Poor Anne. I always thought Mr. Elliot (her smart, likeable, cousin who reveals himself to be selfish and cunning) was a fascinating story villain. I always wished we had more of him and heard more about his fate. I love the scene in the opera where he compliments Anne on her Italian and she actually is affected by his praise. Perhaps it’s because I’m a sucker for love triangles, but that scene–where Captain Wentworth sees enough to assume she is going to marry her cousin and he can’t take another minute of it–is perfection.
I need more of him. I need more of him and Captain Wentworth vying over Anne. I need more! 🙂
So. Anyway, my short story is heading into novella length. Thanks for reading!
Lyme, For an Indeterminate Length of Time, A Short Story
After a fortnight of enduring the repetition of November 23, Anne was as close as she had ever come to hysterics.
She could not even be fully sure it had been a fortnight. All of the usual aids to gauge the passage of time were lost to her. It might be much longer.
In the private parlor of the hotel, with her sister complaining of her need to go to Bath, with Louisa smiling into Captain Wentworth’s face and peppering him with questions, with all the same petty squabbles and heartaches… her hand shook as she raised the teapot.
“You’ll pour out, won’t you, Anne?” her sister had said.
“You always remember how everyone takes their tea,” Henrietta said.
Her sister sniffed dismissively. “Anne is excellent at tedious, repetitious tasks.”
Anne felt traitorous tears very near the surface. Very near.
She set down the tea pot without pouring and pressed her hands to her eyelids. She could not keep on doing this!
What about the last day with her mother? Why could she not repeat that day?
Or the day she had thrown over Frederick Wentworth and condemned herself to a life of loneliness? What couldn’t she have changed that day?
Instead it had to be this absolute—absolute canker of a day. If she was not watching Captain Wentworth woo her cousin, she was watching that same cousin fall lifeless on the pavement! Or she herself was being knocked off the Cobb. Or Captain Wentworth.
Once, memorably, it had been poor, kindly Mrs. Harville!
And if it was not injury, she was beset with Mary’s crotchets, Charles’s lackadaisical deafness to his wife’s errors, and Henrietta’s tiresome speculations on her beau’s prospects.
“Anne? What is the matter?” Henrietta asked.
She shook her head mutely. If she claimed to be sick, she knew exactly what would happen. If she pressed on, she knew what would happen.
A half sob choked its way out. She buried it in her hands.
Never in her life had she grown rigid and drummed her heels on the ground out of frustration the way some young ladies did. Never had she screamed and fainted. She had never boiled over with shame or disappointment in her father.
She had mourned her mother deeply and privately.
She had mourned her mistake with Frederick deeply, but with moderation. She had never shirked her duties at Kellynch Hall.
She had never run away from her problems.
“Anne?” Mary demanded. “I’m thirsty. What is wrong?”
“Is she choking?” Louisa gasped. “Can you speak, Anne?”
“What is it? Is she ill?” Charles asked. “Anne?”
And Frederick’s beloved voice nearly drowned out by the others, “I say, Anne…”
Anne fled the parlor. She stumbled down the stairs of the hotel and out into the salty wind and clouds of Lyme. She swiped tears from her face onto her dress.
She had no coat or pelisse, not even a shawl, but she didn’t feel the cold. She turned away from the hotel, and away from the dreaded paved walk along the sea.
She was nearly at a run.
She didn’t even realize Captain and Mrs. Harville were approaching until they were nearly upon her.
“My dear Miss Elliot,” Mrs. Harville exclaimed. “What is the matter? Has there been some accident?”
Anne laughed and wiped her stinging eyes. “No, no accident today. Please excuse me.”
Sweet, quiet Captain Harville was with them. He looked quite startled. “I brought you the poetic collection by Spears. I marked the passages to show you—”
Anne knew the passages he’d marked, he’d shown them to her yesterday. And several days prior to that.
“I can’t, excuse me.” Her feet carried her past them, of their own volition. She picked up the pace and turned a corner, not wanting them to follow. She put a hand on the wind-worn, red bricks to keep her balance as she skidded around the corner.
She bumped into a startled gentleman going the opposite direction. “Pardon me,” Anne said. She continued down the road.
She had no goal. Tears tracked down her cheeks and felt hot against the November wind.
Her hands were bare—it was quite improper to be out without gloves—but even the thought of going back just now was intolerable. She hurried on, tucking her cold hands under her arms.
She didn’t want to think or plan, yet the cold and the strangeness of an unfamiliar town couldn’t stop her thoughts forever. It was only mid-morning; how would today end?
Would she be hit by a passing carriage and wake up in bed? Would she slip on a cobblestone and hit her head? Would she merely give up and return to the hotel to endure the hubbub over her flight until she could go to sleep?
Still intolerable. For a brief, terrible moment, she wanted to get hit by a carriage, even if it was not temporary…even if.
It was a terrible thought, and Anne wrenched herself away from it both mentally and physically.
Lyme was a harbor town, but away from the harbor it was still an appealing place. The buildings were smaller, crowded together like a friendly group of seamen who have thrown their arms around each other. The families within were crowded as well, and thin streams of smoke rose from numerous stovepipes.
