A sequel to "A Wedding at Uppercross."
From Persuasion, Chapter 23:
And with a quivering lip he wound up the whole by adding, `Poor Fanny! she would not have forgotten him so soon!'
`No,' replied Anne, in a low, feeling voice. `That I can easily believe.'
`It was not in her nature. She doted on him.'
`It would not be the nature of any woman who truly loved.'
The butterflies were whirling in Anne's stomach as her father's chaise neared Uppercross. Her new riding habit felt stiff and strange. The veil attached to the high-topped hat was positively annoying. She knew that she should wear it while riding to preserve her complexion; one certainly could not ride while carrying a parasol, could one? But it brushed against her face and itched and made it difficult to see properly. Finally she took off the hat, wound the veil around it on top of the narrow brim, and tucked the end under. She replaced her hat, tilting the back brim against her chignon and the front down toward her forehead, and pinned it carefully. It would not do to lose her hat during her first riding lesson.
For some time she had wanted riding lessons, but none of her father's grooms knew how to ride sidesaddle and none of the horses were trained to be a lady's mount. Her father was the kindest of men; she knew that he was sincere when he promised to retain a riding master and purchase a horse, but his duties frequently called him away from home and her request had probably slipped his mind. Luckily, Anne's cousin Charles Musgrove had heard of her dilemma and offered his services as a riding instructor. He had tried to teach his sister Elizabeth, but she had shown little interest in pursuing the activity.
"Her horse is just taking up room in the stables, eating oats and growing fat," he had told Anne. "He needs some exercise. I learned the elements of sidesaddle in order to teach Eliza, so I can teach you very well." Admiral Wentworth had empowered Charles to order a sidesaddle for her, and her mother had commissioned a habit as well. Now that Anne had assembled all her accoutrements, she was ready to begin.
Charles was so confident and comfortable in the saddle that Anne felt a bit intimidated. He will find me ridiculous, she thought nervously. He is a Cambridge man and I am just a silly schoolgirl. Well, not a schoolgirl anymore. Anne sometimes forgot that, at sixteen, she had recently finished her education and had begun to accompany her parents on social occasions. Not that this made her feel less anxious. In fact, her mother and father had wanted Anne to wait another year before coming out. Anne would have preferred this herself, but since her cousin Elizabeth Musgrove had decided that sixteen was old enough to come out, the girls decided that they would do so together, and Anne's parents had agreed.
The chaise pulled up in front of the Great House, and a footman came out to help her climb down. "Mr. Charles is at the stables, Miss Wentworth," he told her. "You can go right over."
"Thank you," Anne replied, and began walking toward the big buildings housing her uncle's stables. Mr. Musgrove had only kept what horses he needed to hunt, pull the family conveyance, and work around the estate until he had turned the management of the stables over to Charles the year before. The young squire had immediately taken advantage of the big old barns, using his own allowance to buy additional horses to be trained and bred. He was an excellent judge of horseflesh, and under his expert supervision the undertaking flourished; Mr. Musgrove's agent had long stopped complaining of the cost of feeding the additional horses when he saw the return on their sale. The domestic staff, initially scandalized at the amount of time the heir spent among the house cattle, had become used to his presence there and even took pride in the increasing renown of Uppercross Stables.
As Anne approached the stables, she heard shouting and a horse's whinny. She walked around to the front of the building and saw her cousin leaning over a fence, trying to buckle a bridle onto a horse that clearly did not want to wear the equipment. A couple of grooms were hovering, waiting to see if they were needed, but Charles successfully attached the bridle and jumped down from the fence rail. The horse ran around inside the enclosure, shaking his head and trying to get rid of the annoyance. Anne remembered how her veil had bothered her, and sympathized with the horse.
One of the grooms noticed her. "Good morning, miss," he said, pulling on his forelock. The other groom did the same, and Charles turned and smiled at her. "Good morning, Anne," he said. "Forgive me. I will be a moment still. We are trying to get him to accept the bridle." Charles had told her that he had a matched set of greys, already promised to a fashionable young viscount, if he could train them to pull his lordship's curricle. Anne was sure that the viscount was willing to pay a large sum for the team, if the bucking animal in the enclosure was an indication; he was a beautiful creature, grey with a snow-white mane and tail. Charles followed her gaze and grinned. "He and his brother will look well pulling a lacquered black curricle with silver fittings, will they not?" he observed archly. "They should be ready for Lord Lathrop by Michaelmas."
Anne smiled back at him, more comfortable in her cousin's presence than she would have imagined.
They watched the horse run around the enclosure for a few minutes; finally he became fatigued and stopped trying to shake off the bridle. Charles directed the grooms to catch the creature and remove the offending item. He turned back to Anne and said, "Are you ready?"
"Yes," she replied, the nervous fluttering in her stomach beginning anew.
"Then it is time for your first lesson." Charles took her hand and began to lead her toward the stables. He stopped, turned back, and caught up her other hand, inspecting them critically. "Did you bring gloves, Anne?"
"Yes, they are in my reticule." She was embarrassed; she was a young lady now, and should have been wearing her gloves, no matter how warm it was outside. Charles did not seem to think badly of her omission, however.
"Good." Her small white hands were swallowed up in his larger tanned ones, their callused appearance at odds with his gentle touch. "I would not want your hands ruined by the reins." They began to move toward the stable again.
They entered the cool, dark building. Charles led Anne to the tack room, where a sidesaddle was resting on a wooden rack. "This is your saddle," he said. "What do you think of it?"
"It is beautiful," she said, running her hand over the gleaming brown leather.
Charles smiled. "I am glad that you like it. It is the latest style, with a second pommel," he said, indicating one of the protruding wooden appendages. "You will be much more secure in this saddle than one with only the upper pommel." Anne knew something about riding, and understood the general principles behind riding sidesaddle, but looking at the saddle, she could not believe that she would be able to stay in her seat.
"Your habit is very nice. It seems...comfortable," said Charles. Despite his polite observation, he looked as if he were glad that he did not have to wear the heavy skirt and fitted jacket. His own clothes--fitted buckskin riding breeches, polished boots, and a baggy coat in a light-coloured fabric--seemed well-worn but not shabby. He was hatless, his face burned and his hair lightened by the sun.
"I feel rather lopsided," she confessed. The skirt was made larger on one side than the other.
