Lady Russell checked the time and puzzled over Anne's delay. Anne had promised last night at the card party that she would pay an early morning call, and Anne was rarely late. Lady Russell thought with great pleasure of Anne's radiant contentment last night; she had looked truly beautiful, and far outshone her elder sister Elizabeth. Loving Anne as she did, she fondly wished to attribute this glow to a growing attachment to young Mr. Elliot; however, she had some doubts on that score. Anne had seemed quite dismissive of Mr. Elliot's attempts to attach himself to her. And yet, reflected Lady Russell, surely Anne had the glow of a woman in love. Why, she hadn't seen Anne looking so radiant since--that is--well, for quite a number of years. Lady Russell furrowed her brow as she remembered those long ago years--a pain she did not often allow herself to indulge.
Anne was truly a daughter of the heart to Lady Russell. Always a gentle, elegant, intelligent young woman with so much capacity for love--it grieved Lady Russell to see her in a loveless home, surrounded by family who did not respect or value her. When the dashing young sailor--penniless, reckless, self-confident and brash--had entered Anne's life, Lady Russell was horrified. While Frederick Wentworth had proven himself to be educated, principled, and brilliant, the young man had no advantages of fortune, prospects, birth or connection; he was wholly undeserving to be allied to such an exalted family as the Elliots. And yet Anne was ripe for love, and where she loved she did so wholeheartedly. It was with great difficulty that Anne had been convinced to end the engagement, and only when she was convinced that it was for the young man's own good. Lady Russell, against her inclination, remembered the day the engagement was broken.
She had come to visit at Kellynch Hall, aware that Anne would need some cheering. However, the interview had apparently been of some length, and she arrived just as Frederick Wentworth was leaving. She saw him before he saw her, and the expression on his face shocked her. The pain, the desperation, the brokenness was obvious. As he saw her, his face hardened into a wall of anger and bitterness with a look in his eye that would long haunt her. He gave a short, dismissive nod, mounted his horse and galloped recklessly out of Anne's life. Entering the house, she was told that Miss Anne was indisposed; though she insisted that a message be sent up, Anne refused to see her. When next they met, neither spoke of the young sailor; in fact, his name was not mentioned between them for many years.
Lady Russell persisted in believing she had advised Anne rightly--surely--yes, surely she had given good advice. Yet, as the years went by, she became progressively uneasy at Anne's demeanor and appearance. It seemed as though all joy had left Anne's life overnight. She still gracefully performed her duties--was loving and kind to everyone, looked for opportunities to be of service--but Anne was obviously heartbroken. It was as though everything of joy, spontaneity and sparkle had been permanently snuffed from Anne's life. A dim ray of hope entered Lady Russell's mind when Charles Musgrove began an acquaintance with Anne. Although not of the rank and stature of the Elliots, he was a gentleman of some means and prospects, and it was obvious that Anne thought kindly of him. Anne's empty life would be given joy and purpose in a home and family, and the Musgrove family would certainly embrace Anne and give her love and respect. However, the marriage proposal was flatly turned down with no consideration and no appeal for advice from Lady Russell.
When Captain Wentworth returned to their lives--successful, respected, and comfortably wealthy--Lady Russell knew not what to think. However, he quickly proved himself to be a fool when he apparently attached himself to the silly young Louisa Musgrove. That a man who had once admired Anne could so lower himself showed him to be lacking in perception and wisdom; Lady Russell was vindicated in her early advice to Anne. Yet Anne was obviously affected and pained anew, and this truth prohibited Lady Russell from feeling any exhilaration in being proven right.
Now, of course, Anne was being courted by the heir to Kellynch, and Lady Russell felt that Anne had finally received what was due to her. Oh, what joy it would bring to see the Elliot family restored to their accustomed glory and to see Anne reign as mistress in her mother's place. Yes, this was a fitting ending to a very painful period, and Lady Russell was truly gratified to see Anne's radiance last night.
A small doubt entered her mind as she recalled Anne's implacable distrust of Mr. Elliot. Another dart of suspicion came when Lady Russell recalled that Anne had spent several interludes of time in rather pleasant conversation with the Captain last night. Surely Anne would not throw away the opportunity to see her family estate returned--
"Miss Anne Elliot," announced the servant as Anne was ushered into the drawing room.
"Please excuse my tardiness, Lady Russell. I was detained this morning by a visitor." Anne blushed becomingly and faltered over her words. Aha! Perhaps Mr. Elliot had come to make his proposal!
"Lady Russell, you must prepare yourself for some shocking news."
