped around her shoulders, she was perfectly still. William had never seen anyone who was so much in harmony and at peace with the surrounding. Upon hearing the sound of his footsteps, she turned, and William recognizing who it was stopped on his tracks and exclaimed, "Anne."
Anne looked up clutching her shawl. "Hello, cousin William," she said slowly.
William was surprised. It was the same Anne, thin, with her insignificant features - but there was something different about her. For a brief moment when she looked up, her eyes seemed bright and so alive. She bent her face down now and stood there holding her book on one hand and tightening her grip on the shawl with the other. For all he could remember, he had, actually, never seen her outdoors like this before, even at Rosings. She was always sitting besides her mother or being attended to by Mrs. Jenkins, or travelling in her closed carriage and thus to find that the young woman who had intrigued him momentarily was Anne, by herself, reading a book, outdoors was enough to make him struggle for words.
Recovering quickly, he asked sounding much calmer, "Did not expect to find you here Anne. What are you reading?" fully anticipating a dull book about feminine deportment.
"Voyages of Magellan," she replied in a quiet voice.
Completely confounded and thrown off balance this time, he stood speechless for a second and then repeated rather lamely, "Magellan?"
"Yes. You know Magellan, sixteenth century explorer, circumnavigated the world, these are the accounts of that travel," she explained stammering a little.
Annoyed at his own discomfiture and at her explanation, he muttered in an irritated voice, "Yes I know who Magellan is. But what are you doing here? Though not bad, I do not think the weather is fine enough for you. Where is Mrs. Jenkins?"
"She has gone to get me a pelisse," she said very softly and then as if to confirm her need for it, sneezed.
"I think it is better if you go inside. Your mother will be completely out of sorts if she realizes you are here," William continued and he bent forth to help her pick up her books. He noticed a stack of papers in what must be Anne's writing tied up with a ribbon. Sensing Anne's fluster at the same time, and the eagerness with which she reached for it, he quickly grabbed it and his curiosity getting the better of him, skimmed the first page where the words - 'Antonia's Adventures' were written boldly across in a feminine yet firm writing. He looked up at her surprised and her face red with embarrassment told him what he wanted to know.
"Ah, I did not know we have an author in our family," he smiled, feeling very much himself having recovered his composure, now that she was wringing her hands in agitation, and waving away her feeble protests, glibly mentioned his eagerness to read this story. Tucking it under his arms, he bowed gallantly and leaving Anne with Mrs. Jenkins who had arrived with her pelisse, walked away, feeling satisfied for having exacted his revenge on her. He, Col. Fitzwilliam, the man who had never had any problems talking even to the strangest stranger had actually unbelievably struggled for words. He had every intention of reading this adventure of Antonia indeed, and finding out what his mousy cousin had to say.
After the extraordinary encounter, Col. Fitzwilliam had every intention of retiring to the library immediately and reading the book. But no sooner had he walked a few yards in the direction of the house, was he approached by the head gardener. He wanted him to recommend a particular plan that he had for the orange grove to Lady Fitzwilliam. After chatting with him for a while, William continued onto the house and hearing Mozart being played on the piano, entered into the music room. He smiled, waving his hand urging her to play on, sat next to the piano.
His mother was one of those few women who had kept up her music and reading even after years of married life and the social obligations that it had brought her. Many had told him that he had got his excellent taste in books and music, his appreciation for gourmet food, his pleasant temper and a general bonhomie from her. She was a gentle, sensible sort of a woman, whom his father had always said was a welcome relief after his two sisters. He listened to her with pleasure as always and after she finished the song, since he had not had a chance to see her alone since his arrival, sat next to her and talked for a while.
They talked about her, the affairs of their estate, his father's health and then about Christopher, his brother. He smiled when the talk inevitably turned to his brother's marriage plans. The Viscount, like himself was not in any rush to get married, causing much anguish to his mother. Another season had gone by, with a lot of beautiful young girls and their match making mamas without much avail. William smiled wryly, thankful for being the younger son and not under any pressure to produce an heir. His mother hoped that Lady Alice whom she thought was most suitable will finally catch Christopher or vice versa. William said that he hoped that, if it happens, at least his brother will not go spouting off lovesick poems like Darcy since it invariably gave him the bellyache, eliciting the expected affectionate chide from her.
