Mrs. Lister of Shibden Hall – Part 3

By Taylor Rickard & T. Novan

 

 

 

PART 1   PART 2   PART 3

Disclaimers: June 22, 2019

WOW it’s been awhile since I had to write a disclaimer. SO HERE GOES!

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?

 

 

Joseph entered the room, making a direct line for Anne. He looked down and said, “Miss Lister, Mrs. Charles Lawton has arrived.”

Marian laughed as she took a drink of her wine. “Good luck.”

Before Anne could even rise to her feet, Mariana burst into the room, leaving puddles of rain water in her steps. “You need not announce me, Joseph. They all know me here!” She looked around the room, taking in all of the startled faces staring at her. “Oh, my. I had no idea you had company. Our carriage broke down and I had to ride in an open farmer’s cart through a rain shower to get here. Charles is still with the carriage; no doubt he will be here later.” The explanation came out in a rush.

Anne had finally figured out how to stand up, and moved to Mariana’s side then stammered through a brief introduction. “May I introduce Mrs. Charles Lawton, a very old friend of mine.”

Aunt Anne shook her head at Anne’s social maladroitness. “Anne, this is no time for introductions. Mariana, you are always welcome. Now go upstairs and get yourself dried off; there will be time for introductions later.”

Ann rose from her place, “I am Ann Walker. Come with me, Mrs. Lawton. I’m sure I have something that will fit you.” She turned to Joseph, who had been trapped by the milling assortment of people. “Please, ask Eugenie to meet us in the guest room – and bring warm water and towels.”

Mariana looked at Anne, whose arm she had grasped for support, then to Ann. “Oh, yes. You must be Anne’s little friend who went to Scotland.”

Anne intervened. “Come, Mariana. Let’s get you dried off.”

Ann turned to the guests. “Please excuse us as we get Mrs. Lawton settled.”

Mariana, flanked on either side by Ann and Anne, was escorted out of the room.

Anne hissed, “Mariana, what are you doing here?”

At the same time, Ann murmured, “Mrs. Lawton, welcome to OUR home.” She had not cared for the look that Mariana had given Anne, or the way that the woman had grabbed hold of her wife’s arm.

Mariana turned to Anne, ignoring Ann for a moment. “The guest room? Really, Freddy?”

Anne sighed.

Ann bristled.

All three of them came to a halt at the foot of the stairs.

Mariana looked back and forth between the two of them before glaring at Anne. “You didn’t! Tell me you didn’t!”

Anne sighed again. “Ladies, shall we take this conversation upstairs? And quickly, please, as Ann and I need to return to our invited guests.”

The three of them trudged up the stairs just as Joseph and Eugenie arrived with hot water and towels. Anne opened the door to one of the guest rooms and waved the small horde into the room. Mariana looked around. From the expression on her face, she was clearly unhappy about the accommodations she had been given.

Ann ignored the sour look on their unexpected guest’s face, turning to Eugenie instead. “Please, get my lavender and grey plaid dress. It is a little big on me, so it should fit Mrs. Lawton.”

“Oui, madame.” She laid the towels on the edge of the bed, and gestured to Joseph to sit the hot water on the bureau, then bustled out of the room to retrieve the dress.

Ann smiled a smile that did not manage to reach her eyes. “Mrs. Lawton, Eugenie will tend to you. Please join us in the drawing room when you have refreshed yourself.”

With that, Ann turned, took Anne’s arm and steered her wife out the door.

They walked down the hall to the stairs, where Ann stopped, creating a delicate wall that Anne could not possibly get past.

“Freddy? She called you Freddy! I do NOT like it.”

Anne thought to herself, I don’t either right now, but said nothing.

Ann continued, “So tell me, dear. Is she or was she your lover?”

Most of the time, Anne was very happy that Ann had found some level of self-confidence and even courage. This was not one of those moments. “She is not my lover. You are. Yes, once she was, but that time has passed. I promise to explain – later.”

Ann scowled, “You had best do so as soon as we rid ourselves of this collection of raptors in the sitting room.”

Anne leaned down and lightly kissed Ann on the forehead. “I will. Shall we go down?”

Ann got a wicked twinkle in her eye. “Only if you promise to do so with me later.”

Anne handed Ann into her seat by one of the tea tables, then picked up a bottle of Madeira and offered to refill the guests’ glasses. As she started this process, Eliza Priestly shot the first round over the bow.

“I was greatly surprised to receive an invitation from you, Cousin Ann, for tea here at Shibden. Have you become Anne Lister’s…hostess?” The tone was cold and almost hostile.

Ann looked at Eliza Priestly, a somewhat affronted, but mostly bewildered look on her face as she struggled to form an answer.

