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A Subtle Shift

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Chapter 23: Insensible of any change


Louisa was beyond frustrated with her family. She loved them dearly, but she had come to find their meddling rather tiresome. She had only known Lieutenant Price a fortnight and her family was already dropping rather embarrassing hints around him. The last thing she needed was another situation as the one with Wentworth. In retrospect she might not have been so foolish in her regard for him, and believing he returned it, without her family's push. William had made it perfectly clear that he was not remotely in a position to marry now and it would not be for many years even if his luck held. Being his last visit before his departure her family had found their excuses to leave her and William alone. They sat in the garden, William looking amused despite his discomfort at their insinuations. 


Knowing it would be her last opportunity Louisa decided to speak up, to say plainly what she wanted him to know. "I must apologize for my family. They're a little overzealous in their schemes. I am so grateful for your friendship, for all the help you have given me. I hope they have not scared you off completely."


William shifted in a slightly embarrassed manner, fiddling with the stem of a weed he had plucked from the bed beside his seat. His grin was as bright and sure as ever though “I am glad you and I have understood each other. While our friendship is new, it has been a great boon to me. My original intent was to help you with your struggle, but you have helped me as much as I have you. Your family took right to the task once it was explained, making it seem so normal and accepted for you to struggle. It is normalized in the Navy to have such trouble, but we are also expected to hold a fair amount of silence in regards to it. To not show how much we are suffering. So having you to talk to...Your friendship is like no other I have ever experienced. So I owe you just as much thanks for your help. I have been allowed to be myself, without pretending my life is all glory and adventure.”


Louisa relaxed, glad to have cleared the air. “I am glad you have gotten a reprieve here. You deserve to have a safe port. It is only right that you benefit from the sanctuary you helped to create. Without yours and Mrs. Croft’s willingness to share your struggles, and your ways of managing them, we would all still be adrift in confusion.” 


Shaking his head at the praise William said. “I may have given you the tools, but you and your family did the work. It was your kindness and openness that made the difference. You also need not apologize for your family’s assumptions. Honestly, in a different world where I had an iota of certainty in my own future, rather than hope alone...I would have been very grateful for their help.” His usually confident grin suddenly had a strain to it, unsure how this would be received.


Surprised by his confession, unsure what to feel, Louisa paused for a moment. She realized It was relief she felt. His confession also erased just a little of the doubt in herself that had been left by the situation with Wentworth. Smiling back at William she found her words again. “In a different world I would have been very glad of their meddling as well.” Pausing to see if he caught her returned volley, and seeing his smile once again sure and bright she continued “ Charles tells me he has convinced you to return here to hunt with him the next time you are at liberty.”


Answering the question she didn’t really ask “Yes, I do not know when I will be able to do so, but I am glad of the welcome, and look forward to it eagerly. He also insisted I must write to him so the boys can hear of all my adventures, and to reassure your mother of my continued existence so she sees Harry will be fine as well. He will have to convey all of your adventures to me in return.” Seeming to notice the sun was no longer baring down. Well as much as I hate to leave her, I should return to the Crofts.”


Standing Louisa offered her hand for William to shake. He took it and after a quick look over his shoulder he smirked and leaned down kissing it instead. “Take care dear Louisa.”


“You as well William, try to come back to us in one piece.” Giving his hand a final squeeze she took hers back for him to depart. 

The once Elizabeth Elliot, now Mrs. Robert Ferrars was not stupid. She knew her sister Anne and Mrs. Russel had always thought so. Which was fair as she considered them each idiots as well at one time or another. Elizabeth was coming to see it was simply a case of their skills of mind running in different areas. She was never unaware of how near she came to spinsterhood. She was just socially savvy enough to know that her showing any awareness of it would draw others attention to her age as well.


 While usually Anne’s superior in social intelligence, Elizabeth did have to admit Anne had been right about Mrs. Clay. Elizabeth felt like the idiot her sister thought her to be. She had been arrogant in the belief of her social control over Mrs. Clay. Because she controlled her father and knew he would never pursue marriage without her approval. She wrongly believed this control of Sir Walter translated to control of Mrs. Clay. 


It galled her to no end to have been wrong. To be humiliated by Mrs. Clay and her Cousin Elliot. To have him taint the Elliot name in such a way. To snub a pairing with her and shun her father for the fortune he received in his first marriage was bad enough, but to pass up their company for someone barely better than a servant for no apparent gain was too much.  


Elizabeth knew her and Robert were still making their place in society. Each day she learned, and got better. Each day she saw more of the web that was spun around them. She was not yet the savvy player that Mrs. Rushworth was. Nor could she make the moves and deals Caroline made. But she would not be left behind.  


Thinking of Caroline's machinations gave Elizabeth pause. It was where her next issue sat. Elizabeth knew Caroline had been pursuing her father, but only to draw Mr. Elliot's attentions. It had annoyed Elizabeth at first that Caroline had not consulted her. After some time had passed though she was just beginning to see the appeal of the match. The Bingley’s were not of the bloodline for the Baronetcy he would inherit from her father. However, they were certainly the capital infusion that Kellynch needed to make it something again. Her father was not the first generation to spend too much on the status, and the lack of investment in the property itself had it needing updates and repairs to stay current. 


