Any Woman Who Truly Loved
From Persuasion, Chapter 23:
And with a quivering lip he wound up the whole by adding, 'Poor Fanny! she would not have forgotten him so soon!'
'No,' replied Anne, in a low, feeling voice. 'That I can easily believe.'
'It was not in her nature. She doted on him.'
'It would not be the nature of any woman who truly loved.'
The butterflies were whirling in Anne's stomach as her father's carriage neared Uppercross. Her new riding habit felt stiff and strange. The veil attached to the high-topped hat was positively annoying. She knew that she should wear it while riding to preserve her complexion; one certainly could not ride while carrying a parasol, could one? But it brushed against her face and itched and made it difficult to see properly. Finally she took off the hat, wound the veil around it on top of the narrow brim, and tucked the end under. She replaced her hat, tilting the back brim against her chignon and the front down toward her forehead, and pinned it carefully. It would not do to lose her hat during her first riding lesson.
For some time she had wanted riding lessons, but none of her father's grooms knew how to ride sidesaddle and none of the horses were trained to be a lady's mount. Her father was the kindest of men; she knew that he was sincere when he promised to retain a riding master and purchase a horse, but his duties frequently called him away from home and her request had probably slipped his mind. Luckily, Anne's cousin Charles Musgrove had heard of her dilemma and offered his services as a riding instructor. He had tried to teach his sister Elizabeth, but she had shown little interest in pursuing the activity.
"Her horse is just taking up room in the stables, eating oats and growing fat," he had told Anne. "He needs some exercise. I learned the elements of sidesaddle in order to teach Eliza, so I can teach you very well." Admiral Wentworth had empowered Charles to order a sidesaddle for her, and her mother had commissioned a habit as well. Now that Anne had assembled all her accoutrements, she was ready to begin.
Charles was so confident and comfortable in the saddle that Anne felt a bit intimidated. He will find me ridiculous, she thought nervously. He is a Cambridge man and I am just a silly schoolgirl. Well, not a schoolgirl anymore. Anne sometimes forgot that, at sixteen, she had recently finished her education and had begun to accompany her parents on social occasions. Not that this made her feel less anxious. In fact, her mother and father had wanted Anne to wait another year before coming out. Anne would have preferred this herself, but her cousin Elizabeth Musgrove thought that sixteen was old enough to come out; the girls decided that they would do so together, and Anne's parents had agreed.
The carriage pulled up in front of the Great House, and a footman came out to help her climb down. "Mr. Charles is at the stables, Miss Wentworth," he told her. "You can go right over."
"Thank you," Anne replied, and began walking toward the big buildings housing her uncle's stables. Mr. Musgrove had only kept what horses he needed to hunt, pull the family conveyance, and work around the estate until he had turned the management of the stables over to Charles the year before. The young squire had immediately taken advantage of the big old barns, using his own allowance to buy additional horses to be trained and bred. He was an excellent judge of horseflesh, and under his expert supervision the undertaking flourished; Mr. Musgrove's steward had long stopped complaining of the cost of feeding the additional horses when he saw the return on their sale. The domestic staff, initially scandalized at the amount of time the heir spent among the house cattle, had become used to his presence there and even took pride in the increasing renown of Uppercross Stables.
As Anne approached the stables, she heard shouting and a horse's whinny. She walked around to the front of the building and saw her cousin leaning over a fence, trying to buckle a bridle onto a horse that clearly did not want to wear the equipment. A couple of grooms were hovering, waiting to see if they were needed, but Charles successfully attached the bridle and jumped down from the fence rail. The horse ran around inside the enclosure, shaking his head and trying to get rid of the annoyance. Anne remembered how her veil had bothered her, and sympathized with the horse.
One of the grooms noticed her. "Good morning, miss," he said, pulling on his forelock. The other groom did the same, and Charles turned and smiled at her.
"Good morning, Anne," he said. "Forgive me. I will be a moment still. We are trying to get him to accept the bridle." Charles had told her that he had a matched set of greys, already promised to a fashionable young viscount, if he could train them to pull his lordship's curricle. Anne was sure that the viscount was willing to pay a large sum for the team, if the bucking animal in the enclosure was an indication; he was a beautiful creature, grey with a snow-white mane and tail. Charles followed her gaze and grinned. "He and his brother will look well pulling a lacquered black curricle with silver fittings, will they not?" he observed archly. "They should be ready for Lord Lathrop by Michaelmas."
