"Kellynch Hall!? Good Lord, Sophy, you cannot mean to say you're to rent the place?"
Captain Frederick Wentworth's usually well-modulated voice broke forth starkly in the small sitting room. This was the last bit of news he had ever thought to hear coming from his sister.
She nodded, almost amused by her brother's amazement. "Do you think it too grand for the Admiral and myself? In truth, it's a sight larger than what we are accustomed to. But I declare, I found it most comfortably situated. Why are you so amazed?"
Frederick's gaze did not meet his sister's. Being that they were enjoying some afternoon tea at his brother's new parish house in Shropshire, Frederick had no intention of telling his sister how shocked he truly was at that moment.
"It is not too grand," he finally said, putting down his cup and saucer with almost too careful a motion. "It is a well-situated house indeed. I simply did not know you and the Admiral were settling in that corner of the world."
"Aye, it will do us good at the peace," his brother-in-law stated sagely. "I've had enough of Napoleon and the frogs to last me some time. Edward liked it good enough, did you not, sir?"
The Rev. Edward Wentworth nodded in agreement, but his eyes were fixed on his brother's face. He only wished his wife Anthea were there to help him. Edward had been waiting for this moment ever since Sophy had excitedly told him about the property. She had no idea what the words "Kellynch Hall" might do to their brother.
"I enjoyed it exceedingly," he commented mildly. "The land is excellent, wonderful for walking. You shall have to tell me how the Elliots do get on. It has been some time since I last saw them."
"Is that not amazing that Edward should know the Elliots?" Sophy remarked with a smile. "It makes things so much easier, you know. To not feel one is living in a stranger's house. I must say it is elegant in its way. Sir Walter himself conducted us about the place."
Frederick had to bite his tongue from speaking. Emotions he had not allowed himself to feel for some time began to rise up within him again. Kellynch Hall and Anne Elliot. They seemed fated to come back to him time and time again.
The Admiral chuckled, his gaze meeting his wife's. "I think he thought me to be a sight better looking than he expected, Frederick. But you can imagine how the world views old sailors like myself. They think us ready to be put in dry dock. I think I changed his mind."
"Sir Walter is somewhat proud, I must allow," Mrs. Croft admitted, recalling the tour. "But I gather that he had fallen into rather sad economic straits or he would not be renting his family home. Still, he has the air of one not in distress."
"Where are the Elliots to go, Sophy?" Edward asked, still ever watchful of his brother. He did not want him to suffer. Still, he knew that Anne Elliot was a sore spot for Frederick. He had never fully recovered from her breaking off their engagement.
"Miss Elizabeth, the eldest, was preparing to go to Bath with Sir Walter," she told him graciously, taking another sip of tea. "I say, this is capital tea, Edward. Has Anthea been purchasing a new blend? I do enjoy it so."
Frederick stood up suddenly, nearly knocking his teacup off the table, and strode over to the window to look out. He could not stand idly by and listen to his siblings discuss this. It was too much. He did not want to dwell on the woman who had broken his heart all those years ago. He had never loved a woman as he had loved Anne Elliot, had never met her equal.
"To be frank, Miss Hastings gave it to her as a gift," Edward explained, noticing Frederick's tense demeanor. "But you say they are gone to Bath? Are all the Miss Elliots to go? I've a notion I heard of the youngest getting married? Was it...Mary I believe?"
"Oh my, yes, it was, as Sir Walter tells it," Sophy agreed, oblivious to her brother's extreme discomfort. "Married a farmer, a gentleman farmer, Charles Musgrove of nearby Uppercross. A nice place it is. They have some little ones I cannot wait to visit."
The Admiral's attention was caught. "I hope they are little boys. How I do enjoy spinning my tales to children. As soon as we are settled, we shall pay a call on the Musgroves, Sophy. Right and proper. And Frederick, you must come too. For I hear that Mr. Musgrove has two very eligible sisters living at the Great House."
Sophy beamed, thinking of the prospect of her brother marrying. "That is incentive enough to visit us, I think, Frederick. Promise you will come and visit us soon. Edward will join me in my urgings. Say you will come."
But Frederick had no mind to think of eligible young ladies at that moment. He could only picture a soft, pale face framed by dark brown hair and a pair of gleaming hazel eyes. Anne, he thought with pain. Have you married? Have you gone on with your life? Did you give your heart to another? Have you forgotten me quite?
She had used him ill, Anne Elliot. She had listened to Lady Russell and given him up because he was of little consequence then. He had not been up to snuff for her family's standard. His fingers curled into a fist as he thought of it. If Lady Russell could but know of what consequence he was now. Having spent the last eight and a half years at sea, he had indeed made a name for himself. Frederick Wentworth was now a captain. He possessed a fine fortune and was quite ready to marry. He was at leisure to marry any charming young woman with a little beauty and a good deal of intelligence. Any woman but Anne Elliot.
"I should be happy to visit you once you are settled in," Frederick finally said, turning from the window. "I look forward to meeting the young ladies of Uppercross. I have no doubt that they are lovely girls."
Edward stood and walked over to stand beside his brother. As a curate, he was wont to be sympathetic to the woes of his parishioners. Hearing their problems and advising them was an activity he truly felt called to perform. But when it came to Frederick, he was at a loss as to how to proceed.
Frederick, from birth, had carried himself in a confident, rather happy-go-lucky manner. It was something Edward had almost envied in him. Frederick had expected only good to come his way. And so it had until the year six, when he and Anne Elliot had parted company. It had taught him that luck was not always his and that good spirits and hopes were not always fulfilled in dreams realized. It had smote him hard and as a result, he had thrown himself into his career and was now at the highest point a man of his age could reach.
If only he were not so bitter, Edward reflected, as his sister continued on about the lovely views at Kellynch. Then perhaps his return to the area and a reunion with Anne might alter things. He knew her to remain unmarried. That elder sister of hers was a "paragon" indeed and not easy to please, Edward thought. Perhaps there was hope yet.
Frederick looked up and caught his brother's glance and Edward felt caught out. His brother had read his hopes all too well. His mouth set into contemptuous lines, something unusual for Frederick.
"I know what you are thinking, Edward, but you must dispose of such thoughts at once," he murmured to him privately. "Anne Elliot means nothing to me. Absolutely nothing. I feel only a natural curiosity as to her condition after nearly nine years. That is all."
Edward nodded, not speaking. With Sophy and the Admiral so near, he had no intention of talking of the matter further. But he resolved privately to talk with Anthea of it later. As a woman, she so better knew of these matters of the heart. She often knew his own feelings before he himself did. It was one of the reasons he had fallen in love with her.
Edward also intended to pray for his brother in earnest hope that the anger and resentment would drain from his heart. Having heard of what had become of Anne Elliot's family in the past years, the Rev. Wentworth knew that is was not anger but compassion that she deserved.
Frederick relished the genial atmosphere of the Musgrove dining room. Across from him sat his sister and brother-in-law, both looking content and amused. To his left sat two beautiful young ladies enthralled with every word he spoke. And to his right sat Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove, whose kindness and hospitality were unsurpassed. After so many months on the Laconia, such comforts were like a balm to his soul.
It was the vacant chair beside Mary Musgrove, however, that would not allow him complete relaxation. His former fiancee was to have sat in that very chair tonight. Had it not been for an accident involving Charles Musgrove's heir, she would have faced him at that very moment.
Louisa, obviously the more outgoing of the two Musgrove ladies, asked Mary, "I do hope little Charles is faring all right without you, Mary. Is not Anne in a sorry state to have to watch over him all alone?"
Mary, drawing herself up straight, regarded Louisa without a hint of shame. "Charles is doing as best he can, Louisa. The doctor himself said there is little we can do for him now. And who better to sit with the boy than Anne? I could never stomach the sickroom, even when the boys have their childish illnesses. Anne hasn't a mother's feelings as I do. Therefore, it is best that she stay with him tonight."
Despite his resentment toward Anne's past treatment of him, Frederick almost bristled at such talk. What a tiresome sister Mrs. Musgrove must be, Frederick thought. Her own child lays with a broken collarbone while she sits here sipping her father-in-law's best claret and laughing without a care.
