Mrs. Lister of Shibden Hall – Part 1
By T. Novan
Not exactly sure how this one should work anyhow, as the characters are well known historical figures. So, I suppose if Anne Lister or Ann Walker have a problem with it, they can take it up with me. I’m up most nights anyhow. However, the television show that has inspired Listermania is called “Gentleman Jack”.
It was created by the very talented, Sally Wainwright. It is produced by Sally Wainwright, Faith Penhale, Laura Lankester, and Phil Collinson. The production company is Lookout Point and the show is seen on HBO in the United States. What ALL that means is, I don’t OWN ANY OF IT!
It is not my intention to infringe upon any copyrights or intellectual properties owned by those individuals or companies. I’m just adding Gentleman Jack, and the amazing Ann(e)s, to the pantheon of fanfiction. This story, hopefully, will have all the elements of the show. So, if anything about the show bothers you, you probably want to give this a pass.
Just to make sure everyone is clear, Anne WITH an E, is tall, dark haired, older, and VERY worldly. Anne WITHOUT an E is blonde, younger and FAR more innocent (or so she wants us to think).
With all that said, and hoping I don’t actually get sued, let’s begin. This takes place immediately after the events in Season 1, Episode 8, Are You Still Talking?
Ann looked once again to the wedding ring on her finger, still somehow not quite believing it was true. They had taken the sacrament, together, at the church. They had exchanged rings. Their promises to each other were complete.
Ann adjusted the pillow behind her back in their very rumpled and well used, bed. Pulling the sheet up to her chest, she smiled at her lanky companion across the room, who, dressed in a long blue dressing gown, was standing over the silver tea service pouring for them both.
Ann smiled devilishly and said, “Tell me something funny.”
Looking up with a wide, amused smile, Anne paused in her tea preparations, looking across the room in with a bewildered expression. “What?”
“Tell me,” Ann repeated firmly as she smoothed the sheet over her legs, “something funny.”
“Ah, well, yes.” The dark-haired woman glanced up at the ceiling, clearly trying to recall something to tell her companion. “Funny, ha ha, or funny like, I once knew a man with three testicles?”
The younger woman immediately collapsed into the bed in a heap of shaking laughter.
Anne smiled again as she took their tea cups to the bed, carefully placing Ann’s on the nightstand. Anne took a seat on the edge of the bed, watching with a bemused smile as her wife continued to laugh. “I’m pleased I managed to accomplish both with that one recollection.”
Ann lifted herself upright, still chuckling as she turned a tear streaked face on her partner. “You didn’t!?”
“I did,” Anne nodded before sipping her tea. “When I was studying medicine. He was a patient of one of my mentors.”
“You have known some fascinating people.”
“That is true.” Anne agreed as she handed her wife the cup waiting for her.
“Thank you. Can I expect this level of attention all the time or is this just the flush of being newly married?”
“Oh, I expect that we will eventually grow tired of each other in say, fifty or sixty years.”
“You intend to live a long time.”
“I do. I think it will annoy a great many people.”
Ann laughed again, nearly spilling her tea. She managed to recover both her cup and her dignity before either was lost. “I think we shall laugh a lot.”
Anne placed her cup on the night table and leaned in, getting very close to her companion’s face. Ann was doing her best to not laugh again, or spill the tea as they were now nose to nose.
“I don’t care if I do,” Anne lightly kissed the corner of Ann’s mouth. “But I hope you do for a very long time and if I am the one who makes you laugh, all the better. All I want is for you to be happy.”
Depositing her cup on the table as well, Ann dropped her forehead to her partner’s. Closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, she offered, “I know now that the only way that is possible is for us to be together. And now we are. I don’t ever want to be without you again.”
The painfully clear need in Ann’s voice made Anne’s stomach clench hard with the want and need to make sure this woman with her never knew anything but love ever again. Before she could consider it further, she realized she was being invited into a kiss.
Anne Lister was many things; a silly woman was not one of them and when she was offered more, she took it, slowly climbing into the bed and in a position atop her lover. She held herself up until their kiss was complete. Smiling brightly, she quirked a brow at her partner. “Again? Aren’t you hungry?”
“Yes,” Ann nodded as she wound her arms around Anne’s neck, pulling her down, “but not for food.”
They walked arm in arm, down a well-worn, shady path that would take them around some of the most beautiful parts of the estate and eventually lead them right back to the house. Anne had to continually remind herself to keep her own gait in check as she tended to walk with purpose in most cases, whereas, Ann seemed to prefer strolling along at a leisurely pace.
“How,” the younger woman began her thought even as she pulled her companion to a halt to admire a patch of beautiful spring flowers, “do you think it will go over?” Ann began plucking flowers at the side of the path.
“The subject of our marriage aside, my moving into Shibden Hall?”
Seeing the pause in their walk was quite purposeful, Anne removed her gloves and joined her wife in the picking of flowers. “I think it will be well met and received by the Captain and my Aunt. They have ever only wanted me to be happy and settled. I think it will give them great relief to know that I now intend to put down permanent roots in Halifax.”
“We will travel?” The look the younger woman gave the older one, told Anne the incorrect answer was a deal breaker.
