By Melinda Wellesley
Fiction For Real
Copyright © 2017 Melinda Wellesley.
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Fiction For Real
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Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes, and references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.
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Expectations: The Transformation of Miss Anne de Bourgh (Pride and Prejudice Continued), Volume 1 / Melinda Wellesley. -- 1st ed.
ISBN is embedded in the metadata.
This work is dedicated to the memory of my friend the gifted writer Sara Campbell, who believed that if you can’t fit pirates into your novel, you’re probably writing the wrong book.
Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken.
It is a truth universally understood—but never acknowledged—that an heiress with no husband and no prospects is an object of derision and pity.
And an heiress who had a prospect—for decades—but her intended was stolen away by a rival with no family, no money, and no connections, is so profoundly to be pitied that she must not be talked about, even behind her back.
Unless, of course, she is not in town.
And most definitely if she is the daughter of that imperious old harridan, Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
If there could be a saving grace in this, it would be that the object of society’s sporadic curiosity had never been a member of that society, and she had no idea that interest could be focused on someone none of the gossipers had ever seen. Miss Anne de Bourgh, the heir to magnificent Rosings Park in Kent and current possessor of indifferent health and a weak constitution, had only been to London four times in her life, and all before the age of ten. Now, as she faced the rapid approach of her thirtieth birthday, her attention could not be spared for people she did not know. She concentrated her thoughts on her family.
The gossips would have been surprised to know that in fact she gave little attention to her cousin, Fitzwilliam Darcy, to whom she had been engaged from her childhood up until three years ago. She had not seen him since months before he had broken their long-standing engagement arranged by their mothers in order to ask for the hand of the former Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
Instead, Anne dwelled on her mother, Lady Catherine, and her long-deceased father, Sir Lewis de Bourgh. In preparation for her daughter’s birthday, Lady Catherine had left for London two days ahead of a cold November rain, promising to return with gifts suitable for the occasion. Anne dreaded the prospect of what—or who—she would bring back. In the years since Darcy’s defection, Anne had been subjected to a meager parade of suitors brought to Rosings by her resolute mother. The difficulty in finding a suitable husband lay in her ladyship’s stubborn insistence on achieving a great dynastic alliance. Lady Catherine refused to discuss matrimonial matters with families in financial distress or parents who offered younger sons. Unfortunately, the families Lady Catherine considered worthy expressed no interest, and the only families willing to brave an association with the great lady were in such difficulties that Lady Catherine would have nothing to do with them. Over the years Lady Catherine had fetched a few young men to meet Anne, but they either balked upon meeting their prospective bride or subsequently earned the disapprobation of her ladyship in some other fashion and were summarily dismissed. Anne knew her mother had good intentions, but the humiliation Lady Catherine continually caused her was all she could bear. So Anne sat at Rosings and waited…waited for she knew not what.
Lately her thoughts had been turning more and more to her father, a man she barely remembered. Sir Lewis de Bourgh had died shortly after his thirtieth birthday, when Anne was four. Her memories were thin but pleasant, punctuated by loving recollections and silly moments so precious to a child. Her earliest recollection of him was one afternoon when her mother had gone visiting and, thinking he had no witnesses, he strode down the long gallery at Rosings singing a full chorus of Lili Bulero in his fine tenor voice. When he spotted Anne, who had slipped from the nursery and managed to crawl up into a hallway chair, he laughed and stopped before her. He proclaimed that he would not tell her mother about her eluding the nurse if she promised not to mention that he had been singing in the hall. As he picked her up, she asked him what was wrong about singing. “She thinks there is a time and place for everything, my little dear,” he explained as he continued on his way with her snug in his gentle arms. “But singing a mere folk song in a hallway, where servants and all the world might hear, ‘has no dignity.’ So let this be our secret.” In a quieter voice, and to her delight, he serenaded her the rest of the way down the long corridor.
Her last memory of him was so painful in comparison. When the physicians had given up hope, she was brought into his room to say goodbye. The ague had wasted him away, but he still had a smile for Anne as her nurse placed her on the edge of his bed. “My little dear,” he said, “be good and always listen to your mother. Do not give her trouble. But I know I need not say that. You have never given anyone a moment of trouble in your entire life.” The nurse picked her up to bring her close to him for a final kiss, and then the nurse carried her out of the room. Anne cried and begged to be brought back, but the wet-eyed servant ignored her pleading. A glance back revealed the physicians gathering around Sir Lewis as he closed his eyes and heaved a great, tearful sigh. At his bedside stood Lady Catherine, weeping. That was the last time Anne ever saw her mother cry.
Not long after he died, Anne became sick. At first the doctors thought she had caught his ague, but she got neither better nor worse. After consultations with many specialists in London, the physicians decided she had grown into a “constitutional weakness.” They told her mother that this was not uncommon in the nobility, and having her stay out of the dreadful London air would help restore her. Anne never left Rosings again. Even now her mother still hoped the confines of the country estate would return her to something resembling strength. For her sake, Anne did, too.
Lately, when Lady Catherine was away from Rosings, Anne had taken to having a servant bring a chair into the portrait gallery so she could sit and view the painting of her father. The image might have been accurate—she only remembered him through a child’s eyes, and she often doubted her memories—but she could find little familiar in the portrait. Formal, serious, standing with a large dog at his side and holding out his hand towards the image of Rosings in the Kentish background, he was represented in the customary pose of a proud landowner showing his newly-built home. Anne knew she favored him—a former housekeeper had once called them “two buds from the same rose bush”—but she could not see that in the painting, either. The image did not match the father she tried so hard to remember. Missing were his smiles, his playful glances, and his joy of life. Was the portrait so inaccurate, or was her memory so very faulty?
Sir Lewis had provided well for Anne and her mother, but his loss cast a shadow over both their lives. Lady Catherine had done her best to do the work of two parents, watching over Anne and giving her every consideration. For her twelfth birthday, Anne received from her mother the small phaeton that was still her favorite possession. She had had a doting governess in the widowed Mrs. Jenkinson, who stayed on as her companion and shepherd after the completion of Anne’s schooling. Her mother had also provided occasional tutors brought down from London to teach her a bit of language and science and the feminine arts of sewing, decorating, and flower arranging. Her mother had never asked her to do more than she was able. Anne could not be more grateful. And yet….
Anne admitted that her mother failed to comprehend the embarrassment her marital efforts had caused. The endless—and apparently futile—quest for a suitable husband was a humiliation. Only once did her mother seem to realize this. Over tea, a neighbor, Lady Metcalfe, suggested a suitable alternative to the lost Darcy would be Colonel Fitzwilliam, another of Anne’s cousins. The notion greatly vexed Lady Catherine, who declared to Lady Metcalfe that the good-natured colonel was “a second son and an obvious second choice.” For her to turn to another member of the family after Darcy’s decampment, her mother pronounced with inflamed pride, would be an admission that she could do no better. “We are a noble family with many fine prospects,” she retorted to the chagrined neighbor. “Under the current circumstances, to choose from within the family would be an embarrassment. I am astonished that you would even suggest such a thing.” Lady Catherine forgave Lady Metcalfe in the interest of their friendship, but she grumbled for weeks afterwards about the woman’s lack of good sense.
Now, as autumn faded and the first hints of winter appeared outside her window, Anne found herself thinking daily of her father. Everyone agreed that she was just like him. All had meant it as a compliment, and she had always taken it as such. But he had died shortly after his thirtieth birthday. Would she do the same? She held her handkerchief over her mouth and tried to suppress a cough. She felt that her health had been slipping lately. Even her mother had noticed. Were her mother’s extra attempts at conviviality this year a response to the fateful nature of her approaching birthday? Lady Catherine had never been given over to superstitions, but one could argue with neither history nor the calendar.
Anne shivered as she looked out the window of her bedroom, which overlooked the rain-soaked park behind the house. The approaching winter gave every indication that it would be long, cold, and wet. She picked up the letter from her cousin Elizabeth that had arrived in the morning post. She had already read it three times. After Darcy married Elizabeth, the former Miss Bennet had written to Anne, expressing her concern over causing her anguish at the loss of her betrothed. Anne had been astonished by the thoughtful gesture, and when she shared the letter with her mother, Lady Catherine had flown into a rage even as great as the one she unleashed on the world after Darcy announced his engagement. The lady snatched the letter from her startled daughter’s hands and threw it into the breakfast room’s fireplace. Later, in private, Anne wrote a reply to Elizabeth, thanking her for her kindness. But she included a warning not to write when Lady Catherine was at home, lest she spot the letter, and she added a promise to send Elizabeth word of her mother’s absences.
Anne had been a faithful correspondent with her new cousin, writing to Elizabeth nearly every week. She posted her letters in the town of Westerham instead of the closer Hunsford village, as their local postmaster felt a deep, personal responsibility to provide intelligence of all parish goings-on to Lady Catherine via the rector, the Reverend William Collins. Anne felt ashamed about her clandestine correspondence with a woman whose very name could not be mentioned at Rosings, but she was more forgiving than her mother, and Anne had gained great solace from writing to Elizabeth and the necessarily less frequent replies.
In truth, Anne had always been fond of Elizabeth, and even at first a little intimidated by her. When they met, long before anyone knew how much Darcy admired Miss Bennet, Anne had felt so unequal to the lively and confident visitor that she did not even dare speak to her unless necessity demanded it. A mere eleven evenings spent at dinner or in a sitting room at Rosings, all of which were of course dominated by her mother’s conversation, offered Anne only a slender knowledge of the friend of Mrs. Collins, the rector’s wife. Once Elizabeth opened the door to friendship, however, Anne found her former rival to be as pleasant and companionable as she could have hoped. Elizabeth’s letters were a treasured glimpse of the wider world described by the inhabitant of a joy-filled home. The woman Anne had come to know through her rich but infrequent letters had become a trusted, if secret, friend.
Elizabeth’s most recent letter had been written over the course of several weeks, as so many were while she waited to receive news from Anne that it was safe to send them. This latest related the happenings at Pemberley, the success of the harvest and how many fish her uncle had caught during his last visit. Elizabeth had also included a fine pair of gloves she had embroidered for Anne’s birthday. Anne found her work meticulous, even though Elizabeth apologized for several mistakes that Anne could not find. Anne wished she could show them to her mother, but she would have to hide them or lie about their source. She hated being dishonest with her mother, despite its being for the good of all. How dreadful would be the reckoning if she were caught! She would do her utmost to avoid such a calamity, for all their sakes.
The letter also contained a long section encouraging Anne to go out more. The best of the world could not always come to Rosings, Elizabeth wrote, so it would be up to Anne to go out and experience some of it. She could begin with small steps, such as going to Westerham on her own, or trying out some art she had never studied before.
Elizabeth’s suggestions weighed on Anne’s thoughts. With her health seemingly in decline, and her birthday rapidly approaching, Anne could not ignore the feeling that her life had begun slipping away from her. What if she did follow her father’s example? Viewing her life from an early deathbed, she would see nothing but regrets at missed opportunities. But if she did try to expand her life, just a little, where could she start? How could she know what would be right, and what would be safe enough to try? Normally she would consult with her mother, but in her heart she knew her mother would not approve. Of course, Lady Catherine had never told her she should not attempt new things, but neither had she encouraged her. That could only mean that her mother did not approve…or did it? It was all so vexing and stultifying.
A knock on the door sent Anne into a panic as she hid Elizabeth’s letter. If one of the maids saw it, she could not be counted on to keep it a secret from her mother. She bade the person enter, and a maid announced that she had visitors. Anne glanced out the window at the rain. Who would travel in such miserable weather? The maid answered that her guests were the Fairfax sisters, who were in the winter sitting room. Elated to hear of her friends’ arrival, Anne threw on a second shawl and headed downstairs.
The Fairfax sisters, Emily and Frances, were the daughters of the de Bourghs’ nearest neighbors and Lady Catherine’s closest friend. A few years younger than Lady Catherine, Lady Fairfax was simple enough to arouse no jealousy and clever enough to know when not to speak her mind. Lady Catherine also approved of the girls, who were more energetic than pretty and who both presented an abundance of good sense around their elders. During the lady’s absences, however, the lively girls acted younger than their ages of twenty and eighteen. Good-natured and fond of laughter, they were welcome companions for their quiet friend.
The pair exchanged greetings with Anne and were quick to answer her question of why they would travel on such a gloomy day. “Oh, Anne,” said Emily, “we have had the most splendid morning. Papa hired for us the most wonderful dancing master!”
Frances interrupted before her sister could continue. “He knows everything, Anne! Every dance! Every gesture! Every courtesy! He is a hundred times better than the masters we have had before. Oh, by the start of the season we shall know everything!”
Miss Fairfax continued, “Monsieur taught at Versailles.”
Frances clarified, “He did not teach the king or his children, but he was the dancing instructor for some of the very best families at court.”
Emily added, “And Monsieur is a most amiable man, and his wife teaches singing—”
“—Although,” Frances interrupted with energy, “we are not supposed to mention that Madame is his wife, because dancing masters are not supposed to be married, so silly women can flirt with them.”
“Not that Monsieur is young,” the elder sister added with a frown of disbelief. “I do not know who would want to flirt with him.”
Frances concluded, “And we wanted to invite you to come tomorrow to attend our lesson. It will be such fun.”
The dizzying explosion of conversation over, Anne pondered their offer. Dancing lessons! She had been especially sick at the age when she should have started with a master. After two years of not having the strength to try, Anne had felt no small relief when Lady Catherine quietly dropped the notion. Of course, Anne was too old now and still too ill to dance, but how she would enjoy watching her friends have a lesson, especially from such a distinguished teacher. She accepted their offer, and they told her when to arrive. Anne invited them to stay for tea, but they wanted to hurry home before the roads became too muddy.
At supper, Miss de Bourgh shared the news of her invitation with Mrs. Jenkinson. Her companion, who hovered over her with more zeal than any mother hen, expressed her pleasure at their thoughtfulness but worried about the weather. “Are you sure you want to go out in this rain? I think this cold blow will be with us for another day or two. You do not want to expose yourself when you have been so tired lately.”
“I shall take the landau. The windows will be a fine protection.”
Mrs. Jenkinson, who had more worries than imagination, offered, “Perhaps you can go another day, when the weather is better. I am sure the Misses Fairfax will understand.” She then encouraged Anne to have a little more of the soup while it was still warm.
Anne said, “But I will not be in the elements for more than a minute or two. I will take great care not to get wet.”
Mrs. Jenkinson said with great, sad solemnity, “Miss, your mother would never forgive me if I let you expose yourself to such weather.” As that seemed to settle the matter, she returned to her own soup.
Anne had no argument against that. She looked at her meal, no longer hungry.
Anne de Bourgh did not sleep easily that night. The rain had stopped, but a stout wind rattled her bedroom windows. More disturbing than the wind, however, was the storm brewing in her mind. She wanted to accept the invitation from the Fairfax sisters. Emily and Frances would be so disappointed if she sent her regrets after promising to be there. She could bundle up against any wind for the mile to Fairfax House. More importantly, she was nearly thirty years old. Why could she not make this decision for herself? …Why did the others treat like a child?
She looked at her desk, where the letter from Elizabeth lay safely hidden. Her cousin’s encouragement to go out and try new activities echoed in her thoughts. Anne wanted to do so. What had she gained by sitting here, waiting? Nothing. In fact, she had lost a great many things she thought she had: a marriage, time, a future….
That settled it. She would go.
If she could convince Mrs. Jenkinson to let her.
At breakfast, Anne hoped the conversation would turn towards the day’s scotched plans so she could introduce her idea, but Mrs. Jenkinson was content to eat in silence. So Anne summoned all her courage and announced that since the rain had passed and the overnight wind had eased, she would go to Fairfax House as she had originally planned. When her companion started a counterpoint, Anne simply told her to arrange for the landau and helped herself to another egg. She tried to hide her quaking as she ate, waiting for Mrs. Jenkinson to object, but she thrilled when the woman sighed and rang the bell to fetch a footman. Anne almost could not believe it. Had she sounded enough like her mother to command such immediate compliance?
There was no question but that Mrs. Jenkinson would accompany her to the dancing lesson. In truth, Anne did not mind her shepherd’s extra attention. The rain held off, but the wind was colder than she had expected. Despite the protection of the landau’s roll-down windows, she felt grateful for the extra blankets Mrs. Jenkinson had arranged to have waiting for them inside. Anne was shivering by the time they arrived at Fairfax House, but a roaring blaze in the front entry’s main fireplace soon had her warmed up.
The sisters chatted and laughed as they escorted their two visitors to the drawing-room. While she sipped a welcome cup of hot tea, Anne trembled with anticipation as she looked at the pianoforte. Music…and dancing! She had heard about balls and assemblies. Dancing seemed like such a pleasant pastime. How wonderful to see it, and to have it explained so she would understand what the sisters were doing.
Some minutes later arrived the man of the hour. Monsieur Saint-Vancomy and his accompanist in life and lessons, Madame Saint-Vancomy, brought with them an agreeable young man introduced as their son. The refugees of the Revolution greeted the two guests with every courtesy. Monsieur and Madame were of a middling age, more stout than lean, although Monsieur had fine legs as befit a man who made his living from their strength, and both dressed in the sophisticated fashion of a France that existed only in their memories. Their foppish elegance seemed a little jarring for so early in the day, but Anne concluded that this must be the appropriate attire for disciples of Terpsichore. Their son, Stephane, preferred simpler and more current English fashion. He flirted in gentle tones with Frances Fairfax, eliciting blushes and giggles from the younger girl.
Monsieur Saint-Vancomy invited the two new ladies to be a part of the lesson if they wished. Both declined. Anne assumed a free lesson would be a wonderful way to encourage more paying students, although she thought he seemed genuinely happy to have them join in.
The lesson began with a review of the previous day’s class. Monsieur stood with Emily and Stephane with Frances, and to a familiar tune played by Madame they walked through an elegant, dignified dance.
Anne was enraptured. She glanced at Mrs. Jenkinson, who smiled and nodded in time to the music. Anne suspected her former governess was recalling social interludes from her youth. With no such memories of her own, Anne studied the moves, the gestures, the steps, the turns. The Fairfax sisters were apt pupils, and they moved through the dance with confidence and delight. How Anne envied them. If only she had the stamina for exercise. She could not imagine how blissful life would be if she could do such things!
The review completed, Monsieur Saint-Vancomy moved on to the next lesson, a more vigorous dance with many hops and skips. Monsieur was all encouragement as the girls mimicked him in his elegant leaps and ornamentations, and at Stephane’s nod of approval both girls smiled and blushed. Anne felt amazed at their ability to keep up with the dance’s demands. She would surely collapse if asked to do so much, and yet her friends skipped across the floor as if it were nothing.
With the moves memorized, they put the dance together to a sparkling accompaniment from Madame, who gave an occasional smiling glance over her shoulder at the students. Emily laughed at a step in the wrong direction, and Monsieur took no offense and sent her back on the right course. Happiness, energy, and music filled the room. More than anything, Anne wanted to experience this congenial activity. She wanted to be able to dance.
After a repeat of the exercise, the students and instructor paused for a rest. Over tea, Mrs. Jenkinson whispered to Anne, “He is a good teacher. How I wish I were younger.”
Emily and Frances joined their guests. “Is he not wonderful?” Emily exclaimed. “Is he not the best teacher ever?”
Frances added in a whisper, “And Stephane!” Her giggle explained her thoughts about the handsome assistant.
Emily asked Anne, “Are you not glad you braved the weather?”
“Oh, yes!” she replied. “This is wonderful. How often do they come to your home?”
“Every day at this same hour,” Emily replied, “except on Sundays. He has two other students he visits later in the day, but I think they only have a class once or twice a week.”
Anne marveled. Every day they did this! If she had the strength to do this even once a month, she would be content. She feared this would be a terrible imposition on her friends, but she found the courage to ask. “Would it be all right if I came tomorrow?”
Frances exclaimed, “Oh, Anne, come every day if you wish! It would be wonderful to have you. Please take lessons with us.”
Emily gave her younger sister a cautioning gaze, which she did not understand.
Anne did understand. Her weakness would never allow her to partake in their delight. But, oh, how she wanted to try this! With her friends, there would be no public embarrassment. “Yes, thank you, I would like to do that.”
Frances expressed her glee, but Emily seemed surprised. “Are you sure you are up to it?”
“I will only know if I try,” Anne replied. Perhaps that was more wish than reality, but she would attempt a lesson if both her friends agreed.
The sisters went to discuss the matter with Monsieur Saint-Vancomy, and Anne noticed Mrs. Jenkinson’s frown. “Are you quite sure?” the companion asked. “You have been so unwell lately. I would regret having you overexert yourself, especially with winter coming on.”
Anne’s doubts began to gather. What was she thinking? …What would her mother say?
She shrank from her bold intentions as a beaming Monsieur Saint-Vancomy approached her. “Mademoiselle, I am most pleased to hear you wish to join with your friends.”
