Four – The Abyss
For the first minutes, Anne just started walking down the pavement of Camden Place.
She was too stunned to notice who was strolling along the broad sidewalk in the damp and cold March evening. There were not a lot of people outside and certainly not on foot. Only a few carriages drove by and hurried away. When violent shivers started rolling down her back, Anne came out of her bewilderment and looked around her. Realisation hit her like a blow in the face; she was out in the streets, alone, at night, with absolutely nothing to cover her and she was getting cold and wet.
Where could she go, to whom could she turn? It was as if an abyss was beginning to yawn in front of her, a chasm widening by the second, already too large to span.
Frederick! She must go to Queen Square and ask for shelter. The kind Admiral and Mrs. Croft would surely take her in for the night, and tomorrow she could make other arrangements. Full of hope she began running towards her destination when a light but ice-cold sleet was starting to fall, soaking her within moments. Her woollen dress was no protection against this weather. Before she had even reached Camden Road, where she hoped to find a cab, the South-East wind was picking up, further draining her of whatever warmth was left in her slender body. Anne’s hair was coming down and wet strands were blown into her eyes. She impatiently wiped them away but to no avail. God! She needed to get out of this torrent! Stumbling blindly into a dark porch she welcomed the temporary lull out of the wind and rain. Her heart was beating like a drum and her lungs were aching from her run.
A growl came from behind her and Anne swivelled around! Looming over her like a spectrum of hell was a large figure of a man, his huge, calloused hands reaching out to her! A beggar! The thought rushed through her numb brain, but she was totally unable to move when the hands grabbed her by the shoulders. An acrid smell of rancid beer wafted over her and then came the stink of unwashed body, of rags that were never washed, of poverty and deprivation.
The voice was deep and hoarse and now Anne saw the man’s face, crude, unshaved, gaunt. It came closer to her own and suddenly her brain was working again! Anne tore herself out of the man’s grasp and stumbled backwards. Losing her footing, she fell and her head hit the pavement.
The dreaded abyss yawned widely and swallowed her.
“Sir Walter,” Lady Russell asked again, “am I to understand that you … that you expelled Anne from your house, at night and in a downpour of sleet? Did she say where she was going?”
Lady Russell could barely fathom what must have happened the night before, when she had left this house. She did, however, began to have an inkling of how much Sir Walter hated his middle child. He had never had any love for her but it frightened Lady Russell to see how much he despised his daughter.
“No, she did not. I am not in the least interested in her whereabouts and nor should you, Lady Russell. Anne is dead to me and to Elizabeth. We will never speak her name again in this house.”
“But … she could be … what if she … she could have gone to that man’s lodgings and throw herself at him! She is violently in love with him!”
“Madam!” Sir Walter bellowed, “You forget yourself! I am fully aware of the fact that you were my late wife’s dearest friend but that gives you no right to interfere with my personal affairs! Kindly take yourself off, your presence is no longer wished for!”
Lady Russell began to understand a little better what Anne must have felt the night before, now that she was shown into the street by a haughty footman who banged the door shut after her.
“Absolutely shocking!”, Sir Walter said, his voice rigid with disapproval.
“What would that be, dearest father?”, Elizabeth Elliot asked without lifting her eyes out of the fancy women’s magazine she was perusing at the breakfast table.
“The “Bath Daily Gazette” is fast becoming a veritable rag, these days! They are reporting about crime, can you believe it? As if respectable people would take an interest in the vile lower layers of Society and their disgusting deeds! It says here a … I don’t know what to call it … a person without a place to live has been shot through the head, last night!”
“You could call it a homeless person, I think,” Elizabeth mused and put her finger to her chin as if deep in thought.
“Oh, my goodness! It happened on Camden Road! That is two blocks away from here, outrageous! I must call upon Sir Bertram Coleridge, our M.P. right away this morning! He must take urgent measures to ensure that such a matter never occurs ever again in my neighbourhood!”
The thin, emaciated figure of the physician straightened his aching back away from the bed whereupon a small, slender woman was lying. He turned towards the man behind him and declared,
“The lady will regain consciousness very soon now, sir. She suffers from severe concussion and must be kept in a dimmed room for at least ten days. It is to be foreseen that she will be violently sick when she awakes. She is allowed only a drop of water and no solid food for a week. It is also possible that there are repercussions to be expected, such as severe headaches, memory lapses, anxiety attacks, delusions and hallucinations. Do not pay any attention to them but keep her tied onto the bed to protect her from harming herself.”
