A Private Moment
Frederick, with some uncertainty drew his dear, sweet Anne’s hand through his arm. Anne, with equal uncertainty allowed him to do so, and moved hesitatingly, yet intimately, closer as they turned to walk down the now-emptied street. Had the street been thronged, still, with circus-goers it would have made no difference. These two were absorbed in only each other and the torrential flood of emotions that coursed through and between
them. A long silence ensued as each of the young lovers sought for something to say that would give vent to the emotions that had been so diligently buried over the course of eight-and-a-half years.
Anne, who had been able to speak but little in the wake of Frederick’ return from his naval assignment during her time at Uppercross, was the first to break the silence.
"Had I really altered so much that you would have hardly known me when first you came to Uppercross?"
The question was gentle, but it demanded an answer, and Frederick understood that Anne wanted more than a "yes" or "no." He flushed as he recalled the comment he had made to Mary on that hunting outing. That day had been somewhat pivotal for him; he had been aware of Anne’s presence at Uppercross---Sophy had mentioned the quiet young woman--but he had thought he would be able to meet her with equanimity. He had not recognized his feelings of relief when she did not attend dinner at the Musgroves that evening, nor did he perceive that his desire to call on Mary and Anne the following morning was motivated by desire to prove that he was no longer influenced by her memory.
In the soul-searching that followed Louisa’s fall on the Cobb, Frederick had come to understand his actions for what they were----a desperate attempt to maintain his pride despite having been once refused and to prevent his heart from being touched again. He came to be thoroughly ashamed of his treatment of Louisa, but had been determined to act honorably by her. How relieved he had been when, in the days of her recovery, she and
Benwick had formed an attachment, the more so since it convinced him that Benwick and Anne had not.
All of this passed quickly through Frederick’s mind as he formed his answer. Anne was gazing at him, her eyes filled with newly-found confidence as well as expectation and---could it be?---understanding and forgiveness.
"No," he said quietly, "it was I who had altered. Your were much the same Anne I had known." Frederick slowed down, then abruptly turned, seized both of Anne’s hands in his own, and looked intensely into her eyes .
"Oh, Anne..........forgive me."
"Frederick," she whispered, her eyes filled with love and longing. Her reply was an absolution as well as an appeal for him to forgive her and himself.
"Let us dwell on it no longer," she said gently as she drew him, once again, close to her side.
Their progress toward Camden Place was slow, for neither of the young lovers were eager to relinquish the company of the other. The intensity of their emotions did not encourage discussion: Anne and Frederick were content to be in each others’ presence.
As they approached the Elliott residence, however, both began to feel the need to do more than walk together and, as if they were of the same mind, they both slowed their pace as they approached a park. There they found an inconspicuous place to sit.
"We have much to discuss, Anne," Frederick began, as he waited for her to be seated, then positioned himself close beside her. She, self-consciously, moved away slightly, partly due to the presence of people nearby and partly due to the more business-like turn their repartee was about to take. Frederick winced inwardly, but his confidence returned as she lifted her expectant face toward his.
"Dear, sweet Anne......" he paused as he lifted his hand to gently touch her cheek. "Can it really be that you have nurtured your love for me these eight-and-a-half years?" As Anne nodded he added, regretfully, "what fools we two have been."
There was a moment of self-remonstrance, then Frederick’s demeanor and tone became determined---purposeful.
"Let me not waste another precious moment." And with that, Frederick clasped Anne’s hands and by his silence forced her to look at him.
"Anne Elliott, will you marry me?"
Tension filled the space between them. Anne’s heart was full, but she was unable to answer immediately. Thoughts of past years ran through her mind: images of her discussions with Lady Russell; her father’s disapproval; the solitary, regretful walks on bitterly cold days; the way her heart raced when Henrietta told her and Mary that Frederick would be dining at Uppercross; the pain she felt as she watched Frederick court Louisa.
"No," she thought, "I need some answers first."
Frederick was waiting expectantly for an answer. Happiness, true happiness, was not yet his.
And he would have to wait.
Anne experienced a sinking feeling as she contemplated their clasped hands. Frederick was waiting in hopeful expectation, yet she was hesitating. She pulled her hands from Frederick’s, stood, and began to pace agitatedly about the small, shrub-enclosed alcove. Frederick froze where he sat; only the movement of his eyes as they followed Anne’s movement gave any indication that he was not a well-crafted statue.
"Captain Wentwo....." Anne faltered when she noted a change in his posture as Frederick took a quick breath and held it. Had she looked further she would have seen the tense lines on his face, his clenched teeth, and the fear in his eyes.
"Frederick," she continued, and he released the breath, "our lives have been
so.....changed....since you went to sea. And, when you returned it seemed.....I mean, you were......well....so...." Anne gasped and stopped her pacing as Frederick grasped her shoulders from behind.
"......confused." he finished her sentence.
Frederick had regained some of his composure. This, the thinking Anne, the analytical, reflective Anne, he knew. His heart had nearly stopped moments before when Anne moved away from him. He had seen her visibly lose her composure only once before, and he had regretted his responses of that afternoon for eight-and-a-half years. He was not about to make the same mistakes; he was not willing to lose his love again.
"Anne, I was a man lost. I have loved you while trying to forget you. I had no hope that you would continue to care for me, and when we met at Uppercross I was unprepared for the emotions that took hold of my heart, my mind. I only knew that you had refused me once and I dared not hope for a return of your affection.
"But I needed to be near you---the opportunity to be in your presence was one I could not resist---but you gave no observable sign to me that there was hope. Anne, dear, sweet Anne, my pride, I am ashamed to admit, prevented me from looking closer. And since such diversions as the Musgroves could provide allowed me to be in your presence I remained.
"Such diversions also gave me a false sense of confidence. I felt that if you could not love me perhaps I could at least find pleasant companionship.....and Louisa Musgrove is a very pleasant young lady."
Frederick, who had not released his grip on Anne’s shoulders, felt her muscles tense as she made a move to pull away from him. As he held her firmly and pulled her closer to him, he could feel her pulse quicken and her breaths become faster and shallower. He leaned towards her ear and began to speak more quietly, intimately.
"Anne, please believe me when I say that I never loved, nor felt anything but brotherly affection for Louisa. I know that my actions made it appear otherwise, and only I am to blame for the resulting assumptions. But Louisa and I have talked, Anne. After her fall I intended to act honorably, but she understood me better than I understood myself and knew that my love was not hers.
"Anne, I am so very sorry for the pain I brought you; I was a fool."
Frederick relaxed his grip, letting his hands move down Anne’s arms in a reverent, caring caress. He maintained a light touch on her hands as he waited for a response.
The two remained in this stance, Frederick waiting, patiently, knowing that he had done all he could to satisfy Anne’s doubts and fears. Anne, in her stillness, was gradually coming to some understanding of Frederick’s prior actions, and her heart and mind were moving toward reconciliation. As they did so, Anne relaxed, imperceptibly to anyone but Frederick. Hope began to build in him once again.
Anne turned, slowly, to face Frederick. She had long ago forgiven Frederick’s actions and had been sincere when earlier she had indicated this to him. She held no anger or frustration, and the confusion and fear that had caused her discomposure moments before had been dissipated by Frederick’s confession. Her face was tear-stained, but the eyes that she now turned to him were clear, and they clearly showed love. Frederick was overwhelmed by what he saw there, and as she clasped his hands to her heart, thereby pulling him closer, he barely heard her reply to his earlier proposal.
"Yes, I will."
© 1998 Copyright held by author