“Well, I thought I would,” she said, doubting herself more and more.
Monsieur said, “You will be a most wonderful addition to our group. I have a second son who is most eager to enter the family profession. You will make him most happy.”
Anne retreated further. “But I do not believe I shall be able to keep up. I have not been in good health.”
He said, “Then we shall start with only the slowest of dances. What experience do you have?”
Monsieur Saint-Vancomy blinked with surprise. “Mademoiselle has never danced?”
She apologized. “As I said, I have not been in good health.” She knew now how terrible this idea had been. She must withdraw immediately.
“Then Mademoiselle has given me a great honor, to allow me to be her first teacher,” he said with a sincere bow.
She closed her eyes. She knew she should say no, but with this she would now disappoint Monsieur as well as her friends. How had she gotten herself into such a predicament? Not knowing how she could do this, she nodded.
Despite Mrs. Jenkinson’s strenuous and logical objections, Anne returned to Fairfax House the next day for her first dancing lesson—with her shepherd by her side, of course. Anne had passed a fitful night, worrying about everything she knew she would do wrong. Surely there were a hundred mistakes she could and would make. How embarrassed her friends would be when she took a misstep or turned left when she should turn right. She had worried herself into a knotted stomach and only a few hours of sleep. However, as much as she wanted to send her regrets, she did not. She would fail, and then she would get this foolish notion out of her head, and she would go home and stifle any further silly ideas if they arose.
Her hands trembled when the Saint-Vancomy family arrived at their appointed time. Introduced to her was the second son, Philippe, who would be Emily’s partner for the class. Monsieur would take the honor of being Anne’s partner. Anne knew it would be an honor dearly bought by the time the class finished.
Under Mrs. Jenkinson’s watchful gaze, Anne stood and joined her smiling friends in the center of the room. She said a silent prayer that she not make a complete fool of herself as Monsieur Saint-Vancomy addressed the group. “Since we have a new student, we will refresh with that most dignified and noble of dances, the minuet.”
Anne had heard of the elegance of the minuet, and on many occasions she had listened to Mrs. Jenkinson play them on the pianoforte in her room. But the movements were a complete mystery to her.
As the sisters stood next to their partners and took their hands, Monsieur Saint-Vancomy joined Anne. He bid her watch the couples, and told her to pay attention to when they stepped and when they paused.
Madame Saint-Vancomy began a slow accompaniment, and the two pairs of dancers began their graceful steps. Now that details mattered, Anne was perplexed. She could not follow what they did. Monsieur stayed with her and pointed out the rhythms. “Can mademoiselle see what they are doing?”
She could see what, but she could not see how. Oh, what a terrible blunder, thinking she could dance. She wanted to flee back to her chair.
But Monsieur took her hand and held it up in the dance pose. “Let us try now.”
As her friends glided through the sophisticated dance, Anne tried to imitate them with all the desperation of a doomed buffoon. Staring at their feet, she hesitated when she should have stepped and stepped when she should have waited. Why was this rhythm so complex? She forced herself to try harder. Smiling glances back from Emily and Frances did not help. She wanted to give them a nod, but she lost count of the rhythm and misstepped. She picked up the count again and doubled her concentration.
Monsieur Saint-Vancomy paused, then stopped. “Mademoiselle, please, relax. Do not try so hard.”
Only then did Anne apprehend the ferocity of her grip on his hand. She released him with a sharp breath. She could not look at him and returned her concentration on the sisters’ feet.
After several moments, Monsieur Saint-Vancomy asked her to stop. She regarded him with dread. She knew he would send her back to the periphery of the room where she belonged. Instead, in a kindly tone, he said, “Mademoiselle, you try too hard. The dance is first and foremost an act of joy. You are not happy now. Being correct will come from practice, but you will not practice if you do not have joy. I want you to be happy.”
As his words sunk in, Anne looked at the sisters’ movements, but she could no longer see them. Tears filled her eyes, and she began to weep. The music stopped, and her friends gathered around her with questions and exclamations and Monsieur’s surprised apologies as Mrs. Jenkinson appeared at her side with a handkerchief. Despite all the heartfelt concern around her, Anne could not answer their entreaties about her distress. She could only cry.
Anne stayed in her room until supper. Mrs. Jenkinson tried several times to have her come downstairs and enjoy the pale sunlight in the south-facing sitting room, but she refused. She was fine, she explained, she merely needed some quiet time to think. With deep concern, Mrs. Jenkinson left her alone but promised to return.
Anne knew why she had cried, even though she could not answer the others’ many questions about it. She cried because Monsieur Saint-Vancomy was the first person who had ever told her that he wanted her to be happy. No one had ever spoken those words to her before. Of course, people wished her well, especially her mother, who did everything in her power to make Anne happy. But no one had ever said it.
How had Anne become so removed from the world that people did not talk to her as they did to others? Everyone spoke to her with care, with guarded words, or with cautioning glances as Emily had done to her sister yesterday. No one talked to her openly, freely. No one spoke the truth. Anne felt hollow, like a pitcher or vase on the shelf. She was not a real person, just some mantel ornament. Was she so unworthy of attention? Had she shrunk away from others so much that they did not think of her as a person? Everyone she knew seemed to accept her as she was, an incomplete imitation of a human. No one wished her happiness. Perhaps no one thought she could be happy.
Anne spent the afternoon looking at her life. She had done nothing. Everything had been done for her, or to her, from her engagement to her future inheritance to her broken betrothal. She received things both good and bad in life, but she had never taken any action of consequence. She did not choose her friends, she did not decide who would come to visit Rosings. She never selected what would be served at meals; even when her mother was away, Lady Catherine planned out all the menus in advance. The most Anne ever did was decide to drive her phaeton on some days and not on others, but even then the weather dictated her actions. Most of the time she did not even choose what she wore. Her mother told her what would be appropriate for the day or the company. She was passive, inert. The very thought of living another day like this sickened her. It was almost as if she did not exist.
By the time Anne descended to dinner, she had made several decisions. Despite Mrs. Jenkinson’s well-meant objections, Anne would continue to attend the dancing lessons at Fairfax House. She would talk with Madame Saint-Vancomy about music lessons. Anne felt that she could sing. When someone played music and she thought no one could hear her, Anne would hum quietly to herself, and to her own ear she was in tune. But she had never tried to sing in front of anyone else. With Madame’s help, she would find out if she could. If she had no singing voice, she would try musical lessons on an instrument. Her cousin Georgiana Darcy played both the pianoforte and the harp. Perhaps she would try both.
Her main resolution was simple but profound: For the first time in her life, she would try.
The Fairfax sisters and Saint-Vancomy family were pleased to see Anne return for the next day’s class. Frances confessed that she feared Anne would not attend, and she was ever so grateful that she had, because it was so much jollier with her there. Anne could not put words to how much this simple sentiment cheered her.
In her honor, they practiced the minuet again. After the previous evening’s dinner, Anne had asked Mrs. Jenkinson to play some minuets for her so she could review the rhythm. When Anne counted out the beat from the safety of her chair, the paused steps made sense. But now that she moved with the music, they baffled her. She forced herself not to worry about errors. She would do her absolute best, but she had determined that she would not be embarrassed about her many mistakes. Monsieur Saint-Vancomy appeared pleased by her change in attitude and encouraged her with no criticism as she counted in her head and concentrated on the feet of the Fairfax sisters. She concentrated so hard, in fact, that it was not until the dance ended that she realized Lady Fairfax had come into the drawing-room. Seeing her mother’s friend sent Anne into a spasm of chagrin, and she hurried to her chair next to Mrs. Jenkinson. Lady Fairfax, however, was all smiles as she approached the two guests. “My dear, how wonderful to see you dancing! But I had the understanding from your mother that you were under a doctor’s orders not to exert yourself unnecessarily with dance.”
Anne knew that to be just the type of excuse her mother would make on her behalf. “I saw no harm in trying something slow.” Only then did Anne remember Lady Fairfax’s fondness for sharing news, and surely word of this would find its way back to Rosings. She would have to address it with her mother first so it would not be so obvious that she was doing this behind her back.
Monsieur looked to Anne to see if she wished to try the next dance, but she needed to catch her breath and shook her head. Monsieur announced a review of the spirited dance from the day before, and the reduced group began again.
Lady Fairfax sat next to Anne and watched her daughters. “It is so pleasing to see the girls making progress. Their former dancing master had none of Monsieur’s grace. The girls will be so much improved this season in London. I shall not be able to keep them off the dance floor!” She regarded Anne with a fond eye. “Will you be coming to London this year? That would be a splendid change, to have you in society.”
Anne had never thought of that impossible—albeit logical—next step. A hundred doubts flooded her mind. Could she go? Would her mother mock Lady Fairfax’s well-meant suggestion? Would she be able to tolerate the dreadful London air? …Would she face the embarrassment of running into Mr. and Mrs. Darcy in town? “I think not. Perhaps next year.”
“Well, dear,” said Mrs. Fairfax, “do keep the thought in mind. You never know how things will turn out.”
After practicing two more sprightly dances, the group stopped for a rest. The sisters came over to Anne and complimented her improvement with the minuet. Emily asked her if she knew what her mother was bringing her from London for her birthday. She had heard from her mother that it would be something special. Anne said she did not, still dreading the possibilities. Frances went into raptures over what she would want for her birthday if she could have anything. “Mamma, I know you think I am silly, but I would so like to travel. Now that we are at peace with Napoleon, so many from England have gone to Europe. What a wonderful idea! I would love to see Paris.”
“Nonsense,” her mother sniffed. “It is nothing like what it was since the Revolution. There is nothing of value to be seen there now.”
Frances lamented her mother’s statement. “But I should still like to see it, just the same. How wonderful it would be to go somewhere warm for the winter!”
Monsieur joined their group. “If I may say, Mademoiselle, the climate in Paris is not much better than here in the wintertime. If you wish to be warm, you must go to the south of France or Italy.”
Emily and Frances both lit up. “Italy!” Frances exclaimed. “Mamma, how wonderful would it be to travel to Italy!”
Emily added, “I should very much like to see the city of Pompeii. How intriguing to think of an ancient city buried under the soil like that. Anne, you like history. Would you not like to see it?”
Anne indeed would like to see that, and so much more. Before this spring’s Treaty of Amiens, there had been no chance to think about going to the continent. Even with peace now at hand, Anne never dared dream of travelling. But to be warm all winter, and to see another country, and be in a place other than the too-familiar confines of Rosings Park, what a pleasant dream. “Yes, it would be wonderful to see a place so rich in history.”
Both daughters entreated their mother for a trip to Italy over the winter, but Lady Fairfax scoffed at the idea and admonished her girls. “There is no trusting Napoleon. Signing a treaty with him means nothing. War could erupt again at any time. And you do not want to be so far from home when it does!” She looked at the dancing master, whose expression was thoughtful. “Monsieur Saint-Vancomy, you certainly would not go to France, would you? It is not safe.”
Monsieur nodded with caution. “I would not go, but only because it would bring up too many sad memories for me and Madame. My family lost so much. My sons barely remember the place of their birth. For them, to see their homeland, I would go, but for myself, no.”
This proved not to be the resounding agreement Lady Fairfax had hoped for, but she would entertain no further entreaties from her girls for so outlandish a scheme and left the drawing-room.
Emily said, “Oh, Anne, would it not be wonderful if you could go? Just think of it—Italy! Rome, and Florence, and Naples! To be warm all winter! I have heard so many nice things about the climate of Naples from Mr. Fontinelli. We told you about the ice cream shop he owns in Maidstone. You really should go with us to eat there. Although it is past time to eat ice cream this year. Next summer, you must go with us. Surely Lady Catherine will not object. Eating cold food on a warm day is not so very bad for you as she thinks.”
Anne surprised herself by bristling at the idea that her mother would determine such a minor activity for her. Of course, it was the truth. Her mother objected to a great many things, and as a result Anne did not do them. She had always lived her life that way. Why did her heart protest now?
The sisters quizzed Monsieur Saint-Vancomy about his travels, and he said he had visited Rome and Naples as a young man. Naples in particular had a fond spot in his heart, because of all unlikely places that was where he had met the woman who became his wife. Madame paged through her music sheets at the pianoforte, but she giggled like a girl at that mention. The sisters wanted to know more, but Monsieur thought their lesson time would be better spent dancing. Anne joined them for a stately dance, and then she watched the rest of the lesson and thought. Being warm, and sitting in the sunshine—what a lovely idea! She pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders. She hated winter. She hated being cold. She dreaded the coming months for so many reasons. She wanted to get away. She felt no comfort with the idea of staying in France, which so lately had been an implacable enemy, but the lure of Italy could not be ignored. Sunny Italy, warm Italy. It seemed impossible, but was it? If England’s leaders had thought enough of Napoleon’s word to sign a peace treaty with him, and so many people thought it safe to travel to France and the rest of the continent, who was she to think all of them wrong and stay home?
As Anne and Mrs. Jenkinson traveled back to Rosings, Mrs. Jenkinson talked about the lesson and the cold turn in the weather. Anne did not listen. She thought about Italy. She wanted to go. But she could not plan beyond the one thing that could keep her from going—her mother. Anne could afford the costs, as she had money from her father. She also had the time—even if she needed to travel slowly for her health, it could be done. A winter and spring away from the dark and gloom of Kent would be such a tonic. If only she could convince her mother that it would be for the best.
If she did convince her mother, would Lady Catherine want to go with her? That seemed unlikely. Her mother was settled in her life and her routine. She would stay in Kent for the holidays, then go to London for January and February to visit with her family, especially her brother the earl and his sons, and then she would return to Rosings for Lent and to oversee the start of the crops. After Easter she would go to London for several weeks, and then she would come home in time to instruct the tenants about the first haying. Her mother loved the routines of her life. What would she say when…if…Anne told her? She thought of their conversation at dinner the night before her mother left on this trip to London. The Reverend and Mrs. Collins were present, but as usual they offered little in the way of conversation. Lady Catherine had been in a playful mood, talking about her trip and assuring Anne that she would have presents worthy of her daughter when she returned. She then said that if there was anything that Anne wanted, all she had to do was ask and she would provide it. Anne had not been able to think of anything she wanted at the time. Now she wanted something. Surely her mother had something less grandiose in mind, but she had said “anything,” and in front of witnesses. Anne would remind her of this, if she found the courage to speak up.
The next morning, Anne posted a letter to the office of her mother’s legal representative in London. Mr. Barkin, Sir Gerald Pinzey’s chief clerk, had written to her several times over the years, asking if she wanted to spend any of the money her father had left her. The interest continued to accrue, and she might as well spend it. In her letter she asked him about the costs to travel and stay in Italy for six months and how quickly Sir Gerald could provide the funds. She also told him to keep this inquiry in confidence, even though she feared her mother would find out anyway.
For the next fortnight, Anne went to Fairfax House for every dance lesson. She offered to pay Monsieur Saint-Vancomy for her part in the lessons, but he said with great civility that he could not accept since she only partook in one or two dances each time. So Anne offered the money to Madame Saint-Vancomy, who accepted with a gracious curtsey.
Anne learned every slow dance, and she tried one of the faster ones. However, her stamina gave out and she had to sit down with trembling legs before the dance finished. Mrs. Jenkinson tended to her, but to Anne’s relief her shepherd did not scold her for trying. She noticed her former governess appeared to take pleasure in watching her efforts, and even when she fumbled a dance or felt exhausted on the way home, Mrs. Jenkinson never reproached her. Perhaps Anne deceived herself, but she felt that somehow during this time Mrs. Jenkinson’s loyalty might be shifting to her and away from Lady Catherine, at least a little.
At the end of one lesson, Anne asked Madame if she would be willing to give her voice lessons. The grand dame of music was all smiles and asked Anne to sing her favorite song to demonstrate what talent she already had. To her embarrassment, Anne could only think of a single tune, Lili Bulero, but she could remember none of the words. So Madame played five notes on the pianoforte and asked Anne to repeat them. She did this several times to the best of her ability, and with diplomatic reluctance Madame told her that she had a sweet voice and a clear tone, but she lacked the breath to sing well. Madame suggested that she work on building up her strength, and then they could discuss this again next year. Disappointed—and knowing that her strength would be hard to find, let alone increase—Anne agreed.
During the final week of Lady Catherine’s absence, Anne came down with a cold and had to miss her last chance for lessons. Wrapped up in blankets and sitting by a roaring fire in Mrs. Jenkinson’s room, she had her former governess play on her pianoforte the tunes of the dances she had learned so she could practice in her mind. At night, after she retired to her room, she reread the letter from Sir Gerald Pinzey himself, congratulating her on her plans to travel and detailing the costs. He assured her that obtaining sufficient money would be no problem, as long as her mother agreed to the transaction as she had ultimate authority over the accounts. Anne also practiced in her thoughts several arguments that she hoped might win over her mother. She had written to Elizabeth about her hopes of traveling to Italy for the winter, and her cousin had responded with such praise for the scheme that Anne almost felt as if she could succeed.
However, on the day before Lady Catherine’s scheduled return, Anne received a letter from her mother that overthrew her confidence. Her mother wrote that she had arranged for a dinner party on the night of her return, the guests had all accepted, and the menu had been selected. She promised Anne a great surprise.
Huddled before the fire in Mrs. Jenkinson’s room, Anne could only fear the worst. In order to write with such assurance, she must have found another suitor. Her mother would parade him before the neighbors, knowing they would spread the news throughout the county. Perhaps her cold would spare her the embarrassment of the scene, but she was getting better and that excuse might not work.
Lady Catherine arrived the next midday. With dread in her heart, Anne stood in the entryway with Mrs. Jenkinson and the rest of the servants to greet her. As she ascended the steps, Lady Catherine was indeed accompanied by a young man. However, unlike her other would-be suitors, this man spoke to Lady Catherine with ease and smiles. The well-dressed man looked to be in his early thirties, and, while not classically handsome, he exuded a calm confidence that Anne found most pleasing.
The mystery of the gentleman was solved after they entered the building. With exultation, Lady Catherine introduced him to Anne as Dr. Josiah Minton. She crowed about stealing him away from the best families in London to bring him to Rosings as Anne’s personal physician.
Dr. Minton made a low and gracious bow. “Miss de Bourgh,” the physician said in a well-modulated voice, “I have heard so much about you from your mother that I feel we are already acquainted. I look forward to serving you.”
Anne held her handkerchief over her mouth and coughed lightly. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Minton.”
Anne watched as her mother presented her new physician to the servants as the brightest young star in London’s medical community. His gracious and charming manner won approval from all. Perhaps he was handsome, Anne thought. She felt a little flummoxed. Her own doctor! In truth, he would not be her own. She would have to share his attention with her mother, who had developed a few nagging complaints. Now the dinner guest list made sense. The three families included the most proficient gossips in this part of Kent. News about her mother’s coup in luring such a great man from London would travel far and wide. He would be Anne’s physician, but he would also be Lady Catherine’s opportunity to display her social prowess. For Anne, that would be no sacrifice. Having a full-time doctor was more of a responsibility than she knew how to bear.
As his bags were delivered to his room, Dr. Minton joined Lady Catherine, Anne, and Mrs. Jenkinson in the winter sitting room for tea. Lady Catherine had been talking about who called on her in London, the latest news about people Anne had never met, and her efforts to track down the doctor whom all the society ladies had praised to the stars. Bringing him out of London—and away from all those doting doyennes—was her singular triumph, and she could not say enough about it. Anne wanted to mention her dancing classes to her mother before the dinner guests arrived, but she realized she would have no chance.
In the sitting room, Dr. Minton listened to Lady Catherine with great deference, and he smiled at all the right times and even colored when she praised his skills in treating Lady Willoughby’s gout. “I assure you, madam,” he protested, “there was nothing extraordinary about that lady’s illness. Her treatment was the usual recommendation. I did nothing noteworthy.”
“To hear her talk,” said Lady Catherine, “one would think you parted the heavens and had the saints at your beck and call.” Dr. Minton demurred with suitable modesty and made a small move to reply, but Lady Catherine continued, “Yes, Anne, I knew he would be just the man to revive your health. If he could treat Lady Willoughby’s unending case of gout so easily, imagine what he can do for you.”
Lady Catherine went on in this manner for another ten minutes, and then, satisfied that she had made her point, she asked her daughter how she had been during her absence, as she gave the appearance of having a cold. Anne relayed that she had indeed been somewhat ill but the apothecary had seen to her needs. Her mother scoffed, saying that now as they had a physician, a mere mixer of herbs would no longer be needed. She then asked if anything interesting had happened while she was away.
Anne hesitated as Mrs. Jenkinson looked at her. She had planned for this moment for days, but now it was upon her too soon. She would have to begin carefully. “The Fairfax sisters have a new dancing master.”
“Oh, they came to tell you this? They are attentive friends, indeed.” Lady Catherine smiled with great condescension. “I suppose they tried to convince you to observe their lessons.”