"I know little about women's clothing," Charles admitted, "but I believe that the skirt is constructed to drape properly when you are in the saddle."
"It is indeed," she replied, and they exchanged another smile. He had a nice crinkly smile that lit his whole face and made Anne feel very welcome.
There was a small basket just outside the tack room, and Charles reached inside and removed an apple, which he handed to Anne. "The first thing is to become friendly with your mount," he explained, leading her to a stall. A chestnut-colored horse peeked out at her, his large black eyes showing little interest in their presence. "Good morning, Wamba," he said, stroking the horse's neck. "This is Anne. She is just learning to ride, so you must behave like a gentleman. I believe she has brought you a treat." He indicated the apple and said, "Give it to him."
She held out the fruit tentatively. Wamba stretched his neck and took it in his mouth. She felt his velvety lips close gently around the apple and remove it from her hand. He crunched the fruit several times and swallowed it, then nuzzled her hand, looking for more. Anne smiled and stroked his nose.
Charles laughed. "See? He likes you already." He took up a halter and buckled it onto Wamba's head, then opened the stall door and led him to the tack room. The grooms attached the cross-ties to the halter, immobilizing the horse's head, and quickly put on the saddle and then the bridle. Wamba accepted the bridle calmly, obviously more comfortable with the item than the grey had been.
"I have been riding him the past few days," Charles told Anne while Wamba was being readied. "He has not been ridden much lately, but I think I got most of the ginger out of him. He is a very gentle horse, a good first mount, and trained to sidesaddle." The grooms brought the horse out to them. Charles took Anne's hand, led her to the mounting block, and helped her ascend the steps, then climbed up next to her. "First of all, put on your gloves," he reminded her. She fished them from her reticule and donned them, new gloves of black kid that matched her habit nicely. Charles took the reticule and showed her how to stow it in the little pouch attached to the saddle.
"Put your left hand on my shoulder and your right hand on the front of the saddle," he instructed, and she did so. Charles placed his hands on her waist. "Step into the stirrup with your left foot, then draw up your right leg and place it in the upper pommel as you sit." Anne followed his directions, feeling terribly clumsy. Charles guided her into the saddle and then released her. Wamba seemed to sense her lack of expertise and shifted uneasily.
"Whoa, Wamba," said Charles, grabbing the bridle. Under his firm hand, the horse stood still.
Anne settled her right leg into the U-shaped upper pommel. The top of her left thigh rested against the lower pommel. She could feel that there was some slack in the stirrup.
"I must adjust the stirrup," said Charles. He started to reach for it, then pulled his hand back. "Anne, I beg your pardon..."
She saw the problem and drew her skirt up several inches so that Charles could access the stirrup strap. He made the proper adjustment, and Anne was amused to see that his face was somewhat red by the time he was finished. She carefully arranged her skirt so that it hung properly. For the first time, it looked right, draping perfectly over her legs and just brushing the top of her booted feet. She looked around her and realized just how far the back of a horse was from the ground.
"Keep your weight on your right leg and your back straight and square to the horse's head," Charles added, and she adjusted herself so that she was facing forward. "Good," he praised, handed her the crop, and then startled Anne by climbing up behind her, swinging a leg over Wamba's rump and seating himself directly behind the saddle. Anne found that she was grateful for her cousin's presence behind her; she felt much safer when his arms reached around her to take the reins from the groom. He laced the lines through her fingers and showed her the proper way to hold them. He closed his hands warmly over her own and together they pulled back gently on the reins. Wamba stretched his neck gingerly, moving his head and getting a feel for the bit. "Do not pull hard," Charles warned her. "Wamba is very well trained and will do your bidding much more readily if he knows that you will not hurt him." Anne could feel the tension in the reins, the communication between her and the horse, and she relaxed her hands so that there was barely any contact with the bit.
"Apply gentle pressure with your left leg, and he will start to walk," said Charles, and Anne did as instructed. She was thrilled and a little astonished when Wamba began to walk outside toward the enclosure.
"Did I do that?" she exclaimed.
"You did," replied her amused cousin. "It is not so very hard, is it?"
"No," said Anne, delighted that her first outing was such a success.
Before the hour was up, Anne had learned how to tell the horse to turn, stop, and trot. She felt very secure with Charles just behind her, his hands resting gently on her forearms, ready to grab the reins if she made an error. Wamba patiently suffered her inexpert guidance, and Anne felt that she and the creature were going to be very good friends. Then Charles told her stop the horse, and before she realized what was happening, he had climbed down.
"Oh, no," she protested. "I am not ready to do this by myself."
"Yes, you are," Charles assured her. "Go on, take him around the enclosure at a walk." He reached up to squeeze her hand and gave her an encouraging smile.
Anne guided the horse around the enclosure, the instructions she had been receiving whirling around her head.
"Take him to a trot," called Charles, and she did so. Wamba stretched his neck and snorted, happy to be less restrained and to be relieved of the weight of his master. Horse and rider trotted around the enclosure several times; Anne lifted her face, enjoying the feeling of the air as it rushed past her, and knew that she was going to enjoy riding for the rest of her life.
After a few minutes, she slowed the horse and directed him over to where her cousin stood smiling proudly. "That was perfect!" he cried. "You are an extremely apt pupil. I suspect that you will be outdoing us all in no time."
Anne blushed. "Did I really do well?" she asked shyly.
"Yes, indeed." The groom held the reins while Charles helped her to dismount, putting his hands around her waist and setting her safely on the ground. "Will you come back tomorrow?"
"May I?" she asked happily.
"Of course. I will expect you at the same time."
Anne gave Wamba a last pat. The horse nuzzled her hand and rubbed his nose against her neck.
"I told you that he likes you," said Charles, grinning, as the groom led the horse into the stable. "I am going back to the house for some refreshment. Would you care to join me? My mother and sister will be glad to see you, I am sure."
"Yes, I would like that very much," said Anne, and they walked together back toward the Great House.
Charles took his knife and cut into the peach. The fruit was so ripe that the juice spilled over his hand as he sliced it expertly into six pieces. He laid them on a clean handkerchief resting on the blanket, discarded the pit, and sliced into another peach. He arranged the slices of the second fruit and looked down at his juice-covered hands in dismay. Finally he wiped them on his breeches.
"Charles!" cried Anne. "That is disgusting!" Secretly, she found it rather diverting, as she did many of her cousin's actions. She helped herself to a slice of peach.