The gentleman by the door nodded towards the servant who stood beside him, a large brute of a man with a face like a ferret’s and small beady eyes.
“If you would care to come with me, doctor,” he mumbled in a hoarse voice, “my master ordered me to have you paid.”
The doctor gathered his instruments in his bag and followed the servant downstairs into a dim lit parlour. A violent blow on the head sent him rolling over the carpet. A second later, the servant shot him through the head with a pistol wrapped in a blanket to mask the blast of the shot.
Upstairs, the tall figure of the gentleman stared at the motionless, naked body of the girl on the bed.
“Hell’s bells, woman!”, he shouted at the maid next to the bed, “cover her up, will you! She is appallingly ugly! I never thought her beautiful but now, I think her truly hideous! Be sure to keep her tied and blindfolded the whole time, even when you feed her, do you understand?”
“Yes, sir,” the maid whimpered and hurried to do her master’s bidding.
As Wentworth walked back to Queen’s Square, where his sister and the Admiral had lodgings, he was acutely aware of several matters upsetting him.
Anne’s uppity family, with their stiff, unbending behaviour, was the most disturbing of them. How would her father treat her for the remaining time his middle daughter would stay under his roof? Wentworth understood only now what his beloved Anne had gone through these past eight years. He felt ashamed for letting his wounded feelings guide him at the time of their break-up.
Then there was his own family to be informed.
His sister Sophie would be most astonished when she heard of his engagement to Anne. What would be her reaction if he asked her to take Anne into her home until their wedding? He would have to find some hotel to stay, of course. It would be most improper to live in the same house as his betrothed before they were married.
Furthermore, there was Kellynch Hall.
Wentworth wanted to buy it as a wedding present for Anne. It was high-prized but not a challenge to his substantial fortune, which was well invested and secure. He intended to administer the estate himself and restore it to its rightful prosperity. To that purpose he would have to start from the bottom up; Sir Walter’s extravaganzas had drained Kellynch to an inch of bankruptcy.
Tomorrow would prove to be a busy day; he needed to procure a wedding licence and to purchase an estate.
When the footman announced a visitor, Anne was puzzled as to whom it might be. It was almost ten in the evening! If she had planned to attend a soiree or a dance, Anne would be about to leave now. If, on the contrary, she had planned to stay in, then the hour for visits was a trifle late. She quickly checked her appearance in her mirror and chuckled at herself by doing so. Since Frederick’s kiss that morning, her attitude towards herself had changed; she wanted to look beautiful and perfect, not only for him, but also for all the rest of the world.
In excited anticipation she entered the drawing room. In front of the sofa stood Lady Russell. Anne froze in dismay. This was the last person she wanted to see, let alone speak to. However, while she made her curtsy, Anne realised that Lady Russell did not yet know of her betrothal to Frederick nor that she was aware of Anne’s changed feelings towards her.
Lady Russell stepped forward and grabbed Anne’s hands in hers.
“My dear Anne,” she said, in an urging voice, “please tell me if the rumours are true and you have accepted the proposal of Captain Wentworth?”
“I have, indeed,” Anne beamed.
Lady Russell’s face showed utmost disapproval.
“But, my dear child, you cannot do that! You are about to throw yourself into a hasty and most unsatisfactory marriage to a man who is not your equal! Anne, you are a baronet’s daughter and Captain Wentworth has no breeding at all! You must break up with him immediately and remove yourself from him once again. We could go on a journey to the Continent, Italy perhaps, to smoothen the parting.”
Anne tore her hands free and drew herself up. This woman still had the power to make her feel like a little girl!
“I’m afraid you are mistaken, Lady Russell,” she said, in a respectful but firm tone of voice.
She saw the woman’s brows go up in astonishment and hastened to continue.
“On the contrary, I am very determined to marry my dear Frederick. We have been separated for far too long a time and will lose no more precious years of happiness.”
The flash of fury was undeniable in Lady Russell’s eyes and her thin lips stiffened in dismay.
“Anne, you are acting very foolishly! Do you wish to be shunned by Society? No one that is of any importance will be inviting you at their home in the future. You will become an outcast. Is that what you wish for you and that man, and, God forbid, for your future children?”