Anne should not have doubted her mother’s acuity, but she was surprised at her words. “Yes, they did. …And I went.”
Her mother’s patronizing smile faded. “You did? Is that how you caught that cold?”
Anne was trying to summon a defense when Dr. Minton came to her rescue. “I recommend light dancing for all my patients who are able to participate. It is beneficial for the lungs, as well as the sinews and muscles. The exercise also helps to prevent illnesses. I imagine Miss de Bourgh would be sicker now if she had not been to the lessons.”
Lady Catherine eyed him with mild disapproval. “Sir, you make the false assumption that she actually danced, rather than merely watched. Anne has not had the strength to dance in many years.”
“…Actually, I did participate in the slowest dances,” Anne said with a shudder of fear.
Her mother regarded her. “You did? You attempted to dance? I shall have to talk with Sir Robert and Lady Fairfax this evening about the effrontery of their girls to entice you into such foolish behavior.”
With Mrs. Jenkinson watching her, Anne mustered a reply. “I chose to go, Mamma. I wanted to see the lesson, and after watching the first time I thought I should like to try it myself. I did not exert myself. Mrs. Jenkinson will attest to that.” Her companion’s nod gave Anne some much-needed assurance.
“I see,” her mother replied with a thoughtful frown. “Well, perhaps the doctor is right. Modest exertion might be good for you.” A smile grew. “I remember when I was young, I attended every ball, and I never once wanted for a partner….”
As the talk now revolved around her mother’s former social life, Anne noticed that Dr. Minton was watching her instead of her mother. At first she wondered if he was examining his new patient, but after a while she began to feel his interest could be as much personal as professional. She could not look at him. She had never had anyone pay such close attention to her before. It was…unsettling.
After Lady Catherine concluded her monologue of self-congratulation, she signaled the servants to remove the tea service and then regarded her fine young treasure. “Dr. Minton, I expect you wish to waste no time. You should conduct your first examination of Anne now, before the guests arrive.”
Anne hoped she did not blush.
Dr. Minton nodded, then asked Miss de Bourgh permission to sit next to her. She nodded. He moved to the chair next to her, and he was about to ask her a question when he looked at Lady Catherine. The woman had not stirred from her chair, and she watched him with the keenest interest. “Madam,” he said with polite deference, “medical examinations are a confidential matter between the physician and the patient.”
Lady Catherine frowned. “Are you insinuating that I should leave?”
“It is the standard practice,” the doctor replied evenly. “Her woman should stay. But everyone else must go and allow Miss de Bourgh the privacy to speak freely.”
Lady Catherine’s frown grew deeper. “Sir, I am her mother. And I am paying you. I have every right to be present.” She did not move.
Anne’s embarrassment grew. She had no surprise, but she still felt grieved by her mother’s insistence. Dr. Minton looked at Anne, then said with all politeness to her mother, “Lady Catherine, I am sure you want what is best for your daughter. I promise I shall give you a full report when I have completed my examination.” He then regarded the lady with silent concentration, making it clear that he would proceed no further while she stayed in the room.
Lady Catherine glared at him, but after some thought she yielded. She stood, then announced, “I shall be in my library, consulting with the cook about tonight’s meal.” She swept out of the room.
Anne blinked in amazement. No one had ever made her mother do something she did not want with such civility. Perhaps Dr. Minton did have the saints at his beck and call.
For the next hour, under the watchful eyes of Mrs. Jenkinson, Dr. Minton asked Anne questions about her health, how much she ate, when she ate, her exercise habits, and two score other details. She answered every question, realizing as she heard her own words that she ate little and did even less. He checked her pulse and through a tube listened to her heart. He then stopped for a while and wrote down some notes. Anne wanted to read them, but he kept his paper at an angle that guaranteed privacy. He then asked Mrs. Jenkinson a few questions about Anne, mostly about the frequency of her illnesses, their severity and duration, and other details that an observer would be better qualified to answer.
As he spoke with Mrs. Jenkinson, Anne studied him. Underneath his polite and professional manner, he seemed genuinely to care. Most of her previous physicians showed more interest in her maladies than in her, but Dr. Minton seemed to focus all his attention on her wellbeing. No wonder he had been the toast of the London society ladies. The more she watched him, the better looking he grew. By the end of the interview, he had become quite handsome in her eyes. It might not be a burden after all to be the center of someone else’s attention.
When he finished, he declared her weak but not infirm. He had every hope that she could improve with the proper care. With a pleasing smile and apology for the necessity of leaving her, he departed to discuss his findings with Lady Catherine.
Anne was surprised to see Mrs. Jenkinson almost as excited as she herself felt. “Did you hear that, Miss? I cannot recall any other doctor being so hopeful! All those London specialists are nothing compared to him.”
Anne’s heart raced with excitement as she retired to her room to change for dinner. She could get better! Her only fear was that “the proper care” might be strenuous.
At dinner, surrounded by her guests, Lady Catherine basked in the glow of superior news and subservient company. Sir Robert and Lady Fairfax, their daughters, Mr. and Mrs. Simpson from Notting, the spinster Watkins sisters from Westerham, and the widowed Lady Metcalfe and her three oldest daughters listened with rapt attention as Lady Catherine told them about how she had whisked away the most popular doctor in London—at the beginning of the season, no less, and out of the clutches of society’s leading matrons—to grace their corner of Kent. Dr. Minton, who sat at the bottom of the table by her ladyship’s desire, merely smiled and nodded as she told and retold her story in stirring detail. Over dessert she concluded her heroic saga by saying that the doctor had high hopes of restoring Anne’s health.
At the mention of such a good report, young Frances Fairfax blurted out, “I hope Anne’s well enough by New Year’s to go to Italy!”
Lady Catherine focused a serious gaze on the girl. “Italy? Of what are you speaking?”
Frances cast an expression of embarrassed dismay at Anne. “Have you not told her?”
The grand lady eyed her daughter. “Tell me…what?”
In truth, Anne had forgotten discussing it with her after receiving Dr. Minton’s encouraging diagnosis. “It was something we talked about. No plans have been made.”
Emily saw her chance to skirt her mother’s certain disapproval and turned to the soft-hearted Sir Robert. “Papa, if Anne goes to Italy for the winter, may we go with her? You have told us so many nice things about Naples when you went on your Grand Tour. And both of your aunts went when they were young, so we know it is right for girls to go, too. We should ever so much like to see it now that peace has come.”
All the parents at the table reacted with surprise, while all the younger people were pictures of hope and anticipation, even those who could only enjoy the aspirations of the others.
Lady Catherine intoned, “What is this nonsense you are talking?”
The hopes of the young deflated as quickly as they had arisen.
But now that the cat was out of the bag, Anne could not deny her wishes. Perhaps Dr. Minton’s words had given her strength she did not know she had. “Mamma,” she said, clearing her throat, “this does look to be a dreadful winter. And you know I have been more ill than usual. Perhaps being in a warm climate for the winter would help me.”
There, she had said it. Silence hung in the room, interrupted only by the nervous rustle of a napkin.
Lady Catherine seemed more baffled than angry. “Whose idea was this?” She glanced at the Fairfax girls, then concentrated on her daughter.
Anne said with as little fear as her trembling would allow, “It merely came up in a conversation. …I like the idea very much.”
“But,” her mother continued in confusion, “to travel so many hundreds of miles, over bad roads and through unsafe terrain, just to be in a foreign country? For what? Is it not easier to have Woodbridge instruct the servants to increase the firewood here?”
Anne felt her confidence slipping. Her mother would have reasonable alternatives no matter what she said. “The travel could be done slowly, so the roads would not matter so very much. And to be in sunshine, Mamma. You know what a tonic that is for me.”
Lady Catherine still did not understand. “But the expense, and the inconvenience, and such a long distance, just for a few days of sunshine? Surely there is somewhere here you could go and not be so far from home.”
Anne had no argument. She knew of nowhere in England that could come close to the promised warmth and sunshine of Naples. However, this had nothing to do with logic. It was about what she wanted.
“My lady, I think it is a wonderful idea.”
All eyes at the table turned to Dr. Minton.
The physician was the epitome of professional discernment. “There are many healthful benefits to warm climates. I have been told by several colleagues that the southern Italian states in particular have fresh fruits and vegetables even in the winter season. Miss de Bourgh is quite reasonable in yearning for an escape from our dreary English winters. I believe this could be most beneficial and lead to a marked improvement in her health.”
All eyes turned to Lady Catherine, some hopeful, some prepared for the worst, but all anxious for her response.
As the frowning lady pondered this growing insurrection, Dr. Minton added mildly, “I have also heard from friends in the Kingdom of Naples that a substantial English population has grown there since the peace treaty. That should give your ladyship some comfort. Perhaps there will even be friends of yours with whom your daughter could pass her time during her stay.”
Lady Catherine scowled at him. “I know of no one who has traveled to Italy. I have no friends there. All the people who matter are here. And why would I want to travel so far for a few fruits and vegetables? There are hothouses enough to suit anyone’s needs. I think the idea is outlandish.”
Anne could see the gate of her mother’s mind about to close. She had one chance. In a meek voice, she said, “But Mamma, you do not have to go.” Anne flinched when her mother’s bewildered, searing gaze swung to face her. She heard herself saying, “And before you left for London, you said if I wanted anything for my birthday, all I had to do was ask.”
Lady Catherine’s glare melted into amazement. She stammered, “But, my dear, I meant any thing. A hat, a coach, new gowns. But a dangerous trip a quarter of the way around the known world can hardly be considered a thing. Surely you understand that.”
To her amazement, Anne realized she was angry with her mother. She looked at the half-eaten cake on her plate. “You brought me a doctor to help me get stronger, but you will not do what he recommends.” She glanced up at the doctor’s pleasant face. “Dr. Minton, I suppose this means you may return to London.” She folded her napkin and placed it next to her plate. She said to the guests, “You will please excuse me. I am very tired.” She left the room, terrified at what she had done and the stunned silence behind her.
Anne had not even made it to the stairs when Mrs. Jenkinson caught up with her. As she continued on her way, Anne said nothing in response to her companion’s urgent questions about her health. Anne opened the door to her room, dismissing Mrs. Jenkinson with a request to inform the others that she was merely tired. She closed the door between them.
Anne stretched out on her bed. Her head pounded. Her parched lips stuck together. Her stomach rolled. Horror filled her heart. What had she done?
If only she could get up to write a note to Elizabeth, but she had no strength to move. She wanted to sink into the mattress—no, the Earth must swallow her. She had just confronted her mother in a way that left no room for compromise. Now she would face the wrath she had seen her mother unleash against so many others. Why had she drawn the innocent Dr. Minton into her argument, making him partially culpable for her rebellion? She hoped the physician would forgive her and find a way to stay on good terms with her mother.
Anne wanted to die. She could never undo this. She had ruined everything forever. Her stomach rolled again. She managed to get to her feet and stand over her wash bowl. She tried to pick up the pitcher and pour water to wash her face, but instead her nervous stomach knotted and released into the basin what little she had eaten for supper. She stared at it, then draped her washcloth across the basin and stumbled back to her bed.
Sometime later, a gentle knock on the door roused her. She had dreaded this moment. That was not Mrs. Jenkinson’s knock.
The door opened slowly, and Lady Catherine entered, searching for her in the room lit by a single candle on the mantle. “Your fire has gone out,” her mother said with a chill in her voice. “You should have told someone.”
“It does not matter.”
Lady Catherine came across the room towards her bed but stopped next to the wash basin. She sniffed, lifted the towel, frowned, and returned the towel to its place across the top of the bowl. She came to her daughter’s bedside and seemed to debate finding a chair or sitting on the edge of the bed. She chose the latter. “My dear, I had no idea you were so ill. You should have told me.”
When did you give me a chance? Anne thought, then hated herself for it. She looked at the dark ceiling. “I am sorry.”
“Everyone has gone,” her mother continued. “To a person they wished to convey to you their hopes for a quick recovery.”
Lady Catherine sat in dull silence for several long moments, then finally spoke. “Do you really want to go?”
Anne shuddered. Had she just heard her mother say that? “Yes, I do.”
“It is a long way,” the lady warned, “and it will be a grueling trip. I would not be surprised if you are turned back before you are halfway there.”
Anne had had that very same thought. “It is possible. But I would like to try.”
Lady Catherine said with great reluctance, “But I cannot go. I have obligations here at Rosings and in London.”
“I do not.”
Her mother muttered, “Yes, that is true. But you have an obligation to me. To be here for me. To be where I know you will be safe.”
Anne wanted to make a sharp retort about how her mother could always visit her at the church after she was buried there, but she had no idea how to phrase it.
Lady Catherine said, “…Can you wait until after the holidays are over?”
Anne blinked in the somber room at her mother’s words.
“…And would you promise to do everything Dr. Minton says?”
Anne tried to sit up, but she only made it up onto one elbow. Lady Catherine seemed unsure. Anne had never seen her hesitant before. It startled her. “Yes.”
Her mother patted her hand. “I shall see what can be arranged. Get a good night’s sleep.” She stood, and as she walked to the door she said in a clear voice, “And I will send in someone with extra firewood.”
Anne’s excitement at having her way ebbed as the weeks passed. Her mother’s insistence on arranging everything meant that, once again, Anne became relegated to the role of passive observer. But she could still find satisfaction in knowing that in early January she would be leaving behind all of this cold and gloom.
Lady Catherine coordinated an expedition worthy of Captain Cook. No less than twelve house servants, Mrs. Jenkinson, Dr. Minton, plus suitable companions would make up the traveling party. The Fairfax sisters were eager for the scheme, and their father consulted with Lady Catherine, in the form of listening to her and commending her detailed plans, before agreeing that his girls could go, despite his wife’s repeated protestations. Their own maids would add only three more to the company.
Anne allowed her mother to do everything, although she objected to Lady Catherine’s insistence on funding the project. The mother said it could hardly be a birthday gift if Anne paid for it herself, but the daughter stated that being allowed to go was the present she requested. After much wrangling, Lady Catherine won, as always.
Anne’s birthday supper three weeks before Christmas included the usual neighbors of rank, including the Fairfax family. In such vaunted company, Emily and Frances needed all their strength to contain their exuberance, although an occasional giggle escaped the younger girl. Sir Robert beamed with pride for his intrepid daughters, but the increasingly sullen Lady Fairfax did not shy away from pouting in company at the prospect of her girls being so far away from her watchful care. During the evening, she barely spoke to Anne and glowered at her bubbly daughters.
Meanwhile, Lady Catherine’s assiduous efforts to publicize the presence of Dr. Minton had born sweet fruit. Neighbors near and far came to pay court to the grand lady and speak with her private physician. She basked in the glow of his popularity as he charmed the neighbors, doling out advice both simple and efficacious. By Christmas week, Lady Catherine found herself hailed by the people who mattered as the greatest woman in Kent. She could not agree more.
Despite being at Lady Catherine’s beck and call for every visitor, Dr. Minton always found time each day to spend with Anne. He monitored her condition and gave her every encouragement. When she apologized for making him a part of her argument against her mother, he laughed and complimented her on her masterful stroke of logic. Anne could not believe that she would spend nearly six months being tended to by this most gracious and charming of gentlemen.
Molded by the strong hand of her ladyship, the plans took a final, pleasing shape. By a happy chance the assistant ambassador to the King of Naples was a cousin of a friend of Lady Catherine’s brother, so she approved Naples as the destination. Lady Catherine tried to arrange for the earl’s second son, Colonel Fitzwilliam, to accompany the party during his winter leave from the army, but his early spring deadline to report for duty obliged him to decline. While he offered his regrets at missing his cousin’s adventure, he did send to Anne his father’s book about the Grand Tour sites in the Italian states. All her uncle’s notes about his favorite locales made her anticipation keener, and her fears sharper. The earl had written the notes for his sons, who had not been able to follow in his path after hostilities with France closed the continent to English travelers. How odd for her to be the beneficiary of the earl’s insights instead of his own children. She could only think about how tenuous hopes for the future could be.
As the Christmas festivities approached, a decidedly sullen mood settled over Rosings. Lady Catherine at last recognized that she would be losing both her daughter and her star attraction, Dr. Minton, for nearly six months. For her own part, Anne became more alarmed at the promised rigors of such a long trip. In the last twenty years, she had never even traveled to London—how would she make it all the way to Naples and back? She consulted with Dr. Minton about the ease of booking passage on a merchant ship going to Naples directly instead of taking the overland route. He strongly favored the idea, but Lady Catherine said no. She declared that taking a ship was more dangerous, being subject to the vagaries of weather, misfortune, and brigands, and in addition it allowed no option for curtailing the journey if travel proved too taxing. She insisted that the Rosings expeditionary forces take the overland route which, while more arduous, gave every opportunity for Anne to change her mind and return home.
Anne’s only refuge during this time was the last dance lessons at Fairfax House. She had learned six dances by heart and was in the process of learning eight more. During her first classes, she could just make it through two sets in total, but by Christmas she could complete four, provided she had suitable rests in between. Dr. Minton attended the lessons and observed his patient’s efforts, praising her progress but discouraging too much exertion. Anne blushed at his kind consideration. She had no time to attempt pianoforte lessons with Madame Saint-Vancomy, so she vowed to pursue lessons with a local master once she established herself in Naples. Emily and Frances Fairfax were elated with all the preparations and for their own part had many new dresses to show Anne for their stay abroad.
On Christmas night, shivering in her bed and listening to the freezing rain tap at her window, Anne thrilled at the notion that she would be warm in only a month’s time. In addition, she would have Dr. Minton’s complete attention, with no interruptions by insistent neighbors. She found that prospect almost as appealing as the winter sun and warmth. No man had ever demonstrated any sort of interest in her, including her cousin Darcy, and even though Dr. Minton was not of the proper class, his courtesy and genuine care for her welfare were almost intoxicating. Could this strange, uncertain feeling be what it was like to be in love?
Lady Catherine’s efforts to maintain her composure and her control of her daughter’s excursion took its toll by the end of the year. Alternately fretting about the multiplying details and releasing her frustrations by scolding the servants at every turn, she succeeded in making herself and everyone around her miserable. All the arrangements seemed fine to Anne, but her mother could not be satisfied. Anne wrote letter after letter to Elizabeth Darcy, detailing the agony, but no response could be expected with Lady Catherine’s presence in the house.
Anne’s own quiet, growing desperation added to the gloom. Looking at her situation from the other side of thirty, she faced the realization that, despite the pronouncement of the London specialists years ago, she would not “outgrow” this constitutional weakness. In her heart she had clung to the hope that someday she would simply get better somehow. All her suffering would have been worth it on that glorious day when she would be well.
But now that she was on the downslide of life, she could no longer believe that a miraculous recovery lay ahead. Despite being able to dance four dances in the course of an afternoon, she would never be truly “well,” and at her age her condition would soon decline. Her sole hope rested in doing something—anything—to give herself a little time to fend off the inevitable. Her mother’s solution had been to provide a personal physician. Anne knew she needed more. Every hope was now attached to this winter in Italy. It could no longer be considered a mere pleasant diversion—it was a matter of saving her life. Clinging to that anticipation gave her the strength to withstand the daily onslaught of her mother’s doubts. Naples would be her salvation. She had to go.
To Anne’s dismay, Lady Catherine’s dismal predictions became manifest when, on the last afternoon of the old year, Lady Fairfax withdrew her approbation for her daughters’ journey. Under no circumstances would they be allowed to go on the dangerous and absurd mission.
Everything was in an uproar. The excursion must be canceled. Anne could not possibly travel without suitable companions. Lady Catherine appeared torn between anger that all her plans had been overthrown and relief at having an excuse to keep her daughter at home.
A devastated Anne had to discuss the terrible turn of events with the Fairfax sisters. There had to be a way to save the excursion…to save her life. However, fearing she would be outmaneuvered again, Lady Fairfax forbade the girls from traveling to Rosings. Lady Catherine closed ranks with her friend and insisted that Anne respect a mother’s right to decide what was best for her children and not go to see her friends.
By the first afternoon of the new year, however, the blubbering Fairfax girls had impressed on their mother that she had ruined Anne’s dream in addition to their own. Hoping that her objection would be completely overturned, they argued that it had been entirely unfair for their mother to make so precipitous a decision for their friend.
In the confusion that followed, Lady Fairfax repented the harm she had done to Anne. While more than willing to put up with the wailing of her obstinate girls, she could not bear to think of Anne’s suffering. With a deft precision that would have awed the most seasoned quartermaster, she arranged for a substitute. Harriet Armistead, a cousin on Sir Robert’s side and a fine, sensible Cheshire girl of three-and-twenty who happened to be in London for the holidays, would be offered for Lady Catherine’s examination and approbation as a traveling companion.
For Anne, this news offered little comfort. Yes, she might be able to go to Naples, if her mother approved the cousin, but she wanted her friends with her, not a stranger. The tear-stained notes from Emily and Frances tugged at her conscience as well as her heart. After all, this scheme had been theirs. How could she go without them? However, when it became clear that Lady Fairfax would not yield, Anne agreed to meet the cousin.