"Well, they will need washing anyway," he protested. "And I have already used my handkerchief," indicating the square of lawn on which the peach slices rested.
"I would have given you mine, had you asked."
"'Tis too late now. Save your handkerchief, you may need it later." He leaned back against a tree and took up a slice of the peach. "Oh, I have grapes as well," he said, rummaging in his saddlebag and producing a cloth bag containing a bunch of grapes, some of which were rather crushed. He offered them to Anne, who plucked several.
"Was Lord Lathrop happy with the team?" she asked between grapes. The viscount had descended upon Uppercross, surveying the stables and their master disdainfully. Anne, who had been spending a great deal of time at the Uppercross stables of late, had been present during his visit. She had been angered by his lordship's patronizing attitude and pleased by Charles' quiet dignity, which transcended his rough country clothes and the old-fashioned air of the barns.
"Oh, yes," replied her cousin, munching on a slice of peach. "He should cut quite a fashionable swath in town next spring."
Anne took another slice of peach. "I feel sorry for the greys. He seems like a hard master."
Charles laughed. "Do not feel sorry for the horses," he said. "Lord Lathrop has some of the finest stables in the kingdom. He will treat them better than he will treat his wife, when he marries. He will certainly beat them less." He chewed thoughtfully for a moment. "He treated me as if I were a tradesman, which is strange because he approached me, as gentlemen do, trading horseflesh amongst themselves. Normally the business is conducted by my father's agent. I think that from now on I will adhere to that policy more stringently. My mother took to her sofa for three days when she realized that his lordship thought that Sir Walter Elliot's grandson was in trade."
Anne considered this. "Why do you work so closely with the horses, Charles?" she asked. "My uncle employs plenty of grooms who can do the work very well under your supervision."
"I enjoy it," he said simply. "I have always trained my own horses, and I suppose it was natural for me to continue. And I do not really enjoy hunting or shooting, so I am sure you will agree that I needed to find a profession of some kind."
"Why do you not like hunting?" Anne was genuinely curious. She knew no other men who would admit to such an aversion.
"You should understand that," he said, smiling. "It is so agreeable to be outside, riding freely across the fields, and then the dogs start howling and everyone goes off in pursuit of the game. I find it distracting. I would rather go my own way." He took a grape and bit into it.
Anne smiled at him; she understood his meaning perfectly. Charles Musgrove was certainly different from most of the young men she knew. "Not to change the subject, but what did you bring to read today?" she asked.
"Malory," he said with a grin, bringing forth a thick volume. "Le Morte d'Arthur. I know you liked Ivanhoe, so I think you will like this as well. Although in this book, the Saxons are the villains, rather than the heroes."
Anne had no doubt that she would enjoy Malory. They had gone on several such picnics that summer, and Charles always brought along some wonderful book or another, tales of adventure and chivalry, of knights and damsels and treacherous villains. She enjoyed listening to him read; his low-pitched voice was well-suited to the task, and his enthusiasm for the subject matter obvious. I am glad that he is not one of those serious young men with their nose always in Fordyce's Sermons, she thought. These excursions would not be nearly as pleasant.
The picnics started as an extension of her riding lessons. Charles felt that Anne should be completely comfortable in riding over country terrain, and they had accordingly packed blankets and food and set off across the meadows of Somerset.
Anne's skill at riding had progressed quickly, and Wamba was happy to run, so Charles allowed her to gallop the horse across the open fields. "If you had an old-fashioned sidesaddle, I would not allow it," he told her, "but with the second pommel you should be quite secure. I do not think you are quite ready for jumping, however." Anne thought that was just as well, as she had no particular desire to jump. She enjoyed racing her mount, draping her veil back across her hat so that she could feel the air on her face, and it was enough. Near Uppercross there were several acres of land that had not yet been enclosed, gently rolling slopes and flat meadows which made for excellent riding, without the need for dismounting and opening gates.
Charles had long ago found the little grove where they had their picnics, a shady spot with a small stream running through it. He had little collapsible leather drinking cups, which could be carried in a saddlebag, and they would spread a blanket and rest while the horses drank from the stream. He told Anne that he had spent many fine afternoons in the grove with a luncheon and a book, and she was pleased that he felt free to share the place with her.
He turned the pages of the volume, and said, "This book is actually made up of many stories about King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Is there any particular story you would like to hear?"
"I am not familiar with the stories," she replied. "Please choose one that you enjoy."
"Very well." Charles kept turning pages, then stopped and smiled. "Book XVIII, Chapter I. Of the joy King Arthur and the queen had of the achievement of the Sangreal; and how Launcelot fell to his old love again." He began to read the story of the adventures of Launcelot, his faithful love for Queen Guenever, and the tragic love of Elaine, the Fair Maiden of Astolat, for Launcelot. Anne listened, entranced, lying on her stomach on the blanket, her chin propped on her fist. The sun passed overhead and began to sink into the west as he read, a blazing ball of red and orange and yellow fire.
"For sweet Lord Jesu, said the fair maiden, I take Thee to record, on Thee I was never great offencer against thy laws; but that I loved this noble knight, Sir Launcelot, out of measure, and of myself, good Lord, I might not withstand the fervent love wherefore I have my death." Charles took a sip of water and looked at the sun, then at his watch. "I think it is time we were getting back, Anne."
She sat up and cried out, "Oh, no! You must continue, Charles! Does the Fair Maiden of Astolat die for the love of Launcelot? I must know!"
"Anne, it is past four! Perhaps you keep more fashionable hours at Oakmont Park, but at Uppercross we dine at six, and my mother will never forgive me if I grace her table smelling of the stables."
Anne looked at him pleadingly. "Please, Charles?" she asked, clasping her hands in front of her.
He smiled at the charming sight. "Here," he said, handing her the volume. "Take it with you and read it yourself. We can discuss it later, if you like." She squealed with delight and took the book, jumping up to stow it in her saddlebag.
They gathered the picnic things and put them away. Charles came over to Anne's horse to give her a hand up into the saddle. She put her hand on his shoulder, then paused and looked up at him shyly. "I am sorry that I behaved so foolishly just now," she said. "You must think that I am a silly child."
He looked down at her earnestly. "I do not think you are a child, Anne," he said softly. They stood together without moving for a long moment; finally Charles laced his fingers together, creating a step to boost her into the stirrup. He made sure that she was secure on Wamba's back, then mounted his own horse. They walked the horses back toward Uppercross, wringing the last few moments from the afternoon.
