Anne sat at the dressing table and looked at her reflection, studying her features closely. Individually they were flawless. Her eyebrows were lush and nicely shaped. The line of her nose was straight and small enough not to seem like it consumed her whole face. Her complexion was pink and pale, but it was lively with a slight tan from her frequent horse rides. Her mouth was small but her lips were full and plump. The teeth behind those lips were flawlessly white and straight unlike many unfortunate people she could name. Her eyes were the color of honey on chocolate with a ring of green in each iris. Yet, when you put it all together it wasn't striking in her view.
She added a little more powder to her nose. Her father had asked her to don her best gown. He seemed almost human tonight. It certainly was an improvement. He scarcely said a word at dinner and now he appeared almost exited about the 'special' guest they were receiving. I wonder who could make Father so pleased. A successful captain from one of his ships maybe? She thought. It was all too odd, but she wouldn't question her father's good mood. She would enjoy it while it lasted.
A knock came at the door. "Come in." Anne said, focused on screwing an earbob in.
"Mademoiselle, Mr. Wesley is here. I put him in the blue drawing room." Monique announced as she entered.
"Mr. Wesley, I don't know a Mr. Wesley?" She turned to the mirror waiting for Monique's nimble fingers to give some order in her long amber tresses.
"Well, then it makes no sense, Mademoiselle." She said in her thick French accent. "He seemed to know you."
Monique had been Anne's lady's maid since her mother died. She was a tall strong woman with prominent features. Her hair was a dark brown and they matched her eyes perfectly. Her lashes were luxurious and accented her glowing eyes. She was only a little older than Anne. Her family had moved to America when she was a child because of the violence that had besieged her country. Anne thought of her as her greatest friend more than a servant.
Monique pulled the brush down through her mistress' golden brown locks. A pin here and there was added. "I think your father is ill? His mood was cheerful. He is never cheerful." She smirked knowingly.
"I haven't a clue. Maybe it has to do with this strange Mr. Wesley. I never know about Father these days. He's become.....his moods are rather peculiar." Anne clipped the clasp of a necklace and turned the cameo forward. Her hair was now flawless thanks to Monique. "Monique, what are your suspicions concerning this Mr. Wesley? Why do you think he's here?"
"I think he may be a client for your father. He might be rich and willing to invest in your father's business. He was dressed very elegantly." She paused, considering. "His shoes were nice," she added with a sniff.
Monique was not always that current on the ways of the world. She most likely hadn't heard of how violent the seas were becoming and how dangerous the trading industry was to partake in. She had once asked if President Adams was still in office. But when it came to fashion, the girl had a veritable passion.
"Perhaps you are right." Anne replied, even though she had a strange feeling that there was a great deal more to this small mystery. She turned in her chair to face Monique. "So... how do I look?"
"Magnificent, you look absolutely magnificent, Mademoiselle...as always!" She smiled.
Anne strolled into the drawing room and saw the oldest and most obese man her eyes had ever had the liberty of beholding. He was no sea captain, she could see that immediately. Who was he? Her father was speaking with the strange man and stood at her entrance.
"Anne, there you are my sweet. We've been waiting for you. You must come and meet our guest." Her father said as he took hold of her gloved hand, preventing all escape, and led her to the couch.
She sincerely doubted he could rise from his seat due to his age and weight. "Miss Gregory, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. My name is Kenneth Wesley." He kissed her hand in a manner where only in his head would it be attractive. His lips were thin and glossy with spittle.
"The pleasure is all mine." She replied automatically, not a trace of her insincerity showing on her polite face. Inside however, she was repulsed.
Mr. Gregory was beaming. "Well now that we are all pleasurably acquainted, would Mr. Wesley care to escort Anne to the dining hall?" There was a shine of malicious mischief in her father's eye that she couldn't easily ignore, and it made her oddly uneasy. Nothing made sense. She wished that she could have pretended an illness had left her indisposed until dinner was over and done with. A strange sense of foreboding told her that her father and this new friend of his were up to no good. She just didn't know to what extent their plans would alter her life, the poor soul.