Nothing could have prepared her for the shocking news that Anne had come to relate. In a few short minutes, Mr. Elliot's character and designs were laid bare and open for Lady Russell's consideration. To say she was stunned--horrified--would be inadequate. She saw all her kind and exalted ambitions for Anne destroyed; she saw a loveless, unhappy future for her dear Anne, and her distress was visible.
Anne consoled and condoled, reassured and comforted. Lady Russell was truly distraught, and it took her some time to realize that Anne did not join in her feelings to the extent she would deem expected. Indeed, Anne seemed little surprised to discover these revelations. How could it be that Anne, living in confined and unvarying society and with little exposure to the world, had exhibited such keen insight and wisdom into this man's character? How could Lady Russell's own judgment have been so imperceptive and misdirected?
Considering the recollections that had plagued Lady Russell's mind that morning, is it unreasonable that her tortured thoughts fixed upon another man she had previously judged? Lady Russell thought of her judgment of Frederick Wentworth, of her advice to Anne many years ago. Could she have been equally wrong in this instance? Lady Russell found herself so discomposed at these suppositions that it took her a moment to attend to Anne's words.
"Lady Russell? Lady Russell?"
She forced herself to focus upon Anne, once again noticing her blushing countenance and glowing eyes. "Yes. Yes, my dear?"
"I have more important news to share. You have loved and cared for me as a mother these many years, and I regard you likewise. I know you desire my happiness, and will be pleased at the joy that has come to me. I am to marry Captain Wentworth. He has called upon my father this very morning; we have received his blessing and will marry very soon."
This, coming upon the heels of the morning's ruminations and revelations, was almost enough to undo Lady Russell. "I--my dear--" She stuttered into silence and attempted to compose her thoughts. As she did so, she met Anne's eyes and saw the joy contained therein; she also saw unshakeable determination. Ah. Anne was not seeking her advice; Anne did not desire her opinion. Anne was come to share her resolution--to ask her dear friend to share her joy in a union which she was determined to enter. Lady Russell saw the singular choice before her: she would welcome Captain Wentworth or she would lose Anne. So, there was no decision to be made; none at all.
"My dear, your happiness is all I have ever desired. I am pleased at your joy, and I wish you every blessing."
Anne's smile of approbation was enough to content Lady Russell. She found herself quite equal to the next information imparted by Anne.
"I have taken the liberty of asking Captain Wentworth to call for me here this morning. Will it be convenient for you to receive him?"
"Of course. Of course. I am delighted--I would be pleased--" Fortunately, the servant's announcement spared Lady Russell the necessity of completing her sentence in a manner both truthful and pleasing to Anne's taste.
"Captain Wentworth," announced the servant.
"Lady Russell. Anne." The Captain strode confidently into the room, addressed the ladies respectfully and performed a very formal bow. Inwardly, he was unsure of his reception, but outwardly he was in perfect command. A man must always be in complete control when facing an enemy.
"Captain Wentworth, you are very welcome. May I congratulate you and wish you joy. You have won the hand of the most deserving young woman of my acquaintance."
This exceedingly civil welcome was appreciated by both Anne and the Captain. He answered with great warmth and sincerity.
"I thank you for your kind wishes." Then, with an intent look into Anne's eyes, "And I certainly agree with your valuation of Anne. There is no one to compare with her."
"Captain Wentworth, Anne, I would be very pleased to have you join me for tea."
Frederick knew that nothing would give greater pleasure to Anne, and answered without hesitation. "We thank you. We would be honored."
So, they sat, murmuring harmless pleasantries and civilities. Anne was excessively pleased with this positive beginning; in fact, it was rather beyond her expectations. Lady Russell listened and observed most attentively and was gratified by the obvious warmth of the Captain's attachment to Anne. She watched carefully for all indications of strength of character and moral worth, and to her credit, was truly pleased to find him more satisfactory than she had remembered. Captain Wentworth, for his part, sincerely attempted to push aside his bitterness and make some advance toward forgiveness.
As the Captain left with Anne on his arm, everyone involved had sanguine hopes that the further relationship would become increasingly cordial.
Anne contemplated the past several weeks with growing satisfaction. Her father and sister had not openly disparaged the match--which was as much as one could reasonably wish for in their case. Frederick's family and friends had welcomed her with an eagerness and warmth that was highly gratifying. She truly felt, for the first time in her life, surrounded by love and affection. Anne was a woman born to love and be loved, and the fulfillment of these most necessary conditions had rendered her, beyond dispute, one of the loveliest and happiest women in the world. Her joy flowed about her and bestowed on everyone a general blessing and sense of well-being. Her hours were spent in the almost continuous company of her betrothed; they refused to be apart unless forced by the most pressing necessity. As they walked about the streets of Bath, they were unaware of the almost universal attention they excited. Older ladies smiled with loving condescension; younger ladies sighed and envied; men of all ages thought the dashing Captain to be a very lucky man, indeed. Their own attentions, however, were strictly reserved for one another. Indeed, they seemed to be quite in their own world of bliss.
