“And then, Ann, can you fathom it? – Elderly Mrs. Rawson saw Miss Elizabeth walking in Halifax with a strange man and she wasn’t wearing any gloves!” Aunt Ann revealed, her tea almost cold from all the gossip she had told Anne who tried her best to look unaffected and as though she found it fairly intriguing. How Ann always let her aunt go on about this or that, Anne couldn’t understand – it was vulgar and tedious, at least her aunt endeavoured to make better conversation when Anne went with her.
“Elderly Mrs. Rawson? I haven’t seen her out for years.” Anne questioned, mainly to have something to reply, and Aunt Ann took a sip of her cold tea,
“She might’ve heard it from, oh I forget her name… Jeremiah’s wife.”
For once Anne was more than content with her wife’s quiet and demure disposition towards her aunt – because she needn’t say an awful lot to the gossip she repeated. There was a short silence, during which Anne drank her tea, glancing at the clock in the corner and her stomach sank when she saw it had only been thirty-two minutes, she would have to stay, well, until Ann came to take her home – let that be sooner rather than later Anne thought, boredom settling in her shoulders.
“How’s Miss Lister?” Aunt Ann asked her briskly, and Anne startled from her thoughts, setting down her teacup slowly,
“Um, she’s…” Anne searched for something to say, “fine, she’s been busy with the estate.”
“Mm, Mrs. Priestley saw you in town a sennight ago and thought Miss Lister looked quite… what’s the word… dreary and annoyed.”
Anne raised her eyebrow slightly, she didn’t remember seeing Mrs. Priestley this last week at all, but then again – she did avoid them like the plague if she could.
“Oh? Well, um… Anne’s just had a lot on her mind – Mrs. Priestley can only have seen her for a second and from a distance.” Anne said, trying her best to keep a soft smile plastered on her face, thinking of her wife – her kindness, generous heart, and her other good ‘qualities’.
“I’ve heard Miss Lister can be quite fearsome when contradicted – but you’re alright, Ann?” Aunt Ann continued and Anne’s brows furrowed as she regarded the woman, did she just bluntly imply that she would do Ann harm? – The insult seared through her.
“I’m sorry? – I’m perfectly alright.”
“Are you? – Mrs Priestley seemed to think you looked a little pale and well… the things you hear people say about your companion – they are hard to see past.” Aunt Ann told her with a tilt of the head and a concerned look, which to Anne just seemed mocking and rude but she kept her temper cool.
“What things? – Miss Lister looks after me – she cares for me and I for her.”
“The family was worried you might feel trapped because of a bad decision.” Aunt Ann began and Anne’s jaw almost dropped – was this the way they normally talked to Ann as soon as she left the room?
“A bad decision? – I’m afraid I don’t follow, aunt.” Anne said trying to not let her anger slip through, and Aunt Ann made a gesture with her hand,
“Oh, you know the Priestley’s do worry about you a lot. The whole family does. You - living there… people talk. And, then Miss Lister taking you abroad without a concern for your fragile health.”
Anne did her best to keep calm with that statement, though she let a little of her annoyance slip through – after all Ann would’ve… at least Anne thought she would. This ‘Priestley-ism’, was so tiresome – when would they stop try to influence Ann with their cruel comments and passive-insulting ways? – Why couldn’t anyone in her family just accept her decision? - That is to say except for Catherine and Aunt Ann (on days Eliza Priestley hadn’t just visited).
“Well, there’s no need for concern. I don’t care what those people say – they don’t know her and it’s discourteous. And I loved going abroad! – It made me feel alive, it did good for my health – the perfect tonic. Miss Lister was very attentive to my needs, and Dr Belcombe was very pleased with me when I returned.” Anne replied her showing the tiniest hint of displeasure, she didn’t bother trying to tell Aunt Ann, that she wasn’t fragile, chances were that would just open the door to another infuriating conversation.
