They had been lying cosily on Ann’s bed after making love. Ann was the happiest she had been in a long time. She was finally beginning to feel comfortable with who she was. Anne never imagined she would find someone who seemed so innocent but was more than able to make her feel good. Oh yes, was it possible that Ann was really the one for her.
‘Do you believe that I love you?’ Ann whispers to Anne ‘Do you realise how beautiful you are to me?’
‘No, I honestly don’t see myself as beautiful. I always tried to forget what others have said about me that I was like a man. They have often called me Gentleman Jack. I rise above it.’ Anne mouthed so forcefully she wondered if Ann would think she was yelling at her.
‘Why is it that you only see yourself that way?
‘I don’t know. I have grown to accept that I couldn’t be loved because I am as you see me now, neither a woman nor a man. I often wonder if I will ever find true love. Oh, I have had women in the past who have thrown themselves at me only to realise they couldn’t accept me. Of course, I wasn’t rich enough to fulfil their needs.’
‘What needs did they have?’
‘They wanted a flash home and a fancy carriage to take them places, fine clothes and intimacy with the wealthiest people in the country. I couldn’t give them that so they married men.’
‘Are you still friends with them?’
‘Are you still friends with them? Well, are you? I often wonder if I could still be friends with someone who dumped me for money. I find it hard to imagine.’
‘Yes/no!! We still fuck if that answers your question.’
‘So, you are fuck buddies. Then why am I here talking to you?’
‘Well, not anymore. I told Mariana to leave and never return. I was tired of being here only to be able to go to her when Charles her irritating and irrational husband permitted it.’
‘So, you do want me after all. I have never been with another woman.’
‘You haven’t?! Have you been with a man?’
Oh shit!! ‘Mmm!!’
‘Well, have you? Now, be honest. I am not going anywhere. I just want to know about you if you will let me.’
‘Yes, it was so long ago, yet, it is still etched in my memory. He took advantage of me while his wife was ill in bed. We were in the sitting room talking and before I knew what was happening he was putting his hands in places I didn’t think he should. Then he had me on the couch. I went to scream for help but he covered my mouth,’ Ann said timidly.
‘He abused you. He took advantage of you. He had his way with you. Did his wife ever find out?’
‘No!! She was too ill to realise that he was abusing me. He even tried it on when she was in the room. He is a clergyman and all.’
What?’ Anne was shocked!!
‘Then she died. It was only a couple of weeks ago. They were supposed to come to visit me and now he has an interview at the Minster for the job as curate. I’m sure he only wants the position so he can find a way to be closer to me.’
‘Would you like me to speak to him, to tell him how it would be prudent if he didn’t take the job?’
‘Because I don’t think you would be comfortable with him around.’
‘I think he would be angry if he knew you knew about the shared past I have with him.’
‘He can be as angry as he wants,’ Anne said, ‘I’m fuming. I think he needs to be taught a lesson on how not to treat young ladies.’
‘Please don’t!!! I am sure he will double down on his demands if you do that.’
‘I don’t think so. I am sure he will leave you alone.’
‘Anne, how do you know that?’
‘His reputation is his gold star that gets him whatever he wants, without it he is nobody. I am sure of that.’
‘He will be staying here with me.’
‘Will he? I think we should visit your cousin, Mr. Priestley and his wife, tell them the problem and see if they will help out.’
‘I don’t know if they will.’
‘Ann, they will see it as inappropriate, him staying with you alone.’
‘Okay, we can try.’
Anne and Ann visited Mr & Mrs Priestley who were happy to oblige and help out. They could see Ann would have been uncomfortable with Reverend Ainsworth sleeping in her house.
‘Ann, I will write to Mr Ainsworth and let him know he can stay here with my wife and me.’
‘Thank you, I don’t want to be too much of a bother.’
‘That’s okay. I could see you weren’t happy. I only hope he agrees with the idea,’ William said.
Mrs Priestley said very little to either of them. It was as if she knew they were up to something they shouldn’t have been. Unfortunately, Eliza had been listening to all the chatter that was going around Halifax and being the gossip that she was she had told others and they had passed the gossip on to others. They left Mr & Mrs Priestley.
‘Ann, I have a few errands to run and I need to see how my Aunt is. I will return tonight, if that is what you would like.’
‘Yes, please. That would be nice. Would you like to come for tea?’
‘Yes, I think I will be able to do that.’
‘Yes, five, see you then, Ann.’
Ann walked back to Crow Nest and Anne went into Halifax. She needed to see Christopher Rawson about the coal lease that he wanted and to get a banker’s draft to buy a ring from Messers Barber & Cattle.
She was wondering what Ann was doing while she conducted her business. Ann didn’t seem at all interested in business affairs. She allowed Mr Samuel Washington, her land steward, to do all that. He seemed to do a fine job.