Back at the stables, they retrieved their personal items from the saddlebags, and a groom led the horses back into the stable. They walked back to the Great House, where the Wentworth chaise was waiting to take Anne home. Charles handed her into the chaise and shut the door behind her. They had not exchanged a word since they had left the grove.
Anne lowered the glass. "Good afternoon, Charles," she said. "Thank you for the picnic, and for lending me your book."
"I hope that it meets your expectations," he said, smiling faintly.
"You have not failed to meet my expectations thus far," she said shyly, and his smile broadened, kindling a glow in his eyes. She raised the glass and knocked lightly on the roof. The driver cracked his whip over the horses' back, and the chaise rolled away.
She looked down at the book in her lap, then set down her reticule on the seat beside her. She opened the book to a page where Charles had placed a thin leather band. She realized that he had not properly marked the place where he had stopped reading; but she was immediately drawn to the chapter, entitled "How true love is likened to summer." I can read about Elaine later this evening, she thought.
But nowadays men can not love seven night but they must have all their desires: that love may not endure by reason; for where they be soon accorded and hasty heat, soon it cooleth. Right so fareth love nowadays, soon hot soon cold; this is no stability. But the old love was not so; men and women could love together seven years, and no licours lusts were between them, and then was love, truth, and faithfulness: and lo, in like wise was used love in King Arthur's days. Wherefore I liken love nowadays unto summer and winter; for like as the one is hot and the other cold, so fareth love nowadays; therefore all ye that be lovers call unto your remembrance the month of May, like as did Queen Guenever, for whom I make here a little mention, that while she lived she was a true lover, and therefore she had a good end.
Many, many thanks to Anita the Sidesaddler from the Pemberley L&T board and my friend Kim W., a recent inductee into the Order of the Wet Linen Shirt, for all the great information about sidesaddle riding and horseback riding in general.
Even after nearly two weeks in their lodgings, it was still rather startling to wake and find herself in a strange bed, surrounded by heavy velvet bed-curtains so unlike her gauzy ones at home. No, not at home, thought Anne Musgrove. Those curtains hang in my father's house. Uppercross Cottage is my home now. She grinned happily. I am a married woman. I am Charles' wife.
A part of her still expected to find herself back at Oakmont Park each morning in her girlhood bed. For four years prior her marriage, she had prayed and wished that she could be the wife of Charles Musgrove; and here she was, on her honeymoon, her husband's arm wrapped firmly around her waist in the dim light of early dawn. Anne turned over to face him, careful to remain within the circle of his arm.
Charles was an extremely sound sleeper, like a hibernating bear, she thought fondly. Herself a habitually early riser, Anne knew that he would sleep for another hour yet. She had inadvertently awakened him one morning a few days earlier, and he had been snappish and cross for several hours. Anne had been a bit startled but not particularly put out by such behavior from her normally good-natured husband. Charles, to his credit, had sheepishly apologized later that evening, then fastened around her throat a silver chain from which hung an oval-shaped aquamarine, the same lovely clear blue as a wave breaking over the prow of a ship. She had not removed the treasured piece of jewelry, knowing it would be a lifetime reminder of their idyll by the sea, as well as a reminder to let her husband sleep as long as he liked.
That gentleman murmured something unintelligible and turned away from her onto his back, throwing one hand carelessly over his head. Anne wrapped her arms around her pillow, propping up her head so that she could watch him sleep. It was still a treat to be able to look at him as much as she liked, after so many years of sneaking glances when she thought that he was not paying attention, occasionally being caught anyway, usually to be greeted with his quick, kind smile while she looked away guiltily. She reached out and gently ruffled his unruly fair curls, careful not to wake him. She smiled as she remembered an incident, less than a year ago, when she had been talking to Charles at a family gathering. Well, I was talking, he was mumbling into his teacup, the shy darling. A lock of hair had fallen into his eyes, and her hand was halfway to his face to brush it away when she became aware of what she was doing. She had snatched her hand back just in time, her fingers tingling with the desire to touch his hair, just as they were now. His hair was a little long now, falling into his eyes and curling down over his ears; he would need a haircut when they returned to Uppercross. That is your job now, Annie girl, she told herself. To be able to perform such small offices for her beloved brought her true contentment; they let her know that she was really married.
It was chilly in the bed-chamber, the steady wind from the ocean rattling the windowpanes softly. Anne pulled the quilts up over her shoulders and huddled closer to Charles. The blankets had slipped down to his waist when he turned on his back, and even in the depths of his slumber he must have felt the cold, but she was loath to cover him. She ran her hand gently over his bare chest, the muscles well developed from years of working in the stables. Charles Musgrove, when dressed in the shapeless country clothes he favored, was a rather nondescript young man: not quite tall, not quite handsome. But on her wedding night, seeing her husband by the flickering firelight, her head still light from the wine her mother-in-law had insisted she drink and the story of Lochinvar and Ellen still ringing in her ears, Anne half-believed that she had indeed been carried away by a magnificent Highlands warrior. Her hand moved across his broad shoulder and down his arm, until at last she reluctantly pulled it away. Enough of that. Do not wake him again.
She slipped out from under the blankets, donned her dressing-gown, and pulled the quilts up over his shoulders. She dropped a feather-light kiss on his cheek, rough with the bristles of his morning beard, underneath which the bruise inflicted by Henry Clay had finally healed. Charles' bravery and honour that terrible night still astonished her, nearly a month later. She had only to wish that Sophie could appreciate her new brother's actions. She had a letter from her mother just the other day:
Your sister has declared that she is in love with George Hayter and will marry him, conveniently forgetting that only a few weeks ago she wept dramatically and screamed at her father that she was in love with Henry Clay. Apparently young Mr. Hayter danced with her at the assembly last week and she has never seen a more amiable or handsome man. Mr. Hayter exhibits no symptoms of peculiar regard for your sister, but this has not discouraged her attachment. There is nothing objectionable about him, however; he seems to be a very good sort of young man, and his prospects are excellent, as he shall inherit Winthrop. I suppose it is harmless enough, but poor Sophie will be terribly disappointed when the truth becomes apparent. She is much younger than you were at seventeen, my dear.