“Your brother died in Naples.” Aunt Ann reminded her sternly, and Anne’s eyes widened a little – it was so malicious to use Ann’s fears and trauma against her – to try and chain her to them. This wasn’t the first time it had come up in a conversation to stop Ann from going with her and live life to its fullest.
“I know, and it was unfortunate. But it doesn’t mean the same thing will happen to me. And Miss Lister would never expose me to any kind of danger.”
Anne was thankful for the teacup in her hands, so she could mask her fury with a sip – Ann’s relatives underestimated her something terrible and Anne loathed it – she wasn’t delicate or in need of advice on every subject covering life – she was courageous and brilliant when given the chance to breathe from their suffocating ways.
“We care about you, Ann – we just want what’s best for you. It’s our duty, as Mrs. Priestley pointed out to me – especially since your own mother is dead and buried.” Aunt Ann pressed and Anne wanted to groan – how many dead relatives could you mention in the same conversation to try and prey on someone’s fears to make them do your will?
“I know that, but I am a grown woman, and I can make my own decisions.” Anne asserted, wanting the conversation to switch directions to something that wasn’t quite so infuriating.
“Yes, but you’ve also been an invalid for most of that time. Mrs. Prie… I… we just want to make sure you know it’s alright if you want to move back home. We would help you fend off Miss Lister. You could get married – your time for that hasn’t passed yet.”
Aunt Ann eyed her sympathetically, leaning forwards a little on the sofa but Anne was furious and couldn’t stop the scowl that replaced the false smile she had worn, and all she wanted was to shout that she was married – she was settled but obviously, she couldn’t… unless she wanted to spend the rest of her days in an asylum.
“You can tell, Mrs. Priestley and the rest of the tribe, that I am perfectly satisfied with the way my life is and I wouldn’t leave Miss Lister for anyone nor anything. She’s my… particular friend, and I wish that all of you would just be delighted for me, Aunt.”
“I am delighted for you, Ann but…” Aunt Ann’s words died as she observed the footman that had just entered the room,
“Miss Lister, ma’am.”
Anne was more than happy to see Ann appear behind the footman – her presence meant that conversation was at an end, but she made a mental note of asking Ann about it later – was this the way they always talked when Anne wasn’t there?
“Miss Lister.” Aunt Ann greeted her, and Ann went over to her, taking her hand in hers,
“Miss Walker, how are you?”
“I’m perfectly fine, thank you – and you?” Aunt Ann glanced up at her, and Ann fiddled with the black hat in her hands, smiling,
“Excellent – I’m good, thank you.”
“Would you like me to ask William to get you a teacup, Miss Lister?” Aunt Ann inquired and Ann shook her head,
“Oh, no – thank you. I just came for Miss Walker; it looks like rain so. We’d best be on our way lest we get caught in it, again.”
Aunt Ann gave Anne a meaningful look at that though Anne pretended she didn’t notice, standing up from the sofa to ready for the walk back.
“Why you insist on walking I cannot understand – not when it might rain.” Aunt Ann commented and Ann turned to observe her,
“Well, it’s not that far, and fresh air only does you good.”
“My niece isn’t quite as stout as you, Miss Lister – she might catch her death.” Aunt Ann protested and Ann raised her brow, noticing Anne’s exasperated look, wondering what on earth had been discussed before she came, and to add to that she also felt a bit insulted by her aunt’s words.
“I’m sure Miss Walker is wholly capable of walking in the rain without catching pneumonia, Miss Walker.”
“Very well, wrap up then and be on your way before the heaven’s open and it rains.” Aunt Ann dismissed them, sounding a little stumped but Ann neverminded her aunt and took Anne with her out into the hall where she was given her pelisse, gloves and bonnet. They got dressed in almost silence – thinking that Aunt Ann might be old, but she wasn’t deaf, so they waited until they came outside to say anything of worth.
They walked in silence down the path from the house, the gravel sounding under their feet and a slight drizzle came over them.
“Why haven’t you told me that’s how they act?!” Anne asked bluntly as soon as they were definitely without earshot from Cliff Hill. Ann glanced at her, frowning – not quite sure what her wife was talking of, nor why she looked so cross.
