(Excerpt from Chapter 16:)
Richard paused before the great
doors of the sitting room, steeling himself for the interview
to come. "You may announce me," he said to the butler.
A moment later, he heard, "You
may come in, Richard."
Richard entered the elaborate
sitting room and saw his aunt sitting in her usual chair at the
far end. She gave the impression of a spider in the center of
her web. A slight smile seemed to dance upon her lips.
"Ah, the savior of Hunsford
returns! To what do I owe this visit, Nephew?"
"Do I need a reason to
"Do not play games with
me, boy. Always I have been celebrated for my frankness of character.
I expect nothing less from any of my family. Why have you returned?"
"To bid you farewell.
I am off to the Continent to face Bonaparte."
This declaration seemed to
take Lady Catherine by surprise. After a silence of a few moments,
she said, "I am afraid I do not understand your meaning.
Is not the tyrant held captive on some small island -- in the
Mediterranean, perhaps? Why would you need to face him? Does
he need to be arrested?"
Richard was stunned that his
aunt did not know what had happened. "Bonaparte has escaped
Elba. He is back in Paris; the French king has fled. The tyrant
is raising an army. Britain goes to fight him yet again."
Lady Catherine was affronted.
"Escaped? Surely someone has not done their duty. I assume
it was one of those foreign types that was responsible. Such
a thing would not happen if an Englishman was in charge."
"I am sure you are correct.
In any case, it falls upon those who wear the king's uniform
to set things right."
"When do you leave?"
"The regiment sails in
"Then you go with my blessing.
Was there anything else?"
"I would like to speak
to Anne before I go."
"Yes," she looked
at him narrowly, "I suppose you do."
Richard became wary. "Is
she about? My time is short. I must leave soon."
"What business do you
have with my daughter?" Lady Catherine demanded.
"To take my leave of her,
as I have done with you."
"And is that all?"
"I am afraid I do not
take your meaning, Aunt."
"I am sure that you do,
sir. Oh, yes -- I know much more than you think."
"I do not think I like
what you are insinuating. Are you accusing me of improper behavior?"
"Is it proper to make
love to my daughter under my very nose?"
fought hard not to lose his temper. "I do not know what
lies you have been told, nor do I wish to hear such vile accusations
made against your daughter. Let me simply assure you that I hold
Anne in the highest regard and respect and would let nothing
damage her reputation while I have breath in this body."
"A very pretty speech.
Yes, very pretty. Do you think me blind? I watched you 'take
your leave' of Anne in February. What other liberties have you
been permitted? Answer me, boy!"
"Lady Catherine, I shall
not dignify that question with an answer. By God, if you were
a man --" Again Richard struggled to retain control. "I
have nothing to say to you about Anne at this time, except this:
My intentions in matters of this kind have always been honorable.
Is it your belief that I have compromised your daughter? If so,
than I am prepared to do the right thing by her." Come,
Aunt, make my dreams come true.
"Oh, no -- you shall not
have your way that easily. I know that it is Rosings Park, not
Anne, that is your desire, and that you shall never have!"
Lady Catherine's temper grew into a passion.
"I care nothing for Rosings.
Besides, Rosings belongs to Anne, not you -- as you well know."
"Only because of the legal
chicanery of your father and uncle! But Anne is my daughter;
she needs my permission to marry."
"Anne is of legal age."
"Anne shall do as she
is told! I have already made preparations -- begun inquiries.
Anne will be united to a proper family, one that is worthy of
a de Bourgh!"
Richard narrowed his eyes.
"One that can be manipulated, as well. Such a compliant
man shall be hard to find. Do you believe you will find such
a person in Bath?"
His aunt sneered. "Bath
-- London-it matters not. I know Anne shall not travel to Derbyshire
Richard looked at his aunt
with as much composure as he could manage. "You would condemn
your daughter to a loveless marriage just so you can hold on
"Love?" Lady Catherine
raged. "You speak the same foolishness as your cousin! Pemberley
has been polluted forever by that
Darcy married. Anne will have an estate of her own, and I shall
prevent you and my hateful brother from stealing Rosings from
"And if Anne refuses to
"She would not dare! However,
if none of my candidates are suitable, Anne and I will live here
comfortably for the rest of our lives."
Richard stood in awe of his
aunt's selfish, ignorant maliciousness. One word from Anne would
destroy her whole world. She was of legal age -- Anne could marry
anyone she chose. He wondered if his aunt was quite sane.
"I think there is nothing
more we can say about this or any other matter. I will leave
you now. Farewell, Aunt." Richard turned to leave.
Lady Catherine called out.
"Richard, I have not forgotten how you mistreated me when
last you were here. You dare to speak to me without first offering
me your apology? I am most severely displeased!"
Richard halted before the door.
With one hand on the knob he said, "Do not be unhappy, my
lady. With any luck, the French may solve your problem with me
forever." At that, Richard left the sitting room, closing
the door behind him.
Richard stormed though the
halls, trying to control his emotions, when he came upon Mrs.
Parks again. She looked at him with compassion and simply said,
"She is in the gardens, sir."
With a smile, he thanked the
housekeeper and dashed out the doors. Anne stood in the very
same spot as in February, looking at the new buds.
"Anne!" he called
as he ran to her. She, in turn, waved to him, her smile heartbreaking
in its beauty. He reached her and took her hands in his. "Ah,
the pretty buds of April, and here is the prettiest!"
"Oh, Richard, it is so
good to see you -- even if you do say such lies." she said
To Richard's concern, he found
that he did exaggerate Anne's looks; there were circles under
her eyes, and she looked as if she had eaten ill for some time.
Richard wondered just how horrible it had been for her at Rosings
while he was gone.
Anne's eyes took in her cousin.
"Richard? Why do you wear your sword?"
"Do not worry about that,
my dear. Let me look at you." Quietly, he asked, "Why
did you not send for me?"
"There is nothing she
can do to hurt me. Are you here long?"
"No, I must leave for
London soon --"
"Did you bring the coach?
I did not see it." She looked around him and saw only his
horse. Anne turned back to him. "You rode?" Suddenly
there was a forlorn expression in her eyes. "Richard, why
are you here?"
"Anne, I --"
Realization came to her. "It
is the crisis, is it not? You are going back
back to fight
Bonaparte!" Unlike her mother, she had been reading the
Gravely, Richard answered,
"Oh, God," She laid
her head on his chest. "When?" she whispered.
"We sail in May. I came
to -- I had to see you before
In a small breaking voice,
she said, "I thought you had come back for me."
Richard was in anguish. He
took Anne's face in his hands and stared into her eyes, memorizing
every lovely feature. "Anne, there is so much I wish to
but now is not the time. Oh, my dearest!"
Anne shook her head, her eyes
swimming in tears. As her small fists began beating on him, she
cried, "No, no
not now! How can you say these things
to me now? Now that you are leaving me, perhaps never to return.
How cruel! I cannot stand it! Leave me -- let me go! Please!"
She broke away from Richard and fled into the house.
Richard stood like a statue
watching her flee. Then slowly he sat on the bench behind him,
removing his hat and holding his face in his hands.