A Cold Summer Day
The birds were singing, butterflies of several colours could be spotted in the garden, the sun shone, and there was laughter outside; but for Lady Anne it was another gloomy day that she spent locked up in either her bedroom or her father’s study.
It was the study that day, and the laughter was from her dear friend Annabelle.
She stared out the window, hands on her lower abdomen, pressing a small, golden watch against the black fabric.
As it was usual, her Lady Grandmother had made her disapproval known to Anne while they had breakfast.
“The mourning period for your father has long passed.”
“It is not he who I mourn.” she replied, voice void of emotion as she put butter in her bread.
Lady Grandmother had pursed her lips.
“That only makes it worse, Anne. It is not proper.”
‘Nothing about me is proper, Lady Grandmother.’ she wanted to say, but instead took the bread to her mouth and bit.
Countess Henrietta made a snarky comment Anne didn’t bother to listen, Briar ‘accidentally’ spilled some tea on her skirt, Mr. Marclaster gave her a pitying look, and Mr.Konevi, who was there to help her sort out some business again coughed and subtly changed the subject.
She left them soon after, right as she finished her food, with the excuse of getting to work, and Mr.Konevi joined soon after.
She was thinking of joining the pottery industry, and was in need of legal advice.
She listened absentmindedly as Mr.Konevi tried to go around the subject.
“It is not that I do not think you capable of opening a small fabric, my lady,” he said gently, his slight accent almost soothing. For a split of a second, his eyes moved down to her belly. “but it is hard to start a business as a woman, especially…”
“Especially as a bastard expecting another bastard.” she said matter of factly, all the charm and bubbly enthusiasm that used to accompany her words gone with the wind, as if it never had been there.
It was still startling to those who knew her from before, Anne could tell as much, but she couldn’t find it in herself to try and disguise her feelings.
She looked down at the now undenying belly and then at the pocket watch in her hand, squeezing it tighter.
She had been a fool, and so had Ernest, and now he laid cold, deep on the earth and she paid the price for the both of them.
If she closed her eyes she could still see him clear as day, as if had been the previous day when he challenged Duke Richards to a duel for her hand, when he took her to the abandoned ruins, where they had given in to each other, too confident about the outcome of the duel. She could hear him telling her how much she loved him as he held her in his arms, shielding her from the chilling breeze.
If she closed her eyes, she could see Duke Richards falling to the ground as a bullet pierced his belly, and she could remember the brief, triumphant joy she had felt right before she turned her head to look at Ernest, only to see him on the ground as well, Annabelle rushing to his side. She could remember with frightening precision what his eyes had looked like as they lost their light, and she could feel his hand going slack in hers as his chest stopped moving.
She blinked, and for a moment her hands seemed to be filled with blood, his blood.
She had been so heartbroken it had taken some time to realize he hadn’t left without leaving a small reminder of him.
The news of her state spread like fire (she suspected her stepmother had something to do with that), and the same nobles who had once welcomed her with open arms turned their backs and shut their doors for her. Well, not all of them, but most.
“I do not understand why you wish to do this, my lady.” Mr.Konevi said, for possible the hundredth time. “You do not need the money.”
No, she supposed she didn’t. She had her father’s inheritance, and she had Ernest’s as well. But money ran out, and as her belly grew, so did the weariness of her father’s and Ernest’s business partners. They had all respected both men, but making business with a single woman with child out of wedlock was bad, and they all prioritized their own survival.
She couldn’t blame them. She wanted to, but couldn’t.
If they didn’t want to make business with her, she would make her own, and she would make sure it thrived.
She couldn’t bring her father back, and she certainly couldn’t bring Ernest, the responsible for her predicament, back from the grave, but she could make sure that both Edgewater and Ledford Park thrived, if not for her, then for her child.
“But is it possible?” she asked her friend and lawyer, her thumb running over the pocket watch. She rarely let go of the thing, only when it was necessary, and nobody dared to take it from her; it put her at ease, it kept her calm.
“Well, we can certainly trick our way in.”Mr. Konevi said, deliberating in her head. “But when they hear the person in charge is a woman, things will get more difficult I am afraid.”