Anne started to respond, but was cut off abruptly by her aunt.

“Why, Mrs. Priestly, our dear Ann needed a place to go where she would get support and care as she recovered. Dr. Belcombe made it very clear that rattling around by herself over at Crow Nest was not conducive to her well-being. So of course, she is welcome here with us at Shibden. We have the time and space and people to provide her with the kind support that she needs now.”

Anne gave a very grateful smile at her aunt.

Eliza Priestly looked a little taken aback. “But Miss Lister, she has family all around. If we had known what she needed, William and I would have taken her in.”

Anne interceded smoothly. “And Eliza, as you said yourself, Ann needs the company and friendship of people closer to her own age. My sister and I are more than happy to provide Ann with the companionship she needs now.” Anne glared at Marian, forcibly passing the conversational ball to her sibling.

Marian had already lifted her handkerchief to her lips, trying to hide the smirk that had been growing, but she coughed then graciously took up the family line. “Indeed, Mrs. Priestly, I am happy to have Ann here, as she and I share a number of interests. It is as if I have acquired another sister.”

Christopher Rawson raised an eyebrow at Marian and mumbled, “And one that is far more pleasant, and more malleable that the one you were born with.”

Ann looked at her arrogant cousin coldly. “Cousin Christopher, I fear you will find that I am not as …malleable as I once was.”

Marian picked up as if the exchange between Mr. Rawson and Ann had not occurred. “And Catherine and Delia, you must come and visit with us. I am sure the four of us will find many ways to amuse ourselves. Alas, my sister is often too busy with issues around the estate and with this coal pit she is fussing with to be very entertaining.”

Ann smiled at the Priestlys. “Cousins, I know I can rely on you when I am in need. Indeed, you are the only ones I could turn to when I so needed to escape the situation with my brother-in-law. I would not like to impose on you too much.”

William Priestly finally spoke. “Cousin Ann, we realized that you were in an impossible situation. Your Aunt Ann Walker encouraged us to come for you as quickly as possible. We just regret not having been able to come to you sooner.”

While Marian smirked her way through ‘the most awkward social situation in known history,’ Ann tried very hard to not get up and run away, and Anne left dents in the arms of the chair she was in so she did not create an outright confrontation by announcing the true reason for Ann’s presence at Shibden, another scene was taking place upstairs.

Eugenie had seen the expressions of irritated annoyance that had passed over Anne’s face and had a fair idea as to what the source of the annoyance was – the woman who was sitting at the dressing table in front of her. Getting Mariana Lawton dried out, dressed, and doing her hair was her job… but perhaps delaying things a bit would be welcomed by her mistress.

Eugenie slipped the lavender and grey dress over Mrs. Lawton’s head, then spent an extended amount of time making subtle adjustments here and there so that the dress fit her properly. It was a little snug in the waist, and a little loose in the breast. Both fitting issues gave Eugenie a number of options for delaying tactics.

“Please, Eugenie was it? Can you perhaps move a little quicker, as I would like to get to join the rest of the guests.” Mariana was getting a little testy.

Then came the lady’s hair. The rain had soaked it, the wind had snarled it, and Eugenie was using drying and untangling it as a further means to delay Mariana.

When a particularly nasty snarl was caught in Eugenie’s comb, Mariana’s temper snapped. “You clumsy girl! Why can you not manage such a simple thing as combing my hair out? Now, please, do your best to make me presentable so I can join the party.”

Caught in her small plot to try to help her employer, Eugenie moved slightly faster and finally got Mariana ready to be presented to the guests’ downstairs.

As Mariana emerged into the upper hall, finally dry and properly dressed, she found the main hall filled with people expressing their thanks for the tea and filing out of the house.

Well, if I cannot embarrass Fred and her little Scottish wench in public, I can at least find out the truth of the matter. Mariana felt anger and an overwhelming sense of betrayal rising in her belly. After all we’ve been through, after all we promised one another, I didn’t think she’d do it. I thought she would always be there for me when I need her – that she would wait until Charles died. She stepped back into the shadows and waited for the guests to leave.

Ann had stayed behind in the drawing room as the guests said their goodbyes to the elder Miss Lister and the Captain. As the room emptied, she turned to the older woman. “Miss Lister, thank you so much for making me feel so welcome here with you and the Captain.”

“My dear, of course you are welcome. I am perfectly aware of what you mean to my Anne. I just hope she can make you happy here, and that you can make her happy as well.” The older woman gave Ann an impish smile, reaching over to pat her hand. “And if Mariana Belcombe gives you any trouble, let me know.”

