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who giveth this woman

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Anne does not have very high expectations of friendship between Captain Wentworth and Lady Russell, for he cannot help feeling that at least two years of their painful separation are to be laid at her door, and she cannot but think that Anne has made a reckless match. Even with all the proofs of mutual affection and loyal support that Anne can produce, Anne is not sure there is quite enough to overcome the last vestiges of dislike.

 

She is not mistaken. Their behaviour towards each other is unexceptionable, polite, but... cool.

 

Anne will settle for that much. She has so much more than she has dared to dream of, in the last eight years. So much happiness she can hardly hold it in her two hands, and Elizabeth has rather sourly taken to attributing the improvement in her complexion to Gowland's. (Mary, gone home to her cottage to prepare for both Musgrove weddings, sends her long screeds about what it is like to be a married woman, which is not much preferable. Anne hopes Louisa and Henrietta are not in receipt of the same screeds.)

 

Anne can bear Wentworth's correct bow as he leaves her with Lady Russell, at the end of a dance. She can bear the slight halt in Lady Russell's speech as she helps Anne sort through the modistes of Bath and choose a modest trousseau, and the words 'Captain Wentworth' cross her lips. Anne is in an excellent position to know that time does not heal all things, but she knows it helps: time, and evidence of care on both sides, will do what Anne cannot, and persuade her fiancé and her oldest friend that each is worthy of value.

 

Anne does not have to wait as long as she fears.

 

It is a small moment, at the end of the wedding breakfast - for Anne is married from Kellynch Hall, the home of her childhood, in the church where she was baptised and confirmed. Anne, on wings of joy, feels she has little to ask for: even the sun smiles on her today. Admiral and Mrs Croft have been everything that is gracious and kind, Elizabeth's pride has made her polite and Mary's vanity satisfied by the distinction of almost swooning in church, and her father has been - Well, less ill-behaved than might have been the case, and his satisfaction with her looks and Captain Wentworth's has rendered him agreeable in his own way.

 

And then Anne has come downstairs ready to leave with Captain Wentworth - with Frederick, and she is just out of sight of the main party. But Lady Russell knows Kellynch Hall and has done for years before Anne's birth, and Frederick knows Anne. They are both waiting for her in polite silence.

 

The smile curling across Frederick's handsome face is everything Anne dreamed of for four months and tried to forget for eight years. Today she is allowed to smile back, and so she does, and does not think too hard about Lady Russell watching them both.

 

She clasps Lady Russell's hands to take leave of her. She wants to speak, to say something to the oldest friend she has, to try to express some measure of gratitude for the consideration and thought Lady Russell always gave her as if it were her due. To thank the person who comforted her most, after the loss of her mother. The person who, in so many ways, stood in a mother's place for her.

 

There are no words. Lady Russell's eyes are very bright, and her fingers hold Anne's very tightly. And then Lady Russell surprises Anne.

 

She turns her head to Frederick.

 

"I know you will take very great care of Anne," she says.

 

Astonishment wipes Frederick's face clean for a moment, and then he smiles again, soft and warm. "I will move heaven and earth to see her happy."

 

Anne can feel a blush crawling up her neck; but brides are allowed to blush.

 

And then Frederick, too, surprises her. "As I know you would do, ma'am," he says.

 

Lady Russell smiles. The brightness in her eyes, Anne thinks, can be attributed to tears; but she is smiling. "I cannot claim I have always judged the best means of doing so fairly."

 

"Neither can I."

 

"Can any of us?" Anne asks.

 

"I think you can, Anne," Lady Russell says - inaccurately, Anne thinks. "I think your judgement very fine." She kisses Anne's forehead, and releases her hands gently.

 

"There we shall never disagree, Lady Russell," Frederick says.

 

In moments they will step out to join the well-wishers, and be cheered and called out to, but here they are quiet, and here there is an understanding Anne did not look to see for long years at least.

 

It was her father who walked with her up the aisle, and laid her hand in Frederick's, before the altar. But it is in this moment that Anne feels her family's approval and acceptance.

 

Her eyes brighten too.

 

"I will write," Anne says. "Often."

 

"I look forward to your news," Lady Russell assures her. Her eyes travel between Frederick and Anne herself, and her eyes are still too bright but she is smiling. "News from both of you."