Surely, he liked talking with all those young women, they were so accomplished, they sang and sewed and colored and what not. He had even indulged in mild flirtation time to time with some or other lady that caught his fancy, making sure not to give any indication of seriousness. For he did not believe in this nonsensical notion of romance. No Siree, he had no intention of marrying, not when it would cause a serious dent in his pocketbook. He had no reason to sacrifice all those niceties, and if pressed, if he had to, then he would choose his wife after carefully considering her fortune.
With such thoughts in his mind he completely forgot about the book till he saw Aunt Catherine at supper. Anne, she explained was not feeling very well and had retired early. William wondered if it was real or if it was a ploy to avoid meeting him. So, soon after supper he rushed back to his chambers and settled for the night with Antonia's Adventures.
It was a book set in an imaginary kingdom of Ilara, and consisted of three adventures so far of Antonia the princess. The plots were quite common about a missing jewel , about a murder in her first ball and about a rebellion in the neighboring kingdom. But the writing was so engaging, her characters came alive, her situations were so believable and William found himself smiling, chuckling and laughing throughout. At one point he collapsed onto his bed laughing so hard that he had to stop in the middle to find a handkerchief to mop his eyes. He was still grinning when he finished the last adventure and after a few seconds, sat there wondering about the author. It was so unbelievable that it was the same Anne, who sat there day in and day out mumbling a word or two at most, never even looking up, that was the author of this book. He had had no clue all these years. This most curious finding perplexed him so much, that he hardly slept and even when he did he had strange unconnected dreams.
The next morning when he came in for breakfast there was still no sign of Anne, and though he walked to the same location and stayed at home throughout the day, he could not meet her. Mrs. Jenkins informed him that she was still indisposed and late that afternoon, he decided he would write a note about the book and send it to her. If she was feigning her fever, this will surely bring her out. After struggling over what to write for some time he decided to state that he enjoyed the book, especially the interaction and the human study, that for example the character Bishop Cotello, was so funny, in fact...He stopped with his pen poised, in fact - by God, it was a caricature of Mr. Collins. As the realization dawned on him, he made a stunning discovery. Anne had not been gratified by Mr. Collins's extravagant praises like he thought, she had been laughing at him all the time. For the tone on the book was quite clear - the narrator was deriding his oiliness and foolishness. Now, he also realized that the queen was Lady Catherine, the timid King was their steward Mr. Perry, and Mrs. Jenkins was possibly the princess' so proper younger sister. He sat immobile for a few minutes. This was Anne's views on all these people and what a discovery it was for him - her mind was, in contrast to her physical situation, so sharp and agile and...He threw the pen down and sat with his hands on his head. He had had no idea...He cannot just write a note, he had to tell her. He had to show her how much he admired her stories and her views.
He waited with bated breath to see if she was going to show up for dinner. But when she did, he did not know how to, where to begin. They were all seated his mother and father saying a few words, Aunt Catherine chattering away as usual, Anne with her head bent down and Mrs. Jenkins bringing her this and that. William desperately wanted to catch her eyes, to smile at her to indicate that it was alright. He hummed, and hawed, he cleared his throat and coughed and then running out of ideas just plainly stared at her every other minute. Obviously Lady Catherine had no clue about this whole thing and he was not going to spill the beans to her and cause problems for Anne. When the conversation turned inevitably to Lady Alice, and everyone put in their idea of what one should expect on the Viscount's bride, William jumped in to take the opportunity and asked her with a casual facade, "What is your opinion, Anne?"
Anne looked up finally meeting his eyes, startled for a brief second and before she could even react, Lady Catherine, interrupted with, "Oh, Anne completely agrees with me, for like me Anne is also a great judge of character. Is it not? Why just the other day..." Anne bent her down again and the moment was gone. William patiently waited and again tried and asked her about a new dance introduced last year called the Waltz. Lady Catherine burst forth, "It is shocking, so very vexing that such positively indecent form of dance has been introduced to the English society. I tell you it will never amount to anything. Proper ladies will never never perform such gaudy dances." Anne did not even bother to look up this time. William gritted his teeth. Poor Anne did not even have a chance, and in his frustration and futile but dogged attempts he did not notice the scornful glances from his father and the surprised look from his mother, and so when the ladies withdrew to the drawing room, he was totally taken aback when his father asked him sharply, "What the devil do you think you are doing?"
"About what father?"
"About what? About torturing poor Anne. You have always been lively, William but never have I known you to tease or be mean to someone like this. Whatever is the matter with you?"
