If ever there was one thing that tied all of the people in Halifax together it was the inability to keep their noses out of other people’s business. Especially the business that concerned a certain Miss Anne Lister of Shibden Hall. Wherever you went you could be sure of catching her name at least once or twice. Who fit their mould of someone to complain and gossip about more than her? – No one. Whereas they could spend their time investigating and speculating in all the shady affairs Mr Christopher Rawson dealt with, that wasn’t half as fun as talking of Anne Lister and the dangers of leaving her unattended with young ladies.
As of late the talk of town had been Miss Ann Walker moving in with Anne Lister, and Ann could hear the whispers and feel their penetrating stares wherever she went. Hence, she was rather appreciative of Marian who had come with her into Halifax – it made ignoring them easier. Though of course, it was still quite overwhelming, and Ann wasn’t quite well enough yet to shut them out entirely and rise above it. Her thoughts wouldn’t let her, and she would’ve rather turn on her heels and run back home to the safety of Anne’s arms. But eventually she would have to face her fears, and it might as well be today – at least the sun was out and the sky clear of any clouds and her relatives where nowhere to be seen on the bustling streets of Halifax.
“It simply does not make sense.” Marian muttered, throwing some people a dirty look and Ann’s attention turned to her from her own muddled mind, eyebrow slightly raised, uncertain what Marian was referring to and a little nervous that she had missed something she’d said before. Anxious to have Marian like her and not have her think Anne had forced a bothersome thing on them with moving her in a month ago.
Marian was still glaring at the people they were passing by, but did turn her head to Ann for a second, rolling her eyes, but not at her,
“Wherever I go… I can never get rid of her – Anne. She’s always the talk of town.”
“Surely, you have heard them talk?” Marian glanced at her, as they sauntered down the street, looking in the shopwindows they were passing. Ann bit her lip anxiously; she had heard them obviously – her tribe was always up to date with the gossip in town, but did she tell Marian? – She might think she had taken part in it. She hadn’t. Though she used to love whenever the subject of Anne Lister arose – it gave her a reason to talk and dream of her.
“I guess I have.”
“Mm. It’s sad really, don’t you think, Miss Walker?” Marian said with utter disdain for the people who were pretending to have forgotten something, turning around to have another look at them. Ann didn’t particularly like it either – it made her uneasy.
“You know - that the most interesting thing in their life is discussing my sister and her oddity…”
“Oh, yes – it’s rather ill-mannered of them to assume the things they do.” Ann agreed, and Marian smirked at her, clearly finding the circus around them a tiny bit amusing in the most obscure sense,
“You, moving in with us – with her, has stirred it up quite a bit. I think I’ve seen Mrs Jennings pass us seven times in the last fifteen minutes.”
“Ah, yes – I noticed that. It’s unsettling – you’d think it was the first time two women set up home together.” Ann replied to her and offered her a smile of her own and Marian chuckled quietly, and though she herself was tired of talking of her sister and everything revolving her, she did her utmost to be on her best behaviour for Ann’s sake – wanting her to feel completely at leisure with her new family.
“True, but it’s the great and mysterious Anne Lister setting up home with someone – they are bound to talk.”
They went into Mr. Whitley’s bookshop at Ann’s request, and she was only going to browse, see if they had anything new and exciting to read, but temptation got the better of her – she found a book containing an essay on the topic of the Greeks, published only the year before, which she was certain her wife would enjoy and therefore held onto. But then she found perhaps five, or so, books more that she thought her wife would enjoy and another one – an exquisitely bound book, that she had seen Anne ogle in the past. And suddenly Ann had collected about eight books when she had just meant to browse. She shouldn’t be allowed out on her own, Ann thought, but she reckoned she did have the money – and she’d rather spend them on spoiling her wife than send them off to her drunk cousins. Ann had to sink her teeth into her lip to stop the grin as she eyed the books excitedly, imagining Anne’s reaction to them – her smiles and kisses was worth anything and everything in the world. Ann closed her eyes briefly, dreaming of soft lips on her own – opening them only to realise two women whispering by the end of the bookshelves.
“Have you heard that Miss Lister has moved Miss Walker in?”
“Which one is she again?”