“Why haven’t I told you, what?”
“You know what I’m talking about!” Anne growled and Ann eyed her seriously, resisting an eye-roll, her wife was so ridiculous sometimes with how she always seemed to think Ann could read her mind, and then getting cross when she didn’t follow.
“I obviously don’t – so you don’t have to shout at me!”
“Urgh! That they are constantly at your throat about you living with me.” Anne hissed, “Trying to influence you to leave me.”
“Oh…” Ann began, but was interrupted by a growl,
“What do you mean ‘oh’ – they could’ve turned you against me and I wouldn’t know!”
Ann tried to speak but Anne was clearly too upset, to slow down, and so Ann grabbed her arm and turned her to her – forcing her to meet her eyes,
“I didn’t tell you because I knew you’d be cross.”
“Am I?!” Anne snarled and Ann closed her eyes for a second trying to reel her own emotions in – it wouldn’t end well if the both of them started shouting.
“Anne, please just listen to me! – I didn’t tell you because I knew you’d be upset – and nothing they say can ever make me leave you – I swore oaths on the bible with you, I’m wearing your rings and I love you – I might’ve been easily persuaded in the past but…” Ann trailed off, hoping Anne believed her, because she didn’t want to have another spat with her over something that wasn’t even an issue – Ann hadn’t hidden the fact from Anne for any other reason but to spare her the annoyance and worry. Sure, Ann thought it bothersome but typically it was just kind of entertaining watching her relatives bend over their backs with trying to persuade her to leave Miss Lister for home and marriage, not knowing she was already married to her in the eyes of God.
“I just think it’s cowardly of them to prey on you like that. It upsets me that they show so little regard for your own feelings and decisions – for your ability to think on your own without their constant interference.” Anne mumbled, her fury slipping away from her and Ann smiled hesitantly, caressing her arm gently,
“I don’t like it either but the only thing their comments achieves is me getting vexed with them – I’m not so gullible and naïve as I used to be… well, as I let myself be in the past.”
Anne’s cheeks were a little warm but she blamed Ann’s body for that – though she did feel a little ashamed for immediately thinking the worst of her wife. It wasn’t fair and had more to do with her own fears of losing her than anything else. Even a year into their marriage Anne still feared that Ann would tire of her and pack up and leave – and so Anne was sometimes wary of being too vulnerable with her in case she did – she was still guarding her poor heart in some sense – frightened of how much it beat for the woman in-front of her.
“You don’t need to be frightened. I’m not going anywhere.” Ann whispered calmly, stroking away a lone tear from her cheek with light fingers, as if she could read her mind and Anne glanced up at her, a soft apologetic smile appearing on her face,
“I shouldn’t have shouted, I’m sorry.”
“No.” Ann shook her head, “But I understand why you reacted thus – I used you ill – when I constantly changed my mind with the ‘yes’ and ‘no’s’. And then when Mrs. Priestley told Harriet what she did, and everything fell apart…So. I see why hearing my aunt say all that might cause you to feel anxious and I’m sorry that I hurt you.”
Anne exhaled slowly, annoyed with her own temper for taking charge of her before she had even given Ann a chance to explain,
“Don’t. Don’t apologise again – you weren’t well. And it wasn’t your fault. But, promise me, that you’ll tell me if you feel that coming on again, so I can help you in time.” Anne murmured, playing with Ann’s… her own fingers, but her eyes rested on the scar that was still rather prominent on her wife’s wrist, a reminder of how close she had been to losing her in the past.
“I will. I promise.” Ann reassured her, and then as if nothing had transpired, they continued their walk back home. Quietness engulfed them for a little while, both of them wrapped up in their own thoughts – until Anne realised that she had, in the heat of the moment, forgot to ask Ann how the meeting had gone.