It did not altogether surprise him, however. Anne had always been the most sensible of the entire Elliot family. True, he had not mixed with them often. Mary had been in the schoolroom then. And Elizabeth had barely the patience to look down her regal nose at him then. But Anne's good sense and heart for others had always been a silent, warm testimony to her character. At least that had not altered, he thought ruefully.
"Miss Anne is so good with children," Mrs. Musgrove commented warmly. "We're that lucky to have her with us before she goes to Bath to join your father and sister, Mary. We do enjoy having our Miss Anne to visit us."
The Admiral was asking Mr. Musgrove something as Louisa murmured to Frederick, "I should much rather Mary had stayed home and Anne had come with Charles. She is much better company, that I can swear to you."
Frederick only nodded, noticing how the candles caught Louisa's youthful glow. They were both barely out of the schoolroom, he thought, both girls. But fine girls to be sure. Louisa with her exuberant spirit and glowing eyes. Henrietta with her dark features and slow smile. Yes, both girls were tempting him to prolong his stay at Kellynch a few weeks more. The thought of settling down with either one was a promising one.
"Frederick, I hear tell you are keen to do some shooting," Charles commented enthusiastically, looking his way. "It's a fine season for it. Perhaps you'd like to join Mary and me for breakfast tomorrow before we do some shooting 'round Winthrop?"
Frederick paused a moment, thinking quickly. He did not want Anne Elliot to be of the mindset that he was coming to dine at the cottage. No, that would not do. "I should like to join you, Charles, but will not disturb your meal. I am certain Mrs. Musgrove would like to keep the house quiet on account of the child."
Mary had shrugged, looking very unconcerned. "It makes little difference to me, Captain. I am sure little Charles shall not be inconvenienced. Anne will see to that. But do as you please. As Charles says, this is the high season for shooting. Perhaps the Admiral would like to accompany you both?"
The Admiral, always gallant, took this invitation with grace. "Much obliged, ma'am. But I am not good with a gun. Sophy can tell you I have scared off more coveys than I've sailed ships in my time. No, we shall get ourselves lost amid the lanes hereabouts again. Such a pleasant pastime, to be sure." His wink to his wife was not lost on those present.
Chuckling, Mrs. Musgrove ordered the plates to be cleared from the table. "Admiral, you will have me laughing all night. You and Mrs. Croft are a welcome addition to our small circle here at Uppercross."
The next morning found Frederick walking toward the Musgrove cottage accompanied by the Musgrove girls. Dressed in the clothes of a country gentleman, he hardly looked the sailor he was. So concerned were the girls over little Charles that Louisa had insisted they stop in to see about his health. Frederick, finding her to be charming in her anxiety, could refuse them nothing. Her energy was high and he enjoyed being with her.
As they made their way down the lane, Louisa was chattering on about the new harp Henrietta had received a few day's previous. Frederick was listening with half an ear as they neared the cottage. Was Anne there? Was she nursing the child? The questions were involuntary. He tore his mind from them and turned to Louisa, whose bright eyes looked pretty in the morning sunlight. Being on board a ship for so long, the sight of a face such as Louisa's could do him nothing but good.
"You'll like Anne," she was saying, totally unaware of his past with her. "She is ever so kind, so gentle. And what a good listener she is! I declare we kept her quite speechless her first day here. And her piano playing is better than either Henrietta's or mine could ever be."
Henrietta, looking equally pretty in her red pelisse, nodded eagerly. "She's nothing like Mary, you understand. She had none of that lowering Elliot pride. I do wish that it had been her and not...oh well. But I am wondering...did you chance to meet her years ago when..."
Before she could finish, they caught sight of their brother going round the cottage. "I'll just go and fetch the dogs, Frederick. Mary and Anne await you in the kitchen," he called as he scurried to a back pen.
In a matter of moments they were inside the charming cottage and Frederick's eyes swept the room. There, standing not far from her beaming sister, was Anne Elliot. Dear God, he thought. Is this my little one, my Anne?
He hardly knew what words he spoke to Mary Musgrove in those moments. His mind was spinning, his heart racing. She looked so weary, so thin. As if the very life in her were faded. What had happened to her to cause such a change? She stood, her hand clutching onto a chair. For a brief, fleeting moment, their eyes met then hers darted away.
Those dark eyes were as beautiful as ever. But the spark of joy, the spring of life had gone out of them. She hardly resembled the woman he had passionately loved those eight and a half years ago. The comparison was inevitable. He shuddered to think of what her family must have done to her to have wrought such a change.
As they left the cottage, Louisa smiled, oblivious to the importance of the moment that had just passed. "So what do you think of Anne, Captain? Is she not a quiet, kind creature? Did you not meet with her on your first visit through the area years ago?"
Still in somewhat of a shock, Frederick replied quietly, almost darkly, "She is so altered I would have hardly known her again had you not told me who she was."
The peculiar tone in Frederick's words silenced Louisa's gaiety somewhat and she regarded him with the intensity of youth. Was there something she was unaware of? No, no, she thought, smiling again, impossible. "Well, here are the dogs and here is Charles. And no doubt, Mary will soon follow," she murmured with a sigh. "At least Anne has sense enough to stay away."
Frederick shook his head as if to clear it, taking the gun that Charles handed him. It was a fine double-barrel and would be a wonderful morning of sport. Shooting was a sport he rarely had the opportunity to enjoy. And unlike his wife, Charles was of a good-natured temperament that would make for ideal company.
But as the group headed toward Winthrop, Frederick's thoughts remained back at the small cottage. And stayed there for some time.
Some days later, Frederick found himself yet again taking a walk with the Musgrove ladies. Only this time Charles, Mary, and Anne accompanied them. He and Charles had made an attempt to go shooting that morning but one of the dogs, a young beagle, was hardly trained and had spoiled their fun.
Frederick had to admit it had been easier to go shooting without the women present. Shooting was generally a gentleman's sport. It also made him uneasy to know that Henrietta, Louisa, and Mary were behind them, ready to applaud their success. It was a bit unsettling and made for poor performance.
At least in one thing he could admire Anne. She knew when her presence was not wanted.
Dinner at the Great House had been an intriguing affair the night before. Anne had been able to attend, now that little Charles was recovering nicely. She had looked better, he thought, but still so pale and thin. The Musgrove girls had kept him amused with their questions about his voyages. He had relished the role of being a hero in their eyes.
But at times in his narratives he would glance Anne's way and see if she were remembering those days before he had sailed on the Asp. Her quiet demeanor indicated she was listening. But it was rare for her to look in his direction. Could she, too, be remembering their early days? He found himself wondering very much what thoughts were lurking behind her shy exterior.
Sophy had later confided her opinions about Anne to him. "Miss Anne is a quiet miss, indeed. But her questions later were quite intelligent. After you left to take a smoke outside, she was quite curious about my sea voyages with the admiral. I do like her, Frederick. Very much indeed. She is the redeeming quality of that family of hers."
They had ended the evening with dancing and it had made them all merry.
Despite Frederick's anger at Anne, he had been somewhat saddened to see that she had been relegated the permanent role of pianist. Louisa had glibly professed that Anne no longer cared to dance and preferred to play instead.
He remembered a different Anne. One that enjoyed dancing and frolicking with her friends. She had been a nimble dancer and it had been a sheer pleasure to put his arm about her waist and escort her through the steps.
Only once had their paths crossed. He had been sitting at the small spinet before the dancing began, attempting to pick out a sailor's hornpipe for Henrietta. The young woman was in fine looks that night and he wanted to show his approval.
Suddenly Frederick had looked up to find Anne standing nearby, looking rather uneasy. She was a shadow of her former self, he realized with sadness. A phantom. He felt a mixture of anger and frustration that she had allowed herself to sink into this state. If only she had not listened to Lady Russell...
"I'm sorry, this is your place," he had ground out almost rudely, standing at once to leave. But he had not missed the fleeting look of pain cross her face. Frederick still cringed at the unintended wounding he had given her. He might not have forgiven her, but cruelty was not called for.
Presently, he and Louisa were strolling together amid the hedgerow and looking for nuts. Henrietta and Charles had gone down to Winthrop to visit their cousin, Henry Hayter. Frederick had realized last night at the Musgroves' that Henry Hayter did not like him and that he was intended for Henrietta.