Anne had the greatest trouble in keeping her face serious. What unimportant and petty matters did upset this stupid woman! In a gesture of pity she laid her hand on Lady Russell’s arm and said gently, “Dear Lady Russell, I know you were my mother’s best friend and you have been mine for countless years but in this, you are wrong. You don’t know Frederick and are therefore not in a position to criticize him. We will do as we planned, and if Society does not approve, we will ignore it. Happiness does not depend on what people think of you.”
In a tone that could have frozen lava, the now truly enraged gentlewoman all of spat at Anne.
“I never could have dreamed, Anne Elliot, of you turning into a hussy! For that is what you will be called soon! Have you even considered what your brainless action will do to your poor father? He is a baronet, Anne! His very reputation will be destroyed and so will that of your poor sisters! I beg of you, come to your senses!”
Suddenly Anne had heard enough. She rushed to the door of her bedchamber, grabbed it and tore it open.
“I would be obliged to you if you would step outside, Madam! No more will be said about this affair, and I will do as I see fit!”
Gathering her skirts in a gesture fit to tear them, Lady Russell swept out and finally, Anne was able to breathe a sigh of relief. She was not allowed much peace because the door burst open again and Sir Walter stalked into the room. Anne gasped! Never had she seen her father’s face so contorted with rage!
“Madam! You will leave my house this instant without taking so much as a pair of stockings or a comb! You are no longer a daughter of mine and I do not ever wish to see to again!”
The baronet grabbed Anne’s arm and literally dragged her downstairs, through the hall and out of the front door which slammed shut behind her with a deafening boom.
Anne was on the streets without a coat, bonnet or reticule. She had nothing, not even her intimate belongings and what was even worse, she had not the slightest inkling to what she was to do next.
Two – Anne Elliot, the family’s black sheep
When the door closed after Frederick, Anne turned towards the stairs to go back to her room again. Her mouth was still tingling from his ardent kiss and her heart was fluttering with the recollection of how his hard body felt under her fingers. She felt … alive! For the first time in nearly eight years she felt like a living, vibrant human being again as if she had been reborn like a butterfly free from its cocoon.
Her father’s booming voice brutally snapped her out of her reverie.
Dutifully she spun round to face him, the habit of years of submission not easily forgotten. Sir Walter’s countenance was at its most forbidding. Lines of disapproval flanked his still handsome mouth and creased his high brow. His eyes gleamed with burning rage, and Anne knew she was in for a scolding row. Bracing herself, she followed him into the drawing room but her father did not resume his arrogant pose in front of the fireplace mirror as he usually did. Instead, he sank onto one of the settees and covered his face with a finely manicured hand.
“Oh! Is this to be my fate?”, Sir Walter moaned loudly, “Is this to be my reward for all the years of tender care I have given you, Anne Elliot? I have strived to provide you with the best of educations, music lessons, language and other courses, dancing, riding instruction, household administration, and I know not what else I gave you. You had it all from me, despite my meagre financial resources and my anxiety, when you nearly caused your mother’s death when you were born!”
Sweet tempered though she was, Anne felt nevertheless obliged to protest at this very unfair accusation.
“Father! You are most ungracious. It was not my birth that caused my mother’s death. First there was a still-born baby brother and then Mary, who is is four years younger than me, and mother lived another nine years after she was born.”
“No! Do not contradict me, troublesome girl! My poor wife was exhausted after her confinement of you, the stem of her fragile life bruised and weakened. Not so after your sister Elizabeth when she was up and about in three days. You weakened her! Oh, my poor sweet Elizabeth! If this was not enough to drive me to my grave, you now wish to marry this … this naval man with no proper breeding or family, a … a civil servant and not a gentleman! How am I ever to show my face again without shame to the members of polite society? Do you even realise what it is you are doing to me? You are making me look like a ridiculous fool amongst my equals and a puppet in the eyes of my betters, such as Lady Dalrymple! Lady Russell will surely take to her bed with horrified indignation when I tell her what you are planning to do!”
Lady Russell … the mentioning of that name stirred many sentiments in Anne’s heart, not in the least those of hurt.