Anne smiled as she thought of her mother's wry turn of phrase. She understood perfectly; at seventeen, marriage had been the furthest thing from her mind. Anne felt for her parents, who had given Sophie all the attention and care they had given their older children, with little to show for it. I will have to speak to her when we get home, she thought, although she knew that anything she said to Sophie would do little good. She felt sympathy for her sister, however; Anne had been sixteen, a year younger than Sophie, when she entered society, and she remembered that the experience could be strange and sometimes a little frightening, even with the steadying influence of her mother, always nearby.
Millie was putting the finishing touches on her hair when her mother entered the room. Mrs. Wentworth was lovely in her blue velvet dress, which displayed her still-slim figure to perfection. Anne felt strange in her own gown, a muslin in her favorite shade of blush pink, the large puffed sleeves and rustling of the many petticoats making her feel like a little girl playing dress-up. Deep down, she knew that she loved the pretty clothes that her mother helped her choose, but for a moment she wished that she could put on her comfortable, well-used riding habit, and her boots instead of the delicate dancing slippers. She was afraid that she would twist her ankle while dancing and make a fool of herself at Elizabeth's birthday celebration. Such fears persisted before every social occasion, although Anne had been out for two years and no such untoward incidents had occurred during that time.
Her mother placed a hand on each of her shoulders and smiled at their reflection in the mirror of Anne's dressing table. "You look beautiful, Anne," said Mrs. Wentworth. "You shall not want for dancing partners tonight."
"Thank you, Mother," she replied. "Unfortunately, there will be no young man attending this party with whom I particularly wish to dance."
"When I was your age, I did not scruple overmuch with whom I danced, so long as I had a partner," her mother declared.
I wish I could make her understand, Anne thought wistfully. I just want to know that there is a man, somewhere, whom I can love. Instead, she rose, turned to her mother, and embraced her. "Do not worry, Mother, I shall stand up with whomever cares to ask me," she declared, and her mother smiled in response. "Are you ready? I am sure that Father is waiting for us, tapping his foot and inspecting his watch."
"Yes, I am ready." Anne took her mother's arm, and they went down the stairs.
The admiral was waiting for them at the bottom of the steps. He watched them as they descended, his face lit by an admiring and loving smile. He took Anne's hands in his own and kissed her cheek. "You look absolutely lovely, Annie girl," he said, using her childhood nickname.
"Thank you, Father," she responded, thinking that her father was a handsome man indeed, tall and imposing in his naval uniform.
He released her and held out a hand to his wife. "And you, my love, are spectacularly beautiful tonight, as every night," the admiral declared, as he swept her into his arms and kissed her. Anne giggled, used to her parents' behavior. They always seemed more like lovers than, well, parents, and freely expressed their affection within the intimacy of the family circle. Sophie was sometimes embarrassed by such conduct, but Anne thought their relationship was exactly how marriage should be.
The butler, also well used to the master and mistress, coughed discreetly. "The chaise is ready, Admiral."
"Very good, Jennings," cried the admiral, releasing his smiling wife. "Please send someone up to fetch Edward. He seems to be running behind." Anne was glad that her brother's cruise had ended in time for him to attend the ball.
The last command proved unnecessary, as Edward was already running down the stairs, buttoning his blue coat. "Here I am, Father," he cried. "Perfectly on time. I trust you shall make a glowing report to my commander of my punctuality?" Then he caught sight of Anne, and his jaw dropped while he looked her over. "No mud, no riding habit, and I believe," he leaned close to her and sniffed audibly, "not a bit of eau de equine about you! Who are you, and what have you done with my sister?"
"Edward!" cried his mother, although she was laughing, along with her husband and even the object of his teasing.
The young naval officer smiled fondly at his sister and kissed her on the cheek. "You look stunning, Annie girl," he said quietly. "I had better bring my shotgun. The young men will be camping in the park when they get a look at you." Anne flung her arms around her brother's neck. She had missed him terribly these past five years, since he went away to the naval academy and then to sea; she was glad that their closeness had not abated during that time, although his visits home had been much fewer than his family could desire.
The trip to Uppercross was over quickly, and they were ushered inside the big, old house, as familiar to Anne as her own home. The passage was lit by a multitude of candles, and they went into the drawing-room, crowded with friends and neighbours. Anne suddenly felt shy and took her brother's arm.
A voice came from behind her. "I should have known that you would be monopolizing all the pretty girls, Wentworth." Anne turned to see her cousin Walter Musgrove, wearing his usual crooked smile. He shook hands with Edward and said, "Please introduce me to this fetching creature. She bears a striking resemblance to your sister Anne. Are you a member of the family, madam?"
"You and Edward are both excessively diverting," she said. "You should go on the stage together."
Walter took her hand and kissed it, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. "You will save me a dance, love, will you not?" he asked. "I think I had better get my request in early. Do not forget your old cousin, now."
"I shall not forget," she promised, and Walter winked at her.
Anne suddenly found herself in the perfumed embrace of Walter's sister Elizabeth. "I adore your dress, Anne! It is perfect on you!" Elizabeth stood back, holding Anne's hands and looking her over. "And your hair! It is absolute perfection! Who did it for you? Does she not look perfect, Charles?" she cried, turning to her eldest brother, who was standing quietly behind her.
"Why are you asking him?" said Walter. "Charles has no sense of discernment about young ladies. Now, if Anne were a horse, that would be a relevant question."
"Be quiet, Walter," cried Elizabeth. "Do go away and stop teasing us."
Charles had laughed at his brother's witticism, but he smiled at Anne and said, "You are looking well." He did not move forward to take her hand or greet her more familiarly, so she dropped a curtsey. Charles bowed stiffly. He looked strange in his evening clothes; she was used to seeing him in riding breeches and a rough wool coat, frequently hatless even in the coldest weather, his callused hands gripping the reins instinctively, like he was born in the saddle. He was obviously as uncomfortable in his raiment as she was in hers.
Elizabeth was still prattling on about Anne's dress and her own, and Charles nodded to her politely and walked away. Anne was surprised to realize that she felt disappointed. She and Charles had been good friends only two years previously, when he had taught her to ride, but lately she had felt a distance growing between them. He seemed uncomfortable and quiet in her presence, and she felt shy and silly and immature in his.
"I am so glad that my father invited Edward's friends," Elizabeth was saying. "They are such a well-looking group of young men. I do so love a man in uniform."