“The sickly one, up at Lidgate.” The other woman waved a dismissive hand and Ann’s forehead wrinkled as she eyed them discreetly –her heart hammering hard in her chest and she did want to leave but her feet seemed to have frozen to the ground momentarily.
“My mother has said countless times that you should never be alone with her.”
“Oh, mine too! Apparently, she… she’s a bit like a man. Poor Miss Walker really.”
Ann could almost feel her blood begin to boil, as her cheeks became warmer – ‘poor Miss Walker?’ – No indeed not.
“My brother reckons they are living as if they were married, only they cannot, because Miss Lister would have to reveal her true nature.” The woman whispered, and Ann glanced at them, shocked at what they were insinuating and sweating because she started to worry that people would know and then separate them because two women shouldn’t love each other.
“Mrs. William Priestley, told my aunt that she saw them kissing once.”
“Urgh – I do feel sorry for Miss Walker, falling into the grips of such a ruthless, queer brute as her.” The woman exclaimed with a shudder, and Ann’s stomach jolted, and she thought for a second, she might be sick but then Marian appeared, and the ladies became quiet, eying her apprehensively,
“Ann! There you are – I thought I’d lost you. Oh my – are you bringing the whole shop home?!”
Marian noticed the pile of books Ann guarded and smirked at her but the ladies whom Ann was still glancing at became white as sheets when they realised who had been listening in while they gossiped.
“Oh, I just – um… I-I p-picked a few things out for Anne. I thought she might need some cheering up with all the waiting for things to arrive she… she has to do at the moment.” Ann stuttered, but she managed a smile and Marian turned her head slowly towards the ladies, raising an eyebrow to Ann who shook her head gently, as if to tell her not to bother. Marian rolled her eyes humorously at Ann before aiding her with the books – taking them to the counter to pay and have them wrapped.
“It was a good thing we took the carriage.” Marian chortled as they exited the shop and Ann laughed with her,
“Ah, yes – excellent idea.”
They got into the carriage, and set down a small pile of books next to the both of them and Marian observed her as she stared out of the window,
“Were they saying something to you?”
Ann’s eyes caught hers, and she looked a little confused for a second and Marian smiled small,
“The ladies in the shop – were they being rude to you?”
“Oh.” Ann shook her head, sighing small, “Not really. Well. To be fair, they didn’t know who I was, and they weren’t talking to me.”
“But they were talking about you?” Marian inquired and Ann nodded,
“Some, but mostly of Anne.”
‘Poor Miss Walker’ Ann’s fingers curled into a fist, she really did hate when people pitied her – and for living with Anne?! – The greatest woman she knew! She didn’t understand people’s prejudiced judgements of Anne – because she was never anything but civil and kind, unless of course people were bluntly insulting someone she held dear. But their blinded hatred of her didn’t make sense.
“I see. You know, most of what they say is complete rubbish and I wouldn’t take it seriously if I were you.” Marian tried to comfort her, thinking they might have repeated some rumours of the past and she had an inkling what those might be, though she did her best to ignore all the gossip and rumours surrounding her elder sister.
“No, oh, no, um – I do not. Of course not. I… they were just being hurtful.” Ann quickly reassured her, not wanting her to think that she would ever believe the more obstruse rumours that were doing the rounds from time to time.
“Are you alright then?” Marian asked kindly with a soft tilt of the head that didn’t look patronising at all, and Ann closed her eyes for a second, smiling,
“Yes. I am. Perfectly so. Thank you for coming with me today. I had a lovely time.”
“Ah, no, thank you! – Anne never wants to go shopping with me.” Marian laughed and Ann couldn’t keep hers in either when picturing Anne trying to patiently shop with Marian when she hardly owned the patience with her – her pocket-watch opening and closing throughout the entirety of it.
“She isn’t awfully fond of it – I usually ask her if she wants to pop down to any bookshop that might exist where we are, and then just accidently happen to go into other shops before that. And then I’ll give her a book to keep her cheerful.”
Marian’s eyes fell to the stack of books next to her and then glided over to the heap of books next to Ann, raising an eyebrow comically slow,
“And what have you done to upset my sister today?”
“Oh, um, no – well, she will be annoyed that I went shopping with you, won’t she?” Ann replied to her a smirk replacing her slight frown and Marian nodded, her eyes doing half an eye-roll,
“Yes, I have no doubt that she will.”