That did not bother him overmuch. Louisa was as pretty if not smarter than her sister. She also possessed a keen spirit and a forthright manner than he admired. If only Anne were as determined in her opinions, he thought with a pang of regret. If she had not yielded to Lady Russell, they might be man and wife now and he would not be seeking to attach himself to Louisa.
"I do apologize for Mary's rudeness just now," Louisa was saying as she tripped along happily. "She is forever wanting us to defer to her wishes and in this I had to be firm. Henrietta and Henry have an understanding. It was her duty to go down to Winthrop with Charles and visit the family."
Frederick could see that plainly. His long coattails swung behind him as he picked up yet another nut for her. "Louisa, has Mary always displayed such pique over having her opinions considered inappropriate?"
Laughing gaily, Louisa nodded. "It has always been so. That is why we attempt to avoid her if we can. However, Anne is with her today and will keep her from being too pettish. What a delight it would have been if Anne had married Charles instead!"
At her words, Frederick nearly stepped into a rabbit hole and came up short. Anne? Marry Charles? The very idea stole breath from him. He felt the hair standing up on the back of his neck.
Not seeing his surprise, Louisa continued on, "You did know that Charles asked Anne to marry him? It is no great secret."
"When did this happen?" he asked slowly, attempting to keep his voice at a normal level. This was news indeed!
"Oh, it must have been a year or so before he proposed to Mary," Louisa replied, dropping another nut into her pelisse pocket. "But Mama thinks that the family friend, Lady Russell, persuaded Anne to refuse him, she not thinking Charles bookish enough for her taste. I am not so sure. But there is little we can do about it now."
Frederick had to take a few moments to ponder this new piece of information. Anne had not lacked for offers in his absence. He had not imagined she would not have her admirers. That she had remained unwed had come as a surprise. But now to hear that she had refused a respectable offer of marriage from a man of land and fortune. Why had she refused Charles? The question pounded in his mind like an anvil on a block.
Eventually, Charles and Henrietta returned, Henrietta looking much happier for having done so. Frederick also noticed that Henry Hayter was now much inclined to receive his greetings. The lover's quarrel was now patched over.
As they headed back to Uppercross, Frederick's attention drifted. Louisa was a charming enough young woman but youthful chatter did wear on his nerves after a time. He enjoyed intelligent conversation that revolved around educated discourse and varying opinions.
Glancing behind, Frederick noticed Anne lagging behind a little. She was obviously quite weary from the exercise and Charles had dropped his arm of support in order to chase down a rabbit he had seen. She had hardly said a word during the walk, preferring to assist her sister and keep to herself. He had noticed she seemed very pale upon his and Louisa's return from their walk.
Just then they heard the sound of wheels nearby, and soon a gig containing his sister and her husband appeared. Obviously they had been on one of their rounds. Sophy looked flushed and happy and the Admiral quite pleased. "Sophy! Admiral! A pleasant surprise!" he hailed them warmly.
Sophy laughed delightedly as they pulled the gig to a halt. "We've not plowed into a ditch today, I am afraid. But it was nearly as much fun to visit some of the farms."
Frederick glanced at Anne and a thought immediately came to him. She was too weary to finish the walk to the Cottage. That much was obvious. She was such a little thing, that had not changed. If he did not speak now, her hypochondriac sister would claim the one seat in the gig for herself. As much as her past actions had angered him, Frederick did not want her to suffer. If he could but alleviate some of her unhappiness by a simple gesture, Frederick wished to do this for her.
Leaning forward, he murmured a suggestion to Sophy, who took it up at once. "Why, Miss Anne, you are fatigued! Do join us in the gig so we may take you home!"
The Admiral added his wishes and chuckled, "Were we as slim as all of you ladies, we would have room for more!"
Silencing her weak protests, Frederick moved to assist Anne into the gig and for a moment, their eyes met, caught and held. In those dark, hazel eyes was a sincere warmth, an unspoken appreciation for this very small gesture. It hit him square in the heart as nothing had in months. For a moment, the others seemed to vanish around them and the years fell away. The old Anne lurked somewhere beneath that grave exterior. And had reappeared for a single, golden moment.
Frederick put his arm about her slim waist and gently lifted her up, noticing how light she was. She had always been tiny but now she seemed to hardly weigh an ounce. Still soft, still gently formed, she was an easy burden to bear up to sit beside his sister.
Not wanting his emotions to show, Frederick quickly drew back in order for the gig to move on. On the outside, his face was expressionless and his usual confident, athletic stature remained intact. But deep in his heart, Frederick Wentworth felt a tremor go down through his body to his very boots.
"Captain, shall we go?" Louisa asked sweetly, her beaming face looking up at him. "I should like to hear about your last foray on the Laconia."
Blindly Frederick smiled and nodded, the echo of the gig's wheels fading into the distance. Digging up the past never did any good, he surmised. Louisa would be a sound wife for him. And it was time he set about making that reality.
Charles Musgrove skimmed a rock over the waves and looked back at his sisters and wife with delight. The crashing waves of Lyme Regis made it a challenge to get just the proper angle.
Frederick watched the delighted party of ladies. It was clear that his suggestion of traveling to Lyme to visit his old friend, Captain Harville, had met with true joy. Even Mary seemed pleased and her usually sour expression had lightened into a sort of reverie. Having had the sea as his only mistress for years, Frederick knew the effect being near it could have on people.
Louisa was bubbling with mirth, the sea breeze causing her honey colored tresses to tangle and curl. "It is lovely, truly lovely! I adore Lyme!"
Frederick took pleasure in watching Louisa's outward appreciation. She had the strong nature a woman needed to be a sailor's wife. That was undoubtedly true.
But watching her chatter to her sister, who was equally enthralled, Frederick could summon no feeling of special regard for her. Louisa was a sweet-natured, considerate girl with strength of mind. But there was something lacking. He could not yet put his finger on it precisely. An essential gentleness, an innate depth of mind seemed lacking. Perhaps it was her youth that made it seem so, he mused.
Sophy had chided him gently before he left. "Frederick, had you not best secure your interest on this young woman? She seems very lovely, and might actually talk you into settling down. Why do you not have done with it and speak to her father?"
His dark eyes surveyed the magnificent coastline, taking in the majestic cliffs and the pines that dotted them. Why indeed? It seemed that whenever he attempted to settle on Louisa, to talk to Mr. Musgrove, his heart had not been in it. Some retarding weight held him back. He did not understand it in the least.
Time was playing tricks on him, he supposed. His eyes caught sight of Anne walking with Captain Benwick, her gentle countenance made somewhat lustrous by the sea air. They were talking as if no one else was of any importance, likely discussing some poem or verse Benwick and she knew.
Seeing his former lieutenant with Anne had caused Frederick an uneasiness he did not understand. Anne was intelligent, obviously. It was little wonder Benwick would feel a kinship to her. She had always followed the latest poets, had kept up with their works. But for some reason, Frederick found himself wishing very much to know what it was they now discussed.
His own early talks with Anne had lead him on vastly interesting journeys, Frederick remembered. She had a keen wit and a wisdom beyond her years, even then. Her taste in literature was quite varied and they had crossed swords verbally at times. It was hardly surprising that Benwick had found her a faithful friend. As Louisa and Henrietta had said, Anne was an excellent listener.
That evening they sat round the table at the Harvilles as they had for the last few nights, swapping stories and enjoying each other's company. Louisa's endless adoration of the Navy never ceased amusing him. And Mrs. Harville and Mary Musgrove had become unlikely friends. They talked of their children almost incessantly.
The cozy chamber made it easy to catch snippets of conversation. He could hear Benwick now reciting some verse to Anne. Frederick's eyes, as if of their own independent accord, wandered to the hearthside where they sat.
"Perhaps you should...introduce a wider allowance of prose into your daily reading," Anne was gently advising him. "Too much poetry...can be dangerous." She looked almost pretty tonight, he thought to his jolting surprise. The glow of the fire made her hair shine richly as it had not before. And her eyes were soft, full of concern for a young sailor who had so recently lost his beloved Phoebe to illness.
