August 9, 1813, Somersetshire, England
Anne closed the attic door behind her. It was hot up there on the top floor of Kellynch Hall, but that was to be expected, given that it was the second week of August. She went to the small octagonal window and pushed it open.
A stir of a breeze kissed her face. She stayed there for a few seconds watching the carriage that transported her father and Elizabeth toward town. They were off to visit Lady Russell — the only person of worth this “scanty neighbourhood afforded.”
An invitation had been extended to Anne too, of course, but she claimed a headache. The headache was real, she could feel the tension radiating across her forehead. Her father, Sir Walter — always quick to recognize a flaw in his second daughter’s complexion — allowed that she did look more pasty and pinched than usual. And, as her remaining at home did not cause him any inconvenience, he was quiet ready to allow it.
Anne felt a few moments of guilty discomfort over the deception as she walk through the house. Yes, her head was pounding, but, no, that’s not the reason she wanted to stay home.
Kellynch Hall was in disarray and she was not surprised that her father had fled for the calmer environs of Lady Russell’s manor. Every room Anne passed seemed to have at least one servant inside who was busy with preparations for the family’s upcoming exodus to Bath.
Thus far the Main Floor- save Sir Walter’s Private Study with its copy of the Baronetage and full length looking glass — were in the full swing of transition. The contents of the Parlour, the Library, the Sitting Room… were either being packed for the move or catalogued and readied for the next inhabitants of the house.
The Second Floor was quieter. Anne had already packed most of her belongings. She had placed yellow cards on the boxes going to Bath and pale blue cards on the smaller number boxes that would be send ahead to the Musgroves for her visit to her youngest sister Mary this summer. Anne had little expectation that either her father or Elizabeth had begun to sort through their rooms. Indeed the task would likely fall to her when the it could no longer be avoided. But THAT was a chore better off delayed.
As she climbed the skinnier stairs past the servant’s quarters to the attic she knew that no one had had time to get to this top floor yet.
That was good.
There were treasures here that could not be catalogued by a servant’s pen.
It was funny, Anne thought, how the heat and the dust of this place never bothered her as a child. It has been her favorite hiding place. It was here that she would come to read away an afternoon, or play adventure games with Mary.
Now — as she turned from the relative coolness of the window and faced the dim, hot interior — she was almost overwhelmed by the temperature, the staleness, the dust.
It had been nearly seven years since she had climbed those stairs and stepped onto the rough wooden floor of the attic. She had taken Lady Russell’s advice — again — and had decided to put away her remembrances of a certain young man. “Out of sight, out of mind.” Lady Russell had gently urged. And so Anne had brought her small box of treasures up to the attic and put them in a medium-sized trunk that no one seemed to care about. She’d put a broken birdcage on top of the trunk to keep a kind of sentry.
She had cried that day — the day she had finally, truly gave up Frederick. — Great gasps of tears accompanied each letter as she put it inside that box. And when they were all inside and she closed the box and tied it up with a blue ribbon she found she was not capable of additional tears. Her eyes ached for want of crying, but her tears had turned to dust just like everything else in the attic.
The birdcage was still in place. 7 years of dust assured Anne that no one had been inside the trunk. She moved the cage, lifted the lid of the trunk and removed the box. She looked at the blue grosgrain ribbon. The sailors knot was still in place, untampered with.
Anne slipped the ribbon from the box careful not to touch the items inside.
It contained: 1 seagull feather, 6 inches long, 1 smooth river rock, the size of your fist, 1 button from a the uniform of a junior Naval Officer, silver, and 24 letters.
The feather, rock and button she left in the box. Her mission was to expunge evidence of her long ago romance, not to revel in it. These items could be from any one. They did not implicate her broken heart.
But as she reached into the box to retrieve the letters her hand brushed the delicate feather. The whisper tickle it gave as it brushed against her skin brought her back to the days of a different summer… of stolen moments… of a teasing feather on her cheek… of the innocent giggles of a 19-year-old in love.
“I am over him.” She said out loud, determined, master of her own mind.
But the feather joined the letters as she placed them in her reticule.
More carelessly now she returned the box to the trunk, closed the lid, replaced the cage, retraced her steps to the window, did the latch, and found her way down stairs to her room.
Despite the summer heat Miss Anne Elliot rang the bell and requested a small fire.
It was to help with her headache, no doubt. — She did look dreadful pale. Lucy, one of the maids obliged. She left Miss Anne with a cool pitcher of lemonade and the promise not to be disturbed until supper.
Anne let minutes slip past by the dozen as she kept vigil over the small pile of letters on her night stand. She should not — WOULD NOT — keep them. But… she was having difficulty moving her hand to the pile to pick one up and place it on the fire.
When the Hall clock struck 1:00 she moved from the bed.
It was necessary to do what was necessary. It was time.
She grabbed the letters and one by one tossed them into the small flame. It would flare up as it hungrily devoured the paper, the ink, the words, the passion of her past, but soon enough it calmed back to a flicker not much bigger than a candle’s flame.
Anne was methodical, patient. One by one the letters disappeared. 15. 16. 17. 18. Then when she got to the 19th piece of folded paper she hesitated. It wasn’t the last letter wrote her. It wasn’t the thickest one in the pile. It was the date that caught her eye.
This letter was addressed:
Her hands shook as she unfolded the paper.
“Dear Anne,” read his beautiful strong handwriting, “My time is not my own today. Lots to do to prepare for our new adventure. I’m so busy I can hardly write. But I could not let the day expire with out wishing you the happiest of birthdays my love! Yours always, Frederick.”
Anne smiled and fed the letter to the fire. It went up the same as the others. But it had stirred something in her.
Regardless of how correct or devastatingly incorrect her decision to listen to her father and Lady Russell had been all those years ago… the letter proved as a reminder that he had loved her. She had not imagined that.
With equally measured patience she finished her task. The remainder of the letters disappeared to smoke and ash. She no longer had any proof that she had been loved …except for that proof she carried in her heart.
As for the feather… well she could have gotten that anywhere. That meant nothing, except to her.
Anne unpacked one of her hat boxes and pulled out her favorite everyday hat. She spent the rest of the afternoon neatly working in the white and gray feather, making sure it was properly secure and would not fly off in a gust of adversity.
She would wear that hat often, she thought. Because, although she followed Lady Russell’s advice and had put away her remberances of Frederick Wentworth, she would never forget him.
Happy 226th Birthday Anne Elliot! My favorite Austen heroine!
Jane Austen, Watercolour and pencil portrait by her sister Cassandra, 1810 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As usual Friday’s blog is part of a writers prompt from http://viewfromtheside.wordpress.com/ Today her prompt was “Women”