Dining at Rosings with Sir Robert and Lady Fairfax as her escort, the freshly-arrived Harriet glowed with warmth and anticipation. This was the farthest south she had ever been, she declared, but to be certain she would enjoy the excursion to Naples as much as she would enjoy watching over Anne with the utmost of attention. Anne thought Harriet shared Emily and Frances’s high spirits, but she seemed to have a smaller portion of their sensible concern about what others thought. However, Harriet gave Lady Catherine all due deference and tolerated her mother’s lengthy interrogation regarding her family, her history, and two score other topics.
Anne believed her mother would decide against Harriet, thereby settling the nonsense about leaving once and for all. However, after the guests departed, Lady Catherine announced that she had found the girl acceptable…but only if Anne approved. So now the entire matter rested on Anne’s shoulders.
What decision could Anne make? Perhaps her mother had approved of Harriet, confident that Anne would turn her down as a favor to her dear friends. That would mean the destruction of Anne’s dream would be her own responsibility and her mother would have no part of the blame. If that was Lady Catherine’s logic, Anne knew her mother had no inkling of her desperation. Given the choice between going to Naples with a total stranger or staying here with her moping friends, who would be leaving for London soon anyway, Anne would do whatever it took to go to the warmth and sunshine. To her mother’s evident surprise, Anne agreed to Harriet as her traveling companion.
When word arrived at Fairfax House, the elated Harriet accepted in a grateful note but admitted that neither her family nor the Fairfaxes had servants to spare for the journey. Fearing that this was a sign of things to come, Anne looked over the roster of servants her mother had arranged to accompany her. Only one had the skills to be a lady’s maid, so she agreed to share her own maid, Dolly.
By the evening before the scheduled departure, Lady Catherine had become a stony victim of the entire affair. She refused to travel to Ramsgate with the party to see her daughter off. Dinner that night, which should have been a jovial Twelfth Night feast as well as a send-off celebration, instead took on a funereal tone. The Fairfax family wisely sent their regrets to avoid any stray hostility, and also missing was Dr. Minton, who had gone on ahead to the port to confirm all the passage arrangements. With no one else to share the lady’s woes, the unlucky last-minute dinner guests turned out to be the Reverend and Mrs. Collins. Lady Catherine spent the entire blustery evening detailing every possible misfortune that could befall the group and ruing the day that she had been cajoled into such a ridiculous scheme.
Had Anne not been fighting for her life, she might have repented and changed her plans. Instead, she listened in sullen silence to her mother’s moaning and the reverend’s endless sympathies. Even the entirely blameless Mrs. Collins, with her silent complicity in the others’ litanies of misery, provoked Anne. They could make her wretched, but they could not make her cancel her trip. She heaped guilt on herself for feeling this way, but she had to do this. To save her life, she had to go. The only one who did not fray her nerves was Harriet, who had come to stay at Rosings two days earlier so she and Anne could become acquainted before the expedition departed. Perhaps Anne’s initial fears about her new companion had been in error, as the high-spirited but sensible Harriet demonstrated good judgment at dinner by observing the gloom and drama while making no effort to console the inconsolable mother or defend the indefensible daughter.
So it was that early on the morrow, with weather than matched her dampened spirits, Anne and her patched-together entourage set forth from Rosings in a cold rain for the trip across the Channel.
The journey began with every hardship that Lady Catherine had prophesied. The crossing to Calais was cold and storm-tossed and took much longer than the distance could justify. Poor Mrs. Jenkinson got sick several times, as did one of the footmen. Once again on terra firma, conditions barely improved. The French roads were in need of repair, and to the foreign visitors the locals were as cold and gray as their weather. Anne would have given up before they reached Abbeville if not for Harriet. Freed from Lady Catherine’s dull spirits, Harriet let loose her ebullient sense of adventure. “La, Anne, look at how tall that church steeple is! This is barely a village, and yet the church is so grand. And that abbey! Have you ever seen such a thing? How wonderful to see such sights! This is worth every bit of trouble you have had.”
Dr. Minton rose even higher in Anne’s estimation as he gave her extra care and his full attention, assuring her that she was doing marvelously well despite the tribulations. She feared her gratitude appeared too effusive, even as she worried that it failed to convey the full extent of her appreciation.
Anne kept a promise she had made to Lady Catherine and wrote her every day, assuring her of the health and happiness of the entire group, even if she had to exaggerate or choose with care what details she shared.
After two days of bad roads and damp inns, they reached Paris. Being in the capital of a country so lately an implacable enemy, and which had been torn by a decade of revolution and violence, Anne found both frightening and invigorating. Dr. Minton, who spoke excellent French, allowed them a few days to see some landmarks, but to Mrs. Jenkinson’s appreciation he made sure to steer Anne away from places with gruesome associations that might cause emotional distress. Anne knew no one residing in the capital, so there were no social calls to pay. Three days of supervised sightseeing later, the party headed south in a small caravan of rented coaches.
Earning Anne’s deep gratitude, Dr. Minton avoided the cold and snow of the Swiss Alps and instead chose the less-traveled Grand Tour route south through France. Each day seemed to bring a welcome improvement in the weather, and by the time the party reached sunny Avignon, Anne thought she had arrived in an earthly paradise. Dr. Minton suggested they change the route and travel by ship from Marseille directly to Naples, but having made it this far with no major debilitations, Anne wanted to see as much of the countryside as she could. Dr. Minton acquiesced, praising her fortitude. Anne knew she never could have made the trip without his kindness and support. He arranged everything, from each change of rented coaches to their choice of inns and the carefully selected menu that would not disturb her digestion. No task was too big or too small for him to perform with absolute care and concern.
The night before they left Marseille, after she insisted on a supper of an astonishing variety of sea creatures that unsettled her stomach more than she cared to admit, Anne wrote a letter to Emily and Frances Fairfax. She knew they would be settled in London for the season by now and perhaps reconciled to their mother’s insistence that they stay in England. Once again Anne tried tact in her correspondence, and she highlighted all the travails and imperfect weather along the way that she had kept out of her letters to Lady Catherine. She saved room at the bottom of the sheet for Harriet to write a note if she wished. The girls’ cousin happily added a note in her reckless handwriting. Anne felt a twinge of mortification when she read her words that undid all her careful diplomacy. “I am sure Anne has told you about all the marvelous things we have seen and done. This has been the best experience of my entire life! I am sorry you cannot be here with us. What delights you have missed! Will write more when we arrive. Your loving cousin, H.”
Passing from France to the Piedmont did not feel like crossing a border. A few years ago that region had been forfeited to France after a brief war, and the Italian state now had French overlords. In a busy market town, the group changed from their rented French coaches hired in Marseille to Italian coaches for the next step of the journey.
While Dr. Minton stayed outside taking care of the arrangements, the people at the inn’s modest dining hall regarded the visitors with suspicion until Harriet said something to Anne and Mrs. Jenkinson. The sound of English, and not French, eased the tension in the room, and the serving girl’s cool behavior gave way to a warm welcome in Italian. When the others did not understand her message, she repeated it in awkward French. Mrs. Jenkinson’s rusty schoolbook French sufficed, and at Anne’s insistence her companion asked the serving girl about her change of heart about them. The girl explained that most of the population had become disillusioned with the French. Their promise of sharing their revolution had only meant “liberté, égalité, fraternité” for the French and servitude for the Piedmontese. Anne thought about the current peace treaty between England and France. Surely that would last, with the weight of England’s navy and army and the other former coalition countries behind it. She tried not to worry, since she could do nothing about it, but fear lingered in her mind.
On their way east and then south through the Italian states, Anne found herself so transfixed by the novelties around every turn that she did not notice how Dr. Minton had supplanted Mrs. Jenkinson as her closest companion during the days. He fetched whatever she needed, pointed out all the interesting sights, and even went so far as to arrange for Mrs. Jenkinson to ride in another coach on several occasions. Twice he tried to convince Harriet to ride with the servants, but the Cheshire girl would have none of it. She made it clear that she belonged in the best coach with Anne, and that was all there was to it. So the three rode together when they traveled to the required Grand Tour destinations of Florence and Siena.
Rome disappointed the visitors with its clouds and rain. After only a few days of sightseeing, Anne’s eagerness to move on to the promised paradise of Naples shortened their stay in the Eternal City. She had seen only a few of the places in her guide book, and she promised herself that she would take her time in the missed venues on the way back.
Anne fell in love with Naples at the moment she saw the city, with the gentle curve of the bay, the rich, impossible blue of the ocean, the gleaming stone and stucco buildings, and the green mountains sloping down to the sea. The only word she could use was “magical.” Surrounded by the soft, warm air as the party approached the city, she felt stronger simply looking at the vista. If only she had learned to draw, she would send sketches to her mother as reassurances that all their efforts had been for the best.
Before they traveled to their hired villa, the group stopped at the headquarters of the English ambassador. The staff had been alerted to their coming by a letter sent on a swift diplomatic packet ship from home. Also awaiting Anne were two letters from her mother, which she would read as soon as she had a moment of privacy. The assistant ambassador, who had received letters about Miss de Bourgh from both Lady Catherine and her brother the earl, greeted her with great energy at the chance to make her welcome and impress upon her his own invaluable courtesy. He sang the praises of the villa that she would call home for the winter and spring, and he made sure to tell her twice that he had inspected it personally and found it to be most suitable for someone of her rank.
Indeed, when the caravan pulled up in front of the villa high on a hill above the city proper, it proved to be even more than Anne had dreamed. While far less grand than Rosings, it was happily situated on the ocean side of a main road that wound its way up from town. A sweeping view of the city, bay, and Mount Vesuvius in the distance would be visible from the veranda and every room at the back of the house. Fruit trees on both sides of the fine mansion were waiting to bud, and grapevines indicated a well-stocked wine cellar would be at their service.
The villa’s servants had lined up at the door to greet their masters for the next five months. As Anne descended from the coach, she suddenly felt overwhelmed with exhaustion. All these servants to oversee—she had never supervised anyone more than her own maids. Here she could not rely on her mother to settle things. It was up to her. How many of those well-scrubbed and smiling servants even spoke English? She would look like a fool from the first moment. What embarrassment would follow?
Dr. Minton appeared at her side and spoke in French with the housekeeper. She understood enough to give Anne a sunny smile and a deep curtsey, along with what sounded like a welcome. Not knowing what else to do, Anne offered a small smile in return and nodded. The housekeeper spoke to Dr. Minton, and then indicated one of the male servants. He stepped forward and conversed with the doctor in excellent French. Dr. Minton explained to Anne and Harriet that no one on the staff spoke English yet, but they would do their best to learn key phrases for their guests. In the meantime, they could rely on Giuseppe, the housekeeper’s assistant, to relay messages and instructions.
Anne hoped her relief had not been too apparent. Bless Dr. Minton, he would take care of everything.
The little company quickly settled into their new home. Anne and Harriet chose the best bedrooms with the view of the city and bay, and Dr. Minton moved with great ease into the role of Anne’s major domo. The servants from home were a little flummoxed working side-by-side with the staff that understood not a single word of English, but a rough sign language system and a willingness to try opened the communication channels.
As the maids unpacked her things, Anne read the letters from her mother. They recorded her first three weeks in London at her town house. She expressed her concerns about her daughter’s welfare and her hopes that the journey had not been too debilitating. Lady Catherine related how Anne’s winter excursion had become a favorite topic in town, and she reported her pleasure in finding her daughter admired by friends, family, and even strangers during the season’s early social festivities. Word about her bold venture had spread with amazing speed through society. Lady Catherine crowed about her own many good deeds and several noteworthy faux pas involving people Anne did not know. Anne sighed with relief at the tone of the letters. Her mother had recovered from her gloom and could enjoy all the admiration and attention that was her due.
On the company’s second full day in the villa, the invaluable assistant ambassador paid a visit. As talkative and officious as he had been at their first meeting, the man managed to find the time to introduce his wife and daughter, who had made the valiant gesture of accompanying him up the hill. Both seemed well pleased with themselves and appeared to have traveled to the villa as a matter of form rather than in anticipation of making new friends. Miss Armistead had little patience for the wife and daughter, although she showed more good manners than did the guests. After the visit, Harriet made Anne and Mrs. Jenkinson chuckle with her imitations of the supercilious pair.
The assistant ambassador presented Anne with a detailed list of what sights to see and which people to visit from the city’s English population. After being trapped on their island for more than a decade, a surprising number of English gentry and even a few of the middling sort had found their way to the Italian kingdom after the peace treaty. It would not rival the season in London, the ambassador admitted, but it would offer a welcome sense of the familiar so far from home. Anne consulted with Dr. Minton about how much she could do on each day without tiring herself.
Freed from the supervision of her family, Harriet wasted no time in making friends with the soldiers and staff at the ambassador’s headquarters. She traveled down to town nearly every day and reported back each afternoon about the latest news. There were a great many young people in that social circle, and therefore she had a great deal to relate.
While she recuperated from the exertions of the journey, Anne contented herself by spending mornings writing her daily letters to her mother and afternoons sitting in the sunshine with Mrs. Jenkinson in the villa’s garden. With an impish smile she would wonder aloud how wet and blustery it might be it back home. Even with some cloudy days and rain, Naples seemed to be the embodiment of sunshine. With Dr. Minton or Giuseppe acting as an interpreter, Anne found the housekeeper, Signora Abelli, to be a pleasant and helpful woman. Forced to speak French, Anne surprised herself by how much she remembered from her lessons so many years ago. She did not command enough understanding to get by on her own, but what she did recall gave her courage to try something more. Enchanted with the sound of Italian, Anne asked the Signora if she knew someone who could give her lessons. Pleased by her interest, the housekeeper promised to find her a teacher.
The household’s only upset came from a rivalry between the Italian and English cooks. The local chef did not want a stranger in her kitchen, and Mrs. Ross, the tough-minded assistant cook from Rosings, saw nothing in the villa’s arrangements that pleased her. Dr. Minton worked out a compromise, wherein Anne would eat English food for breakfast and dinner, and supper would be made by the villa’s kitchen staff.
The Italian meals gave Anne more challenges than she would have liked. Transporting long, sauce-covered noodles from the plate to her mouth took a skill she had not acquired, and one night she went to bed early with such a fire in her stomach that she regretted the entire excursion. However, by the next morning, after several physics from Dr. Minton, her health and confidence had been restored.
The indispensable Dr. Minton watched over Anne’s activity, and he helped moderate her impatient plans to avoid exhaustion. Anne wanted to try pianoforte lessons, and she wanted to learn how to sketch. Surely there was no better landscape to inspire great art than this! While she wanted to try something new every day, the physician cautioned against pushing herself past her strength. After all, she had just made a mighty journey across a continent, and she would be here for months.
Dr. Minton stayed with her from morning to evening, offering comfort, assistance, and companionship. She did not even mind when he sent Mrs. Jenkinson on an occasional errand down into town with one of the house servants to fetch some trinket or other unnecessary item so he could spend some quiet time with Anne.
On an afternoon bathed in warm sunshine, Anne and Dr. Minton admired the view of the bay from the garden while awaiting the arrival of her art instructor. He said, “It pleases me to see how much you have improved since we arrived. This morning, when you walked all the way to that shrine down the road and back without assistance, I concluded then and there that you are a marvel.”
She hoped she did not blush. “I am not a marvel. It is just so much easier to get a little exercise here. Walking the long gallery in Rosings offers no motivation to compare with all this beauty.”
He nodded. “You are very attached to Rosings.”
She thought his question a little odd. “It is my home, and it will be mine someday.”
“I have heard you say that if you could, you’d stay here forever.”
“Yes,” Anne replied, “I wish I could, but I cannot. My life will have many obligations.”
He nodded. “I understand, all too well. Did your mother tell you about my family?”
She said that her mother had not.
He explained, “In recent generations, my family has been on the wrong side of history. First was the Civil War. We were the de Mintons then. My forebear, Sir Roger de Minton, was part of the escort for the Prince of Wales to the continent. All the family’s properties were confiscated. Sir Roger returned to England with the king, proud but penniless.” She nodded with sympathy. “And just as my great-grandparents were about to purchase back the family estate, the South Sea Bubble took everything.”
Oh, such terrible luck, she thought, especially for someone so very kind.
He continued, “Each generation has been charged with restoring the family’s fortunes. We were not born to trade, but we gave it our all. My grandfather’s investments returned little, and my father died too young to build up the funds. So, it has been left to me. I have saved almost enough to purchase the estate for my mother and siblings.”
“How much more do you need?” she asked out of curiosity.
He shook his head with a shy smile. “How kind of you to ask, but I can accept no charity.”
She had not been thinking of giving him money to help make up the difference, but now that he mentioned it, she considered it not such a bad idea for so good a gentleman. For now she understood that he was indeed in every sense a gentleman.
Dr. Minton concluded, “When I have fulfilled my obligation to my family, I would happily stay here in Naples.”
“But would you not miss your family?” Anne asked.
“Of course,” he said with alacrity, then evened his tones. “But I have seen so little of them over the years, they’re nearly strangers.”
“How very sad.”
He smiled at her. “But all my efforts have been worthwhile when I have patients like you.”
She smiled in return, flattered. But she feared she communicated too much, and she changed the discussion to indifferent topics.
That night, after Anne had retired for the evening, she sat by her bedroom window and listened to two servants sitting on a bench in the orchard. A gardener played the guitar and sang to one of the maids what could only be a love song. The soft lights of the city below curved around the bay in a gentle embrace. She recalled what Dr. Minton told her that afternoon. His family had been landed gentry. It seemed odd that her mother would have known and yet not mentioned it. She was very particular about that kind of thing. Perhaps she mentioned it when Anne had been paying attention to something else.
This information changed their relationship. Not only was he a doctor, not a mere surgeon or—even worse—an apothecary, but also he was socially nearly her peer. It spoke of his humility that he had never mentioned this before. It also explained how he moved with such grace through the upper levels of society. Still, his being her servant dampened the possibilities. Besides, his attentions, while flattering, seemed to her to be more professional than personal.
Anne sighed as she listened to the gardener’s song. Having seen so much of the Italian countryside on their journey, Anne understood why in so many minds Italy represented romance. …Could love find her while she resided in the magical city by the sea? The prospect at once tantalized and frightened her. How wonderful would it be! But what would her mother say? What would the others in her party say? How would she proceed with a man who had not been approved first by her mother? She would have no idea what to do or say. She knew she had no beauty, vivacity, or intelligence. Her only assets were her rank and her wealth. Those in turn would attract the wrong kind of suitor. Her mother had always told her that women of her station should be on guard for that. It had never applied to her, since her own marriage had been planned since her infancy, but her mother had driven home the warning in many a cautionary tale. Now that caveat did apply to her. How would she know the right kind of suitor from the wrong one? She would have to keep up her guard and review all men with dispassionate examination, even while part of her yearned for just a free, innocent interlude. Oh, how nervous and enticing and vexing it all was.
She envied the lovers sitting in the garden below her window. In many respects, life was so much simpler for people who had no money. She wondered which was better—being able to choose one’s partner in life or having enough wealth to distract from an unhappy marriage. Being able to choose one’s partner did not guarantee happiness. Their parish had many a crossed marriage between people who had chosen each other. In turn, arranged marriages were not doomed to unhappiness. Her parents’ negotiated union had worked out well enough.
Listening to the gardener’s song of love, Anne hoped, if it would not be too much to ask of God’s infinite generosity, to have both a caring husband and all her wealth to take the sting from any worldly disappointments. If, however, God demanded of her to choose between those two blessings, she would select her wealth. Her life had prepared her well enough for being sad, but she had no idea how to be poor, and she was most certainly past the age of acquiring that skill.
Life in Naples continued at its relaxed pace through February. Social visits and Anne’s dreamed-of music and art lessons occupied most of her time. She tried the romantic instrument of the guitar, but she gave up after several sessions. Not only did Dr. Minton think the instrument too undignified for her, but she also found herself baffled by playing the notes on the arbitrary layout of the strings. The pianoforte proved more of a success, with the linear arrangement of the keys offering no confusing choices. Despite the praise of her teacher, a musician of local renown, she doubted very much that she had a great aptitude for playing music. However, practicing gave her a feeling of accomplishment, in addition to reviving pleasant memories of her father. Mrs. Jenkinson always enjoyed listening to her lessons and even offered modest suggestions when she practiced in the evening.
The same held true for the art lessons. While Anne felt she had no great skill with her landscapes, she found pleasure in both the art and the application. She drew diligently every afternoon, concentrating on line drawings and watercolors of flowers, trees, and the ever-present beauty of the city and bay. She included small pieces in many of her daily letters to her mother. Her mother’s replies rarely mentioned them, except to say that she was sure Anne would become proficient someday with enough practice and good instruction.