Anne nodded furiously, “Oh, yes, of course, but Shibden will be our home.” She thrust her first bunch of flowers at Ann and turned to pick more. “My sister will be torn between being loving, annoyed, and afraid.”
“Afraid? Of what?”
“Talk. Rumors. Gossip. She is the guardian of the family honor and I am afraid I’ve always been a bit of a challenge in that arena.”
“Then we shall have to make sure to be the image of propriety.”
Anne stopped in mid-pick, slowly turning her head to look at her spouse. “Surely you jest?”
“I do not, Mrs. Lister.” Ann stood straight, turning to her bewildered partner. “I intend to make your sister my best friend and you will do everything in your power to help me accomplish that goal.”
“You heard me. I did not stutter.”
“I…I…” Anne blinked several times, desperately trying to catch a thought.
“Careful,” Ann teased as she pushed her wife’s jaw closed. “You’ll catch flies”
“Ann, Marian can be, well, trying on a good day.”
“That is because you are her sister. I’m sure we will get on just fine. And I don’t intend to give her any reason to be embarrassed by my presence in your family home.”
Anne smirked as she plucked a particularly lovely bud from the ground. Turning at the waist, she offered the flower to Ann. “Then you will have to learn to be quiet in our boudoir.”
The look of astonished indignation was enough to set Anne off at a quick clip down the path as Ann, realized what had just been intimated. Anyone within hearing distance would only wonder about the laughter coming from the trail as the two women continued to enjoy their morning walk in ways one could only wonder about.
“I see,” Marian nodded and tried to be both pleasant and polite.
“It’s perfect, don’t you think?!” Anne poured a third glass and handed it to her sister. “Miss Walker would prefer to be home in Halifax and close to Crow’s Nest, but not residing there all alone.”
“So, you think that her living at Shibden Hall is the answer?” Marian asked as she took the proffered glass. She turned a kind but concerned face to Miss Walker sitting across from her. “Are you sure that is what you want?”
“I am very sure.” Ann nodded as she sipped her drink. “I simply cannot bear the thought of rambling around in that big, old house by myself. I would be so much more secure here at Shibden, with you and Anne. We would be like sisters of the heart.”
Anne nearly choked on her Madera, causing her partner to offer a withering glance.
“And what could be better than two wealthy and well received families joining forces?” Ann added with a smile that was all innocent and light. “Why I would think it would be almost as good as a marriage.”
“Really?” Marian gagged, not quite believing what she was hearing.
“Of course!” Ann continued on. “Think about it! I have one of the largest…”
“The largest!” Anne agreed.
“The largest,” Ann smiled and nodded. “estate in the shire. Shibden Hall is close to the next largest. Both are owned and run by women. I am hoping your sister can teach me a thing or two.”
Marian nearly choked on her wine.
“About being a landlord!” Anne groused as she made her way toward the sofa where Ann was sitting. “She knows nothing about tending to her tenants.”
“I’m sure you will be a great help.” Marian deadpanned as she finished her drink in one swallow.
“She already has,” Ann offered as she lifted her empty glass in the direction of her perplexed partner. “She has taught me that I should not accept insolent or demeaning behavior,” Ann turned a warning eye on the woman who was now, her sister in law, “from anyone.”
Anne nearly tripped over her own ears as she listened to the exchange while refilling the blonde’s glass.
“I do hope we can be the greatest of friends!” Ann enthused as she reached for Marian’s hand. “There is nothing that would make me happier.”
“I’m sure we will be.” Marian nodded. She looked to her sister. “It seems you are both set on this course.”
“We are,” Anne nodded seriously, even as she carefully topped off Marian’s glass again as well.
“What do you think Aunt and Father will say?” Marian quirked a brow at her sister.
“About time?” Anne arched a brow back at her sibling.” Well done?”
“Because after all.” Ann reestablished contact with Marian’s hand, gripping it tightly. “Let’s be completely honest, the situation is a good one. It will be beneficial, to not only me, but to your family.”
It was all Anne could do to hold back the laugh in her chest. It exited her nose and throat as an annoying cough, for which she apologized profusely, bringing a handkerchief to her lips to muffle the sound as much as possible.
Anne’s smile practically lit the room as the family assembled for supper. While the Captain helped Aunt Anne settle into her place, Anne saw to both Ann and Marian before taking her seat.
“So, Miss Walker,” Aunt smiled at their guest. “How was your holiday with your sister and her family?”
“I would call it very cathartic.” The younger woman smiled to the elder woman. “It gave me a very clear idea of what I do and do not want in my life.”
“Actually,” Anne offered as she stood to make her way around the table to pour wine. “What would the two of you think if Miss Walker moved in here? With us. With me.”
Aunt Anne smiled at both women, “I think it would be wonderful.”
“And you, Captain?” Anne took her seat, never taking her eyes from her father.
“If that is what you both want, who am I to have an opposing opinion? Unlike some folks, I suspect.” He looked to Ann, “How do you expect your kin to take the news? Especially your cousins, the Rawsons. Anne has quite tenuous business dealings with them, could be a difficult point.”
