Love Suffers Long and is Kind
Louisa rested quietly on the bed. She lay motionless, keeping her dress as straight as she could make it, endeavoring to keep it free of wrinkles. She wondered what Frederick was doing right then. Closing her eyes, she could imagine him in his glorious uniform, talking and laughing. If only the headache would leave so that she might be with him. She had a gift for him. A gift on which she had worked from the time he had left to Plymouth until that very afternoon. The stitching of it had been simple, but there had been so many and the sewing had caused headaches just as reading did and so she had rested often as she stitched. Having wrapped the gift with great care, it sat on her dresser, awaiting an opportunity to be given. Looking over to it, she wondered if ... perhaps ... Mama would bring him up to her room so that she might give him her gift ...
She knew that it would be an impossibility, He may not come tonight, but tomorrow night at this time he shall be my husband and then he will be free to come . . . Tomorrow night at this time she and her husband would be at Kellynch Hall . . .together. When she thought about their wedding night, a pleasant sensation moved through her stomach. When she had begun to think about Frederick as the man she was to marry, she had begun to feel things she had never before felt. She had been surprised that merely thinking about him would cause a response so strong and yet so pleasurable. There were times her thoughts of him had shocked her and she had to put them aside. She knew about procreation; living on a farm, that knowledge had come naturally and had never been terribly scandalous, until she began to think in terms of her husband and herself. There was much she did not understand about such things, but she knew that she loved Frederick and surely he would be patient with her as she learned to please him.
As with all the other times she had allowed herself to think about her wedding night, these thoughts had only left her frustrated and anxious, so to gain relief, she forced her mind to wander elsewhere. Listening closely, she could just make out the piano. She knew Anne to be playing as Cousin Minerva Hayter was sick and could not come with the rest of the family musicians. Louisa could not make out the tune; thankfully it was slower and quieter than most of the others had been that evening. She nearly felt guilty for wishing all the family to leave as the parties of the last two days were taking their toll. All the celebrations will be over tomorrow and I will be married to Frederick. And then we will begin a quiet life together, she thought.
With her fingers she traced the seams of the quilt on her bed; To just be rid of this pain, she moaned to herself. The party the night before had left her drained and awfully tired, upon awakening that morning the headache had been present and stayed throughout the day. It was most likely from the parties and the sewing, and the nerves. Earlier that evening, she had barely gotten through having to lead out the dancing. Frederick must think her a ninny as she had forgotten many of the steps, he had had to lead her through the simplest of sets.
What an embarrassment! It would only serve to strengthen her mother's conviction that she was hopelessly damaged and would never be right. That was a thought that she could not allow herself to dwell upon. It would be so simple to excuse her clumsiness and difficulty in reading; to do nothing to remedy the weaknesses. Excusing herself too often would keep her from getting better and now that she was to be married, it was more vital than ever that she should be better. It would not due to have such a wonderful husband and not strive to be everything in a wife he would desire.
She wished more than anything to be a good wife to Frederick, and she thought herself to have an excellent beginning after being welcomed into the family by his brother, Reverend Wentworth. When Frederick had first introduced her to the Reverend, she had thought that he would be like most clergymen she knew of, staid and formal. But those fears were soon put to rest when after a welcoming kiss and kind compliments to her, he had lovingly disparaged his brother, who had borne the insults well. He had then launched into all the amusing stories he had about with his trip from Shropshire, paying special attention to his last five miles travelled in a dung-cart. By the time he had finished, Louisa knew there was nothing to fear from her new brother. He had also been so very gracious to give her his wife, Catherine's regards and an invitation to come and visit soon. She wondered for a moment what Mrs Wentworth must be like. He had said she could not attend as she was expecting a baby and there had not been time to properly prepare for a journey. Even the Admiral and Mrs Croft had greeted her warmly. The Admiral had always been kind, Mrs Croft had always been very polite to her, but now she had been welcomed by her as a sister and warmly brought into the family. Either she had not seen or if she had, did not comprehend the meaningful looks traded between the Reverend and his sister. It had been very gratifying as the evening up until that point had been rather dismal owing to her throbbing head.
Thinking about Reverend Wentworth and Mrs Croft, naturally brought Louisa's thoughts back to Frederick. Captain Frederick Wentworth. When he had come to the district, fresh from his time at sea, she had little known that in less than six months time she would be his wife. She had hoped to catch his eye, as he was quite the handsomest man she had ever seen, but she would not have been audacious enough to believe herself the woman he would choose to marry. In fact, following her accident in Lyme, and his leaving, after a fortnight, to journey to Shropshire, she had been surprised that she was not heart-broken at all. It had stung a bit, but nothing close to the anguish which she imagined parted lovers were to properly feel. It was not until he had actually returned to Uppercross and asked for her hand that she had even begun to think of him again. Though he had gone the day after the proposal was made, and had remained gone for well over a week, she had thought of little but him. She had committed to memory the lines of his face and the set of is jaw. She knew the lay of his hair and that his beard, even when freshly shaven in the morning, began to show itself in the early afternoon. She knew his laugh and the tone of his voice as he told stories of the sea and his beloved Laconia. In such a short time, she had come to love him so deeply. She marvelled how, at that very moment, she loved him so much that it was nearly a pain in her chest. There were times that this love she felt caused her breath to catch when she thought of him and his ways.
After being released from the piano, Anne stood quietly near the fire of the room being used for the guests to sit. Rubbing her hands to work out the soreness, she thought of all the use they had been put to over the past days. Looking at them as though they belonged to another, she thought, These poor hands! They have been quite over-used this last week. But that shall be ended tomorrow. Studying her fingers and rubbing the red and pin pricked tips lightly with her thumb, she was grateful that they would have an opportunity to heal soon, for she had no intention of picking up a needle and thread for a good long time!
She looked through the doorway and watched as Henrietta played a reel for the dancers. She had taken Anne's place at the keyboard, but very reluctantly it had seemed. That mattered little to Anne, for had she not, Anne would still be at the piano, trying to keep to the playing of the enthusiastic, but rather unpolished Hayter family orchestra. The playing was not so difficult, it had given her occupation and kept her mind somewhat busy. The difficulty had come in watching the dancing. Of course the bride and groom had lead out. She had tried not to watch, but she could not help herself. Frederick had looked directly at her and in realising who was playing, it seemed that he had lost his place in the set. Louisa had been flustered but had recovered herself well enough. It seems I am destined to play for my own heart break. As she thought this, she chided herself for such melodramatic notions.
Just then, a light touch on her shoulder and a woman's voice in her ear interrupted, "Anne, dear. I need you to run a little errand for me, if you would. All the girls are busy and I am now pressing the family for help!"
"Oh! certainly, Mrs Musgrove." Sadie had caught her unawares, but soon her attention was back to the business of the family dinner.
Mrs. Musgrove had asked that Anne fetch yet another set of cups for the refreshment table. As she wove her way through the crowded rooms, Captain Benwick had fallen into step beside her. "May I be of assistance, Miss Anne?" She had accepted his offer gladly as the evening was beginning to take its toll upon her nerves and energy.
They had made their way to a most awkward room in the Great House. At one time it had been used for storing the Musgrove hunting arsenal. Long ago it had even been used for the master's taxidermy. In its last incarnation, it had been used as a small reading room, but as the years had gone by, Mrs. Musgrove's propensity for tableware had outstripped the kitchen's ability to stay in good order. It had been decided to convert the reading room to an extension of the pantry. A hallway door remained and could be used to enter without going through the kitchen. In the room, a door to the kitchen pantry was made and that was Anne's destination.
"They actually turned a reading room into a pantry? I must say that I would be more inclined to do quite the exact opposite," Captain Benwick had quipped.
"I think that the Musgroves are not great readers," was Anne's only reply. Opening the door to the pantry, she took quick stock of the contents and saw the needed cups on a high shelf. She was glad for the Captain's presence. He could use a nearby stool and hand down what was needed.
As Anne and Benwick were arranging the cups so as not to break them, they heard someone enter the outer area. Benwick opened the swinging door a crack and saw that Louisa and Captain Wentworth had come into the room. He turned quickly to Anne and motioned for quiet. "The happy couple is just outside," he whispered. Anne blanched. What were they to do? While they both held punch cups aplenty, the situation did look a bit odd. They stood quietly, hoping that the other couple would leave soon. Benwick thought that he had hit upon the perfect solution, and tried the door to the kitchen. It was blocked and there was so much noise with voices clamouring, dishes clattering and pots, scraping and banging, that no one could have heard them even if they had been in a way to call out. They were trapped in the closet and there was nothing to be done. It became evident soon on that the couple would not be leaving quickly, and that they would also be subjected to their conversation as voices carried well into the small cabinet. Realising this, Captain Benwick tried to converse with Miss Anne.
"I saw that Miss Henrietta finally took your place at the piano, I asked her several times to play. I am afraid I trifled with her a bit, I told her that I had heard her to be quite an excellent musician and wished to hear her. To be honest, I had never heard anything more than she played, but I determined that you needed some relief and she was my only hope. Miss Anne?" Seeing that she was intent on other thoughts, he stood quietly. Little did he realise that her other thoughts were the conversation from the outer room.
"I am sorry I disappeared so soon after our dance, I have a headache and went to lie down for a bit. I had hoped that Mama would allow you up to my room so that I might give you something, but then I realised that it would be highly improper, so I had to come and seek you out."
"Well, your were right to think it that ... my coming to you would be quite improper. But...well, is the headache better?" He could see the pain as it was so obvious in her eyes. He thought she must have led him to this slightly quieter spot as the noise of the party would be playing havoc with her.
"Yes, it is much better, thank you. The reason I have brought us here, is that I have something for you . . . Frederick." Louisa handed him a gaily wrapped package. It was soft, not in a box and he stood for a moment doing anything with it. "I made it myself, I thought you might wear it tomorrow at the wedding."
She eagerly awaited his opening it. He knew that a true lover would anxiously tear into the paper and praise whatever the contents might be; a true lover would, but he could not. Knowing that she expected some sort of response, he began to untie the ribbon which held it together. Removing the paper he found it to be a neckcloth of silk, rich in deep blues and dark grey, with gold threads tracing their way through the pattern. Ordinarily, he would have found it beautiful, but under these circumstances, its beauty was diminished. He touched it as he thought that appropriate and smiled a tight smile to the girl, "Thank you, but I as I am to wear my uniform, a white neckcloth is the only thing that may be worn. Perhaps another time."