She had recently resigned herself to the fact that Mr. Elliot’s first marriage had left a social stain on him, even without his wife having been the mother of an heir. Caroline could not have hurt his status. Though her family had been involved in trade, it was in the merchant class. Caroline’s brother also ran in many circles that even Elizabeth had trouble gaining entrance to. 

The possibility of shifting the financial burden of her father and his debts onto Mr. Elliot had also been a large selling point for the marriage. If he had wanted possession of Kellynch in Sir Walter's lifetime he would have to clear the personal debts he held. 


The plan had been destroyed just as she had finally come to see it as viable. Mr. Elliot would have to be cut now that his establishment of Mrs. Clay was in the teeth of the gossips. The only way to salvage the plans she had been making was to move for a marriage between her father and Caroline. She was certain Caroline would be willing, but it was hard for Elizabeth to accept. To move on from being in control of Kellynch, of her father, was not appealing. To remove the cost of him however very much was. Even without an establishment of his own he was unable to keep to a budget. With Caroline’s fortune and tradesman grasp for financials she would clear Kellynch in no time. This would not only mean Elizabeth did not have to house her father, but that he would be able to host her and Robert often instead. This would mean only needing to keep a house in town for the season. 


Elizabeth was already socially associated with Caroline so it would not be too surprising should the connection deepen. It would raise some eyebrows that her father waited so long to marry and then chose a bride younger than her. It was not so unusual though. She could spin it. Her doting and loving father waited until his daughters were settled to worry about himself. Needed a young wife to have more family. It would be the necessity of a family man wishing for more children. All the better if Caroline actually managed to give Sir Walter the male heir he needed. It would be divine justice if the woman and the family Mr. Elliot passed over managed to sever the line to the title  he wanted so dearly. 


Yes, the more Elizabeth thought on it the less it rankled her. She decided there was no time to lose, and went in search of her father. She was not surprised when she entered the parlor he preferred to find Caroline there listening to him rant. 


“Oh, what a beautiful and comfortable domestic picture you two make.” Elizabeth smiled shark-like toward Caroline, nodding her approval. “Father, I wonder if you may assist me. Robert and I were to escort dear Caroline today but something has come up. Might you be available to accompany her?” 


Caroline was shocked at first as they had no such plans, but caught on quickly. Surprised to find a new ally in her game. She would see Elizabeth was paid back in kind. Caroline never forgot an ally or someone who had thwarted her. The ladies shared a final look that sealed the deal. Mr. Elliot would regret passing them over. 

Anne de Bourgh was tired. She was tired of this trip. Tired of humoring her mother. Tired of this charade. She was tired of being so tired all the time. She was also angry and embarrassed. Her mother had drug her to Hertfordshire in one last attempt to force her and her cousin Darcy together. As if he would ever budge now that his engagement to Miss Bennett was public. Ann wanted to scream at her mother, to rage. She did not want to marry any man, let alone one of the two men who she had come to see as brothers. It appeared that as usual, what she wanted did not matter. IT did not matter that she did not want this marriage. It did not matter that she was angry. Most of all Anne was tired of not mattering, of being a powerless pawn. She had no energy to constantly push back and resist her mother, but it would have been worth the attempt if she had any power. It was a waste to try though, she was at the mercy of her mother. The benefit of her father’s estates and their power passed to her but not until she married. 


Invisible, tired, angry, Anne sat in the corner watching her mother make a fool of herself. She had heard this rant many times over again on their way here. Two days ago her mother’s awful pet clergyman and his simpering wife had come running with news, the moment they caught wind of Darcy’s engagement. Her mother had packed her and Mrs. Jenkins up immediately to rush to Hertfordshire and be there shortly after Darcy arrived. 


Anne had put up just enough of a fight to ensure Sarah was not left behind. Sarah could not openly contradict her mother or Mrs. Jenkins, so was little aid, but Sarah and her company was the only light point to Anne’s life. Sarah could not openly control her mother or Mrs. Jenkins, but she did try to at least subtly manage them and help Anne. This trip like most days would be even worse without her here with Anne. 


Her mother could not understand her attachment to a “mere maid”. But as with most things in life her mother had such a crude understanding and only saw what she wanted to in Sarah. Anne had known from the very beginning that Sarah was not what she appeared. Sarah had gotten better at hiding her mannerisms and intelligence around others but Anne had already seen through the façade at that point, so Sarah felt less need to hide when it was just the two of them. Sarah had come to let Anne in to some degree, she did not know the woman’s entire past in detail, nor would she force the issue and make her tell. 


Anne had gathered over time that she was the natural daughter of a gentleman and a lady’s maid, educated at a school as an “orphaned ward”. Sarah had fled her father’s power after leaving school when she had been expected to marry a much older man who her father owed debts. Sarah had feared and reviled the man. The woman had taken a temporary refuge with her mother’s family. Eventually using a cousin's name and references to find a placement as a lady’s maid. Anne never pushed to know more. If she did not know the family of the man Sarah hid from she need never fear reacting should she run into them or they be mentioned. 


