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Authors: Ruled by Passion

Lois Menzel

BOOK: Lois Menzel
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RULED BY PASSION

 

Lois Menzel

 

 

“The ruling passion, be it what it will. The

ruling passion conquers reason still.”

 

                              —Alexander Pope

Moral Essays, Epistle III,

To Lord Bathurst (1732)

 

Chapter 1

 

Anne Waverly sat alone in the library of Wildrose Cottage. It was not in fact a library, but a small morning room her father had converted years ago by having the village carpenter cover the walls with shelves. On these her father had stored his precious books. In this room he had spent nearly all his waking hours for the past thirty years. If he was not in his comfortable leather chair before the windows, his spectacles balancing on the tip of his nose while the daylight lit his page from behind, then he would be behind a heap of papers at his desk, endlessly poring over the Greek and Latin histories he had spent his life translating. It was appropriate, Anne thought, that he had died in this room as well, in his favorite chair, a volume of his beloved classics in his hands.

Anne rose from the sunny window seat and walked to the black leather chair, resting her hands on its high back. She would take one last look at everything; hold the pictures in her mind forever. All her memories were of this cottage, for she’d had no other home.

She remembered how, when she was a child, she would slip away from her governess and creep into this room—her father’s domain. She would hide behind the dark brown velvet curtains, certain he had not detected her. Holding her breath, she would shiver deliciously until she heard his voice, only inches away.

“How now? A rat? Dead for a ducat, dead!” He would clutch her through the curtain and tickle her, making it difficult for her to deliver her reply, “Oh, I am slain!”

She never tired of the game, and he was never too busy to play it with her. As she grew older, she gave up acting the part of Polonius and recited Juliet’s lines instead. Her first history lessons were from
Richard II
and
Henry IV.

Anne dragged an empty trunk across the floor and began filling it. Three-quarters of the shelves were already bare, but the task of sorting the books was taking longer than she expected. Since so many of the volumes brought back vivid pictures of the past, she found herself pausing often to reminisce. She was donating the books to the university, but when she came across one that held a special place in her memory, she set it aside. Those she would keep, for she found she could not bring herself to part with them.

As she pulled a thin volume of Pope from the shelf, tears filled her eyes. She and her father had read and reread it together ... it seemed like yesterday.

A gray-haired lady in a neat black stuff dress poked her head through the open door. “Would you like me to help you, Miss Anne? Seems a big task for only two hands, and the carter will be here afore long.”

Anne placed the Pope on her special pile as she pulled the next book from the shelf. “I am very slow, Mrs. Nesbitt, but there are so many memories.”

“Lord, child, I know that. Why do you think I offered to do this for you?”

“He has been gone nearly a year, but I still miss him dreadfully.”

“Maybe it is best that you are leaving, Miss Anne. It is not good for a body to grieve overlong.”

“I am not grieving, precisely. But I was always happy here. I am uneasy about going away.”

“If the truth be told, miss, your father was a hermit. And so are you, for you live as he did. Stands to reason you should be frightened of change. But think of this, Miss Anne: Thousands of people live in London, and they all manage. Why, with your quick mind, and all your father taught you, you should be able to hold your own anywhere.”

“What about you, dear friend?” Anne asked. “After twenty-two years of service here, the change will be strange for you as well.”

“My sister’s ague is worsening, and the doctor feels she may soon be bedridden. I will be busy, and that is as much as I ask, Miss Anne.”

“Perhaps I shall be busy, too,” Anne responded. “My aunt and uncle have five children, the eldest not yet eighteen.”

“Will you like that, do you think?”

“I believe I may. I enjoy children.” She reached for another book, forcing herself back to her melancholy task.

 

* * * *

 

When Mrs. Nesbitt returned with tea more than an hour later, she found the library empty, the shelves bare. Through the window, she could see her mistress sitting alone on a bench in the rose garden. Anne was gazing over the picket fence at the busy village street. Fixing it in her memory, Mrs. Nesbitt thought.

 

* * * *

 

That afternoon the local carter loaded the late Mr. Waverly’s library into his wagon and set off through the village, destined for the larger university town of Cambridge to the west. Anne rode along as far as the vicarage where they unloaded the trunk containing those volumes she had kept for herself. The vicar had promised to store them for her until she was settled.

“Natty Carson will bring my gelding by first thing in the morning,” she told the vicar, her friend of many years. “You should have no problems with him; he is so gentle. Please remember he loves an occasional apple as a treat.”

“I will keep him as long as need be,” Mr. Boone replied. “And I don’t want you to worry about the children becoming attached. I told them plainly that you would send for him as soon as you were able.”

“I wish you would accept him as a gift,” she persisted. “It is unlikely I will ever be in a position where I can afford to keep a horse, yet I cannot bring myself to sell him. I know he will be happy here.”

“As happy as three doting children can make him, Anne. That you may depend upon.”

As Anne walked slowly back to Wildrose Cottage, she wished that she, like her books and horse, could stay on in Ripley. But she could no longer afford the rent her father had paid Sir Hugo Scoville. Even when Sir Hugo became aware of her circumstances and offered her a greatly reduced rate, she refused to stay on. She would not begin accepting charity at twenty-eight. She was strong and healthy; she was well educated; she was determined to seek employment and earn her own way.