Anne wrenched her attention back to her cousin. "Well, you will have plenty to choose from," she replied gaily. "There will be enough young men here tonight even for your insatiable appetite, my dear Eliza." Anne was fond of her pretty, warm-hearted, vivacious cousin, and sometimes wished that she could emulate her outgoing manner. Elizabeth had a knack for drawing out the shyest person, including the young men of her acquaintance, without being improper; even when she got carried away and approached that state, her brothers, particularly Charles, were always nearby to lift an eyebrow or speak a low word of warning.
"I hope that you will be dancing tonight," Elizabeth said. "If I find you hiding in a corner as usual, I shall force you to stand up with Mr. Joseph Williams for a punishment." That unfortunate young man, the younger son of a neighboring landowner, was cursed with two left feet, but doggedly insisted on dragging some hapless young lady around as long as the music played, despite the havoc he wreaked on his partners' dancing slippers.
"Then I shall be sure to hide myself very well," Anne declared, and the girls laughed together.
"I must greet the rest of my guests, dearest, but we will talk later," her cousin said, and Anne left Elizabeth to her duties as hostess.
Two hours later, Anne had danced every dance, including two with Walter. She had found his conversation charming, as usual, and his company agreeable. Walter should be easy to fall in love with, she mused. He is certainly handsome, and I am very fond of him, yet somehow I cannot feel more toward him. Anne sometimes wondered about her feelings, or lack of them; she and Elizabeth had both been out for nearly two years, and her cousin had become infatuated with countless gentlemen during that period, but Anne had never seen a young man whom she felt she could love. She was in no rush to wed, and her parents certainly did not expect her to marry at eighteen, but she longed to have a beau to boast of as Elizabeth did about hers. Not that Anne had lacked for admirers; she had even had a marriage proposal last winter in Bath, from a strange young man called Manfred Pearson who had stammered his offer after only two nights' acquaintance. Anne had unfortunately been unable to control her giggles at the absurdity of his addresses on such a short acquaintance, and Mr. Pearson had stalked off in a huff, leaving his heartless lady-love to laugh until tears coursed down her cheeks.
Mrs. Wentworth interrupted her thoughts. "Anne, will you be all right by yourself for a few minutes? I must find your father, and I do not see him in the hall."
"Likely he is in my uncle's gun room," she replied, smiling. "Go on, Mother, I will sit here and rest until you return." Her mother squeezed her hand and went in search of her husband.
Anne tapped her toes with the music, watching the dancers and enjoying her moment of solitude. Suddenly she spied her aunt Musgrove bearing down upon her and tried to shrink into her chair, hoping against hope that she would not be seen. Luck was not with her, however.
"Anne, why are you not dancing?" her aunt cried. "And my useless sons are standing about. Charles, I insist that you dance with your cousin."
Charles looked around from his conversation with his uncle Harry Musgrove. "I beg your pardon, Mother," he said. "I did not attend."
"Anne does not have a partner," Mrs. Musgrove exclaimed. "It is high time that you began to do your duty as the future master of Uppercross. You shall stand up with your cousin, if you please."
"Yes, Mother," he replied dutifully. He offered his arm to Anne, rolling his eyes and smiling a little when his mother could not see. Anne swallowed her own grin and allowed him to lead her to the other dancers.
"Please accept my apology on behalf of my mother," he said. "She has some rather strange notions of hospitality, which apparently include humiliating her guests."
Anne could not help but laugh. "I am not embarrassed. I know that I should be more outgoing in social situations."
"Do not adjust your behavior to the expectations of others," he said more seriously. "No one could censure your conduct, Anne. It is always proper and becoming." She blushed at the compliment and found that she was suddenly unable to meet his eyes.
The musicians struck up a waltz, and Charles gently placed his hand on the small of her back and began to spin her around the room. He was a fairly good dancer for someone who did not often engage in the activity. They were quiet at first. Anne knew that she should converse with her partner, but was at a loss for a subject. Charles did not seem to expect her to talk, and they twirled around the floor in silence.
"You always smell of roses," he finally said, absently, almost as if speaking to himself.
"Edward would disagree with you," she replied. "He says that I usually smell of horses."
Charles laughed. "I suffer from that affliction myself, so I would hardly notice." He paused for a moment. "I think it is your hair. It is like being in a rose garden."
Anne usually sprinkled a few drops of rosewater on her brush before tending to her hair. Tonight, she had also placed a drop behind each ear and in the hollow of her throat, as she knew her mother did. More than once she had seen her father sneak up on her mother and kiss her in exactly those spots when he thought no one was looking. But she said only, "Are you sure it is not my nosegay?" indicating the tiny bunch of blush rosebuds, fresh from the hothouse, that she wore at her waist.
Charles leaned toward her, his face very close to hers, and after a moment said, "No, it is definitely your hair. Walter would probably be able to tell you how you achieve that effect, but I am unfamiliar with the sleight-of-hand employed by ladies in their toilette. I am impressed with the results, however." He smiled down at her.
She smiled back at him. Why have I never noticed his eyes? she thought. They were lighter brown than hers, with flecks of gold and green; they crinkled up and nearly disappeared when he smiled, as he was smiling now. He kept whirling her around the floor, and for that brief time they were the only two people in the world.
The music ended. As they danced, Charles' hand had slid along Anne's back until his arm almost completely enveloped her waist; they stood together, their bodies nearly touching, their faces very close, for what felt like an eternity but was actually only a few seconds. At last he released her, offered his arm, and led her to the fireplace where she had been sitting; her mother had not returned. He held her hand for a moment, opening his mouth as if to speak; but he only bowed and left her without another word.
The crowded room felt suddenly overheated, and Anne went out onto the verandah, grateful for the cool evening air and a moment alone to sort out her feelings.
Anne pulled the curtains back and stood by the window. At that time of year, Lyme was empty enough that they had their pick of lodgings, and Charles had purposely chosen a place with a view of the harbour, where Anne could watch the surf beat against the Cobb, framed by the cliffs of the far shore. She did not know how long she stood there, watching the ships sail around the harbour as the morning light increased, when she felt her husband's arms around her waist.
"Good morning, love," he murmured.
Anne smiled and tilted her head back and to the side so that she could see his face. "Good morning, my handsome husband," she said softly, and was rewarded with a smile and a kiss. She had been mortified at her drunken behavior on their wedding night; Charles had assured her that he had found her silliness quite diverting, and she had finally seen the humour in it. In their private moments, she continued to use the endearment she had unwittingly coined that night. She did not think that Charles had any idea how much she really meant it. In vino veritas, indeed.
