Anne shut the door of her bedchamber behind her and leaned against it. How she would love to have a sketch of Prudence, her own beautiful child. Though even now, after sixteen years, she winced at the name Prudence, which was not a name she would have chosen for her daughter. If only….if only…
Anne opened her wardrobe and reached inside for the worn bag in which she hid her treasures, the little brooch that contained Frederick’s hair woven into a pattern preserved now beneath glass and the two cherished remembrances of their child. The tiny cap she’d knitted with the finest strands of soft lambswool and the little silver rattle that had grown dark with tarnish. She pressed them to her bosom and let the tears flow, recalling the panic and the helplessness she felt when Frederick went off to the battle, just hours before their wedding was to be held. She remembered how he had kissed her and how he had reassured her that her worries over his safety were for naught.
Anne had felt uneasy as she watched him ride out; she’d wondered for years if she suppressed her premonition of his loss. Somehow the feeling of utter despair that had come over her as he rode away was as alive today as it had been seventeen years ago. Some days she fought it better than others, but there was a great dark hole in her heart, a hole that she was certain would never again be filled.
After the Battle of Waterloo, Anne had fled Brussels, then tended the wounded before scouring every published report of the fighting and interrogating every man she encountered in an effort to learn more. She’d been desperate. Eventually, four days after the battle, she and a few others had searched the looted battlefield, seeing firsthand what the horrors had been. She could still smell the stench of decay, see the mutilated corpses of horses, the tangle of broken cartwheels, and watch in her mind’s eye the human vultures picking through the debris.
She had not suspected a child was already on the way, even as she searched the makeshift hospitals and private homes of Brussels.
It had been Lady Louisa, via the Duke of Wellington, who had finally found the man who’d seen Frederick die. Anne had insisted upon speaking to him personally, no matter how chilling his account. She’d kept in touch with him until he died two years later, never recovered from his wounds, but at least in the arms of his wife. No such last respite for Frederick, who had died without knowing that he was to be a father.
Lady Louisa had taken charge of Anne, keeping her safe and once they could travel, bringing her back to London. Anne had almost nothing to her name at that point, no money, no family, no husband.
All she had was a baby girl, born as the next winter turned to spring. How she loved the precious little bundle she’d held for those first few weeks. She’d defied Lady Louisa and nursed the girl herself, though there had never been any question that parents would have to be found for the child.
Louisa had handled all the arrangements, whilst protecting both Anne and the new family from gossip. And in all these years, as far as she knew, there had never been a whisper of a rumor. No one knew Anne had given birth to Prudence Newton, the pretty young daughter of Bloxley’s rector and his wife. No one suspected that Prudence got her good looks from Frederick Weston, who died at Waterloo, and her sweet disposition from her mother, Miss Anne Humphrey, longtime companion to the dowager baroness Bloxley.
Anne now cherished her afternoons with Prudence in Lady Louisa’s drawing room at the Dower House. But the young lady that Prudence was today seemed a different person from that tiny child. There remained a connection and Anne’s feelings for Prudence were warm and sincere. Yet there was a distance she thought would never be bridged. From the day Lady Louisa took the baby from Anne’s arms in order to deliver her to the Newtons, there existed two children in Anne’s heart – one forever the infant at her breast, the other growing up as the daughter of the rector and his wife.