Anne smiled back at him, more comfortable in her cousin's presence than she would have imagined.
They watched the horse run around the enclosure for a few minutes; finally he became fatigued and stopped trying to shake off the bridle. Charles directed the grooms to catch the creature and remove the offending item. He turned back to Anne and said, "Are you ready?"
"Yes," she replied, the nervous fluttering in her stomach beginning anew.
"Then it is time for your first lesson." Charles took her hand and began to lead her toward the stables. He stopped, turned back, and caught up her other hand, inspecting them critically. "Did you bring gloves, Anne?"
"Yes, they are in my reticule." She was embarrassed; she was a young lady now, and should have been wearing her gloves, no matter how warm it was outside. Charles did not seem to think badly of her omission, however.
"Good." Her small white hands were swallowed up in his larger tanned ones, their callused appearance at odds with his gentle touch. "I would not want your hands ruined by the reins." They began to move toward the stable again.
They entered the cool, dark building. Charles led Anne to the tack room, where a sidesaddle was resting on a wooden rack. "This is your saddle," he said. "What do you think of it?"
"It is beautiful," she said, running her hand over the gleaming brown leather.
Charles smiled. "I am glad that you like it. It is the latest style, with a second pommel," he said, indicating one of the protruding wooden appendages. "You will be much more secure in this saddle than one with only the upper pommel." Anne knew something about riding, and understood the general principles behind riding sidesaddle, but looking at the saddle, she could not believe that she would be able to stay in her seat.
"Your habit is very nice. It seems...comfortable," said Charles. Despite his polite observation, he looked as if he were glad that he did not have to wear the heavy skirt and fitted jacket. His own clothes--fitted buckskin riding breeches, polished boots, and a baggy coat in a light-coloured fabric--seemed well-worn but not shabby. He was hatless, his face burned and his hair lightened by the sun.
"I feel rather lopsided," she confessed. The skirt was made larger on one side than the other.
"I know little about women's clothing," Charles admitted, "but I believe that the skirt is constructed to drape properly when you are in the saddle."
"It is indeed," she replied, and they exchanged another smile. He had a nice crinkly smile that lit his whole face and made Anne feel very welcome.
There was a small basket just outside the tack room, and Charles reached inside and removed an apple, which he handed to Anne. "The first thing is to become friendly with your mount," he explained, leading her to a stall. A chestnut-colored horse peeked out at her, his large black eyes showing little interest in their presence. "Good morning, Wamba," he said, stroking the horse's neck. "This is Anne. She is just learning to ride, so you must behave like a gentleman. I believe she has brought you a treat." He indicated the apple and said, "Give it to him."
She held out the fruit tentatively. Wamba stretched his neck and took it in his mouth. She felt his velvety lips close gently around the apple and remove it from her hand. He crunched the fruit several times and swallowed it, then nuzzled her hand, looking for more. Anne smiled and stroked his nose.
Charles laughed. "See? He likes you already." He took up a halter and buckled it onto Wamba's head, then opened the stall door and led him to the tack room. The grooms attached the cross-ties to the halter, immobilizing the horse's head, and quickly put on the saddle and then the bridle. Wamba accepted the bridle calmly, obviously more comfortable with the item than the grey had been.
"I have been riding him the past few days," Charles told Anne while Wamba was being readied. "He has not been ridden much lately, but I think I got most of the ginger out of him. He is a very gentle horse, a good first mount, and trained to sidesaddle." The grooms brought the horse out to them. Charles took Anne's hand, led her to the mounting block, and helped her ascend the steps, then climbed up next to her. "First of all, put on your gloves," he reminded her. She fished them from her reticule and donned them, new gloves of black kid that matched her habit nicely. Charles took the reticule and showed her how to stow it in the little pouch attached to the saddle.