Anne was more interested in knowing what was happening with the business side of Shibden Hall. She had inherited the property from her Uncle James who had passed away a few years earlier. . He had said that her father had no head for business and would bankrupt them faster than she could drive a carriage through town.
So, she became the sole heir of Shibden Hall but her sister, father and Aunt were given the right to live there for life or until Marian married which seemed unlikely right now.
When Anne returned to Crow Nest for tea Ann was curled up in the corner sobbing loudly.
‘What’s happened? Why are you so upset, Ann?’
‘I have a letter from Reverend Ainsworth. He says he is going to visit me when he arrives here for the interview. He did say he would stay with Mr & Mrs Priestley. I guess that is a good compromise.’
‘Ann, when does he arrive in Halifax?’
‘So, I can be here when he visits to ensure he doesn’t do anything he shouldn’t.’
‘You’re not going to say anything to him. Are you Anne?’
‘Not unless he gives me reason to.’
‘Anne, I hope he doesn’t do that. I hope he doesn’t visit me.‘
She cowered in the corner. ‘Because I don’t want to deal with him and I don’t want you to have do anything to him.’
‘Why? He seems like a bully to me. He had you cornered and uncomfortable when he made advances that you didn’t ask for.’
‘I felt I couldn’t say anything to stop him. I felt weak and foolish after it happened.’
‘You do know I would have got you out of this scrape not matter how you felt about me. I think everyone has a right to live their lives without being forced to do something they don’t want to.’
‘You would have done that for me?’
‘Yes, most certainly.’
‘Why would you do that for me? You don’t know me that well.’
‘You’re a woman, like me, we all want and need to be respected by everyone. He didn’t respect you when he did what he did to you. I would do this for any woman anywhere.’
They were sitting in the library at Crow Nest playing backgammon when there was a knock at the door. James answered to find Reverend Ainsworth standing there requesting to see Miss Walker if she was in.
‘Ma’am, there is a Reverend Ainsworth at the door. He wants to speak to you for a few minutes.’
‘Tell him I am not entertaining visitors today apart from Miss Lister who is helping me through the loss of his wife.’
‘She doesn’t want visitors. She sent you a message this morning to that effect. Why did you ignore it, Reverend?’ James barked at him. He was annoyed because he could see how distressed his mistress was.
‘I thought she would like to see me. We are dear friends.’
‘Well, as you can see she doesn’t want to see you. She has enough company for now. Leave!’
How is it that some people cannot take no for an answer? Ann received another letter from Reverend Ainsworth the following day. Ann didn’t know what to do so she sent for Anne to help her.
‘How is it that he doesn’t understand you would like if he left you alone? Why do you think he wants to marry you?’ Said Anne
‘I think he wants to get his grubby hands on my wealth. He is not the first fortune hunter. As you know if I marry him all my wealth is his to do whatever he wishes. He didn’t earn it so he shouldn’t get to spend it.’
‘Just let me know if he keeps writing to you. I know a way to send him on his way. Oh I need to go back to Shibden. I will return later for tea.’
Later in the day Anne returns with good news. She spoke to Reverend Ainsworth and told him to leave Ann alone. She threatened to expose him for who he was. All he could say was if you expose me you expose her.
‘I know that. That is why I am allowing you to leave here with your reputation in tact which is so much more than what you deserve, Ainsworth.’
They never heard from him again for a month. Then another letter came in the mail in which he expressed a desire to see her. Some people never seem to give up even when they are told they are not wanted.
‘What does he want this time, Ann?’
‘He wants to see me. He thinks we can make peace and start again.’
‘He still thinks I will marry him so he can get his hands on my money. I want to be with you, Anne. I am not interested in putting my life into his hands. Hey, I don’t even love him, so why should I say I do to someone I don’t love.’
Anne was relieved that Ann felt this way although, Anne originally wanted to access to Miss Walker’s fortune. She realised that she had real feelings for this young woman and wanted to make an official connection with her. Yet, while Ainsworth was sending Ann letters she imagined Ann didn’t seem to know whether she was going to take Ainsworth or make a commitment to her.
‘What do you think I should do? Should I marry Reverend Ainsworth?’
‘I cannot tell you whether you should or shouldn’t marry him. Only you can make the decision.’
‘I would only marry him out of duty.’
‘Ann, duty to who? To Him or Mrs Ainsworth?’ Anne yelled. She felt as though her heart would break again. She had been fooled by others who said they loved her and then they married a man. ‘I would like to know how you feel about me, Ann and what I need to do next.’
‘I don’t like being messed about with. I want to know so I can move forward from this or continue on with you.’
‘It is all so confusing for me right now, Anne. I feel pressure from him and from you. I don’t know what to do.’
