Part I: Lady Russell's Declaration
Perfect serenity filled Anne Elliot as she lay in bed, half awake, half asleep. Her eyes were closed, but she could feel the warmth of the morning sun on her face. Morning had always been her favourite time of day. These were the moments when she could lay in bed, contemplating, with none of her family to deal with and an entire day spread out before her.
This morning was different, though, for she had the most wonderful reason to be happy: she was engaged to Captain Frederick Wentworth. The thought was astounding. She, perhaps the least consequential Elliot daughter, was the first to be engaged. She could not think about Frederick--he had insisted that she call him that after their engagement--without the feeling of joy completely filling her heart. This day was to be especially wonderful: Frederick was escorting her, her friend Lady Russell, and her sister Mary on a picnic.
At this thought, she rose to get ready for the day. She did not want to be late for the picnic for any reason, though knowing Frederick, he would wait for her till evening, if she was not ready in time. She laughed at herself: really she was turning quite nonsensical, she thought. Lady Russell had always dubbed her level-headed: how surprised she would be at some of Anne's thoughts and actions lately.
Thinking of Lady Russell made Anne's thoughts to turn more serious. Oddly, Lady Russell had been acting distant to her lately. She had taken to watching Anne, her brows knit, lips pursed together. Anne had thought that Lady Russell would be overjoyed at her happy news, but instead she was quietly disturbed.
Entering the breakfast room, Anne met with the sight of her family, seated and already eating. Sir Walter Elliot was speaking about the ordering of a mirror for his dressing room, as "the one there now is quite too small."
Her sister Elizabeth nodded in commiseration. "She had her mirrors replaced last year herself."
Mary was the only one who noticed Anne's entrance. "Anne, there you are!" she cried. "I've been waiting for you, for I want your opinion of which dress I should wear to your picnic."
"I would wear you blue one, with the lace at the hem," Anne recommended, sitting down next to Mary. She helped herself to her waiting breakfast.
"My blue!" Mary moaned. "Anne, you know that it was soiled last week. It has a large stain upon it now. Oh, what shall I do!"
A smile touched Anne's face. Really, Mary could be so dramatic. "If your blue is unavailable, then try your old white," she said.
"But the blue would be so much the better," argued Mary. She gave a heaving sigh. "I suppose my white will have to do, though I am tired of wearing it."
"Then, my dear," Sir Elliot said, joining the conversation, "you should go pick out a new dress in town. I do not know why you should not. One's appearance is not a thing to be overlooked."
"But I do not have time to shop this morning," Mary said, "and the picnic is this afternoon."
"I think your white will be fine," Anne said.
"Oh, merciless," Mary said.
A servant entered the breakfast room. "Lady Russell has arrived," he announced.
"She has?" Elizabeth asked, her tone disdainful. "We are not yet finished with our breakfast. How discourteous Lady Russell is becoming."
Anne was also puzzled by Lady Russell's early arrival. Usually Lady Russell was so considerately polite. She must have some very important reason for arriving at this time in the morning.
"Excuse me, Father," Anne said to Sir Elliot. "I am finished with my breakfast and should like to talk with Lady Russell."
Sir Elliot frowned. "If you wish it, but Elizabeth is right: it is impertinent to disrupt our breakfast so."
Anne, taking that as a discharge, left the breakfast room. She found Lady Russell standing in wait in the parlor.
"Good morning, Lady Russell," she said.
"I am sure you are wondering at my early arrival," Lady Russell began abruptly.
"I should like to talk to you. Alone."
"I-- Of course. We rarely use the sitting room upstairs. Would you like to talk there?"
"That would be satisfactory."
They retired to the sitting room, Lady Russell saying not a word as they walked side-by-side. From her countenance, Anne could not discriminate any thing. She looked troubled, but composed. Anne felt it best not to ask any questions but wait for Lady Russell to begin when she was ready.
The sitting room was a small one, usually rather more cold than the rest of the house. Before her death, Anne's mother had used it as her sitting room, but after her death, it went mostly unused. Anne sat down on a settee, but Lady Russell stayed standing, pacing the room for a moment. She then turned to Anne. "Captain Wentworth has applied to your father for your hand in marriage?" she asked.
"Yes, he has," Anne said.
"And your father has agreed to this engagement?"
She nodded. "Father was not pleased by our engagement. He was quite unkind to Fre-- Captain Wentworth, and has been rather cold to me, saying he will do nothing for Frederick and myself. However, he did allow the engagement to go forward."
Lady Russell frowned. "And you still plan on marrying this young man this-- captain?" She practically spat out the word.
Anne was stunned by Lady Russell's vehemence. She had never seen her so upset. "I do, unless, Lady Russell-- do you know something against--" No, it could not be possible. "Is there some reason why I should not marry Frederick?" Perspiration was gathering on her brow. She looked down at her hands, which she was clasping and unclasping.
Lady Russell gave a disheartening laugh. "I hardly know any reason for the marriage." She drew a breath. "Anne, you are but nineteen. You are the daughter of a baronet, a brilliant person, and you know you are admired every where you go. To then connect yourself to this young man who has nothing but himself to recommend him. He has no hopes of attaining affluence, but in the chances of a most uncertain profession, and no connexions to secure even his farther rise in that profession."