Their friends, however, were not entirely neglected, and the couple enjoyed paying visits to those for whom they cared. How proudly Captain Wentworth presented Anne as his future wife to the Admiral and Sophy. They, of course, responded with all the genuine warmth and affection they had already bestowed upon Anne, with a generous addition of family welcome. Here, Anne felt all the connections of family love that her lonely heart had desired for many years. Here, she finally felt as though she belonged.
Much time was spent with Lady Russell. Though their intercourse was cordial and had attained a degree of warmth, there still remained some awkwardness and restraint. To own the truth, both Captain Wentworth and Lady Russell bore more than the usual share of pride, and found it very difficult to offer true regard to the other in light of their stormy history. However, Anne had made it quite clear to both parties that it was her earnest desire to see them love one another, and neither was willing to disappoint Anne in any matter. So they were each exerted to reach new heights in their character that had hitherto been unattained.
Captain Wentworth had come to call upon Anne early one morning, and they were engaged in a lively good-natured argument about some aspect of a book they had each read. Anne, failing to convince Frederick, insisted that she go search for the book in question in order to prove her point. Moments after Anne's departure, the servant announced the arrival of Lady Russell. Now here was an uncomfortable situation! Sir Walter was shut into his library on some pretext of employment, and Elizabeth had not yet come down from her room. This left Frederick and Lady Russell in complete isolation in the drawing room, an event that had not occurred since their cessation of hostilities. They exchanged civilities with little evident difficulty, although each felt the awkwardness of the situation.
Lady Russell had just that morning been contemplating the restoration of Anne to her former beauty and happiness. Nay, in all truth, it was more a transformation than a restoration, for Anne's contentment and loveliness had reached a degree far above anything in her youth. Lady Russell, for all her faults, desired nothing so much as Anne's welfare and she had finally admitted to herself that her judgments and recommendations of the past had done little to further Anne's well-being. This was difficult to admit, even to herself, but the truth of the matter was that Captain Wentworth was a very worthy man who brought out the best in Anne. Now here sat Lady Russell in this man's presence, unhindered by any other person. She was determined to allow him into her affections, and to win her own way into his esteem. Therefore, she decided in favor of unconditional surrender and turned to the Captain.
"Captain Wentworth," she resolutely declared. "Our own past has been bitter, and I wish to lay it aside and begin anew. The truth is this: Anne was devastated by the dissolution of your first engagement, and she has suffered grievously. It was never my intention to hurt her, but to protect her." At this, Lady Russell faltered and hesitated. The Captain was amazed to see her eyes bright with unshed tears, and it moved him to tenderness.
He understood now, in a way which he never had before, the depth of Lady Russell's love for Anne. She had truly desired Anne's happiness, and had done all in her power to assure it. Yes, she had hurt Anne and himself, had bruised his pride in a manner which seemed unforgivable, but she had done it all with the best of intentions. She wanted to protect Anne from pain, a feeling which he well understood and shared. His feeling of guilt was intense when he realized just how deep Anne's pain had been, and the fact that it ought to have been of much shorter duration. If he had swallowed his insufferable pride and offered himself to Anne in the year '08, he would have saved Anne--and himself--several years of loneliness. He had seen with disgust and anger the manner in which Anne was regarded in her own family; Lady Russell had surely been the one source of consolation to her for many years. He owed much to this woman, and he would repay her attentions to Anne with his own affection.
With an endearing mixture of humility, dignity and grace, Captain Frederick Wentworth surprised Lady Russell and himself when he rose, knelt before Lady Russell's seat, and took her hand. "Lady Russell, I can promise you, from my heart, that Anne will never suffer again, so long as it lies in my power to prevent it. She regards you as her most dear family, and henceforth I will regard you as such."
The interruption of a rustle in the doorway alerted them both to Anne's presence. She smiled gently through glistening tears, and swept into the room to take one of each of their hands into her own. Their joy was increased in this proof of Anne's pleasure, and suddenly neither Lady Russell nor Captain Wentworth felt that they had made any difficult concessions in their call to truce.
And so we see the happiest, wisest end to a bitter division between two people who dearly loved Anne. Is it any wonder that two such people, with one common goal--that of bringing happiness to Anne--would be brought to honestly esteem, love and care for one another? For it is a certainty that the bitterest of enmity is disarmed by true love, and that love between people of real worth and character inspires each to become a wiser and better person.
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