"Oh . . . I had not realised . . . your uniform. Of course you must wear what the uniform calls for . . . how silly of me to forget. Though you cannot wear it tomorrow, do you like it? I thought the colours would suit you very well...them being blues and all." Her initial look of disappointment was taken over by a hope that he would have some praise for her efforts
Seeing the expectancy cross her face, Frederick knew that he must make some gesture of gratitude. "I like it very much. Thank you for making it. As I said, I shall wear it some other time. Some time soon." He leaned towards her to give an appreciative kiss on her cheek.
Louisa beamed and excitedly threw her arms around his neck. "Thank you, darling. I am so glad that you like it." Upon saying this, she kissed him.
Since the engagement had been announced, there had been other kisses. Very short, very public, very proper kisses. None of them had been satisfactory to Louisa, a girl of romantic tendencies and a growing passion for the man she was to marry. Being taken so by surprise, it was an instant or two before Frederick could take control of the situation and so his response was natural and seemed to be that of a man in love.
As he steeled himself, the thought came suddenly to him, She truly loves me . . . what am I doing to her? He broke away from the kiss and not knowing what else to do, simply held her. The thought that she loved him and that he could not return this feeling was more than he could abide. There she stood trembling in his arms; it grieved him that while she was responding to him with love and desire, he stood like a stone, unable to feel anything. "We should go back to the party, Louisa," he whispered. While he had abominated the large party the evening before and was just barely tolerating this evening's festivities, the irony of running back to it for protection was not lost upon him.
Louisa took her arms from around him and looked shyly to his eyes, "Yes, we had best go back before we are missed."
As they were turning to go, they heard voices in the hallway.
"It will be quite all right Charles, no one will look in here. I used to hide ever so long here as a child."
The voice was Henrietta's. She and Charles Hayter were looking for a quiet spot to be alone. As they had been engaged longer than Louisa and the Captain, there were the constant questions about when would they be married and was it not rather sudden about Wentworth and Louisa? The frame of Henrietta's mind was not to wonder about her sister and her intended, it was to have time alone--alone with Mr Hayter.
The door swung open just as Frederick and Louisa came to leave by it. It nearly caught Louisa in the shoulder and would have, had he not reached above her head and stopped its path. The door stopping caused Charles Hayter to peek around the edge to see what jammed it. "Oh! sorry, Captain. We didn't know that anyone was in here." His eyes were large and surprised. He was still very much intimidated by Captain Wentworth's presence.
"That is quite all right, Mr. Hayter. We were just leaving. Excuse us, please." He took Louisa by the arm and stepped around the other couple.
The door to the pantry tentatively opened and Benwick peered around it to see if the room was clear. Ascertaining that Frederick and Louisa were quite gone, but now seeing that the room was occupied by someone else, he looked back to Anne and shrugged his shoulders. There was nothing to do, but wait. "So, Miss Anne, are the closets of all the Great Houses round about this country so busy, or just Uppercross?" He had asked the question with as sarcastic a tone as possible.
Smiling at the notion of others being in a similar state, she shook her head and whispered, "No, certainly not! Other homes are much too fine for such as this; only at Uppercross would you find two Good Samaritans fetching the glassware, trapped in a closet, trying not to embarrass themselves or those that they are forced to spy on!"
Acting as indifferent to the state of affairs as was possible, they stood quietly until after a few moments, Anne's arms began to grow quite tired and while trying to shift the load of cups that she held, some of them fell against one another and clinked loudly. Benwick could see that the situation could not continue and that now the only alternative was to boldly confront the obstacle which lay between them and relief of escape.
"Well, Miss Anne. There is nothing to be done except put smiles on our faces and square our shoulders as we march ourselves out of this closet and on to the hallway. Are you game?" he asked with a smile and a whisper of resolve.
"I suppose that my readiness is not material in this. We must get out of here, somehow," she said, smiling with resolution.
"Here we go!" he said.
Benwick opened the door with his shoulder and stepped out of the closet. He opened the door more widely so that she could go by. Anne passed without a word to the hall and escaped. Benwick smiled and said, "Excuse us, duty calls you know." He let the door go closed and left the room to the couple. Charles and Henrietta just watched them and had nothing to say.
Neither Benwick nor Anne had anything to say as they delivered the cups to the refreshment table. Placing them neatly, Anne tied to order Frederick and Louisa's conversation as she had heard it. Frederick had sounded so stiff and unappreciative. This was not the man who, in the past had lovingly accepted flowers for his lapel, nor the man who had once smiled and eaten through a plate of burnt arrack biscuits when she had attempted to make one of his favorite sweets. The tone in his voice that she had heard bothered her greatly as she knew him to have a warm and amiable heart; he had proven this occasionally during their times together when he had first come back to the area. It shocked her and she wished to know why he acted in such a manner. She was suddenly drawn back to the party by someone taking her by the elbow, "Miss Anne, I think you should come with me before another task that needs doing is found for you." She turned to the voice and found it to be Captain Benwick's.
He led her away from the noise and confusion of the party to the small morning room at the opposite side of the house. As they entered the room, she noticed that there was a fire in the fireplace and a small table with two chairs was pulled close to the hearth. The table was laid some of the choicer bits from the refreshment table. Captain Benwick guided her to the table and held a chair for her. Seating her, he said, "I found this room in my wanderings this evening." He poured her a very small glass of sherry and smiled. He continued, "While Harville's house is tiny in comparison, it is not nearly so active. I find I must fortify myself with a time of quiet before wading into the fray of another Musgrove celebration." She smiled at this bit of truth.
As they began to pick up their conversation of the previous evening, a noise drew their attention to a side door. It was Harville bumping his way through an unlit hall. Making his way towards the light from the morning room, he came into it and stopped, realising that it was occupied. He began to frame an apology when he came to notice who the occupants were. "Well, you two had best not let Charles Musgrove catch you at this; as I recall James, it was to be keelhauling from the yardarm for you," he said with a wide grin. James stood and found another chair for his friend, he did not truly wish for another companion, but he also knew that Harville was no more comfortable in such a large company than he.
"Come, have a seat Timothy; your leg must be giving you fits after your tramp last night." To Anne he said, "The cold and damp cause him great pain, though you might never know it if the telling were left to him," he said, indicating Harville with a nod of his head. Placing his friend nearest to the fire, he passed him a plate and served him a little of all that he had gathered their impromptu 'picnic.' The conversation began to flow and soon it turned to the bridegroom.
Harville asked Benwick, "So have you seen anything of Frederick?" Taking a bite of roasted veal, he awaited an answer.
"No, not hide nor hair of him. Have you?" Benwick had finished eating and was now enjoying a glass of port from a decanter he had snagged off one of the groaning tables in the public rooms.
"No. And it is a real shame, for Captain Wentworth is not wont to have a lively time, but Frederick always relished these kinds of affairs."
Anne sat and listened to their conversation, but she was exceedingly puzzled. She and Captain Benwick had seen Frederick Wentworth not an hour ago when they had been trapped together in the pantry closet. And she herself had seen him several times as she had played the piano and passed through the rooms doing little errands for Mrs Musgrove. As they talked on, she determined to ask what they meant. "May I ask a question? I have seen the Captain several times and Captain Benwick, you and I saw him not above and hour ago when we were tra. . . when we fetched the cups. Why do the two of you keep saying that you have not seen him?"
"Oh! I suppose that is rather confusing," said Benwick. "So, shall I do the honours Timothy, or shall you?" Looking to Harville, he took his leave to explain.
"Well, Miss Anne. Frederick and Timothy and I were all good friends while aboard the Laconia, but, as was only proper, also being his officers, he had to treat us with the same perfect indifference shown all the others. That was on duty. When we were dining alone, the three of us, or on shore together, we were able to put aside the formalities. To make it simpler for the two of us, when referring to Frederick, that was our friend; when speaking of Captain Wentworth, that was, the Captain." Benwick stood and poured her another glass of sherry, which she accepted with a smile; gentlemen were not usually so prodigious in their attentions. Taking Harville's plate, he exchanged it for a glass of port.
Harville took up where Benwick had left off, "So, when we say that we have seen nothing of Frederick, it is not in a physical sense, it is in the sense that our friend has yet to make an appearance." With this, he looked into the fire for a time and downed the remaining port in his glass.
Sensing that the two men were puzzled by the Captain, Anne decided to ask about Frederick. "So . . . what would . . . Frederick be like . . . if he were here?"
Harville spoke first. "Frederick would have been the first to give the bride a congratulatory kiss, heartily shaken the groom's hand and given the most moving and elegant toast to their happiness."
"Aye! and if there was a shrewd prank to be played on the unsuspecting couple, you can be certain that he would be at its center!" Benwick said with a laugh as he thought about their ill-fated attempt earlier in the day. Quietly chuckling, he finished his port.
"Truer words were never spoken, James. Frederick Wentworth is a good man. A good friend. I just have to wonder where he is."
"You must understand, Miss Anne, a captain on a ship is very lonely. There cannot be the least whiff of favoritism, but Frederick never used the excuse of that to be hard on his men. He came as close to all of them as his rank would allow. Even as the captain, he was as affable as he could be without causing a weakness of discipline. Most men of rank generally stay to themselves, it is easier than trying to be impartial, but Frederick is not a singular man when it comes to society and so he draws people to himself. He is a very funny man actually. A very funny man . . ." James sat quietly and poured himself more port.
"Ahem . . . yes, he can be a real wit." Harville said, endeavoring to save the lively mood. "But he is also, of all things . . . superstitious."
Anne's eyes widened. She had known all about his social nature and his wit, but this was a side of him that she had never seen. "Really? I should never have guessed."
"Well, most of us are really . . . sailors I mean," Benwick said with a bit of embarrassment. "Some more than others," he said, giving Timothy a pointed look. "But the Captain has it rather worse than many." Filling Harville's glass and then offering Anne more of the sherry, he reminded his friend, "You should tell her about Mr Whiskers."
"Mr Whiskers?" Anne said with surprise. "That seems an odd name for a sailor."