Lady Russell had been her mother’s dearest friend, and after the latter’s death, the meddlesome woman transferred that friendship to Anne. Or, so had she had once thought it to be. In truth, the woman had ill-used her in all matters. Anne had been browbeaten and bullied into the persuasion that Frederick was not the right man for her. She had been made to believe that she was too young to be the judge of her relationship with him. Frederick had been poor at that time, a young naval officer with no fortune of his own and no family to speak of. And she, Anne, had believed her late mother’s dearest friend. She had broken off their relationship, and by doing so, had broken Frederick’s heart. And her own, in the process.
Anne took a deep breath and looked her father into the eye.
“Sir, I do not wish to discuss my decision about marrying Captain Wentworth. I am utterly determined to become his wife and no-one, not even you, will persuade me otherwise.”
Thereupon, she turned and left the parlour. She hurried to her own room and fell upon her bed, her heart pounding like a stricken bird against the bars of its cage. Like many times before, Anne took out her diary and shaped her confused thoughts into words. Like many times before, it soothed her.
Bath, March 21th 1816
I must have committed some great, offending sin, albeit it unbeknownst to me, as I am being punished a thousand fold by the Lord … My father does not wish to give his blessing to Frederick and me upon our marriage. How is it that I, who have never done him any wrong, am considered the black sheep of the family? My own father does not love me. He thinks of me as the ugly duckling, only tolerated because I kept house for him. Tolerated, not loved …
The door burst open startling Anne so much that she dropped her pen. Her sister Elizabeth burst in, her handsome face distorted with rage. She placed herself in front of Anne and, trembling from the tension of her anger, addressed her thus, “You are the most despicable of creatures, Anne Elliot!”
Elizabeth’s usually cold, affected voice was now quivering with fury. She stood with her hands clenched into fists, and her eyes blazed with pure hatred. Anne stood and faced her sister with a sinking heart.
“What is it, Elizabeth? Are you unwell?”
“Unwell? Would that it be! No, I am ruined! You, my own sister, have ruined my life!”
Ah, Anne thought, and how many times before had that already occurred in her sister’s too egotistic imagination? Elizabeth was prone to blame Anne for every small setback that befell her. Or every serious one, too, for that matter. She squared her slim shoulders and prepared to take the brunt of Elizabeth’s fury.
“How have I done so, dear sister?”, she said softly.
“Must you ask? By refusing Mr Elliot’s offer in marriage, of course! Now I may never return to Kellynch again because you do not want to become Lady Elliot! Instead you insist on throwing yourself into the arms of that … that lowborn nobody … that …”
“You will refrain from referring to Captain Wentworth in less than respectful tones, Elizabeth,” Anne interrupted her. She had the bittersweet satisfaction in seeing her sister’s jaw drop and hastened to continue.
“Frederick is the sweetest, most honest and most trustworthy man I have ever encountered. We love each other. We are going to be married in a fortnight, and it will be the best thing I have ever done. Please, Lizzie, can you not be happy for me?”
“Happy? Dare you ask? How can I ever be happy again now that it is impossible for Mr Elliot to marry one of us? You played your little game with him, knowing all too well he was interested in me first! You were jealous and you wanted to steal my thunder. Well, you succeeded and I will never, ever forgive you for that!”
On that, Elizabeth turned on her heels and stalked out of the room. Anne was left dazed and reeling under the shock and unbelief. Mr Elliot interested in Elizabeth at first? That could not be true, surely?
One – He loves me, he loves me, still
The slender young lady sat at her escritoire and wrote her diary as she had been doing since the tender age of thirteen. So many thoughts just screamed to be entrusted to the paper that her small white hand was slightly trembling.
Bath, March 21th 1816
Is there a greater joy to be experienced than the one I, Anne Elliot, have received this morning?
On the doorstep of our house in Camden Place we have kissed, Captain Wentworth and I.
Frederick and I … Frederick, oh! What a joy to be able to call him mine! He is mine and I … I have always been his from the first moment I laid eyes on him.
We have kissed and I shall never be the same again.
I, plain, shy, discrete little Anne, have become a new person, a woman, who is loved! Loved, I am loved by Frederick Wentworth and we are to be married. Even as my trembling hand is writing this, Captain Wentworth is downstairs in this very house asking for my hand in marriage.
Never could I have expected to be so happy again …
Frederick Wentworth strode into Sir Walter Elliot’s drawing room, past the butler who barely stepped aside, and whose impassive face bore an expression of cultivated disdain. What a perfect imitation of the attitude of Sir Walter himself, he thought, and suppressed an amused smile.
