Anne Elliot entered the drawing room after supper, settled into her usual chair by the window, her work basket on the small table beside her, and took up a small piece of soft white cloth she was embroidering with tiny, exquisite designs. Sir Walter Elliot and Elizabeth Elliot played cards at a table in the middle of the grand room while soundly abusing the party attending Lady Russell's dinner party the previous evening. Anne was too used to such language to mind greatly, though she blushed to think what others would say if they could hear her father and sister. Elizabeth, having lost the hand and growing bored with the topic of conversation, instead chose to bring up a letter from their sister Mary, arrived in the morning post. Mary had informed them, amid many complaints of her ill health and the general inattentiveness of everyone toward her, that a happy event was anticipated in Upper Cross Cottage in the spring. Anne alone had felt much joy for her sister in this news, and the bit of white cloth she worked over was, in fact, destined for that very child.
"You know Anne, Father and I plan on purchasing a small gift for Mary when we go to town. There is really no need for you to make such a fuss over the thing," began Elizabeth, who rather felt it was beneath an Elliot to do much more sewing than was really necessary to be considered a lady.
"I'm sure Mary would appreciate something fine from town, Elizabeth. Still, you recall she asked me to make a few everyday things in her letter, as she has so little time herself with tending her household and little Charles," Anne responded carefully. She felt it was right and proper for Mary's father and sister to offer their congratulations through a gift. However, this was as much encouragement as she dared give them. She wisely felt it was best to avoid anything too direct, which might induce the opposite result from the desired one.
Sir Walter gathered the cards and tapped them loudly against the table. "Well let us hope this child is rather better looking than the boy. I do not see any of the Elliot countenance about him," he sniffed.
Anne smiled slightly at her father's reference. This was to be Mary's second child. Little Charles Musgrove, a rambunctious boy of two, was indeed a bit spoiled as he was the first child, first grandchild, and future heir of Upper Cross Manor. Still, he was a pretty enough child taking strongly after his father. Sir Walter avoided mentioning him by his given name most of the time, preferring to call him 'the boy' instead, and Anne well knew the reason. On the occasion of his birth, Sir Walter let drop broad hints that Walter Elliot Musgrove was a very satisfactory name and really Sir Walter felt he was offering a great honor in allowing a child bear the Elliot name, not to mention being his namesake. Mary, quite as conscious of this honor as Sir Walter himself, was enthused by the suggestion. However, in a rare show of firmness, her husband insisted that his firstborn son, and future heir, take the family name. So the boy was dubbed Charles William Musgrove, and Sir Walter had yet to recover from his pique over the ordeal.
As Elizabeth had dealt the cards for a new game, absorbing both her and Sir Walter's attention, Anne was free to let her mind roam. She remembered her last visit to Mary, and how little Charles had toddled about. She admitted to herself that she envied Mary only this one thing. Mary had a family. She had heard the sacred word of "mother" directed toward her in the sweet lisp of baby's first words.
For a moment Anne's old pain resurfaced. Her disappointed hopes rose up to choke her. For a few brief, shining months an entire future had been open. Oh, the sweet delirium, the sweet dreams she had dared to dream five years prior. It had been five years since she had become engaged to Frederick Wentworth, a promising young Captain sure to rise in the ranks. Five years since she had been persuaded to give up the engagement, as much for his sake she felt. Five years since he left in righteous anger, the shattered remains of her bright fancies and dearest hopes scattered about her feet. Though she had endeavored to move forward with her life and slowly reconstruct her future without his love, there was one image she secreted in the deepest recesses of her heart.
She glanced at it with her mind's eye and sees herself seated by the fire, cradling in her arms a sleeping baby. She could feel the soft downy hair and delicate skin against her arm. She could see the closed, lavender eyelids and the sweep of long, dark eyelashes against rosy cheeks. A dimpled hand clutches one of her fingers as the child snuggles against her body, feeling so natural and so right, like an extension of her own soul. Seated on the floor with his head on her knee, a boy of three with curly dark hair and his eyes full of dreams looks up with her smiling, saying "I love you mother." Beside the fireplace, leaning against the mantle, stands a tall man with the same dark hair as his son, handsome face browned by the sun and exposure aboard deck. Her husband smiles at her with a secret smile shared by couples that have been through the sunshine and storms of life, coming out the other side stronger and more in love than ever.
In the time since her broken engagement, Anne had cherished this scene. It had changed over time, reflecting what could have been had her dreams come true. In her heart, she had watched the children grow, and seen her Frederick, the Frederick of her memory, glow with pride at each new arrival. The love and warmth of this family scene washed over her. She knew this was a dream, but in this dream she was happy.
"Anne," Sir Walter brought her back to a much colder reality. "Do tell Mary to be more mindful of her figure. She did look dreadful after the boy and I don't believe she has recovered."
Anne gave herself a small mental shake, tucking her precious image of a loving family, her family with Frederick Wentworth, back into her heart. "Yes Father, I had planned to write tomorrow."
Anne took up the bit of white cloth destined for creamy skin and dimpled smiles back into her hands. Unobserved by Sir Walter or Elizabeth, a single tear escaped, dropping onto her dainty work.
Dear Reviewers: First, thank you for a kind response. I'm pleased you have enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it! My mother's heart ached for Anne as she cared for Mary's children in Persuasion. I am new to this site and still working out how to respond directly to reviews, so for now I will do it here. In response to an inquiry about pursuing this one shot further, perhaps as a sequel, I had not considered it. My imagination will take me where it pleases. I certainly would not rule it out!