The Best of Intentions
The Anne Elliot that made her way to Bath was in essentials different from the one that had lived and loved in Kellynch. She was older, hopefully wiser, and a trifle more quiet than warranted her quick and intelligent mind. She was also irrevocably broken hearted.
The anger she felt toward Frederick faded long before she left the shepherd's cabin. There had been a momentary flare directed at fate and heaven. Anne was not the kind to cling to resentment. It ate at her soul, and as the years had passed, Anne knew she had to guard what little of her spirit remained. However, there had been a decision riding in the coat tails of her anger. Frederick was correct. It was time to start living again. Bath was a whole different world with different people. Anne pushed aside the memories of her mother's passing. Bath was where she was destined to reside. And she was determined to make the most of it.
The brazen emotion was further enhanced by the surprisingly warm welcome that greeted her in Camden Place. Sir Walter was happy for a fourth at dinner, Elizabeth was eager to show the impressiveness of the drawing rooms and Mrs. Clay was willing to agree with whomever ventured an opinion. For the first time, Anne was gratified by the presence of her emotionless family for it spared her the need to feel anything too deeply.
Within days of arriving in Bath, Anne received a letter from Mary. Louisa and Frederick had announced their engagement, following the application of her hand to Mr. Musgrove. Mary speculated on a wedding date, but admitted that none had been set, for Frederick had found urgent business with his brother in Shropshire and departed from Lyme.
Lady Russell was disturbed by the change in her young friend. Anne had always been a soft, tender, loving presence. By the end of the first week in Bath, Lady Russell had seen a new cynicism in Anne. She was untouched by the silly barbs of her sister and father and uncaring of her situation. All this from the woman who not three months before had been distressed by the memories of her motherís passing. Lady Russell wanted to believe that Anne had simply adjusted to the thought of living in Bath, but knew her friend better. No, this new frostiness was alarming.
Over the busy social gatherings, Anne became acquainted with William Walter Elliot, widowed and again paying his repects to Sir Walter. Mr. Elliot was a very polished man of about 30 and though not handsome in the most classic of figures, quite elegant and well spoken. He had a charm that drew all people to his conversation. Yet charm alone could not impress Anne. It was lucky for Mr. Elliot that he possessed intelligence and discernment as well.
Anne was intrigued by Mr. Elliot for another reason. He was, indeed, the same man who had silently admired her on the Cobb that fateful morning. Anne did not mention their accidental meeting upon their introduction, for she had already met with derision and chastisement for telling tales when speaking of it to Elizabeth and Sir Walter. It was with satisfaction that she heard him tell of their seeing each other in Lyme. He was remarkably well informed about her party, saying prettily how much he had envied their merriment, and how sorry he was to hear of the subsequent accident. That he asked after her own distress surprised and warmed her, for no one else had considered her impressions on the event.
"What accident?" Sir Walter asked in order to join the private conversation.
"Louisa Musgrove, father," Anne reminded softly.
"Oh yes, yes...the farmerís daughter."
Anne did not approve of her fatherís condescension of Maryís relations but learned humor when she met the knowing gleam in Mr. Elliotís eyes.
Mr. Elliot was a frequent visitor to Camden Place and when there, quickly attached himself to Anne. She was happy for the company, since he was invariably witty and entertaining. But she could see the danger in always being perceived as sought by him, especially when Elizabeth had very clear intentions of her own toward the young man.
Elizabeth found Mr. Elliot suitable on two rather pointed matters. First, he was to inherit Kellynch and the baronetcy, of which she was already mistress. Second, he was accepted by the best of society and able to make himself agreeable to all. This ability to mingle in society was tested when Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret descended on Bath. They were the toast of the town, easily the most influential members of society. The Elliots urgently renewed their familial connections and were rewarded handsomely. Mr. Elliot not only approved the acquaintance, he furthered it himself. By the end of the first round of calls and teas, he was declared a most amiable companion by Lady Dalrymple herself.
Anne, however, found something to distrust in Mr. Elliotís new sense of family pride and loyalty. She was not unaware of the past, though her father and sister chose to forget it. That Mr. Elliot had shunned family connections in favor of an unsanctioned marriage to a wealthy, if low born woman. It was not the marriage that distressed Anne, for she hope he had followed his heart and not his wallet. It was not even that he had disrespected Sir Walter, for she understood that her fatherís vanity would wear thin on any man of sense. Instead it was the seeming shift of temperament and opinion and the endless denials of ill intent that warned her that all was not what it would seem with her cousin.
If these suspicions were enough to confuse Anne, so were the opposite feelings Mr. Elliot engendered. It was pleasant to be sought after by a gentleman. It was flattering to have every need anticipated and every want assuaged. As Anne was determined to forge her own happiness and Mr. Elliot determined to provide it, it was reasonable to admit that Anne was rapidly warming to him. She did not seek to encourage it, and found many reasons to keep her distance, not the least of which was the rumors that began to circulate.
However, Mr. Elliot was determined to keep his cousin amused and in his company. He did not half mind the gossip that was starting about his attachment. He hinted at it himself and continually presented evidence of their compatibility.
"Yes, yes, family connections are important," Anne conceded laughingly as they spoke one evening. She was seated on a low couch with Mr. Elliot. The fire crackled behind her, throwing warmth over her frame and unknowingly framing her amused expression enchantingly. "But even you must concede that there is no superiority of intellect or manners! No sir, much as my father seeks the association, I must admit to wanting more for good company."
"Cousin, good company requires only birth, education and manners. And it is not so very strict with education. However mean the Dalrymplesí understanding, even you must admit that they will move in the first circles and thus collect good company around them."
"I only require the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation to consider that I am in good company."
He laughed at her haughty description, "You are fastidious. Yet I cannot think of another with more right to fastidiousness. Will it make you happy?"
The question startled Anne for it reminded her of a promise she had half-heartedly made not many weeks ago. "Happiness is a transient thing, Mr. Elliot."
"Indeed it is. But it has been my experience that most people who claim an unhappy life are often at fault for placing themselves in situations wherein happiness is unattainable. For example, there may not be any inherent pleasure in Lady Dalrympleís company, but there might in the company she keeps. Deny one and you deny yourself the other."
Anne looked at him thoughtfully for a long moment. "I think I understand you. You are saying that one must choose to be happy. That is all well and good, but it does not allow for fate and circumstances beyond oneís control."
"There will always be those moments. I choose to offset what I cannot control with what I can. It at least affords me with the best chance for happiness." He touched her hand lightly, fleetingly. "I always intend to be happy."
Anne flushed with sudden awareness of the nuances of his statement. He smiled as she realized how removed they were from the others and turned the conversation toward less intimate topics.
Anneís life was further entrenched in Bath by the discovery of an old school friend. Mrs. Smith, as she was now known, was at 30 already widowed and in ill health. Anne renewed the acquaintance with alacrity, saddened by the dire straits of her former friend. Though several years had passed between them, it took mere minutes for the friendship to warm to what it once was. Soon, Anne was spending as much of her time in Mrs. Smithís small apartments as she did any other place in Bath.
Lady Russell was pleased with the acquaintance, for it signaled the return of Anneís softer tendencies. Lady Russell watched the animation ebb and flow through Anneís features as the younger woman spoke of Mrs. Smith and Mr. Elliot.
"I find this most promising," Lady Russell commented as they strolled through the Pump Room. "The heir presumptive returned to the fold. Very good news indeed. Has he good manners?"
"Very good manners," Anne responded warmly, "and witty conversation and correct opinions..."
"Is the renewal of family connections his only motive?"
"I believe Elizabeth has hopes. My sister is many hours at her dressing table when he is expected."
Lady Russell was not fooled by Anneís modest comment. There was an active network of gossip running through Bath and the rumors that Mr. Elliot was courting a certain Miss Anne Elliot had already reached Lady Russellís ears. "Is she? I had heard differently." Lady Russell affectionately stroked Anneís flushed cheek, noticing how pretty she had grown of late. Mr. Elliotís influence was positive indeed. Anne was startled at the public show of affection and smiled charmingly back.
Another society couple approached and engaged Lady Russell in conversation. Anne attempted to listen, but had no interest in Bathís Philosophical Society and found her eyes wandering around the room. She was startled by the appearance of the Crofts at the entrance. Sophy Croft spotted her across the room at the same moment and energetically waved. Without a thought, Anne happily launched herself across the room to greet her friends.
"Miss Anne!" Cried the Admiral as she took both their hands in greeting.
"It is so good to see you!" Anne replied.
Mrs. Croft laughed at Anneís exuberance and noted her pleasantly altered features. "We have come to improve the Admiralís constitution."
Anne immediately looked concerned. "Are you unwell, Admiral?"
"Dry land, mídear," teased the gentleman. "It doesnít agree with my sea legs."
"Well, you must both take of the waters," Anne said determinedly, threading her arms with theirs and leading them to the fountains.
"I have a letter for you from Mrs. Musgrove, your sister. It is quite thick! Full of news no doubt."
Anne smiled, "Mary is a better correspondent when having a letter delivered, rather than mailed!"
"She has no doubt told you of my brotherís engagement to Miss Musgrove."
"She has," Anne replied quietly, turning away to drink from a pewter cup.
"Silly business." The Admiral commented as he leaned on the service counter. "Never seen anything like it in my life. Frederick hardly acts like a bridegroom."