Sir Walter was standing before the fireplace glancing fastidiously into the large mirror that hung overhead. He was making a great show of correcting tiny little details of his appearance in order to let Wentworth wait before he turned around to face him. The two men executed a bow, as propriety dictated.
Sir Walter’s voice was overly affected and absolutely devoid of emotion, not even showing the anger that shone in his pale grey eyes.
Wentworth kept his own voice non-committal. He had no wish to alienate Anne’s father, a fact which would upset his dear girl.
“I confess I am at an absolute loss as to the reason why you came to see me, Captain. My time is extremely taken so I must insist on you being succinct. I am due at the Pump Rooms at eleven o’clock.”
Wentworth asked himself how on earth it was possible that this arrogant, cold, vain man could have fathered his sweet, compassionate Anne but he replied in a civil tone.
“Sir Walter, eight years ago, Miss Anne and I became attached to one another and, had it not been for my lack of means to support a wife, we would have married. My circumstances have thoroughly changed and my current means are substantial enough to do so. Anne has agreed on becoming my wife and therefore, I would like to ask you for her hand in marriage.”
“My daughter Anne,” Sir Walter barked, “has never paid me the respect she owes me as her father! She has rejected an offer of marriage from Mr. Elliot, her cousin, thereby offending not only him but also me, her father! Moreover, by doing so, she has deprived me of the only way left to me of resuming my ancestral seat of Kellynch, which would have been restored to me, had she become Lady Elliot. I am now condemned to selling my home and to being forced to live here in Bath for the rest of my life. I shall not give my permission to this unholy union, sir!”
Wentworth eyed him in an unruffled manner and replied coolly, “Since Anne is of age, sir, I did not come to ask for your permission. We were hoping for your blessing, but I can see that it will not be granted to us. Anne and I will therefore act as we see fit. I shall ask her if she will come and live with my sister and her husband Admiral Croft until the day of our wedding by special license a fortnight hence.”
Wentworth bowed curtly and left the room without a further glance at Sir Walter.
Anne just stepped out onto the landing when Wentworth came striding through the hall towards the front door.
Her voice trembled lightly because she did not know what had transpired in the drawing room but had a fairly good understanding how the interview must have gone. Wentworth turned a pale face to her and her heart wavered.
“Dearest,” he asked softly, “is there somewhere we can talk?”
Anne hurried down the stairs and took Wentworth to a small side room of the hall. He recognized it all too well. It was the same room where he had spoken with Anne the week before. They had been interrupted then, by Lady Russell, who despised him, and always had. Wentworth shook himself out of his dismal thoughts and took Anne’s hands in his. Fear stood very clearly in her soft brown eyes.
“My sweet Anne,” he urged, “would you consent in leaving this place with me on this very moment? I cannot bear the thought of you staying here and be subjected to the contempt of these people who call themselves your family. Accompany me to Admiral Croft’s apartments and stay there under my sister’s chaperonage until we marry. No one will consider this inappropriate.”
Anne sadly smiled and replied, “No, my love, I cannot do that. They are after all, as you pointed out, my family. I must bear with them for a fortnight only. I have handled them well in the past and I will do so for the days to come until we marry.”
Wentworth could not keep himself from taking her into his arms. She came willingly, resting her head against his chest. What a tiny, slender thing she was, he thought. The top of her head with its deep brown curls barely reached his chin and her delicate body, soft and round under his touch, was trembling against his hard-muscled seaman’s torso. The feeling of her hands sliding shyly around his waist drove a shot of longing through his body from head to toe, and his heart suddenly jumped! Dear God! How was he to endure those long fourteen days of waiting? He wanted her for so long, had never stopped wanting her through their years of separation.
“You are right, of course, my love,” he said hoarsely, “but I hope you will reconsider my offer of staying with Sophie, should your family treat you wrongly?”
Anne lifted her head and smiled.
“I will,” she replied, “fear not.”
He captured her mouth in a chaste kiss, and she did not asked for more. She accompanied him to the front door and Wentworth stepped outside. Adopting a sturdy pace, he set foot into the direction of his sister’s lodgings and, all the way, worrying thoughts were troubling him.
What would Sir Walter say when he came to know it was he, Wentworth, who had made an offer to buy Kellynch? More so, how would he behave towards Anne, as the unfeeling father would surely blame her for that?