"Thank you for your kindness. But you can have no understanding of my pain, my sorrow. Phoebe would have married me before I went to sea," Benwick murmured, his countenance clearly reflecting his misery. "But I suggested we wait for money...money! What a stupid fool I was!"
Frederick held his breath as her small hand reached out to lightly touch Benwick's arm in a comforting gesture. "There, Captain Benwick, you will rally again," she quietly told him, the compassion flaming in her voice.
"You can have no conception of what I have lost," Benwick answered with brutal finality, as if daring her to be kind to him.
Frederick watched, almost in awe, as Anne's face suddenly became animated, as if a new flame of life had entered her. She looked utterly different than the woman he had seen since his return to England. As if Benwick had set a match to some hidden store of explosives inside of her. As if defying him to disbelieve her.
"Oh, yes, I can," she finally declared, an almost defiant note in her short words. "I can."
The room suddenly seemed too small to Frederick, too confining. Dear God, what did she mean, he thought. Was she saying what he thought she had said? Had the years of being apart worn upon her soul as it had his? Had she suffered to the depths he had? Her impassioned reply to Benwick was almost a signed confession that she had. Was it possible that Anne regretted their broken engagement so much that she had refused all other offers of marriage?
His mind was casting in a thousand different directions. He hardly heard ten words in a hundred being spoken over the next half hour. Tomorrow he would ride to Kellynch and take the Admiral some important documents he had promised to deliver to him. Harville had also had an urgent request. The one-day journey would clear his head and allow him to return with a mind resolute to put Anne Elliot from his mind for good.
This scene is not in the book or the movie. But Terese kindly (and wisely) suggested I pursue this idea, and I fell in love with it. Hope you enjoy it.
Frederick swept up his hat and gloves as he prepared to go downstairs to the Kellynch stables. His tasks complete, he urgently wished to return to Lyme. The Harvilles were preparing a meal fit for a king to reward his kindness. Louisa was begging his return. But his riding crop was nowhere in sight. Confound it, he silently groused. Where was it?
Having been at sea for so long, Frederick had no desire to keep a valet. He preferred to brush his own coat and attend to his toilet personally. True, Sophy made that easy by having his shirts and other certain items washed for him when he was with them. But keeping track of everything now that he was on land sometimes proved a chore. Of course, his sister insisted that would change when he married.
Frederick was also angry at himself that morning. Try as he would, Frederick could not shake the memory of Anne from his mind. When he sought to think of Louisa, Anne intruded. Her sterling character, her warm hazel eyes speaking silently of her kind, wise nature. Remembering her being so vividly strong on the point to Benwick that she had indeed known loss. It was a vision that no amount of hard riding, or Louisa, could diminish.
Perhaps he had dropped the crop in the dressing room, he thought. Stranger things had happened lately. Striding into the small space, Frederick looked up to realize the connecting door to the next bedchamber was ajar. Obviously one of the maids had forgotten to shut it. His hand rose to pull the door shut when he saw something out of the corner of his eye.
Frederick caught sight of a small sketch hanging on the wall and his breath caught in his chest. It was a small skiff, tossed about on the waves. As unsophisticated as it was, he would have known the drawing anywhere. For he had witnessed the very artist creating it for Anne nearly nine years ago.
One afternoon he had taken Anne into the village so they might visit some friends. They had happened upon a young artist, an impoverished one, doing sketches on the village green as people passed. Anne's compassionate heart had softened at the sight and her hand had tightened on Frederick's arm.
"Oh Frederick, let us have him do a sketch for us," she suggested gently, her dark eyes entreating him as no other woman could so effortlessly. "When you are far from me on your ship, I will have it with me. To remind me of what you are experiencing, to almost feel the rocking of the waves beneath me."
Her blooming face, combined with her soft voice, had easily capitulated him. Could he ever refuse her anything? "If that is what you wish, little one, then you shall have it," Frederick had assured her, his lips brushing her forehead. The young man had taken the commission with delight, having been born and bred in Southampton. Frederick's eyes had lingered on Anne's face as she watched, rapt with attention, while the artist worked. Such a small thing but yet it had given them both immense pleasure.
She had not thrown it away, he realized with humble surprise. Yes, she had kept it after all of these years. All this time...
This was her room, he realized in something of a daze. It was well appointed but not ostentatious in its furnishings. Tastefully decorated in shades of ivory, blue, and mauve, it reflected Anne's gentle personality. From the small writing desk to the pillows on the window seat, her very spirit lingered in the room, the light scent of freesia still present. It was her favorite perfume, he remembered. He could not smell it without remembering her.
Shaking his head as if to clear it, Frederick turned to leave. Standing here in her room was not helping matters in the least. But his eyes rested on a small box. Obviously Anne had cleared out her personal belongings in order for the Crofts to take possession. But the parcel near the bed alerted him to the fact that in her packing, a few items had been left behind.
As if drawn against his will, Frederick moved across the room and picked up the box. The note in Anne's delicate writing instructed the housekeeper to send its contents to Bath as soon as possible had obviously been forgotten. His large, work-callused fingers dove inside, unable to resist the temptation to have a private glimpse of the life of the woman he had loved so long ago.
Inside were books, obviously some of her favorites. He knew how she keenly enjoyed reading, seeing how it had now come to enhance her relationship with the grieving Benwick. In fact, the very copy of a Fanny Burney novel he held now in his hands he had given to her as a gift. There was also a book of poetry by Cowper. And a Waverly novel by Sir Walter Scott. His Anne's reading tastes had not changed. As he moved to put them back into the box, a small white object drifted out from between the pages of the Burney book and rested on his boot toe.
Wonderingly, Frederick knelt down and picked it up. Could it be....dear Heaven, he thought in surprise. It was! In his shaking hand was a letter he had written her long ago, folded into the shape of a paper boat. The ink had long since faded but he could easily make out the sprawling lines of his script. It was intact, having been faithfully retained between the pages all these years. Anne had kept it. She had preserved a memento of their romance inside one of the few items left of their ruined engagement.
Methodically, almost too carefully, Frederick put the items back in the box, putting it exactly where he had found it. Rising from the ground, he silently cursed himself. This was his own fault for nosing into corners where he did not belong.
Faintly, he could hear the voices of the housekeeper talking to a maid in the hallway. "Did you air out Miss Anne's room yesterday, Molly? Twas on my list of tasks today. Seems I never get 'em all done."
A youthful voice quickly chirped, " a 'course, a 'course, Mrs. Halliday. Right as rain I did. Meant to tell ye, there's a box o' Miss Anne's to be sent to Uppercross. Got lost in the shuffle o' her goin', I spect."
Frederick hated himself for listening but he was paralyzed, unable to move.
He jealously wanted to grasp every scrap of information he could about Anne.
"That poor lamb," the housekeeper lamented. "To be torn from her home like this. It's not bad for Sir Walter or Miss Elizabeth. They only care about their pockets. Twas their high livin' ways that caused it. But Miss Anne took care of us. Looked after us just like her dear Ma did so long ago. Pains my heart to know she's no longer here."
"How is Miss Anne?" the girl asked eagerly, her voice high and spirited. "She were ever so kind to help me find my place 'ere at Kellynch. Why, I'd be in th' almshouse were not for 'er."
"Got a note from 'er just yesterday, lass," the older woman answered indulgently. "She's fine, she is. And twas that very box she wanted. That and some old picture of hers I don't recall, something with a ship, she said. Said she 'ad to 'ave 'em. Also sent me a right pretty shawl to thank me. Ain't that kind? Miss Anne's quality. Pure quality like her Ma. We'll fetch that box and her picture as soon as we get the Admiral's quarters dusted. Remind me, will you, Molly?"
The two voices were fading but their effect on Frederick was as strong as a fist to his chest. Whatever grudge he bore Anne, Frederick could not resist feeling a surge of compassion for her now. Her quiet, restricted life at Kellynch had brought her low indeed. Little wonder she had faded, the zest for life in her weakening. To know that she had kept the sketch, his book, his letter.
"Oh Anne," he muttered to himself. "What happened to you, my little one, while I was away?"
She had not forgotten him. No, she had not. Her passionately spoken words to Benwick had been all too true. She had suffered from the break of their engagement as intensely as he. Was this why she had refused Charles' proposal? Because the memory of him had been too strong for her to forget?