Anne left Ann. They both had so much to think about. It was going to be hard for Ann to decide what to do. Her future would be as others expected it to be if she married Ainsworth only she would be miserable with him. Of course, she could ‘marry’ Anne then she would be happy only her family would disapprove of the relationship. No matter what she decided there would be consequences she would have to face alone or with the woman she loved.
It wasn’t the kind of decision one would hastily make. It would be better if she had time to weigh up all her options. Only she didn’t have time. Anne insisted she send her an answer by Monday.
All she did all weekend was think about whether she would stay with Anne or marry Ainsworh. She came up with a solution to her problem. She knew Anne wouldn’t be happy. She thought Anne was mad but she had to see her, to explain to her why she did what she did. She sent her a basket of fruit with a letter and a purse. In the purse was two pieces of paper, one had yes and the other had no written on them. The letter said. ‘Whichever you pick shall be the answer.’
Anne stormed over to Crow Nest to confront Ann. When Ann appeared she yelled at her.
‘Ann how do you expect me to accept this? How do you expect me to accept that my life can be determined on a whim of whichever piece of paper I pulled out of a purse?’
‘So I take that as a no then because that’s the first one I pulled out.’
‘It isn’t a no.’
‘Well, it isn’t a yes,’
How can Ann resolve this problem? How is it that Reverend Ainsworth would be seen as a safe choice but Anne Lister was the one she was in love. It was so complicated. She had hopes that Anne would take her in her arms and ask her why she felt compelled to marry Ainsworth. She didn’t.
‘Ann, speak to me. Tell me what’s wrong. Why you feel obligated to marry Ainsworth. Is it because of what he has done to you?’
‘I don’t know. He says if I mentioned what he did to me to anyone it would reflect as badly on me as it would on him.’
‘So, you want to marry him. A marriage proposal isn’t something to be scoffed at.’
‘No, it isn’t, but I want to marry you, to live with you because I love you, Anne.’
‘As I have said only you can decide what you want to do.’
Another moment of indecision could cost Ann all and could leave her feeling unable to cope with her life. She had to decide what she wanted to do. Anne couldn’t do that for her. Anne could only encourage her to make the decision that she thought was best for her. Why was life so difficult? Why couldn’t she just do what she wants without feeling pressure from the outside world?
She had been told she was an invalid that made her feel unable to be the commander of her own destiny. She relied on others because their opinions weighed in on what she did next. What would she do? Unfortunately, she didn’t know what to do.
‘Ann, think about this. Your future is yours to determine. No one else can tell you how to live and what you should do. Not even me. I would like to marry you. I want you to be my wife. Only you can decide if that is the best choice for you.’
Ann whimpers because she doesn’t know what to do.
‘What’s wrong, Ann?’
‘When I am with you I feel as though I could take on the world. When I am alone I feel lost, afraid of moving forward in what I know to be the right direction.’
‘What direction is that?’ Anne said with a sigh. She was afraid Ann would feel obligated to marry Ainsworth and that would break her heart. Suddenly, even Anne felt lonely as she waited for an answer which didn’t seem to be easily given.
‘Tell me please what you plan to do now, Ann?’
‘I must know whether or not he will take the position at the church. If he is living so close to me he will want to visit me often and I will probably bow to his wishes. I know I will be miserable if I do that.’
‘So what’s stopping you from making what seems to be the decision you want to make?’
‘The tribe and what’s inside here,’ Ann says as she taps her head furiously. ‘It’s harder than I thought to make the right choice.’
‘Unfortunately, you need to make a choice and while it may seem impossible to do you will realise when you have made your choice that a big burden has been lifted off your shoulders. I will understand if you chose him over me because I know that will be your safest choice. Only we could be happy together. Couldn’t we?’
‘Yes, we could but wouldn’t that make us open to ridicule from everyone who knows us and even those who don’t.’
Ann, tell me what do you want to be happy with your life or to worry about what others say about you.’
‘Anne, I want to be happy and to be happy I need to be with you.’
‘Well, then I will do what I can about Ainsworth. Don’t worry I won’t kill him or beat him up.’ Of course, I would like to horsewhip him, Anne thought to herself.
‘Don’t tell me what you do to him, just make it so he doesn’t bother me anymore then I will be with you, Anne.’
Anne made an excuse to visit the Priestley’s. She knew Reverend Ainsworth was there. She had planned what she wanted to say to him if he confronted her which she knew he would do. The confrontation could become messy or the easiest thing she has ever done.
He did confront her and she told her what she knew about the situation with Ann. He tried to say she wanted it more than he did. Anne wouldn’t accept that. She knew better and told him so. As she left him she said.
‘If you weren’t so insignificant I would horsewhip you, Ainsworth. But since you aren’t I will leave you with what you barely deserve, your reputation intact.’
Anne sent Ann a message telling her what she had done even though Ann said she didn’t want to know. Yet, she was happy but she was still frightened for her future. What would life with Anne Lister be like? She would soon find out.