"But father, I was only trying to get her opinion, I think she is really...I mean she must want to," he stammered, realizing how she might have felt. Surely, she understood or did she?
His father gave him a thoughtful glance and then said, "William I do not know what is motivating you but please understand Anne is a very very shy, painfully, exceedingly shy girl. She is very sensitive and by putting her in center you are only troubling her," rubbing his nose slightly.
William stared at this action and exclaimed, "My God, you are Minister Florentino."
"Well, there is this book that Anne..." he started hesitantly and was surprised when his father turned to him and asked, "Anne gave you her books?"
"Actually, I kind of took it myself," he mumbled, shamefaced and then queried, "You know about the book?"
His father sighed slightly and looking out the window started speaking slowly. "Since Anne was little, she had always been shy. Whoever saw her commented on how she had not taken after her handsome mother, how she did not have her commanding presence. To top it, she continuously fell ill at the slightest provocation and instead of drawing her out slowly and taking good care of her, Catherine just got her governess who simply fussed over her and advised to be indoors and to not exert herself in any activity. The poor child became more and more morose and dull and plain Your mother and I whenever we met her would try to help her, but we could not compete with her mother's constant ill advice. She is my sister, but honestly can you imagine how hard it must be to have her as your mother. Georgiana has the same problem of shyness but you and Darcy take care of her. But for Anne, her mother's views and actions always reflected unfavorably upon her. People just assumed her to be her mother's daughter. At any rate, Anne stuck at least to the habit of reading books that we introduced, though she did not keep up the other things that we asked her to follow. She would devour books with such intent, that I had to hunt for her newer and interesting books on all sorts of subjects, every few months. She started writing a few years ago, she would write all these stories to me. They were so enjoyable and I encouraged her as much as I could"
"So you are her Minister Florentino, the kind wise man who always supports the princess," he said wonderingly.
Lord Fitzwilliam smiled, "She did get carried away a little with her adulation, I think," and then with a pat on his shoulders continued in a serious voice, "William, if you really want to help her, think about how you are going to do it," and with that he preceded him into the drawing room.
William was disappointed to find that Anne was not there. That night, he re-read the book trying to see if she had mentioned him somewhere, perhaps a dashing general stealing the princess's heart? Disappointed that he could not find one, the only consolation with which he went to sleep was that neither was Darcy in her book.
In light of his conversation with his father and the fact that Anne was leaving that afternoon for Rosings, when William came down for breakfast, he was resolved to talk with her one way or another. Armed with 'The Times', he sat through the longest breakfast of his life till Anne came down. She hesitated for a brief moment and then bravely pressed ahead. Mrs. Jenkins was nowhere to be seen for once, no doubt she was packing according to the excruciatingly detailed directions Lady Catherine was wont to give. William brightened, things were looking up at last.
"Anne, I want to congratulate you on a book well written. I must tell you, I am most impressed by your views and your words," he began, as soon as she sat down., "And last night I truly wanted to talk to you, wanted your opinion, you see I had not thought that you were so...I mean I did not know, that you had...um...that you wrote," his usual eloquence was failing him whenever he spoke to Anne these days. The implication that earlier he had thought she was an imbecile was not exactly praise. He took a deep breath and said with much feeling, "I am bungling it. Truly, I want to pay you a compliment. It was the most enjoyable book that I have read in a long time." He paused, desperately wishing she would look at him at least. "Anne, I sincerely hope there will not be an ogre named Fitzwilliam in your next story."
His tense shoulders relaxed when Anne raised her eyes and he was rewarded with a slow smile after a moment of uncertainty. Sunshine breaking through the clouds thought William. "Thank you William," she said shyly.
After that William recovered well enough to talk fluently, with Anne listening for the most part. He did not make the same mistake of pushing her. When they finished breakfast, reluctant to let go, he asked her, "Anne, would you like to walk with me up to the stream. It is an unusually fine day." When she agreed, he did his best imitation of Mr. Collins, "I am greatly obliged that my fair cousin would honor me by consenting to walk with me," winning a delightful chuckle from her.
They walked in a leisurely manner, while William told her about his stay in London, his recent experiences with the ranks, the new books he had read. Just as he expected she relaxed soon and improved enough to encounter his eyes from time to time, smile charmingly at his witticism and even share some of her opinions during the encouraging pauses. He completely lost track of time and it was Anne who reminded him that she had to head back and get ready to leave for Hunsford.