Slowly, Frederick walked back into his room, realizing numbly that his riding crop was sticking out of his coat pocket. Good. Now he could ride back to Lyme and rejoin the Harvilles and the Musgroves. Perhaps the fresh air would clear his head.
But as he closed the chamber door behind him, Frederick knew in his soul that a change was taking place. The heavy, cloying chains that had held firm to his anger and resentment were slowly dropping away like lead weights. Leaving only confusion and uncertainty in their wake.
"We're ever so happy to have you back with us again, Captain," Louisa told him, her fingers twirling her bonnet ribbons playfully. "Lyme is not nearly as amusing or diverting without you here among us."
Frederick hid a smile as they proceeded down the Cobb. Louisa had commandeered him early that morning for a private walk. She was telling him her account of what had gone on during his brief absence. He found he had no need to say hardly a word in response, for she filled in all the available pauses with her own narrative. Once again, the energy of youth was prevalent. Frederick had no scruple in mentally sitting back to witness it.
His eyes cut across the surf below them. It always felt as if he was coming home when he was near the sea again. The very sight of it gave him strength. It was a well he drew on thirstily. At least this was one constant in his life. After yesterday, Frederick was no longer sure if he knew himself. Too many questions were left unanswered. And emotions tearing loose that he did not comprehend.
As Louisa told him about the Harville children's latest escapade, Frederick silently made a momentous decision. It had been dawning on him ever since they had arrived at Lyme and now he must give way to it. He would not marry Louisa Musgrove. He simply could not. To marry her would be a grave mistake, a fatal error. To tie himself to a woman he did not love, did not truly value with all his heart would be wrong. No, he would not do it. Louisa did not deserve such a fate.
As they came closer to the inn, Frederick caught sight of Anne and Henrietta strolling toward them. Henrietta was talking gaily to Anne, pointing out something she had seen. But it was Anne who caught his full attention. She was smiling! So rarely had he seen the gentle warmth of her smile since his return that it took him unawares. It lightened the usually shy expression on her face and made it something very pretty. Like sunrise on the water.
"Good morning, Captain, Louisa," Henrietta greeted when they approached. "We were hoping to find you so that you might return with us for breakfast. Charles promises kippers and I have never had them! And I know you have not, Louisa."
"Kippers!" Louisa exclaimed, eyes dancing. "Oh what a novelty! I shall not know how to eat them. Captain, do escort us back at once. This is something I must not miss. You will instruct me, I trust."
"Now I cannot allow for that," he assured her gallantly, offering her his arm and Henrietta the other. "Your first taste of kippers is an experience to savor, to remember. Come, we shall go now. I do not want you dear brother to eat your share!"
Anne's glance at him was very brief, he noticed, as they began to head back down the beach. They had grown to accept each other's company, to overcome the awkwardness that attended every meeting. But today he wished he might have taken her arm on his instead of Louisa's. He wished he knew her thoughts, if she enjoyed Lyme. Memories of her room haunted him still. He ought never to have entered it. What dreams had she dreamt in that bed? What letters had she written? Had she ever wept for him?
Henrietta and Louisa were soon pulling on him and his attention became fully their own. He had to admit they were both delightful girls, and any man could count himself blessed to marry either Musgrove. Henrietta was giggling over the antics of a local merchant, hawking his wares from a nearby stall. And Louisa was caught up in her admiration of the Navy yet again. Her little soliloquies were charming but sometimes grew tiresome.
They soon reached the steps off the beach and Frederick stood back so that Louisa and Henrietta might go up ahead of him. He looked back to find Anne standing on the sand, staring out at the sea, as if searching for some intangible element lost to her. Anne had been transformed by their visit, he thought. He had also noticed she was not a bit weary and seemed to relish her walks on the Cobb. Here, amid the Harvilles, she was not trod on as she was at Uppercross. The small spring in her step indicated her happiness. Did she, like he, gain strength from the ocean's presence? Was she remembering the sketch of a small boat battling the waves? Or thinking of paper boats and poetry?
"I would give everything I owned to be privy to her thoughts at this moment," he pondered silently, his dark eyes fixed on her petite form.
She sensed his gaze a moment later and murmured a hurried apology, her eyes darting away. Frederick felt a dart of disappointment. Did he frighten her? Had his coldness turned her away forever? True, Frederick rarely spoke directly to her. He had not meant to be unkind but upon examination, his behavior had been harsh.
The girls had moved rapidly up the steps with nimble feet. At the top stood a gentleman, fashionably dressed despite the fact he was in mourning. He was waiting to go down the steps and was patiently awaiting their ascent to do so. Frederick came up behind Anne and saw the man's fine blue eyes barely glance at the Musgrove ladies and fix on Anne' face, wandering her form in admiration. He was struck with her, it was clear.
Frederick almost stumbled on the steps as the small scene unfolded before him. Anne, catching a glimpse of the man's obvious attention to her, flushed prettily and smiled in return. What woman would not be pleased by such ardent admiration from a gentleman? Her rosy cheeks, glowing hair and pleased expression lifted years from her age. She looked nearly like the very woman he had fallen in love with nearly nine years ago, Frederick mused. It was little wonder the stranger was struck by her charms just now.
The resentment, the bitterness Frederick had felt for so long for this woman was fading away like the morning fog over the Thames. A flame of longing and regret so intense flared up in his chest and nearly caught him off guard. This was totally unexpected and it rendered him helpless. She was his Anne, he thought. His little one. The thought of another man looking at her so approvingly, as this stranger did now, almost provoked him to physical violence. The realization cut him to the quick.
As Anne passed the gentleman and they moved to catch up with Henrietta and Louisa, she looked back at Frederick for a moment. He could not hide his own admiration for her and their gaze met, held, cleaved...
The moment was not without impact for Frederick. For the first time since his return, they faced each other on equal footing. She was a beautiful, intelligent, worthy woman. Worthy of being loved. Worthy of his esteem and admiration. She was not a pitiable shadow, to be forgotten and ignored. There was a fire in Anne Elliot. A love of life and a desire to seek its deepest joys. He had seen it once, cherished it once. And he saw it now, vividly sparkling in her hazel eyes.
"Oh Anne," he thought in wonder. "How could I have missed it? Did my anger and pride blind me so utterly to your value?"
But in those hazel eyes were nine more years of living. Nine more years of experiences he knew so little of. There were mysteries to her now that had not existed before. Mysteries that she clearly wished to keep hidden in light of his cold treatment of her recently. It was his own fault. The question was starkly beating into his mind. Did he want to unlock the key to those mysteries?
Anne's gaze drifted away as Louisa caught at her hand, pulling her along to the inn. "Anne, what a kind gentleman that was!" she was exclaiming. "He was quite taken with you. The sea air has done wonders for you, my dear."
As they continued on to the inn, neither Anne nor Frederick spoke another word. Both required time and silence for their own private reflections on the incident.
Charles Musgrove strolled alongside Frederick and Captain Harville as they took one final walk along the Cobb that afternoon. The Musgroves were to head home for Uppercross that afternoon and Anne was to tarry on to Bath.
"Frederick, I do hope you'll be coming back to Uppercross shortly," Charles confided in a low voice. "The shooting season will soon be at an end and you are a prime partner."
Frederick nodded, pleased to have the invitation renewed. "It's always a pleasure to go shooting with a man who knows how the sport is best done, Charles," he remarked. "And the grounds around Winthrop are some of the best I've ever seen. You can be assured I will be back. Only a few days more here and I shall return."
Leaning on his cane, Captain Harville overheard this and gave a conspiratorial laugh. "I imagine, Frederick, that Charles is also giving you a hint on behalf of his lovely sister. I have little doubt Uppercross has some attractions that Lyme cannot match."
Charles and Captain Harville exchanged knowing glances and Frederick felt an uncomfortable uneasiness. What was that for? Did they think him promised to Louisa? Was it that obvious? Had he overplayed his hand?
Now that he thought on the matter, Frederick realized that he had perhaps not behaved as rationally as he ought. Louisa had been his object, indeed, over these last weeks. He had not denied it. But now he knew that path to be truly turned. There was no possible way he could marry Louisa.