Anne's face began to flush, then grew scarlet. "Lady Russell, I know Frederick, and he--"
"But, you do not know him," Lady Russell interrupted. "Anne, it was but a few weeks ago that you met him. He is all but a stranger to you. Imagine, after your marriage, where will you go, and who will you know? No one!"
The thought was frightening, Anne admitted to herself. She had owned it to Frederick but a few days ago, and he had reassured of the fact that he had no little acquaintance, and that she should soon have many dear friends, and furthermore, she would always have him. Still, the thought was quite frightening.
Lady Russell stopped pacing and sat next to Anne on the settee. Her voice was soft. "Anne, as your dear friend, indeed, as one who loves you almost as a mother, I ask you, would you throw away yourself, leave all those who love you and would miss you, for this young man who has nothing to recommend him?"
Part Two: The Rejection
Lady Russell left Anne alone, sitting on the settee, thinking. Her friend's words were overpowering her, as well as new thoughts. Thoughts about Frederick and the difficulties he would have: marrying a wife, so young, and with no money whatsoever. To her, this could be no evil. She cared little about money: but for Frederick to be so bound by a wife, to labour with little recompense, and to have to support a family . . . .
But I love him.
Then should she not consider her actions to help the one she loved? Marriage would not necessarily better his life and hopes. Would not it be an act of love to allow him to advance without attachments binding him down?
"Anne, we are all ready and in wait for you." Mary's voice came from the open door.
"Oh! I-- I am coming, Mary."
"You did not change into your picnicking dress," Mary said.
Anne rose and said. "No . . . I do not . . . wish to delay our departure any more. This dress will suffice."
Mary came to her, taking her arm. "I am so looking forward to this picnic! How very nice after the past few days of confinement at Kellynch. Your Captain Wentworth is so dashing, Anne. I do not know how you ever caught him. My friend Esther says that . . . " Mary continued to ramble as they walked down the stairs, through the hall, and into the front parlour. There Lady Russell and Frederick himself were waiting. At the sight of him, Anne's felt her face draining of color, and her stomach constricting.
Frederick did not seem to notice her reaction. He came to her, taking her arm in his, and said, "Now then, are we all ready?"
It was a beautiful day for a picnic. The carriage was open to let in the sun, and Mary chattered on and on as they rode, unaware of the others' silence. Frederick at first was as talkative as ever, but as the ride continued, he seemed to notice Anne's attitude, and this quieted him. They finally arrived at the park, much to Anne's relief: the confinement of the carriage was stifling.
Anne put up her parasol as they walked across the park to where their picnic blanket was laid with food. Frederick had set up the picnic himself, he informed them. The sandwiches quite good, but Anne did not eat much, and did not join in the others' conversation. She could not look at Frederick without her stomach tightening.
"Mary," Lady Russell said, when the meal was finally finished, "I believe that is Sir Milmass and his daughter picnicking just across the way from us."
"Indeed!" said Mary. "I shall have to go speak to Esther." She stood up and hurried across the park.
Lady Russell stood, herself, and said, "If you will excuse me," giving Anne a significant look.
Anne watched her depart and remained sitting, looking at the hem of her dress, the heat in her cheeks growing more every moment.
"Anne," Frederick said, finally addressing her. She looked up and saw that he was standing, studying her intently. "Would you walk with me?" he asked.
She nodded quickly, stood, and took his arm. They walked quietly until they reached the far end of the park, neighbouring a pine-filled wood.
He then let go of her arm and turned, facing her. "What is wrong?" he asked.
She bit her lip and looked down. He took her chin, not ungently, and leveled her eyes to his.
Tears filled her eyes, and she said, quietly, "I cannot marry you."
He dropped his hand, his face looking all astonishment. "What!"
She did not answer, and looked away from him.
"You cannot marry me," he repeated. "This is nonsense! You cannot mean it!" he exclaimed.
"Indeed, I do," she said, turning back to look at him. "Lady Russell counseled me--"
"Lady Russell!" he said, looking toward the spot where Lady Russell was standing. "Yes, I ought to have known. This is all her doing! It cannot be from you I am hearing this; it is all her work."
"But I am saying it. And it is true. I know now that it will be best for you not to be attached to myself, and I am sure you will know it yourself--"
"No, I cannot," he said, "and I will not. It is madness." His voice lowered, "Anne, I love you. I know you will marry me, and not use me this ill. It is impossible. It is against your nature."
"It is in my nature to do what is right and best."
His face showed that he believed her. He was shocked and angry, but believing. "I have never been so ill-used!" he cried. "To be refused an engagement that you so willingly agreed to! To be so denied the one happiness I ever wanted."
"You will find happiness without me," she said, turning. Mary was coming toward her, and Anne rushed to join her.
Mary took her arm, not noticing her ill-looks, and began chattering about Esther Milmass with great energy. For once, Anne was quite grateful for Mary's talk, as it kept her from thinking about the subject her mind was eager to meditate on, had she been left on her own.
They arrived at the carriage and climbed in, Lady Russell already inside. Anne heard footsteps approaching, and heard the murmur of Frederick speaking to the coachman. The carriage started forward without its master, and Anne looked down, not wanting to see Frederick's tormented face. She knew that she would never see him again.
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