Anne also included drawings in her frequent correspondence with Elizabeth Darcy. In her replies, Elizabeth expressed great satisfaction and a little envy over her excursion. Despite their increased distance from one another, Anne felt closer than ever to this person who no one thought she should like at all, given that Elizabeth had “stolen” her betrothed. Anne understood now the truth of the matter. Here, with the peace, quiet, distance, and time to think, Anne realized that Darcy had never belonged to her. Their engagement had been a business transaction between their mothers. There had been no emotion on his part, only duty. When he fell in love with Elizabeth, he had no choice but to follow his heart.
Anne wondered about following her heart, and she wondered about Dr. Minton. She respected him, and she appreciated his efforts, but she also found herself frustrated by him. His humors changed so, sometimes three or four times a day. He would encourage her, then try to draw her back from her efforts, then hover with the zeal of a lover. She had no idea what to make of him. Perhaps he too was trying to sort through the confusing social strata between them. If only her mother had talked with her about Dr. Minton’s status as a gentleman before they left England! Anne had worked casual reminders of his class into several letters to her mother, but perhaps she had been too casual, as her mother never responded on the topic. If only Anne could extract from her mother her thoughts about the man. She needed Lady Catherine’s blessing to consider Dr. Minton as more than just her doctor. Yet, how unlikely that seemed. Even though he was of an acceptable class, how could her mother condone a marriage to a servant? No, she would never allow it.
Anne also pondered what her father would think of such a match, or of her as an adult. She had thought about him a great deal in this enchanted place that seemed to be one step away from Heaven. She had passed the sad milestone of being older than Sir Lewis when he died, and she continued to get stronger, little by little. Anne felt he would be proud of her for all the work she had done to improve her health. Oh, how he would have loved Italy! One of the villa’s gardeners sang when he worked in the orchard, and his fine voice reminded Anne of her father’s. Sir Lewis was not so fastidious as her mother when it came to relations with members of other classes. She knew that if he had come to this place he would have been down in the orchard with the gardener, asking him to teach him every song of the countryside. Were it her parents staying in the villa and not her, she fancied her father would learn every song, her mother would object, and he would apologize…and then sing them when she was not around. How would her father have felt about Dr. Minton? She decided that he would like him as a person, but he would prefer that she marry someone better. But what if her choice was to marry beneath her station…or not marry at all?
Anne wished she could discuss the matter with Mrs. Jenkinson. Other than her mother, no one had a better understanding of her than the widow who had watched over her since she turned five years old. But whenever Anne tried to bring up the topic of love and marriage, the former governess felt all the awkwardness of it, assured her that their difference in rank made a common understanding impossible, and insisted that Anne consult with her mother on the matter.
As for how she felt about their winter away from home, Mrs. Jenkinson enjoyed Naples as much as Anne did, and she enjoyed the food a great deal more. Fresh fish, exotic cheeses, rich sauces, and a seemingly infinite variety of pasta enchanted her and led to her dresses needing some alterations. Her favorite dish, which she bought at an open-air stand on every day trip down into the city, was baked flatbread with cheese, garlic, basil, and a red sauce. Anne was overwhelmed by the large dish and refused to try it, but Mrs. Jenkinson insisted on bringing Mrs. Ross down to town on several occasions to study the local specialty so she could recreate it when they returned home. Not one to turn down a challenge, Mrs. Ross promised to try. But when she saw a baker tossing the bread dough into the air to stretch it out, she envisioned dough on the floor or stuck to the kitchen ceiling, and she despaired of making a satisfactory reproduction.
Anne would have liked to spend more time with Harriet, but the girl was too enraptured by the lure of the city, as well as the soldiers assigned to the ambassador, to spend much time in the villa. The free-spirited Harriet was so different from her lively but sensible cousins. Even as her good sense kept her out of real mischief, she did not seem to give two figs about society and what others thought of her.
However, Harriet did have firm opinions about some of their own company. Most notably, she did not care for Dr. Minton. “He is too smooth, Anne. I know why you cannot see that. He’s all attention and kindness to you. One would think he was in love with you. But a man in love thinks only of his beloved, even when she is out of sight, and I know he thinks of other things when he is away. I know for certain that your maid Dolly, who is quite the dear and I cannot thank you enough for sharing her with me, is absolutely smitten with him. And I think he has given her reasons to feel that way. If he was a gentleman, he wouldn’t be flirting with no maid, I can tell you that. Your mother seems to think herself the perfect judge of character, but I say he has fooled her, and she may not be the only one. Come down to town with me, Anne, and you will see how real gentlemen disport themselves. La, some of those officers are just the ripest plums, Anne! So sweet and firm!” Her observations would then become litanies about this or that officer, and her raptures would go on for some time.
Anne knew Harriet had misjudged Dr. Minton. Even though Anne had explained to her friend his family’s honorable but luckless history, Harriet still trusted her instincts that the doctor hid as much as he shared.
Anne did go into the city when she felt strong enough, which now happened more often than not. Anne and Mrs. Jenkinson attended concerts and operas, and Anne heard a dizzying variety of new music. There were so many composers she had never heard of back home. Boccherini, Salieri, van Beethoven, and a great many others whose music was so very different from the music her mother favored by Haydn and Arne. Opera in particular fascinated Anne. She could imagine her father’s pleasure in attending such events. She wondered if he went to performances before he married. The opera seemed so contrary to her mother’s tastes that Anne knew she would never be able to attend a performance when she returned home. Not only had her mother never mentioned going to the opera during her stays in London, but also many times she had stated her particular distaste for the theatre and public performances as “low and vulgar displays suitable only for the unrefined masses.” Anne felt no such revulsion. She envied the singers their fine voices and ability to sing for hours on end. She hoped that by the time she returned to England she would be strong enough for voice lessons.
She became acquainted with several prominent English families in town, and she found pleasure in visiting, even if she never had much to contribute to the conversation. Evenings spent with games, tea, and light suppers of English food were all welcome reminders of home. The company rarely played high, so she even attempted card games beyond her usual cassino and loo. In particular, she became fond of vignt-et-un, the favorite of perennial hostess Mrs. Babcock, even though it involved more guessing and luck than skill. Anne lost almost as much as she won, but she concluded that the point of such an evening in good company was not to win but to enjoy oneself and the company of friends. How her mother hated to lose! Anne decided it must be easier for her to face defeat than it was for her mother because of the few successes she had experienced in her life. Mrs. Jenkinson called those realizations her “silver linings.” With the distance of time and place, Anne had learned to view her past from a new perspective, and she began to agree with her companion that her life held many unexpected silver linings.
Lent dampened some of the social activities in town, although the English were not so inclined to renounce their worldly pleasures as were the Neapolitans. Anne spent her time practicing music and art, walking just a little more each day, and through Dr. Minton’s efforts she even found an English dancing master. He had little of Monsieur Saint-Vancomy’s cordiality, and Dr. Minton further dulled Anne’s enthusiasm by supervising her lessons and pressing her to keep her progress at a slow pace. “You do not want to let the candle flare too brightly and burn itself out,” he would say. Her frustration grew at a pace with her strength. Had he not encouraged her more when they were in England? Now that she could feel herself getting stronger, his discouragements seemed more pronounced. Why did he not want her to make even more progress while she could? When she would mention this to Harriet, her companion’s response was a knowing gaze and a reminder that he did have his mysteries. After the fourth mention of this, Anne stopped confiding in Harriet about the doctor.
The one pastime where Anne saw progress was with learning Italian. Despite years of lessons, Anne had never felt proficient in French. Now, surrounded by the charismatic Italian language, Anne took daily lessons from Signora Abelli’s nephew, Tomaso. The charming lad had learned some English from a priest, and he expressed an eagerness to practice her language that rivaled her desire to learn his.
Dr. Minton vexed Anne with his turnabout on this as well. At first he had been all for her interest in learning a new language, but after encountering her discussing—or, more accurately, trying to discuss—a housekeeping matter with Signora Abelli, Dr. Minton asked Anne not to tax herself with too many studies. He stated that he wanted her to pick one lesson and dispense with the others lest she overburden herself. He said he would never forgive himself if she lost some of the good progress she had made. He recommended her pianoforte lessons, as they were where she had showed the most promise and they would be the most useful when she returned home.
She wondered if his worries might be accurate after a supper menu she had chosen with Signora Abelli went horribly wrong. The spicy tomato sauce in the entrée, which had sounded so delicious when Signora Abelli described it to her, left Anne with such a fire in her stomach that she felt she might die. Dr. Minton and Mrs. Jenkinson were up with her most of the night, the doctor administering physic after physic until at last her suffering abated. He soothed her worry with the promise that he would oversee the menus from then on to prevent further discomfort.
Still, she rankled at the doctor’s excessive worries and his inconsistencies. He encouraged her to do more, but when she did, he discouraged her. Yes, it might be true that sometimes she did more than she ought and spent the next day resting and regretting. But when she first arrived in Naples, she could barely walk to the edge of the property. Now she could travel to the bend in the road, which was a round trip of nearly a mile. Mrs. Jenkinson had nothing but praise for what Anne had accomplished so far. However, her companion was not a doctor, so perhaps she did not understand the implications. However, Anne did defy his wishes and continued all of her lessons, only making the change of scheduling her language lessons during the afternoons when Dr. Minton traveled down to the city to consult with the ambassador’s staff on the latest news.
At last the doctor compromised with his restless patient and hired a carriage for outings under his supervision. On clear days, he took Anne and Mrs. Jenkinson out into the hills above Naples, traveling through charming vistas and fertile farm land. On cloudy or rainy afternoons, he arranged excursions down into the city or established Anne’s headquarters in the villa’s library, bringing her whatever he thought she needed and keeping her company.
Perplexed by his inconsistencies, on a rare afternoon when she and Mrs. Jenkinson were alone, Anne asked her companion her opinion of the doctor’s ministrations. After some thought, Mrs. Jenkinson answered, “Well, he is attentive. Perhaps that is what women of society expect from a physician. Otherwise, I would say he shows signs of caring for you a great deal.”
This was so different from Harriet’s harsh opinion of Dr. Minton that Anne hardly knew what to think. If only she could consult with her mother on the matter. In her letters she had mentioned, in vague terms so as not to worry her mother, the man’s conflicting actions. But Lady Catherine had never taken the hint and addressed the subject in her few replies, to Anne’s disappointment. She knew no better judge of character.
Then again, perhaps that might not always the case. Anne liked Harriet very much, but the more she got to know the free-spirited girl, the more she knew that her mother would not approve of her. In spite of her many excellent qualities, Harriet had the type of independent spirit that irked her mother. She spoke up in front of her betters, and she told the truth, even if it ruffled the listener. How could her mother not have noticed? If she had misjudged Harriet, Anne thought, perhaps her mother had also not recognized Dr. Minton’s contradictions. And yet Lady Catherine had known Dr. Minton for weeks before the company left for Italy, giving her ample time to assess him. No, her mother was an excellent judge of character. Everyone said so. It was all very confusing.
She shared all her thoughts in her letters to Elizabeth Darcy, who was a much better correspondent than Lady Catherine. Anne and Elizabeth wrote to each other at least twice a week, even with less to write about during the slower pace of Lent. Between anecdotes about life in London and Derbyshire, which she made interesting in their own right since Anne knew none of the people involved, Elizabeth responded to Anne’s tales about her household. Regarding her confusion over Harriet’s opinion of Dr. Minton, Elizabeth suggested that Anne quiz her maid Dolly about the doctor. Since Harriet had specifically mentioned Dolly’s apparent infatuation with him, Elizabeth thought Anne would do well to ask her, both for the purpose of finding out more about the doctor and in knowing what was going on with her servants.
With trepidation Anne pondered how to engage in that conversation. She had none of her mother’s experience with servants, and she also lacked Lady Catherine’s innate skills with people. Anne could foresee mentioning Dr. Minton to the softhearted Dolly, and the maid blushing with a kind smile and saying something vague about him, and then Anne would have no idea how to pursue the topic. If only she had a true steward in her group who supervised the servants. But Dr. Minton had taken up that role and supplanted Holcombe, her designated steward for the expedition. The physician could hardly be expected to conduct the interview on the topic of himself.
Anne realized that once again she had fallen into the role of passive observer of her own life. Rather than accepting the challenge of becoming the mistress of her household, she had allowed someone else to take the initiative and fulfill that role. Most of the time that made her life easier, but now it confounded the situation. Back home, she had said that she was old enough to make decisions on her own, and yet now she had done what she always did and stepped away from her duty. Anne knew she needed to do more, as her mother would not live forever. But how ill-prepared she was for such responsibility! Improving her physical strength would be nothing compared with improving her mental and emotional strength. Perhaps that is what she should have been concentrating on during this time away from home. But with her stay half done, she knew once she arrived back at Rosings, things would return to how they had always been, and she would have accomplished very little.
How much time she had wasted, not just here, but also in the rest of her thirty years. Looking back, she began to understand Darcy’s reluctance to marry her. She had few skills, indifferent health, no wit, no intelligence, no beauty. Why would anyone want to marry her? All she had was the promise of money and Rosings. Even that had not been enough to tempt the suitors her mother had brought home. A sad prospect awaited her when she returned to England. She would live the rest of her life in her mother’s shadow, alone and useless. How odd that so far from home she could acquire a clear view of her life. She would have to fight to keep this vision from coming true, but how she would fight it…she knew not.
The weather showed its respect for the Lenten season and her dark frame of mind as the sun gave way to gray and damp. The villa’s staff complained, but the English company had few unkind words. Winter in Naples had none of the sting they knew from back home. Even the crusty assistant cook from Rosings, Mrs. Ross, had fallen under the spell of the countryside and decided to study some of the local delicacies. While Anne had learned her lesson about adventurous dining choices, she felt no small anticipation at the prospect of her cook bringing home some of the flavors of Naples. As expected, Dr. Minton insisted on approving Mrs. Ross’s gathered recipes to make sure they were suitable for Anne’s health needs.
With the local social life reduced, Harriet spent more time in the villa. Despite knowing her mother would not approve of the girl, Anne found cheer and consolation in Harriet’s company. Quick, lively, and always in good humor, Harriet proved a good antidote to her own frequent glooms. Harriet told bad jokes she had learned from the soldiers at the embassy, she shared silly, but not malicious, gossip about others in the English expatriate community, and she thought Anne was perhaps the best artist ever in the history of the world. Anne tried her hand at painting a formal portrait of Harriet, but to Anne’s eyes the finished piece looked more like a portrait of the villa’s elderly senior gardener than the fresh-faced girl from Cheshire. Harriet laughed over the image and vowed to treasure it always. “After all,” she said, “the gardener is a handsome old fellow, for his age, and if I can look like him when I’m a hundred, too, I’ll be the prettiest old thing in England!”
As the season progressed, Dr. Minton’s prominent role in Anne’s daily life began to take on a more intimate tenor. When the others were distant, he acted more like a suitor than a servant. Harriet tried to intervene and stay close to Anne when he was in his “courting moods,” as she called them, but Anne did not always appreciate her friend’s efforts to keep the doctor away. His hovering as a physician irked Anne, but sometimes his interest as a man pleased and flattered her. While she did nothing to encourage him, neither did she discourage him. If he turned out to be the only man willing to court her, at least someday she would be able to look back on pleasant memories of having once been the object of a man’s attentions. As her mother’s disapprobation would put an end to this when they returned home, Anne felt safe in enjoying Dr. Minton’s gallantries without fear of being held accountable for her actions later.
Winter yielded to spring, and the orchards across the hills above Naples burst into fragrant seas of blossoms. Anne did dutiful sketches of the changing landscape and sent them to her mother, although she knew her limited talents were no match for the beauty. If only she could capture the delicious aroma! The apple orchards back home could offer no comparison to the citrus and jasmine scents floating on the warming spring air.
Under Dr. Minton’s careful supervision, Anne and her companions expanded their travels beyond Naples. They journeyed to Pompeii to view the excavations of the lost city alongside other awed visitors. Anne traced a few sketches to complete later and send to Colonel Fitzwilliam. They visited captivating towns along the coast, where they gazed in wonder at the enchanting beauty, which seemed like something from a fairy tale. At one small seaside village, they watched fishermen bring in their catch. One playful man held out to the ladies a wriggling animal made up of nothing but legs, and their startled shrieks made the other fishermen laugh. Dr. Minton blasted the men with his outrage, which only made them laugh harder. Anne understood that this sea creature would be someone’s dinner that night. Had she eaten one of them and not realized it? She blanched at the thought.
Anne treasured these weeks of her stay. She traveled to places she had never imagined and saw a parade of vistas too beautiful to describe. She ate exotic fruits and marveled that even the simplest ingredients could be turned into feasts that put the best of England to shame. How she loved this place, with its vibrant colors and exuberant people. She hoped that a little of their energy would come home with her. With all due respect for her physician’s efforts, this place was the real tonic bringing her to life.
In its turn, Lent gave way to Easter, and all the celebrations in Naples were a source of great interest to Anne. For her, in their quiet corner of Kent, Easter represented church services and dinners with friends. Here, it meant parades and special meals and boisterous traditions hundreds of years old. Signora Abelli arranged for a traditional Neapolitan feast for her English guests, including a roasted lamb, cheese-stuffed bread, and delectable custard pies. Anne hoped Mrs. Ross would be able to reproduce these. Or, better yet, she hoped they could all come back next year. She would have Dr. Minton look into the possibility of reserving this villa for next winter. Once her mother saw how much she had improved after her time abroad, surely she would be allowed to return every year.
With the warming weather, Anne took to having her bedroom windows open in the evening. At Rosings, she never had her bedroom windows open. They stayed closed to protect her from the cold of winter and the heat of summer. But here, in this magical place, even the air contributed to her wellbeing.
One night, however, the open windows gave Anne more knowledge than she wished for. On a still, moonless evening, the sound of hushed laughter drifted up from the garden. At first Anne suspected two house servants were savoring the beautiful darkness, but then a familiar girlish giggle was followed by a man’s attempt to hush her. Anne knew that giggle well. She had heard it a thousand times before, but not with such a cozy and flirtatious tone. The giggle belonged to Dolly.
Remembering Harriet’s accusations about Dr. Minton and her servant, Anne got out of bed and went to the window. Embarrassed to be spying on her own maid, she nonetheless looked out into the garden below to see if she could spot the pair and confirm Harriet’s story. But she must have been visible in the window, because she heard the hushed figures move away in the darkness. Only faint outlines revealed the two, and Anne had no way to confirm who they were.
The next morning, as a cheerful Dolly helped Anne dress, Anne felt she must say something. She began with a general statement about how, being guests in a foreign land, they should always be on their best behavior and exercise discretion at all times. The girl needed no further explanation and turned as red as a rose. She muttered her complete agreement and said she would make sure to behave in a way to make her mistress proud. Embarrassed by Dolly’s mortification, Anne gave her permission to depart, and the girl fled the room.
The incident lingered with Anne. Dr. Minton attended to her that day in his usual solicitous manner. Dolly surely would have shared her humiliation with her suitor. If the physician had been Dolly’s companion, he gave no indication as he chatted over breakfast and offered plans for the day. Dr. Minton could not harbor a guilty conscience, Anne decided, because he would betray some regret or upset. Instead, he maintained his usual cordial concern with no hint of discomfiture. She concluded Dolly’s partner in mischief must be someone else.
This brought Anne small relief. She dwelled on her doubts—and guilt over her doubts—with such a gloom that it roused Harriet’s curiosity. After she coaxed the story out of Anne, complete with Anne’s baffled admission that she did not understand why this upset her so, Harriet laughed. “It is because you are jealous!”
Anne disparaged the idea. How could she be jealous of her maid, especially when she had no idea who the man could be?
“You don’t need a claim on a man to be jealous,” Harriet said. “La, it is the most nonsensical of emotions. You are jealous that your maid has found someone and you have not. I was once jealous of our family’s younger maid because she had found a sweet companion and I had none. I had no claim on her man, and certainly no designs to make one. I merely envied her good fortune. Same for you, Anne. To be jealous of another’s happiness when you are alone is the most natural thing in the world. It means your heart is alive.” Harriet thought for a moment, then decided to proceed. “Anne, you have never been in love. That is why you accepted your Mr. Darcy’s departure with so little pain. I know you did not love him. You have never mentioned him once since you told me the story about his marrying that other girl. If you had had any emotions for him at all, you would have sopped my ears with a hundred tender recollections, and you would have gone on about how miserable life is, and how sad it was to be in so romantic a place without him.”
Stunned, Anne had no reply. She accepted that Darcy had never loved her, but she must have felt something for him. Harriet had to be wrong, but she would need time to think about how to counter her statement.
Harriet needed no time to reflect. “Oh, Anne, Italy is the best place to start out with love! La, so many handsome men, and so far from the wagging tongues at home! Of course, I know you. You would never do anything worthy of gossip. But while you are here, why not think about trying out a flirtation? I can introduce you to so many handsome fellows!”