Her husband looked out the window through which she had been gazing. "I suspected that you would like these rooms," he said. "I know how you love the sea."
She nodded. "I could watch it for hours. It is like a living creature. The power, the majesty of it entrances me. The way it stretches out and melts into the horizon."
Charles chuckled softly. "And you say that I am a poet." He reached up to her throat to touch the aquamarine. "I chose that necklace for you because it reminded me of the sea on a summer day. I hoped that it would remind you as well." He paused for a moment, fingering the stone. "When I think of you, I always think of those light pink roses you like so much. But this colour suits you as well. Pink roses by the sea in summer, that's my beautiful Anne."
She smiled at his artless tribute. "See? You are a much better poet than I could ever hope to be." She turned to face him, still remaining in his embrace. "These stone floors are so cold," she said, resting her cheek against his chest, the silk of his dressing-gown caressing her skin. "My feet are nearly frozen."
"That is easy to remedy," said her husband, then bent down and gently lifted her in his arms. Anne giggled and clung to his neck, charmed by his impetuous action, as well as his mischievous smile. You are no longer the bashful boy who asked permission to kiss me, are you, my handsome husband? she thought fondly, running a hand through his hair.
"I thank you, sir," she murmured. "But your feet must still be cold."
"Aye," he admitted. "Come back to bed and warm me, love. 'Tis early yet." In response, she brought her face closer to his until their lips met, the kiss lingering as he carried her to the bed. No, my love, she thought, giving herself up to the welcome embrace of her beloved, you are no longer bashful at all.
Anne walked out of the shop and looked around for her husband. Charles, who was watching some fishcutters working nearby while he waited for her, did not see her at first. As she approached him, he seemed to sense her presence and turned. She loved the way he smiled, the way his eyes lit up, when he saw her. She smiled in response and took his arm.
"Were you able to find the thread that you wanted?" he asked as they walked down the street. The shops lining the street were mostly empty; some were shuttered until the return of the summer visitors.
"Yes, I found the exact colour that I needed," she replied. "I must remember to thank the landlord's wife for telling me about that shop. The proprietor was most helpful."
"I noticed a bookshop a little further down," said Charles. "I would like to take a look in there, if you do not mind."
Anne laughed. "I know better than to keep you from a bookshop, my love. And you know, my mother sent me the names of some books that she thought I would enjoy, so I will look for those."
They accordingly turned into the shop, which proved to have an excellent selection of the newest volumes. As they browsed, they drifted apart, each following their own preference, looking for favored authors and recommended texts.
She did not see him until he stood in front of her. She looked up from a volume that she was perusing, seeing the naval uniform before she recognized the man wearing it, a reflexive reaction for the daughter and sister of sailors. "Good morning, Annie," he said softly. "It's been a long time."
Anne stared at him speechlessly. I don't believe it. He is here.
Elizabeth had wisely planned her party for the full moon, but a thick cloud cover prevented much moonlight from reaching the ground. Candles had consequently been placed about the verandah, their soft light keeping the darkness at bay and casting shadows on the surrounding walls. Anne walked to the edge of the flagstone surface, taking deep breaths of the cool air and wondering why she had felt so strange, so giddy and confused and warm, why it had suddenly become difficult to breathe, when she had been standing in the circle of Charles Musgrove's arm.
Two of the shadows on the other side of the verandah began to move toward her. One of them called, "Annie!" They walked into the circle of light thrown off by a nearby group of candles, revealing Edward Wentworth and another naval officer.
"Annie," repeated Edward, smiling and obviously happy to see her. "May I present Commander John Huntingdon? Commander, this is my sister, Miss Anne Wentworth."
"Miss Wentworth." The commander bowed as Anne dropped a polite curtsey. "It is a pleasure to meet you. I have heard so much about you and your family from your brother that I feel as if we are already acquainted."
Anne smiled. "You must be the Commander Huntingdon of whom Edward has written. I feel as if I know you as well." Her brother's letters had been peppered with references to his commanding officer, who had taken the young midshipman under his wing. Anne looked him over critically. This is the man who has Edward's career in his hands. She was pleased with his appearance. He was of medium height, with dark hair and sharply intelligent blue eyes. His face, like those of her father and brother, was darkened by constant exposure to sun and weather, and there were small lines about his eyes that spoke both of years at sea and of an appreciation for the humourous aspects of life. He appeared to be in his thirties, although Anne knew that he was only eight and twenty. Despite the weatherbeaten appearance of his face, he was rather handsome, especially when he smiled. Eliza will be quite taken with the commander when she sees him, I fear.
"I must thank your uncle for including me and my officers in his invitation. This has been an enjoyable party and," glancing up at the big old stone house, "he has a fine establishment here."
"When you become better acquainted with my uncle Musgrove," said Edward, "you will realize that he rarely passes up an opportunity to extend his hospitality to the officers of His Majesty's navy."
"A fine sentiment," declared Commander Huntingdon dryly, "and one which His Majesty's other subjects would do well to copy." Edward laughed at the commander's mild witticism, more loudly than Anne thought called for.
The musicians had started up again, an old-fashioned country-dance, and the music spilled out the open windows onto the verandah. The commander turned to Anne and said, "Miss Wentworth, although I am sure that you are acquainted with the shocking lack of social skills displayed by most sailors, I assure you that my dancing ability is sufficient to meet any young lady's expectations. Will you do me the honour of being my partner?"
Anne felt that she could hardly say no, especially when she saw her brother's delighted smile. "Yes, Commander, I thank you," she said, and placed her hand on top of his arm. They went back into the house and into the big old hall, serving that night as a ballroom, and took their place in the set. They passed Elizabeth and her partner, another officer, and the men exchanged nods while Elizabeth smiled and raised her eyebrows playfully at her cousin, looking the commander over rather blatantly.
As they worked their way down the set, Anne was hard-pressed to pay attention to the commander's polite conversation; she was looking around her, for something or someone she could not quite name. Then she saw the back of his head, his fair curls in their usual disarray, and as if he knew that she was looking for him, Charles glanced around and caught her eye. His face lit with a quick smile; then someone else claimed his attention, and he turned away.