Benwick and Harville began to laugh. Benwick recovered first and said gleefully, "No, Mr Whiskers was not a sailor, he wasn't even a man, but I suppose he should have been on the books as a supernumerary." Looking to Anne, he explained, "Extra on the ship, passengers or those not on the muster log as crew members. Someone not being paid, but still needs to be fed." Nodding to Harville, "Tell her about that, she would enjoy hearing, I think."
Taking a drink, he started, "Well, a few years ago, the Captain agreed to take my wife, Elsa and her sister and a cousin, plus the children from Portsmouth to Plymouth to join me. Now he abominates women on ships and is nearly maniacal on the point, but as a favor to me . . . well he put his superfine opinion aside and agreed to take them. Well, my daughter was nearly four at the time and she had a cat--Mr Whiskers. Elsa was well aware of Frederick's rather . . . entrenched point of view when it comes to cats . . . they are abominably unlucky on a ship . . . to be avoided at all costs. Along with white-handled knives, parsons and starting a voyage on a Friday."
At this listing, Benwick began to snicker into his glass of port, "Those and about a thousand other supposed ill omens."
Timothy glared, and said, "You laugh at all these things, but yet we have come through quite a lot of misadventure paying attention to such things! And you can't argue with my bit of Ellie's caul!"
At this, James laughed outright and very heartily. "No, never would I argue with your bit of caul! Tell her what it's for . . . go on! Tell her, Timothy!"
Anne sat looking at the two friends, they were obviously of differing minds about matter of this particular superstition, but the bit of caul seemed to be a point of seriousness for the one and a point of hilarity for the other.
"All right, I will. And I'll show her as well," Harville said with energy. As he reached into his pocket, Anne saw Benwick rolled his eyes and mutter, "The man has been ashore two years and he's still carrying a caul with him." Aloud, to Timothy he said, "Were you expecting a hard blow and you might be washed overboard at Kellynch, my boy? Good G-d, such foolishness." Shaking his head, he patiently awaited the appearing of the caul.
Taking a leather pouch from his pocket, Timothy snorted in reply to James, "You laugh. But one cannot argue with tried and true results!" Untying the blue cord which was wrapped around the pouch, Harville opened it and brought out what appeared to be a small piece of very white, very thin leather. Handing it to Anne, he said, "Now you know what that is, don't you?"
"No, no, Timothy!" cried Benwick, waving his hand as he leaned forward. "Before you tell her what it is, tell her what it is for." Benwick's eyes were bright and his face was flushed, Anne was not certain whether it was from the exchange the two were having or the port the men were drinking.
"All right. Miss Anne, when a sailor carries a bit of caul with him, on his physical person, it will prevent him from drowning." To James he looked and said, "Even you can't argue with the fact that I have never been drowned!"
Anne was caught up in the uproarious laughter of Captain Benwick. This was most definitely a disagreement of longstanding, but one that was good-naturedly borne by Captain Harville, who Anne observed was merely sitting with his arms crossed, watching his friend endeavor to control his laughter. Wiping his eyes, James Benwick said, "No my dearest friend, I should never argue that point. I will not mention that your charm has not kept you from being shot, nearly run through on numerous occasions, had a belaying pin taken to your head by that mad Danish fellow and your leg hacked to bits with a boarding axe! I will give credit where credit is due, your charm so far has kept you from drowning!" Shifting himself in his chair, as though to get a better view, he motioned with his hand to Miss Anne. "Now, Timothy. Tell her what it is!"
Peering at his friend intently, Timothy Harville said, "You're through, are you? . . . making sport of my charm?" Benwick took on a reverential mien and nodded earnestly.
"Well, Miss Anne. Though my firstborn child was indeed a daughter, and I would never wish you to think that I am sorry for her birth, but it was a bit of a . . . frustration that she was not a boy. But, I feel that the hand of Providence was at work for she was born with a veil . . . a bit of the caul over her face, don't you know. And so I have sailed with this little piece of it since then, and have felt as safe as if I were at home--well, safe from drowning at least."
With as little expression as possible, Benwick looked from Timothy as he had explained just what it was that Miss Anne held in her hands. Then turning to look at her, he awaited the explanation to flood her mind.
It took a moment for Anne to put order to all that Harville had said about his daughter and being frustrated, but that Providence had worked and his daughter was born with a veil. While Anne had no experience of births, she had heard the expression, "born with a veil," though she struggled to remember what it meant. It came to her that at school in Bath, a horrid school fellow, who had taken great pleasure in the morbid and gross, had told her what it meant. The explanation came to her. The two thoughts met and Anne realised what she was holding.
Looking with wide eyes down at the bit of leathery caul, she glanced at Benwick and his solemn face. She could see the merriment in his eyes and see that he was fighting to keep his expression under his own control. She looked at Captain Harville and with a thin smile on her lips, handed the caul back to him. Watching as he slipped the charm back in its bag, she thought how odd all of this was. The man she loved was to be married to someone else the next day, she had been forced to listen as his fiancee had given him a gift; now she was sitting with his two particular friends, discussing good luck charms and handling bits of his daughter's . . .
"Well, Miss Anne, shall I continue with the story of Mr Whiskers?" Timothy asked.
"Wha . . .oh! Tell me Captain Harville, does the story have anything to do with drowning, by any chance?"
Benwick began to laugh again. Harville was completely unaware of the quip that Anne had made and thought that his friend had been too deep into the port. "No, no drowning in it."
"Then, pray go on and tell me of Mr Whiskers," Anne said, very relieved indeed.
Benwick mastered himself and listened like a gentleman as Harville told of his daughter bringing a cat aboard the Laconia. "We had already figured that Frederick would have no compunction telling my wife 'no,' so, after they were aboard and preparing to weigh anchor, Elsa sends word that it is urgent she speak to the Captain and may she address him on deck? Well, to be polite to a friend's wife, he grants permission. She brings Ellie up with her and has her pour out her tale of love for Mr Whiskers, rather than my wife do it. Elsa said she could see him melt looking into those blue eyes of my girl and he grants permission for the cat to stay aboard. Elsa said that after having dinner with him that evening, Frederick took her aside and told her what a vile trick he thought that was." Timothy smiled as he thought about his clever wife. "Anywise, Mr Whiskers was granted passage, but he was to be kept in the cabin and only released for . . . necessities. Well, he got away more than once and it seemed that Frederick was his favourite person onboard, next to Ellie. He liked to jump through the skylight into his cabin and scare the hel... ahem, daylights out of him at odd moments. The voyage was seven days due to several stops and so Mr Whiskers had time to make himself comfortable. Months later, I was told by the Captain's steward that during the late evenings of the voyage, when he would bring Frederick his last port of the night, more than once the cat had found its way onto his lap. Michaelson said that the cat would contentedly allow his ears to be stroked, while Frederick quietly read a book. I would have paid good hard gold to see that picture."
"You and about a hundred other chaps, Timothy. Frederick is a kindhearted man, he just has a talent for covering it over when he chooses. But I suppose you know him rather well, being as how he was here much of last fall."
The comment surprised Anne, she had not expected his friends to connect the two of them in any way. "No, I am not very familiar with the Captain. He and I were polite, but not what one could call friends." The very words had hurt her to say, but it was true enough.
A clock struck the hour and the gentlemen decided that they must clear away all the evidence of their 'party.' They would not allow Anne to help them in any way. "If you don't mind me saying so, Miss Anne, the habitual cleanliness of the Navy makes us the perfect ones to clear this place up and we will no doubt do it faster as there are the two of us and we know how to work together. So, if you would care to go back to the riot . . . I mean party, we can bring this room to Bristol fashion in no time at all," Captain Benwick said with a glint in his eye; he was rather pleased with his jest.
"Certainly, gentlemen. It is refreshing to see men cleaning up after themselves, it is a sight we don't see on land very often. Thank you, Captain Benwick. Thank you, Captain Harville. I had a very enjoyable time." She had offered a hand to each and they had courteously bowed as she left them. What nice gentlemen. Perhaps they are now my friends as well, she thought, taking one last look before continuing down the hall.
In another part of the Great House, the Reverend, seeing that his sister stood alone, moved silently to her side. Leaning close to her, he whispered in her ear, "Thank you, Sophia."
"What do you mean, Edward?" She knew precisely what her brother was speaking of but wished to hear him say it.
"Thank you for being so kind to Miss Musgrove. She is a charming girl, and I think girl is the term we must remember. None of this was her doing. Or are you still of the mind that she has plotted her way into the Wentworth "dynasty?"' He took a drink of ale and watched her over the edge of the tankard. He wanted to know her mind as he was curious to know how Frederick had fared.
"It is a "dynasty" is it? I was not aware." Taking a sip of wine, she looked at her older brother with detachment, she was not about to make this easy for him.
"All right, I shall be blunt, how did you and Frederick get on--once he faced you?" Taking up a small pasty from one of the generously spread tables, Edward took a bite. As the flavour permeated his palate, the look which crossed his face struck his sister as very amusing. She laughed quietly, holding out a napkin for him to dispose of the offending tidbit. "I am told that the Hayters brought many traditional family foods; I am also told that they do quite a lot with goat."
As he turned and spat out the pasty, Edward's eyes widened. He thought for a moment. "Then I suppose that we are to rejoice she is a Musgrove and not a Hayter." He tucked the napkin under a bunch of greenery decorating the table and turned back to Sophy. "Well, how did things go? I stepped into the sitting room earlier and saw no signs of violence." He smiled at his own drollery.
Sophy smiled back and began to walk. The conversation with her younger brother had been short. "There was nothing amiss in the sitting room for we walked out of doors. I think he had in mind keeping me from vases and small, easily thrown objects."
Edward chuckled and then stayed his hand as he was about to pick up a bit of soused meat. Gesturing to his sister, he queried, "Goat?"
"Perhaps," was all she would say.
He thought better of the soused meat and went on, "Well, I think it was wise on his part, no man should appear on his wedding day with the imprint of a vase on his forehead. Seriously, dear. What passed between you?" Thinking a piece of cheese safe, he took it and began to nibble.
"He is fortunate that you arrived when you did. Had I gotten hold of him sooner . . . well, things would have been very unpleasant. And . . . though I hate to admit it, you were right. What you had to say was all true. I have no business being angry about this when I did nothing to stop it. He told me he felt obliged and that he needed me to support his choice. And so I shall."