Anne turned to go back into the drawing room just as Mariana started down the stairs. She waited at the foot of the stairs for the woman to join her. She was, however, not prepare for the onslaught that came out of Mariana’s lips.

“Freddy, how could you! You promised. YOU SWORE! We were meant to be together when Charles died. YOU ABANDONED ME FOR THAT LITTLE SLIP OF A THING?” Mariana had wrapped herself around the taller woman.

Anne looked at her old friend and lover, and sighed deeply. “Yes, we did. But seventeen years ago, you married Charles. I begged you. Repeatedly. And you left me alone, with the vague promise of some uncertain future – when Charles died. I have been alone and lonely for a long time.”

“But Freddy…”

“Mary, I love you. I always have. But you must understand…” Anne looked up, rather hoping to find inspiration in the ancient wood of the ceiling. “Mary, please understand. I love Ann. She is gentle, kind, tender, and she touches something in me I never thought I would have…”

Ann had slipped out into the hall while the two women were talking and heard the last bit of the exchange. Very quietly, she stepped behind Anne, took Mariana’s wrists in her hands and gently pried them off of her wife. “And, fortunately for me, Mrs. Lawton, Anne Lister is my wife, my love, my light. You had your time. Now she is mine. Perhaps if you had not made such unfortunate choices, you would not be regretting them at this moment.”

That night, after a long and sometimes awkward dinner that Charles had joined them for about halfway through the main course, Ann and Anne finally got away, retiring to their room and preparing for bed.

“You were lovers.” Ann stated as she pulled a dressing gown from the wardrobe.

“Yes, Mariana and I met when I was 21. It was a grand passion; we were both young and a bit wild and…”

“But she couldn’t make a commitment to you.”

“Yes. She was embarrassed at how masculine I was… I am. And I confess, I was even more unusual then, as I often wore trousers. So, after four years of on again, off again, she married Charles. I had begged her to come with me, but she needed to be, I don’t know, she needed to be proper somehow.”

“Is that when you started wearing black?”

Anne looked startled. “How did you know?”

The younger woman smiled. “You are not as subtle as you think, my love. You have a tendency to the romantic and to the dramatic – subtle sometimes, but never the less, there.”

“You know, you are handling this very well, dear Annie”

“If you could manage Mr. Ainsworth’s doings, I think I will be able to deal with Mrs. Lawton.”

Anne took her bride in her arms, holding her close. “I love you, Ann Walker. You, above all others, accept me for who I am. For that, I am so thankful, more than you may know.”

Ann smiled, gently stroking the taller woman’s back. “And I for you. Now, please, let us get some rest. It has been a long, long day.”

Anne made a quick trip to the necessary. When she returned, she found Ann sitting at the dresser, wearing a soft blue silk dressing gown, brushing her hair. So, she went about the process of preparing for bed, stripping down to her underthings and pulling on a nightshirt.

When she softly called Ann to bed, she was surprised. Ann let the dressing gown pool around her feet and came to her love, clad only in a cascade of shining blonde hair. Ann cupped Anne’s face in her hands and placed a tender kiss on her lips. “I want to give you all that I am, my love.”

At breakfast that morning, Charles Lawton made an unexpected request. “Miss Lister, would you be so good as to show me your coal pit? I have been following the expansion of the coal industry and would find a tour to be quite enlightening.”

“Of course, Mr. Lawton. I would be happy to show you the progress we have made, and the problems we, and many other colliers, face. Shall we go this morning?”

“Thank you, Miss Lister.”

“Charles,” Mariana drawled. “When do you think our carriage will be fixed. You know the family expects us in York today or tomorrow at the latest.”

“I believe it will take several days. Perhaps we could take the flyer from Halifax, though I suspect public conveyance is somewhat beneath your sense of position, my dear.”

Anne’s eyebrow rose slightly. My, my, Charles has sunk to a whole new level of snide. I believe he BELONGS down in my pit along with the coal dust and the muddy water.

Ann stepped in, looking to side track what could have gotten highly unpleasant. “Perhaps you could regale me with a few tales of Anne’s youth, Mrs. Lawton, while they go and admire a hole in the ground.”

Ann’s description of the coal pit at the top of the hill brought a faint chuckle from around the table, but at least it broke the tension.

“If you must get to York promptly, you are welcome to take my carriage. We do not have any plans to use it for the next few days, and if we do need to go somewhere, we can take Miss Walker’s.” Anne would be very grateful to get rid of the unexpected guests. And if I can figure out a way to keep Ann and Mariana apart, or at least have someone to act as a buffer between them, all the better. Perhaps Marian will serve as referee this morning.