Later that afternoon, Lady Catherine and Anne took leave. Their coach in all its splendor waited for them. William held his hand and helped Anne in and noticing that she shivered slightly, bent down to adjust the rug to fit snugly around her feet, asking her if she was alright. Then annoyed at himself for fussing about her just like the other mother hen, he stepped back and waved them goodbye. For the first time ever, he watched his aunt's coach leave, not feeling happy but actually feeling depressed. He was not in love with Anne or anything he told himself, just he felt sorry for her and admired her and.., at any rate Anne was most suitable.
After an uneventful Christmas, he headed back to London to his duties. The next two months was spent on training men and quelling some riots in town. He received a few letters, from Darcy about his marital bliss, from Lady Fitzwilliam mentioning all about Lady Alice and from his brother mentioning nothing about Lady Alice. But the most important to him was a letter from Lady Catherine inviting him to Rosings.
Surprising himself, he thought a lot about Anne. Any interesting book, music, incident, he wanted to share all about it with her. Anything even remotely connected reminded him of her book and her funny observations. On quiet evenings, he found himself remembering her shy smile and her amber eyes. Even when he saw other young women, he was thinking which of the latest fashions would suit Anne. Thus, after much contemplation he decided that he would visit Rosings after all, and informed his aunt about his visit.
March came, and he set off, reflecting on his course of action. When he finally arrived in Rosings, however, he was greeted by an alarming news - Lady Catherine was seriously indisposed with a putrid fever. The household having used to her detailed directions on everything was in a state of confusion. In addition, with Lady Day approaching Mr. Perry was at a complete loss as to how to deal with the affairs of the estate. Though Anne was trying her level best, her natural timidity was not helping her.
As soon as he was announced, Anne sleepless and tired, almost came running towards him and held his extended hands for a few moments, "William, you have come." Then she dropped her hands her face coloring a little.
William looked down at her fragile, thin figure, her pale face, the huge eyes looking at him. There was no question indeed. He simply must slay the dragons and rescue her.
William glanced at Anne sitting with her brows furrowed, biting her lower lip in an endearing way, deep in concentration. He loved her. Oh, he wanted to protect her and admired her views, but add to that an intense desire to pull her into his arms and thoroughly kiss her. Of course he loved her. They were sitting in the morning room, and Anne was going over the finalized lease papers. William was waiting for Mr. Hastings, to go with him to the village. The last two weeks had been busy and tiring. With Lady Catherine still seriously ill, and Anne torn between spending time with her and the affairs of the estate, William had taken it upon himself to ease things for her as much as possible. William was for once very thankful of his father's practice of talking incessantly about the estate business during dinner, and his insistence on his family knowing all of the affairs. Thus despite his lack of direct experience, he was able to advise Anne on the merit of her decisions. Her intelligence no longer surprised him, but he was also struck by her compassion and generosity. Since it was March, and the time was ripe to make all the changes she cut down the exorbitant prices on the leases, she dispersed loans, and she ordered for the pensioner's houses to be repaired.
But most important of all, it was the sense of fulfillment that he felt, that surprised him. Never in his life had he felt so alive. He was making or at the least helping make all these decisions that affected people's happiness in such a tangible way. While Anne spent all her free moments sitting next to her mother, whose condition was not at all improving, William spent it talking to Mr. Perry and the others, making tours and finding ways he could help. For the past two weeks he had not had a chance to read any new books or listen to music or even enjoy a glass of wine at leisure. He was exhausted by the time he went to bed. But he felt a sense of such proud accomplishment and inspiration everyday that he was filled with gratitude, humility and hope, that he now had a chance to do something that gave him satisfaction in life, that she believed in him, trusted him to make these decisions.
She looked up presently and said, "That finishes it"
"How are you going to explain all this to your mother?" he asked, aching to kiss the ink smudge off her fingers.
"I was planning on blaming it on my inexperience or perhaps I can say you duped me," she giggled. It had not escaped his notice that she talked freely with him now without any reserve, though she still stammered and spoke limited words when in company of others.
She grew thoughtful and then said, "I did something that might be harder to explain to her."
"What is it Anne?"
"I wrote a letter to Darcy in my mother's name."
"You did what?" he asked in a puzzled tone.