Anne shrugged, gesturing with one hand, “Given that Ann has no concern in my personal business dealings, I don’t see why it should upset them.”
“It will upset them, Anne, because you have something they want,” Aunt said very matter of factly before buttering her bread. She looked up to her guest. “I do apologize for being so blunt dear.”
“No apology needed, Miss Lister.” Ann reassured. “I know there will be some dust up among my relatives, but I have no doubt it won’t last long.”
“Especially if I have anything to say about it.” Anne winked at her companion.
“I’m sure you will.”
“You know she will!” Marian added with a shake of her head. “As if we need more trouble with the Rawsons.”
“Marian!” The Captain corrected his youngest child from across the table. “Be respectful of Miss Walker.”
“I am being respectful to her! It’s her,” she pointed her finger at her sister, “that I am cross with.”
“So what else is new?” Anne rolled her eyes as she took a portion of lamb from the serving platter. “You spend a vast majority of your life being cross with me.”
Marian straightened in her chair and turned to Ann. “Please understand, it’s not you, it truly isn’t. It’s this situation. It will rile members of the community.”
“Why should it?” Aunt asked reasonably. “It’s not uncommon for ladies of means to share homes and provide companionship for each other.”
“Normal ladies.” Marian mumbled.
“Oh, thank you very much!” Anne sniped, dropping her fork to the plate before her. “Is there anything you’d like to call me?”
“Oh, there’s plenty!” Marian fired back.
“Enough!” The Captain silenced both his children. “Miss Walker wishes to join us here at Shibden.” He smiled to her, giving a playful wink. “We welcome her with open arms and hope that she is very happy here.”
“I’m sure I will be, Captain Lister. Thank you.”
Ann climbed into the bed, quickly settling under the covers as she watched Anne, seated at the vanity, brushing her long, dark hair. “When are we going to talk about it?” she asked as she pulled the quilt up to ward off the chill in the air.
“It?” Anne looked into the mirror, watching Ann’s reflection. “What it?”
“The money you need to fix the pit.”
“Where did that come from?” Anne asked as she turned on the bench to face the bed. “Have I said…”
“No, you haven’t and frankly that frustrates me. I found you screaming at the sky. Clearly there is a problem with the pit. If you had the money to fix it, I doubt you would have been shrieking at God like that.”
Anne let loose a short, relieved laugh as her hands fell limply into her lap. She closed her eyes, thinking on it for a second before looking at Ann. “You’re right of course. You frighten me sometimes you know?”
Anne stood, crossing slowly to the bed. She lifted the covers and took her place next to her bride. “Because you seem to know me better than I know myself sometimes and I didn’t think that was possible.”
“It’s because,” Ann worked her way into Anne’s side, cuddling close. She sighed happily when her partner’s arms closed tightly around her. “I pay attention. I notice everything about you.”
“Because I love you, Mrs. Lister.”
Anne laughed and hugged her lover closer. “I love you, too, Mrs. Lister.”
“To make sure the job is done correctly? Another five hundred pounds. To keep Shibden Hall secure, twenty-five hundred, so I can reclaim the deeds from my first guarantor.”
Ann pushed up, a startled look on her face. “You didn’t!”
“I did!” Anne tried to explain reasonably. She gestured as she looked for the right words. “The price was good, but I still needed a loan. You and I had…well…anyhow. I did what I had to do, but there have been problems at the pit and the price I was given is not going to be honored. I’m too far into it to stop now, but…”
Gentle fingers on her lips stopped the ramble. Ann smiled before adding, “Twenty-five hundred pounds it is then. I have no desire to live in a mortgaged house.”
“Am I lying in your bed? Am I wearing your ring? Living in your…”
“Our.” Anne corrected with a smile.
“Our house? Yes, I am sure I have no desire to live in a mortgaged house.”
Anne broke out in a hearty laughter. “I do love you, Ann Lister.”
“That,” Ann settled back down next to her love. “Is going to be very confusing. Though I do rather like being Mrs. Lister.”
“I do.” Ann nodded against her partner’s shoulder. “When I’m with you, I can’t help but feel confident and self-assured. You give me courage.”
“You’ve always had courage; you just didn’t know it.”
“I’m grateful to you for helping me find it. You gave me permission you know?”
“Yes, to be me and not to be afraid of that. I’ve never been like the other girls, women I grew up with. I never wanted the things they did. I wanted to sketch when they were looking at dress patterns. I wanted to ride when they were learning cross stitch…”
“Even I can cross stitch.” Anne teased.
“Good for you.” Ann tormented back. “Everyone had a vision for me, but me. I thought I was doomed to an existence like my sister’s. She’s always chasing children and trying to make sure nothing upsets her husband. I can’t imagine being with someone who needed constant placating. Everything must be perfect and everyone must behave as expected. God, save me.”
“You don’t think I need placating?”
“God, no!” Ann looked up and grinned impishly. “And if you think you do, banish that thought from your mind right now. Sometimes things just don’t go as planned. We have to adjust to that.”
Anne pulled her wife close, letting her words resonate in her brain. “Very wise council, Mrs. Lister. Thank you.”