"Put your left hand on my shoulder and your right hand on the front of the saddle," he instructed, and she did so. Charles placed his hands on her waist. "Step into the stirrup with your left foot, then draw up your right leg and place it in the upper pommel as you sit." Anne followed his directions, feeling terribly clumsy. Charles guided her into the saddle and then released her. Wamba seemed to sense her lack of expertise and shifted uneasily.
"Whoa, Wamba," said Charles, grabbing the bridle. Under his firm hand, the horse stood still.
Anne settled her right leg into the U-shaped upper pommel. The top of her left thigh rested against the lower pommel. She could feel that there was some slack in the stirrup.
"I must adjust the stirrup," said Charles. He started to reach for it, then pulled his hand back. "Anne, I beg your pardon..."
She saw the problem and drew her skirt up several inches so that Charles could access the stirrup strap. He made the proper adjustment, and Anne was amused to see that his face was somewhat red by the time he was finished. She carefully arranged her skirt so that it hung properly. For the first time, it looked right, draping perfectly over her legs and just brushing the top of her booted feet. She looked around her and realized just how far the back of a horse was from the ground.
"Keep your weight on your right leg and your back straight and square to the horse's head," Charles added, and she adjusted herself so that she was facing forward. "Good," he praised, handed her the crop, and then startled Anne by climbing up behind her, swinging a leg over Wamba's rump and seating himself directly behind the saddle. Anne found that she was grateful for her cousin's presence behind her; she felt much safer when his arms reached around her to take the reins from the groom. He laced the lines through her fingers and showed her the proper way to hold them. He closed his hands warmly over her own and together they pulled back gently on the reins. Wamba stretched his neck gingerly, moving his head and getting a feel for the bit. "Do not pull hard," Charles warned her. "Wamba is very well trained and will do your bidding much more readily if he knows that you will not hurt him." Anne could feel the tension in the reins, the communication between her and the horse, and she relaxed her hands so that there was barely any contact with the bit.
"Apply gentle pressure with your left leg, and he will start to walk," said Charles, and Anne did as instructed. She was thrilled and a little astonished when Wamba began to walk outside toward the enclosure.
"Did I do that?" she exclaimed.
"You did," replied her amused cousin. "It is not so very hard, is it?"
"No," said Anne, delighted that her first outing was such a success.
Before the hour was up, Anne had learned how to tell the horse to turn, stop, and trot. She felt very secure with Charles just behind her, his hands resting gently on her forearms, ready to grab the reins if she made an error. Wamba patiently suffered her inexpert guidance, and Anne felt that she and the creature were going to be very good friends. Then Charles told her stop the horse, and before she realized what was happening, he had climbed down.
"Oh, no," she protested. "I am not ready to do this by myself."
"Yes, you are," Charles assured her. "Go on, take him around the enclosure at a walk." He reached up to squeeze her hand and gave her an encouraging smile.
Anne guided the horse around the enclosure, the instructions she had been receiving whirling around her head.
"Take him to a trot," called Charles, and she did so. Wamba stretched his neck and snorted, happy to be less restrained and to be relieved of the weight of his master. Horse and rider trotted around the enclosure several times; Anne lifted her face, enjoying the feeling of the air as it rushed past her, and knew that she was going to enjoy riding for the rest of her life.
After a few minutes, she slowed the horse and directed him over to where her cousin stood smiling proudly. "That was perfect!" he cried. "You are an extremely apt pupil. I suspect that you will be outdoing us all in no time."
Anne blushed. "Did I really do well?" she asked shyly.
"Yes, indeed." The groom held the reins while Charles helped her to dismount, putting his hands around her waist and setting her safely on the ground. "Will you come back tomorrow?"
"May I?" she asked happily.
"Of course. I will expect you at the same time."
Anne gave Wamba a last pat. The horse nuzzled her hand and rubbed his nose against her neck.
"I told you that he likes you," said Charles, grinning, as the groom led the horse into the stable. "I am going back to the house for some refreshment. Would you care to join me? My mother and sister will be glad to see you, I am sure."
"Yes, I would like that very much," said Anne, and they walked together back toward the Great House.
Charles took his knife and cut into the peach. The fruit was so ripe that the juice spilled over his hand as he sliced it expertly into six pieces. He laid them on a clean handkerchief resting on the blanket, discarded the pit, and sliced into another peach. He arranged the slices of the second fruit and looked down at his juice-covered hands in dismay. Finally he wiped them on his breeches.