"Yesterday, I was sitting next to mother watching her after Dr. Palmer left, he was not too hopeful about her condition, and I had this really bad feeling about what if something happens to her," tears glistened in her eyes, "I wished there was some way I could change how she will be remembered by others, I kept thinking of all the things I could do in her name now, and one of the things was her relation with Darcy and that is how I wrote a conciliatory letter to him," she said.
William stood speechless, full of admiration and pride at her thoughtfulness.
"I did say that she forgave them, to make it believable," she said with a watery smile.
William smiled back and asked the question that was nagging him in the back of his mind. "So you were not.., that is you approve of his marriage?"
"I cannot pretend that I do not understand what you mean," she replied with a soft smile, "No, I had not formed an attachment to Darcy. I was not secretly pining away for him or anything."
"You were not?" he persisted, though relieved, his jealous heart needed more, "he is the most handsome, rich suitable groom that many women vie for."
"I do not know why," she said thoughtfully. "His fortune is of no importance to me. Unlike you, he was always very severe, distant and aloof. I never even understood him enough to like him. As far being handsome, have you noticed how a person's beauty is rendered more or less by the way you perceive their disposition. At any rate, I think Mr.and Mrs. Darcy make a charming couple," she finished seriously.
Since Mr. Hastings was hurrying into the house, William ready to leave, headed towards the door, jokingly remarking, "I take it by your definition, since you implied that I have a pleasant disposition, I must be the most handsome man of your acquaintance." Turning to wave goodbye, he was astonished to see the heightened color in her face as she hastily looked away.
Though circumstance prevented him from saying anything further, he walked with a stupid grin, the rest of the afternoon and controlled himself with great difficulty from jumping up and crying huzzah.
As soon as he returned, he asked her to join him for a walk. The time had come. The conversation that afternoon and her blush sealed it. He planned to take her to this pretty wilderness that was his favorite, kneel down, hold her hands, and ask her to become his wife, to make him the happiest man in the world.
They started walking, with Anne by his side touching his arm ever so lightly. "Do you want to walk to the parsonage?"
"Oh no," he denied. Mr. Collins sensing his growing involvement had turned his excessive obsequious civility towards him now and was getting on his nerves.
"Mrs. Collins has agreed to come with me to the orphanage tomorrow. She is a pleasant woman," said Anne.
Impatient, he agreed quickly, "Yes, she is indeed. Though whatever was she thinking marrying that...man."
"William, surely you realize her situation. Marriage must have been the only provision for a woman of her age and fortune. I thought you would agree with that," Anne continued.
With an uneasy feeling forming in his stomach, dreading the direction of the conversation, he asked slowly, "Why do you say that Anne?"
Anne not realizing the importance of her own words, explained, "Why William, I have heard you mention on more than one occasion that as the younger son, you yourself needed to consider marrying a woman of fortune and that you cannot, will not marry without due attention to such matters."
Feigning a sudden bout of headache, he proposed returning, and oblivious to anything around him walked back in utter silence and headed straight to his room. He did not even come down for dinner.
Fool! Fool! Fool! How could he have been so selfish in his views, so thoughtless and immature in his words. He stopped pacing for a moment and punched his palm forcefully. William was stricken, pained and his mortification oppressed him. He cringed at the thought of Anne's voice repeating his own inopportune words.
He gazed outside the window at the stars beginning to twinkle. For the past few hours he had worn himself out pacing and cursing with no solution in sight. He had never hunted for a heiress, had never had mercenary motives. What he had thought of then as being open and clear headed, perhaps at worst was a cavalier attitude. His only excuse could be he had never been in love before. How intense his feelings were. No, he did not care for her fortune and he would have married her in any impoverished condition. His needs that were so important to him then were now so trivial. But how contrived it would sound to Anne. If only there was a strange entailment that caused Rosings to go to some long forgotten silly cousin of Sir Lewis. Another time, he would have smiled at his desperate thoughts.
His contemplations were interrupted by a knock on the door. Could Anne be asking for him? He was half relieved half disappointed that it was Dawson.
"Beg pardon, Sir, Her Ladyship is delirious. She is calling your name, Miss Anne just left her to have her dinner, so I came to you directly."
William assuring her that it was alright, hurried to her room.
Lady Catherine was in her bed, the room was dark with little light. A chipped dish with a little dried blood was by her side. Her countenance pale, had lost most of its severity. "William," she spoke with great difficulty. "I am here aunt," he said holding her hand.