"Have you heard if a wedding date has been set?" Mrs. Croft asked.
Anne tried to remain impassive throughout the discussion, walling the hurt in icy indifference. "Iím afraid I know nothing of the matter, maíam."
"We know very little of the matter ourselves, Miss Anne," confided Mrs. Croft. "Frederick informed us of the engagement and left for Shropshire forthwith. He has been there six weeks now, without so much as a single trip or letter to Lyme or Uppercross."
The Admiral looked thoughtful, "It is unusual for a newly engaged man to hurry away from his intended."
"Well, I have seen many a lovesick sailor in my day," said Mrs. Croft. "And even the most cool have burned with more passion than my brother displays."
"Perhaps he is merely private." Anne ventured.
The Admiral laughed, "More than likely, he trapped."
Mrs. Croft scowled at her husband. "If that is true, I hope he remedies the situation immediately. Louisa Musgrove is a charming enough young lady and will soon find herself another beau. But I cannot approve a marriage with so little affection."
Anne could not reply without revealing her turbulent sentiments. Something of her discomfort must have shown to Mrs. Croft for that lady apologized for speaking frankly of family connections and changed the subject.
Even Mr. Elliotís charm could not draw Anne out of her pensive state that evening. She reached for her former composure, telling herself firmly that despite the obvious strain in the relationship, it was a marriage that would happen. Frederick was not a man to trifle with his emotions and it stood to reason that he must have some affection for Louisa if he was to marry her. And that affection was strong enough to forgo a life with Anne. She had best remember her resolve to forge a new life. That being reinforced, Anne strengthened her attentions and encouragement to Mr. Elliot.
Many more weeks passed calmly. Anne visited the Crofts regularly and they treated her with the affection of a favorite friend. As always, Mr. Elliot was in evidence during the evenings, never allowing others to feel neglected and yet always managing to find intimate moments for conversation with Anne. Mrs. Smith was very sly with her comments on the match, never actually approving it and never admitting the source of her good information regarding the progress of the courtship. Lady Russell saw all and approved all, mostly because of the confidence, humor and spark the attention lent to Anne. Even Sir Walter was forced to compliment Anne on her glowing looks.
Anne found her both her days and evenings filled with calls and parties. She did not much like the evenings of card games, even when she was entertained by Mr. Elliot. However, such activities forbade solitude and the need to dwell on the past. Anne welcomed the numbness of mindless pursuits with open arms.
One morning, however, habit forced her out of doors alone. She went to call on Mrs. Smith and was not due to meet Elizabeth until that afternoon. The visit went well and was full of gossip and tea, for Mrs. Smithís nurse was well connected and loved to talk. Anne left Westgate buildings rather overflowing with information and a secret dismay that the entire town though her already engaged to Mr. Elliot. Even Mrs. Smith was not convinced by her denials, only saying that there was time enough to settle matters to everyoneís content.
Anne walked leisurely, knowing her sister and Mrs. Clay would be late in meeting her. She walked up toward Queenís Square and at the bottom of Milsom Street, recognized a friend. Admiral Croft was engrossed in his examination of a picture at the framemakerís window. Anne called his name several times and was obliged to touch his arm lightly to draw his attention.
"Now this is treating me as a friend!" Said the Admiral as he acknowledged her. "Look at this picture. Iíd wager the artist has never been on a boat in his life! It is too short, for one, to withstand the tide at full swell. And look at those sails! Disgraceful!"
Anne could only chuckle at the Admiralís disgruntlement. "Iím afraid I would have seen nothing wrong with it."
"Nor would hundreds of others, mídear. That is why this lad is still in business." The Admiral turned toward her. "Are you venturing home? Would you take my arm?"
"I thank you, sir. I am venturing only to the end of Milsom Street where I am to meet my sister. But if I may still take your arm, perhaps we could walk together for a moment?"
The Admiral obliged with alacrity and they proceeded even more slowly than Anne had started, in deference to the Admiralís age. He nodded to several acquaintances as they walked, but stopped to chat with none of them.
"Thatís Captain Davenport with his wife across the street," The Admiral whispered as he acknowledged them. "Look at how they stare at me. Quite wondering where my wife is while I walk down the street arm in arm with a pretty young lady!"
Anne laughed, "Are you trying to start rumors then?"
"I rather think they start without much effort at all in Bath." He said. "I even hear some of you!" He watch the color rush into her cheeks with amusement. "Aye, that is much, much better. You were entirely too serene for my taste."
"I did not know you listened to rumors, Admiral."
"A good officer gets information where he can. A superior officer learns to distinguish truth from fiction."
Anne could only laugh.
"Do you remember what we spoke of in the Pump Room, all those weeks ago?" The Admiral asked. "I have had the strangest news regarding my brother-in-lawís engagement. It seems that the young lady has broken it and taken up with someone else!"
Anne felt her jaw go slack in astonishment. "Are you sure?"
"Aye. I have heard it from Frederick himself. He wrote to inform us of the canceled engagement to...what is her name?"
"Yes, her. Apparently all that time apart has changed her mind. She is now quite engaged to a Captain Benwick. I always though Captain Benwick was enamored with you!"
Anne flushed in embarrassment. "We were only ever friends. But I must admit I am astonished. Captain Benwick and Louisa Musgrove. I cannot conceive it! Their minds are so dissimilar."
"Well, she did have that injury to her brain. Perhaps it knocked an appreciation for poetry into her."
"Of course! Poetry! They fell in love over poetry! He did read to her quite often." Anne laughed in delighted astonishment, but sobered in moments. They walked on. "Is Fr..Captain Wentworth...very bitter?"
"Not at all! His letter is sanguine with barely an oath or murmur about the matter. One would almost think him elated." The Admiral placed a hand over the one Anne had on his arm. "You will think me blunt, my dear, but with you I cannot dissemble. Sophy and I are overjoyed. We did not think the engagement was correct given the sentiments of either party." He sighed. "Perhaps we must bring Frederick to Bath. Here are pretty girls enough and it would seem that Frederick will have to try again with somebody else."
Anne did not feel the Admiralís conviction that Frederick was unharmed by the event. She had long ago decided that Frederickís inclinations toward her were nothing more than remnants of the past, surfacing because of a stressful and cloistered situation. She hoped he would not come to Bath, for there was nothing here for him.
The Admiral left her in the custody of her sister and they spent much of the afternoon browsing through fabric and curio shops. Elizabeth and Mrs. Clay were avid and demanding customers, every purchase being discussed in minute detail. Mr. Elliot was sometimes in attendance, though only between his dayís appointments. Bath, being what it was, was not long without rain and the ladies sought shelter in Mrs. Mollandís confectionery shop.
Anne was happy to sit quietly in her corner. Mrs. Clay and Elizabeth chattered on about their purchases, and the rain came steadily down. After an hour, Elizabeth began to grow agitated. Mr. Elliot, who had again made an appearance, was asked to find a dry means of conveying them home. He returned with the happy news that Lady Dalrymple had room in her carriage for them, but alas, only for two of them. Elizabeth insisted that Mrs. Clay accompany her, for she had a cold and Anne had thick boots to walk on.
Anne was quite happy not to be enclosed with Lady Dalrymple and did not demur. Mr. Elliot, with an amused and secret smile to Anne, quickly offered to escort her. And so the matter was resolved.
As Mr. Elliot went to confirm the arrangement, Anne stared out at the wet street. And stiffened in shock. There, right before her, was a familiar figure in full naval uniform. The confidence of the stride, the purposefulness of the demeanor could not be mistaken. It was Frederick Wentworth.
Mrs. Clay noticed Anneís stillness and inquired after her. Anne could only excuse herself and hurry away toward the counter, in search of a glass of water to cool her. The bell on the door rang, the crowd inside milled about, and Frederick walked in the door. She turned to hurry to her secluded seat on the other side of the room, but was trapped by the multitude of people seeking shelter from the rain. She glanced over her shoulder, praying that he had not discovered her. Instead, she found astonishment and joy mixed in his expression as he looked on her.
Frederick's use of her Christian name made several heads turn in their direction. Anne instinctively turned to look at her sister. There was recognition in Elizabeth's glance as well as disdain. Elizabeth turned her head away without acknowledging Frederick. Anne blushed at her sister's bad manners until she realized Frederick had not even noticed. He was still staring at her and coming closer.
He was coming a little too close.
She took a hasty step backwards and dropped a curtsey. "Captain Wentworth," she said in a stiff, formal voice.
He seemed to recollect their crowded environment and gave a very proper bow, "Miss Elliot."
"You have come to Bath?"
"I have," he smiled.
"And how do you like it?"
"At this moment, I like it very much," he said softly. Anne felt the blood drain from her face at his response, terrified that her hard won composure was about to crumble. Frederick was surprised to see her pale and misunderstood it as embarrassment that they were not alone. "Actually, I have only just arrived and seen none of the sights."
Anne nodded and searched for something to say. Frederick was looking at her expectantly, confident of his return to her good graces. There was another bustle at the door and a coachman entered calling out, "Lady Dalrymple's carriage for the Miss Elliots!"
"That's us!" Elizabeth said loudly, relishing the buzz of the crowd as they acknowledged the importance of the event.
