~ CHAPTER 1 ~
She watched him storm away, his harsh words still reverberating in her mind. He had every right to his anger. She was certain he felt ill-used and rightfully so. She had rejected his proposal of marriage – an illogical action when love was the only factor in considering a life together. But love alone did not stand up to the weight of Lady Russell's repeated arguments. Anne could not find fault with any of Lady Russell's statements, but for the fact that love and happiness were not considerations.
"Love and happiness do not provide food, shelter, or clothing, my dear," Lady Russell had stated firmly, but gently. "You must consider the facts and allow your head, not your heart, to guide your decision."
Frederick had proposed and had been accepted four weeks ago. Her father had neither approved nor disapproved of the engagement, though he obviously looked upon Frederick's profession with scorn and disdain. Anne had told her mother's friend, Lady Russell, about the pending marriage about two weeks ago. She looked to Lady Russell for counsel and advise in the stead of her mother who had passed away several years ago. Lady Russell had been her mother's dearest friend, and Anne trusted her implicitly.
Each day since being informed of Anne's engagement, Lady Russell arrived for a morning visit, as was her habit, and then engaged Anne in helping her with a task or errands. One afternoon, they designed a new section in Lady Russell's garden. Another day, they selected and were fitted for new dresses. Subsequently, Anne was left with very little time to spend with Frederick. She had the feeling that if she could just see him, talk about this with him, then together they could figure it out. But she was alone, with only Lady Russell to guide her, and the obvious decision was looming over her and growing insurmountably large. She knew what she must do, but it felt wrong, so wrong. She was so mired in logical arguments and her feelings about them and the internal struggle between what she ought to do and what she wanted to do that she could barely even think of anything at all, much less make sense of anything anymore.
And time was running short. Frederick would soon be called back to his ship, his shore leave over, and assigned back out to sea for an as yet undetermined amount of time.
One Thursday morning, five days before Frederick was due to return to port, Anne was lost within her thoughts and not attending to Lady Russell during their daily morning visit.
"Anne, do you understand me? Anne!"
Anne was jolted back to the present at Lady Russell's emphatic tone. "I am sorry. I was lost in thought. Would you mind repeating that? I did not hear it all."
Lady Russell pursed her lips in displeasure, an action so quick, Anne wondered if she had seen it at all. "As I was saying," Lady Russell began gathering her belongings, "I have an appointment today and shall not be requiring your company. I have therefore taken the liberty of inviting Commander Wentworth for a morning visit."
Anne gave a startled breath, excitement beginning to well inside her.
"You will, of course, use this opportunity to break things off," Lady Russell continued, ignoring Anne's reaction.
"But, I was hoping to—"
"Anne. It is a match unworthy of a young woman of your station. Shall I review?
"He has no money, no lodgings, and no means of supporting a family much less a wife. He has no connections and no guarantees of a successful career in the Navy without them. He must marry someone with the connections and money he needs to provide him the proper opportunities necessary to improve his situation, and, despite your social standing, you can not provide the connections he needs."
Anne was fighting tears. "I know all this to be true. But I was thinking – hoping – perhaps … a compromise… somehow …" Anne's voice trailed away at Lady Russell's withering glare.
Lady Russell stood. "Anne, for his own sake, you must end this affair. If he is to succeed in his chosen career, he cannot marry you." She bent to kiss Anne's cheek. "I know it is a difficult thing to do, but you will soon recover. The perfect match for you is certainly just around the corner." She walked to the door. "I shall see you tomorrow, dear." She opened the double doors to the parlor and was met by the butler, with Commander Wentworth right behind him. "Ah," she turned. "Anne, the Commander is here." She gave him a dismissive glance and left. "My wrap, please, Channing."
Frederick watched her exit with distaste. He really could not find it in him to like that woman. He wasn't entirely certain, but something made him feel Lady Russell was behind the scarcity of Anne's presence in his life over the past two weeks. He entered the parlor, a warm smile on his face. How he'd missed her!
His good mood shattered as his mind caught up with the scene before his eyes. Anne was sitting with a cup and saucer in her hands, frozen in the act of lifting the cup to her lips for a sip. Her skin had lost all color and her eyes were wide and unseeing, staring at the door Lady Russell had just gone through. Her breath came with difficulty in small, rapid gasps.