"William, I want to tell you, I want you to take care of Anne. Promise me that you will. She is my sole heir. If I had not fallen ill, I would have arranged for her marriage with someone better, Christopher," William strained to hear her slurring unclear words, "Oh, if only Darcy...But now," she paused gulping, "I do not think I can survive this. She is too sick to be on her own. Your fortune is of no consequence but you are both descended from the same noble line, Promise me that you will take good care of her," she gasped for air, and her eyes glazed over.
William knew not what to say. He was half angry half afraid to ask what she meant by that. Whatever it was, it was for the wrong reasons. He calmed her as much as he could and as she drifted back to sleep, he left the room wearily.
Tired and angry with himself, he tossed and turned and spent a sleepless night.
He learnt early next morning that Lady Catherine had died.
As Anne walked into the study, he was filled with emotions. It had been two days. Two days when he had tortured himself watching Anne's sorrow helplessly. And now he was going to take leave of her. His mother had informed of her intended arrival in Kent to stay with Anne for sometime. He had decided to go back to London.
The past few days had been the most, if not only, worthwhile, meaningful time of his entire life when he had given something to others, without thinking about how it affected only himself. He had felt his purpose in life. Anne had given him that chance. He would not insult her by offering her a clouded proposal.
"So you are leaving," she asked in a small voice. Her head bowed down
"Yes, I had only three weeks leave," he mumbled unconvincingly.
"When will I be seeing you again?" she asked after a pause.
"I do not know," he swallowed, and unable to utter a single word of the many things storming in his heart, said coarsely "Goodbye, Anne."
The first few days in London, he came close to wallowing in self pity for losing her. But it was not in his nature to brood and be down for a long time and soon he started thinking about what he had to do next. His general temperament did not let him think that all was lost.
The more he thought about the situation, two things began to bother him. The first being how to explain to Anne his motives. Even more important was he decided he needed to do something about himself. Not just to prove to Anne, that he was more than a fortune hunter, but also for himself. Anne, gentle, intelligent, with her fortune and connections was indeed a good match for him. But what of his worth? In spite of his anger towards Lady Catherine, what else did he have to offer Anne, except her silly reasons. Such thoughts plagued him. His father had given him good education, bought him his commission, made provisions for him and all he had done is bandy about his habits making him dependent, and his need for money. He sounded so horribly superficial.
Not giving him time, events of a bigger magnitude, affected his life and thoughts, as his regiment was called to go to Vitoria. He left to participate in one of the most exhaustive and difficult marches, in one of the most decisive battles in the peninsula campaign. His fierce need to be with her again added to his will for survival and he fought through some of the worst battles, remembering her soft voice and her shy smile. He did not have her likeness or a lock of her hair, but all he needed was a moment, to be near her, to be close to her in his thoughts as nothing else ever was. But as the war continued, as he saw looting and plundering his disillusionment about war intensified His conviction that he was not suited for a career in the army continued to grow. He remembered how happy he was during the brief stay in Rosings and longed for such simple challenges yet satisfying results. Thus though he was decorated, mentioned by Wellington himself as one of the promising officers, after surviving the battle of San Marcial, by the time he returned to London wounded, during the month of October, he had decided to sell out. He knew he can no longer lead his life drifting with the tide.
Only six months had passed, but so many things had changed. It was the end of the season and only his father was in the London house. Since his wounds were not severe, his recovery was speedy and he spent all his resting period, considering his future. He briefly considered diplomacy and law but decided against those. He knew what he wanted to do.
The evening he reached a decision, he told his father. He wanted to stand for the house of commons.
After a long look at his son, battle hardened, yet miraculously not bitter, Lord Fitzwilliam gave him his blessings.
"I am leaving for Matlock in two days. Since I see that you have recovered enough to travel, I would like you to accompany me while we discuss this some more," he said.
William thought about what he wanted to do next. He sorely wanted to go to Rosings, he had not heard anything about her.
"Anne is in Matlock," his father said cutting his thoughts. A look passed between them, no words were said. He was going to see her at last.
He was right about the dragon. But who was the rescuer and who was the rescued?
"And, the vicar's daughter got married last week," his mother continued. William patted her hands affectionately. Finally, he was in Matlock. He had arrived in their barouche, with his Lordship talking about the latest speeches in the House of the Lords throughout the journey. Despite his new found thirst of knowledge to matters political, his concentration had begun to waver and by the time they were near Matlock, William had completely lost track of what he was saying.