As Harriet began a list of the officers stationed at the ambassador’s headquarters and their finest attributes, Anne let her friend wax long on her favorite subject without listening to her. Could it be true that she had never been in love? Had she never loved Darcy? She must have, and Harriet must be wrong.
Italy was indeed a romantic place. If Mrs. Jenkinson could be correct that Dr. Minton had developed a strong affection for her, Naples might be the reason why. …Could she find in herself the courage to attempt a flirtation? She had toyed with the idea when it had only been a tantalizing, abstract notion. Now, kind-hearted Harriet might turn it into an all-too-real possibility. As frightening as a flirtation sounded, part of her thrilled at the thought. Surely someone in the English community here would be of a suitable rank. Then her heart sank as she thought of her mother’s expecting her conduct to be always above reproach. Anne would never dream of embarrassing her by forgetting her station. Then, once again, she wondered why anyone would want to have a flirtation with her. She chose not to dwell on that. Perhaps the magic of Naples would find a way to make even her worthy of affection.
To celebrate the end of Lenten sacrifice and self-denial, the British ambassador to the court of Naples announced a series of balls. The inaugural event would be an invitation-only masquerade for the English population. To calm fears that the masquerade might suffer from the ribald reputation they had in London, the ambassador made assurances in the invitations that all in attendance would be ladies and gentlemen, and all would unmask at the end of the evening, thereby reducing, if not eliminating, the anonymous mischief that too-often characterized these events.
Harriet expressed her rapture at the prospect of a masquerade and immediately set out to design appropriate costumes for them all. When she learned that Dr. Minton had been included in the invitation in addition to Anne, Mrs. Jenkinson, and herself, she withdrew her universal offer and said she “would not presume to make a decision for so worthy a gentleman.” Dr. Minton declared that he took no offense at her retracted offer, saying it would be undignified for someone in his profession to be seen in a costume and would attend in evening dress and a simple mask. In truth, Anne felt grateful that Harriet would not be concocting something for him. Knowing her, she would devise an outfit that would seem acceptable on the surface but convey some sort of devilish secondary meaning. Harriet confirmed Anne’s suspicions when in private she laughed about making him up to be “Dick Turpin just before his hanging or Adonis after he’s been torn apart by the dogs.”
Mrs. Jenkinson wanted something allegorical, so she and Harriet discussed a primavera costume. Harriet thought something elegant would suit Anne, and she encouraged her to be a masked Elizabethan lady.
Anne had conflicting emotions about the matter. While she had been diligently practicing her dancing, she had never attended a ball in her life. She would hardly know how to behave. Yet, was not this trip about trying new things and doing what she had never done before? As the idea of a flirtation still lingered, doubts clouded her thoughts. With great trepidation, she let Harriet design a costume for her.
While a dressmaker from town put their costumes together, Anne made plans for their return to England, which would be started in about a month. It grieved her to think of leaving this place, but now that April had arrived, they would do well to be gone before the heat of summer descended on Naples. She planned their route back through all the Grand Tour cities they had hurried through, this time taking in the glories at a leisurely pace.
In her preparation, Anne went on a gift shopping expedition with Mrs. Jenkinson. For her mother, several pieces of jewelry and colorful clay figurines; a tea set for Mrs. Collins; an ornate crèche of clay figures for Mr. Collins, even though he might disapprove of its fineness as idolatry; carnival masks for Emily and Frances Fairfax, and other suitable items for their parents and other friends. The only item she had purchased for herself so far was a gold ring with a golden topaz stone that the merchant assured her would banish melancholy and impart courage.
On this trip into the city, one change caught Anne’s attention. She heard a lot more French being spoken. Perhaps the people of France had discovered the pleasures of the city as the English had, but these were not families visiting for the season. Most of the French speakers were male, many were young, and quite a few had a military bearing even if they wore no uniforms. Perhaps Napoleon had dispersed his army with the advent of peace. But if the treaty had been signed last year, why were these men only showing up now? The Neapolitans seemed ungracious to the Frenchmen, which could be expected after the French had so handily defeated them in their recent conflict, but otherwise they appeared unperturbed by this quiet invasion. Anne could not decide if this meant something or if she had finally noticed details that had been present all along.
A week before the masquerade, the dressmaker brought up to the villa the costumes for final fittings and approval. In Harriet’s room, Dolly helped the women into their outfits and admired the results. Anne stared in stunned dismay at what Harriet had ordered for her. The gold dress in the Elizabethan style, with its glass beads and veritable wings for a collar, would attract every eye in the hall. Anne had never been the public center of attention in her life. How would this dress on her be anything other than a terrible joke?
Harriet had chosen for herself the popular costume of old style men’s clothing, but the disguise so closely fit her form that there would be no mistaking her for a man. She admired herself in the mirror, then noticed Anne’s alarm in the reflection. “Is your dress not good enough?”
“It is too good!” Anne cried. “I cannot wear this.”
Harriet turned to her with a laugh. “How can it be too good? It is just right! You will be the queen of the masquerade.”
Anne began to undo the dress’s laces. Dolly joined her to assist with removing the costume. Anne felt like a fraud. To wear this would be a humiliation. What would her mother say? She could hear the searing criticism even with her mother several countries away. Such gaudy nonsense was beneath her. “I do not want to be a queen. In fact, I have changed my mind. I will not go.”
Harriet stared at her as Anne undid the collar and set it on the table. To her surprise, tears filled her eyes. In a moment, Harriet stood at her side with a handkerchief. “What’s this? Those should be tears of joy, but I daresay they are not. What do you mean, you won’t go?”
Anne accepted the handkerchief as Dolly stepped back a respectful distance to let her cry. “I will not. I cannot. Oh, the embarrassment of everyone looking at me!”
Harriet nodded for Dolly to leave, then after the maid had departed Harriet sat Anne down on the edge of the bed. “I have never heard greater nonsense in my life. You wanted this more than anything. And you said this trip would be your chance to try new things. What has changed your mind?”
Anne wiped her eyes. “What if my mother should hear about this from someone at the masquerade?”
Harriet frowned. “What if she should? There is nothing wrong with you, or the dress, or the occasion.”
“My mother would never approve of such a public display. She has never allowed me to attend a ball or dance.”
“First, how would she hear of it? Second, she has never let you go to a dance in your entire life? I have never heard of such a thing.”
Anne admitted, “She did not want me to risk becoming ill or being subjected to the judgment of others.”
Harriet shook her head. “I know she is an opinionated bully, but keeping her own daughter from having a bit of harmless fun with people her own age! No wonder you are afraid of everything. That’s not right. In fact, despite what you have said about her acumen, I wager she is more often wrong than right.”
Anne stared at her friend, stunned at her words. “How can you speak of my mother that way? You are here because of her generosity.”
“True,” Harriet said. “But that does not change the rest of her.”
Anne felt sick to her stomach. How could Harriet be so hateful and disloyal!
Harriet gave her a sad smile and softened her tone. “Anne, surely you know I am right. Lady Catherine is a vain, proud, and unkind woman. Except for you, her generosity only exists to make herself look better.”
Anne had never been so angry in her life. “How dare you….”
Harriet shook her head again. “I am not saying you should not love and respect her. She is your mother. But loving someone does not mean you should be blind to their faults.” Harriet almost laughed. “I know, my family is the very fount of flaws. My father is a gambler with no luck and less skill—we would be in the poorhouse if my mother were not such a miser and kept the funds hidden from us. My brothers love their food too well, and I know I speak out of turn—la, I’m doin’ it now!—and I am not afraid to stand up when I should sit down. But we all love each other like drunkards at the tavern. You forgive faults. That’s not the same as pretendin’ they don’t exist.”
Anne had no response. She wanted to rail against this woman’s vile and senseless venom, but her anger twisted up any arguments she might have offered.
Harriet said, “Anne, I know for a fact that you understand. You are doing it already, only you may not think of it that way. You do not always agree with your mother. I have heard you talk about your cousin Elizabeth. Mrs. Jenkinson said Lady Catherine cannot stand her. But instead of believing your mother is always right and cutting all ties with your cousin, you write to her on the sly. You honor your mother by respecting her feelings, but you stay friends with your cousin because you know she is a good person and your mother is mistaken.”
Anne’s head and heart fought to a draw, leaving her frozen in silence. She knew Harriet was wrong, and the most ungrateful, unkind creature who had ever lived, but she had no words to express her outrage.
Harriet said, “I know this is a lot to think about, and this is something none of us want to dwell on, but consider what will happen when your mother is gone someday. You will need to run your life then. Or are you going to go to the church every day and sit by her crypt until you join her? You need to live your own life, Anne.” Harriet patted her friend’s hand, then stood and called for Dolly to return and help Anne change out of her costume.
A cloud of confused thoughts swam around Anne’s mind as the maid eased off the Elizabethan costume and helped Anne back into her afternoon dress. Anne wanted to hate her sensible friend, but her thoughts could not organize a way to address her feelings. She could only gaze at the regal gown as Dolly straightened it out to pack it for the dressmaker. Anne did love the dress. It was all wrong for her, and yet she loved it. She could hear her mother’s ringing condemnation of such showy attire. But, then again, she would condemn the dress on anyone else. If Anne presented it to her for approval, her mother would steer her away from it without harsh words. She felt certain that meant her mother loved her and only wanted the best for her. Anne wondered how her mother talked about her when they were apart. Did she talk about her daughter to friends in the same manner that she talked about friends to her daughter? No, she knew that could not be possible. Her mother loved her and wanted only the best for her. Anne hated herself for entertaining the thought of anything less than that.
Yet, as she sat alone in her room during the afternoon, Anne could not hate Harriet, as much as she wished she could. In fact, with growing consternation, she could not dismiss everything her companion had said.
The friends had no conversation at supper, which drew the attention of both Mrs. Jenkinson and Dr. Minton, but when the doctor mentioned the quiet, Harriet offered the excuse of thinking about the masquerade. When he commented that such activities usually encouraged more talk among the ladies, not less, Harriet laughed lightly and countered that they were entitled to behave differently from the ladies back home.
That evening, after Anne retired, Mrs. Jenkinson joined her in her room to inquire. But Anne would not share her thoughts. Her mind was too full.
For the next two days, Anne kept more quiet than usual. Even as she went through her daily routine, her mind could rest on nothing beyond than what Harriet had said. She reviewed her life, going through every detail she could recall, trying to refute Harriet’s words against her mother. True, her mother had many opinions, but that did not make her “opinionated”…did it? She knew what was right, and she acted without fear and in the best interest of others. How could that make her a bully? Anne thought about all the times her mother had been crossed. Sometimes Lady Catherine did not respond with charity or grace. When Darcy chose to marry Elizabeth Bennet, her mother’s response had been severe, and the rancor still lingered more than three years later. Anne had always viewed her feelings as appropriate, since the engagement had been an understanding for decades, and her mother had expected him to fulfill his obligations to both families. But now, looking back on it, perhaps Anne could see that her mother had taken his actions as a personal affront and been too enthusiastic with her condemnation. Perhaps her mother did take too close an interest in the lives of others, even if she did mean well. …Perhaps, in a very small way, Harriet was right.
The day before the masquerade, Anne contemplated her finished dress, which had arrived from the dressmaker that morning. What should she do? Should she make the safe choice and stay home? Should she listen to what her mother had always told her, that she was better than such things? What did she want to do? A dance would be a chance to make a fool of herself. She knew so few of the dances, and she lacked the stamina to dance well. She would be a buffoon, masquerading as a queen. She felt lost. She sent for Dr. Minton.
The doctor arrived a few minutes later, expressing concern for her health. She reassured him that she felt fine but unsure of herself. Should she go to the masquerade?
He asked her if she felt well enough to go. She said she did. He responded that then it was only a matter of how she wanted to spend the evening. He said that if she chose not to go, the others could attend but he would stay here with her. She felt humbled by his sacrifice and thanked him. She asked him to find Harriet and send her up.
When Harriet arrived, Anne felt shame over the unkind thoughts she had had about her friend and apologized for her coldness. Harriet expressed her regrets for speaking so many unwelcome things and said she “should be horsewhipped someday for talking so freely like that.”
Anne asked Harriet if she should go to the masquerade. Harriet thought for a few moments, then said, “Anne, I cannot tell you what you should do. All I can tell you is what I would do if I were in your place. If I had come all the way to Italy to see the world and do things I had never done before, I would feel myself a right fool not to go. After all, how many will you have to look forward to back home? If I knew this was my only chance to go to a ball, I would go. Even if I did everything wrong, at least I would know I had the courage to try. You are the only one who knows if you have that courage.”
After Harriet left, Anne sat for a long time, most of it staring at the dress. That gaudy, ridiculous dress. It did not at all suit her, and she would be a laughingstock in it. And it was the most beautiful dress she had ever had.
That settled it. She would go to the masquerade.
The day of the masquerade saw cool rain, but the weather cleared before sunset and the promise of a bright evening greeted the group as they rode down the hill to the festivities.
As a result of her missing the final fitting with the dressmaker, Anne’s costume was a touch too big. She found herself forever tugging on the shoulders. The mask ill fit as well, but at least she could see out through it. Harriet’s old style gentleman’s clothes in light blue satin fit her perfectly. Dr. Minton’s fine suit and simple mask suited his professional dignity. Mrs. Jenkinson may not have been able to convey her primavera concept to the dressmaker, and the resulting costume resembled a dress caught on a hedge with snagged branches in random locations. But the widow seemed pleased, so Anne offered a vague compliment and commented on how happy she looked.
Anne’s thoughts spun too quickly for her to concentrate long on her companions during the carriage ride. She kept reviewing the dance etiquette Harriet had shared with her. The complicated social conventions attached to the evening worried her. Harriet promised to watch over her when she could, but she expected to be dancing most of the evening and would not always be available to offer guidance.
Even more on Anne’s mind was what had happened after she had time to contemplate Harriet’s assessment of Lady Catherine. Perhaps her friend could have been right about her mother’s insensitivity to the feelings of others. Anne had always viewed her mother as a respected, if perhaps highly passionate, moral arbiter. She knew what was right and had no fear of speaking when she saw errors being made by those around her. In that regard, she shared much with the freewheeling Harriet. But the effects of their actions were so very different. Lady Catherine commanded instant respect, perhaps to a small degree based on trepidation. Harriet’s observations led to self-examination and a greater understanding, if the listener cared to think about her words.
However, even more concerning than the possibility of her mother being flawed was what Anne had caught herself doing. Several times over the previous two days she had dressed down a servant for a minor matter, something entirely out of her character. In the past, if someone had made a mistake, she simply pointed out the error or made do. Now she found herself criticizing and expecting the problem to be rectified immediately. That very afternoon, when Dolly took too long to get Anne’s costume prepared, Anne heard her mother’s voice coming out of her mouth in a brief excoriation of the maid. Dolly’s surprised rush of tears horrified Anne. What had she done? Did she miss her mother’s strength and insights so much that she supplied them on her own? …Or was she becoming her mother? For most of her life, she considered that a boon. Now she had doubts. She apologized to the good-hearted Dolly, who readily accepted her request for forgiveness. But how many other people had she lambasted in the previous days? She would need to have a meeting with the staff in the morning to express her regrets if she had offended anyone.
After they arrived at the ambassador’s residence, Anne surprised herself by recognizing so many of those in attendance. Of course, everyone had a costume of some sort, but many eschewed masks. After all, the disguises would be discarded at the end of the evening and everyone would be made known. But Anne felt some surprise that her modest socializing had made known to her so many in the English population. As several ladies greeted her, for the first time Anne felt herself to be part of a community. What an exhilaration! She knew that when she returned to Rosings she would have to do more outside the home. She hoped her mother would approve.
As they entered the ballroom, Harriet lamented that its square shape would not accommodate the long rows for country dancing and might instead force quadrilles on the crowd. While Anne and Mrs. Jenkinson found a place to sit and observe the dance floor, the forthright Cheshire girl announced that she would survey the residence to learn more of the arrangements. A few minutes later, she returned with a smile and two eager junior officers in tow. She announced that the usual country dances were set for the evening, and there would be no tiresome minuets. She also proclaimed that not only were there rooms for the old gents to drink and have an evening with their card games, but also a dining room had been set up replete with English and Italian delicacies. “Ensign Barton says that the ambassador is following some local custom and will have food available all evening. There will be a supper, ‘a course, but the old ones and hungry young ones can replenish themselves whenever they wish. There will also be a lengthy interval for the musicians—and perhaps the ambassador’s creaky old wife, so she can pretend she is young enough to dance all night—and we must not mistake it for the supper. What a feast—food all night! We will have to work hard not to go home carrying our stomachs in a cart!”
Before Mrs. Jenkinson could quiz her about the Italian delicacies, two more soldiers came to greet Harriet, each requesting dances. The elated girl accepted all the invitations, and she bid Anne good luck as she went out onto the dance floor with the most senior of her beaux. Anne gave permission to Dr. Minton to go out in search of partners, as there seemed to be a surplus of women in attendance. At first he said he would stay with her, but on her third repetition of her request, with great politeness he said he could not disappoint her and went out to reconnoiter the ladies. She watched him make his choice of the no-longer-young wife of the assistant ambassador—a politic selection, both in terms of neither offending his patient nor causing jealousy with her husband, who was busy overseeing the evening’s festivities.
Watching the merrymaking from a safe corner, Anne thrilled in all of the evening’s irresistible joy. However, by the time the third set finished, Anne regretted her belief that she could dance in public. The music was either too energetic or something she did not know. The sets seemed foreshortened, perhaps in recognition of the scarcity of men as much as the room’s square shape, but she lived in dread of being asked to dance. The shorter sets meant more moving and less standing. She had counted on a great deal of standing to help husband her meager energy reserves. When a gentleman came by looking for a partner, Anne hid behind her fan and talked with Mrs. Jenkinson until he passed by. Anne’s protective shepherd understood her stratagem and made sure to keep a lookout for potential problems. After the sixth dance, fewer men strolled by in search of partners, and they could let down their guard and watch in safety.
Anne surveyed the astounding variety of flamboyant costumes. Freed by the season and the distance from home, her countrymen had outdone themselves with creative excess. Greek and Roman gods, Harlequins and Columbines, fortunetellers, foreign peasants, and all manner of colorful historical figures filled the hall. Her Elizabethan dress, which had looked garish and overdone at the villa, appeared so subdued in comparison that it could hardly be noticed amid all the tawdry finery.
Anne felt happy seeing Harriet having a wonderful time on the dance floor and never wanting for partners. But eventually Anne’s attention was drawn from her friend to a figure dressed in a flowing black domino. In addition to the cape, the man had a mask, unlike many others, and a large tricorn on his head. Anne did not recognize him. He was tall, a masterful dancer, and, from the gazes of the women in the room, a much-wished-for partner. Despite his voluminous wrap, the domino moved freely enough to show off his fine legs, as if he needed to display that confirmation of his dancing skills. He obliged the surplus of ladies in attendance by partaking in every dance and never sitting down to rest. Harriet had a pair of spirited dances with him, and afterwards she came back to join her friends for a rest in the growing warmth of the ballroom. She flopped into her chair with an exclamation of exhausted exultation. “Oh, Anne! Did you see my last partner?”
Anne replied that she did.
Harriet said with a sigh, “Signor Domino is by far the best dancer in the room tonight. And such a gentleman! Handsome, too, even if he hides it behind his mask. I wish I knew who he is. When the evening’s over and all are unmasked, we shall have to find him and invite him up for tea. But we better be quick, or else every other woman will be in line before us!”
Dr. Minton returned to his chair for a rest as Harriet waxed long with her praise of the mysterious gentleman. The doctor tried to hide his scowl as he examined the fellow. Mrs. Jenkinson asked the doctor if he had met the stranger during his trips to town. “I have not made his acquaintance,” he replied, “although earlier I saw him talking with the ambassador and his assistant as if he knew them. I imagine he is a soldier stationed here.”
Harriet shook her head. “I know all the officers, and I will bet my last shilling he is no enlisted man. I heard there is an English frigate come into port today. Maybe he is in the navy.” Harriet gave her friend a teasing glance. “He asked about you, Anne. I would not be surprised if he seeks you out before the evening is through.”
Mrs. Jenkinson beamed at her charge, but, despite the warmth of the room, Anne’s body shook with an icy shiver. Everyone was watching him, and if she were his partner, she in turn would be watched by all. Surely she would not know the dances and make a mess of it with all eyes on her—such a dreadful prospect! Or worse, her endurance would not last and she would have to leave the set in the middle, causing a ripple of chaos that would upset the entire dance floor. She wanted to flee, but doing so would force the others to curtail their evening. She had long since given up the notion of dancing at the masquerade, so turning down the stranger would do no harm. But she dreaded the conversation. She so rarely talked with men, and under the scrutiny of all the others, she knew she would say something wrong and offend him. She stood in haste and announced that she would go to the supper room and return later. Dr. Minton and Mrs. Jenkinson stood to attend her, but before Harriet could join them, a stout young Bacchus found her and led her away to the dance.