"Charles!" cried Anne. "That is disgusting!" Secretly, she found it rather diverting, as she did many of her cousin's actions. She helped herself to a slice of peach.
"Well, they will need washing anyway," he protested. "And I have already used my handkerchief," indicating the square of lawn on which the peach slices rested.
"I would have given you mine, had you asked."
"'Tis too late now. Save your handkerchief, you may need it later." He leaned back against a tree and took up a slice of the peach. "Oh, I have grapes as well," he said, rummaging in his saddlebag and producing a cloth bag containing a bunch of grapes, some of which were rather crushed. He offered them to Anne, who plucked several.
"Was Lord Lathrop happy with the team?" she asked between grapes. The viscount had descended upon Uppercross, surveying the stables and their master disdainfully. Anne, who had been spending a great deal of time at the Uppercross stables of late, had been present during his visit. She had been angered by his lordship's patronizing attitude and pleased by Charles' quiet dignity, which transcended his rough country clothes and the old-fashioned air of the barns.
"Oh, yes," replied her cousin, munching on a slice of peach. "He should cut quite a dash in town next spring."
Anne took another slice of peach. "I feel sorry for the greys. He seems like a hard master."
Charles laughed. "Do not feel sorry for the horses," he said. "Lord Lathrop has some of the finest stables in the kingdom. He will treat them better than he will treat his wife, when he marries. He will certainly beat them less." He chewed thoughtfully for a moment. "He treated me as if I were a tradesman, which is strange because he approached me, as gentlemen do, trading horseflesh amongst themselves. Normally the business is conducted by my father's agent. I think that from now on I will adhere to that policy more stringently. My mother took to her sofa for three days when she realized that his lordship thought that Sir Walter Elliot's grandson was in trade."
Anne considered this. "Why do you work so closely with the horses, Charles?" she asked. "My uncle employs plenty of grooms who can do the work very well under your supervision."
"I enjoy it," he said simply. "I have always trained my own horses, and I suppose it was natural for me to continue. And I do not really enjoy hunting or shooting, so I am sure you will agree that I needed to find a profession of some kind."
"Why do you not like hunting?" Anne was genuinely curious. She knew no other men who would admit to such an aversion.
"You should understand that," he said, smiling. "It is so agreeable to be outside, riding freely across the fields, and then the dogs start howling and everyone goes off in pursuit of the game. I find it distracting. I would rather go my own way." He took a grape and bit into it.
Anne smiled at him; she understood his meaning perfectly. Charles Musgrove was certainly different from most of the young men she knew. "Not to change the subject, but what did you bring to read today?" she asked.
"Malory," he said with a grin, bringing forth a thick volume. "Le Morte d'Arthur. I know you liked Ivanhoe, so I think you will like this as well. Although in this book, the Saxons are the villains, rather than the heroes."
Anne had no doubt that she would enjoy Malory. They had gone on several such picnics that summer, and Charles always brought along some wonderful book or another, tales of adventure and chivalry, of knights and damsels and treacherous villains. She enjoyed listening to him read; his low-pitched voice was well-suited to the task, and his enthusiasm for the subject matter obvious. I am glad that he is not one of those serious young men with their nose always in a book of sermons, she thought. These excursions would not be nearly as pleasant.
The picnics started as an extension of her riding lessons. Charles felt that Anne should be completely comfortable in riding over country terrain, and they had accordingly packed blankets and food and set off across the meadows of Somerset.
Anne's skill at riding had progressed quickly, and Wamba was happy to run, so Charles allowed her to gallop the horse across the open fields. "If you had an old-fashioned sidesaddle, I would not allow it," he told her, "but with the second pommel you should be quite secure. I do not think you are quite ready for jumping, however." Anne thought that was just as well, as she had no particular desire to jump. She enjoyed racing her mount, draping her veil back across her hat so that she could feel the air on her face, and it was enough. Near Uppercross there were several acres of land that had not yet been enclosed, gently rolling slopes and flat meadows which made for excellent riding, without the need for dismounting and opening gates.