Going on, she told a bit more of the conversation and that she felt badly just looking into his eyes. Knowing that he had regard for another made it all the worse. "I know that this will make me seem quite the mercenary, but George has told me that he knows Frederick's time ashore will be very short. And that he will most likely make Admiral in the next gazetting or two, and I wonder what kind of wife she will make for him. There is so much politics in the Admiralty these days that even a man's wife can make a great difference. Do you think that she will be able to help him . . . or might she be a liability?"
Edward was still musing that the Admiral knew anything about Frederick's time ashore. Perhaps it was not Frederick at all who arranged things, he thought hopefully. Realising that Sophy had asked him a question, he pulled himself back to the conversation at hand. "Wha . . . well, I know that you do not think on this as I do, and it is not necessary for you and George to do so, but I believe that she will serve him well if she is a good wife to him, and most particularly a good mother to their children. Even in my 'profession,' I have seen good 'political' wives, but the children raised by them are a shame on a man of God. I cannot see that it would be any different for a man of the King's service. No, she will do well if she cares for him and their family, leave the political wives to themselves."
"I suppose you are right. If he is happy and does not have to worry about home, his will carry on his career as well as ever. He has certainly distinguished himself before, there is no reason to think that he will not do so again." Stopping at a table, she took a plate and chose some things for Edward. "Not a bit of goat."
Taking the plate, he kissed her cheek and said, "Thank you again, my dear."
As the evening was beginning to come to a close, as the crowd of Hayters, Musgroves and Stickleweeds began to thin, Timothy Harville was finally able to talk with Frederick alone.
"Good G-d, Frederick! How did that happen? What are the chances that you would be awarded the Laconia again? I had even heard a rumour that she was either to the knacker's yard or to be sold off," Harville said with amazement.
"I have the orders and if those rumours had any basis in fact they are going to have to wait for another day. We shall be sailing her again! I was shocked. This was the first bit of good news I have had in weeks!" he said with energy.
"Well, besides being accepted by Miss Musgrove."
"Yes, of course that . . . other than that." Frederick's voice dropped. Even the joy of telling Harville their good fortune was being dampened by his marriage. It permeated everything.
Clapping his friend on the arm, Harville crowed, "My friend, Providence has smiled on us, surely. I cannot believe we are to have her again. The times we had before . . . And to the West Indies yet. From what I hear there is still enough smuggling and pirating to put us in the way of some prize, at least. What is the assignment exactly, have you been told yet?"
"No, just the general orders. I shall be in Plymouth in two weeks. I will need you to be there earlier to start gathering the crew. I have an idea that we will have to start from the decks up. And a purser must be found immediately, someone honest this go would be refreshing." The Captain and Harville continued the conversation for some time. Both were excited to be going back to sea and most especially aboard the Laconia. Aside from one another, the best friend that either of them had ever had.
As the discussion was winding down, Harville suddenly remembered something he had wished to tell Frederick.
"I think I should bow out and you should have your brother stand with you. It would be more fitting."
"But Timothy I asked you. Edward understands that I had no idea that he would make an appearance. I wish things to remain as they are," said the Captain in an annoyed tone.
"I'm sorry . . . Sir. I have to disobey orders on this. The properest person to stand with you is your brother and stand he shall! I'll not take his rightful place. And that is all I have to say on the matter, Frederick." As Harville said these words, the properest person came into the small chamber. "Ah . . . Reverend. Just the person I need. I am trying to tell my friend here that you should stand with him tomorrow and he has given me nothing but argument and opposition. Would you please tell this stubborn . . . man, that you would be pleased to stand with him in my stead?" Timothy began to leave the room, "I need more of that punch, I shall let the two of you settle one another's hash over this. Good bye, fellows!" With that he was gone.
The two men stood looking at one another. "I had no idea of your coming, else I would have asked you," Frederick said.
"I know. I would be pleased to stand with you, if . . . well, if you wish it. I know we have disagreed . . . " Edward watched his brother, hoping to know his thoughts by an expression.
For the first time in hours, Frederick smiled in genuine happiness. "Yes, I wish it, above all things, to have you beside me when I do this." He moved toward Edward to shake his hand and Edward moved toward his brother with every intention of the same when a misstep or two brought the full tankard of ale that Frederick held pouring onto his breeches leg, and stocking and even into his shoe.
"What an oaf I am tonight! Here is my kerchief, I shall get something more to wipe this up with," said Edward with disgust in his tone. As his brother hastened out the door, Frederick looked down at his best breeches. I knew I should not have worn these tonight. Harkness will have to get a girl to clean them when I return to Kellynch. Blotting his pant leg and then the stocking, he removed his shoe and knelt to wipe it out, as rather a lot of the wine had collected in it.
As he was in this position, unbeknownst to him, Anne passed by the anteroom, taking a small tray of dishes to the kitchen. Having determined that occupation was the only way to come through the rest of the evening, she had begun to clear one of the lesser frequented buffet tables and now she chanced to glance into the small anteroom of the study and there he was.
She looked once and then looked again to make certain that she had indeed seen Frederick. When she knew it was he, she stopped and watched in fascination. She could not help seeing him the entire night; dancing with Louisa, talking with various family members, giving and being toasted. But now he was occupied in such a simple thing, he looked to be taking something from his shoe. His head was bent away from her and he was completely unaware that he was being watched. She could take one last look, a final good bye, without him knowing, without his being engaged in something of propriety. He would be as she wished to remember him, not a man of wealth or reputation, merely the man she loved.
"Oh, excuse me," Edward said as he slipped by Anne. Seeing the tray and looking no further, he thought her to be a serving girl that had stopped to perhaps help his brother clean up the spill. As he walked over to Frederick, his brother turned upon hearing the voice. Edward noticed that Frederick was staring and then he took notice of the look on his face. He followed his gaze back to the girl in the doorway, to his horror, he recognised Miss Anne.
All three stood, frozen. Edward was the only one who moved, Anne and Frederick were each in shock of seeing the other, of being just a few paces apart.
Just the evening before, Frederick had discovered that Anne had come from Bath. He had never in any imaginings about the wedding thought that she of all people would be in attendance. What had been worse was being told that, at the particular insistence of her sister, Anne was to be at the ceremony in the tiny Uppercross Chapel. He had been grateful to learn that Anne could not be in attendance at the family party on Thursday, but this evening she had been in attendance and he had not been able to avoid seeing her. His first sight of her had been while she had played the piano for their first dance, he could not help remembering the first evening they had dined together at Uppercross. She had played while he had danced. It had, in fact been in that very room. Throughout the night, it had seemed that she was everywhere he had laid his eyes. When he had seen her during the dancing, he had ruined the set with his distraction. He had muddled through the rest, and had been grateful when Louisa had begged off another turn. His attention had been pulled in countless directions during the rest of the evening, Anne had always appeared to be on the very edge of all of them.
Turning again to Miss Anne, Edward saw that her eyes were filled with tears and that they had begun to spill onto her cheeks. As she realised what was happening, she put a hand to her mouth and turning quickly, fled; the dishes rattling dangerously down the passageway.
"Anne! Anne come back!" Frederick cried with nearly a sob. As he started to the door, Edward grabbed his arm and then took hold of the other.
"No! Let her go! You will do her no good now. The time for all of that is passed!" he said in a hoarse whisper to his brother's ear. Glancing from Frederick, he chanced to see his hand which was now clinched into a fist. Looking back at his brother's face, he could see a glowering that he had never before seen. As a man, he knew just what his brother wanted to do, and so said, "Go ahead, if it will make this easier . . . do it. I have been knocked down before, just not by you."
Frederick sagged and Edward released him. "Did you see her face . . . the tears?"
"Yes. Obviously you are not the only one suffering through this."
All of Frederick's careful reasoning of Anne's disinterest was laid waste. Still looking towards the doorway, he said, "Why did you stop me? I could have talked to her!" His voice was just above a whisper, but with great energy.
"And told her what? How you feel about her? How you have longed for her? Believe me, Brother, she does not need to hear that. She has her own hurts to deal with." Releasing Frederick's arms, Edward looked at the cloth he had fetched which had been dropped in the commotion, he knelt and finished wiping the floor. Tapping his brother's ankle, he said, "Here, put on your shoe." Helping guide his foot into the pump, Edward sat back on his heels and rubbed his own forehead in weariness. "I'm sorry, perhaps I should not have intruded."
Frederick had not moved, save to slip on the shoe. Bending to help his brother to his feet, he said, "No, you were right. The time for all of that is gone forever. It is all my fault, had I put aside my pride . . . " But perhaps there is still something I may do to lessen the damage.
Taking his brother by the arm, Edward began to walk toward the door. As they passed through the doorway, he said, "Come, let us have one more go at the port, I think we both need it."
As always, Edward hadn't slept much that night. Giving in early to sleeplessness, he had dressed and prowled the grounds for a time. After an encounter with one of the grooms brandishing a musket; one which would most likely never fire and cause more damage when it exploded than it ever would in an actual discharge, he had gone back in the house and confined himself to pacing a hallway in the guest wing.
He had been gone from his wife for over a week now and he missed her terribly. Had anything happened with the baby? Or perhaps Pollard Levant had not waited for his return and now Catherine was acquainted with their predicament. It was several hours before Edward realised that he had not thought much about why he had come to Kellynch.
Taking another turn up the hallway, he began thinking over the evening at Uppercross. He had been heartened by Sophia's welcome of Miss Musgrove. Though she never had told him fully what she and Frederick had said to one another, it must have placated her as she had behaved admirably. He had noticed that even George had been surprised by her genuine welcome.
Then there had been his introduction to Louisa Musgrove. She had proven to be a sweet girl, but a girl none the less. If he is kind to her, she will grow to suit him, he thought. Since learning of his brother's attachment to Miss Elliot, Edward had held a picture of the two of them together in his mind, but that night he had put that completely aside as he now had another picture, another woman to put in the place of Anne Elliot.
His thoughts naturally went back to seeing Miss Anne at the door of the anteroom. She has not always looked so fragile, I think. The years have not been kind to her. But thinking about the occasion of the party and the fact that there had been tears in her eyes, it was obvious that she still had feelings for his brother. It was also obvious that both she and Frederick were in agony. Looking out over the moonlit back garden, he thought how the wedding would be over in but a few hours and then both Anne and Frederick could begin to put all this behind them . . . if they only would.