"Anne!" he quickly knelt before her and gently removed the dishes from her frozen fingers. "Anne!" he rubbed her hands, trying to warm them and distract her from her shocked state. "Anne?" he whispered, becoming quite alarmed. He placed his palm on her cheek and trailed his fingers to the back of her neck. "Anne, sweetheart. Come back to me."
She slowly brought her gaze in to focus on his face, though her eyes remained wide with that terrified expression that was creating no small amount of panic within himself. She leaned into his hand and closed her eyes. When tears welled over and traced wet paths down her face, he had enough. As improper as it might be, he scooped her up and moved to a loveseat where they might sit together. He kept her in his lap, holding her closely as she silently sobbed her grief into his shoulder.
He did not know what had happened to cause her such emotional pain, but he had a feeling he was not going to like it. Anne was a calm, level-headed girl. He'd seen her keep her wits about her when everyone else was fretful and panicked. For her to lose her composure so completely – it had to be something quite extreme and out of the ordinary. He could not imagine what it was. He was predisposed to disliking anything that upset Anne. His goal was, after all, to perfect her life in any way that he could. But something was making him feel that whatever it was that had upset Anne so completely was also going to be unpleasant for him as well. He was not looking forward to Anne's explanation of her state for all that he wanted her feeling better soon.
When at last her sobs quieted, he asked, "Anne, dearest, please tell me what has you so distraught."
Her response was to bury her face more deeply into his shoulder and cling more tightly to the lapels of his coat.
He hugged her closer. "Please, sweetheart. I am quite concerned. I do not like seeing you this way. Share your sorrow so that I might help you overcome it."
"I cannot—"she whimpered into his chest.
"Come, now. Surely you know you can tell me anything. Nothing you say can alter my feelings for you." He kissed the top of her head.
"I fear that might not be true." She looked up at him, fresh tears streaming from her eyes. "Just, please, remember that you have my heart. I can never love anyone else as I love you." She pressed a light kiss to his lips.
Just then the doors to the parlor were flung open and Elizabeth burst in. "Oh, there you are Anne. Has Lady Russell left yet, do you know? I need her to help me with –" She stopped abruptly, her eyebrows raising at the intimate way Frederick was holding Anne. "Commander," she greeted him coldly. She turned to Anne. "Do get on with it, Anne," she demanded impatiently. "Lady Russell told me you were to break off with the Commander today, and I do need your opinion on my new roses and where to place them in the garden. Has she left yet? I don't see her here, so I suppose she has. Let me see if I can catch her …" She breezed out of the room as quickly as she had flown in.
There was absolute silence in the room for several moments as the occupants fully comprehended what had just been said. Anne was mortified at her sister's behavior, and felt that Elizabeth had been deliberately cruel. Elizabeth never requested Anne's advice on anything, much less her prized rose garden. Anne felt Frederick stiffen. She hastened to explain the plan she had tentatively devised over the past several days. "Frederick, please let me—"
"You are to break it off with me." He removed her from his lap and stood. "I see. I am a mere naval officer, not worthy enough to marry a daughter of a baronet, of the esteemed Sir Walter Elliot." He walked to a window and looked out, not seeing anything but his anger, not feeling anything but his heart breaking.
"Frederick, I apologize for my sister's actions. I was going to tell you—"
"Tell me what?" He turned to glare at her.
"Tell me that you denounce our love, reject our engagement? Tell me, Anne, did you even love me at all? Or were you toying with my affections? The daughter of a gentleman having a little fun with a working man before heading on to better prospects?"
"Frederick, no!" Anne protested. "I love you. I—"
"And this is how you show your love," he sneered. "You—" he looked up and saw the butler and a maid peering in through the doors that Elizabeth had left open. "If you have any desire to continue this conversation, ma'am, I shall await you in the garden." He gave her a curt bow, and then marched through the French door that opened to the yard and pathway that led to their favorite garden.
Anne looked over at the servants who were peering in worry at her. She gave them a shaky smile of reassurance, then slowly rose and followed in Frederick's wake. He was out of her sight already, but she knew which garden he had chosen. She smiled a bittersweet smile. As angry as he was right now, he still thought of her, of the place she liked most. It was their favorite one.