Anne watched her sister and Mrs. Clay exit in silence, wishing she had insisted on traveling in the carriage. Frederick watched it all with anxiety, not wishing this unexpected meeting to end so soon. He extended his arm to her, offering his assistance, and was further astonished when she took another step away.
"I thank you, but I am not accompanying them." Anne said softly. "I shall walk."
"But it is raining!"
"Very little - nothing that I regard. I prefer to walk."
"It is raining quite steadily. You must allow me to get you a chair."
"Thank you, no. I am only..."
"As you can see," Frederick interrupted smilingly, "I am already armed for Bath." Anne smiled wanly as he held up a sturdy umbrella. "Perhaps we could both avail of its protection if you will allow me to escort you home."
Anne sought a gentle refusal from her vocabulary for she saw eagerness in his gaze. She was not aware of anything else until a shadow fell over her.
"Anne dearest," said Mr. Elliot, "I am sorry to keep you waiting. The rain has eased. Come. Let us make our way."
Anne slipped her hand in her cousin's arm and had only time to quickly glance at Frederick. There was astonishment, recognition, and distress in his expression as his gaze moved from Mr. Elliot to Anne. Anne could only murmur, "Good day, Captain" before Mr. Elliot bundled her out of the shop.
Mr. Elliot was his usual loquacious self as they walked to Camden Place. "Who was that officer you were speaking to?"
"An old friend," Anne replied vaguely. At his raised eyebrow, she continued, "His brother used to be pastor in the church close to Kellynch. Captain Wentworth is also a friend of my brother-in-law, Charles Musgrove."
"Ah," Mr. Elliot said. "With your family's status in Bath, it is no surprise he wished to renew his acquaintance with you. Be careful of those types, low born people with aspirations to better their lots in life."
Anne did not reply but caustically noted this was a better description of Mrs. Clay than of Frederick. It occurred to her that some parts of it were applicable to Mr. Elliot himself.
The unexpectedness of Frederick's arrival had thrown Anne's sentiments into a spin. She knew some happiness that he had come back to her after the debacle with Louisa. Overriding that happiness, however, was a mortification that she was to be preferred only second to Louisa. All the familiar pains began to well up with greater force at having been repressed for so long. Anne could not countenance another liaison with Frederick, for she had little faith that he would stay. Rather, she was more and more convinced that his renewed infatuation with her in Lyme was nothing more than based on circumstance. If she were fool enough to allow him close again, she could only think that it would not be long before he would find something or someone else more worthy of his affections. Anne knew without a shred of doubt that a third parting from Frederick would kill her.
Anne sought to suppress any emotion that might have counteracted her resolve. It did no good to look back. It seemed that Mr. Elliot was her future. Though try as she might, she did not love him. They were engaged the next evening for a concert. The soprano was sponsored by Lady Dalrymple and it was anticipated that all the titled families of Bath would be in attendance. Anne knew that Frederick loved music and feared her resolve would be again tested by his presence at the concert.
They were the earliest of their party to arrive, earlier even than Mr. Elliot. In the warmth of the octagon room, Anne listened to her family's low comments on the worth of each occupant as he or she entered the room. Thoroughly disgusted with Sir Walter's vanity and Elizabeth's officiousness, she moved away to stand staring at a fire.
Anne nearly jumped when Frederick murmured her name. He was standing next to her, resplendent in full naval uniform, the high collar teasing the hard line of his jaw. He was smiling at her, his eyes intensely searching her countenance. Anne knew his expressions and saw wariness uncertainty there. Good, she did not want him to be so sure of her.
"Captain Wentworth." She replied coolly. "You have come for a concert?"
"No, I have come for a seminar on navigation. Am I in the wrong place?" He teased. They both attempted to laugh, but it came out thin and strained. Frederick looked past her for a moment and made a distant bow. Anne's back was turned to her family but she surmised that her father had judged so well as to offer that simple acknowledgement.
"I've hardly heard anything of you since...since we parted. Are you well? You seem well. You look beautiful tonight."
Anne blushed delicately. "I am well."
"I am sure you have heard by now the news from Uppercross."
"It was quite a surprise. I don't understand the attachment."
"I will admit to some surprise," Anne said carefully. "But I wish them both every happiness."
"As do I. Louisa is a sweet, amiable woman...and not unintelligent. But Benwick is something more. He is a clever man, a reading. And he was devoted to Fanny Harville. Such a devotion, cannot...does not...evaporate in mere months." He was looking at her expressively. "That, at least, I know is true."
Anne swallowed painfully. This was not going well. Anne wanted to keep to impersonal topics though Frederick was determined to make himself known. "Lyme was a very pretty place. Did you stay long at Lyme?"
"No," He said impressively. "I hurried away as quickly as I could. I stayed in Shropshire with my brother for two months."
"That is a pity for Lyme is very beautiful. I would sincerely like to see it again."
Frederick frowned his confusion at her inane conversation. "Anne," He whispered, leaning in intimately. "I realize this is neither the time nor place for such a conversation. Will you see me? Will you meet with me somewhere more private where we might discuss our future?"
Anne wanted to weep. She wished she could ignore the crowds and cry out that he was paining her yet again. She wished he had never come to Bath. But there were advantages to being in a crowd for they began to talk, saying "Lady Dalrymple, Lady Dalrymple" repeatedly as she made her entrance.
Frederick had no interest in Bath society. His attention was intently focused on Anne and her hesitation frightened him more than any battle he had ever fought.
Anne saw Mr. Elliot enter with Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret and sought escape. "If you will excuse me, Captain. My party has arrived." She heard him whisper her name once as she hurried away.
Mr. Elliot was quite happy to sit next to her during the concert. He repeatedly whispered compliments and asked her to translate the Italian lyrics for him. Anne did so distractedly, using all her effort to translate the lines without a shaking voice. Frederick had positioned himself by a near wall, a place she knew had full vantage of her seat and where, if she chose to turn her head, would offer a clear view of him. Anne tightly controlled her movements, conscious that she was under surveillance, and seeking to fein indifference. Her neck was sore from the effort not to turn in his direction and she heard nothing of the music.
The intermission came and Anne sighed. Mr. Elliot asked her to translate the next piece, which was a love song. Anne did so with reluctance, uncomfortable with his public displays of attachment. His litany of compliments did not cease and were just loud enough to be heard by those around them. He gave every indication of being oblivious to anyone but her, and still Anne sensed it was a faÁade.
"This is too much flattery, Mr. Elliot!"
"I do not think I could ever flatter you enough. I would dearly wish to flatter you all the days of your life."
She sighed again and caught Lady Dalrymple's voice.
"Quite handsome! A very well looking man, indeed. More air than one often sees in Bath. Irish, I dare say."
"A Captain Wentworth of the navy," was her father's bored reply, "a bowing acquaintance. His sister and her husband are tenants of mine."
They continued on in this vein for some moments before another figure attracted their attention. Anne was mortified at the dismissiveness of their comments. She followed their line of sight until she came upon Frederick's figure leaning against the wall. He met her eyes directly, alarm and pain flickering in his eyes as he stared at her. Anne immediately dropped her gaze to her lap.
Mr. Elliot was still waiting for a reply. "Do you understand me, Anne? Could you have misread my intentions?"
Anne could not help glancing again at Frederick and saw that he could hear her conversation. It was his turn to pale at the significance of the conversation. She saw his eyes turn away and his lips tighten. Anne was spared a reply by Elizabeth's imperious summoning of Mr. Elliot. There was a slight shuffle in the seats and Anne found herself pushed toward the end of the bench, closer to Frederick than she cared to be. And beside her was an empty seat for one.
From the corner of her eye, she saw him swallow with difficulty and push away from the wall. In moments, he was standing beside her.
"How do you like the music, Miss Elliot?" He asked with a considering glance at the empty seat.
Anne could not have told him what they were listening to. "I like it very well, thank you." An awkward silence descended. It still did not discourage him from standing next to her. "Are you enjoying the concert?" She asked.
He smiled, encouraged. "It has moments of...unease for me. But the performer is quite adept."
Anne understood what he was trying to say. She deliberately ignored it. "There is always something to enjoy of a performance, I believe. If not the singing, then the pianoforte or the harp."
"I'm afraid I judge by the totality of experiences. I mix the good with the bad and whichever has greater moments, decides the impression."
"I hope for your sake that does not mean you have more negative experiences than positive."
"Not at all. Often the final moments define the event for me. Whatever I come away feeling is what lingers as a memory."
Anne could not help warming to him a little. She smiled at him for the first time and saw the hope flare in his eyes. They both looked down at the empty seat, considering that it might soon be happily filled.
There was a tap on her shoulder that made her break gazes with Frederick. Mr. Elliot, with a dismissive, appraising glance at Frederick, requested her assistance in translating the next song for Miss Carteret. She was obliged to apologize to Frederick and turn away. She dutifully translated the next song, its repetitive verses causing mirth in her companions. She was about to return to her place, where Frederick was still waiting patiently when Lady Russell caught her arm.
"Anne," she whispered with strict urgency. "Think of the consequences of your actions before you act. There are some things you cannot take back." Anne watched Lady Russell give a brief, but significant glance at Frederick. Frederick, ever observant of Anne's movements, took a narrow eyed note of the exchange.
Anne somberly returned to her seat. Immediately, Frederick approached and bade farewell. Anne was surprised that he chose not to stay for the remainder of the concert and mentioned it.