A movement to his side caught his attention. Catching a glimpse of Harkness carrying Frederick's uniform and shoes, he hurried to the other end of the hall. "Harkness!" he cried, in a whisper. "Harkness!" The man stopped, startled to find anyone about the house at such an early hour.
"Sir?" he said, halting just before the door to the Captain's rooms. "Is there something that you require?"
"Well . . . actually, yes." Edward said with an indefinite tone. "I think I would like to help my brother to dress. I won't see much of him once the ceremony is done and . . . well, you understand." The Reverend knew that was no need to explain himself to the help, but he had never been very talented when it came to seeing servants as furniture and treating them accordingly.
Handing over the Captain's garments, Harkness said, "Certainly, sir. There is no need to say more. I shall bring his sword directly. The silver was in rather bad shape, something was spilled, I think." Giving Edward a bow, he turned to fetch the weapon.
Opening the door quietly, thinking that Frederick would still be abed, he found the room ablaze and his brother just pulling on his small clothes. "Good Lord, Edward! This propensity to creep into rooms has got to stop!" he said, turning and finishing his task.
The Reverend came the rest of the way in and closed the door. Laying the uniform on the bed, and placing the freshly polished shoes to the foot, he turned and said, "Sorry, I thought that you'd still be sleeping. Besides, that's what that lovely dressing room is for--keeps embarrassing things such as this from happening."
Frederick threw him a glare, and growled, "Yes, well . . . after not sleeping for hours and then drifting off only to have a nightmare, I determined that it was best to get up and dress. And . . . the least you could do is knock. So, why are you here? Determined to have one last go at me before the vows?" His jaw was tight and he had no wish to discuss anything.
"No. Actually, I have taken a vow of silence on the matter. Last night as I roamed the house, I decided that my state of affairs is such that I need to look to them more closely and leave yours to you." He said this with a tilt of his head and a slight bow to his brother.
For a moment, Frederick wondered that Edward was roaming the house, and what must the state of his brother's affairs might be that he would need to look to them more closely. But he quickly dismissed that as none of his concern. He must ready himself for the day and all the parts of it. He had never thought that his wedding day would dawn seeing him with such a lack of feeling. Having finished with his undershirt, he walked to the bed and took up his lawn shirt with the ruffle. Noticing the care that had been taken with the ruff, for it stood beautifully, he thought to remember a gift to the staff before they left.
Before they left. He still had no notions of where he would take his wife. By necessity, the place must be close . . .perhaps Lyme? Pulling the shirt over his head, he chuckled to himself, Heavens, man! And after a little stroll upon the Cobb, you could whisk her to the mad hospital in Plymouth to gaze upon the lunatics and then end this wondrous honeymoon with a visit to a charnel house, study the bodies and play, "Guess How He Died." As he had been thinking of all this, he had muttered under his breath and Edward took notice.
"What is it you said?" he asked as he brushed the already perfect coat once more.
As he began buttoning his breeches, Frederick replied, "I was just thinking about what I might do about taking Louisa away. I told her that where we were going was a surprise, but the surprise is mine, as I have thought nothing about it. 'Tis going to be poor fisted and quite fadged together. I have no idea what one does for a honeymoon." Going into the dressing room, he stood before the full mirror, he tucked in the shirt and began to button his neck and cuffs. Edward trailed behind with his neckcloth. As he handed it to him, Frederick looked at it and remembered Louisa's gift. For an instant, he thought that this being a small country wedding and the only other officers of the Navy being dear friends and family, no one would know if he were to wear a neckcloth of blues and greys and golden thread rather than the plain white ordained by the Admiralty. Quickly deciding against it, he began to wind the long, lawn noose.
"I am of no help. Catherine and I have yet to go away together. After discovering how we felt about one another, we repented of not going doing so. It seemed that the entire time we wished to be alone, every odd and ridiculous thing that can happen in a parish did. It was quite frustrating." Bending to pick up clothing shed the evening before, he watched Frederick begin on the knot.
I don't think I would be frustrated if I were not able to be alone with Louisa. It would, in fact be quite a relief, Frederick thought resignedly.
Handing his brother the silk stockings, Edward decided to propose something that had been forming in his mind since the previous evening. Watching as his brother put them on and button his knees, he said, "I may not have the most perfect of solutions, but I think it might do me some good." Taking a step back, he looked at Frederick with satisfaction.
"Oh? and what might it be to do with my honeymoon that would benefit you?" he asked hopefully.
"Well, Catherine is anxious to meet Louisa and you need some place to take her. Bring her to us. Tell her that you intended to take her to Shropshire all along. You yourself have said that there are many fine prospects, we have missed you and the journey up and back will occupy her until you leave . . ." Edward had not meant to bring his going to sea into the conversation, it had been part of his vow to himself. Having been very harsh on the matter, he deeply regretted it.
"Yes, until I leave." He stood thinking on the matter. It would solve several difficulties for him. By necessity, the journey would be short, it would keep her occupied until he brought her back to Uppercross, by which time he would have told her about his orders and he could then go on to Plymouth. It startled him to think how cold and calculated all this was, he felt as if he were on the quarterdeck of the Laconia, and that all his expertise in battle strategy was coming into play; he was treating his marriage as an enemy engagement! Edward had been right about his feelings toward Louisa, he had just not known how soon it would happen. "I think that would be an excellent idea. Then I shall tell her today, after the ceremony." Turning to his brother, he asked, "What will Catherine say? The two of us popping in without proper warning?"
"Ah . . . well, I'm certain that she will take it with her usual grace. Besides, it is only the two of you and I rather imagine that getting to know Louisa will take up most of her time, she'll not mind . . . I think." His last sentence had been less than sure in its tone. Looking at Frederick as he was just putting on his coat, he noticed something amiss. "Brother, do you realise that you have not been shaved?"
"Wha . . . ?" he cried, looking in the mirror. "I do look to be a frowsy scrub, don't I?" Standing stock still, he gazed at himself for quite a time, "Here is your perfect opportunity, Edward."
Edward had gone to the other room to retrieve the pumps, returning and only hearing his name, he asked, "What did you say? I missed the last of what you said."
"I was simply stating that without a shave, I looked to be a frowsy scrub, and that you have the perfect opportunity to agree and even berate me, for I am a frowsy scrub . . . a case of an inward condition being physically apparent ... rather like a white sepulcher." He continued to study himself.
Edward frowned, he was not certain that he should engage himself in this, but after thinking on it, he decided to press on. "Bad analogy, Brother. That would make you rotten on the inside and respectable on the outside."
Pulling his gaze from the mirror, Frederick looked at his brother, "Rotten ... or frowsy scrub ... what might the difference be, Reverend? Either one, the inside is despicable. As for the outward, I shall be shaving, won't I?" He expected no answe, there really was none. Frederick Wentworth, captain of the Royal Navy, a man used to success, had brought about a situation where there could be no success, none for any party concerned.
Edward met Frederick's fixed stare. He knew that his brother was resigned to his fate, but Edward also knew that this cast of mind, if it were to take a firm hold, would bring more misery, and guarantee a life of unhappiness for his brother and new sister-in-law, more so than any decision made thus far. Edward also knew that any appeal to the spiritual would be met with scorn and derision, but the miraculous did happen, he himself was proof. No, best to be his brother, a supportive brother.
Walking to him and beginning to untie the tie, Edward said offhandedly, "Yes. We shall have you shaved in no time at all. As for being frowsy . . . or rotten. You are not." this was said calmly, but firmly.
Taking the cloth from Frederick's neck, he looked him in the eyes squarely, beginning to unbutton his shirt, he said, "You have made an honourable decision. No one may fault you for that, least of all I. It is difficult for everyone just now, but once this ... " He was at a loss for the proper word. He wished to say spectacle, for it had been more like a pageant than the joining of two people in matrimony. "Once this part is finished, if you are reasonable, I think you will have no more hardship than others new to marriage." Pulling the shirt over Frederick's head and tossing it aside, he took him by the shoulders and said intently, "But if you persist in thinking yourself despicable, you will soon truly become so. There will be nothing keeping you from travelling that road and you will allow yourself license that you never thought you would. Please ... don't do that." Giving him a gentle shake, he released him to fetch the shirt. Picking it up, he hung it so that the ruff was saved.
Nothing else was said as the hot water was called for. The neckcloth was sent to be ironed and Frederick seemed to be lost in a brown study. Other than his taking a sheet of writing paper from the table and folding it into his coat's breast pocket, Edward noticed nothing unusual.
"There," he said energetically after the shaving was completed. "You look like a proper bridegroom." As Frederick had no comment, Edward continued with his thoughts, "Do you recall when I helped you dress to go down to the docks to and report on the Davenport?"
The Davenport was a 90-gun ship of the line and the first on which Frederick had sailed after being rated as a midshipman. He was near seventeen and full of ambition and the romance of the sea. Had things be done his way, everything he needed would have been thrown into his sea chest and a mad dash to the ship been made, but Edward had insisted that they do things properly and had helped his younger brother see the importance of preparation. All the while that Frederick had shaved and then dressed, Edward had been talking again of all the things pertaining to shipboard life they had talked over the years.
Frederick had sailed on merchantmen before, but the sailing on a man-of-war was vastly different. They went back over how to address the captain, where he could and could not stand, to keep his hands out of his pockets--except to retrieve something, no leaning on the railings; things that can foul a fellow when he first begins a commission as a young gentleman. The result had been that when Frederick arrived onboard, he had been the only midshipman not sent to the mast or punished in some other way in the first few days for such minor offenses. He had seen that the overcaution of his brother had been in truth, preparation for what lay ahead. It would seem that there was no difference now.
Having finished with his stock, Frederick again put on his blue coat. "Yes. I recall that I knew more than most of those silly brats and kept out of quite a lot of trouble. Though I found other ways to keep the First busy," he said, smiling in remembrance. Straightening all the lace, he found things to his satisfaction. Going to the bed, he picked up his sword that Harkness had brought with the hot water. Tapping the knot so that it swung lazily from the hilt, Frederick began to strap it 'round his hip.