She remembered giving him a tour of the grounds on one of their first forays together. Was it really only six or seven weeks ago? Kellynch had several gardens, including a meticulous rose garden maintained by her sister Elizabeth, an orchard playing host to several varieties of fruit trees and berry shrubs, a small grape arbor, a vegetable garden, and a walking path rambling through seven or eight smaller flower gardens. After seeing them all, Frederick had requested another visit to each garden before declaring the one filled with daisies, primroses, violets, black-eyed Susans as his favorite one.
Anne had glowed with pride. She had designed the walking path and all of its gardens, and her personal favorites were the daisies. She had included a bed filled with nothing but daisies in every color and type that she could find. "I cannot explain why I am so fond of them," she responded to Frederick's query. "I just love all the colors and that they always look happy and cheerful. Nothing, I think, could ever be sad to a daisy."
He had chuckled and picked the largest one he could find – a beautiful, pristinely white Shasta daisy – and presented it to her. "Miss Anne, you are a delight. I hope you are ever like a daisy, and that you never experience shadows on your happiness."
She accepted the flower with a shy smile and blush. "Thank you, sir. But I fear just such a shadow has begun to form on my horizon."
"Do not let it be so!" he exclaimed. "Tell me of this threat that I may vanquish it for you."
"Tis you," she smiled up at him.
"I?" His brow raised in astonishment.
"Yes. You are here but temporarily and I have begun to find that thought to be disagreeable." She blushed again at her boldness.
Momentarily stunned by her words, Frederick could only stare at her in wonder before a grin lit his face. "Miss Anne," he bowed over her hand and brushed a kiss over her knuckles, "might I be permitted to agree with your feelings? I, too, have come to realize that my eventual return to sea will not be as easy a departure as I believed it would be when I arrived." He had not released her hand, and now twisted his own to hold hers and pull her more closely to him. "Perhaps we could find a way to banish these dark thoughts from our minds? Together?"
She nodded. "I should like that very much," she whispered.
He grinned – oh, how she loved his smile! – and tucked her arm snugly into his and they finished their afternoon together walking the path that ran through Anne's gardens.
Anne was not so hopeful that this visit to their garden would be as sublime, though she was certain it was likely to be equally as unforgettable. She approached the garden slowly and placed herself on a bench, hoping, she supposed, to go unnoticed. It was a nonsensical wish, as Frederick was always aware of her presence, and this moment was no exception. He paused in his frenetic pacing around the flower beds. He glowered at her.
She lowered her gaze to her lap.
"Oh, no," he growled. "You look at me when you break my heart!"
"For that is what you are about to do, is it not?"
She silently pleaded with him for understanding.
"No!" he snarled. "My departure is dependent upon your command. A word from you and I shall never darken even your farthest horizon ever again."
"Please allow me to explain—"
"Explain what?" his pacing resumed. "Are you able to provide a reason why you would take the love I offer and toss it to the ground to be trod upon? Is there an explanation for tossing my heart against the garden wall so that it shatters into pieces among the weeds and stones? Tell me, Anne. Tell me why you will not be marrying me."
Anne's composure was quickly slipping once again under the brute strength of his anger. "My mother died … Lady Russell has been … she explained about—"
"So I have Lady Russell to thank for this, do I? I suppose she is also responsible for seeing that you have been busy each afternoon for the past two weeks as well?"
Anne could only nod.
"Well," he sneered sarcastically, "please convey my respects to the honorable Lady Russell," he sneered her name in a mocking tone, "and let her know how much I appreciate her assistance in the matter of arranging my life."
"Frederick, please. Let me tell you—"
"Anne, I do not think I can bear to hear you tell me you cannot love me."
"But, I do!"
"Then how can you break off our engagement so handily?"
"I do not!"
"That is not how it appears."
She glanced around the garden, searching for the right words.
"Anne, tell me now. Do you have any desire to be my wife?"
"Of course, I do. It is what I most long for."
"Then will you go with me now? This instant. We will elope to Gretna Green and be wed before I go to sea."
"But, Frederick, I have thought of—"
"Do you go with me now?"
"But I can't—"
"Anne, if you do not go with me now, I will understand that you will not desire to be with me. Ever. I will be gone from your life. It will be as you wish."