He had changed, he knew he was a better man and getting better further. But outwards, his situation had changed little. At Rosings, he had rushed into propose without the least hesitation, but now though he longed to let her know of his feelings, he feared to tread. When they arrived, his mother, despite her age, and the chill from which she was recovering, had come running towards him, kissed him and had welcomed him with showers of tears. "Oh William, I am so glad you are back home." He was led to understand the others had gone walking and he spent the next few minutes catching up on the family news. There was good news from Pemberley, a new addition. And then the news on the various weddings and arrival of children in the village. Next she moved onto Christopher.
"You know him," she said with a sigh, "Before your aunt died, she sent me a letter suggesting the idea of Anne and Christopher," William felt a jab of pain in his stomach. Oh dear God, not this please, please, "She is such a sweet child. I look upon her like my own daughter. But Kit is not favorable to the idea." His immense relief was short lived though, "So here I am getting old but not getting a grand child yet. Well, at least for Anne, Kit has brought his friend Viscount Chillhurst, the one that went to Eton with him and Anne has caught his fancy."
He completely lost his appetite as he sat there, while the minutes ticked away, getting impatient and confused. During the days he spent fighting, sometimes he thought that though it was never declared Anne must have understood that he loved her, but sometimes he was not so sure. And now all his misgivings hit him again with full force.
When he saw her at last, standing motionless, framed by the doorway, he almost did not recognize her for a moment. His sweet darling was right there, in a pale blue morning dress, her bonnet twisting in her fingers...He drank in her appearance thirstily, her figure had improved, her skin had such a healthy color now, her hair shone set in a most becoming fashion. He had loved her when she was pale and thin, and now...William gulped, "Anne?" He did not hear a single word his mother was saying. She was there, she was there, his heart was singing.
"William," she said after a few moments of silence, her eyes looked at him with a strange expression he could not understand and then she came near him slowly. She cleared her throat. "How are you? I was very...um...worried, that is I am very glad that you made it safe back, and allow me to congratulate you," she stammered, her eyes never leaving his.
"Um, yes...I see that you are well. How are things at Rosings?" His speech was stilted.
"Getting better," she smiled slightly. "I heard that you were wounded?" She came closer to sit near him. He nodded, sat down, pointing to his arm, "I am better now"
She extended her hand and tentatively touched his arm, in a sweet gentle motion as though wiping away his wounds. Then she abruptly dropped it. She did not say much after that and was further prevented by the arrival of his brother and his friend.
The next morning he was early for breakfast and was greeted by Kit and his mother.
He had spent yet another sleepless night, thinking about what to do. His brother did not seem to give any special attention to Anne though they both seemed natural and at ease with each other. There was a moment of worry when Kit had said, "Oh, Charles, you should have read her book. She already has one that is going to be published. This other one has a knight in shining armor a lot like me," and Anne had blushed furiously. William, agonizing over her every action froze. Mother had said Kit was not interested. What of Anne? To top it, the Viscount was clearly besotted. Anne looked fetching in her fashionable attire, spoke softly in her gentle voice, she was intelligent and it was no wonder Chillhurst was attracted. Moreover, her unwillingness to meet his gaze frustrated William deeply. The only silver lining was the one time she had bothered to look at him, when his father had mentioned about his future plans. Her eyes had sparkled as their gaze collided, sustaining William's fast evaporating confidence. She did approve. William was immensely pleased.
"Mother, please do not start early in the morning," Christopher was saying, immersed in his newspaper.
"Oh why not? you are two and thirty years old, without any rush to get married. What about that nice Lady Alice you met last season?"
"Alright, how about Miss Bingley?"
"The woman is too coy."
"Quotes Byron at the drop of a hat."
"What about Anne?" she asked in an exasperated voice.
"Mother!" Kit exclaimed indignantly. "I held her in my arms as a child, she is like my sister. Is it not so William?" William hastily stuffed a scone in his mouth, "Besides I am doing this in the alphabetical order."
"What an abominable thing to say, I am ashamed of you Christopher Fitzwilliam," cried his mother.
William's amused smile soon faded and he paled at Kit's smug words. "It is alright, mother. Do not worry about Anne. I have it on good authority that Charles is going to propose to her today. He is putting on his best blue coat right this moment."
Though he had spent practically every free moment dreaming of Anne in his arms, he had not thought of any clear plans of approaching her. Had he not been too busy? Now things were fast becoming a nightmare and getting out of hands. He looked down morosely, not noticing Kit's thoughtful glance.