"I dare say that you did. But, my point is, things were different from what you expected, weren't they? Life is like that, you expect things to be one way and then they are quite another. Be prepared ... the unexpected can always happen."
"That is true, my dear brother, the unexpected can certainly happen. But ... one still expects that night will follow day ... doesn't one?" With that, he laid his coat over the sword and tucked his cocked hat under his arm. He was as prepared as he could manage.
Anne woke just before dawn on Saturday morning, heavy-eyed and weary. Today he will marry her. She sighed, turned over in bed and pulled the coverlet over her head. Perhaps I can shut out this day just a little longer! She was still exhausted from the night before, but sleep would not return. Thoughts came instead: memories, regrets, puzzlement. I thought I was over this! Must I always ache with remorse over Frederick Wentworth?
With a groan she slipped out of bed and pulled on her wrapper. Nothing will be accomplished by more tears over what is never to be! She padded over to the window and moved the heavy curtain away in order to see the sky. It was a pale pearly blue, signifying a sunny day for the wedding. She heaved a sigh. In this season of miserable drizzle and fog, this day of all days will be bright and clear!
And cold! Anne climbed back into the warm bed, still clad in her wrapper, and watched as the pale light of dawn crept into her room. The day was beginning, whether she was ready to face it or not. There, hanging on the wardrobe door, was the dress she was to wear: her pink silk, now several years old and a little faded. It had been lovely once; she would now classify it as 'serviceable,' not really appropriate for such an important occasion. But it did not matter, not for this wedding. Anne turned her face to the wall.
She closed her eyes and began to rehearse what her duties would be for this very trying occasion, such a happy one for everyone else. Mrs. Musgrove would be having a lavish Wedding Breakfast at the Great House immediately after the ceremony for all the relatives. Anne didn't give much thought to this; she would not need to be present for long. Mary would probably have all sorts of emergencies requiring her assistance, most likely with the boys. Today she would be heartily glad to be put to work by her sister, to bury her emotions in activity.
What troubled her was the wedding ceremony itself, to which only the immediate family had been invited. An invitation had been extended to Anne as an honour due to a member of the Elliot family, given most probably to placate Mary's sensibilities. Of course she must attend; in such a small party her absence would be noticed. Thankfully, there would be nothing more required of her than to stand with the others in the chapel, pray, and sing a hymn. And then I will listen as they pledge their lives to each other!
Anne massaged her aching hands as she thought about the private mortifications in store for her this day. They would be no worse, really, than her feelings during the walk to Winthrop last fall, when she had overheard Frederick's gallant speeches to Louisa. She is his chosen bride, regardless of his stiff manner last night. She will become Mrs. Wentworth; I am become as nothing to him.
As nothing! We who had once meant so much to one another! Tears welled in her eyes. She blinked them back. I made that awful choice; one that I have regretted nearly every day since! And I meant it for his best! And no one knows ... no one. This thought was strangely comforting; none of the guests or family members were aware of her broken engagement. At least I will be given no pity, will overhear no 'poor Miss Elliot' whispered behind my back; I will face my pain alone ... as always.
The light in the room was now quite bright. Anne sat up and reached over to the bedside table to pull out her small Bible. It was her habit to read a chapter each morning. Today she knew she must deviate from her schedule to go through a passage she had mused over many times during these past eight years. Her throat tightened as she saw the familiar words:
Love suffereth long and is kind;
love envieth not;
love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up;
does not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own ....
The text on the page swam before her eyes, she wiped her tears with her sleeve. Her mother used to whisper these words into her ear, when she had faced the disappointments and heartaches of growing up: "Love suffers long and is kind, Anne. Be patient, dear one. Love envies not, nor seeks its own." Oh Mother, how I miss you! How I would like to cry into your lap as I used! You would understand! You would stand with me today so that I would not be ... Anne closed her eyes, feeling small and weak and lonely. She sat holding the Bible, desperately trying to gather resolve and courage. I'm not sure I can do this alone! Oh God!
A gentle knock sounded at her door. It was the housemaid, come to build up the fire and bring in a container of hot water. As she departed, Anne sighed wearily, replaced the book, and swung her legs over the edge of the bed; the inevitable could be delayed no longer. The household was waking, within several hours the guests would be assembled and the wedding would take place. 'Love suffers long and is kind'. I must remember this.
She sat at the dressing table a long while, studying her reflection in the mirror. Her hair was disheveled, her eyelids looked swollen, there were shadows under her eyes. She winced a little, remembering Mary's words from last autumn: "Captain Wentworth was not very gallant by you, Anne ... he said 'you were so altered he should not have known you again.'" So altered.
She began to brush her hair vigorously. I am so changed, but Louisa is lovely. She is just twenty, I think ... nearly my own age when I met him. She will be happy; he will make her so. And I ? I will finally put this behind me! She splashed cold water on her face in an effort to clear her melancholy thoughts. Indeed, I shall be very glad to put this behind me! As she was drying her face with the towel, she heard Mary enter the room, full of cheerful chatter and excitement. The day had indeed begun.
Several hours later, she was again sitting at the dressing table studying her reflection. The results of the morning's work were quite encouraging; Anne felt she looked almost pretty. The pink color in the dress complimented her fair complexion, making it seem less wan. Her pearl earrings (the only jewelry she had brought with her) looked very well. Her hair had been attractively styled, adorned with satin rosebuds and a narrow pink ribbon woven through her curls. Charles had kindly presented each sister with a gardenia, grown in his hothouse; this she had also placed in her hair, its fragrance surrounded her.
Her thoughts were interrupted by Mary coming to announce that it was time to leave for the chapel. Anne picked up her gloves and cloak and mechanically began to move toward the door. 'Love suffers long and is kind'. I must remember this. Perhaps ... She turned back to the bedside table and retrieved her Bible. Captain Benwick carried a book with him to help him remember not to give in to despair. I will carry this to remind me. She left the room and made her way down the stairway. Charles and Mary were waiting for her by the main door, eager to be on their way.
Today I must love more, not less. Not selfishly, but seeking the best for the one I have loved. Frederick has chosen another. I wish him happy. I shall be kind, I shall!
Before we begin, I have to tell you that the only reason that my name is on this and the next three chapters is to keep continuity in the archives. These next chapters were written entirely by Laura Louise and after reading them, I think you will see where the talent really lies in this collaboration! ~~SusanK
'Love suffereth long and is kind.' And I am! I am doing this! Anne took a deep breath and plunged back into the crowd. All around her the guests were assembled for Mrs. Musgrove's bountiful Wedding Breakfast; once again the Great House was full of smiling, chattering family members. Anne smiled and chatted, too. She smiled at the Musgroves, and the Stickleweeds, and at every one of the Hayters. She made small talk and listened politely, nodding or shaking her head at all the appropriate points in each conversation. 'Love vaunteth not itself; love is not puffed up.' I shall be kind.
And she helped: she wrapped shawls around the shoulders of old ladies who were unable to manage it, she tied shoes and hair ribbons for children, she held babies, she located misplaced toys for toddlers, she gave simple directions to the temporary hired help. 'Love does not behave itself unseemly, love seeketh not its own'. With single-minded determination, forged from many years' practice, she faced each new challenge with firm resolve. I shall be generous, I shall be helpful, I shall be unselfish.
For the most part, this approach had been very successful; she had not felt the overwhelming awkwardness she had expected. The size and exuberance of the crowd helped; she was able to keep herself occupied and separated from all members of the wedding party; never once did she look in their direction. 'Love envieth not.' I will not be jealous. Her heart was numb toward Frederick Wentworth; for Anne, who had felt so much, for so long a time, this alone was a reason for rejoicing.
As the time neared for the customary giving of congratulatory speeches and toasts, she withdrew from the crowd a little in order to consider her options. She could remain hidden at the back of the crowded room; after all, this has not been nearly as bad as she had expected. But she could find no compelling reason to subject herself to hearing more words which would only bring pain. Deciding that it would be best to be ranked with the cowards than to push her courage too far, she joined a group of young mothers in one of the back parlors.
But after thirty minutes of making polite conversation with strangers, Anne knew she was reaching her point of exhaustion, and quietly excused herself. An hour's solitude, to collect and order her thoughts, was what she sought, but she found nowhere to go. Every room at the Great House was occupied by someone: napping children, nursing mothers, old ladies resting, and the like. She knew Uppercross Cottage would be similarly full, even her own room had been spoken for ahead of time as a retreat for an elderly relative.
This left the outdoors, which was not an altogether unwelcome alternative. She found her cloak among the many others in the cloakroom, and wrapped it securely around herself as she headed for the main door. Although sunny, it was rather cold, but not too cold for the brisk walk she had in mind. The heavy oaken door closed behind her and she headed down the stone stairs to the garden. She stepped aside to let a gentlemen pass, and as she did, he stopped and smiled in recognition. "Good morning, Miss Anne! It is a pleasure to see you again after all these years."
There had been no opportunity to greet Miss Elliot the evening before, but he had determined that she should not think ill of him and by his kindness, perhaps any ill-feelings towards Frederick would be softened.
Anne murmured a polite greeting, wondering who this gentleman was, as there was something familiar about him: a tallish, dark man, with graying hair and a beard, and an open, friendly expression. She thought she had seen him the evening before. He noticed her perplexity and grinned. "Have I changed so much? Edward Wentworth." She must not have noticed me at all last night, there is no surprise in that! he thought.
"Why Reverend Wentworth! How very good to see you!" Anne was surprised and delighted to greet her former curate and she impulsively put out her hand; before she could draw it back he had taken it in both of his. She smiled up at him. "Your sister has told us that you are lately married, and have a parish of your own. I wish you happy, with all my heart."
"Thank you. And I you, Miss Anne." Looking into her eyes, the Reverend could see that she was being kindly polite, but noticing her outercloak, he knew that she must be desiring an escape. Edward wished to acknowledge her feelings in some way, but to do so openly would be a mortification he would not wish on such a good woman. "I must say, this has been quite an event, I think it has been a trying time for all involved. Especially to those most closely concerned with the bride and groom."