The landscape whirled past them as the horses galloped down the lanes, and soon they began passing the now familiar grounds of Shibden. And coming down Shibden road, Ann’s stomach fluttered when she saw the house – she had missed Anne all morning and most of the afternoon. Marian must’ve noticed how she shone up as the house came into view because she kindly covered her mouth and concealed a snort with a cough. The blonde was too precious for her sometimes stern and rigid elder sister Marian thought. Though she could see, obviously, how happy they made each other – how her sister would shift in a second from being stiffy and vexed to being all smiles and laughter as soon as Ann appeared in the doorway. Most of the time anyway. Anne was still herself after all, and no one could change that and Marian was quite certain that Ann had no want in the world to change her sister – which did, though she would rather die than admit it, warm her heart a smidge.
The carriage halted in-front of the door and Marian and Ann readied themselves to get out.
Ann got out first, for once declining any help from the ready footman, turning to the carriage as Marian stacked the books in her arms before getting out herself. The sun warmed their backs as they ventured inside the dark hallway, Ann kept quiet, straining her ears to try and hear if Anne was with Aunt Anne downstairs in the drawing room but nothing indicated her wife was home at all and her heart sank a little in her chest though she did her best to keep a smile on her face. She lectured herself in her head when she felt tears burn behind her eyes – this was ridiculous, she would see Anne soon enough – granted she missed her, but she shouldn’t act as though they’d been apart for months.
Marian greeted her aunt with a quick peck on the cheek,
“Aunt! - We are back.”
“Ooh, did you have a nice time?” Aunt Anne wondered, glancing at Ann who was partially hidden by all the books she still carried, and Marian followed her eyes and smirked at Ann, turning back to her aunt,
“We did. Now, have you seen my sister?”
“Anne? – She’s upstairs I think, a letter or something, I don’t know – she was gone before I could catch what she said.” Aunt Anne told them, and Marian turned to Ann,
“There you go. She’s upstairs. We’ll see you at dinner.”
Ann smiled gratefully at Marian,
Ann hurried up the stairs the best she could and noticed that the door to Anne’s study stood slightly ajar and she caught the back of her wife’s head as she stood facing the window, reading a letter that was firmly clasped in her hands. The wedding band on her fourth finger caught the sun and Ann grinned broadly as the butterflies fluttered wildly in her stomach – her wife!
Ann quietly closed the door with her foot, then set the books down onto the desk, and Anne’s head peaked up at the sound, unaware that her wife had come into the room. But she had barely managed to turn around when she was astounded by Ann throwing her arms around her neck, kissing her fiercely. She looked confused when Ann pulled away, eyebrow raising,
“What was that all about?”
“I missed you today is all.” Ann chuckled as she caressed her cheek fondly, and Anne caught the hand on her cheek with her own, kissing it quickly before standing back to inspect Ann.
“Where have you been all day?”
Her tone was sharp, and sounded almost vexed, and Ann was a bit baffled at that,
“Uh, in Halifax...”
“On your own? In Halifax?” Anne questioned and Ann frowned, confused as to why Anne seemed so upset with her,
“No. I asked Marian to come with me.”
Anne looked sullen, her mouth curling downwards, and Ann’s eyes raised from her lips to her dark eyes,
“Because I wanted to? Why are you so upset with me, Anne?!”
“You could have asked me.” Anne replied her cross and Ann’s forehead creased with lines, she did not understand why her wife was so angry with her. She had thought she might be slightly irked that she’d gone with Marian, but this? – This was an overreaction, wasn’t it?
“But you were busy?! You left me this morning, hardly saying goodbye – and you said you wouldn’t be in for most of the day?”
“Mm, but you could have asked. And in any case, you could have waited a few days until I was free to take you.”
Ann saw red and her jaw dropped, staring at her wife in utter disbelief,
“Are you serious?! You are telling me to wait? – When you were the one who had to go to York a fortnight ago because you couldn’t possibly wait for something to arrive here with the post?”
“It’s different – that was important.” Anne told her gesturing with her hands, as she always did when she was riled up or passionate about something and Ann bit into her tongue to stop any embarrassing tears – she was so infuriated with her – but also upset – Anne just had to ruin everything with her moods sometimes.