"I have decided, madam, that there is little to enjoy here. I wish you a good night."
She watched him hurry away, angry, jealousy and betrayal in every line of his body. The concert resumed. Anne again heard none of it, so consumed was she in the realizations of the last few hours. Lady Russell could not have been clearer if she had spoken bluntly. Anne's marriage to Mr. Elliot was no longer rumor. It was an expectation. Never was that more a fact than now, when Anne realized that she could have no feelings, real or imagined, for her cousin. It was now also true that her resolve had not withered her love for Frederick one bit. The anger she had not acknowledged had forced him away - perhaps permanently. Anne reflected that it was sometimes better not to have options, for choosing one only confused her.
And Anne was thoroughly confused. She did not know what she wanted or what she should do.
The day after the concert brought new visitors to Camden Place. Charles and Mary Musgrove unexpectedly arrived at the door, throwing Elizabeth into a tizzy. Though elegant and classic in design, Camden Place was much smaller than it appeared and could take no guests. Other than showing them the double parlor room, Elizabeth could not offer her sister and brother accommodations.
Charles was not worried on this matter. While Mary secretly deplored Elizabeth's lack of an invitation, Charles was happy to escape any prolonged visit with his father-in-law. Charles was adept at putting a good face when family obligations required, but he refused to perform above what was required. He considered it insincere. His only regret was the lack of Anne's company, for he truly enjoyed her company and recognized her good influence on Mary.
Anne was surprised that Mrs. Musgrove, Henrietta and Captain Harville were in Bath as well, and residing in the White Hart Inn across from the Pump Room. The professed reason for the journey was the purchase of wedding clothes for the sisters.
"Henrietta as well?" Anne inquired. "I did not realize her wedding was to be so soon."
"Oh yes," replied Charles. "Cousin Hayter has secured a position with a nearby parish that will bring a good income for a few years. Eventually he will inherit Winthrop. My parents thought it a good thing for them to manage it together."
"It is exciting! A double wedding!" Mary chimed in. "Though I cannot imagine what possessed Louisa to break with Captain Wentworth, for he is worth twice Captain Benwick!"
Anne controlled the shiver that passed through her frame and saw an intense, but brief flare of guilt that passed Charles' expression. Elizabeth, who was bored with Musgrove concerns, led Mary in the further tour of the house. Sir Walter and Mrs. Clay followed. Anne settled herself on a couch, knowing the tour would end with tea in this room. Charles sat next to her with a deeply felt sigh.
"Oh Anne!" He said. "It is lucky for all of us that Louisa's situation has righted itself."
Anne was intrigued by this beginning. She turned expectantly toward her brother-in-law, knowing from experience that Charles did not introduce topics without intending to discuss them. Charles did not disappoint.
"I acted very badly on the whole engagement with Wentworth. I can say this to you Anne, for you are the understanding sort."
Anne wondered what he would think of her understanding nature if he were acquainted with her interests in the matter. However, Charles was continuing.
"I could not understand what was the delay. Louisa and Wentworth spent every available moment together in Uppercross. Well you were there, you know what they were like. Not one of us had a doubt where it would lead, did we?"
"No, we did not."
"When Louisa had her accident...well... of course all things had to stop. She had to be cared for, healed. And speaking of that, we will never be able to thank you enough for bringing Louisa to health." He continued when Anne waived away his thanks with a smile. "In any case, it was proper for him to stay away at that point when it was uncertain whether she would be fully recovered or not."
He sighed again and hesitated. It seemed for a moment that the family was returning to room. Anne desperately wished them away for longer. Fate was on her side it seemed, for they veered to peer at another room's furnishing. Charles smiled wanly at her as their mutual relief became evident.
"Mary does not know how deeply I trifled in the matter and I am too ashamed of myself to tell her or my parents. Where was I? Oh yes. After you left, Louisa was well on the way to recovery. True she was less the lively sister I remembered - too quick to jump when a door banged and calling for quiet. You must understand, I remember her as the chief noisemaker of the family. I did not adjust well to the sight of her sitting silent with Captain Benwick whispering verses to her all day long. It was odd to say the least. And while I had approved Wentworth's good sense in staying away when Louisa was ill, I began to resent that he continued to do so when she was recovered. I saw a slight where there was none. I saw myself as a vigilant brother. I was convinced that Louisa was pining for him despite his ungentlemanly behavior and frequent disappearances.
Captain Wentworth is to be commended for his fortitude with me. I pushed beyond the boundaries of friendship and chastised him for his behavior. I questioned his honor, Anne. And for a man such as Wentworth, honor is a matter of pride and respect."
"How did he respond?"
"He said absolutely nothing, just stood there like a rock staring at me. I asked him if he had reconsidered because he though Louisa's accident had too much damage. We both knew that Louisa was fine if more cautious. He denied any such thing. I made it perfectly clear that I was prepared to force the marriage if I had to. He sighed and said that would not be necessary."
Anne listened silently, letting his words tumble out, piecing together what had happened and realizing for the first time how little choice Frederick had had in the matter.
"What of Louisa? She did accept him. You were not wrong there."
Charles managed to look even more somber. "I was even more mistaken with my sister. I never considered that she might be forming a newer, truer attachment."
"With Captain Benwick?"
"The very one." He agreed. "I never even saw him as a possibility. He was too quiet, too much her opposite. Having secured Wentworth's agreement, I worked on my sister. I was surprised when she resisted the idea. She said she did not want to marry him, that she knew he did not want to marry her either. Louisa was convinced that he was in love with someone else, though she never did name who, and his change of heart was the reason he stayed away.
I was furious. I took great satisfaction in telling her that I had spoken to him, and that his affections belonged to her and he was determined to offer for her. I also told her what was expected by the family. She felt quite responsible for him by the time I was done speaking. He came the next day and proposed. She accepted. Father approved. They were engaged. It was all stiff and formal and that was the first time I thought perhaps a mistake had been made. Wentworth went to see his brother within days. Louisa was as close to inconsolable as I ever saw. Mary was convinced that it was because Wentworth was gone. I knew it was because she felt trapped.
Weeks passed and everyone, including the Harvilles, wondered where Wentworth had gone. Louisa would not speak to me. She spent a considerable amount of time with Benwick. Then one day, my father pulls me aside. Louisa had told him and mother that she had reconsidered. She was in love with Captain Benwick and had his assurances of his affections as well. Well, they felt rather sorry for Captain Wentworth. But you know my parents, they would not stand in the way of happiness for any of their children."
A small silence grew between them as the end of the story unfolded. Charles sighed again and Anne patted his arm comfortingly. He smiled and said, "I think Wentworth knew where Louisa's affections truly lay. I cannot believe as Louisa does that he loves another. A man like Wentworth would run to his beloved and secure her the moment he was free. Instead he has rejoined his sister and the Admiral here in Bath."
Anne almost laughed at the irony of Charles' surmise, wondering what it was about her that made her situation as a prospective mate unimaginable. She did not, however, and knew that it would have been a bitter sound. Charles thanked her for lending an ear to his troubles, still unaware of the import of his words to her. The family returned and tea was ordered. Anne spent the rest of the visit in reflective silence.
She called on her friend, Mrs. Smith, later that day. Mrs. Smith was quite interested in the concert and asking who had attended. Anne was vague about the detail, for in truth all she recalled was Frederick's presence and the way he had stormed out. Her heart was no longer set against him, but it was still fearful of being harmed again.
Mrs. Smith found much to tease in her friend's distraction. "You must forgive the teasings of a friend, Miss Elliot. For I cannot think I have much more opportunity ahead to do so."
Anne, alarmed for her friend's health, cried, "Are you feeling unwell again? I had hope your improved had continued!"
Mrs. Smith laughed with vigor at her friend's humility. "I am feeling well and I thank you for thinking of me first. I was alluding, not very successfully, to your being otherwise prevented from visiting me for much longer."
"Prevented?" Anne asked in true confusion. "No one would have motive to do that! Truly I cannot even imagine how."
"Perhaps your husband may not wish his wife to visit Westgate Buildings."
Anne flushed as she realized what Mrs. Smith was trying to impart. "I see the rumors have reached you."
"Oh yes. My nurse is quite agile in hearing what is spoken in sotto voice. It does help that she is currently assisting Mrs. Wallis during her confinement." Mrs. Smith smiled. "Yes it is the same Wallis, wife of the Colonel who is a friend of a Mr. Elliot. Nurse tells me that Mr. Elliot speaks of you often and well."
Anne sighed heavily. "I don't know why the whole town suffers this dreadful misconception that I shall marry Mr. Elliot!"
"Well shan't you?"
"Has he asked you?"
"He has not."
"Then it is still a possibility. I will not believe your protestations. I know your modesty well."
"Indeed you will believe me for I am in earnest. It matters not what has or has not offered. I am uninterested."
Anne was surprised at the extreme relief on her friend's face. She inquired after it and to her mortification, out tumbled an account of Mr. Elliot that painted him in the blackest of terms.
Anne had long been uncomfortable with the ease in which Mr. Elliot had ingratiated himself into her family. However as Mrs. Smith told of her husband's intimate friendship and the subsequent shameful activities, Anne could not help but wonder at her own blindness. Her hurt sensibilities had made her abandon her sense and discernment for the foolish game of flirtation.