The faint murmur of voices down below on the beach caught his attention. Anne was walking with Benwick as she was wont to do these days. The young, heart-broken man had taken a keen interest in her. She had managed to pull him somewhat out of his abject misery over Phoebe. Her compassionate heart and comforting words had been like soothing oil, Frederick thought. Were they fellow sufferers in love lost, he thought. Had that drawn them together? The answer eluded him.
Frederick simply knew that Benwick was in great danger of falling in love with Anne. And that he could not bear under the present unsettled state of his emotions.
Yesterday they had caught sight of the man on the beach yet again. He was Anne's cousin, Mr. Elliot, it appeared. Obviously from the way Anne and Mary had been conversing there had been a rift between him and Sir Walter for years. While Frederick had little regard for Sir Walter, he almost hoped the rift would remain unhealed. The man had admired her, that was clear. Hopefully, it was the last anyone would see of him.
Anne was laughing at something Benwick had said just then, the sound of it soothing and gentle to his ear. That laugh. Frederick fought to pay attention to what Harville was saying to him. He used to wake from dreams, bathed in sweat, hearing that sound fade into the black silence of night. Only to hear the rocking of the waves against the hull of the ship. And now he was hearing it as she listened to another man's attempt to amuse her .
Rubbing his eyes, Frederick inwardly fought to maintain his calm. His thoughts had been in an uproar ever since he had wandered into Anne's room at Kellynch. That afternoon had been the cause of it all. Now that he knew she had not forgotten him, his mind and heart were at war as to how to think, how to feel. It was a battle that he had never thought to have been fighting.
They were approaching the steps down to the lower Cobb as the wind was too high to continue walking, something Louisa always took peculiar delight in. She had taken up the habit of asking him to catch her as she jumped down the hard steps. At first, it had been a pleasant enough diversion. Having a beautiful young girl casting herself into his arms was something few men would consider distasteful. And he could now see by the gleam in her eye that she meant to repeat the practice.
"Oh Louisa, I do wish you would not do that," Mary remarked in a tired, unpleasant tone. "It frightens me to no end. Captain Wentworth, do reason with her. I cannot."
For once, Frederick saw the truth in Mary's words. She was correct in her fears. The steps were high and the stone below might prove slippery. The risk truly was greater than he would like. "Louisa, it is too high. This shall be the last time, my girl," he told her firmly. "Let this be an end to it."
Laughing, her fearless countenance blithely expressing her disregard for Mary's caution, she readied herself as Frederick stretched out his arms. With fair warning, she was easy enough to catch and he set her down promptly. Such games grew wearisome, he thought. Louisa was a grown woman and ought to think more wisely of her habits. In the quiet meadows of Winthrop such things were safe enough. But here the whole world could watch and murmur of her rather childish antics.
He moved away then, looking to see where Anne and Benwick had got to. Jumping off steps was not in Anne's more gentle nature, he thought with respect. She had to be prodded into any sort of mischief, he remembered. And even then it was rare. During their very brief courtship, Frederick had found her lack of stature charming and somewhat beguiling. When they would walk out together around Kellynch, he had enjoyed lifting her up to sit upon a fence so their faces might be level.
Such a simple action had provoked blushes and smiles enough to make it very worth his trouble. The proximity also gave him ample opportunity to kiss her soft, rosy lips. Louisa had yet to understand that most men did not like the woman they favored to act too freely in the presence of others. They wanted such behavior to remain private, to be quietly revealed only to them away from prying eyes.
"I am determined! Captain, catch me if you can!" Louisa's voice met his ears stridently, triumphantly.
In horror, turning rapidly on his heel, Frederick made haste to attend to her. Looking up, he saw the willful determination in her face as she jumped. Oh no, he thought desperately. She had been too quick, had leapt too soon. His arms reached out to catch her but it was too late. She folded up on the stone Cobb at his feet with a terrible noise, her body going utterly limp.
For a moment, there was not a sound but the squawk of gulls overhead. The moment had been so sudden, the impact of it so horrific that hardly anyone dare move or speak. No, it could not be so.
Frederick, clasping her to him, leaned up against the stone wall with horror. Everyone was too stunned to move. "Will no one help me?" he involuntarily cried out urgently. His large, dark eyes flew to Anne's and met an immediate compassionate response.
Anne flew to Louisa's side, grasping her hand and rubbing it vigorously. "Louisa! Louisa!" Her urgent voice seemed to break the spell and Frederick began to do the same. "Rub her temples," she instructed sharply to him as Charles joined them. "She breathes! Thank the Lord!"
Frederick's wide, shocked eyes met Anne's over Louisa's inert form. "What do we do?" he asked helplessly, his mind going blank. She was the only voice of reason amid this sudden shock. "Tell me, Anne!"
"A surgeon! Go and fetch one," she commanded at once, then reconsidered as he ran to obey her. "No, Benwick! Benwick will know the way!" The young captain stumbled then began to run toward town, showing more speed and quickness of mind than he had in all the time Frederick had known him.
Anne continued to work on her patient diligently, her orders spoken with quick, authoritative tones. "We must get her to Harvilles," she told Frederick with strength. "Benwick is sure to take the surgeon there. Come now, we must move her. Gently now..."
He paused, his eyes locking with hers yet again. Silently Frederick's dark, haunted eyes begged of her to help him, to see him through this crisis. Forgive me for being so foolish, he asked wordlessly. I need you, Anne. You are my only hope. There is no one but you.
And in the work of but a few seconds, the brilliant strength of her own hazel eyes responded. Across time and regret and pain, Anne would not fail him in assisting him to get Louisa safely home. She would not throw his actions in his face. She would seek to ease his obvious distress.
He and Charles managed to get Louisa to the Harville home. It had not been an easy task. Henrietta and Mary were both crying and sobbing as if Louisa had already expired. Anne had done her best to keep them quiet, one arm draped round Henrietta's quaking shoulders. Frederick had not envied her the task. She seemed the only one to have a clear head about her.
True to his actions, Benwick was at the house shortly after they arrived with a surgeon accompanying him. As he looked over his patient, the others remained gravely silent. The shock seemed to permeate the low-ceilinged room. Frederick leaned over the table, his head in his hands. It was his fault that Louisa lay so quietly. He ought to have been paying attention to her antics. She was so very high spirited. It had only taken the work of a few seconds and now Louisa could die. Curse his lack of will! He had indulged her dangerous game because he knew it pleased her.
How often had he silently chided Anne for not showing more spirit, more courage? How often had he wished her to be more defiant as Louisa was? The memory of his actions smacked him in the face with their unworthiness. Louisa had been presumptuous, had shown an incredible lack of intelligence in her actions. Frederick knew the accident had been his fault. Solely his!
"A message should be sent to Uppercross," Anne was saying softly. "And Henrietta ought to be taken home to her mother. This is no place for her."
Frederick knew that was true. The girl could not remain in the room with her sister for longer than five minutes before she went into hysterics. Mary was nearly no better and did little to calm her sister-in-law.
"Charles, either you or I must go," Frederick ground out helplessly. "Anne is right."
Charles, staring into the fire, responded in a lifeless tone, "I cannot leave my sister. Mama would never forgive me. I beg of you, Frederick, take Henrietta home for me."
The surgeon then advised they move Louisa into Mrs. Harville's room. Her limbs had escaped injury. That was the chief news he had for them. But she had not awakened from the fall and that concerned him greatly. Anne and Mrs. Harville attended her after the surgeon departed.
Frederick sat at Harville's desk, his head in his hands. In the past, he had not been wont to pray. But having been at sea, Frederick had been drawn to the Bible and its secrets. His faith had often had to rest in his Creator instead of himself. The sea knew no man's authority. Now he prayed that God would watch over Louisa, that she would know good health again soon.
"This is my fault," he thought in shock. "What will her father say? How can I have been so utterly foolish, to have allowed it?" Louisa's unfettered will had caused his own to weaken. She had not yielded to any advice and now she was paying the price for her reckless behavior.
She was such a sweet girl, he thought with pain. So untouched by the world. So willing to dare anything to experience life. She was not a selfish girl, she had not done it for spite. If only he could turn back the hands of time. He would never have allowed her to jump. No, he would have stopped the nonsense from the beginning. But what was to be done now? Too late. Too late!