His dark eyes looked directly into hers; there was a great deal of comprehension in them. Anne's composure faltered and she dropped her gaze. Edward Wentworth remembers! She let go of his hands; her smile was a little wobbly now. "Perhaps you have heard, my family has removed to Bath, permanently, it appears. It has been pleasant to be here, to visit some of my old haunts again. You must enjoy seeing so many of your acquaintance at Uppercross." Anne's courage was quickly deserting her; she must escape from this man's kind eyes. "But I must not detain you, Reverend Wentworth; I am sure you are wanted indoors. Please, give my regards to your family. Good day." She hurried off into the garden, leaving him standing on the steps gazing after her.
He had allowed her to pass with nothing further from him. He had no words of comfort for her, just as he had no words of comfort for his brother.
Edward Wentworth! Why did he look at me so? Her poise had been badly shaken, it was fortunate that she had met him on the way out to the garden. Just beyond the now-barren rose arbor, she left the paving stones for a narrow footpath into the shrubbery. Her destination was some distance from Uppercross Hall, perhaps a half-mile or so. An old bench, which long ago had been deemed too shabby for use in the formal garden, had been placed in a secluded spot in the hedgerow; it was the perfect place for private thinking.
The festive nature of the celebration had kept everyone else indoors, she heard and saw no one, the bench was unoccupied. The long walk had warmed her and had helped her recover her tranquillity. Anne sat quietly for some time, drinking in the simple sounds of the countryside she had so missed in Bath. Spring was still a way off, but the small signs of its approach were here for those who knew what to look for.
And it was cold; small patches of frost lingered in the shaded areas near the bench. Anne smiled at her absentmindedness; in her hurry to leave the Great House she had forgotten to put on her gloves. She did so now, finding them in the pocket of her cloak. She had also brought with her the small Bible, this she laid beside her on the bench, shaking her head a little as she did so. All of my memories of the wedding ceremony center on the leather cover of this book, for I do not believe I ever took my eyes from it, even once! When it came time for the vows to be recited, Anne had closed her eyes and repeated her text: 'Love suffereth long and is kind.' The Wentworths she did not look at, which is why she had been so surprised to see Edward Wentworth. She hadn't known he had been in Uppercross at all. What a kind man! He was sincerely sorry for me.
Ah well, it is all over now, and I have survived it. She smoothed her gloves as she thought. Except that I must accustom myself to calling her 'Mrs. Wentworth'... but that can be learned. She rubbed her hands to warm them. Oh botheration, that button! One of her gloves had lost a button, she had found it and had put it in the pocket of her cloak for safekeeping; she now began to hunt for it. Her hand closed instead on a folded sheet of paper, which she pulled out and began to examine. What is this? Some sort of note ... I can barely read it ... 'To A' Her brows knit in perplexity; her heart began to pound as she opened it and read the words written there. The letter began without salutation or preamble:
I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. What I do today is from duty and honor; I alone will suffer the consequences for my foolish, unguarded behavior. I cannot bear the thought that you shall likewise be so unhappy. If you, for any reason, have held yourself back on my account, please know that I regret and honor your sacrifice so lovingly made for me. When you have opportunity to love another, my sincere wish is that you will give your heart as completely to him as I know you have to me.
There was no signature. There was no need for one.
In another part of the hedgerow, James Benwick stood musing over the very unsatisfying events of the day. He had left the Wedding Breakfast not long after the toasts; there was much to puzzle over and he could not think two thoughts together in such a noisy gathering.
This entire visit to Uppercross had gone so very differently than he had expected. For one thing, he had barely thought of Fanny at all, even during the ceremony in the chapel. Instead his thoughts had been taken up with his friend the Captain, so formal and reserved, gravely taking Louisa's hand as he recited the vows. In his place I would have looked like a smiling fool, barely able to contain my joy! My wedding day, the day Fanny and I had waited so long for, would have been a day of unrestrained delight, but for him ... I do not understand it.
Benwick buried his hands in the pockets of his greatcoat and trudged down the path through the hedgerow. Harville and I have barely spoken to him this entire time! I had so looked forward to spending at least one evening in conversation together, as we used to do. In a few hours we'll be leaving for home ... God only knows when we'll see him again.
He heaved a sigh. I have not spent much time with Harville, for that matter. Hang it, here I am deserting him again, although this time he is in rather good hands. James smiled to himself as he thought about his friend. When he had left the breakfast, Harville had been conversing in quite a friendly way with Admiral George Croft. This was a very good political connection for him to have made as far as his career was concerned (should he be called back into active service), although he would not have pursued the Admiral's company for that reason. No, like most men of the Navy, Croft was most comfortable amongst his own, and had sought Harville by his own initiative.
And I, what have I done with my time here? His smile twisted. I have spent it becoming better acquainted with a very interesting young woman, of all things! I must look like a complete idiot to Harville; I'll probably get a well-deserved earful on the way home!
And when I get home, there is that business concerning Great Aunt Agatha's will and Milton's latest letter. Bah! Benwick shoved this thought aside; this was no place to wrangle about knotty legal problems. The path had brought him through some fine country; he paused where it came out into a clearing in order to take in the view. As was his habit, he spent some time searching for the right words to describe such a beautiful winter day. Captain Benwick was somewhat of a nature lover and at different times had tried his hand at expressing himself through poetry on the subject, although he was never very satisfied with his efforts. He could not come up with anything inspirational today either, although the scene before him surely provided the material for it.
I suppose the last poems I have written were to Fanny. He had likewise felt his words to be inadequate, but since they concerned his tenderest feelings for her (being written and sent to her while away at sea), they quite naturally had been lovingly and enthusiastically received. Fanny. Why have I not thought more, felt more, about her these past days? He winced a little at this; he had avoided thinking much about it. Have I loved her less because I now feel so much less pain? Am I disloyal to her because I am beginning to accept that she is gone? Other thoughts began to follow, all disquieting. Has my grief become so much a habit now? Something to hide in?
He bent down and scooped up a handful of stones, tossing them one by one into the meadow before him as he thought. My future is now so vastly different than I had anticipated. Do I dare to think of ever being happy again? I thought I could not live without her, and yet I am. These past few days I have laughed and joked and have actually forgotten. He worked his way down to the last stone; as he raised his hand to throw it, he checked himself. What was that? His eyes narrowed in concentration; he had heard something other than the chattering birds in the hedgerow. A child.
During the seven-odd months he had lived with the Harvilles, Captain Benwick had become reacquainted with the habits and foibles of young children. He genuinely liked the little Harvilles. He was not inclined to boisterous play, as was their father, yet he had earned for himself the title of Uncle Benwick, their favorite story-reader. And once his soft heart and always-available lap had been found out, his quiet solitude was often interrupted by Ellie or Tommy, wanting to pour out complaints into his ear or needing hurt feelings soothed.
What Benwick now heard, or thought he heard, was a child crying in the hedgerow. He chucked the rock and made his way down the path toward the sound. The cold weather, coupled with the remote location (not being near any house), made it a matter of some urgency. Probably one of the wedding guest's children has wandered off and is now lost. I am glad I happened along this way. He increased his pace, examining the bushes on both sides of the path as he went. The hedgerow was denser here; he drew nearer and nearer to the sound, indeed, it was now quite close by.
As he rounded the bend in the path, he readied himself to call out a friendly greeting. But the words died on his lips; he stopped abruptly in his tracks. He had found the source of the crying, but the 'child' was the very last person he ever expected to see. For here, slumped face down on a bench, was Anne Elliot, sobbing as though her heart were broken.
Dear God, what has happened? Is she injured? "Miss El ..." he began, awkwardly, wondering what to do. I would never have interrupted her privacy, except that I thought ... but it is so cold! I should go away, but ... how can I just leave her here? Gingerly he approached, calling her name softly; there was no response. As her sobs continued, he became more alarmed; all too well he recognized the cries of a heart in anguish.
Carefully he sat down on the end of the bench and reached over to gently put his hand on her shoulder. "Miss Elliot." Anne looked up at that; startled and shamefaced to be discovered by anyone. When she saw who it was, she covered her face with her hands and gave a small moan.
"Miss Elliot, are you hurt? What has happened?" She pulled herself up into a sitting position and turned her face away from him, still shaking with sobs. "May I help you?" He picked up her Bible and slid over on the bench until he was sitting beside her. "What is wrong? Please tell me." He put one of his large, folded handkerchiefs into her hands.
"I ... have ... an awful ... headache ..."
"I see." he said gently. "And, I think," he spoke slowly, "perhaps ... an ache in your heart, as well?"
"Oh Captain Benwick!" Anne turned her tear-streaked face toward his. "He ... he ... loved me ... all those years ... but he ..." She could say no more, overcome once again by her grief. She hung her head and caught sight of the book in Captain Benwick's hand. The words she had repeated over and over during the ceremony came unbidden to her lips. "Love ... suffereth long ... and is kind ..." Her tears began again.
'Love suffereth long ...' that's a scripture text. Has she suffered in love? Poor, dear girl! She is absolutely heartbroken! I ... Benwick sat helplessly beside her, his own eyes filling with tears of sympathy. What can I do? He knew well the cardinal rule among gentlemen for dealing with weeping females: never, ever, allow one of them to cling to your person. He couldn't explain what he did next, except that in his mind's eye he saw not Miss Anne but five-year-old Ellie Harville there on that bench. He slid over even closer to her, put both of his arms around her thin frame, and held her securely in a bear hug. Frederick Wentworth had done the same for him, when he brought the news about Fanny. It had comforted him far more than any words could have done.
Anne resisted a little, struggling to collect the remaining shreds of her dignity and to remove herself from his proximity. But she had not reckoned with the authority that James Benwick's own grief had given him: he would not let her go. "No, no, Miss Anne. You need to cry; go ahead and let the tears come. Trust me. I know about these things." He was silent for a few moments. "You have been holding this inside for a long time, have you not?" She nodded; his words had torn at her very soul. Years of hurt and disappointment found expression in a fresh wave of sobs, he held her as one would a small child, patting her shoulder and rocking her a little.
As he waited for her storm of grief to subside, Captain Benwick discovered he was facing another problem: the cold weather. Her pale pink dress was lovely, but thin, and her cloak was, too. She would not be ready to face the others for a long while; how could he keep her warm until she was? I can only think of one way to accomplish this, but she will hate me for it. Ah well .... Benwick took a deep breath, gathered his resolve, and pulled her now resistless, weeping form onto his lap, closing the front of his heavy wool greatcoat around them both. Anne put her head on his shoulder and heaved a great sigh. Neither spoke for quite some time. At last he broke the silence, speaking in his quiet, unhurried way.