“Fine.” Ann pressed through her thick throat, making for the door when she stopped – hand on handle,
“Oh, and I got you some books in Halifax.”
Ann nodded towards the heap on the table - disappointment and hurt filling her – the surprise completely ruined, before turning the doorknob and leaving Anne for their bedroom which right now would suffice as her sanctuary.
Weighed down with guilt, Anne all but tiptoed down the hall to their bedroom. She winched as the door squeaked when it opened, and she snuck inside – closing the door slowly behind her before she faced the room. The view of her wife curled up on bed might have torn her heart apart – Ann briefly looked up at her through the hair that covered her eyes because her tears had glued it to her cheeks but then she sank into the pillow again. Anne’s forehead lined with worry as her stomach sank with shame at the sight – she had really behaved abominably earlier.
Anne’s voice was almost a whisper as she approached the bed, sitting down on the side of it, lowering her hand slowly to touch her shoulder but Ann shrugged her off,
“Please go away.”
Whereas Anne didn’t leave at her request, as they had better sort this thing out sooner rather than later – knowing that if Ann was left on her own, her thoughts would only consume her – she did not try to touch her again.
“Will you at least look at me, when I am speaking to you?” Anne begged, trying to catch her eye but Ann’s face remained pressed into the pillow she was hugging, and Anne sighed, letting her eyes wander the walls for a moment – it was difficult to apologise when Ann wasn’t even meeting her eyes.
“I… I’m sorry. I am so sorry I was cross with you earlier. It’s…. there is no excuse really, but I worry about you, hm? – And I… uh, I didn’t like the thought of you going into Halifax without me, because of how people talk. I was afraid you might get upset and eventually… you know, leave me.”
Ann made no effort to move, but Anne could hear her sniffles and it physically pained her to be the reason for those tears. Her hand hoovered over her back for a second, wanting badly to touch and comfort her properly but she let her hand fall back into her lap again, fiddling with her own fingers, staring at them.
“Mm, so. I’m asking you – begging you, to forgive me and my foolishness. You do not have to do it now if you don’t want to – but preferably before bedtime, so I might kiss you goodnight, you see, I missed you all day.” Anne told her, feeling her voice breaking towards the end, and her cheeks became a little warm – this was embarrassing, was it not?
Anne observed her closely, but Ann seemed no more inclined to speak now than just before and her heart throbbed, she had messed up badly.
“Thank you for the books, Ann – it was thoughtful and uh, I’m not sure I deserved it, nor your kindness but… no one ever gave me… I have never been spoilt before – with gifts that are for me and not for the woman people wish I was.”
Anne looked up to stop the tears from flooding, biting her cheek to compose herself, glancing down at the blonde, heart aching, chest heavy – she did not deserve her nor her good and pure heart.
“You know me so well. And anyway – I was not being fair before. You are allowed to do whatever you please, obviously… and you are able to make your own decisions. Again, I am so sorry, my love!”
Ann finally turned her face up from the pillow, looking stricken and light fingers brushed against her forehead, to get her hair out of her face. Anne watched her face closely to see if she was alright with that, and Ann didn’t protest, she merely sat up and leaned her head against Anne’s shoulder – seemingly exhausted by her own emotions and tears. Anne caressed her wet cheek with the back of her hand, placing a soft kiss to her temple.
“I’m sorry.” Anne mumbled against her hair, pressing her lips there, and Ann circled her arms around her waist snugly, breathing in her scent – kissing her neck.
“Am I forgiven then?” Anne asked gingerly and Ann nodded against her bosom,
“Just this once.”
“Oh, good.” Anne chuckled, pulling Ann back to properly dry her tears off her cheeks with her own fingers, stilling them as she noticed Ann staring at her lips. A smile spread from ear to ear, and Anne leaned in to meet Ann’s puckered lips – catching them in a sweet but desperate kiss.
“I love you despite you being an idiot.” Ann mumbled as they rested their foreheads against one another. Anne shook her head as she laughed,
“I love you too!”
“And, just so you know, dearest – nothing they say can ever take me away from you.” Ann told her sincerely and Anne smiled, touching her face lovingly,
“I would never let you go, not again.”
“You were right though, there were a lot of people staring and whispering in town today. There were these two ladies in the bookshop, gossiping about us – in-front of me, not knowing who I was, and then Marian came, and they realised – which was quite amusing actually.” Ann grinned, her good mood much restored again, but Anne seemed a little distressed,
“Oh, but they didn’t upset you?”