"Someone must stay and nurse her," he said aloud, voicing his thoughts. "To assist Mrs. Harville. It must be Anne. No one so capable, so sensible as Anne..."
His low voice trailed off as the very woman he spoke of re-entered the chamber. She had heard him, he could see that from the flush on her soft cheek. Anne approached him then, something she had not done in all the time he had seen her since his return.
Frederick looked up at her with entreating eyes. Would she still help him? "You will stay," he murmured, his fingers itching to reach out and twine them with hers. "Stay and nurse her?" Anne was the only one of the ladies aside from Mrs. Harville with any sense of calm or wisdom. She would tend her friend with kindness and gentle care.
"Of course," Anne replied softly, positively. "I should be glad to do anything to help. I was only thinking...if I were to have a bed made up on the floor beside her, I should be able to shift quite well."
It seemed the plan was in place. Unfortunately, Mary saw fit to change everything by pleading that Anne meant nothing to Louisa. That she was Louisa's true family. The entire scene was absurd to Frederick. Here sat the woman who claimed she could not bear to nurse her own son just weeks ago. Now she was volunteering to nurse her sister-in-law. It was jealousy, Frederick angrily thought. The foolish woman cannot bear to have the attention taken from her for even a moment.
Frederick soon left to make the preparations to take Anne and Henrietta back to Uppercross. Poor Henrietta needed to be home with her mother, that was a truth he could easily acknowledge. She had been through a terrible experience, as they all had.
As Frederick took up the reins of the chaise, he looked to Anne, who was tending to a drowsy Henrietta. For the first time in eight and half years he and Anne would be almost alone for a good stretch of time. And for the first time in nearly that period, Frederick found he could not speak hardly a word. His shame was too great.
Frederick had made the journey from Lyme to Winthrop before. But never had he made it with so heavy a heart or dry a mouth. At the same time, the internal argument taking place in his mind was loud enough to silence any outward speech.
The sun was setting, casting an otherworldly glow to the scenes they passed. Shades of purple, pink, and mauve splayed across the sky, causing the landscape to soften. It did little to comfort him.
The horses were making good progress as they continued on. Uppercross was but a few miles off. They had managed to make good time. Thank the Lord that Musgrove's team had been fresh and ready to make the journey. It had been a blessing indeed. The sooner they got Henrietta safely to her mother, the better everything would be.
Glancing at the sleeping girl, her face still streaked with tears, Frederick felt the twin guilt of knowing what he had caused to bring the Musgrove girls such agony. It was his fault she was in such pain. He had brought this upon them. No one else was to blame.
Anne's quiet presence on the other side of Henrietta was a constant reminder of his supreme foolishness. She did not have to say a word. He knew what she must be thinking at that moment. How he wished he could open his heart to her, to spill its contents into her gentle hands. Would she understand it? He was not sure he had made sense of it himself.
Frederick's dark eyes stared straight ahead as he again urged the team on. Anne's calm strength amid the crisis had been his true saving grace. She had kept them all from falling into hysterics. It was she who had had the presence of mind to send Benwick for a surgeon, get Louisa to the Harville house, and settle up what should take place. The years of assisting in the running of Kellynch had stood her well, he realized. She knew how to keep calm in a crisis.
"I ought to have known she was so capable, so wise," he chided himself. "It is little wonder the Kellynch staff adores her so. She is all that is good and modest."
What a wonderful sailor's wife she would have been, he thought ruefully. Anne did not fall to pieces in a crisis. She knew her strengths and her weaknesses. To have her at his side amid a storm would be to have a strong ally in his corner. How could he have not seen this when they had met again?
"I have not done you justice, little one," he thought sadly. "Forgive me..."
She was so good with Mary's two boys, he thought. And the Harville children. Her patience was a deep well that rarely seemed to run out. True, her family and friends tended to take advantage of her good nature and willingness to help. But it was out of love that she did it. Not because she allowed herself to be trampled on, as he had once thought. Her heart was exactly as it should be. Devoted to others.
The steady rhythm of the horses' hooves had become a permanent cadence to the journey. It beat down into his soul and hammered home to him how utterly blind he had been. The words could not be held back any longer.
"Anne," he burst out suddenly, uncharacteristically. "I regret..." His voice trailed away as he looked at her. She was meeting his gaze head on with equal strength. He found understanding there, a wish to comfort. But Frederick also saw that she was well aware of the result of his actions on the Cobb.
"Yes," she breathed almost heatedly. "Yes..."
Frederick turned back to the horses, feeling the weight of that one word. She could not say it any more clearly. He whipped up the horses with vigor. "Damned foolish," he cursed himself aloud. "Damned foolish!"
The chestnut gelding beneath Frederick snorted and gave a shake. He was quite impatient to have his exercise so with a touch of the crop, Castille was set in motion.
The Shropshire countryside surrounded Frederick on every side as he breathed deeply. He was glad to be out in the open air with only the birds and other small creatures about him. It gave him the peace he needed to think. In the past weeks, he had been doing a great deal of that.
Edward and Anthea had been his counselors, his shoulders to lean on. Having come to them from Lyme after being assured Louisa would recover, Frederick had appeared pale, drawn, and weary. Just being with his brother again renewed his strength. Edward had always been a strong source of comradeship, even in their youth. He seemed to know what to say, when to say it, and when to be silent.
Frederick found such a gift to be keenly wanted in these days. For he was realizing for the first time in years who he truly was from a new perspective. And he did not like what he was finding. Coming to see the treasure he had lost in not pursuing Anne sooner was torment indeed.
Louisa, meanwhile, was slowly mending at the Harville's crowded home. The Musgroves had decamped and taken lodgings nearby to help stem the tide. She was awake now, improving, but it took time. The injury had left its mark. Fortunately, she seemed to be on the road to good health. With her family around her and the excellent nursing of Mrs. Harville, Louisa was in very capable hands. Even Mary had proven to be more useful than the others had imagined. Frederick supposed that for once, Charles had taken a firmer stand with his wife in regards to his sister's care. He was devoted to both of his sisters and would brook little nonsense.
Harville had taken him aside not long after the accident to talk to him seriously. "Frederick, I must caution you about Louisa. I do believe that many of her family think that she is as good as your wife! You must set your mind as to your course. I should think it a wise idea to be elsewhere while she recovers so as to consider it."
Frederick had drawn back in shock. "I have been remiss in my actions, Harville. I had no intention of marrying Louisa, despite what everyone may think. However, I should not wish to bring pain to her or upset her family. If Louisa wishes it, I am duty-bound to marry her."
This realization was his constant source of remorse since he had left Lyme. Louisa had every reason to believe that they were to be married. He had favored her exclusively since her sister had chosen to marry Henry Hayter. His visits to Uppercross had been many and his attentions indeed had been particular to her. Anyone looking at the situation would easily conclude that they were to only announce their plans.
"I am a complete fool," he told himself for the hundredth time as he rode over a rise covered with clover. "And I have only myself to blame for my predicament."
The sound of hooves in the background caught his attention and Frederick pulled the reins in on Castille. The horse, excellently trained, instantly obeyed and came to a halt. Turning about, Frederick saw that it was Edward coming to him on his own bay, Hamlet.
"Edward, I see you've chosen to abandon the good ladies of the sewing circle to attend me," Frederick greeted his brother with teasing warmth. "Are they not gravely disappointed?"
As he approached, Edward arched a sardonic eyebrow. "I believe they would see the matter differently. They are wont to have a good gossip with Anthea today, rather than listen to me discussing the Sermon on the Mount. Believe me when I tell you there were smiles all 'round when I proposed that I depart and have Anthea take my seat."
Frederick laughed aloud as both men started their horses at a walk toward the town. "Just the same, I'm glad you joined me. I've been sitting in my thoughts for too long alone."
Edward nodded, looking ahead. "Glad to hear you say that, Frederick. You've been with us these weeks, and I've not truly had a good opportunity to talk with you more. Forgive me for that."
"You have a wife and a parish, Edward," Frederick reminded him patiently. "Those are important responsibilities. And believe me, I have been quite content and grateful simply to be here."