"But I don't—" Her mind was shutting down. The world was beginning to spin. Her heart was beating so hard it threatened to stop altogether. Her breaths came in short gasps. Tears overflowed her eyes unchecked. How could this be happening? Why was Frederick behaving thusly? He was threatening to leave her? But why? Would he not just let her explain, help her work out the details of the compromise? Hadn't he told her of his friend, Thomas Harville, who had met his Millie, and asked her to wait? Could not she and Frederick wait for just a year or two until he was more established?
Frederick did not allow himself to be persuaded by her obvious distress. The pain of his breaking heart was overruling his passion for her, his desire to never see her in distress or pain. That she was obviously upset was just and fitting for the torture she was inflicting upon him. He hardened his jaw, and presented his offer one last time. "Anne, do you come with me now? Do you come with me to be my wife?"
She lifted her tearstained face to him, his words echoing in her mind. "Frederick, I want to—"
"But you will not." He nodded. "So be it." He bowed formally to her. "I have enjoyed our times together Miss Elliot. I shall look back upon most of them with fondness. If you will please excuse me, I must be returning to my ship. I shall take up no more of your time." He bowed again, turned, and left, leaving his heart in her hands. He would never love another, he knew instinctively. He just wished he knew why she had spurned him. Stoically, he got through a couple more days visiting with his brother before Edward sent him back to his ship with a worried heart and the promise of prayers.
Anne sat immobile on the bench, her mind unable to take in the magnitude of what had just happened. Had Frederick just left her permanently? Would she never see him again? He thought she did not love him? How had he arrived at that conclusion? Why did he not let her tell him of her plan? She loved him. When he left, he took her heart with him. She could not conceive of ever loving another man. Why had he spurned her so vehemently?
Her mind tumbled these thoughts about until she could no longer bear the pain they inflicted. Her heart was gone. She could not breathe. Her muscles could no longer support her. She tumbled off the bench, making no move to protect herself or stop her fall. Her head grazed the iron side of the bench, slicing a gash over her eyebrow. It bled, unchecked, into her hair and down her forehead. She lay motionless, staring straight ahead, her inner being completely turned off as her body struggled to remember how to breathe on its own again.
Several hours later, the family gave no thought as to why Anne was not present for dinner.
"She was to break it off with the Commander today, father," Elizabeth informed Sir Walter as she tried to decide between pudding or cake for dessert. "She is likely moping up in her room as she fancied herself in love with him." She placed both a pudding and a slice of cake on her dessert plate.
"The Commander?" Sir Walter inquired. "That naval chap? Oh, surely she could have done better than that."
"Of course, father, that's why she was to break it off. Did you hear what happened with the Gottschalks this afternoon in town?"
"No," he responded with glee, anxious to hear the juicy gossip. "Do tell!"
An hour or so later the chief gardener burst through the kitchen door.
"Amos, get yourself out, you're dripping rain all over my clean floor!"
"Abby, dearest, get Mrs. Tompkins, quick!" he stayed in the doorway, but did not move out.
Responding to the urgency in his voice, Abby ran down the hall to the housekeeper's office. "What is it Abby?" Mrs. Tompkins asked calmly when Abby burst through the door.
"It's Amos, ma'am. Something's terrible wrong, I just know it. Sent me for you, he did."
Mrs. Tompkins rose and followed Abby back to the kitchen.
"Amos, what is it?"
"You gotta come, Mrs. Tompkins, I don't know what to do."
"Amos, it's pouring rain."
"She ain't movin', ma'am. I don't reckon she's dead, but she ain't movin'!"
Abby choked back her scream at Mrs. Tompkins's glare. "We will not panic just because Amos has found something alarming." Mrs. Tompkins met the eyes of each of the staff still at work in the kitchen. "Neither will any of you be spreading word of this until we know what exactly is going on. Does everyone understand me?"
Four mute heads nodded their agreement.
"Now, Amos, let us go and see to your discovery."
She followed Amos to the garden where she allowed herself to let out a cry of dismay at the soggy, frozen form of Miss Anne, laying on the garden path. She ran her hands over Anne, looking for injuries, gasping when she saw the nasty cut over Anne's eye. "Oh, my word, Amos. She's been out here for hours. We've got to get her inside. Go get Pete. Hurry!"