Letters and articles were produced aplenty to prove the point. Anne blushed as a letter in Mr. Elliot's hand spoke disparagingly of her father and Elizabeth and the entire inheritance. The letter belied all Mr. Elliot's recent claim of respect for family and connections.
Anne was still reeling from the day's revelations as she left the abode. She was very sorry for Mrs. Smith, who was still suffering from Mr. Elliot's depravations. She even managed to pity his late wife, for now there were reports of his cruelty to that lady. Anne shuddered at the fate she had narrowly avoided. Anne felt every need to inform Lady Russell of her discoveries and discuss the ways such information could be passed on to her family who still saw him as a favored companion.
The visit with Lady Russell was inevitably postponed as Anne was engaged to visit with Mrs. Musgrove and Henrietta the next morning. There was a great deal of mutual affection between Anne and the Musgrove and she was happy to be thus engaged. Anne found the ladies in the sitting room, engaged with a lace maker, and perusing several bolts of that handmade material.
"Anne! It is so good to see you!" Henrietta exclaimed, hugging Anne tightly.
Anne greeted her sister and Mrs. Musgrove with equal affection. She was quickly ensconced in a chair, her opinions on lacy and styles avidly sought. They were all happily engaged in the activity for a half hour, long enough for Anne to ascertain that the men were engaged elsewhere. She was only just feeling at ease when the door was flung open to reveal Charles and Captain Harville.
"Mama!" Charles cried. "Look whom I have found!"
Frederick followed him with a smile. The smile cracked and faded when he saw Anne. They greeted each other civilly, like strangers, and she quickly extended her greeting toward Captain Harville as well. Charles was beaming and it was clear that all had been mended between him and Frederick. There was some embarrassment from Mrs. Musgrove, but Frederick eased it immediately with the warmth of his greeting.
Anne chastised herself for not recalling that mutual acquaintances would inevitably bring them together. A single night had not been enough to know where her life's path lay. Frederick was barely hiding his own agitation, his eyes clashing with hers and dropping miserably away.
"Mama, you will be proud of your boy. I have secured a box for us in the theatre for Monday." There were cries of delight from the Musgrove ladies. "There is plenty of room and I have engaged Captain Wentworth to join us. Anne, I have assumed your presence as well."
Anne saw Frederick turn inquiring eyes toward her. She met them shyly and saw him smile at her, encouraging her to accept the invitation. Anne's eyes dropped away in misery. She could not accept. "If it relied on my inclination alone, Charles, I would be delighted. But that is the evening of Elizabeth's evening party, to which I understand you shall all be invited."
Anne was dismayed by the contempt that twisted Frederick's lips. She could not blame him.
"Phoo! What's an evening party?" Cried Charles. "I have no love for cards. Much to sedentary an occupation for me."
"I agree with you," Anne said softly, shivering for she knew Frederick was listening to every word. Despite her confused thoughts since his arrival, it was becoming important to show she was not so changed. "But I have an obligation to my family. I would not hesitate otherwise."
"Charles Musgrove," reproved his wife. "You promised to go. How will it look if you do not keep your word?"
"I never promised anything. I hemmed and hawed and said the word 'happy' once. That is hardly a promise. All this fuss over a game of cards!"
"Charles! It is more than that!" Mary exclaimed. "We are to meet Mr. Elliot! Surely that is enough incentive for you!"
"And what, pray tell, is Mr. Elliot to me?" Charles asked smugly. "If I will not go for your father's sake, I would think it a scandal to go for his heir's!" Frederick's attention was riveted, seeing the smiles exchanged by the ladies cause Anne to furiously blush. And yet, Charles was neither blind nor stupid. If he did not acknowledge the significance of one Mr. William Walter Elliot...
The couple volubly debated on. Anne could feel the discomfort in her companions match her own. Finally, Mrs. Musgrove stepped in with a gentle but firm suggestion. "Better to change the day, Charles. I would not enjoy a play if I knew our party were divided. Mary and Anne must be with us. Anne, you will be free to join us on Tuesday, would you not?"
"I certainly would." Anne replied. "I thank you, you are very kind."
Mrs. Musgrove patted her hand with motherly affection. "And you, Captain Wentworth? Will the change of day prevent your attendance? We would certainly accommodate you if Tuesday would not suit."
"Tuesday is the day, ma'am." Frederick replied. "Any day is open." He deliberately caught Anne's eye. "I would move every other appointment if I had them to attend the theatre with you."
"There, Charles!" Mrs. Musgrove said. "It is settled and we are all engaged. Oh Captain Harville! I did not mean to discount you...I quite feel you spoken for as part of our party."
"As I am!" he replied. "I am quite at your disposal."
"I am about to test your honesty, Captain Harville!" teased Henrietta. "I insist come and sit with me as I make my deliberations." She gestured toward the lace. "I am desperately in need of a fresh opinion."
Anne imagined there was nothing Captain Harville would like less, but he gamely drew a chair and threw an amused glance at Frederick before seriously considering the patches of material before him. Charles continued to tease Mary about the party, though in an undertone. Anne moved away from the table, surreptitiously stretching muscles made tense by the last few minutes. She sighed and began to browse through samples on another table. Her emotions were a jumble, one moment desperate to encourage Frederick, the next terrified of putting herself at risk once again. If only she could believe he was sincere.
Her attention diverted, the sample she was holding slipped from her grasp and fell to the floor. She gasped in surprise and bent to retrieve it. A larger masculine hand preceded hers, picking up the scrap of cloth and seizing the opportunity to caress her hand as Frederick returned the piece.
She looked up at him. He was standing close to her, but not intimately close. He was wary of his reception but could not stay away, longing to eke out as many private moments as he could. Anne smiled nervously and it was enough to encourage him.
"You're welcome." Neither could think of more to say and they stood together awkwardly. The continued conversation between Charles and Mary made Anne briefly turn her head in their direction. Frederick did not want her attention diverted from him and persevered. "Perhaps you have not been in Bath long enough to have learned to enjoy these parties they give," he stuttered non-sensically.
Anne frowned at him. "They mean nothing to me. I am no card player."
He grinned widely at her, insanely happy at her first genuine response to him. "You were not formally, I know. But time makes many changes."
"There isn't time enough that can pass to have wrought such a change. I am the same person I always was."
"I want to believe that. I want it so desperately," he whispered. She looked startled. "Anne..."
Whatever he was to have said was interrupted by Mary at the window. "Anne, come and look! That is Mr. Elliot down on the street."
Anne spoke without thinking, "It cannot be Mr. Elliot. He has gone out of Bath to stay with some friends in Coombe Park." She heard Frederick's swift intake of breath and realized what she had left unsaid, that Mr. Elliot's absence was a cause for joy on her part. She turned to regard him worriedly and saw with a sinking heart that a coolness had entered his eyes.
Mary was miffed. "Are you suggesting that I do not know my own cousin. Come and look for yourself. It is he. There is someone with him - a woman. I believe it is Mrs. Clay."
Now this was information that surprised Anne. She went to the window, partly to cover her own embarrassment and partly to discover what two people with diametrically opposite ambitions would have to secretly meet about. She was a trifle too late to see much more than Mr. Elliot and Mrs. Clay parting with some apparent intimacy.
"There!" Mary said triumphantly. "Is that not Mr. Elliot."
"It is indeed!" Anne said. "Apparently I was wrong. It is not a wonder for I do not pay much mind to his conversation." The last was said with another swift glance at Frederick. He looked unsure, as if he was struggling to believe her. Anne forced herself to be patient as she moved away from Mary's side. She was rewarded when Frederick again took a station by her side.
It was a reality that a large party would inevitably invite more chaos and activity than any single person. It was certainly true of any Musgrove adventure, for the family tended to create much of the clutter and noise all by themselves. Whatever Anne and Frederick might have discussed was pushed aside when Henrietta realized the time and cried that she was late for her dressmaker's appointment. She recalled Anne's promise to accompany her and asked if she was ready. Anne declared herself so, though she would have preferred to remain where she was. The ladies began to ready themselves, Frederick being helpful enough to hand bonnet and gloves to Anne.
They were nearly ready to leave when Elizabeth Elliot made a splendid entrance. Her very condescension silenced all chatter. She ceremoniously handed out invitations, taking great care to single out Frederick. He took it from her with surprise. A swift glance at Anne asked if this was her doing. Anne could not say it was. She knew her sister well enough to understand her motives. Lady Dalrymple had noticed and asked after Captain Wentworth. He was known to be as high in his profession as merit and activity could place him. And he had returned to England a rich man. In Elizabeth's mind, the past was forgotten. Today, Captain Frederick Wentworth was a man who would move well in her drawing room. The invitations handed out, Elizabeth made a very pretty speech about valuing their attendance and left them.
Frederick was considering the invitation very seriously and it gave Anne pause. She had not doubted his presence at the party until this very moment. The look on his face was familiar - it was doubt tinged with disdain. Frederick had nothing to enjoy in an evening with her family. Anne knew this and was discouraged. It seemed that too many inclinations and circumstances were aligned to keep them from understanding each other.
Mary whispered loudly that Frederick was awed by the privilege of the invitation. His eyes narrowed in renewed contempt and he turned away so she could not see whatever other emotion might have passed his features. Henrietta was urging them to leave and Anne was obliged to follow without another word or look from Frederick.
Anne did not realize how quickly she was striding through the Pump Room until she saw the exertion on Lady Russell's face. Normally she would have apologized profusely. Today, however, she had little patience for her friend.