“Did you meet with Mr. Dawson?” Anne wondered, making sure to keep her voice light, and Ann sighed irate,
For a second Anne worried Ann might be angry with her for some reason but then Ann continued,
“Urgh, you were right! He was so incessantly rude – despite him knowing he was in a precarious situation with his tenancy.”
“Mm, I told you so.” Anne teased and Ann gasped, nudging her side,
“Oh shut it! I’ve suffered enough – he was vulgar and… creepy. And his breath stunk.”
Anne tried to keep her laughter in but couldn’t and Ann growled at her, exasperated,
“It’s really not funny!”
“Sorry…but it’s a little bit though.” Anne smirked,
“No! Anne – it wasn’t!” Ann said seriously, “I got this feeling, the kind of… urgh. That if I hadn’t been you, and been alone with him, he might’ve…”
Anne’s laughter died instantly, and her teasing look switched to that of deep concern,
“Did he try anything!?”
“No! - His mannerisms just reminded me of… you know who.” Ann relented, and Anne nodded, a deep line wearing into her forehead,
“I’m sorry, I put you through that. I didn’t think how you might feel being alone with such a man – even if you inhabited my body.”
“You can’t protect me from everything, Anne. I just… it reminded me, and I… um, but it’s fine. I’m fine – I threw him off land.” Ann dismissed Anne’s worry – because she didn’t want to bother her – not when she was obviously over-reacting and reading into something too much. But Anne didn’t seem convinced, she was observing her closely,
“Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Ann, honestly – are you alright? – Never mind what actually happened, how are you feeling?” Anne was eying her with the same amount of concern that she had done that day when Ann had admitted to her what Mr. Ainsworth had done to her. Ann exhaled slowly,
“I just… haven’t thought of it in a long time and it just brought back unpleasant memories. But I’m over-reacting...”
“No. You’re not, Ann – what that devil put your through is inexcusable, and you are not to blame. And I don’t want you to feel as though you’re over-reacting or exaggerating if those memories reappear – do you hear me?!” Anne was eying her with a penetrating stare and Ann, staring into her own blue eyes, could feel tears burn and her heart clench in her chest. Something about hearing herself, though it was Anne obviously, speak those words; Anne was saying all of those things she wished she could say and think herself, it resonated within her and stilled her anxious thoughts. Ann was so thankful of her wife and wondered briefly at what would’ve become of her if she hadn’t had Anne. Dim and dark images of her past re-appeared, lonely long days with no hope or will to live anything resembling a life. No, Ann was immensely grateful of the woman she could call her wife. She had brought her back to life.
“Ann?” Anne called out to her, willing her back to the present, and to the walk where they stood, rain falling down over them – but neither of them minded that much. Soft fingers grazed her chin, turning her head towards her,
“I don’t deserve you.” Ann mumbled, as a single tear trickled down her cheek, and Anne frowned as she observed her, shaking her head slowly, standing closer,
“Of course you do! Come here.”
Anne embraced her – throwing caution to the wind that they were out in the open – to hell with them if anyone saw them and caused trouble. For some reason the nearness made Ann feel somewhat worse – she was so close to her wife, yet a million miles away – it was as though she could hear her but not touch her and she longed for God or whoever – to switch them back so they could be near again.
“You are alright, Ann. I’m here, and I love you. And you deserve all the good the world has to offer!” Anne caressed her cheek before following with her lips, resting for a little while longer in each other’s embrace before they parted. Ann dried her tears properly with her hands, cheeks warm and pink from her episode, eying Anne with some apprehension but she only smiled softly,
“Don’t even dare to think it, Adney – I am not annoyed with you.”
Ann couldn’t help the croaky laughter that escaped her, sometimes she knew her and her overthinking brain too well.
“Shall we hurry home before we’re absolutely soaked?” Ann wondered with a wide smile, her doubts gone for now, and Anne chuckled, nodding,
“Yes, please! I do not want to find out how heavy these things can get!
Ann laughed as her wife pointed at the poufs, and they set off on the walk again – practically running down it, just in time for the rain began pouring down heavily – drenching them both thoroughly to the bone.