Never had Anne had so many seeking her ear and her counsel. But as much as things were different, many things remained unchanged.
Anne pulled her shawl around her shoulders more tightly and slipped outside, the sun still so low on the horizon, only the servants were about. A fresh breeze teased, begging her to come out and partake of the morning, a far more appealing invitation than Mary’s snores filtering from her open window. The violent, rasping roar had kept her up most of the night and it would be a pleasure to be free of it, even for a short time, before it was replace by Mary’s whining, nasal voice.
Anne hurried along the path that led to Uppercross’ gardens. There were few better places to enjoy the first rays of daylight. Mrs. Musgrove kept a spectacular array of flowers. Something always seemed to be blooming and filling the air with fragrance, a very cheerful place to seek solace for her frazzled nerves.
How very different Uppercross was to Kellynch, so very different. Neither her father nor Elizabeth cared one whit about her or her opinion. Unless they wanted something of her, no one spoke to her. Of course it was a trial…but perhaps there was some redeeming value in the isolation after all. She chuckled under her breath.
In some ways this place was quite the opposite. It appeared Uppercross was populated by those who wished desperately to talk to her. That was new and novel. But it was quite familiar in that its inhabitants willing as they were to speak, rarely if ever listened.
The difference was quite remarkable and took some effort to become accustomed to. Everyone, literally everyone, had to seek her out to express an opinion to her, sometimes under the guise of seeking hers. Not that any of them actually paused long enough to allow her to reply. Odder still, her silence was more often than not credited to her as some form of wisdom and great compassion when in truth all she had done was hold her piece and nod.
The throbbing had only just subsided when she slipped into the cottage kitchen to make Mary’s tea and the housekeeper found her. The water boiled, tea steeped and cooled to stone cold as the taciturn woman hinted at her mistress’ shortcomings. And the list was not brief. Anne squeezed her temples.
‘Could you, Miss Anne, help improve Mrs. Charles’ understanding on the difficulty of hiring and retaining help so that mayhaps she would refrain from yelling at the young maids so much? Oh and it would be ever so grand if the mistress would be a bit more liberal in allowing the servants to sell the extra food from dinners. That was, after all, the custom in most larger houses and that by not permitting it, Uppercross Cottage appeared to great disadvantage in the neighborhood.
When had Anne become a font of wisdom on such matters?
And the housekeeper was not the only denizen of Uppercross who wished wisdom imparted upon Mrs. Charles. What had she already been asked? Perhaps Mrs. Charles might be convinced not to pursue precedence so forcefully, not to complain so much, not to compare the company to that which she knew at Kellynch. It might be pleasing for her to rein in her children better, to make an effort to be more agreeable when she called upon the great house, to recognize that it was not below her to occasionally call upon Mr. Charles’ Aunt Hayter with him.
Did any of them realize how little influence she had over her sister? Nearly as little as with her father and Elizabeth. She pinched the bridge of her nose and shook her head. How frustrated must they be to believe she could accomplish what they could not?
A patch of white flowers—what were they called? They grew at Kellynch as well—caught her eye. Mother had loved those, often bringing them into to decorate her rooms. Even Father had been known to smile when he saw them. Mary may have brought them with her when she married Charles.
Anne sighed. She had overheard Louisa whisper to Henrietta how much happier they all would have been had Charles married her instead of Mary. How strange to think someone actually wanted her company above someone else’s.
What would it have been like, all these years later? Would she have had sons and be afraid more children would come? Might she have had daughters, whom she could cherish and teach as he mother had?
Would she sit across the table from her husband, sharing banal conversation interspersed with dull complaints and rolled eyes? Might she be pleased when he kept away from the house most of the day or would she miss his presence?
Perhaps she and Charles might have been more amiable, even fond of one another by this time. He was a good man, of steady character and good reputation. They would likely have been good friends, further buoyed by the agreeableness of his mother and sisters.
But they would not have loved one another.
The familiar gaping hole in her chest opened once again and sent her staggering for the support of a nearby tree. No, she had felt love once, and good man though he was, Charles could never inspire that in her.
That would be reserved for one man alone. Fredrick.
Would that she could have it to do all over again. The bitter lessons she had learnt would be put to use and she would not permit herself to be persuaded by any but her own heart ever again. But that was but a pipe dream, one that could serve no use but to remind her of what was forever gone.
She drew in a ragged breath, then another. The heat in her chest cooled and the tightness in her throat eased. She must not look back, there was no hope there. Only forward, she must turn her eyes there. That was the only direction where she had a modicum of control, the only direction she could change.
For now, forward was the direction of Uppercross. At least she had pleasing companionship from the great house, and her company was much sought after. That was a rare pleasure in and of itself was it not?
“Anne! Anne, I am so pleased to have found you!” Henrietta dashed toward her, breathless, cheeks and eyes bright. “I just have to talk to you. I so need your opinion…”
Not that there was any chance she would actually be given a moment to offer it. Anne smiled. At least it was good to be asked.
Want to refresh your memory with Jane’s Austen’s original work? Read Persuasion on Austen variations HERE.