"Anne, listen to reason! You must see the advantages of the match. You could step into your mother's shoes as mistress of Kellynch. Anyone capable of thought must have..."
"Elizabeth wants that privilege for herself."
"We both know you are better able to fill that role."
"I do not want that role." Anne knew she wanted to be another man's wife.
"And what have you against Mr. Elliot?"
"Oh he is clever, he is charming...but my instincts tell me..."
"Instinct!" Lady Russell said with traces of anger. "This is no time for instinct! Look at the facts! The present Mr. Elliot is..."
"And what of the past Mr. Elliot?" Anne challenged as she halted abruptly. The look of surprise on Lady Russell's face neither intimidated nor silenced her. "Why has his character altered so completely? Why do I feel we know so little about him?"
"You will come to know him...after the wedding..."
Anne shook her head in despair. This woman, whom she had valued above all others for her sense and practicality, was revealing a disappointing lack of discernment. "That is not what I want. I want someone in whom I can see real warmth. I have never seen any burst of genuine emotion."
Seeing Lady Russell scoff made their differences all the more apparent. It straightened Anne's spine and strengthened her resolve. "Very well, I am armed with facts enough for you..."
Anne meant to tell of Mrs. Smith's predicament. Lady Russell was looking at her intently, waiting for her to continue. Another anonymous society couple, acquaintances of Lady Russell, interrupted them. It was important to acquaint Lady Russell with the new information on Mr. Elliot. It was imperative. But now was not the time. Anne sighed and took her leave. Lady Russell, still peeved at Anne's intransigence, only just acknowledged her. Anne walked away faster than was polite, desperate to still her hammering heart, quite her irritation, and control her rampaging thoughts.
She walked up Union Street toward Milsom and seeing the crowds milling from store to store, diverted into Gay Street on the way to Camden Place. She was so engrossed in her own thoughts that she nearly collided with Admiral Croft.
"Miss Anne! We are destined to meet on the street of Bath, I see. I am glad I came upon you for in my haste I forgot a rather important letter I was to mail. And since you are obviously coming to call on my Sophy, I will walk with you!"
Anne belatedly remembered the house the Crofts had taken on Gay Street. "Admiral, I assure you...I was not, I mean, I was merely on my way home. I would not wish to intrude."
"Nonsense! You are quite the favorite with my wife! She is not very occupied today!"
"Not very occupied?" Anne queried worriedly. The Admiral was persistent and took her arm, walking determinedly toward the residence. The possibility of Frederick being home agitated her. "I cannot possibly stay more than five minutes."
"That is enough to say hello, my dear."
Anne was inexorably drawn toward the steps, with the butler about to deny his mistress only to be laughed at by the master. She was led to a comfortable sitting room and came face to face with Frederick himself. He was holding a newspaper awkwardly, as if he was pretending to read it. The he was unprepared for her entrance was evident in the way his eyes widened.
"I am intruding," Anne said hurriedly, wanting an intimate moment with Frederick more than another breath yet feeling unequal to it at the same time.
Frederick jumped to his feet and bowed. "Not at all. Please sit down."
"Yes, yes, sit down. I will alert Sophy of your visit myself."
Frederick took her elbow and gently placed her in a chair. He drew another close to her for himself. Anne looked down at the discarded newspaper, trying to focus her eyes and attention on the fine print. A slight movement from Frederick alerted her and she turned to see him reaching out to her.
She froze in expectation. He hesitated, fearful of pushing her further away from him. He stretched the small distance between them, running the tips of his fingers down her silky cheek in a feather light caress. Neither one of them breathed as his hand cupped her chin, one thumb stroking her bottom lip. He drew back slowly and exhaled as a commotion outside signaled the return of the Admiral.
Anne took up the newspaper, staring at it unseeingly as she tried to steady her breathing.
"Sophy promises to come shortly. She is merely with her mantuamaker."
Anne opened her mouth to protest again but cut it short at Frederick's brief touch.
The Admiral gestured for Frederick to follow him. Frederick obliged swiftly, throwing first a silent plea for Anne to stay. They stepped outside the door and the Admiral began. "As I am to leave you together, it seems only right that I give you something to discuss."
"That is not necessary," came Frederick's quiet reply.
"It is quite necessary. And there is a matter I wish you to settle for me." Here the door was very firmly closed. Anne could still hear the rise and fall of their voices from beyond the door, for the Admiral was not one to keep a low tone. However, she did not hear the content of their spirited discourse.
The door shortly opened to the sound of Frederick saying impatiently, "Very well, sir. As you wish it!"
Anne looked at him expectantly and saw a distinct change in his expression. Gone was the tenderness of minutes past. A pale cheek and angry countenance had replaced it. He did not meet her eyes as he walked to a distant window. His breath came with difficulty and Anne could only imagine what kind of request could have produced such a reaction from him.
He turned back to her with determination. "You must have already heard too much, madam, to doubt that I am to charged with a task."
Anne nodded hesitantly. Frederick's manner of address was making her uneasy.
"There is a matter of some delicacy that I must inquire about. The very fact that I was charged with this deplorable task is repugnant. But I have been charged by my Admiral and must acquit myself. I know the impropriety of the question well. Though anyone who knows the Admiral will understand the spirit in which it is meant."
This rambling speech further confused and terrified Anne, for she could not but suspect an unhappy conclusion.
"The Admiral had received a confidential report..." Frederick stumbled over his words. "He had heard, my God I cannot even say it!" He took a deep breath and said, "It has come to the Admiral's attention that all has been settled for a union between you and Mr. William Elliot. It has occurred to him and my sister that you and your husband may wish to take up residence in Kellynch. While there is a lease in question, the Admiral wishes me to convey that he and my sister will take alternate lodgings if residing in Kellynch is indeed your wish."
Mr. Elliot again! Anne's jaw dropped open and she flushed in mortification. There was no end to the man's evil presence in her life. Even physical absence did not impede Mr. Elliot from interfering with every aspect of her life.
"There, I have said it aloud. Give me your answer and we are both released."
Anne could barely speak, "The Admiral is too kind..."
"You are to marry him then?" Frederick replied harshly. "Very quick work, Miss Elliot. Not four months ago you failed to recognize him on the Cobb!"
Anne began to grow angry. Frederick was still determined to believe the worst of her and there could be no future for them without trust. Anne stood up, determined to leave this house. "There is nothing to report to the Admiral or Mrs. Croft. Those reports are false. I am not engaged, nor is there any intention to break the Admiral's lease of Kellynch." She gathered her gloves and bonnet. "Please extend my apologies to Mrs. Croft. It is past time for me to go."
She hurried out the door with little grace or composure. Frederick was following her and she wished him miles away at the moment.
"Anne! Wait, please! I am sorry." She stopped at the front door but kept her back to him as she tied her bonnet ribbons haphazardly. "Tell me clearly. Are you saying that you will not marry Mr. Elliot?"
Anne was tired to the core of all the rumors and suppositions regarding her future. She was tired of being ignored and discounted by those she loved, even Frederick. Anne was not a woman given to spite and later she would have cause to regret her hasty words. But for the moment, she wanted only to end this intolerable situation in her favor.
"No, sir," she replied coldly. "I am saying that he has not asked me." With those parting words, she left the house and hurried to her room in Camden Place.
Anne buried her face in her pillow, remorse coloring every remembrance of her altercation with Frederick. What had possessed her to make such untruthful, unfeeling statements? To suggest that she would accept Mr. Elliot's proposals when nothing could be further from the truth. There was nothing to wonder that he doubted her. She had broken their engagement, all the more reprehensible an act because she had gone against inclination. He had come for her again and she had spurned him. She had set out to show him she had kept her promise. She had proven that he had broken his promises to her. Now that she knew her own heart, it was probable that she had driven him away.
Mrs. Clay was knocking on her door, calling her to dinner. Anne did not respond and eventually the other lady moved away. Her maid was sent in to inquire after her. Anne sent her away with a message that she was indisposed with a headache and unavailable for the remainder of the evening. Mr. Elliot was expected to dine with them tonight. He was in all likelihood already waiting below, charming her gullible family with glib words and smooth actions.
Anne sighed and looked up at her maid, Nelly. The girl looked troubled. "What is wrong?"
"There's more than your family wantin' you." She drew a letter from her apron. "I don't know if this is the right thing to do. But this is for you."
Anne sat up and dried her cheeks, wincing as her head began to ache from crying. "Is it from Mr. Elliot?"
"No ma'am," Nelly replied. "Begging your pardon, but I wouldn't deliver any letter from him. He's not right for you." That said, Nelly began to blush and stammer. "I'm sorry, Miss Anne. I should not have said that."
Anne smiled comfortingly, "You have never lied to me, Nelly, and I never want you to. I know Mr. Elliot is not the one for me. I didn't realize you knew so much about it."
"We talk, ma'am. Us on the downstairs. There truly isn't much we don't know. But you are so well liked, ma'am that all of us could not help wanting to dissuade you from marrying that man. He'll never make you as happy as you deserve."
Anne pondered this. She knew of course that servants were aware of all the intimate details of Elliot life. Sir Walter and Elizabeth were often oblivious of the other people who lived with them. Anne, since her lonely childhood, had always taken it upon herself to get to know these people who were invisible to the rest of the family. Anne looked at the item in her hand.