His father had earlier suggested that William accompany him to see the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was on his way to London and staying in the village but ten miles from their estate, and get advice on constituencies suitable for him. Thus, unable to avoid being out of the house, he left and after an afternoon of heavy politics, when he came back it was with much trepidation as to what was waiting for him.
Arriving back home after a rough ride, William found Kit in the study reading a book. He sat down wearily and answered mechanically to his questions about the meeting, while thinking a thousand thoughts. Presently, Kit teased him closing his book, "What is the matter with you, my dear brother? I have been watching you, you are not eating properly, you are staring at things lost in thought, why if I did not know better I would think that you are mooning over some girl"
William groaned. Kit rose his eyebrows upon not receiving any reply from his brother. "So it is true then? Et tu? I can not believe it. Did she break your heart?" he needled.
"Kit, do not tempt me. I already have enough reasons to murder you," William growled.
"It is Anne, is it not?" Kit grinned. "I have been watching you."
Drained after his tiring day, depressed not knowing where he was with Anne, irritated by his questions, William exploded, "Yes, yes. It is Anne. I love her with all my heart. I cannot live without her. Are you satisfied?"
After a moment of absolute silence, William was horrified to hear a muffled sob, and he turned in time to see Anne, running away with her hand on her mouth.
"Are you going to just stand there?" drawled Christopher, propelling a temporarily paralyzed William into racing after her.
"Anne, please, please stop," he begged, panting, and was pained to see her eyes hurt and filled with tears.
"How could you William?"
"Anne, I am so sorry," he asked in a choked whisper, "Is it Kit?"
"What is Kit?" she asked in a puzzled tone and not hearing any reply continued, "How could you joke about a thing like this William?"
"Joke? Whatever are you saying Anne?" he exclaimed, "It is not a joke. I love you with all my heart," Once the all important words were out, others followed in a torrent. "Oh Anne, I love you. For the past few months, I have had this pressing in my heart and without being able to be near you, to speak to you, to touch you has been worse than all the bullets I have ever faced. All the things I have done, is so I can to be worthy of you, to earn your love," her eyes widened slowly, "to show that I have been thinking only of you, not your fortune, or your connections, just you, my lovely darling," he continued in a deep serious voice, "All my life, I had been drifting, with no ambition, just satisfied with trifles till I truly saw who you were. But for you, my sweetest Anne, my life would have been empty, with no inspiration and," his voice choked at the last word, "no love."
She kept looking at him with a stunned expression.
"I have been going mad over the past two days, being so close yet so far, thinking that Chillhurst was going to," he stopped and asked in a whisper, "Anne?"
She smiled slowly at the implied question and said, "He did"
"And, I refused him"
"You refused him? A Viscount?" it was a statement filled with amazement than a question.
"He was not you," she said simply.
She loved him. Just him, without no titles, no fortune. "Oh Anne," he sighed, "If only there was some way I could show you, how much.."
"Yes, you see mama spoke to me that night after talking to you. She told me she had asked you to marry me. When you left afterwards, I thought that it was because you could not bear the idea of me as your wife. But now," she said looking at him with wonder and pride " I understand"
"What have I done?" he asked filled with remorse. What she must have gone through, imagining his rejection. "Perhaps I should have asked.."
"No William. I have loved you since the day you valiantly attempted to draw me into a conversation, since the day you strode into the Rosings, looking every inch my knight in shining armor. But you did the right thing. You not only gave me the wings, you let me fly. You freed me enough to make my own choices. Nobody has done that before for me. You have honored me. I did not think it possible, but I love you even more," she said softly.
Fitzwilliam, the man with the ability to talk with such ease in any situation, finding himself unable to think of one worthy word, crossed the distance between them in one stride and pulled her close. "My precious, precious Anne," he whispered looking at her sweet, gentle eyes filled with love, love for him and bent down meeting her lips in a glorious kiss.
Christopher smiled to himself as he carefully closed the door behind.
Christopher did find someone before exhausting all the alphabets. Anne continued to write and published four books. William never lost an election and worked hard for the issues of his constituents, yet kept his humor. Despite his worst fears, Anne did get healthy enough to bear him two sons - Andrew and Christopher.
Note : I just wanted to finish the story before I wrote this note. This is the first story I have written in English and I could not have done it but for the encouraging, kind words that I have got from you. Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart.
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