Anne rose early the following morning and dressed carefully in a dark brown traveling dress. The dress was no longer in style, but she had no other. It would have to do. She brushed her waist-length brown hair until it shone, then worked it tightly into a heavy plait. This she coiled with practiced hands at the nape of her neck, securing it with pins. She settled a plain straw bonnet over her head and tied the worn ribbons beneath her chin. Carefully folding her spectacles, she placed them in their case, then slipped the case into her reticule. She picked up her gloves and a book from the bedside table, glanced about to be certain nothing had been left behind, and joined Mrs. Nesbitt in the front hall.

Standing near the door were the two small trunks containing her personal belongings. While a village man loaded her things into the back of his wagon, the two women said their good-byes.

“I know you will never eat before a journey, love,” Mrs. Nesbitt said, “but I have packed a few apples and a bit of bread and cheese—just in case. You should have something. There may be delays.”

Anne smiled and took the small, tightly wrapped package. This warm-hearted woman had been giving to her all her life; she could not refuse this last offering, even though she knew she would not eat it.

Anne had only a short time to wait after the wagon driver conveyed her to the posting inn and unloaded her things in the yard. The mail coach was on time, her fare already paid. In a few moments her trunks were strapped on, she was handed inside, and the horses leaned into their work.

Fortunately the coach had only two other occupants, so Anne was able to obtain a corner seat. She carefully extracted her spectacles from her reticule and put them on, but when she opened the book to her marker, she found she could not read, for the bouncing of the coach made it impossible to keep her place. She closed her eyes instead and, leaning her head against the side of the coach, began to recite in her mind every piece of poetry she knew. Since the motion of any carriage made her ill, she had no interest in the springtime Cambridgeshire countryside. She never traveled unless it was absolutely unavoidable. If she was forced to endure a carriage, she ate nothing, then occupied her mind with anything but the trip.

As the mail coach made its way south it stopped often, discharging and collecting passengers and baggage. If the stop was long enough, Anne stepped down and walked about, finding comfort for her churning stomach in setting her feet upon solid, unmoving ground.

When they passed through Hertford near noon, several passengers bought what food they could during a stop of only a few minutes. Anne bought nothing, nor did she avail herself of the food she had brought with her. The parcel lay untouched in her lap.

Discharged from the mail on the outskirts of London in the midafternoon, Anne hired a hackney carriage and informed the driver of her aunt’s direction. By this time thoroughly ill and equally sick of the poetry she had recited time and again, she had no interest in her surroundings, even though London was a city she had never seen.

 

* * * *

 

At the Hodders’ establishment in Oxford Street, Anne stood on the top step and timidly plied the knocker. When the butler who pulled open the door surveyed her creased, old-fashioned gown, Anne had the impression he was about to direct her to the servants’ entrance.

“I am Anne Waverly,” she said. “I believe my aunt and uncle are expecting me.”

The man raised his eyebrows, but nevertheless showed her to a sitting room while he dispatched a footman to collect her baggage from the hackney.

“If you will be pleased to wait here, miss, I will inform Mrs. Hodder of your arrival.”

The room in which he placed her was not expensively decorated, but was lavish by comparison with Wildrose Cottage. Heavy brocade curtains hung at the windows and a plush forest-green carpet covered the floor. To Anne the room seemed to have too many furnishings, for chairs and tables jostled one another for space. A small bookshelf to one side of the mantel caught her attention. She had never met her father’s sister, but she believed that the books a person owned told a great deal about them. The first volume was a collection of sermons, the second
Miss Henrietta Archibald’s Guide to Etiquette for Young Ladies of Distinction,
and the third a collection of poetry by an author Anne did not know. She put on her spectacles, then took the book down and opened it to read:

 

“The rose of spring found but a dusty grave,

Hard-trampled, ‘neath the hooves of time.”

 

She smiled as she thought what her father would have said of such a line. She replaced the book and turned to pace back across the room. She was not looking forward to this interview, for this was the part of her plan that had been most difficult—asking her aunt and uncle to keep her until she should find a position. She turned when she heard the door open behind her and forced a nervous smile to her face as she regarded the rotund woman on the threshold.

 

* * * *

 

Cressida Hodder stared at her niece in open amazement. Had she given one second’s thought to what her niece’s appearance might be, she would never have expected this. Her brother had been a handsome man; she saw nothing of him in the woman who stood before her. She was tall—too tall—and thin as a rail, with no bosom to speak of. Hair of a nondescript brown was drawn savagely back from a plain-featured face. The dress! The dress was shocking—dowdy, worn, a horrid color. And worst of all, she was wearing spectacles!

When Anne came forward with an outstretched hand and said, “Aunt Hodder?” all her aunt could manage in return was, “Merciful heavens!”

As her visitor’s face puzzled over this unusual greeting, Mrs. Hodder struggled to control her initial reaction to her niece’s appearance. She curled her lips into a smile and took the slender hand the young woman offered. “So you are Maxwell’s girl. You do not favor him.”

“No, ma’am. It is said I bear a likeness to my mother, though I cannot say. I do not remember her well.”

“I was distressed that I could not come to dear Max’s funeral,” Mrs. Hodder continued. “But as I wrote you, my three youngest were laid low by the influenza at the time. I could not consider leaving them.”

“Certainly not. Indeed, I perfectly understood your dilemma.”

“Dear girl, I knew you would. The few times your father visited in recent years he never failed to remark upon your excellent understanding.”

Anne half smiled, uncertain how she should respond. Mrs. Hodder soon continued. “I will have a footman direct you to your room. You will wish to refresh yourself after your long journey. Then you must join me for tea, and we will further discuss your letter. You said, I believe, that you desired my assistance in finding a position.” She pulled the bell rope. When a footman appeared, she ordered tea to be served in half an hour.

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