A youngish seamen with a fine coat—probably not a captain but perhaps a lieutenant—was just reaching home with a parcel of fish. He approached the third door on her left, a merry blue against white stone, and he opened it up to reveal a warm yellow light. His wife greeted him with a kiss on the cheek and a thank you. A baby could be heard babbling inside.
Anne passed them, though her frantic haste was slowing. There was still joy and light in the world, she must not give in to darkness.
But what might her life have been like if she was not a Miss Elliot of Kellynch Hall, but merely a Miss Brown or a Miss Cooper with a hard, but busy and full life?
She shook her head and moved on. She had never indulged in sullen regrets. She had regrets, of course, Captain Wentworth looming the largest.
But she did not blame herself or her mentor for that decision, and Anne had never allowed herself to wallow in self-pity or regret. At least not for long.
This repetitive day was breaking her. In the past she had thrown herself into visits to tenants, or repairing curtains, or taking care of Mary. Anything to distract herself from the emptiness of her life.
Now she could not escape it! What was the point of this—to make her hate her life? Hating her life was both blasphemous and unpractical, but she was perilously close. Another round of tears welled up and over and she used the back of her hand to wipe at them.
She almost stepped into the road, but she jerked back as a fine coach approached. It had a crest on the door and she began to laugh again—or was she crying?—realizing that it was the Elliot crest. This must be the carriage that Mr. Elliot, her cousin, was using as he went to Bath.
She simply could not escape the elements of the day. She pressed a hand to her mouth.
The carriage slowed just past her. Anne didn’t know whether to stop or go. She was quite breathless now—she didn’t frequently run across town while crying—and her weariness was catching up with her.
Mr. Elliot sprang out of the carriage in his beaver-trimmed hat, looking every inch the gentleman. She had spoken with him three times now—or was it four? He was elegant and intelligent and seemed to be kind.
But he didn’t know her now. Anne was both too weary to hasten away from him, and too weary to playact meeting him again.
“Excuse the intrusion, ma’am,” he said, “but you seem to be in some distress. I believe your party is at the hotel I just vacated. I passed you on the Cobb, though perhaps you don’t recall. May I escort you back safely?”
“No, thank you, Mr. Elliot, I am not going back at present.” She placed a hand on her side, realizing she had a painful stitch forming.
He frowned in concern before her use of his name registered. His brows rose. “Are we acquainted—”
“Yes, yes,” she said. “I am Anne Elliot of Kellynch Hall. Yes, your cousin. And yes, I am pleased to meet you, but I have had an extremely trying day and I really must walk.”
“Well, then you must let me accompany you.”
“I can hardly stop you.” Anne took a careful breath, feeling the pain in her ribs. She started onward.
He must’ve given some signal or word to his coachman, but in a few strides, he caught up with her. He was silent for a long while, for which Anne gave him credit for tactfulness.
She was feeling the wind now, and it seemed to whistle down each east-west road in Lyme. When they were between such roads, the tenements blocked some of it. The morning clouds were rather thick, but she knew from experience they would not bring rain.
In one of these lulls, when the wind was mostly blocked, Mr. Elliot finally spoke. “I won’t weary you with commentary on the weather or the chill. Forgive me if I overstep, but I recognize the expression on your face. I myself have not had a precisely easy life. I am a stranger to you, but on the basis of family ties, please feel free to tell me as much as might give you ease.”
Anne sighed. “That is very good of you.” She rubbed her chilled bare hands against her sides. “I must look quite a sight, and you are forbearing not to ask me why.”
“I can see from your face that you are a sensible, even a superior, young woman. I assume you have good reason.”
“I have realized my life is empty, that all my best hopes are dead, and that I am trapped.” She chuckled despite her dark words. “If either of my sisters had ever said such a thing, I should counsel them strongly to stop being so maudlin. I would no doubt give them excellent advice about moderation in all things, about the quiet hopes of home and family, and the future hope of heaven.”
He smiled. “Sound advice, I daresay. But…”
“But, nothing. It is excellent and true advice,” Anne said. She spread her hands, her fingers were cold and white. “Yet I cannot put it into practice, and I was overcome by the futility of it.”
“If I say I understand, that I understand so well it is as if you spent the winter like a bird perched in the corner of my parlor at home, will I sound a great coxcomb? Your crisis is not about me, nor do I mean to make it so, but I do understand.”
“Thank you.” Anne’s innate kindness won out, and she added, “I was sorry to hear about your late wife.”
He inclined his head. “Thank you. I must admit that we had grown apart, yet her death was still a blow.”
The street they were on was petering out into fitful cottages. It was not a post road or major thoroughfare, and they had obviously reached the edge of Lyme. Further hills rose up, greenish gray in the morning, with the ocean off to their left.
Their steps slowed and halted.
Mr. Elliot held out his elbow. “Shall we turn back together? Life is less empty with a friend.”
Anne looked out to the hills. Would she wander like a wild woman until the day ended? Every subsequent day until she went mad?
No. There may be no way to end the repeating day, but she could live within it. She would find a way to live within it. And perhaps Mr. Elliot would be an acceptable companion while she did.
She took his arm, and he covered her hand with his.
“I think Providence brought us together, Anne. May I call you Anne? I feel as if we have known each other for a long time.”
Anne turned with him back into town. “Perhaps it did.”