“No! Well… maybe a little bit – they kept saying ‘Poor Miss Walker’… which I didn’t quite appreciate. But then they said something about us living together as though we were married – though we couldn’t officially, because you would have to come clean about being a man.”
Ann finished re-telling the encounter, observing Anne a little anxiously – worried she might have hurt her by it. But Anne only shook her head and rolled her eyes, complaining,
“I just do not comprehend it. Why would I choose to be a woman when we live in a world that so clearly underestimate women? – And where women are seen as the weaker, more unintelligent sex? – Why would I limit myself and my rights if I really was a man?”
“I’m quite happy you’re not.” Ann mumbled, her eyes travelling down the lengths of her wife’s body,
“I rather prefer you just the way you are!”
“Oh, me too. Men are stupid.” Anne affirmed, and then smiled as she noticed Ann’s eyes wandering and Ann nodded – more than happy to agree, though her cheeks had turned slightly pinkish at being caught admiring her handsome wife.
“I cannot wait to take you to Paris this summer.” Anne spouted excitedly, holding her hands. They would be so much freer to show affection publicly there – though of course they couldn’t kiss, they could at least walk down a street arm in arm without people starting a riot. Ann was equally excited to be there, though she was still nervous about the trip and journey over by boat.
“I hope we have a safe journey over.”
Anne kissed her nose affectionately,
“Oh, don’t worry, love – you are with me, and thus perfectly safe. And when we come to Paris, you will forget to feel anxious as all the excitements unveil themselves.”
Though Ann did wish that everything that Anne told her would come true – and though she knew she would go anywhere to be with her – she was still worried that travelling like that wouldn’t agree with her at all. What if it didn’t and Anne got bored of her and decided to leave her?
“Ann, I can tell when you are overthinking something. Now, we are going to have a lovely time together – in regardless of how it is spent. If you feel overwhelmed by the people and the town, we can take walks around the parks and along the water – we can have a read in our rooms, and I can hold you and kiss you until you feel better. Do not worry for my sake – I have been to Paris before.”
Anne’s words did everything to calm Ann, though she suspected a tiny bit of doubt would always remain inside of her until they got there.
“To study anatomy?” Ann asked though it was more of an affirmation and Anne suddenly remembered what had been going through her mind the last time they spoke of that and so smiled mischievously at her wife,
“Oh, yes – and speaking of which, there is this thing I would like to try with you when we get there.”
Ann was briefly flabbergasted, wondering at what that might be – and why her wife was eying her with passion burning behind her dark eyes.
“You know, when we are far away from everyone else, and cannot be disturbed… where we needn’t keep quiet.” Anne told her in a seductive whisper, and Ann forgot how to breathe for a second, swallowing slowly, as something burned fervently within her,
“What is it? The thing…”
“A sort of kiss, I suppose.” Anne contemplated, wondering how much she should tell Ann, wanting in some sense to ‘surprise’ her when they got there – make her excited to experience this new thing without having her think a thousand thoughts of it before then, that might ruin it for her.
“Like this?” Ann inquired, reaching up to place a lingering kiss on Anne’s soft lips, making her wife chuckle,
“Not like that – no.”
“How about this then?”
Ann trailed wet kisses from her mouth, down her jawline and over the exposed bit of her throat and Anne’s breath hitched somewhat as she became warmer, fidgeting a little on the bed,
“Not at all.”
“Won’t you tell me, dearest?” Ann purred, glancing up at her and then running her hands up to her neck to tease her cravat loose and Anne actually gulped, laughing nervously,
“You will just have to wait, love. Patience is a virtue learnt.”
“Oh? Is it?” Ann’s eyes crinkled as she regarded her flushed wife, stopping her hands working her cravat momentarily, lips almost touching Anne’s,
“Then maybe I will have you wait until we get there too.”
Ann drew back, releasing the half-undone cravat and Anne looked as though she had been told her puppy had died which was quite adorable to Ann who sat watching her.
“But… that’s… that’s three weeks from now?!” Anne mumbled dumbfounded making Ann giggle,
“Ah, yes – good calculation, dearest. I look forward to it. Until then, maybe you should sleep in the kitchen chamber – so you aren’t tempted.”