In the quiet of the dining room, the trio found only a handful of older men talking of cards and a table of older women discussing the evening. The English supper would not be ready for hours, but a side table offered a delight of dishes both foreign and domestic. Anne gathered a few items on a plate, but she had no appetite. When she and her two attendants settled at an empty table, she did not even bother removing her mask in an admission that she would not be dining. She stared at the food on her plate in a forlorn gloom. Dr. Minton watched her actions and offered polite inquiries about how she felt, was she tired, etc. He suggested that he should hire a carriage to take the two of them home and leave their own transportation for the others when they wished to depart. Mrs. Jenkinson said she would stay with Anne, but Dr. Minton reminded her that her departure would leave Harriet by herself, so the only appropriate option would be for him to take Anne back to the villa and for Mrs. Jenkinson to stay. Anne knew that would cause inconvenience for all, and she said she did not need to leave. She wanted to stay and learn as much as she could about dances in case she ever went to another one. She did not admit to the others that if this turned out to be the only ball she ever attended, she did not want to leave early and recall only how afraid she had been.
Once she felt assured that her charge felt only nervous and not unwell, Mrs. Jenkinson ate her fill of the English and Neapolitan food on the side tables. She lamented their future loss of Italian cuisine and hoped the recipe list Mrs. Ross planned with the villa’s cook would be ready by the time they left for home. Dr. Minton ate, a little, spending more time trying to encourage Anne to eat something. Once this had been Mrs. Jenkinson’s task, but as Anne progressed in health and strength, to Anne’s relief Mrs. Jenkinson had eased her efforts. That created an opening for Dr. Minton to step in. Usually frustrated by a gentleman partaking in this menial hovering, tonight she found herself not unhappy with Dr. Minton’s minute ministrations. If nothing else, they distracted from her regrets over how ill-prepared she had been for the evening.
If she had the chance when they returned to England, Anne hoped to attend more balls just to watch and study. She thought of all the young people in attendance tonight, moving so comfortably through the many nuances of the event. Surely Emily and Frances Fairfax knew every rule and would be at ease in this environment, while she, many years their senior, knew almost nothing. The cloistered nature of her life nagged at her again. Why had she been so sickly? It had stunted a great many aspects of her life.
As Mrs. Jenkinson announced that she could not possibly eat another bite, a platoon of servants appeared with more dishes. Mrs. Jenkinson ogled the pastas and ragouts, but she demurred, with regrets. A few minutes later, laughter filled the hallway. The interval had arrived, and soon the room would be full of merrymakers. Unwilling to face the crowd, Anne announced that she would return to the dance hall. As she stood, Dr. Minton wolfed down the last of his meal and joined her. Her stomach full from the glories of the side table, Mrs. Jenkinson waddled along behind them.
The dancing hall stood mostly empty, save for the musicians taking their break and a few chatting stragglers. Despite the windows being fully open, the oppressive heat from all the activity took Anne’s breath away for a moment. She wondered if someday she would ever have the chance to participate in such an intense event. Surely if she did, the warmth and exercise would make her swoon.
Anne retook her chair in the corner and brought out her fan for some relief, then she blanched at seeing the handsome stranger enter the room from the front hall. She looked away, but she heard him approach her group. She looked up to see him standing before her. He removed his tricorn, revealing thick, well-groomed black hair. He offered her a sweeping bow in keeping with his dramatic cloak and mask. “My lady,” he said in tones that indicated he was a gentleman of some education, “I am sorry I did not come tonight as Francis Drake.”
Anne recalled Harriet mentioning one peculiarity of masquerade etiquette that allowed people to speak freely with one another without being introduced. Hoping her voice betrayed none of her terror, she replied, “Sir, you are late to the interval. You will miss out on some very fine food.”
“Yes,” he said as he replaced his hat, “I am afraid one of my shoes gave way in the last dance, and I had to fetch my second pair.”
Anne had no idea how to respond. At her silence, Mrs. Jenkinson chimed in, “I am not surprised, sir. You have danced every dance. You deserve a good rest before you begin again.”
He smiled and chatted with her about not wanting to disappoint the abundance of women who wished to dance. Anne took the moment to study him. Of the local English population, she had met more of the women than the men, but she hoped that she might recognize him. His rich brown eyes were not familiar, and neither was his well-inflected voice. He apologized to them for his perspiration from the warm room, and Mrs. Jenkinson, clearly captivated by the stranger, offered him absolution and praise for his good and generous activity. Despite his exertion, to Anne’s eyes he showed no signs of fatigue. As Harriet had observed, he was the best dancer in the hall.
His attention returned to Anne. “I noticed you have not danced this evening. If you are accepting invitations, I would be honored to have the first two dances after the interval.”
She had no idea what to say, but she finally admitted the truth. “Sir, I must decline. I know very few dances, and even if I did, I would lack the strength to finish even one rigorous set.”
He nodded, thinking. “Perhaps the first lady will choose to begin slowly when everyone returns from eating. If you would be so kind, please tell me some of your favorite dances. I shall make inquiries if the musicians know them.”
Anne mentioned the two absolute slowest dances she knew. But in such an energetic setting, it would be absurd for anyone to choose them.
The man thanked her. “Might I have the honor of escorting you to the interval?”
“We have dined already,” Anne managed to say.
He offered her another gallant bow. “I hope we shall talk later.” He turned and went to the musicians, who were dining on food brought in for them.
Anne knew nothing would come of their talking later, despite his stated wishes. However, he was an uncommonly gallant gentleman. Perhaps Harriet had guessed correctly about his being a naval officer.
Only then did Anne notice the scowl on Dr. Minton’s face as he watched the gentleman talking with the musicians. “Doctor,” she said, and he roused himself from his glare. “You seem concerned. Are you worried about the prospect of your patient dancing?” Despite her polite words, she knew that could not be the case. Even as socially unskilled as she was, she knew the look of jealousy, and she found his anger amusing.
“No, Miss. Well, in fact, yes, I am concerned about this heat. Without a good breeze to stir the air, I fear you would be sickened from exerting yourself here. Your decision to limit yourself to observing the evening has been very wise.” He then offered to find a waiter and bring her some punch. She agreed with his excellent idea. She did not need the refreshment; she needed for him to leave so she could release the laugh waiting in her throat. He excused himself and departed to find a waiter.
He was barely out of the room when Anne and Mrs. Jenkinson both erupted in laughter. “Oh, Miss Anne,” Mrs. Jenkinson sighed, “did you ever see such a thing? And in a grown man! I am so glad you made him leave. I feared I would laugh in his face!”
Anne laughed so hard that it brought on a coughing spell. As she found her handkerchief, she looked up to see the mystery man standing above her again. “Are you unwell? Shall I find you a doctor?”
That made Anne giggle again, but as she worked to hold in her mirth she signaled that she was all right. When she found her voice, she thanked him for his kind offer.
He nodded, then said, “With your permission, my lady, I would like to request again the next two dances. I believe you will have nothing to fear.”
Anne’s mirth died and she grew pale. “Sir, I….”
“I understand,” he said. “But please consider it. Do not give me your answer until the interval is over.” He bowed, then left for the dining room.
As Anne’s dread washed over her, Mrs. Jenkinson marveled. “He does you such an honor. I hope you will consider giving him at least one dance. I am certain he would understand if you could not manage the second.”
Anne’s doubts grew. “Do you trust him?”
The widow nodded. “By my honor, I do. Besides, Dr. Minton said he seemed to be on friendly terms with the ambassador and assistant ambassador. Surely they would not have invited him if he were a scoundrel.”
Anne contemplated her companion’s words. How confusing. Why would a man be interested in her? Harriet must have told him who she was, and he had heard of the wealth she would inherit someday. That could be the only explanation.
When Harriet came back from the dining room a short time later, Anne quizzed her about the mystery man and what she had said to him. She promised that he had neither asked for her name nor had she mentioned it. “He asked about my friend who sat in the corner and did not dance. He wanted to know if there was some reason why you hid so quiet and out of the way, and if it would be impolite for him to ask you for a dance. I told him you were recuperating from an illness, and that you were the shyest creature I had ever met in my whole life.”
Anne blushed. “Harriet!”
“He took it without question. Besides, it is true.” She winked at her friend. “I noticed he came down late. Did he come by to ask you?”
Harriet gushed, “What did you say?”
“That I would consider it.”
Mrs. Jenkinson said, “Miss, from what Miss Armistead says, I would say he is an honorable gentleman and you should consider accepting.”
Anne regarded her fervent advisors as Dr. Minton reappeared with a glass of punch. He presented it to her with kindness and respect. “Are you feeling better?”
Anne took a sip and said that she did feel much improved, then asked if he could bring refreshments for her companions. He nodded and left. “Dr. Minton does not want me to dance.”
Harriet countered, “That is every reason to do it, then. Oh, Anne, please say yes. If you say no, I will be forced to accept in your place and I do not know how I could ever dance with another man after being his partner twice.” She laughed.
Anne thought for a long while, coming up with every reasonable excuse to say no. Then she noticed that in small groups people had begun to return to the dance hall. She had little time left. She sipped again from her glass of punch, invigorated by its cool freshness and liquid courage. Her friends said yes, but her fear said no. Fear was her oldest companion of all, having been with her from her earliest days. But when had it ever told her something that was not in its own best interest? If she made a mess of the dance, the chatty assistant ambassador would surely include an account of it in a letter to her mother. He mentioned several letters that he had already written to her.
But what would come of it? Her mother would give her a gentle scolding for damaging her dignity in public. It could be no worse than that. Perhaps it was the rum in the punch, but by the time Dr. Minton had returned with glasses for Harriet and Mrs. Jenkinson, Anne had made up her mind.
The mystery man came into the room from a quick meal. Anne stood, waiting for him. As he approached, she held out her hand. “Yes, Signor Domino. I shall dance with you.”
He beamed as he bowed, then took her hand. Anne ignored Dr. Minton’s scowl as she gave her empty glass to Mrs. Jenkinson and let her partner lead her out to the dance floor. By twos and fours, they were joined by Harlequins, sultanas, a shepherdess and a Robin Hood, a Roman emperor, Bo-Peep, Red Riding Hood, and several soldiers escorting fortunetellers and Italian peasants.
As she and Signor Domino stood two couples down from the head of the set, Anne imagined all eyes were on her, with many a feminine pair tinged green. She feared what would follow, praying for the accuracy of this stranger’s assurance that she had nothing to fear. She eyed the young woman who held the honor of this set’s first lady. Despite the sultana’s mask, Anne recognized her as the Babcocks’ daughter Barbara. What dances would the lively girl decide for them? Anne prayed that she would not show off her own skills with something energetic and dreadful.
Miss Babcock gave Signor Domino a smiling nod. Anne recalled seeing the two dance together previously, so perhaps she hoped to be asked again. To Anne’s surprise, however, Miss Babcock announced the first of Anne’s dances. Anne had been trying to hide her discomfort by looking at everyone other than Signor Domino, but at the first lady’s words she gazed at him in wonder. Surely during the interval he had engaged in a kindly conspiracy with Miss Babcock to bring this about. He merely nodded with proper solemnity, and the dance began.
Anne had no time to converse with her partner as the dance required all her attention. Each step and turn demanded complete concentration. Within moments she was glowing from her effort in the overheated room, but she could spare no thoughts to ponder how ill she might look. All her previous dancing had been in a private home with friends, mere practice. She stiffened with nerves, then remembered Monsieur Saint-Vancomy’s gentle advice to have joy. As she completed a turn, right on time was Signor Domino’s hand, calm and firm, ready to take hers. Some of his confidence seemed to pass through his hand into her. She could do this. She would have to forgo the polite conversation that Harriet said would be expected, but she hoped he would forgive her.
Before she realized it, the dance concluded. She caught her breath and gazed in wonder at her partner. He nodded and smiled, saying, “Methinks you have been doing this your entire life.”
“Indeed, I have not!” Anne exclaimed. “I cannot thank you enough. This was a dream come true.”
A small frown touched his lips. “Will you not give me the second dance?”
She found her handkerchief and dabbed her face at the edges of her mask. How could she think of ruining so perfect a memory?
“Are you fatigued, my lady?” asked Signor Domino.
Anne stood frozen, not knowing where to look. Upon hearing Miss Babcock announce the next dance—the second of Anne’s choices—she knew she had no excuse to abandon the dance floor. In truth, turning her back on his generosity would be a greater insult than trying and failing. She prayed she could muster the requisite mettle. She heard herself say, “Yes, a second dance.”
The music began, and once again she forewent the usual talk. The dance’s delicate maneuvers were perfectly suited to the last of her energy. Where some of the girls skipped, she stepped. No extra flourishes, just the graceful and elegant lines. If she had not been so tired, she would have enjoyed this more. But she would be satisfied in accomplishing the dance, if not in doing it well. At one point she noticed Harriet and Mrs. Jenkinson watching her, sharing her triumph. Two dances in a row! Who could have imagined it?
This, too, came to an end sooner than Anne expected, even as she worried that she would not be able to continue. Signor Domino took her hand and led her back to her chair. As Mrs. Jenkinson handed Anne her fan, Harriet gushed to the mystery man, “Please, before all the other women ask you later, would you join us for tea tomorrow or the next day?”
He shook his head with regret. “Alas, I may not. I must leave for home in the morning.”
Anne surprised herself by asking, “Could you delay a day or two?”
He said, “I wish I could. But I shall return for the unmasking to bid you all farewell.” He bowed with a flourish worthy of his dramatic costume and took his leave.
Anne’s gaze followed him as he approached a young wood nymph sitting nearby and spoke briefly with her. She nodded with an enchanted smile and took his hand. He led her to the dance floor.
Harriet said to her friend, “Anne, you were so magical out there! I could scarcely believe my eyes. We must find out who he is so you can cross paths with him again back home. I am actually looking forward to returning to England now!”
Dr. Minton joined them from the dance floor and offered Anne another glass of punch he had collected along the way. “You look all in,” he said as she sipped the cool drink. “I hope you won’t exert yourself further.”
She watched the mystery man take his place in the set. “I can assure you, doctor, I am content to stay here and watch for the rest of the evening.”
He nodded with satisfaction. As Harriet and Mrs. Jenkinson occupied the chairs that flanked Anne, he sat next to Mrs. Jenkinson. “I am pleased to see how well you did,” he said to his patient. “How far you have come since you left England!”
As she watched Signor Domino partake in a lively dance with his new partner, she could not agree more. How far she had come, in so many ways. She would need at least two days to write all this in letters to her mother and cousin Elizabeth. How could she capture the evening without sounding as if she were boasting?
The heat of the room caught up with her, and she could not bear having on her ill-fitting mask for another moment. Harriet tried to prevent her from revealing her identity so soon, but Anne removed the mask. She studied it in her hands, then watched the mystery man. Would he be so ready to keep her acquaintance once he saw her face? The magic of their dances faded in her thoughts, and she doubted he would return as promised. As he waited his turn in the dance, he caught sight of her. He nodded and smiled before returning his attention to his partner. Anne sighed. What did she have to offer this gallant man for his friendship other than opportunities to be noble and condescending? At least she had the triumph of her dances, even if she felt sure that he must be the reason for her success.
A pang of hunger surprised her, and she remembered that she had not eaten a bite of food. She announced that she would go to the dining room for some of whatever might be left, and Mrs. Jenkinson agreed to go with her. Dr. Minton tried to go as well, but Anne said nothing would please her more than for him to make some woman happy by offering to dance. Anne gave the mystery man another long gaze, and then the two left the heat and music for the relative cool and quiet of the dining room.
Among the stragglers still at the tables, Anne savored a bowl of soup that tasted better than anything she had ever eaten in her life. Despite her certainty that they would never see each other again after this night, her mind was full of Signor Domino. If only she could compete with the other ladies who must swarm around him day and night! She wanted to laugh at her own nonsense, but she already felt his absence, even though he had not yet departed from Naples. How could she miss someone she had only just met? Did she dare inquire about where he would be in a few months when she arrived home?
With fear and impatience doing battle in her head, she waited for Mrs. Jenkinson to nibble away at an entire second supper. Sensing Anne’s impatience to return to the dance, Mrs. Jenkinson nobly passed over a second helping of flummery, and they left the dining room.
The two returned to a dancing hall that at first glance appeared the same, but the tenor of the activity had changed. Fewer dancers graced the floor, and Anne could see the ambassador and his staff engaged in an urgent conversation in the corner of the room. The mystery man was missing, as were a number of the officers. Anne found Harriet sitting out the dance and asked her what had happened. “I don’t rightly know. I was dancing, and then it ended sooner than usual. I lost my partner when the ambassador gathered some of the soldiers from the dance, and the group has been at it over there for ten minutes or more.”
“Where is Signor Domino?” Anne asked.
Harriet replied, “He was in the first group the ambassador pulled off the floor. I did not see him leave.”
Dr. Minton joined the women. “Something is amiss, but no one will tell me what is happening. I have called for our carriage. I believe the evening will be ending shortly.”
Anne sat with nervous, clenched hands as she studied the concerned faces of the men huddled around the ambassador. She had no idea what it could mean, but she knew it meant ill.
The dance finished, and the ambassador left his group. He stood before the musicians, his face grave. “My friends,” he proclaimed in somber tones, “I have received a most alarming message this evening. A courier has brought word that the Treaty of Amiens has been withdrawn. England has declared war against the French Republic. Hostilities may recommence at any time.” Gasps and a flurry of hushed conversations erupted. “As you know, in recent times Naples has been subject to the power of France. The courier heard reports from other parts of Italy that French government agents are seizing Englishmen and taking them into custody. For your own safety, I recommend you not wait for further news. I urge you to leave Naples as quickly as you can.”
Panicked shrieks punctuated the buzz of conversation as some merrymakers dashed for the door while others sought out their friends for discussion and plans. Dr. Minton ushered the ladies out through the throng into the jarring cool of the restless Neapolitan street to await their carriage.
By the time the party reached their hillside home above the city, their decisions had been made. They would leave as soon as possible. An overland trip would be too dangerous. With only one British Navy vessel in the port, a military escort or evacuation could not be expected. They would have to take their chances on a commercial ship, either English or ally. Dr. Minton stayed at the villa only long enough to accept money from Anne to book passage for the company, and then he returned down the hill to the harbor.
They spent the night in hurried packing. Without sufficient wagons at the villa to carry their growing number of trunks and parcels, items of lesser importance would be left behind. Deciding that she could justify in taking only half of her trunks, Anne gave some of her clothing to Signora Abelli to distribute among the villa’s staff. Smaller gifts could be tucked into the luggage, but the carnival masks for the Fairfax sisters and tea set and crèche for the Collinses could not be accommodated. Her sole regret with her own possessions was giving up the masquerade gown, but it had never been designed to be packed anyway.
Anne dreaded the prospect of weeks trapped aboard a ship, but with no other choice she would make do. If nothing else, travel by sea should be faster than the overland journey that had brought them hither.
By dawn, the group had done as much as it could and waited with the stacks of luggage by the front door for the return of Dr. Minton. Tears flowed free as the villa staff and English visitors, once strangers, now grieved as a family torn apart. The most weeping happened between the rival cooks, Mrs. Ross and the villa chef, who had become closer than sisters. The planned cookbook, which consisted of a mere half-dozen completed pages, rested safely in Mrs. Ross’s trunk.
A bleary-eyed Dr. Minton returned just after sunrise. Over a hasty breakfast, he told the mixed news of his success. He had found a sturdy English merchant ship that had just enough remaining passenger space to accommodate the entire group, but the best cabin had already been booked, so they would have to make the journey in what was left. Under the circumstances, he decided a timely exit to be more important than a comfortable voyage. Anne and the others agreed and thanked him for his efforts. The ship would be sailing with the tide just before noon, so they had to leave for the harbor within the hour.
The household staff patched together a motley caravan of the villa carriage and borrowed wagons for the evacuating guests. With many tearful thanks and promises to return someday, the weary English contingent left their Naples home and headed down the hill for the last time.
Even on the slowest of days, the bustling metropolis of Naples could never be described as tranquil, but on that morning the surge of humanity neared chaos. A throng of foreign nationals streamed out of the city overland by carriage and cart, while others descended on the harbor in search of escape from the coming storm.
In the tumult on the quay, no one noticed the simply-dressed Englishman pacing before the merchant ship Lady Helen. Of a middling age, possessing the precision of an experienced valet, Richard Harrison consulted his fob watch and surveyed the crowd, then looked back at the ship’s crew finishing their preparations. The master should have been on board an hour ago. He glanced at his watch again. How unlike him to be so tardy. Something must be amiss.
Harrison stepped out of the way of a cart hauling baggage down to another ship. He thanked Providence that the master had him arrange passage when they arrived in town yesterday morning. Today people were lucky to find sleeping accommodations in the cargo holds. Every ship in the harbor able to make the journey seemed to be preparing to flee.