"You are my only brother, Frederick," Edward gently reminded him. "And it pains me to see you wrestling with this so. Louisa Musgrove caused her own accident. I hope you are not still heaping guilt upon your head like hot coals."
Frederick paused, taking a moment to compose his answer. "I'll admit that I was feeling quite ashamed of myself when I was at Lyme. For many reasons. But Louisa is well on the road to recovery, despite the time involved. Her family bears me no ill will. They are well aware of how impetuous she might be."
The brothers continued on, making slow progress. The land in Shropshire suited Frederick well as he breathed in the soft, country air.
"Then what is troubling you still?" Edward finally asked. "You take yourself off to brood alone, to keep it quiet. I should like to know...if I might be of help. You have been on my mind ever since Sophy announced their departure to Kellynch."
Frederick gave a half smile, rueful and self-depreciating. "Then you are well aware of my agony, Edward. Or at least some of it. You cannot be ignorant to the fact that Anne Elliot had often come into my path again. That, my dear brother, is what plagues me these last weeks."
Edward's eyebrows rose a fraction but he did not immediately answer. Frederick had not mentioned Anne until now. Edward had quietly surmised that Anne was an underlying cause for his brother's silence. But he was relieved to hear his brother speaking without anger about her. That was a promising sign.
"Ah, so it is Anne," he finally remarked quietly. "I must admit, I had been curious as to how you had met with her."
"At first, Edward, it seemed as if she were a stranger to me," Frederick began, his thoughts taking flight. "So changed, so subdued and crushed. You know what her family is like, was like. They attempt to use her as a veritable doormat. And that made me very angry. That she should allow herself to be so ill-used. I was resentful. Angry. I will not deny it. And I would not speak to her."
Edward did not reply. He knew that at this point it was wisest to let Frederick speak his mind. It was clear that he had long wished to unburden himself of these reflections.
"We rarely spoke when we encountered each other," he continued as they neared a small stream. "It was my doing entirely. I wanted her to see that she meant nothing to me. That I had continued on with my life and intended to marry. That I had forgotten her entirely. Thus, you can see why everyone believed I was to marry Louisa."
Nodding, Edward looked down to guide his horse over the pebbled water. But both horses were thirsty and stopped to drink. "But had you truly, Frederick? I know how much you loved Anne, adored her. Your devotion to her was quite real. Had you so truly stricken her from your heart?"
Giving a short, gruff noise of frustration, Edward shook his head. "No, I had not. I suppose you saw it before I did. But it took some time for me to realize that. Being related by marriage to the Musgroves and staying with her sister meant I saw Anne quite often. And when we traveled to Lyme, she accompanied them. It began to dawn on me that my anger at Anne had been misdirected. Sadly so..."
Edward glanced at his brother. "How so?"
"I had not done her justice, Edward," Frederick quietly answered. "All this time, while I was at sea, I had been smarting from her ending our engagement. I did not see that it was my pride that was hurt, destroying my utter assurance that anything I sought I could obtain. Not once did I consider...what she might have endured. What might have happened during my absence. I could only lament about how ill-used I was.
"She was my lifeline when Louisa fell from the steps," he quietly recalled. "She knew exactly what to do, what actions to take. Never had I been more grateful for a calm voice and a steady hand as hers. We would have been all a hopeless lot without her. I saw clearly then how superior to Louisa she was."
The raw note of pain echoed in his voice, echoing in Edward's ears. This is not exactly what he had hoped for regarding Frederick. But it was exactly what his brother needed most. "Frederick, you do see now that she did not have an easy time of it while you were gone. Her father is well nigh unbearable. His debts were so great they had to leave Kellynch. And the only reason they did not depart sooner was due to Anne's attempts at economy. She alone is the reason they are not totally impoverished. I have that on the best authority."
"Do you think I do not know this?" Frederick asked as they started the horse forward again. "With Sophy and the Admiral there, it was inevitable that such a thing come to light. I stayed with them when I left Lyme for a day on business. Her presence...filled the place, Edward. And I heard the servants discussing her, expressing their sadness over her departure. She had to run the place alone, with no mother to guide her. The mother she loved so dearly. How could I have so easily forgotten?"
Frederick, glancing at his brother, spoke bluntly. "I have been blind, Edward. Utterly blind. And selfish. Anne may have listened to Lady Russell and allowed her advice to rule her actions. Perhaps that was wrong. But we have both suffered for it. Of that I have no doubt at all now."
Edward digested this bit of news as they wended their way down yet another hill. "Your plans, Frederick. What do you intend to do now?"
Laughing harshly, Frederick shrugged his wide shoulders. "I have little choice. I have been chasing after Louisa like fox after a rabbit. The world thinks we are as good as married. I have no choice. If she inquires of it, there will be little for me to do but offer for her."
Edward, alarmed, stopped Hamlet still. "You cannot mean that. To marry a woman you clearly do not care for. Are you mad?"
"I am honor-bound, Edward," his brother reminded him as he, too, stopped. "I have paid my addresses to this young lady. It would be a disgrace to her and her family if I were not to ask for her hand upon her recovery from her injuries."
Edward, seeing the circumstances, looked grave indeed. He had not thought of this. "Frederick, I caution you on your actions. Honor is a trait I hold highly in a man. Keeping one's word is a teaching of God. I live by it. But to marry a woman, to bind her to you, without love or affection, is a terrible thing to contemplate. Please do not act rashly. Wait until things have settled."
Frederick looked down at the town below them with unseeing eyes. For a moment he was quiet, his thoughts getting the better of him. It was a moment quite apart from any other, he realized. He had thrown away his chance at happiness with Anne when it might have been his. If only he had pursued her when they had first met again. He would not be nearly engaged to Louisa. He would be courting the woman he now knew was the only woman in the world he could love and marry.
Frederick now knew the truth. He wanted to unlock those mysteries, to come to know the woman she had become after eight and a half years of separation. But it was all for naught.
"Edward, I am in agony," he finally murmured. "I have been so foolish. Right in front of me, staring me in the face, was the truth. Anne is the only woman I will ever love. Ever wish to marry. She is everything good, honest, and honorable in a woman. But it is too late. Too late!"
Edward regarded his brother with a mixture of pity and love. He had never seen his brother so defeated, so utterly hopeless. The darkness lurking in his eyes was intense. Frederick had finally learned what it was like to know defeat, to know his ambitions and hopes were thwarted. And it had humbled him. He would be a different man in future.
"You must not despair," Edward quietly reminded him. "You have not married Louisa. And Anne is still unmarried. She did not marry Charles Musgrove, who I do know was anxious to make her his wife. You must remember that."
Suddenly Edward remembered one of the reasons he had come out to see his brother. "Oh goodness, I had but forgotten," Edward spoke suddenly. "I have a letter from Lyme for you, brought by the morning post. What a simpleton I've become. Too much tea and gossip, I suppose."
He gave the letter to his brother, who seemed to care little for the epistle he was handed. Opening it, his eyes scanned the pages and suddenly something seemed to grip him like a human hand.
"Who would have guessed," he muttered in stunned surprise, his face losing its gloomy aspect. "Never would I have guessed it!"
Edward feared his brother might have heard some horrible news. "The young lady is not worse, is she, Frederick?"
Tearing his eyes away from the page, Frederick laughed with a joy unbidden and a light had entered his eyes unlike any other over the last weeks. "She is well enough to become engaged to my former lieutenant! She had consented to marry James Benwick! Can you believe it?! Forgive me if I unseat myself, but it is too wild a notion to believe!"
Edward was indeed stunned. It seemed hardly possible that the studious, grave James Benwick would have attached himself to a girl of Louisa's energetic nature. "This is news indeed! You are loosed, are you not? This alters things considerably. What do you intend to do now?"
Tucking the letter in his pocket, Frederick wheeled Castille around and announced, "I am off to Bath, Edward. There may still be a chance for me to salvage my life. To win my little one back. Keep me in your prayers, brother. God has kindly granted me a second chance I would have never imagined possible."
Edward watched in surprised joy as his brother set his horse to a gallop back across the field. This was indeed a day of surprises. He would wait a little while and then return home to give Anthea the good news. They had a new direction for their prayers now.
Continued in Part 2
#169 1997 Copyright held by the author.