Anne nearly stopped dancing from confusion and disappointment. The commander regarded her thoughtfully. "You are a thousand miles away, Miss Wentworth," he said. "I hope that I have not interrupted any other plans that you had for this evening."
"No," she replied. "You have interrupted nothing." Indeed, she said to herself. What am I thinking? Charles is my cousin, my friend, and nothing more. If he thought of me in any other way, he would have spoken by now. "Forgive me, Commander," she said. "I had something to work out in my mind. I have done so, and can now pay proper attention to my partner."
The lines around his eyes deepened as he smiled. "I am glad to hear that, madam," he said. "Very glad indeed."
Anne and Commander Huntingdon danced together once more before the end of the night, and they took tea together as well, during which he told her stories of his travels to the West Indies and North America. He was extremely attentive to her, and she appreciated his intelligence and rather dry sense of humour. Before he took his leave, he approached her and said, "Admiral Wentworth has invited us to your home to dine tomorrow. I hope that I will see you there."
"I will be there, sir," she said.
"I look forward to it." He took her hand in both of his. "When a man spends a great deal of time at sea, it is good to come home and see that which he is fighting to defend," he said softly. "Thank you, Miss Wentworth. You have given me a beautiful memory to sustain me on my next cruise." He bowed and touched his lips to her hand.
She blushed profusely and looked at the ground. "I thank you, Commander," she said. "That is a lovely compliment."
"Until tomorrow, then," he said, released her hand, and went outside to his waiting equipage.
"Anne!" a voice squealed in her ear, and her arm was captured and held tightly by Elizabeth Musgrove. "Who is that absolutely delicious man with whom you spent half the evening?"
"He is Edward's commanding officer," Anne replied. "And I did not spend half the evening with him, Eliza. I danced with him twice."
"He is very handsome. He has a faraway look in his eyes. As if he has seen many places and things."
"I would think that a commander in His Majesty's navy would indeed have traveled many places." Anne's remark was sharper than her normal tone, and she was instantly contrite. "Forgive me, Eliza. I must be more fatigued than I realized."
"You do not offend me, dearest. I am near to dropping from exhaustion myself." They walked out to the chaise arm-in-arm and exchanged a warm embrace. "Mamma tells me that we are to dine at Oakmont Park tomorrow, so I will see you then," said Elizabeth. "I should have brought my shawl. It is much too chilly for me out here, Anne, I am going back inside. Good night, dearest." She ran back into the house, turning at the door for a last wave.
Charles and Edward stood next to the chaise, deep in conversation, and since Charles was motioning toward the horses, Anne felt fairly certain of the subject of their dialogue.
The admiral handed his wife into the chaise, and Edward shook hands with Charles and climbed in after his mother. Anne took a deep breath. "Good night, Charles," she said, holding her hand out to him.
He took it, startled, but bowed gallantly. "Good night, Anne," he said. He held her hand for a moment, as he had done earlier that evening; she had the feeling that he wanted to say something, but he remained silent. He released her and watched as her father handed her into the chaise.
The admiral climbed in behind her and the chaise rolled away. Anne looked back to see if Charles still stood by the drive, but he had turned away and was walking back into the house. He sees you only as a friend, Annie girl, she told herself sternly. Do not throw your heart away where it is not wanted.
She leaned back against the cushions and closed her eyes, and despite her new resolve, her mind wandered back to Charles; she imagined that she was back in his arms, just the two of them in a huge white marble room, waltzing around and around as the music played endlessly.
"Good morning, Commander Huntingdon," she finally managed.
"Please, Annie. We were good friends at one time. I wish that you would call me by my Christian name."
"If you prefer...John," she said, and he smiled down at her.
"How come you to be in Lyme?" he asked. "Are you here with your family? Is Edward with you?"
"I am here with my husband," she said quietly. "I was recently married."
A shadow passed over his face. "I wish you joy, Annie," he said with some emotion. "You know that."
At that moment, Charles approached them, a volume in his hand, smiling broadly. "Look what I found, Anne," he said, then stopped when he noticed her talking to a stranger. "Good morning," he said politely.
"Charles, may I present Commander John Huntingdon. I beg your pardon," she added, remembering something that Edward had told her. "It is Captain Huntingdon now, is it not?"
"Captain Huntingdon, this is my husband, Charles Musgrove."
"Your servant, sir," said Charles, bowing, then inspected the naval officer curiously. "I believe that we have met previously."
"At Elizabeth's eighteenth birthday party," Anne reminded him.
"Your wife and I are old friends, Mr. Musgrove," said the captain. "I was previously Lieutenant Wentworth's commanding officer, until he was posted to the Gryphon. How is Edward?" he added, directing this question to Anne.
"He is well," she said. "He is on furlough, visiting my parents. The Gryphon sails for North America just after Christmas."
"I was happy to hear of his promotion," said the captain. "I wrote to the Admiralty, recommending him for lieutenant, more than a year ago. They must have finally received my letter."
Charles chuckled, and Anne gave a small, strained smile. Her husband looked at her, frowning slightly, then addressed the captain. "It is always good to meet a friend of Edward's. Will you dine with us tonight, sir?"
"I thank you, Mr. Musgrove. I would be honoured." A time was fixed upon, and Charles gave him the direction of their lodgings.
The captain took Anne's hand and bowed. "Until tonight, Mrs. Musgrove," he said, and left the shop.
"Anne." She looked up to see her husband's eyes fixed on her face with an expression of concern. "I should have consulted you before I extended the invitation. You are uncomfortable in the captain's presence. Would you like to cancel the engagement?"
"Is it that obvious?" she asked, embarrassed.
"Only to me, love." He took her hand and pressed it reassuringly.
Anne marveled at his ability to read her thoughts so well, after only two weeks of marriage. "I am just being silly. Your invitation was entirely proper." I cannot tell him. Not yet.
Charles looked down at the book in his hands. "I do not think I will buy this book just now. Did you find anything?"
"No. Perhaps we can come back another time."
He smiled. "I am sure that we shall. Are you ready, then? Let us go back to our lodgings. I would sell my right arm for a hot cup of tea."
Walking down the street on the arm of the man she loved had brought her inexpressible joy only an hour before, but the captain's appearance had turned her happiness to distress and worry. Charles deserves to know, but I do not relish telling him about this. He feels things so strongly. But there was no other answer for it; Anne knew that she would have to find a way to tell her husband about her past relationship with Captain John Huntingdon.