At last Harrison’s prayers were answered and he caught sight of the familiar face, but his relief turned to distress when he saw the master hurrying with what looked like his waistcoat wrapped around his right forearm. His scabbard hung empty at his side, the sword missing. The valet’s trained eye also noted what looked like blood spots on his boots.
John Francis Raphael Allenden greeted his valet with a signal for them to consult behind a stack of crates on the quay. “Sir, you’re hurt!” Harrison cried as he attempted to unwrap the makeshift bandage.
Allenden stopped him. “A scratch. Far less than what I gave. No, not here. You can tend it aboard. We are in a pickle, Harrison.”
“A pickle, indeed!” He glared into his young master’s dark brown eyes. “Did I not warn you about what could happen if you went in search of the frigate’s commander?”
“As always, Harrison, you were correct. But I had to learn if they were heading back to Portsmouth. It would have been a safer and faster passage. No luck—they had already left port.”
The valet eyed the master’s wounded arm. “Napoleon’s agents?”
The master replied with a grim nod.
“Did you…kill them, sir?”
Allenden shook his head. “I wounded one, but the other fled for help.”
“Did they know what you had?”
“They did not say it, but they knew I was to be arrested. Blast it, man, I did not think. I never thought they would be on to me this far south. What a careless mistake to have you book our passage using my real name. I should say we find another ship and use false names, but how would we find something in this maelstrom?”
“Most unlikely, sir. I have heard crewmen talking about how all the ships’ accommodations along this wharf were sold out by dawn.”
Allenden considered his choices as he watched an English family hurrying past with overburdened servants in tow. “We will have to obscure the truth, Harrison. I shall pretend to be a new servant recently hired and we will ‘wait for our master’ until the ship departs and then lament that he missed the ship.”
Harrison suppressed a smile as he shook his head. “Pardon me, sir, but you could never convince a living soul you are a servant.”
“Even if I only speak Italian?”
“Sir, quality can no more pretend to be servants than we can pretend to be our betters. You will fool no one.”
Allenden sighed. “I am afraid you are right. As always.”
“Yes, sir.” Harrison suggested a more likely scheme. “I shall tell the ship’s captain that you are a school friend of the master’s that he met in town, and he offered you a place in his quarters. That way you can acknowledge your rank but not your identity.”
The master beamed at his resourceful valet. “Harrison, I would be lost without you.”
The servant shrugged off the fulsome praise. “Nonsense, sir. But let us get you aboard and tend to that souvenir les citizens gave you.”
Hiding his waistcoat and the tear in his sleeve, Allenden and his valet ascended the gangplank. When greeted by the ship’s master, Allenden introduced himself as John Francis, a friend of Major Allenden recently added to the party, and the ship’s master welcomed him aboard. Before they went below, Harrison mentioned to the crewman that they hoped his master would be arriving soon.
In the spacious stateroom, Harrison tended to the slash on Allenden’s forearm. The wound had bled freely, but its superficiality made it easy to close. In the short term, the bloodied shirt could be hidden from sight by the topcoat, which was dark enough to hide any blood that would not wash out. However, the silk waistcoat, which Allenden had used to staunch the wound’s flow, could not be saved. The valet lamented the loss. “I am certain the earl will understand.”
“My brother would rather have me back safely and thank his birthday gift for its noble sacrifice.” He added slyly, “If only the same could be said for the sentiments of his wife.”
Harrison managed to hold back a chuckle as he finished tying the bandage. “There you are, sir. You will be as good as new in a fortnight. I will get to work on washing and mending.” After some thought, he looked at the stateroom’s teakwood cabinets bolted to the walls. In a quiet voice he asked, “Do you wish to store the information here for the voyage?”
Allenden declined the suggestion. “I shall keep it with me. The ship’s company is a mixed lot. We cannot trust anyone until I am inside the War Office.”
Harrison nodded with understanding. “Sir, after I put these to soak, shall we go up to the deck and wait for Major Allenden to arrive?”
“You go. I shall stay here and get to work on the clothes. If any of the Frenchmen come by the ship and see me on board, I will be done for.”
Harrison apologized for his thoughtlessness and went up to wait by the gangplank.
Allenden sat at the small table and surveyed his home for the next few weeks. What a stroke of luck to get such fine quarters for his exodus. If only everyone in harm’s way could escape. He knew he need not worry about his grandparents in Umbria. Even though their rank might draw the attention of an invading army, their advanced age and remote location meant they would be of little importance to the French. They would be fine. But those at the ball last night were another matter. He had recognized the family that passed them on the quay from the previous night’s festivities. If the French moved in as soon as the English navy ship departed the area, any civilians left behind could be held as hostages or ransomed to support Napoleon’s next conquest.
When the ambassador had relayed the courier’s grim tidings to him and the other soldiers attending the masquerade, he had left immediately to inform Harrison. How ill-judged was his confidence in his mission’s apparent success! Why had he insisted Harrison find them an English ship going directly home? Too late he realized that they should have escaped yesterday on the first westbound ship. The delay of one day had resulted in near-calamity. He looked at the torn sleeve of his coat. At least there had only been two French agents, so he could fight his way out. But many an English civilian in town would lack the skills to do the same. He hoped all those at the masquerade last night had heeded the warning to leave. In particular, he wished safety to that delicate little creature in the Elizabethan dress. What a pleasure it had been to see her come alive during the evening. He worried what would happen to so frail a woman if the French took her prisoner.
Dr. Minton directed the coach driver onto the quay and bid him stop directly in front of the gangplank for the Lady Helen. Even before he stepped to the ground to hand Anne out of the coach, a crewman blasted him for blocking the way for the others. The driver moved the coach a short distance further on despite Dr. Minton’s insistence that they had every right to use whatever part of the quay they wished.
As Anne alighted from their transport, she urged him to be calm. “We are all tired, sir. I am sure the seamen have had little sleep as well. We do not need to antagonize them even before we begin the journey.”
Harriet stepped down next to Anne without the doctor’s assistance. “Aye, you’ll have plenty of time to do that after we set off.”
Dr. Minton ignored Harriet’s remark as he handed Mrs. Jenkinson out of the coach and then turned to supervise the removal of the baggage. Mrs. Jenkinson regarded the sturdy merchant vessel with concern. “It is none too fancy.”
The bleary-eyed doctor turned to her with exhausted frustration. “I’m sorry, madam, but it was the best I could do in the middle of the night. You can’t imagine the bedlam I faced! It was—”
Anne’s searing tone blunted his whinging. “That is quite enough, doctor.” His abject bow followed her horror at hearing her mother’s voice burst out of her mouth. She knew she would be better after some sleep. She added in a meeker tone, “We are all very grateful for what you have done on our behalf.”
Harriet took her valise from the coach’s driver. “As long as it gets us home in one piece, I’m for it.”
Dr. Minton ascended the plank and talked with one of the ship’s officers. The man nodded, then looked at the growing pile of baggage being removed from the wagons. The officer frowned, then said something to the doctor, who appeared disconcerted and continued the conversation longer than the officer wished.
Harriet assessed the situation with a simple statement. “I think we are going to have to leave more things behind.”
If Anne had thought about this happening, she would have packed items in boxes based on their relative importance so she could easily keep what mattered and leave the rest behind. As it was, no matter what baggage she left, she would lose valuables.
Dr. Minton came back down to them with a serious demeanor. “He said they cannot take on board everything we have until the last of the passengers are settled. He will not fill the remaining square feet of the hold space with baggage for only a few people.”
Mrs. Jenkinson asked, “May we store trunks in our rooms?”
He shook his head. “Some of the ‘rooms’ are perhaps six feet wide and ten long.” The women responded with dismay. He continued, “There will be barely enough room to turn around. No room for boxes and trunks.”
The servants had gathered around their conversation. All wanted to get aboard as quickly as possible. Anne said to the doctor, “Perhaps he merely wishes more money.” She opened her bag, then realized she had given nearly everything to the doctor to book their passage. With no time to get more in the rush to escape, she had nothing to offer.
Harriet said to her, “I just need one trunk. The rest can go in the drink if need be. We will find a way to keep you from losing a single box.” Mrs. Jenkinson offered to forfeit all but two of her pieces. Several servants offered sacrifices as well.
Anne refused their generosity and said she would redo her packing. She supervised Dolly in opening her parcels as the chaos of the exodus flowed around them.
Mr. Allenden glanced up from cleaning the sanguine smears off his boots as Harrison returned to the stateroom. “I got most of it, I think, Harrison. Maybe I could make a decent servant after all.”
“Leave that to me, sir,” his valet insisted.
Allenden put down the boots. “How soon do we leave?”
“We may be delayed. A large party has arrived, and they have more baggage than the ship’s master will accept. There is no room in the hold for it, and their quarters are too small for both them and their possessions.”
“Are they arguing?” Mr. Allenden asked.
Harrison shook his head. “The lady is repacking her trunks.”
This did not sound like any English lady Allenden knew—what a sight that would be. He accompanied Harrison up to the deck.
Keeping an eye on the flow of humanity passing the ship for anyone looking for him, Allenden slipped behind the quarterdeck’s mast to watch the activity. To his surprise, he recognized the two women who stood by the bent figures attending to the trunks. At the masquerade last night, the younger observer had been dressed in men’s clothing, and the other had been dressed as something verdant. Both were companions of that delicate woman who had summoned all her courage to dance in front of her peers. He studied the two women working on the baggage. Even though they faced away from the ship, he knew the one on the right could be no one other than the brave dancer.
Now the good luck of their stateroom felt entirely selfish. “Harrison, our quarters could handle all those trunks.”
“I do not think the ladies would surrender their belongings to strangers, sir.”
“Indeed they would not. We should surrender our stateroom to them. Would that disappoint you?”
Harrison smiled at his master. “Not at all, sir. A very gallant gesture. But are you certain? We did book our passage first, and it will not be a short voyage.”
Allenden frowned as he watched the baggage struggle continue. “If the women in my family found out about this and knew I could have prevented it, I would never live it down.”
Harrison nodded. “May I say, sir, the dowager countess raised a very fine son.”
Allenden eyed his servant as he hid a smile. “Harrison, I am afraid the vagaries of this assignment have changed our relationship. I find it hard not to think of you as a friend. I cannot have a friend as a servant. I may have to let you go.”
In solemn tones, the valet begged his pardon and said he had no intention of compromising his situation. Allenden acknowledged his statement with a nod.
Harrison asked, “Sir, shall I make the offer to the ship’s master?”
“Yes,” Allenden replied. “But make sure you say we are still waiting for our companion to arrive.”
Harrison nodded and went in search of the captain. Allenden watched the women sorting the contents of the trunks. Yes, his mother, sister, and aunt would surely rake him over the coals for not coming to the assistance of a gentlewoman. Let this be the brave dancer’s reward for last night’s intrepidity. He went below decks to pack up his possessions.
Still startled by their good fortune, Anne and Harriet helped Dolly finish unpacking their belongings in the ship’s stateroom. The room would be snug accommodations for four of their party, the other two being Mrs. Jenkinson and Mrs. Ross, and not a single piece of baggage had to be forfeited. Anne made the captain promise to introduce them to their benefactors. In the meantime, Mrs. Jenkinson visited the quarters that the servants would have on the way home. Anne understood some of the rooms were rather small, and she and her companions were willing to have Dolly sleep on the stateroom floor if it would help out.
Harriet flopped onto what would be her bed, a mattress spread across a carefully-arranged platform of trunks. “Lord, what an end to our stay! We arrived like a royal caravan, and now we flee like mice. We are like Cendrillon, running away from the prince’s ball after the magic spell ended. My family will never believe this!”
Anne viewed the cramped but tidy scene. They had room for not one more bag. The gentlemen who made this possible had done them such a great service, she had no idea how to express the full extent of her thanks. “Dolly, go see how the others are doing. I hope you will not have to crowd in with us, but I am sure the others will be grateful if it is necessary.”
Dolly went on her errand, and Harriet suggested that she and Anne go outside to see the last of the preparations. “Too bad you packed your sketchbooks away. A drawing or two would be a final souvenir worth all the presents you had to leave behind at the villa.”
Anne knew she could never capture the chaos, but she agreed to join Harriet for a last look at their warm winter home. If war did come again, it might be years before she could return.
They found their way out to the middeck, where they were surrounded by furious activity with the crew making final preparations. One more English family had come aboard, and Anne watched the lady of the household chastise a crewman about showing proper respect for her trunks. Anne hoped she had not sounded like that when the crew came to haul her belongings on board. Surrounded by the frantic comings and goings, Anne and Harriet had no idea how not to be in the way. The ship’s master found them and escorted them up past the gun deck to the quarterdeck, where they could survey the scene in safety. The captain, a solid, sincere man named Hawkins, greeted them with whole-hearted courtesy. “Ladies, I am most glad to have you safely aboard. We shall be leaving soon. Only one passenger has yet to arrive.”
Anne said, “Surely you will wait for him.”
The captain shook his head. “As they say, ma’am, time and tide wait for no man. If he does not come aboard in ten minutes, we will be forced to leave without him.”
Harriet asked, “What will happen to his room? Would it be available for us?”
Captain Hawkins smiled. “In fact, ma’am, you have his room. His valet is the one who conveyed the offer.” He indicated an impatient man on the middeck, waiting at the top of the gangplank, looking to the shore and then consulting his fob watch.
Anne said, “What is his master’s name? I wish to be introduced to him when he arrives so we may thank him for his generosity.”
“His name is Major John Allenden of the —— Regulars. It is my understanding that he is a brother of the Earl of ——.”
Anne thought she recalled her mother having talked of that family on some occasion, but she could not remember the particulars. “I hope the major arrives in time.”
“As do I, ma’am. I hate to think what the French would do with him. He would probably be sent to a military prison for the duration of whatever wars may come.” The women lamented such a horrible fate. “Let us hope,” the captain continued, “if he fails to arrive before we must leave, that he will find passage on another ship. If he does make it aboard the Lady Helen, I am sure he will be pleased to meet you. If not, I shall have his servant and his friend introduced to you to receive your thanks.” The women expressed their gratitude to the captain for his courteousness.
Without even knowing what the major looked like, Anne found herself studying the crowd in hopes of seeing him come up to the gangplank. But no one appeared as the ten minutes came and went, and the captain gave the order to depart. The crew prepared the sails and pulled the gangplank up onto the ship. The watchful servant approached the edge of the gun deck and addressed Captain Hawkins. “Sir, may we not wait five minutes more? I am sure Major Allenden will be here.”
The captain shook his head, and the ladies in his company felt the dismay of the servant. “I am sorry,” Captain Hawkins said. “We must go. I hope with all my heart that he finds another way out of Naples.”
The valet scanned the quay as men on shore tossed the mooring lines across to the Lady Helen. The first sails caught the breeze, and the ship began to move away from the land. The faithful servant shook his head.
Anne’s heart was near breaking at the sight. She wanted to share words of comfort with him, but he went below decks.
Harriet sighed. “I wonder if the major was at the masquerade. Perhaps I danced with him and never knew it.”
“Very likely he was not,” Anne said. “He must have been attending to important business to miss the ship. He would have no time for something so inconsequential as a ball with danger on the horizon.”
The sturdy merchant ship lumbered away from the quay. Two other ships had pulled out at the same time, and the Lady Helen fell in line behind them. As the ship finally turned her stern to the land, Anne still watched the shore, hoping to see a figure approach the vacated spot on the quay. A red coat would be visible for some distance. But no one who looked to be a British Army officer appeared.
Distressed that so noble and generous a man had been left behind, Anne asked the captain to have the valet and the man’s friend brought to them to receive their thanks. Within a few minutes, the servant and a dark, handsome young man were presented to them up on the quarterdeck and the proper introductions made. Anne and Harriet lamented over the major’s absence. The servant said he felt confident that his master would find passage elsewhere and the ladies should not grieve for him. With particular gratitude Anne expressed her appreciation for the stateroom. “I do not know what we would have done without such generosity. I left so many things behind at the villa, but at least I knew the servants there would put my possessions to good use. Gifts for my mother left ashore for just anyone to take would have sorely troubled me.”
The friend of the missing man, who had been introduced as Mr. Francis, asked, “Were you able to find room for all your belongings?”
Harriet described the crammed room with a laugh and added that if they could hang bags from the ceiling they would do so just to keep from tripping over the stacks.
Mr. Francis smiled. “Better a stubbed toe than a black eye from banging your head.” Harriet laughed, enchanted.
When Mr. Francis asked Anne if she had traveled by sea before, she admitted only the short crossing from Ramsgate to Calais and she dreaded the prospect of rough seas for weeks on end. He said, “This is the best time of year to travel. The winter storms have ended, and the summer tempests have not yet begun. Is that so, Captain? Should we not have an easy passage?”
Captain Hawkins admitted that the trip should be smooth, but not quick. “The Lady Helen is a worthy ship, but she is built for capacity, not speed. In addition to our overloaded cargo hold, we are heavily weighted down with a full complement of passengers and baggage. But we will get everyone home, eventually.”
Anne noticed several sailors down on the middeck listening to their conversation. She wondered what their interest could be. Then she noticed Harriet studying Mr. Francis. In the moment, she feared her forthright friend might make a long and trying voyage even more difficult.
An agitated Dr. Minton appeared and joined the group on the quarterdeck. “Captain, our ‘quarters,’ as you call them, are not a fit space for humans to inhabit. Four of us are expected to spend weeks in a room that cannot be more than six feet by twenty.”
The captain offered a futile gesture. “Passengers will be welcome to spend as much time as you wish on the quarterdeck, with servants having access to the gun deck below. There is only one passenger room of any size, and these ladies have it.” The doctor grunted with exasperation. “If it eases your mind, sir,” the captain continued, “there are people staying in quarters smaller than yours.”
This eased neither the doctor’s mind nor his pride. “Miss de Bourgh, surely you have some influence. We must be moved to something larger.”
Anne replied to her physician, “Doctor, I doubt I have any such power.”
The doctor turned again to Captain Hawkins. “Sir, this lady’s mother is the venerable Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Surely you have heard of her and this lady’s uncle, the Earl of ——. I am her personal physician. And I am a gentleman, sir. Sharing such a space with three servants is beneath my station. You must make some other sort of arrangement.”
Anne noticed a frown had appeared on Mr. Francis’s otherwise handsome face.
Captain Hawkins glowered at the insistent passenger. “My good doctor, every accommodation is full. Do you suggest I evict a family of five people to sleep on the deck just so you can satisfy your dignity?”
Dr. Minton’s consternation grew. “I have some small money I can offer them. At your suggestion, surely they would accept.”
The captain straightened his shoulders. “Sir, if you wish to offer them money, you may do so. I will make no suggestions on your behalf.” He nodded his respects to the ladies and departed.
Dr. Minton turned to Miss de Bourgh. “It is unconscionable to expect me to—”
“Dr. Minton, please!” For once Anne did not mind hearing her mother’s voice castigate the overweening servant. He bowed with scowling civility.
Only then did Anne notice Mr. Francis’s frown had turned to a glare. However, its target was her, not her frustrated doctor. Perhaps he thought she had more control over her physician than she truly had. “Doctor,” she said in a calmer tone, “under the circumstances, I encourage you to be thankful that we have any rooms at all. These men have left behind their friend and master. We are lucky enough to have our entire party safely aboard.”
Dr. Minton acquiesced, a little, and nodded. However, this did nothing to mollify the dark Mr. Francis, whose mood had descended to bare civility. The man nodded his respects and left, Major Allenden’s servant following. Anne watched them leave, baffled. What could have angered him so?
Volumes 2 and 3 of Expectations: The Transformation of Miss Anne de Bourgh (Pride and Prejudice Continued) are available where you obtained Volume 1 in addition to other fine purveyors of ebooks.
Pride and Prejudice and Pirates…. It is a truth universally understood—but never acknowledged—that an heiress with no husband and no prospects is an object of derision and pity. And an heiress who had a prospect—for decades—but her intended was stolen away by a rival with no family, no money, and no connections, is so profoundly to be pitied that she must not even be talked about behind her back. Except, of course, if she is not in town. And most definitely if she is the daughter of that imperious old harridan, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Three years after her cousin Fitzwilliam Darcy broke their engagement to marry Elizabeth Bennet, Anne de Bourgh’s life is sputtering to a halt. With failing health and a cloudy future, in desperation she takes advantage of a peace treaty between England and France to spend a warm winter in the Italian kingdom of Naples. But when war erupts, Anne and her party must scramble to find safe passage back to England. Accompanied by a mysterious gentleman from Naples and a doting young doctor with secrets of his own, Anne de Bourgh commences a voyage that will change forever the life of one of literature’s most famous third wheels. Pulled from the shadowy recesses of Pride and Prejudice and thrust into the spotlight of her own story, a woman with no wit, no vivacity, no charm—and the mother of all mothers—will seek her only, slim chance at happiness.