Mr. Wesley took her arm in his chubby one and guided her toward for the dinning room. It only took a moment for Anne to realize that our Mr. Wesley had extremely poor hygiene. When he smiled his front teeth were rotten and his breath would kill a dog. He was so engrossed in body fat that he was sweating in what felt to her a cool room. She shuddered inwardly. As they approached the table, her father's guest held out her chair. It was the first semi-refined action he had performed in Anne's presence.
"Thank you, sir." She said politely.
"You're welcome." He stated with a lecherous twinkle in his beady eyes making her shudder once more.
The meal was a quiet affair, thankfully. There was the occasional comment on the weather and such, but it was never deeper than small proper conversation. The servants bustling in the kitchen made louder noise than the company. In a single hour Mr. Wesley managed to eat all of the dumplings and scones Anne would have consumed in a month. She did her best to keep her less charitable thoughts concealed because this individual was apparently very important to her father.
After what seemed like an eternity, their unpleasant guest departed for the evening. Her father sighed with contentment.
"What do you think of our Mr. Wesley, Anne?"
She was horrified by his question, but she didn't car to insult a potential client. "He seems to be a ...a quiet man, but he knows when to speak. His conversation seemed proper and intelligible. It would, of course, be difficult for me to say much more having only met the man." It wasn't much, but it seemed to please her father. He smiled and left her to her own devices for the evening. Had she only known....
Mr. Wesley returned for numerous visits and for the oddest of stated reasons throughout the week. The more she was exposed to his company, however, the less impressed Anne became. After each visit her father asked what she thought of him. Anne did her best to keep her comments regarding the increasingly repulsive Mr. Wesley to herself. Her experience with her father of late had taught her that to complain about his strange taste in companions would only cause problems, not fix them. To be frank, she despised Mr. Wesley to the very core, how could she not? Yet, seeing how alive her father had become these past few days made her feel that perhaps Mr. Wesley's presence was worth the trial it caused her. That couldn't be wrong, could it? She thought.
"Monique, is it wrong to lie about a few little things if it brings happiness to others?" Anne asked innocently one afternoon.
"To what do you refer, my lady?" she murmured, her attention divided as she arranged the clothes her mistress would need for her afternoon fencing lessons. In these uncertain times, Anne had taken upon herself to learn all she could of the art. Years before, Edison had taught her the basic passes and lunges necessary for their playful sparing. After her mother had passed away, Anne had continued her lessons...this time in earnest. After Edison sailed away, and her father had forgotten her existence, she managed to draw upon the small inheritance left to her by her mother to secretly hire a personal fencing instructor. After that it, seemed only natural to take her education even further and retain the best tutors her money could afford. She especially enjoyed her studies in world geography and classic literature. Since her infancy she wanted to travel the globe. The world was a grand and unexplored place and she wanted to have her own adventures. Her escape was books. They took her to the French Alps or the Great Wall of China. They took her places and she never had to leave, but lately that wasn't good enough. The fencing lessons were for her peace of mind. They didn't allow her to feel defenseless. She had been assaulted once on her way hope from the market because she wouldn't give a drunken lout her purse. It had been one of the worst experiences of her life to having someone smash her head with a stone and losing consciousness. Anne was determined to never again feel that helpless. Anyone who thought a woman who was unescorted was easy prey was going to be proved wrong if they attacked her again. As for the education, knowledge was a gift she wanted to enjoy. Her father had despised her want to pursue such a "worthless use of a woman's time". He believed that women should be thoughtless and naive. They should take what all "superior males" say as law regardless whether they were right or not.
Anne considered her current situation. "Do you recall Father's client, Mr. Wesley? Well, I've been deliberating on the subject and I'm beginning to feel that father has finally moved past my mother's death. He think he has realized that he needs to include me in his life and is now trying to consult with me regarding his decisions because he sees so much time has been lost between us. He seems so much happier of late that I...I told untruths about liking Mr. Wesley's manner. He is proper, in his way even if he does at times make my flesh crawl. He's very boring and so… unrefined. I told my father that I had no issue with the man and have allowed him to believe that I am not repulsed by his company. I know this is not the truth but I only said those things because father seems to think very highly of him and I don't desire to interfere with his business. He smiles constantly now, especially whenever I say nice things regarding Mr. Wesley." An expression of horror swept across her maid's face.