"Then who is this from, Nelly?"
Her maid blushed again. "Captain Wentworth, ma'am. I saw him coming toward the house and with Mr. Elliot here..." her voice trailed off meaningfully.
Anne flushed. "You convinced him not to call."
"Aye, ma'am. Was that wrong?"
"No." Anne said softly. "I can't see my father and sister being anything but rude to him."
"I'll leave you to read it then." Nelly slipped away to the dressing room.
Anne unfolded the letter with shaking hands and began to read.
I can exist no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. I love you. And not too long ago, you loved me. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it eight years and a half ago. I have loved none but you. Man does not forget sooner than woman, nor his love die an earlier death. I have and will love none but you. Unjust I have been, weak and resentful undoubtedly, but never inconstant. You alone brought me to Bath. For you alone I think and plan. Can you not see this? Can you have failed to understand my wished? Have you doubted my sincerity? I am agitated. I can hardly write. I see the light in your window and feel you are too far from me. Believe there is true attachment and constancy in men and that it is most fervent and undeviating in me.
I end this letter uncertain of my fate. I wait outside for word from your maid. A word, your face in the window will be enough to decide whether I enter your father's house tomorrow or never.
It was not a letter that could be recovered from quickly. Anne was short of breath at the thought of Frederick waiting outside in the cold. She knew what she had to do and how she had to respond. "Nelly!" She called.
Nelly hurried into the bedroom, alarmed at the unusual urgency in Anne's voice. "Ma'am?"
"Is Captain Wentworth still outside?"
"Aye ma'am. Made me promise to tell him if he is to stay or leave."
Anne searched for a pressed gown to replace the one she had crushed. "I must go to him." Nelly scrambled to assist her and impatiently brushed away Anne's shaking fingers. Anne splashed cool water on her face and pinched her cheeks to bring some color forward. She need not have bothered for the excitement of seeing Frederick and mending their relationship had put her in a glow.
Anne could hear her father's voice booming from the dining room as she crept out of her room with Nelly. She was about to descend the main staircase when Nelly pulled her the opposite direction. Anne was giddy and barely able to contain her laughter as she journeyed down the hitherto unknown service staircase that emptied out into the kitchen. Most of the kitchen staff was astonished to see her. There were swift curtsies and hairlocks pulled which she responded to quickly and quietly. Nelly led her to the open back door through which she could see Frederick prowling impatiently in the darkness.
Anne took a step forward before a though occurred to her. "Nelly? What do you all think of Captain Wentworth?"
Nelly smiled at her shyly. "We all think you ought to have been happy eight years ago, ma'am."
Anne smiled at her and stepped out into the night. Her shoes clicked softly on the stone steps and Frederick whirled around in anticipation. That he had not expected her to appear was evident. She smiled tremulously to encourage him. He returned the smile and seeing that the evening had left them alone on the sidewalk, opened his arms. She flew into them, burrowing against his warm, solid frame, and feeling the comforting tightness of his arms around her.
"My Anne..." he whispered into her hair.
Anne sighed her relief. They were reunited.
Anne did not want to leave the warmth of Frederickís arms but she knew they were making a spectacle of themselves for curious servants. He resisted her attempt to free herself and looked alarmed when she slipped out of his embrace. A quick glance behind her alerted him that they were being observed, though surreptitiously.
"This is not right," she said remorsefully. "To have to meet in back alleys..."
Frederickís eyes closed slightly, as if he was battling his pride. "It doesnít matter. I can endure anything but not being together."
Anne sighed sorrowfully. All was not yet mended between them. There was too much pain and too many broken promises. It would take work to repair the damage they had inflicted on each other.
"There is a small park across the street," she whispered, taking his arm. "We have much to discuss."
He pressed her tightly against him as they walked. There were a few lamps along the way, throwing eerie shadows all around them. Anne might have been nervous had she been alone, but with Frederick by her side she felt secure. Both of them tensed as they saw the parlor room lights dim and brighten as the figures of Mr. Elliot and Sir Walter entered. Anne stilled, knowing that they were unlikely to be discovered, but fearing the shattering of this precious moment of intimacy.
"How did you manage to escape?" Frederick asked.
Anne smiled. "I never joined them at all. All they know is that I have retired because of a headache."
They entered the park and made their way to the opposite end, as much to remove themselves from the sight of Camden Place as to remove Camden Place from their minds. Frederick found a small, cold bench cozy enough for them both.
He touched her face gently. "Youíve been crying." Anne did not respond. Frederick drew her back into his arms and rested his chin on her head. "I am a fool. I have hurt you so much and so often. I am deeply sorry, my Anne. Can you forgive me?"
"Frederick, we must find a way to forgive each other. I have not been blameless." Anne loathed leaving his arms, but she could not concentrate on what had to be done while she was in them. She stood slowly, seeing the fear flare again in Frederickís eyes, and caressing his cheek to calm him. "If we are to be honest with each other, nothing must remain unsaid." She looked down at her twisting hands. "I will never be able to express how deeply I regretted breaking our engagement." Frederick shook his head quickly. "No, let me say it. It must be said. "I allowed myself to be guided by everyone but myself, by my father, by Lady Russell. I knew soon after that I had been mistaken. That we would have been happy. That I should have listened to my heart and trusted you that all would be well."
"Tell me," Frederick asked softly. "If I had returned two years later, newly posted to the Laconia and with a few thousand in my pocket. Would you have renewed our engagement?"
Frederick buried his head in his hands. "There can be no small share of blame for me. It is not that I didnít think it or wish for it. But my pride, my abominable, infernal pride, would not let me seek you out. It was that same pride that kept rearing its head in Uppercross. It wasnít until Lyme that I knew myself. To know that you felt the same, even after I had been horrible to you, was a blessing."
"I meant only to be your friend," Anne said softly. "I did not expect more."
"I know." Frederick smiled. "It seemed like the chance of a lifetime when you agreed to stay. Although every chance I took to speak to you seemed to frighten you."
Anne blushed. "I was frightened. I realized very quickly that staying was a mistake."
"A mistake? How can you say that when it brought us back together?" Frederick cried. "I did everything in my power to make you see what you meant to me!"
"Yes, you did." Anne acknowledged with painful remembrance. "And any other circumstance would have seen me welcoming you. But with Louisa and the Musgroves..." Anneís voice trailed into silence. "You should not have made any promises."
"After so much time apart. I could not be easy until I knew you would wait for me."
"And I did. I believed you and hoped. I closed my eyes to what was your true situation. How do you think I felt when you reprimanded me for declining Captain Benwickís suit?"
Frederick looked ashamed of himself. "I knew I was causing you pain. I only wanted to see you with someone who would love you and take care of you."
Anne sighed angrily, "You do not know me at all if you think I waited eight years to settle with a man I did not love." She turned away to contemplate a last remaining blossom nearby. "Something died in me that day. I was resolved to forget all about you and to do what I wanted without advice from any one else. And I did."
"You forgot me?"
"I resented you. Especially after news of your engagement reached me."
"And when news of itís being broken arrived? What then? Were you still angry when I arrived?"
"I did not know why you would come to Bath at all."
Frederick sprang up and strode toward her. He took her arms and turned her to face him. "Didnít you? I came because YOU were here! Is that so difficult to understand?"
"Yes." Anne replied, looking up at his face. "I had convinced myself that you would not voluntarily tie yourself to someone you did not care for. It must follow that you cared for Louisa, regardless of your promises and avowals to me."
Frederickís expression rejected her logic and he dropped his hold to move away from her in frustration. Again a wall of anger built between them. Anne could not face another division and stepped forward, placing a trembling hand on his arm.
"I had to believe it. It would have ruined me to think that you loved me and still given me up for another." She whispered brokenly.
Frederickís expression softened as understanding dawned. He took her in his arms and held her tightly. "I am sorry, my Anne. It becomes more and more clear why you ran from me every time we met. Never doubt again. I love only you. I want only you. Can we undo the mistakes of the past?"
"I do not know..."
His arms would not relinquish her despite her doubts. "Why? What remains? I cannot believe Mr. Elliot means so much to you." He pulled away slightly. "Does he? Anne, do you love him? Will you marry him if he asks?"
"No," Anne had to reply truthfully. "But he has nothing to do with our problems." Anne looked up at Frederick earnestly. "Can we put all this behind us? Can you trust that I love you and want no one else?"
"Yes, I can. I do. And you? Can you forgive me and trust that I will never willingly part with you again?"
Anne looked at him for a long moment, seeing his anxiety grow as she hesitated. It was a critical moment, for if she could not trust him, they would never be together again. And with blinding clarity, Anne realized that none of it mattered Ė not her mistakes nor his. They were together and it would answer all their needs. "I do. I do trust you."
He exhaled with relief. He eased her away from him and dropped to one knee. "Will you have me Anne Elliot? Will you marry me and make me a better man than I am today?"
Anne smiled, touching his cheek lovingly, "It may take me a lifetime. And I shall be a hard taskmaster."
"I am ready."
"Than I will."
She was again gathered in his arms, but this time she held him as tightly as she was held. Frederick smoothed her bangs away from her forehead and placed a tender kiss there. Anne closed her eyes and pulled him down, until she felt his breath against her lips. And with a kiss of passion, they sealed their commitment to each other.