“Ann! – I… can I kiss you goodnight? And good morning?”
Anne looked so troubled, and worried Ann wasn’t actually joking,
“Of course not. Patience is a virtue, dearest!” Ann teased, and Anne rolled her eyes at her, taking her by the hands to push her down on the bed – leaning over her, the lose strands of hair tickling Ann’s face,
“You are insufferable.”
“Anne!” Ann laughed trying to fight her off her, but Anne was stronger than her, pressing a kiss to her lips before smirking down at her,
“Ha! Besides, I promised God that I would worship thee with my body – so unfortunately… I mean His word is my law and it would be reckless to upset Him before our journey.”
“You didn’t even last five minutes.” Ann sighed smiling, running her fingers through Anne’s hair – ruining her do completely as Anne kissed every inch of her face thoroughly, before trailing down,
“Well, that’s your fault, my love. For kissing me and teasing me before!”
Ann was just about to raise the question of what it was that Anne was going to do to her in Paris, when her wife cleverly let her lips and teeth run over her throat while her hands worked to hoist up her skirt to let her fingers run up her stocking clad legs to make tender circles onto her soft skin right beneath her warmth. Needless to say, Ann forgot everything she had been thinking before – and everything around them – all she could think of was her gorgeous and handsome wife leaning over her, kissing and touching her in all the best ways she knew. The room was instead filled with her quiet whispering sighs and moans – mingled with Anne’s own as Ann’s own hands wandered and her tongue met hers in a passionate dance. When Anne put her fingers to her, she covered her mouth with her own to stop her from making any too loud noises that would reveal to anyone outside what they were doing.
“You are so beautiful.” Anne murmured in her ear, kissing her just there as Ann only whined in reply, bucking her hips to try and make Anne go faster – she was tormenting her with her slow movements and by the look of her smirk – Anne knew exactly what she was doing to her.
“Anne. Please.” Ann begged, sounding on the verge of tears from the built-up frustration and excitement and Anne heeded her wish – increasing her pace and pressure, making Ann sob in pleasure.
“Shh, my love.” Anne instructed her, smiling proudly, kissing her sweetly, feeling her writhe and press up against her hand – she could feel that she was close to sealing her kiss and wondered briefly if she should let her or if she should leave her wanting and have her wait until after dinner that night.
“I love you.” Ann moaned into her neck, holding her in a strained grip, fingers weaved into her hair, pulling gently as her body tensed up – toes curling, and Anne couldn’t possibly deny her the one thing she wanted, fondling and caressing her left breast whilst using her middle- and ring finger to give her a few strokes to the top part of her queer. Within seconds Ann trembled and cried out beneath her and Anne touched her face, kissing her lovingly whilst she came back to her.
“Like that?” Ann panted beaming like an idiot, once she could force a coherent thought through her mind, and Anne smirked down at her, giving her a cheeky kiss to her brow,
“Oh Lord.” Ann’s head fell back as she laughed, holding Anne’s hand in her own, her body almost tingling with delight at the moment,
“I think if it got any better – I might die!”
“Well, that’s why the French call it ‘la petite mort’.” Anne told her amused, laying down next to her to rest for a while, and Ann smiled at her before turning her face up to the ceiling, positively radiating,
“I cannot wait to see and experience Paris with you, dearest!”
“Me neither – a taste of Paris will do us both good.” Anne agreed, eyes closing – feeling completely at peace with Ann curled up next to her, hand in hers still.
“I wish I could tell the whole world how much I love and adore you – how proud I am to be your wife.” Ann mumbled, both almost asleep, and Anne murmured in response, snuggling into her more, kissing her cheek with her eyes still closed,
“They can gossip all they want – I am never leaving you again.” Ann continued, and Anne held her tighter in her arms,
“Mm... excellent – because I am never letting you go.”
“One day, sometime – people will know how wrong they were for scorning us. Someplace, somehow – I believe our love will be known to all.” Ann whispered and Anne nodded, kissing her softly though much asleep and Ann quieted, as she turned into her embrace and let herself be comforted by Anne’s steady heartbeats that reminded her of how much she loved this vigorous and passionate woman that was Anne Lister –
‘Poor, Miss Walker?’ – No indeed not.