"When is Mr. Wesley returning next for dinner?" Monique asked urgently.
"He has planned to make an appearance tomorrow evening, I think. He mentioned something about an errand in New York when presenting his regret at missing tonight's meal." Anne surveyed her finished reflection in the mirror, blissfully oblivious to the utter terror of Monique's face.
"Thank you Monique. Your skill just increases by the day! I'll be back soon."
She stood and walked to the door. This gave Monique some time to recover her composure. She took one look at the one of the few true friends she had ever known. How could she not see this trap? She yelled inside herself.
"If it's not too much trouble, Monique, I would dearly love a cup of tea upon my return. I'll see you no later than sundown."
With Anne gone, Monique knew that she must do all she could to learn the truth She recalled seeing a stranger enter the house about an hour ago, but she prayed he was gone by now. The French girl flew down the stairs and found Bretford, the butler.
"Bretford, where is Monsieur Gregory?" She asked breathlessly for she had bolted quickly down the stairs and too the front entrance. The man's expression turned quizzical.
"He was in the parlor with a client the last I saw. Why do you ask?"
"I need to know what this Monsieur Wesley's intentions are, Où est Monsieur Gregory?"
"He is in his study."
"Merci" She said over her shoulder for she was already on a hastened path to the parlor. Bretford quickened his step to match hers.
"What is amiss?" He asked, now at her side.
"I have a suspicion that Monsieur Gregory is planning to make a match between Monsieur Wesley and Mademoiselle Anne. She is completely oblivious to the entire situation. She is thinking her father is finished with his grief and once again wants her in his life, but I think he just wants to be rid of her. I don't think the man ever grieved." The butler looked startled at this disloyal speech. He had been raised to serve and serve with a fairly blind eye to the faults and flaws of his masters. But upon consideration, he knew that the maid's words were true.
"For a Frenchy, you sure are sharp in the ways of folk." He commented. They reached the door and found it to be partially open. A murmur of voices could be discerned from within.
"I want a part of your company." An Englishman's voice drifted out into the hall causing the servants to freeze in their tracks. "I have been repeatedly generous with my offers. I have even agreed to wait until you're deceased before I fully took up the reins of your enterprise. Your daughter, although I have never seen her, will have a home under my roof for as long as she requires one. Your daughter is quite old already, I understand. As she is still unmarried, is likely to remain that way, I would be doing you a favor seeing her provided for. And I would ensure that your company would continue to be a success."
"I will never allow my only heir to marry a bloody Englishman no matter how wealthy. When I am gone I'll make sure that my fortune falls into American hands instead of a Brit." Stormed Mr. Gregory maliciously.
"You will regret this decision," the stranger replied grimly. "Remember sir, I have support from Britain. Any decision I make will have pardon from the King."
"He is no longer the King here, but a pompous ass bearing jewels. He's a thief the same as you, you pirate!"
"I am no pirate, sir," was the quietly stern response. "That is a grave insult to any British privateer." There was a pause. "Have it your way," the Englishman continued softly. "For every week you continue on this ridiculous course of action, one of your ships that are encountered will be captured, raided, and plundered. When a long boat is sent into the harbor with a British flag resting upon it, you will know what had happened to your precious ship." The stranger growled out with such promise Monique feared for Mr. Gregory, despite her feelings about the man himself.
"Leave from this house immediately, you slimy Brit, and do not return!" You could hear Mr. Gregory rise from his chair with such force the poor wooden legs screamed as they scratched across the tile floor.
Monique and Bretford fled down the hall and out of sight before the door flew open and an enraged dark-haired man stalked down the hall.
"I guess we won't need to ask after all" Monique whispered. She waited until she felt that Mr. Gregory had had a chance to calm down and return to looking at his papers, and then she ran to the practice field where Anne's fencing lessons were in progress.