Charles had long ago found the little grove where they had their picnics, a shady spot with a small stream running through it. He had little collapsible leather drinking cups, which could be carried in a saddlebag, and they would spread a blanket and rest while the horses rested. He told Anne that he had spent many fine afternoons in the grove with a luncheon and a book, and she was pleased that he felt free to share the place with her.
He turned the pages of the volume, and said, "This book is actually made up of many stories about King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Is there any particular story you would like to hear?"
"I am not familiar with the stories," she replied. "Please choose one that you enjoy."
"Very well." Charles kept turning pages, then stopped and smiled. "Book XVIII, Chapter I. Of the joy King Arthur and the queen had of the achievement of the Sangreal; and how Launcelot fell to his old love again." He began to read the story of the adventures of Launcelot, his faithful love for Queen Guenever, and the tragic love of Elaine, the Fair Maiden of Astolat, for Launcelot. Anne listened, entranced, lying on her stomach on the blanket, her chin propped on her fist. The sun passed overhead and began to sink into the west as he read, a blazing ball of red and orange and yellow fire.
"For sweet Lord Jesu, said the fair maiden, I take Thee to record, on Thee I was never great offencer against thy laws; but that I loved this noble knight, Sir Launcelot, out of measure, and of myself, good Lord, I might not withstand the fervent love wherefore I have my death." Charles took a sip of water and looked at the sun, then at his watch. "I think it is time we were getting back, Anne."
She sat up and cried out, "Oh, no! You must continue, Charles! Does the Fair Maiden of Astolat die for the love of Launcelot? I must know!"
"Anne, it is past four! Perhaps you keep more fashionable hours at Oaklands, but at Uppercross we dine at six, and my mother will never forgive me if I grace her table smelling of the stables."
Anne looked at him pleadingly. "Please, Charles?" she asked, clasping her hands in front of her.
He smiled at the charming sight. "Here," he said, handing her the volume. "Take it with you and read it yourself. We can discuss it later, if you like." She squealed with delight and took the book, jumping up to stow it in her saddlebag.
They gathered the picnic things and put them away. Charles came over to Anne's horse to give her a hand up into the saddle. She put her hand on his shoulder, then paused and looked up at him shyly. "I am sorry that I behaved so foolishly just now," she said. "You must think that I am a silly child."
He looked down at her earnestly. "I do not think you are a child, Anne," he said softly. They stood together without moving for a long moment; finally Charles laced his fingers together, creating a step to boost her into the stirrup. He made sure that she was secure on Wamba's back, then mounted his own horse. They walked the horses back toward Uppercross, wringing the last few moments from the afternoon.
Back at the stables, they retrieved their personal items from the saddlebags, and a groom led the horses back into the stable. They walked back to the Great House, where the Wentworth carriage was waiting to take Anne home. Charles handed her into the carriage and shut the door behind her. They had not exchanged a word since they had left the grove.
Anne lowered the glass. "Good afternoon, Charles," she said. "Thank you for the picnic, and for lending me your book."
"I hope that it meets your expectations," he said, smiling faintly.
"You have not failed to meet my expectations thus far," she said shyly, and his smile broadened, kindling a glow in his eyes. She raised the glass and knocked lightly on the roof. The driver cracked his whip over the horses' back, and the carriage rolled away.
She looked down at the book in her lap, then set down her reticule on the seat beside her. She opened the book to a page where Charles had placed a thin leather band. She realized that he had not properly marked the place where he had stopped reading; but she was immediately drawn to the chapter, entitled "How true love is likened to summer." I can read about Elaine later this evening, she thought.
But nowadays men can not love seven night but they must have all their desires: that love may not endure by reason; for where they be soon accorded and hasty heat, soon it cooleth. Right so fareth love nowadays, soon hot soon cold; this is no stability. But the old love was not so; men and women could love together seven years, and no licours lusts were between them, and then was love, truth, and faithfulness: and lo, in like wise was used love in King Arthur's days. Wherefore I liken love nowadays unto summer and winter; for like as the one is hot and the other cold, so fareth love nowadays; therefore all ye that be lovers call unto your remembrance the month of May, like as did Queen Guenever, for whom I make here a little mention, that while she lived she was a true lover, and therefore she had a good end.