Posted on 2013-01-06
In retrospect, he had seen it coming. He had seen it and yet refused to see it, in that strained look at the back of her eyes that she would never explain, and in the way that she clung to him those last few evenings. "No, not yet," she murmured into his coat. "Don't go yet." Something in her voice struck his heart with misgiving--but he pushed it aside, and laughed at her, and kissed her sweet mouth until he felt a little dizzy.
It did cross his mind to wonder, sometimes, if it was possible that she was giving in--that the disapproval of her father, and the persuasions of her friend might be winning her over--but he always rejected the thought indignantly, as being unworthy of her. Not Anne--not his Anne, the most loving and faithful woman, the very truest of all women who surely ever breathed. Was there ever a heart comparable to hers?--tender, devoted, completely attached to his in love, as his was to hers? No, he scorned the idea that a woman who loved a man as he knew Anne loved him could yield to the mere ignorant disapproval of others.
So he came happily to the orchard that morning--eagerly. He had been gone for two days, to hear news of a possible commission--that a ship might soon be his. The Asp was available, and his name was talked of. He was excited, confident of his future success. The woman he loved, a ship of his own--what more could any man desire? Coming through the trees, he saw her first, standing with her back towards him, and so was able to pause for a minute to admire the picture she made--a slender, elegant little figure, with her shawl draped gracefully across her back between her elbows, and her head bent to show her pretty neck, while a patch of sun shone on her hair. He felt his heart melt as he looked at her, his darling, awaiting him under their tree. Yielding to impulse, he walked up softly behind her, and when she did not turn, slipped his arms around her and buried his face in her neck.
She gasped, and started so violently that he thought he must have frightened her. "Shh..." he said, as she jerked away in agitation, "Anne, sweetheart, it's me." He turned her around, smiling down at her, trying to draw her back into his arms as she pushed him away blindly. "It's all right, it's me!"
"Fredrick, no!" she finally cried, freeing herself, and he saw her tears. She opened her eyes for just one moment and looked at him fully, and it was then, all at once, that he knew.
"No!" He let her go and stumbled back a few paces.
Anne wiped futilely at her tears, struggling for composure. "Fredrick, I--I--"
"Don't say it!" He was very pale now, and trembling all over. "For heaven's sake, don't say it, Anne," he said hoarsely.
Her weeping increased; long moments stretched out between them as she strove to regain control of herself, and Fredrick saw all his happiness dissipate like a cloud before him. Once, he thought to take her back in his arms and comfort her, but he stayed where he was instead, frozen and numb.
At last she grew calm; dried her eyes, looked at him with a face that was pale but resolute; great eyes that were soft with tenderness, but full of tragic determination. "It is not possible," she whispered.
His mouth hardened into a bitter line. "You thought it was possible only two weeks ago."
"I know." She twisted her wet handkerchief around and around in trembling hands. "I know, but I had not thought--I had not considered the consequences…"
"You had not considered how it would debase the daughter of Sir Walter to be married to a poor sailor, you mean."
"No!" She lifted her head at that. "No, of course not! I would never think… but if things were different, if we were independent, and could do as we chose…"
"We can do as we choose!" he insisted. "Anne, I thought you loved me."
"I do!" she cried in unmistakable tones. "I do love you!"
"Then marry me!"
"But we can't get married yet, don't you see? Not now, not for years perhaps. Who knows when you'll have earned enough to support us both? And we shall always be separated in the mean time, with you at sea, and me here…"
"But I shall make my fortune." He clenched his hands until the knuckles turned white. "I told you I would make my fortune quickly, and I will. Are you not even willing to wait for a time?--to wait any time for me?"
"Forever!" she cried passionately. "I would wait forever! But to--to bind ourselves, now, when we don't know what may happen--when we're young, and your career is still before you--"
"I see." He spoke grimly. "I see and hear the voice of Lady Russell in your words. This is her doing, isn't it? She never liked me, and now she has persuaded you to give me up. And you gave in to her!"
"She--she is like a mother to me," whispered Anne. "I could not ignore her advice."
"No, only your own wishes and mine!" He turned away with a bitter half-laugh. "And to think I thought you would withstand them--that the firmness of your purpose was like my own! Clearly I was a fool in that respect."
"Oh, Fredrick, no!" her voice was a despairing whisper. The tears welled up, and at her small sob, he turned back, and came to her quickly, suddenly tender again.
"Anne!" he whispered urgently, taking her hands, and bending his face very close to hers. "Anne, my darling, don't do this! Don't break my heart! I love you! Stay with me, I have enough firmness for both of us. We can be married now, if you wish, we'll get by somehow, just don't send me away! Anne!" He pulled her, only half resisting, into his arms, and pressed kisses on her face, murmuring endearments. For one moment she melted into his embrace, and clung to him desperately, but then she wrenched herself free and turned away, leaving him with empty arms and a searing pain in his heart.
"I can't! Fredrick, please understand, it's not that I don't…." But he was already gone. Gone in anger and heartbreak and hurt pride, from her, from the country the next day, and very soon like a bat out of hell from England itself.The End