Anne seemed extremely focused on her lesson today. Her thrusts were exquisite, and she retired in perfect time. Her parries were precise to the very last angle. As the tip of her weapon struck the padded shoulder of her opponent. He tripped on her outstretched foot and fell to the ground. She held her sword to his stomach and she yelled, "Do you yield?"
The man behind the mask laughed and Monique dreadfully recognized it. It was Edison York, her old love. Her heart froze at the sound of his voice. "Touché, Anne!" She wanted to retreat, but Anne came first.
Monique bustled to where they were. "Monsieur Edison, Mademoiselle! We must talk!" She panted, just being near him again made her lose control of her frail emotions.
Edison held her elbow and looked deep into her eyes. "Are you alright, my dear? What's wrong?" Fire burned where he held her.
She tried to catch her breath. "Anne is getting married," she blurted our between exasperated gasps from the run and shock of seeing Edison again.
Anne whipped around, "What? I am not! Why would you say such a nonsensical thing?" Suddenly comprehension dawned upon her. "This doesn't have anything to do with that foul Mr. Wesley, does it?" She asked shakily. She didn't know if she truly wanted to know the answer, but she knew she had to.
"Oui, Mam'selle! It's he who wants to marry you." She looked from Anne's face to Edison's, they were both horror stricken.
"But...but...Father wouldn't…" Anne's eyes begged, breaking Monique's heart to answer.
"He made the arrangement. There was an Englishman who offered to marry you this afternoon for a share in your father's company, but your father wouldn't consent to the match...his racial hatred is too great."
Edison released her and looked at both women. "Anne...I am truly sorry that you must deal with the lunacy of your father, but I have to ask," he turned to Monique, a puzzled frown upon his brow. "Why do you feel the need to inform me of these events? I unfortunately have no say in Mr. Gregory's decisions and moreover... I'm departing in the morning."
A light went off in Anne's brain at these words, clearing the panic that had consumed her brain. "Of course! I must leave....and I can leave with you!" She looked at Edison urgently, fear in the depths of her eyes. Despite his affection for his old friend and companion, he couldn't help but feel that this was extremely unwarranted. He was about to protest when she cut him off.
"You said you'd do anything to make it up to me...you're leaving like that all those years ago. If you truly meant it, then take me from here! I have no wish to be that swine's wife…please." Her tear-washed hazel eyes pleaded with him. Edison held her fate in his hands. If he could sneak her aboard his ship in the morning after the inspections, she just might have a chance. Edison seemed to realize the magnitude of what she was asking. After a moment of silent reflection, he finally spoke.
"If I did let you come with me, Anne, what would happen then? Answer me that? You can't possible think you can just stay on board forever. Where would you go...where would you have me take you? I can't in good conscience take you with me unless you can tell me what you could possibly and reasonably hope to do with yourself afterwards." Anne looked in his eyes and saw the seriousness and the reasonableness of his request. She thought for a long moment.
"I am educated. More than most women," Monique nodded at this. She knew all the tutoring and studying her mistress had done throughout the years even if she couldn't have imagined anything good coming from it. "I could edit a newspaper," Edison frowned at that. She continued in a rush. "Or write a novel. I could be a governess and tutor young children in someone's home. It's been done before. Who knows," she said with a wavering smile. "I might even marry someone who could care for me and support me! Aren't those decent and respectable hopes? I have family in Georgia. If I get close enough I may be able to track them down and live nearby." She looked over at Monique, who nodded.
Edison sighed in defeat. "Alright, have your things ready before first light. I leave at high tide."
"May I bring Monique?" She asked hopefully, oblivious to the charge between these long ago lovers.
Monique's eyes flew open. She refused to look into his emerald gaze. She secretly prayed he would be sensible and find a subtle way to refuse. Anne didn't know that he had broken her heart once long ago. She despised feeling unworthy to him because of her heritage. Monique didn't want to be left in the cold once more. Despite these strong objections she knew that Anne needed her. And a small piece of her heart yearned to be near him again.
"If she wishes, she may."