An exasperated sigh from Fitzwilliam drew Anne from her reverie, just as he flopped down beside her speaking. “I give up. Darcy is wasting his breath. He should just have her thrown out and save us all the shrieking.” Giving a little wince at her raised eyebrow “Sorry, I know she is your mother, but I don’t know how you put up with it.”


“You say that like I ever had a choice in the matter.” Anne, free from Mrs. Jenkins' spying and her mothers attention for once, spoke freely. 


Fitzwilliam paused for a second, turning away from the fight across the room and giving Anne his full attention and a slightly confused look “What do you mean, you chose for your mother to act as your representative and stay with you. I know you may have felt obligated but there was at least a choice.”


Sighing, the one to be exasperated now Anne explained. “No, my father appointed her such until my marriage. So the only choice I really have is her or a husband. While I can choose neither is exactly appealing.”


“No Anne, that was only until your majority. Last year your solicitor presented your agency documents to my father. They named him secondary and showed that you placed your mother in charge of the estate in lieu of taking control yourself. Spencer, your attorney said you wrote to him saying that was your wish and you were too ill to manage it yourself.” Fitzwilliam’s expression moved from confusion to suspicion. “The entirety of your father’s estate goes to you. He did not even leave your mother an allotment or annuity as her dowry and property would never be needed by you as his heir. He expected her to return to Harcourt lodge and live on her ample dower income. It was only your request that kept her at Rosings.”


Anger and adrenaline racing though Anne, for once seemed to erase that fog of tiredness. Fury ran through her veins like lightning. “I never made such a request. I never met with a solicitor. I never would have done that.”


Fitzwilliam’s almost amusement and resigned exasperation at his Aunt’s intrusions of their hosts home and abuse of Darcy, visibly changed to shaking fury. It was like a sudden storm cloud passing over the sun on the brightest of days. It chilled Anne just as the loss of the sunlight would have. She had always wondered at her mild mannered and jovial cousin holding the command of men at war. She now for the first time saw the colonel that led men into enemy fire. “Would you like to have my father and I remedy this right away?”


Anne barely got in a nod and attempt to speak before it was drowned out

“I HAVE NEVER BEEN SO DISRESPECTED. Anne, we are LEAVING.” The previously low din of Lady Catherine’s argument reached a crescendo as she stormed away from Darcy and toward the corner where Fitzwilliam and Anne had sought refuge. 


Standing Fitzwilliam placed himself between Anne and her mother. “Anne is going nowhere, though you have long worn out what little welcome you had here. Anne will be staying until my father can arrange for her to meet with her solicitor as you fraudulently claimed she did two years ago. You can take that harpy Jenkins with you as well. Sarah can see to any of Anne’s needs here we cannot. Georgianna will be a companion to her as well.”


Catherine swelled up like an indignant faire balloon. “You will not hold my daughter hostage against her will. You and your father both only seek to enrich you by trapping her into a marriage with a pathetic younger son.”


For the first time in memory Anne's voice came easily to her “It is not against my will. I appear to have a long overdue meeting in town. I suggest you take this time to have Harcourt lodge looked over and made comfortable for you. Mrs. Jenkins will I am sure make for adequate company for you.”


Catherine now purpling with rage and already wound up began again “You horrible ungrateful child--” 


Darcy stepped forward, cutting her off before she could gather anymore steam. “Enough. You have said your piece. Leave now or I will have you removed. You were not invited here, nor will you ever be again with the way you have spoken of my fiancee and my host.” 


Darcy gestured for a footman to come towards them. To follow through on his threat to remove Catherine. Seeing this she turned storming from the room while still railing at them verbally “This is not to be born, I will not be disrespected like this. You know not who you are dealing with.” 


Darcy turned once he heard the front entry slam a few moments later. “Now what is going on here?”


Anne looked at Fitzwilliam who was still shaking with rage and realized she would have to be the one to explain. She sunk back, fatigue rearing its ugly head again and began quietly “I never agreed to my mother running Rosings. I was told it was left to her care by my father unless I married. The only reason I allowed her to push this ridiculous pairing between you and I is I know Rosings and myself would be better under your care than hers. I did not sign, nor would I ever sign something that gave her power over me or the people there. 


Shocked, Darcy sat so abruptly he nearly missed the chair he was aiming for. He was pale and shaking slightly. “She presented a signed agency document to be submitted to the court. Has she lost all leave of her senses. If those were falsified she could lose everything she has. She could be hanged if you pushed for it.” 


Anne was tired but resolved “I do not wish for that. But I do wish to be free of her. To have Rosings be free of her. Might I stay with you as Fitzwilliam said? I do not wish to be a burden or impose. I know you are guests here yourself.”


Taking Anne's hand as a reassurance, Darcy informed her “Yes, you must stay. Uncle was coming for my wedding anyway. He can bring your solicitor. We can liberate you just as we tie me down. I would have invited you for the wedding anyway, had I not feared this exact reaction from your mother. Besides, Georgie will be delighted to have some one on one time with you.”


Anne did not know when she had begun to cry but she managed despite the tears to speak up again. “Thank you cousin. I look forward to staying with you.”