“It matters not.” she said, shifting in her seat. “Have you found me a companion yet?” she asked, her tone dry and almost sarcastic.
“Not yet, I fear, although Miss Parsons has joined in the hunt, and it seems Miss Sutton is trying to help you out, up in town. She speaks highly of you.”
“Are there favourable aspects to my person? What a strange idea, but I suppose I should thank Miss Sutton. I shall write to her and invite her to some tea when she is back from town.”
There was a knock on the door, but before Anne could allow entrance or Mr.Konevi could get up to get the door, this opened, and a head of shiny black hair poked around it, framing a beautiful, smiling face.
“I believe I heard my name from down the hall.” Annabelle said, letting herself in and shutting the door behind her. She made her way to the duo and set herself on the arm of Anne’s armchair. “Why, Mr. Konevi, need I remind you that Lady Anne is definitely not the Viscount Westonly?”
Anne looked up at her friend and managed a small, almost imperceptible but sincere smile. This was a relief to the lawyer. Ever since Mr. Sinclaire’s passing, only Miss Parsons came close to getting some sort of positive reaction out of Lady Anne.
Anne turned back to Mr.Konevi, and with that, the slight tinge of warmth she had felt when Annabelle walked in vanished, and she clutched the pocket watch with more strength.
“Start on the paperwork then, and write to Mr.Chambers; I feel he might like to become a partner to our little endeavour. You may have to travel up to London, just to make sure everything is laid out perfectly.”
Mr.Konevi’s eyes lit up, and he nodded graciously as he stood.
“Of course, my lady. I would hate to not explain myself thoroughly.”
Annabelle giggled behind her hand, and Anne almost smiled once more.
Mr.Konevi retired, and Anne tried to get up. Annabelle stood, placing a hand on her arm and the other around her waist to help her.
“Thank you.” she said briefly, walking to the window overlooking the impressive entrance to her home.
She remembered the first time she had arrived, her feelings that of sorrow for her mother’s lost and nervousness at the prospect of meeting her father, her hand clutching Briar’s.
She shook her head, trying to whisk the memory away. She had met Ernest officially on her first day on Edgewater, and he had been nothing but a stick in the mud; a polite one, but still.
Her hand came to rest on her belly once more, the pocket watch pressing against the fabric. The warm sun of late spring did little to warm up her heart.
She heard a set of dainty feet, and suddenly Annabelle was standing next to her, looking over the estate.
“It’s so beautiful.” she breathed. “Would it be a terrible bother if I painted it from here?”
Anne shook her head.
“Not at all. You know I love your company.”
She turned to look at her friend, her cheeks suddenly pink, a warm grin on her pretty face.
“You do, uh?” Annabelle looked away and cleared her throat. “It’s been a little over a year since we first met.”
“So it has. You seemed eager to meet me, if I recall correctly, since you almost knocked me into the floor.” her voice was blank, but there was a small touch of amusement in it.
She received a playful smack on her shoulder for that.
“That is simply not true. It was an accident.”
“Whatever you say, Belle.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Annabelle blushing again.
They stared out in comfortable silence for a few minutes. Down below, not so far away, Anne could see Mr.Harper leading the horses deeper into the terrain, where the grass was taller.
“Everything has changed so much,” she said suddenly, softly, startling her friend, who turned to look at her. Anne kept her gaze set on the horizon. “And yet, it looks the same.”
“From afar it does, yes.” the other woman agreed, putting a hand on her shoulder and squeezing softly. “It will get better, Anne, I promise.”
“What if this is the better? What if this is the best it can get?” she asked, her voice not changing much, except for the fear lacing itself in it. “What if I can never laugh again?”
Annabelle kept a hand on her shoulder, and the other took Anne’s.
“You will. I swear.”
“How can you?”
“You know how stubborn I am, Anne. I will not rest until you are happy once more.”
“Why?” she turned to look at her, the warmth in Annabelle’s eyes doing a better job than the sun.
“Because that is how much I care. Your happiness is mine.”
They stared at each other in silence, and even though it was alarmingly high, it didn’t disturb Anne. It gave her some comfort.
Her hold on the pocket watch loosened just a little.