Anne walked into the Musgrove rooms at the White Hart with a spring in her step. Last night's events had made her happy with her situation in life. The only shadow would be any difficulties her father might throw her way. Frederick and Anne had agreed to keep the happy news to themselves a little while longer, for Frederick planned to ask for her hand during the evening party. Anne had agreed easily, instinctively knowing and approving Frederick's strategy to talk to her father during his best social moments. As for Lady Russell and Mary -- Anne had reserved the right to inform them privately. There was nothing to fear in Mary's reception of the idea, for Frederick was already a favorite with that family. But Anne was determined that Lady Russell would not only accept the match, but made every arrear toward making Frederick welcome.
She entered the sitting room to find only Mrs. Musgrove, Mrs. Croft, Frederick and Captain Harville within. Frederick was seated at the writing table. He looked over his shoulder at her entrance and sent her a secret, brilliant smile.
"Oh Anne! Henrietta and Mary have gone shopping! They could wait no longer once the rain had eased. But I have strict instructions to keep you here until they return!"
Anne could think of no better place to be than with Frederick and looked forward to the time they could enjoy each other's company openly. Mrs. Musgrove continued her conversation with Mrs. Croft, speaking of Henrietta's engagement. There was a brief flash of remembered pain as the ladies began to discuss the horrors of long engagements and of waiting to start a life together. Anne could not help turning toward Frederick, seeing his reassurances. He provided them charmingly, with another smile and warmth in his eyes. Anne was satisfied that even this subject was settled between them.
Captain Harville seemed somewhat forlorn staring out the window. He caught Anne's eye and smiled, inviting her to join him with a small inclination of his head. Frederick was still attempting to scribble his letter, though he was obviously distracted by her presence. Anne moved toward Captain Harville curious as to what the man would like to talk of.
"Do you know who this is?" He asked, showing her a small portrait.
"Why...that is Captain Benwick."
"The very one. But this was not done for Louisa Musgrove, I'm afraid," He replied with a quick glance at the other ladies. "It was drawn at the Cape, for my sister." He sighed heavily. "Now I am charged to get it set for another. I confess it is beyond my power. So he undertakes it." He indicated Frederick, who was still glancing their way. "He is writing to the frame makers now. Poor Phoebe. She would not have forgotten him so soon."
"It would not be in the nature of any woman to forget one we have truly loved." Anne ventured. "We live at home...quiet, confined...and our feelings prey upon us. You men always have business of your own that takes you out into the world and keeps you active."
There was a hurried scratching at the desk before Frederick bounced up and joined them, folding his letter hurriedly. Captain Harville raised his eyebrows meaningfully at Anne in seeing the clatter Frederick brought with him.
"Are you eager to be on your way, Wentworth?"
"Certainly not!" Frederick replied with a smile for Anne. "I am eager to converse with you both! You must admit there is little interest in a letter of instructions to frame makers."
"It seemed to absorb you well enough when I was your only source of conversation." Captain Harville murmured with a twinkling eye. "But perhaps you could be useful in our discussion, for I suspect Miss Anne's quiet smiles hide a rather keen debating mind."
"Indeed it does," Frederick replied causing Anne to blush.
Captain Harville, being such a close friend of Frederick's, was beginning to discern a new attachment between his friend and this amiable young woman. He was quite happy to see it, for as much as Benwick's engagement to Louisa Musgrove confused him, he had deplored Frederick's engagement to the same lady. Harville was aware during the stay in Lyme, that Frederick had reconsidered his intentions toward the patient. Now he understood what had made Frederick change his heart. Harville was happy for what he saw pass between Frederick and Anne. There was a wealth of emotion there that would last them a lifetime.
Since neither of the secret lovebirds could remember what was being discussed, Harville devilishly pressed on. "Frederick defend my position. Miss Anne seems to think there is no constancy in men's hearts."
Anne blushed even deeper. "You mock me, sir. I said no such thing. I merely claimed the greater loss for my sex."
"I won't have it said that man loses heart sooner than woman. All stories, prose and verse are against you, ma'am. They all speak eloquently of women's fickleness and the trails of men's broken hearts they leave."
"Yes," Anne laughed. "But they were all written by men as well. I will not allow you to quote from such sources. Men have had all the advantages of education and position. The pen has been in your hands longer than it has been in ours."
"You will have to do better than that if you wish to argue with Miss Elliot," Frederick said with amusement.
"And I get no help from you, Wentworth."
Anne was conscious of Frederick's eyes on her. "It depends on the circumstance."
"If only I could explain what a man goes through when he sees his wife and children fading with distance as his ship sails away and knowing it will be a twelvemonth before he will see them again. Or what he does to speed their journey to him, calculating and recalculating, knowing what is possible and always praying to see them hours sooner."
"I believe in all you say, Captain, I do. My only claim to constancy, and it is hardly enviable, is that women love longest when all hope is gone." Anne spoke softly, hesitantly.
"Miss Elliot," Frederick replied in the same low voice. "That claim is not woman's alone. I know of at least one man that has pined for years for a lost love."
The clocked chimed and Mrs. Croft stood up. "Here you and I part, Frederick. Although you might do better to come with me for you are making Miss Anne blush."
"We do have the frame makers to visit, Wentworth."
"Yes, yes," Frederick replied reluctantly. "May I escort you home, Miss Elliot?"
Mrs. Musgrove protested faintly, but could not say for sure when Mary and Henrietta would return. Anne gathered her bonnet and gloves with a smile and assured her that she would see them at the evening's entertainment.
Frederick immediately offered her his arm and as they descended toward the street, Mrs. Croft and Captain Harville began airing their suspicions.
"I do believe that weddings are in the air, Captain Harville. Do not you?"
"It does seem the rage amongst our acquaintances."
"Even those who do not announce it."
Anne and Frederick smiled at each other as they turned to face their companions. "Do you mind?" Frederick asked. Anne shook her head. Frederick smiled at the expectant looks on his sister and best friend. "Miss Elliot has done me the honor of accepting my proposal of marriage."
Mrs. Croft immediately took Anne's hands and welcomed her. Harville slapped Frederick's back and congratulated them both. They were cautioned to keep their knowledge to themselves until Frederick had spoken to Sir Walter. After more congratulations, Anne and Frederick were given leave to leisurely walk to Camden Place.
Anne was almost giddy when the guests began to arrive. She watched Lady Russell glide in after Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret. Mr. Elliot immediately went to her side with blandishments, but she brushed them aside quickly and requested a private audience with her friend.
Lady Russell gave Anne a curious look, seeing the excitement in her young friend's eyes and the flushed cheeks. "What is it Anne?"
"It is not official yet for Father does not know. But I have accepted Captain Wentworth's proposal again."
Anne heard the disappointment in Lady Russell's voice and bristled. "Lady Russell, you have been my friend, my mentor, and my confidant. There is nothing I would do for you...except to give up Frederick a second time."
"But Mr. Elliot..."
"I have little regard for Mr. Elliot. In addition, that lack of regard is matched by his insincere feelings for my family. Frederick makes me happy. And his current situation answers all your reservations from the past. And even if they didn't, I cannot...I will not sacrifice my happiness or his a second time."
Lady Russell stared at Anne's expression, seeing all the determination and fire that had been missing for too many years. The first inkling that she had guided her friend badly penetrated. If her second wish were to be discerning, her first was to see Anne made happy in marriage. For Lady Russell truly loved Anne and was determined to love Captain Wentworth for making her friend's spirit glow so brightly. Without another thought, she enfolded Anne in a maternal embrace.
"If he can forgive an old woman who forgot what it meant to love, I can and will learn to love him as a son."
Anne sighed with relief. One obstacle down.
By the end of the evening, the every guest had offered Frederick and Anne their congratulations. It was a sweet moment of triumph for them both, for Sir Walter had not objected to the match and was persuaded to even think highly of it. Elizabeth did nothing but look cold and unconcerned. Charles took a moment to approach Anne.
"You have been very sly with me, Anne!"
"Oh yes. There I was claiming that Frederick could not have been in Bath for anything but his sister when all the while he was here for you!"
Anne smiled self-consciously. "Is there truly no hurt feelings on any part?"
Charles patted her comfortingly, "All is right as rain. And I have learned not to stick my nose where it does not belong!"
Mary was gratified to have another sister married and although she had the discomfort of Anne's being elevated in seniority again, she was well satisfied that her sister had married a man of greater wealth and consequence than either of the Musgrove sisters.
Who could guess what happy event took place short months later? There was hardly a dry eye that watched a radiant Anne walk down the aisle toward Frederick. And no one paid any mind to the fact that Sir Walter and Elizabeth were relegated to guests in Kellynch Hall where the wedding sweetmeats were prepared and the celebration continued. The bride and groom had eyes only for each other, which is how every guest acknowledged was the way a wedding should be.
Mrs. Smith was happy for gaining another friend when she had despaired of losing the first. Frederick came to know what had transpired between Mrs. Smith and Mr. Elliot. There was nothing Frederick wished to do more than help ease her situation, for he understood what it meant to be without prospect. Greater still, he understood that without that information, he might not now have his present happiness with Anne.
Both Anne and Frederick learned to be happier than they ever imagined. Marriage to a sailor was not always smooth and there were moments of alarm and anxiety. But these moments were always eased by the warmth of homecoming and the growth of their very own family circle.
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