“Of course, you are welcome to stay here until yours is repaired, if you prefer.” Ann took her role as the lady of the manse quite seriously, and something about Mariana’s presence made it all the more important for her to assert her position.

After breakfast, as Anne was preparing to take Charles up to the coal pit, she caught Marian in the hall. “Sister, dear sister, could you please be sure that Ann and Mariana are not left alone.”

“Oh, you don’t want your previous love to collude with your current one? Well, sister dear, I am sorry, but I promised Mrs. Priestly I would help her with something at the day school, so I am heading out to Halifax. And yesterday was enough of a strain on Aunt Anne that she is settled in bed for the day.” Marian smirked. “The social disaster continues.”

Charles and Anne left shortly after that. Ann escorted Mariana into the parlor, asking Joseph to bring some tea as she did. The two women settled and conversation began politely, touching on the weather, the reason for the Lawton’s travelling, and similar non-intrusive topics.

“So, Mrs. Lawton, please tell me, what was Anne like as a young woman?”

Mariana smiled ruefully. “Wild! Rebellious. An athlete who loved to climb mountains and hike in rough wilderness, then put on the most outrageous costumes and woo every lady who caught her attention, but always discretely. She was a bit of a rake, a bit of a lothario, and altogether charming.”

Ann laughed. “Mrs. Lawton, she is always charming.”

“Well, back then, the rebellious was more obvious. I remember one time she showed up for a garden party with a number of guests wearing shad belly yellow pants over black boots, a gold and white brocade waist coat, and a double-breasted hunter green tail coat. The idea of a woman in trousers was just shocking.”

Mariana’s description of the young Anne’s social rebellion made Ann giggle uncontrollably. Then she turned serious. “So that was why you turned her down? She was too outrageous for you?”

Mariana looked stunned. She had not expected the delicate, soft-spoken little thing to be so direct, so blunt.

Ann went on. “You know, you hurt her deeply. All she wanted, all she wants is to be accepted and loved for who she is, not who other people think she should be.”

Mariana’s jaw dropped open. “But… But…” she sputtered.

“Mrs. Lawton, let me be perfectly blunt. Anne loved you. I think she still loves you. But you could not take her for who she is; she was your secret lover who it would have embarrassed you to be seen with socially as her partner – as her wife. I am joyous to take her for who she is – a miraculous mix of male and female, and a totally unique entity. As a result, Anne is mine. Please accept that and we will be able to rub along quite nicely.”

Ann poured a cup of tea for Mariana.

“And if I am not able to accept it? Accept you and Anne being… married?”

“Well then, MRS. Lawton, the rub will be on you.” Ann rose. “If you will excuse me, I must discuss our dinner with Cordingley.” Ann swept out of the room, back straight, head up, perfect image of the lady of the manor.

Anne and Charles returned shortly after, and found Mariana sitting in the parlor looking very thoughtful.

Charles, more animated than Mariana had seen him in quite a while, was very excited about what he had seen and discussed with Anne. “Miss Lister, I wonder if you would consider taking me on as a partner in this effort. I foresee this as being a very profitable endeavor when you begin production and I would like to help you realize that profit.”

Mariana looked stunned. Charles had barely tolerated her relationship with Anne Lister, and the idea of him joining Anne in a business venture was stunning.

Ann walked into the parlor just as Charles Lawton was making his business proposal to Anne. She spoke quietly. “Mr. Lawton, I am sure Anne is very appreciative of your offer of investment. However, we have all of the capital we need without taking on the complexity of a business partner.”

Anne Lister looked at her partner standing there looking very self-assured and composed and a small smile creased her cheeks. “Thank you, my dear.” She turned to Lawton, her smile widening. “As you have heard, Miss Walker is my partner in this and other ventures, and I am afraid her word on this issue is absolute.”

“Ah, well, that is a shame. I will have to look into the coal business further.”

“Charles?” Mariana had decided upon being lessoned by Anne’s little thing from Scotland that departing from Shibden as soon as possible was the best alternative. “Anne offered the use of her carriage. Perhaps we should accept it and get on to York this afternoon. By the time we could return the carriage, ours should be repaired.”

“Certainly, my dear wife. Miss Lister, if you could accommodate us?”

“By all means, Mr. Lawton. I will have my staff prepare the carriage immediately.”

Ann injected. “Will you take luncheon before you go?”

Before Mariana could respond, Charles spoke. “Why, yes, thank you.”

The Lister women left the room to attend to the lunch and the carriage. As they shut the door to the parlor Anne whispered, “What did you say to her?”

Mrs. Lister answered smoothly, “Just the truth, my dear. Just the truth.”

 The End…For Now…

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