"Do you know, sometimes it helps to talk about these things." Anne buried her face in his collar and said nothing. "You listened to me run on at Lyme and it helped so very much. It was a great relief to say some of the things which had been bottled up inside for so long." He patted her a little, then pulled a fresh handkerchief out of his greatcoat pocket and handed it to her. "Go ahead. Tell your old friend Benwick all about it, if you like."
Anne dabbed at her eyes with his handkerchief and carefully thought this over. He did confide in me, didn't he? And I didn't mind, or think ill of him. 'A great relief' he said. Perhaps ... She took a long, shaking breath. "Well, all right. I have never told anyone this. I ... I will use no names. Indeed, you would have difficulty ... verifying ... this, for almost no one knows of it."
She paused to order her thoughts, and then began her story. "Eight year years ago ... or perhaps a little longer ... I met ... a man whom I ... whom I came to ... deeply love with all my heart ... and he loved me in the same way. As Fanny Harville was to you, I think."
"Then he must have been a very remarkable man, Miss Elliot."
"Oh yes! Truly that! He was, in reality, everything I had ever dreamed of in a man! Handsome, and spirited, and brilliant, and ... and funny! He was someone I could ... this may sound odd to you ... but he was someone I could talk to."
"Ah yes. I comprehend that perfectly, Miss Elliot! It was just the same with Fanny and me." Anne could not see his face but she could hear the smile in his voice. Encouraged to find such an understanding listener, she was emboldened to go on.
"And we did! We talked for hours at a time, about, oh! everything, for so many of our opinions were in agreement! It was early summer, and we rambled all through the countryside around Kellynch and Monksford together, laughing and taking such delight in one another's company! I had never experienced this before ..."
"A kindred spirit."
"Yes!" Anne's words came tumbling out. "That's exactly right! A kindred spirit. My father and elder sister were traveling for a month or more, I cannot remember where, and Mary was away at school, so my, um, my Love and I spent most of our time this way. Now that you have been at Kellynch, Captain, you can see that we are in a rather isolated location with a very small society. There were only a few parties and dances that summer, to which we were both invited, for he was very popular -- he had only come into the neighborhood recently, to visit his brother -- and because he had not had the opportunity to apply to my father, we were careful to conduct ourselves within the bounds of propriety -- no more than two dances together, that sort of thing."
"Ah yes. But to the careful observer, perhaps not so disinterested in one another as you wished to appear?"
"Perhaps. Yes, very probably!" Her smile broke out for a moment. "But you see, no one knew about, or even suspected, our engagement! For engaged we were: very early on he had proposed, and I had accepted him. But ... when my father did come home ..." It now became more difficult to continue. Captain Benwick helped her.
"He did not approve?"
Anne nodded. "My father ... he was, oh, so cold! So offended at the thought of such an alliance! You see, my ... Love ... had no fortune, no connections, nothing to recommend himself but his own abilities, which were considerable, for he is a very capable, resourceful man! But he had every confidence of rising quickly in his career, which he later did, but at that time he had ... a position promised but ... nothing certain."
"And your father refused."
"No, not exactly. But he would not do anything for us, he would not support us in any way." Anne's throat became tight, her voice dropped to a whisper. "My rightful inheritance ... from my own dear mother ... would not be given me; he intimated that upon our marriage I would be ... cut off ... from the family. This I could have borne, but ..." A stray tear ran down her cheek. "I'm sorry, Captain Benwick, I ..."
"No, Miss Elliot, do not talk anymore. You have every reason in the world to cry."
But the relief in finally telling someone was too great. Anne dried her eyes and continued, speaking in a husky voice. "I went to a friend of our family for advice. She was my mother's dearest, closest friend, and had stood in the place of my mother since her death. She had always had my best interests at heart, more than anyone, for she had no child and I had been as a daughter to her! I was certain she would understand! I ... well, her husband had been a Colonel in the army, you see, and I thought that she would be the proper person to advise me."
"Your fiance was in the King's service?"
Anne nodded and wiped her eyes. "But her opinion was no different than my father's! In some ways, it was worse! She did not like him, she thought him headstrong and ... and heedless!" her voice broke in a sob, "she thought his character was flawed, and that at nineteen I was throwing myself away to accept him! She so feared a life of dependence and degradation for me! She felt that the engagement was wrong ... indiscreet and improper ... and her opinion never changed! She was so gentle and ... tender, even, when she spoke to me over those weeks, but ... she ... deprecated ... the connection in every light! The one I had depended upon to support me!" Anne could not continue.
"And so ... did you ... break your engagement?" Captain Benwick asked gently. Anne nodded and dissolved into tears, burying her face in his collar. "Oh Miss Elliot, I am so sorry! What a dreadful choice to be faced with, at only nineteen!"
"Not because I did not love him, Captain Benwick, but because I did!" Anne burst out. "I was afraid that it would seriously hamper him to have a wife to support so early in his career! I gave him up, yes, but for his own good! I did not want to be a weight around his neck, I did not want to be the one to hold him back! But he ... "
"I suspect he did not see it in quite that light."
She shook her head. "No ... indeed, he did not! He ... he was so terribly angry! He thought himself ill-used by me, that I had not truly loved him, that I had deserted him! I know it had that appearance, but he would not hear me! I ... I have always had trouble finding words ... especially when someone is angry with me! My father sometimes rants on at me like that ..."
"And so, along with everything else, you had to suffer his ... disapproval?" Benwick asked, rather grimly.
"Please do not hate him for it! To someone with his decided, confident temperament I could only appear weak and timid! He could not endure that I had given him up to oblige others!" Anne's face was white, her eyes stared unblinkingly before her. "I ... was a ... disappointment to him, my ... character ... was shown to be flawed, feeble!"
She hung her head. "I hurt him deeply, I know that now. In his eyes I had been disloyal and had gone back on my word. He thought it intolerable that I had been persuaded to give him up, that I had yielded to the opinion of others instead of believing ... and trusting ... in him. He left the country immediately afterward and I never saw him again."
"Oh, Miss Elliot, I ..."
Anne continued speaking. "Until this past November." Her face was deathly pale. "He came back. He came back ... and completely ignored me." A tear slid silently down her cheek, then another, and another. She did not bother to check them. "When he had to speak to me, he was coldly formal. And then ..."
For the first time, Anne lifted her face and turned to look directly at him, working herself into something like a passion. "Oh Captain Benwick! You should thank God that Fanny died! She died loving you! You did not have to live to see another take your place as first in her heart! For that is what he did! He courted another! And I had to sit by, silent and polite, listening to him make fine speeches to her! Watching as he walked with her; hearing him flatter her! He, whom I loved with all my heart! And then today ... " She covered her face with her hands.
"Have you have seen him, today?" Captain Benwick demanded. "At the wedding?" His voice sank to whisper. "Is that why you were crying when I found you?"
"Yes. He is married now." Anne raised her head and took a deep breath. "And I have accepted it. Indeed, it is a great relief to me that it is over."
"Is it? Forgive me, but ... have you been completely honest with yourself on this point?"
Anne considered his words, twisting his handkerchief between her fingers. "No, I suppose not," she admitted. " I am so confused! I am so hurt and ... and angry! I feel ... betrayed, for he said nothing of his true feelings for me, all these years! He treated me so coldly in November! How could he do so, if he still loved me?"
Captain Benwick frowned, all at sea. This made no sense. "I do not understand. What 'true feelings' do you mean? He had none."
"Oh dear!" she groaned. "I was not going to show you this, but ... today, as I was sitting on this bench, quite composed of mind, I found this in my pocket." She pulled out the letter and handed it to him without further comment.
He took it and unfolded it very slowly. So great was his sympathy for her that he was a little afraid to see what it said. This letter, apparently, was the cause of her distress. When he finished reading, his face was as pale as hers.
"Dear God in Heaven. Frederick Wentworth."
Anne gasped; her eyes met his in an anguished glance. "Yes. Wentworth." He smiled sadly at her reaction; he could barely speak. "I recognize the writing, you see. I was his First Officer for three years; I know his hand as well as my own." He heaved a great sigh. "Wentworth ... and ... Louisa ... and ... November ... and the accident at Lyme." He closed his eyes and tightened his hold on her; Anne clung to him as a child would cling to a parent. "Dear merciful God" he murmured; " what a tragic ... circumstance. You are ... all ... my friends. And all ... unhappy."
"Surely not all ... not Louisa!"
"Even Louisa. Wentworth does not love her. He says here that he married her out of duty, but I doubt she knows it. What will be her feelings when she finds he does not care for her?"
"Oh." Anne closed her eyes wearily and laid her head back down on his shoulder. "I had not thought of that." Her strength was spent; there were no more tears left. "Yes," she whispered; "poor Louisa. She loves him, too. May God help us all."
Benwick's mind was bursting with unasked questions and observations, for now he saw the reason behind his friend's formal, stoic behavior these past days: all the pieces of the puzzle fit. But there was nothing he could say which would not bring her more pain. She said nothing; he kept silent. After a while, Anne's breathing became more shallow and rhythmic. He turned his head to look at her. She had fallen asleep from grief and exhaustion.
James shifted his position a little, wondering how much time he had spent sitting on this bench, hidden away in the hedgerow. Not that it matters! How many hundreds of hours have I crouched or stood in some awkward or uncomfortable position, waiting for orders? To sit holding this poor, sweet girl is no trouble at all. Harville will just have to wait.
He looked over at Anne again. The hood of her cloak had fallen back; he studied the waves of her hair, so attractively adorned with satin flowers; his eyes followed the path of the pink ribbon woven through her curls. Fanny had never worn a fragrant gardenia in her hair as Miss Elliot did; he wished now that she had.
Poor Miss Elliot. What a gentle, noble little soul! It is no wonder Frederick loves her! If he compared all women to this one, I can well understand why he was never captivated by any other. And she has honored me with her confidence, with a story she has told no one else.
He pulled his greatcoat more tightly around them both. She seemed to be keeping warm enough; there was no need to wake her. He gave her shoulder a little pat. Sleep on, dear girl. Sleep and forget. You will hate me when you wake up, but I am glad I was here for you when you needed a friend.
Continued in Part 6
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